Long term update: 'I'll take the pain and the gain'

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A manufacturer makes a great bike, everyone raves about it, then the other manufacturers jump on the bandwagon and before you know it a whole new class of brilliant bikes at competitive prices has arrived.

It’s hard, not to mention brave, for a company to have success with one bike and bring out something similar. The fear is that if it isn’t as good as the original, or doesn’t meet the needs of the market, it will fail to engage on a level that makes it a profitable product. Or even if it does find a niche, if the size of that niche is not big enough, sales will be low and the bike won’t stay in the range for long.

The R1200RS arrived after the R1200RT had already wowed lovers of big distance riding. So why would anyone need an R1200RS? It’s the same engine, similar(ish) price and both go a long way in comfort.

When pictures emerged of what BMW was planning with the RS at the end of last year, my pulse quickened. I’d never have gone for an RT and yet the RS offers some sportiness, some style and some poise without the rider having to apply for a bus pass and admit his spirited riding days are now behind him.

To see where each of the big Beemers excelled, a summer’s ride was planned. Take them both to the seaside, eat an ice cream (or two) and come back again. A trip of over a hundred miles in a few hours to see if there really is any point in having an RS over the established daddy of distance.

MCN Sports Editor Michael Guy joined the jaunt, and was keen to see how the pair compared to one of his favourite bikes of all-time: the R1200GS, which uses the same liquid-cooled boxer twin engine.

Stepping from the RS to the RT after about 30 miles, I was immediately struck by two things.

You’re sat much more ‘in’ the RT. The reach from the seat to the bars is upward, while on the RS, there’s pressure on the wrists. And then there’s the radio on the RT – listening to the Archers seems to make perfect sense onboard its civilised chassis.

As we meander through the Lincolnshire countryside, gobbling up fast sweepers and slow trucks, the RT is utterly capable of keeping the RS in sight, but it’s less involving than the RS. The extra 38kg means the same power and torque feels softer and more diluted. Where you’re punching along on the RS, going from 30mph to 70mph with the slightest whiff of right hand, the art of getting the most out of the RT is to keep it smooth. Stick it in top and rumble along.

The RT’s extra bulk also contributes a sensation of calm. That’s fine if you want calm. Michael agreed the RS lacks the serenity and sophistication of the RT, but the RS demands your attention. The RS is a compromise. But if you want to compromise ultimate comfort and rideability for excitement, thrust and a little controlled aggression, then it’s a compromise well made.

The further you ride, the more the RT comes into its own, but on our short, afternoon hack to the coast and back, the RS was the bike we both wanted to ride. The RS is refined to a point; rider modes, traction control, electronic suspension, and autoblipper add up to a highly competent package, and yet it still demands attention while riding. You feel inspired to put the effort in to use all of the boxer twin’s 125bhp, whereas the RT requires far less effort.

Sit there and roll through corners, countries and continents in utter comfort, I’m not ready for that. I like the pain that comes with the gain of the RS, and also the fact that it costs £2500 less than the RT, too.

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Andy Calton

By Andy Calton

Content director, motorcycling, and Suzuki Katana rider