Long Term Test: BMW K1200GT

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ENJOYING the cooling breezes breathing gently from the glistening waters of Lake Garda it was easy to feel as though I’d just done a day trip to the coast. But this was a journey that had taken two full days of riding, with heavily-laden panniers, a stuffed Oxford Tailpack and one delighted pillion.

We had been riding up to nine hours a day. There were no muscle aches, no neck strains, no lingering pains in the butt. In fact the only side effect was a warm, ever-so-slightly-smug glow that we’d completed a journey taking in four countries, on schedule and without going off course too often.

The Garmin GPS system attached to the K12’s bars had to take a lot of credit. Used as a rolling road map it had done its job and we had arrived at our destination – Malcesini, among the mountains at the northern end of Lake Garda.

The trip had started in the chill of a pre-6am departure, at which point the bike’s heated seat and bars had come in very handy. After the first couple of hours riding, a millpond ferry crossing with P&O took us from Dover to Calais. And by the time we spilled out on to French Tarmac (ahead of the coaches and caravans, an advantage of travelling by bike) the sun was bright, the sky blue and my spirits lofting. The GPS pointed me the right way down the E15 and the E17 past St Quentin and into the Champagne region.

At first, all the bikes departing Calais had huddled together. But before long we all found our own speeds and my wife Suzanne and I were soon alone, blasting across vast openess. It seemed perfectly natural and sensible to cruise at just-into-three-figure speeds and the grown-up attitude of drivers helped. They appeared to use their mirrors for rather more than vanity. Vive Le French driver.

By 5pm we’d burnt our third tank of French fuel – notching up between 125 and 185 miles per tank depending how quick the stretch of road had proved – and, deciding to look for a place to stay for the night, steered into Mulhouse. It’s not far short of the Swiss border which I would be crossing the following morning.

I don’t know about you, but one of the biggest pains about touring abroad on a bike is finding a place to stay that a) doesn’t look too pricey b) doesn’t look like a factory and c) has secure parking. I’ve spent hours seeking hotels in Barcelona, for example, and resorted to hailing a cab – and following it to a hotel.

Well in Mulhouse they have a brilliant solution to the confused English motorcyclist’s problem. A clear sign with a picture of a scooter directed me towards a car park. ‘MotoHotel’ it said. In English it added: ” Follow Me For Hotel ” . And in the car park there was a tourist information booth surrounded by scooters. You roll up, list your A-B-C of hotel requirements and then follow one of the scooter riders to your chosen hotel, who also does the complicated bit of booking you in. Genius.

As soon as we were parked up and had hopped off the bike any discomfort had gone. That’s not to say I hadn’t been feeling a bit stiff around the knees after a long day with them in the same position, but as soon as I was out of that position, all was fine.

Next day we crossed the Swiss border (I was waved through without forking out the £20 annual road tax fee they charge tourists… they got me on the way back!).

I’d heard horror stories about how seriously the Swiss took speeding. Although the winding roads (even the motorways) keep your speed down a bit there are 60mph limits through most of the tunnels. Some with more serious bends have even lower limits. But we made decent time, cruising close to a ton when conditions allowed. Until we reached the St Gotthard Tunnel, that is.

Backed-up cars, many breaking down in roasting heat, tailed back for miles. It’s times like this that make you realise why so few continentals regard the wearing of hot heavy leather as an essential part of riding. In two small towns on Lake Garda there’s an Alpinestars shop and a Dainese shop. How they stay in business is anyone’s guess. The only riders I saw in proper kit were daft tourists like me. And I have to admit, once I got to Italy I rode everywhere in jeans (though I did stick to a decent jacket, gloves and boots).

Back to the tunnel… and I wound my way through the static traffic, along the hard shoulder for much of the way. The big Beemer ain’t the slenderest of traffic-beaters, but it’s well-enough balanced to trickle through. The slow speeds revealed how hot the weather had become. Even with my Shoei Syncrotec lid flipped up (its usual mode when speaking broken French/German/Italian at petrol stations and toll booths) I could hardly feel a breath of cooling breeze.

The tunnel entrance raised expectations of lower temperatures… which were cruelly dashed as we rode in. If anything it got hotter. At 40-50mph the breeze felt like that which comes off the Sahara at midday – like turning a hairdryer on your face. More than a few vehicles were struggling and I noticed the Beemer’s temperature gauge was rising rapidly. Now, I had every confidence in the fan cutting in to cool things… but I felt it better not to take the risk. This was a tunnel which took 20 minutes to ride through and I didn’t fancy being stuck in the middle of it. So I backed off from the car in front to allow a bigger gap for the chance of more cooling flow to the engine. I’d creep forward then drop back again over and over. And that’s how we continued until we saw the light.

But that was about as great a challenge as the K1200GT faced.

The huge mileage (the whole trip took in about 2500) bothered it little. The high speeds left it unperturbed (though you could argue it developed a drink problem, delivering just 120 miles from the best part of four gallons when things turned rapid). It even just-about-enjoyed twisting mountain roads between Epinal and Mulhouse in France (there’s a bikes-only hotel on that section of route 66, by the way). The raised pre-load meant the bike dealt well with the extra load.

All in all the K12 proved the perfect way to travel. Fast (very fast on the efficient Italian motorways), comfortable (so comfortable my wife fell asleep several times) and convenient (who needs the bother of chain adjustment?).

Yes, you could get out to Lake Garda cheaper by air. But once you got there would you be able to do a lap of the twisting lakeside roads? Or ride into Venice with the wind on your face? Or discover a fantastic little restaurant in a French town you’d never heard of on the way home?

Do it by bike and you’ll finally understand what La Dolce Vita really means.

MCN Staff

By MCN Staff