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2003 BMW 1200CL Touring Motorcycle

BMW has always made a Different sort of motorcycle. Advertising slogans like "Conformity is a dominant gene. Mutat" set a benchmark for originality. Cruisers arguably dominate motorcycling, and BMW's latest is certainly a mutation from the standard set by American manufacturers, and emulated by everyone else.

Their first cruiser, the R1200C, got a hugely macho introduction via 1997's James Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies. The bike spawned a dedicated following of"Chromeheads," in the loyalist manner of Airhead and Oilhead riders, (not to mention Pan and Shovel). Betting that bigger is better, BMW's new R1200CL comes loaded for luxury tourinwith a full fairing, hard saddlebags, top box, and a plush king/queen saddle. There's also a R1200CLC, with a factory-custom package including radio, CD player, heated seats, and an alarm.

The Engine:

BMW 's 1170cc opposed twin engine puts out 61 bhp@5000 rpm, which works adequately for the stripped-down, 565-lb. R12C. Powering about 110 lbs. more motorcycle is a lot to ask of it, considering the luxo-touring K1200LT's liquid-cooled in-line four cylinder engine cranks out 100 bhp@6750 rmp to power 834 lbs. of bike, and the twin cylinder R1150RT does 95bhp @7250.

Becoming a touring cruiser, the R1200CL transmission gains overdrive. It's now a 6-speed, which some of the riders I demo'd with found quite well-placed. It took me ten miles to remember the bike has a heel-toe shiftea first for BMW, and a real pleasure. Re-angled gear teeth improve contact for very smooth, clean shifting, once out of neutral. The redline is around 6800rpm, so there's plenty of power in the mid-range and after 4000.

Though EPA-compliant for the most stringent proposed limits, catalytic converter and all, the shiny chrome exhaust puts forth a hearty roar, making red-light conversation nearly impossible.

Luxury suspension was thoughtfully considered for the R1200CL. BMW's Telelever shock up front works at a greater rake and with wider forks than on the R12C. The beefed-up GS Monolever gas shock was sturdy and smooth through miles of road construction. The CL's subframe is wider and stronger, to accommodate the permanently-mounted hard luggage. Up and down the highway and through the wide, easy sweepers, this bike was designed for two-up touring.

The floorboards are nicely compact, but don't dampen vibration as well as H-D's springs and rubber dimple. The clutch has a pretty serious pull, so it's nice that the lever adjusts to the length of one's grip. The handlebars could have been a bit longer, and the installed angle was a bit too high, the shorter-sleeved riders agreed. The heated grips are beautiful and more ergon omically correct than usual, yet my hands went numb after 10 miles. (Guess they forgot the K1200RS has the best rubber mounting on two wheels) When my gloves got soaked in the rain, and fingers, the low-setting warmth made that last 50 miles a bit more comfortable.

BMW's brakes were also significantly upgradethe CL wears touring-style linked Antilock Braking System II. Grab the 4-pot double disc front brakes and you get some of the 2-pot rear caliper, grab the rear brake, you get all of both.

They were pretty grabby. Before the group ride, I attempted a test loop around the parking lot. I came to a slow stop pointed downhill with the wheel turned right, but couldn't straighten the front end, and the bike went down. My pride tumbled, and the CLC's fairing and saddlebag took a scuff.

When the BMW dudes righted the bike, the mirror/signal pod dangled from the fairing. But before the lead ball of guilt hit the bottom of my stomach, they snapped the breakaway fasteners back into place, good as new. Crash bars are available, even recommended, to augment the chrome scuff bars, but it's great that a benign spill won't cause expensive damage.


Four headlights in the fork-mounted fairing flash"Achtung, baby That M-shaped windshield is quite eye-catching, and unobtrusive to the rider's view. Still, I noticed some front-end twitchiness in high-speed sweepers, and no one in the group cared for the taller version. Those car-style mirror pods sit just a bit to low, nearly level with my hands, which obstructed my view at some angles and slopes. The rain, which began before noon and followed us around the mountains till after four o'clock, proved how effectively the faring deflects rain. Riders without rain suits sported, damp, not soaked jeans from the knee down, and practically-dry jackets.

North Carolina's natural beauty and Blue Ridge Parkway were the highlights of the 210-mile test ride. Tight, 3/4 turns through the forests of the Smoky Mountains would be a joy on a smaller motorcycle, but shifting 679 top-heavy lbs. around the mountain was exhausting. An un-cruiser-like 1 150/80 front tire and 1 170/80 rear with that big fork-mounted fairing made for very top-heavy, unforgiving handling, and perceptible wobble as I wound out the gears.

BMW claims wind tunnel testing refined the smoothly layered fairing and lowers, but engine heat was uncomfortable before the day reached its high in the mid-nineties. All that chrome splashed over the heads and pipes holds a few extra degrees, besides looking so cool. The R1200CL is a luxurious getaway vehicle, but not one I'd use to rob a bank. A taller and more powerfully built rider [than I, at 5' with 3 inseam] who does not require warp speed would find this motorcycle more accommodating.

The Details

The details are haute BMW. The R12CL's tail and directional lights are stylishly small, yet brightly visible on bikes far up the road. The headlights, however, seemed weak through the under-lit tunnels of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Even when I could peer over my sunglasses, I'd slow down to about 40 mph till the opening was in sight.

The speedo, tachometer and clock are easy-to-read white-on-gray analog faces. Odometer, trip meter, and radio display are digital, with compact, not miniature, thumb controls. Signals are self-canceling after turns and most lane changes, but require a third button to manually kill. Two accessory outlets are within easy reach, if you can find clean pavement when it's cold enough to need it, that fairing provided a lot of coverage. The side stand is easy to find, as well as attractively chromed. Cast aluminum wheels complement the distinct look and Metzler Marathon tires handled rain superbly, the entire test group agreed.

The luggage also proved very waterproof, bag liners are optional, and recommended. The top box holds one helmet and jacket, but not two helmets. The CD player is space-efficiently mounted under the top edge of one saddle bag. The top box is removable, leaving a rack with a winged profile to which you can mount the optional backrest.


At the halfway point, learning the rest of the route would include more snaky hills of the National Forest, I opted to swap bikes for the R1200C. More familiar and comfortable on the naked cruiser with skinny tires, it took a couple of hours to miss the really plush seat of the CLC. Through the rain, the unladen, well-balanced R12C ran smoothly, and the unlinked ABS reassuringly effective. Handling was excellent, even if the postage stamp of plastic was meaningless. It leans comfortably, and though still a bit large for the tightest turns, it is a worthy highway cruiser. With the right seat and bars, it could give my FXR a run for my joy riding miles.

While this might be the best time in 30 years to sell the practical aspects of motorcyclincompact, fuel efficient transportation that parks anywhere, it is an American idiosyncrasy that bikes are recreational vehicles purchased with discretionary income. However, this ain't no cruiser, by anyone's definition, not Harley, not any of the Other Americans, or the Japanese. This is not an H-D T-sport, it's a bagger, as much bike or more than an ElectraGlide Classic. Will it spawn a new breed of loyalist? Doesn't every motorcycle? Priced at $15,990, and $16,490, it's delivers obsessive attention to detail, fitting the big picture of the discriminating few.

BMW takes each category of motorcycles and each facet of the sport to a higher level of intensity. They've adapted H-D's tug-at-the heartstrings marketing, featuring real riders. A full catalog of riding apparel and gear aspire to the toughest adventures on or off road. The slogan has changed, it's not the ultimate driving machine, it's the Ultimate Driving Experience. The R1200CL wasn't mine, but that's why they make so many different motorcycles. BMW provides a 3-year, 36,000 warrantee and 24/7 roadside assistance with all new bikes.