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Test Rides: BMW K1300GT and R1200RT (Updated)

I spent the afternoon test riding both the K1300GT and the R1200RT.  I rode the same route I take to work, which, as I’ve mentioned before, is 1/3 city streets, 1/3 highway, and 1/3 twisty country roads.

Here are my impressions.

Both bikes have far superior handling to the FJR.  It’s not a matter of “hey, this is pretty nice”.  It more a matter of “Holy SH!t!  So this is how a motorcycle is supposed to handle!”  The FJR is a nimble bike for its size, but the handling of the BMWs made the FJR seem like riding a…uh…thing that doesn’t handle as well.

Sorry, the simile well ran dry, there.

The RT handles far better than the GT.  The GT handles really nice, but on the RT, going through the twisties, it was like the bike knew where it was supposed to go without me doing anything.  It runs like its on rails.  It falls right into the precise line you want, just when you want it to.  The GT was as obedient to steering input as you could ask for, but unlike the RT, it didn’t seem to anticipate.  The RT handled like it was reading your mind, not just obeying your inputs.  I think I could ride the RT or the GT equally fast in the twisties, because the RT is a step better in handling.  I just wonder where in the RT BMW installs the demon that reads the road ahead of you and prepares the bike to turn.

The GT has a superbly smooth engine.  It responds instantly to throttle input with no hesitation.  Twist, zoom, “oh, look, we’re doing 110 miles per hour.”  The RT responds much slower, and the Boxer engine has far more vibration.  It also has tons of torque in every gear.  If you’re stopped at a light, leaning on one leg, and you blip the RT’s throttle, the bike stands up straight as the torque hits.  It’s really noticeable.  Still, with the RT, you can sneak up on 110MPH without really trying either.  Just not as fast as the GT or FJR.  The RT engine growls, the GT engine screams.

But I now understand what the RT guys are talking about when the speak of the “character” of the boxer twin.  It growls and vibrates at low RPM, and burbles happily at freeway speeds.  Kick it down to fifth on the highway, twist the throttle, and it passes smoothly.  Shift back up into 6th, and it’ll just cruise along at 90MPH without a complaint.

The GT has a really touchy throttle.  Touch it, and you’re at 6000 RPM instantly.  That’s a bit unnerving at first, and really makes you pay attention to clutch control.  The GT accelerates faster than than the FJR, but there’s something…boring about it in comparison.  It’s as if the GT is saying, “Yes, I can go from 0 to 100MPH in 5 seconds.  Big deal.  It’s what I do.”  There’s all this acceleration, and…it just doesn’t impress you like the FJR does.  I can’t really describe it, other than to say the GT was more boring than I thought it would be, speed notwithstanding.  That was the biggest surprise of the day.  The FJR is just a more fun bike than the GT.  I wouldn’t have thought that would be true, but there you go.

The GT sucks in the comfort department.  The narrow seat just jams itself up your crotch.  It’s every bit as comfortable as sitting on a split-rail fence.  Well, that’s probably not a totally fair comparison.  The GT doesn’t leave splinters.  But other than that, it’s the same.  The pegs are also too high for real comfort.  It’s not different enough from the RT to notice it just sitting in the showroom, but after 45 minutes on each, the seat and higher pegs begin to irk you noticeably.  The FJR is a far more comfortable bike to ride than the GT, but the RT edges out the FJR in comfort.  The RT is Cadillac comfortable.  With the GT, you sit perched on top of the bike, like a canary riding the shoulder of an insane pirate.  With the RT, you feel like you’re inside bike, luxuriously cosseted in a comfy, smooth saddle that gently massages your bum.

Other than sheer acceleration, the RT struck me as a superior motorcycle to the FJR in almost every other way.

Except the rear-view mirrors.  Great mirrors on the GT; in the perfect position.  The RT, on the other hand, has the mirrors set low, giving you a perfect view of the ends of the handlebars.  Perhaps the BMW engineers wanted to be sure you could check your gloves frequently, so you would notice if a bug hit your knuckle armor, causing an unsightly soil on the leather.  Or perhaps to check and see if a flying stone struck your bar ends, leaving behind a nasty scratch on the perfect black enamel.  Because other than that, the rear-view mirrors on the RT are essentially useless.

But, frankly, that’s a fairly minor quibble.

I went into the test rides today, firmly convinced that I wanted a K1300GT.  I rode the RT mainly as a favor to the sales guy who said I really owed it to myself to compare the two bikes.  I came back from the RT test ride with a huge grin on my face, utterly surprised to like everything about the bike.  I came back from the GT test ride thinking I’d rather have my FJR.  I am still a little bit amazed at how much I like the RT, and how underwhelming the GT actually was to ride.

UPDATE: I took another test ride of the R1200RT the following week, and added more detailed impressions of the RT here.

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