Pros: Performance, quality, electric windshield, cruise control, heated seat and grips in a killer sport tourer.
Cons: High price (but good value), range.
One month after taking delivery of my 2004 BMW K 1200 GT I've put about 4500 miles on it and the longer I have it the more I like it. I'm 49 and have ridden for 33 years on many bikes, but this is my first BMW. My other bike is a Honda VTX 1800 C,but I was looking for something more nimble with better protection for longer distance cruising in the 500 to 800 mile per day range.
Before buying the GT I looked at the Yamaha FJR, the Honda ST 1300 and the BMW 1150 RT in addition to the K bike. Here are some comparisons:
The 1150 RT has great protection for travelling, a very comfortable seating posture but (after riding the K 1200) the RT just does not have the power and absolutely electric throttle response of the K bike. Makes sense, given that the K bike has 130 HP and the RT has only 86 HP. I also found the RT to be "buzzy" and the K bike perfectly smooth.
I love Hondas and have owned many of them, but the ST1300 somehow just did not grab me even though I kept wanting it to. It has a very smooth engine (of course), but pickup did not seem to be as instantaneously electric as with the K bike. My big slam on the ST1300 is that it feels wiggly, somehow unstable at speeds over 80. Dropping the windshield all the way down helps a lot, but the last thing I want in a tourer that will spend much of its life at 100+ is not to have rock-solid stability and tracking at speed. [And, no, this is not a tire or road surface thing as I encountered that effect on three different STs on three different test rides]. Although fit and finish on the ST is excellent, it's good finish in a more automotive style than the uber-tech finish on the BMW, like the difference between a quality Accord and the perfect paint job on a BMW sedan.
Last but not least, I don't like the looks of the ST as much as the K bike. There is just a bit too much Japanese Transformer Robot look to the front of it.
What about the Yamaha? You'll read great reviews of it for power and handling but the bike in person is a disappointment. I'm 6'2" and didn't fit on it well. It has zero amenities (no cruise control, seat heat, grip heat) and looks cheap with inferior fit and finish and crude paint.
In the end I felt a real emotional connection with the GT, I loved riding it (I had about three hours worth of test rides on three different occasions), I liked the way it looked and I really liked the BMW quality. So, how did it work out?
What an amazing bike! I ride a mix of around-town errands, a short commute (about 40 miles total every other day) and the occasional long trip. I've taken my bike from the San Francisco Bay area to Ensenada, Mexico, twice on weekend trips. It's a 600 mile ride each way. I leave work early on Friday about 2 PM, arriving Ensenada late evening and then come back on Sunday. My fastest time so far is doing the trip in 7.5 hours, where most of the time I was cruising in the 110 to 125 MPH range and got out of Ensenada early enough on Sunday not to be delayed by local daytime traffic in LA.
I also ride the twisties, getting up to Alice's about twice a month, but in a relaxed style.
The BMW K 1200 GT handles great in the twisties with endless power on tap regardless of what gear you are in. It's a flat power curve so when you twist that throttle you get action pretty much no matter what the RPMs are, although you get your best power between 4500 and 6500. What I expecially like is roll-ons at 80 or 90 when you've got to blast past a slow-moving truck or cage: instant response and the next thing you know you are flying by at 110 or more. Carving through downtown San Diego on I5 at 120 on early Sunday morning runs brings new meaning to the term "sweeper fun."
I know this may sound weird in the US, but I lived in Germany for a couple of years and got used to travelling the Autobahn at 190 clicks. That's about 120 MPH and if you have the right machine and the clean surface and good weather it's perfectly safe and routine. That's what the K1200GT can do for hours on end.
I ride with earplugs in and the power windshield set so the wind catches me at about the shoulders. That takes the weight off the upper body and leaves my head in clear air for relatively quiet laminar flow over the helmet. I like the electric windshield since it allows me to lift or drop the windshield to put the wind where I want it at different speeds.
Don't make fun of cruise control, heated seats or heated grips until you've tried them! I use these all the time and you can bet your butt that heated seat is a great way to take off the chill all over. It extends the amount of time you can go without having to stop to put clothing on/off for different weather conditions. And, at the rate the GT burns up miles you will find yourself in different weather conditions many times during a trip. I also liked having the power plug available as a stock item so I could plug in my electric vest for cold days.
A negative for the GT is that at 100 MPH you can only go about 130 miles before the reserve light goes on. At 120 MPH, it's down to about 110 miles and at 130 you can barely do 100 miles. I suppose at slower speeds you could go about 140 or so miles. I don't mind this because I have long legs, do a lot of running (which tightens up the thighs), so I'm usually ready for a break after an hour and a half of riding when going slow, and when riding fast I think it's wise to take regular breaks as well to make sure fatigue does not interfere with concentration.
I've heard guys putting on bar backs for a more upright seating posture on the GT and I thought about doing this as well at first. But, I found that even after ten hours in the saddle it was no big deal once I got used to the posture, especially if I was travelling fast enough for the wind to take weight off my arms.
Kudos to BMW for getting the luggage right on the GT. It's easy to use and very convenient. You can take the bags off for around-town riding and the bike looks great, or you can put the bags on for a trip and the bike still looks great. BMW says not to go any faster than 80 with the bags on but I've had it up to 140 with no problems with the bags.
At all times the GT tracks rock-solid reliable, is easy to steer, has nice transmission action and a very responsive throttle without being twitchy. I love this bike!
Long term, I can see when I turn 60 I might be interested in a Gold Wing or BMW LT, but right now I like being more in contact with my environment and appreciate having a bike that is more on the "sport" side of a "sport tourer." I just can't step away from the performance the GT has. If you have the money to buy one I don't think you'll be disappointed.
Update: As of July, 2005: I now have 12,000 more miles on the bike - I still love it. Totally! I ride every day and still feel a thrill when the garage door goes up and I see my bike ready to go.
Sad to say, BMW is no longer producing the K1200GT using the famous flat four engine used in my bike and the K1200RS. The new "K1200GT" that appears in 2006 will be a totally new bike derived from the K1200S.
Two months ago I took a long demo ride on the new K1200S. I almost bought one as the ride was very appealing, a real rush. What you get with the K1200S is nimbleness and lightness that makes the GT seem, well, heavy. Although the S is also a very long wheelbase bike it seems a lot more flickable. It has even more electric throttle response than the GT, with even more power on tap.
What I didn't like about the S is that it was a lot less comfortable than the GT with fewer amenities. It has less legroom than the GT for tall guys, more forward lean, a much less comfortable seat, no cruise control or heated seat and seriously goofy looking luggage. You also have to get used to that almost turbine whine of high RPMs, much higher RPMs than the GT engine. Superb sportbike, yes; traveling machine, no.
I still lust after the S and want one to buzz around town but I can't see doing more than short rides on it. With the GT I can take off the luggage and feel sporty around town and then when I want to go places I put the luggage on and eat up miles. Sad for me, the crushing hand of fate has dealt me insufficient finances to afford both a GT and an S. Such is life!
If I can afford only one such bike I much prefer the versatility and range of my GT. I'm looking forward to seeing the 2006 GT version of the K1200S. With some slight ergonomic changes and a few amenities that extra 30 horsepower and lighter weight will be very, very tempting!
An update as of July, 2006...
The previous update straddled a crash and transition from my K1200GT to a new K1200RS. Some friends have ragged me for maybe encouraging folks to ride too fast so I want to deal with that explicitly.
My beloved GT was destroyed in a crash a year ago when a car going the other way around a curve crossed the double-yellow line. He weaved entirely into the opposite lane (my lane) and came at me in a head-on collision. I had just enough time to swerve to miss the head-on, but at the price of departing the road and interacting with trees and other fun landscape features. This taught me a few things about riding and the GT:
First, I don't think I'd be alive to write this without the BMW ABS system on the bike. I ride with the front brake lever covered all the time with two fingers so immediately after the swerve I could command an "all-in" effort to bleed off speed before the coming impacts. There's no way I have the human skill to modulate brakes as well as the BMW ABS system does in emergencies. It's just too fast and way too tense for those of us who are not professionals to react as well. The BMW system takes command inputs on the front brake lever and automatically distributes braking force to both front and rear wheels for optimum braking.
Those last few milliseconds of ABS braking before I departed the road surface I think took down my speed about 10 mph, from around 45 or 50 to 35 or 40. That took off a *lot* of impact energy. Your impact energy is your speed squared, so going from 45 to hitting at 35 is almost half the force of impact. In my case I think it made the difference between living long enough for a helicopter to get me to the nearest trauma center and not making it.
Second, the GT is impressively agile for such a heavy (by modern standards) bike. Without enough of a swerve to miss the head-on I wouldn't be writing this, ABS or not.
Third, the BWM gear is amazing. I was wearing BMW Savannah textile jacket and pants, Oxtar boots, Held gloves and an HJC full-face helmet. I also had a Draggin' Jeans Kevlar mesh shirt underneath for warmth. Although both arms, a bunch of ribs and my left leg were broken the armor worked great. I could see a print of bruising on my arm around the elbow armor where clearly the armor saved my left elbow from being shattered. With all the broken bones there was literally no bleeding or abrasion. Amazing!
Finally, this resulted in some changes in my riding style that I want to share with younger folks who may be tempted by my previous habit of blasting across the country at Autobahn speeds. After about three months of surgeries and casts and such I was able to start riding again and was taking my VTX out. Six months ago I got a replacement BMW, but this time a K1200RS (the K1200GT was no longer being made by BMW, or I would have gotten another GT).
The K1200RS is basically the same bike as the K1200GT but with a smaller, non-electric windshield, without some extra fairing bits and slightly different handlebar geometry and grips. My RS has been outfitted with GT-style grip fairings, cruise control and heated grips but no heated seat. I have about 9,000 miles on the bike now and I like it even better than the GT.
I think what I like better about it is the smaller windshield and (not to sound too superficial) the orient blue / alpine white paint scheme. Slick!
And now, the changes in riding style: I no longer cruise over 120, not even close. In fact, I very rarely go over 100 and mostly cruise between 80 and 90. I also wear a white helmet stuck with reflective tape and (I'm not making this up) when I cruise California highways I wear a bright optic yellow reflective vest. I know my wife will leave me if I ever crash again so I want to stack the dice in my favor as much as possible. I will never ride long distances or complex traffic without an ABS-equipped bike.
I don't ride freaked out, but I ride even more carefully than I did before. And it was only because I was already riding very carefully that I saw that guy coming across the double yellow in time to do something about it.
The main reason I now go slower is that I have internalized how much you can do with those few extra split seconds you get to work with when toodling along at 80 and a situation arises. I just want to give myself some extra time in the bank should the need arise.
This is kind of an obvious thing in retrospect, but trust me, when you get used to smokin' effortlessly across the landscape at 130 or so it is easy to forget that you have no extra time to deal with unexpected happenings. So if you get used to doing such things with your GT (as I may have tempted people into doing with the first part of this review), please keep in mind that you are operating with no margin of error.
In contrast, even if you don't heat it up so much you will still get an awesome ride with this bike. I still like the electric throttle response, and storming up a highway onramp is still truly delicious even if I top it out a bit slower than before. I may not get down to LA as fast as before but I enjoy the ride just as much.
Safe riding to all!