Pros: Sophisticated suspension, amazing brakes, advanced design.
Cons: Loses a star for its uncomfortable seat and poor ergonomics.
The motorcycles that BMW sells today are basically the same design that BMW sold with their first bike in 1923. An air-cooled horizontally opposed "boxer" twin with shaft drive. BMW has had 80 years to perfect that design concept, and the 2004 R1150R is the result.
The R1150R is BMW's standard "naked" bike. No fairings, very little plastic of any kind. It is equally at home on twisty mountain roads as it is on the interstate slab. Accessorized properly, its a great touring bike, an excellent commuter, or a weekend sportbike. A blank canvas. It is also the least expensive of the BMW "oilhead" twins. (MSRP $9,990 base, $12,190 with ABS).
New for 2004, the R1150 series bikes have a new dual spark ignition system. The extra plug, according to BMW, helps reduce emissions, but another benefit that BMW doesn't talk much about, is that it all but eliminates the surging RPM problem that was common in their previous oilhead engines. The engine makes 85bhp and 71 lb-ft of torque
My R1150R's engine is very well behaved, starts instantaneously, and has plenty of smooth power throughout the RPM range. The BMW boxer engines are controlled by a sophisticated Motronic fuel injection system, and the exhaust runs through a catalytic converter for low emissions. MINOR GRIPE: There is a cold-start lever on the left handgrip that needs to be turned on for cold starts. You have to remember to turn it off after warmup. It seems to me that with a sophisticated computer controlled fuel injection system, that this ought to happen automatically.
The six-speed transmission shifts smoother than any BMW I've ever ridden, and there are no false neutrals to be found. The sixth gear overdrive is great... The engine is turning at about 3500 RPM at 70mph, offering plenty of torque for a quick pass without downshifting.
The front wheel is suspended with BMW's Telelever system. The Telelever is a wishbone that pivots from mounts on the front of the engine. The fork tubes are only for steering control, with all up and down movement transmitted directly to the engine via the Telelever. There are two major benefits to this: There is virtually no fork dive on front braking. Also, road bumps are not transmitted to the steering, which makes the bike very stable in turns on irregular road surfaces.
Not to be outdone by the front wheel, the rear wheel is suspended with a single-sided dual pivot swing arm, which BMW calls a Paralever, which also houses the drive shaft. The thing works. The bike handles all kinds of road surfaces without getting upset. The ride is comfortable, but firm, and you always feel in control.
LOUD BRAKES SAVE LIVES
I bought my Roadster with the optional Partially Integrated ABS system. I figure that if the brakes save my butt once, its easily worth the extra $2200. This is BMW's fourth generation of ABS, and it is truly amazing.
Integrated means that when you grab the front brake lever, you are actually controlling the front and rear brakes. The computer automatically proportions braking force between the front and rear wheels, based on the amount of grip available, providing maximum theoretical stopping power. PARTIALLY Integrated means the rear brake pedal just controls the rear brake... which is a good thing for low speed maneuvering.
The new generation of ABS works much faster and more accurately than any previous ABS system on a motorcycle.
The really unique thing about these brakes is the new EVO power assist system. When you apply the brakes you hear the whining sound of electric hydraulic pumps, which provide the power assist to the three disc brakes. It sounds a little like some kind of Robo-Bike... I've gotten some curious stares from motorists stopped next to me at traffic lights. At first, I thought that this electro-racket would be really annoying, but after a while you don't notice it. You can't hear it at all while riding at speed (with a helmet). It's more of a parking lot/stoplight thing.
The result of all of this noise is simply unbelievable braking power. BMW says that the EVO system provides 20% more stopping power than any other brakes they've ever offered. I believe it. If you grab a handful of brakes, this bike stops like it hit a brick wall. Because of the power assist, very little pressure is needed on the brake lever to get a great deal of stopping power. During low speed maneuvering, a light, sensitive touch is needed.
SEATING AND ERGONOMICS
If this bike has a weak point, this is it. Let's start with the seat. If you ride for longer than 2 hours without stopping, well... you won't. The seat is simply torture. Sadly, this problem has plagued BMWs for the last 30 years. Fortunately, there is a small cottage industry of companies that make custom seats for BMW's that are made to be sat upon for thousand-mile days. I haven't ordered mine yet, but it's on the to-do list.
The R1150R is a standard motorcycle, with an upright riding position. For me (5' 10", 180lb) the handlebars were too far forward. I installed bar-backs from Moto-Techniques (another member of the cottage industry dedicated to correcting BMW's ergonomic mistakes), which moved the handlebars 1" higher and an 1-1/4" closer to me. That made the riding position much more comfortable for me.
The other strange aspect of the riding position is the placement of the footpegs. I'm not a tall guy, but the footpegs are placed so high that my knees are really bent excessively. After a long ride, this gets pretty uncomfortable. I can't imagine what it would be like for a 6'2" rider. Fortunately, the cottage industry comes to rescue once again, and offers footpeg relocating kits that that can be retrofitted to the bike. On the plus side, I can get both feet flat on the ground.
RANT: I have to say that it is ridiculous that a bike that is designed for long distance touring, selling at this price point, could be so uncomfortable. It infuriates me that I'm going to have to spend $500-700 in accessories, just to get the bike comfortable to ride for longer than 90 minutes. BMW owners have complained about this for decades, but here we are.
OK, I'm not totally objective, but I think this bike looks beautiful. A little odd, perhaps, but beautiful, Looking at it from the right side, the view is dominated the purposeful form of the engine, transmission, and Paralever. An endless vista of cast aluminum alloy. Viewed from the left, the rear wheel has no visible means of support... the Paralever is on the opposite side. Cool.
Up front, the gas tank is huge and dominant with oil cooler nacelles on either side, drawing your eye to the Telelever front suspension, and the abbreviated front fender (some Roadster owners call it a "beak"). All of this technical sophistication is topped off by a decidedly low-tech looking headlight. Just a big round headlight in a bucket, just like the old days.
LITTLE BMW NICETIES
If you are unfamiliar with BMW bikes there are some unique features that you should know about.
BMW has perfected the center stand. When the bike is on the center stand, it balances almost perfectly front to back. Why? If you are stuck on the road with a flat tire, you can remove the front wheel, and the bike will happily sit on the center stand and the rear wheel. Vice-versa, if you have to remove the rear wheel.
You check the oil by looking through a little window on the side of the engine. No messy dipstick. Of course, there's no messy chain, either.
The passenger torture device (sorry, seat) pops off via a keyed latch, to reveal a small storage area underneath.
The bike comes with a decent tool kit and a flat-tire repair kit. My dealer threw in a free 12-volt accessory outlet, which allows you to plug in your electric vest, GPS receiver, portable TV... whatever. Most importantly, you can use the accessory outlet to plug in your battery charger. You need this, because the battery is mounted under the gas tank, and is not easy to get to. Don't buy this bike without an accessory outlet!
Heated handgrips are standard. So is a maintenance-free gel battery (which requires a special battery charger). The fork locks to prevent theft by turning the ignition key a couple of extra counter-clockwise clicks before removing the key.
I bought the accessory BMW System Cases (about $800), which are wonderful. They are attractive, solidly built, waterproof, lock with the ignition key, and are easily removed. They won't hold my Arai full-face helmet, though. The left side case is smaller than the right case, because it has has a rather large indentation for the muffler.
The bike comes with a 36 month, 36,000 mile warranty, with free 24/7 roadside assistance.
With the exception of the seat and other ergonomic issues, I am very pleased my Roadster. The brakes, handling and power, while not in the superbike category, are extremely well balanced for all of the purposes this bike is intended to serve. It is truly fun to ride. The sophistication of the suspension and the sheer power of the EVO ABS brakes inspire confidence. The design, fit, finish and the beautiful machining of its parts make you want to stare... and ride.