BMW's stealth revolutionary: the light, quiet R 1200 R

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BMW's new R 1200 R is a doppelganger. It may look like the R 1150 R it's replacing, but the entire bike has been gutted and replaced.

For the latest and last of BMW's R model overhauls, the mission was simple: up the power, cut the weight and wild the ride a bit. Boosting the compression ratio, valve diameters and displacement yielded 28% more horsepower than the R 1150 R, while trimming blubber from all over the bike made it 28% lighter. Do the math, and it adds up to 109 horsepower at 7,500 rpm and a shockingly light 437 pounds.

So it isn't the fastest pony in BMW's stable. The R 1200 R with its horizontally opposed, or boxer twin, cylinders would be eaten alive by BMW's vastly more powerful K series bikes, most of which are transversely mounted in-line fours. But for riders whose egos aren't wrapped up in their engines, this versatile roadster has more than enough power to put the giddy in giddyap.

Riding the rain-deprived hills of Cleveland National Forest, the R 1200 R had all the grace and fluidity of a premium sport bike without the bragging rights or screaming pipes. The cylinders now have a balance shaft to make this already low-vibration motor even smoother. Instead of using forks to serve up the front suspension, there's a spring-and-shock telelever to gobble the bumps and make the brakes less divey than your local bar, while a paralever out back not only improves traction, it encompasses the low-maintenance, noise-free drive shaft.

Crickets have been louder than the R 1200 R. BMW is probably the only major motorcycle manufacturer that's proud of being quiet, the idea being that you don't have to incur hearing damage to have fun. In addition to the exhaust, which is well below the EPA's 80 decibel maximum, the six-speed transmission uses helical gears that are ridiculously easy to shift and quieter than traditional spurs. And there isn't any ticking in the cylinders because the four-valve high cam uses tiny pushrods that don't clang around like their longer forebears.

Technically advanced and compact as the engine is, the standard seat is fairly high at 31.5 inches. Like the Germans who build them, BMWs have a reputation for being tall, so the R 1200 R has an optional 30.3-seat for the vertically challenged, while folks with longer inseams can go with a 32.7-incher. Narrowly contoured on the tank end, most riders will be able to sit flat footed when stopped but tall as an SUV while riding.

The tall, upright seating position has its up and downs. In the plus column, it made me feel like I was leaning more than I actually was out in the canyons. The only minus: mirrors. Until gas prices go through the roof and four-wheelers start dumping their SUVs for stubby cars, lane splitting can be tricky. Cut between side-by-side Land Cruisers, and you might smack mirrors.

Luckily, the brakes on the R 1200 R were powerful enough to slow me down on the few occasions I was about to lock mirrors like a ram. BMW has a reputation for being more safety conscious than your grandma, and nowhere is that more evident than the new integral ABS II system it's putting on all '07 bikes, not only the Rs but the K, F and soon-to-be-released G 650s.

Operated with a lightweight, noise-free valve system instead of a plunger, ABS II only partially integrates the floating-rotor, double-disc brakes out front with the single disc in back. So, while squeezing the front brake lever automatically activates the rear to prevent an unintentional stoppy, trail brakers will be relieved to know that pressing the footbrake by itself will only put the squeeze on the rear.

As of March, some R 1200 Rs will even be equipped with Automatic Stability Control, a new traction control system that notices if the front and rear wheels aren't speaking each other's language and are moving at different speeds. If that's the case, the bike automatically reduces the engine's power until the two wheels are synced. That's a factory option that can't be added as an aftermarket accessory, so it costs. Yes, $365 is a lot, but it pro-rates at a dollar a day for the first year and is probably worth every penny for folks who aren't scared off by rain.

Other safety features that will ease riders' minds while simultaneously emptying their wallets: A tire pressure monitor that senses when tires are losing air ($260) and an on-board computer that not only calculates average gas mileage but lets the rider know how many miles he's got 'til he's spinning on vapors or stranded ($225).

That's possible but unlikely because the R 1200 R is amazingly fuel efficient for its size. A lot of manufacturers don't give out MPG numbers because they don't have a lot to brag about. BMW does. They claim 44 mpg at a sustained 75 mph. I traveled 220 miles on the 4.6-gallon tank before the light on the display started making me nervous — pretty impressive for a 1200 twin with four valves per cylinder.

Like all BMWs, the R 1200 R is fuel injected, with an oxygen sensor helping to optimize the air/fuel mix. It also has a three-way catalytic converter that uses a ceramic substrate to oxidize the exhaust, reduce pollutants and maybe even put a smile on Al Gore's face.

The R 1200 R is everything you'd expect in a modern BMW — nimble, safety-conscious, smooth-running and so quiet it won't annoy the neighbors. Though it might just make them jealous.



2007 BMW R 1200 R

Base price: $13,025

Powertrain: Air/oil-cooled, boxer twin cylinder, four-stroke, four valves per cylinder; 6 speed, shaft drive.

Displacement: 1,170 cc

Torque: 85 pound feet at 6,000 rpm

Horsepower: 109 at 7,500

Seat height: 30.1, 31.5 or 32.7 inches

Dry weight: 437 pounds