One of the best bikes available for long-distance touring
Starter solenoid died at 52,000 km. I think this is a common problem on the model. Dealer replaced it for $500, and no problem since.
I am now 56, and have been touring heavily for last 10 years. Started biking in high school in 1970, and this is bike #12, and is bike # 4 since I got back into riding after the children got old enough.
For first 8 years after returning to biking, I had smaller bikes, and did not want such a large heavy machine. But living in Calgary, Alberta, the climate is not warm and can get very chilly even in July, especially when it rains. I had two bikes already in the garage; one 2003 Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Mean Streak, and one brand new Suzuki Bandit 650.
The Vulcan is good for moderate touring, and the Bandit also, but after another cold ride in July, I finally listened to my buddy (has a Goldwing) and bought the BMW K1200 LT at local dealer. It was used, and was only $ 11,000 Cdn... which was a steal, because new in 2001, it was about $30,000. So then I also had to pay for wife to have laser facial surgery, but that's another story. I did sell the Bandit, because there is no way I can find time to ride 3 different bikes.
I just came back from a 6,000 km roundtrip from Calgary to St. Ignace in the Great Lakes, and here are my comments on this bike.
COMFORT is king with this machine. Mine has the optional touring seat, and larger touring windshield. You can sit on it and ride for hours on end, it is that comfortable. Sure, you cannot stretch your legs out like on a cruiser with highway pegs, but instead you can slow down and stand straight up, like on a dirt bike, and this works just as well. Note that after touring for years on cruisers, although I like many of the features of a cruiser, I find that the upright seating position suits me a lot better on long trips, than the low & feet-forward riding position.
WARMTH is another major benefit. Compared to cruisers with big windshields and other bikes, you are much warmer and don't need to wear as many layers of clothes. On top of that, you also can turn on the heated grips and the heated seat. If you add an electric heated vest, you can ride nicely in very early spring and late autumn. This is a huge benefit for tourers, because hotels are emptier and prices are lower, and there is way less traffic on the highways, so it's safer too.
CRUISE CONTROL. Once you have it, you will never go back to not having it, if you like to travel long distances. On the Beemer, the cruise is very easy to use, and much better than on most other bikes that have it.
HANDLING on the open highway is amazing good for such a huge bike. You can still safely have fun with it in the tighter curves, and ground clearance is ample, as long as you don't get carried away with your speed. It is very responsive to changes while in curves.
HANDLING in town and gas stations and parking lots is terrible. This thing is very heavy, and very top heavy. Brakes at low speeds are very touchy, which makes matters worse. Stay out of campgrounds with this bike. Pushing it around is difficult and dangerous, unless you are a 6 ft tall 300 lb bodybuilder (or professional football player). On my Kawasaki Vulcan 800 Classic, when at long border crossings & etc, I used to just turn the bike off, stand up, and push it along a little at a time. Yes, it has a reverse, but I careful when I park, so I have not had to use it yet.
NOISE from wind is up to you. The windshield adjusts high enough to get rid of all wind noise and wind buffeting.
BIKE NOISE from engine is not loud, but sounds terrible, so I wear my ear plugs at times. This bike has a car engine, not a true motorcycle engine. Noise from exhaust pipes is not load, but also does not sound good. My Meanstreak is a much nicer bike in this respect.
FUEL ECONOMY is extremely good. I was quite surprised. If you stick to speed limits, and don't pass too much, and don't fight headwinds, you can get more than 22.5 km per liter... so tank range gives you up to 500 km! The use of cruise control helps here. Not having to fuel up again every 2 hours allows longer distances at reasonable speeds. As others have mentioned, though, the gas filler is badly located, but at least it is designed to minimize spills onto the bike if you don't stop the pump soon enough.
SPECIAL NOTE re the windshield and body design. Air comes up to driver area from underside of windshield, so you don't sit in a dead-air pocket like on a Goldwing. You get enough air so that you don't overheat like on a Goldwing. BUT you always get bugs on both sides of the windshield and have to clean both sides instead of just the front of it. Although air comes up, no significant amount of rain comes up, so you stay fairly dry.
VIBRATION is not an issue. There is a little of it now and then, because it is a 4-cylinder inline, but not enough to be a bother. Mirrors are fairly clear.
Luggage capacity is very good. Riding alone you fit everything you need for a hotel trip, and have room left over in the top box to put clothing into if you get too warm, or keep more clothing if it rains etc.
SUSPENSION is another major strong point on this machine. Best suspension I've ever had for highway trips, of my 12 bikes so far.
This is a better bike for riding double than any sport-touring bike, if you can manage its weight and its high center of gravity. I don't ever ride double, so I would probably be happier with a BMW R1200RT, which has most of the same features, but is way lighter in weight. In a couple more years, I might try to trade it for an RT.
Funny thing, this bike attracts a lot of visitors to come chat with you when in gas stations, restaurants, and hotels (except for Harley owners, of course), and especially among folks who don't ride bikes now, but used to in the past, or don't own bikes, but like them. You have to be ready to do some chatting when you stop, which is kind of nice when you're on a long trip by yourself. The odd thing is, that this BMW is really only 50% motorcycle, and the other 50% is car... just like a Goldwing, and unlike an Electra Glide or a Road Glide, which are 100% pure bike.
Would you buy another motorcycle from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 13th October, 2010