R 1200 RT “Waterhead” Reveiw

As many of you know, I acquired one of the “buy back” 2014 R1200 RT’s about a month ago. I have had the opportunity to ride it over 800 miles so far. This is a report of my impression of the “waterhead” RT. I previously have owned a 2002 R1150 RT, and two R1200 RT’s a 2006 “hexhead” and a 2011 “cam head.” Therefore my report will compare attributes of the waterhead to the various “oillhead” RT’s I have owned and ridden over 170,000 miles.

Engine Performance:

There was a big improvement from the 1150 engine to the 1200, which I will not rehash. The step from the camhead to the waterhead is even more impressive. The engine runs much smoother (vibration), and it pulls much harder. There is no surging and the ride by wire throttle is easy to modulate once you become accustomed to it. I nearly rolled off the back of the bike once during the first five miles I rode it when I rolled on the throttle in 2nd gear. The bike accelerates much harder than an oilhead and most of the potential torque is available from 3000 RPM’s to the 8500 redline. So far my mileage isn’t quite as good as the oilhead, however this may be attributed to my right wrist.



This is the smoothest shifting BMW I have owned. The gear ratios feel much like the R1200. There is no big Overdrive jump between 5th and 6th as in an 1150 engine.

This bike has the shift assistant Pro feature. As long as you are accelerating and in 2nd gear or higher shifts without using the clutch are fast and smooth. When decelerating, downshifts are just as smooth. If a downshift would cause the engine to redline, the feature is locked out. I take pride in making smooth downshifts, blipping the throttle to match engine speed to wheel speed, but when braking hard into a turn the bike shifts better than I can giving me the ability to brake with more finesse. You simply shut off the throttle and kick down a gear at a time and the engine revs are taken care of by the motorcycle’s central nervous system. No wonder all the road race bikes have quick shifters. It’s an amazing advantage if you are inclined to trail brake and rocket out of corners.



The first time I rolled off on an R1200, I immediately felt I was riding a much lighter bike than the R1150 I had ridden for four years. I had the same feeling with the waterhead. I just felt lighter and more responsive to steering input on the way home. You soon readjust to the feel, but there is no doubt that the bike handles as if it is 50 or so pounds lighter than the 2011 oilhead I was riding. I’ll discus braking and the suspension under separate headings, but the overall improvement is very big if you lean towards the sport side of the sport-touring continuum.



I’ve adapted to the brakes on all my RT’s pretty well except the worthless foot operated rear brake on the R1150 which could not be modulated smoothly. This sucks for parking lot maneuvers when feathering the clutch to control speed while riding the rear brake and locking the throttle position using the brake lever. Trail braking around tight switchbacks is also compromised. Forget about gravel roads.


I find that all braking, except those situation where only the rear brake is used can be accomplished with one finger covering the brake lever. At low speeds the brake is less grabby than were the brakes on my 2011 camhead. One difference I have noticed with the brakes on the 2014 bike is that if you do use the foot-controlled brakes the lever does not travel as far as it does when braking without the pedal. There is no reason to use the foot control most of the time. According to the owners manual, brake bias is controlled by the bikes control system, and varies depending on the situation and load on the bike.


If you used the foot control for the rear brake on the 2011 bike in conjunction with the brake lever, you would usually feel the antilock system intervening on the rear wheel. This is most likely caused by too much rear brake bias as the weight of the bike shifts to the front wheel. This does not happen with the 2014 bike. If you choose to use the foot and hand lever in the conventional manner, the bike seems to be happy and I have yet to feel the antilock system intervene with rear wheel braking. I suspect the brake control system is more sophisticated.



The new bike is equipped with dynamic suspension control. There are three settings: soft, medium and hard. You can select any mode in any riding mode. (more on riding modes later) The written explanations about BMW’s Dynamic Suspension Control relate that it is constantly adjusting to the road conditions and what you are doing. i.e. braking, accelerating, turning or combination of the above.

Can I feel it doing anything? No. How does the suspension compare to the oilheads? No contest. If you like to ride briskly on curvy roads, you will find yourself going faster easier than before. The attitude of the bike as you transition from braking to acceleration while turning seems to be more constant. The world slows down. Forgive me for gushing.

The three preload settings for the suspension can be adjusted while stopped with the engine running. You can change the damping range while on the move using the rotating controller on the left handlebar.


Dynamic Traction Control:

This is not an option; all R1200 RT’s now have it. I never felt the need for it with the oilheads, but this bike will easily drift the rear wheel when accelerating out of a curve, even when you are smooth with the throttle. When the traction control intervenes, nothing abrupt happens, the drifting just stops and you can relax certain muscles that reside adjacent to be bike’s seat. Traction control may be turned off and intervention varies with the riding mode selected.


Ride modes:

My bike has three ride modes: Rain, Road and the optional mode Dynamic. According to the owner’s manual there is no difference in available torque or horsepower in any of the three modes. The difference is in the degree of traction control intervention; throttle response and the default setting for the suspension adjustment.


Rain mode has the softest throttle response. You simply have to rotate the grip farther and faster to get the same effect you would get in the “road mode.”

The traction control is set to intervene at the first indication of rear tire slip when in rain mode. The default setting for suspension damping is soft when in rain mode, however you may override this setting.


Road mode provides a quicker response to throttle input; a medium degree of traction control intervention and the default suspension damping is medium. If you roll on enough throttle while leaned over you can feel the rear tire slip very briefly, however there is no further drama.   I will probably use this mode most of the time, even when riding “briskly” on curvy roads. I will set the suspension to “hard.”


Dynamic mode provides a downright quick throttle response. You simply don’t have to turn the grip much to get a lot of reaction. The same is true when you return the grip towards the idle position as engine compression intervenes quicker. I don’t find the more aggressive throttle response to be much of an advantage. It actually seems to require more finesse of the rider. Traction control is at the lowest level in dynamic mode. It will allow the rear wheel to drift enough to assist in turning the bike. Good for Mark Marquez and maybe on dirt, but I’ll stick to counter-steering and hanging off thank you.


Hill Start Assistant:

My feeling was if you need this you are riding way too much motorcycle. I have found it to be handy when stopping on a grade, either up or down. You pull on the brake lever and it sets. You then can release all brakes and the bike won’t roll until you ride away or depress the brake lever briefly. This can be handy when you stop on a grade and need to pull up a zipper or reach for a toll in your jacket pocket while keeping both feet on the ground. When you are ready to leave, just touch the brake lever and ride on.  The only time I tried to ride off with the throttle and clutch, when this feature was set. I killed the engine. Takes more practice to use than doing it the old fashion way.


Dash Display:

Best yet, easy to see in all light conditions. You can monitor tire pressure, battery voltage, ambient temperature and so forth by selecting display with the magic wheel.


Fairing and Windshield:

The most calm and effective protection I have experienced on a motorcycle. The only reason I can see to purchase aftermarket windshield is to try to impress someone.



It is firmer than on any RT I have owned to date. So far, I like it very much and don’t plan to buy an aftermarket seat. The only complaint is there is no space under seat to store my tools, air compressor and tire plug kit.



The clutch is supposed to be a slipper type to prevent rear wheel hop. I will either blip throttle or use the shift assistant feature that should accomplish the same thing. This clutch has a very different feel than the dry plate clutches on the oilheads I have owned.   Engagement is narrower and near the end of travel upon release of the lever. While the try clutches on the oilheads were easier to feather to control speed in parking lots and tight switchbacks, I’m getting used to the feel of the wet clutch on the waterhead.


Overall Impression:

The only things I miss from my R1200 oilhead is the storage space under the seat and the friction point characteristics of the clutch.   Overall, I have found the new waterhead to be just as versatile and much more sporty than an oilhead.

Bob Conley

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