BMW Owners News
MOA Garage

The Adventure Brothers take on … the Roadster?

Photos courtesy of Shawn & Lance Thomas and BMW Motorrad

The Adventure Brothers are known for their prowess in the dirt, with decades of combined experience of beating the holy hell out of Adventure Motorcycles, apparel and equipment. Even in the off-road world, we are the butt of a few well-earned jokes. When the MOA approached us to offer our thoughts on the new R 1200 R, we were just as surprised as you are. “You have the potential to provide a unique perspective,” they assured us, “and we think our readers would like to know what it is.” No one can say that we back down from a challenge, and this would be no exception. With that, the Adventure Brothers became temporary owners of a 2015 Roadster to do with as we pleased – and pleased we were!

First off, let’s answer the obvious question. The Roadster is not a good bike for off-road riding (we best not offer details on how we came to this conclusion, lest any future review offers be rescinded). Beyond this, the R 1200 R is arguably the modern iteration of a legacy BMW began with the legendary R 32 back in 1923. As with then, the Roadster is a machine of elegant and minimalist design, offering everything the pilot needs—and nothing they don’t—for their riding pleasure. Sure, you can add plenty of OEM accessories, such as luggage and a windscreen, but this bike is just as at home in its pure, uncluttered form.

So long as BMW has made motorcycles, they have offered a Roadster in one form or another. Over the years this machine has seen several evolutions, but with a few sustained cornerstones. The seat height has remained manageable to most, the riding position sporty yet relaxed. They have maintained a modular element, with the ability to add comfort and storage accoutrements with relative ease. For these reasons and more, it has not been uncommon for BMW dealerships to use the Roadster as a service loaner, as they are fun, diverse and unintimidating for the majority of riders.

For 2015 the Roadster has been redesigned with a distinctly sharper look. Gone are the days of soft, unassuming lines and a bulbous fuel tank, replaced with a feel akin to the sporty, aggressive S 1000 series of BMW. This move reasserts the design as a contender in a growing lineup of Roadsters from countless manufactures (no word yet on whether long-time BMW Roadster owners approve of the new look). Likewise the new “WaterBoxer” liquid-cooled motor has been added, putting out 125 hp and 92 lb-ft of torque.

Another big change is the removal of the Telelever suspension, which has been a staple of the Roadster since 1995. This system effectively separated braking from suspension, all but eliminating the feel of brake dive when slowing aggressively. There have been several assumptions made as to why BMW eliminated this essential technology, including price point (it’s cheaper to make the bike without this feature, isn’t it?), design (there is no room for it, what with the addition of a large radiator), and competitive edge (the roadster can better compete with other bikes in the segment without this strange, cumbersome addition).

BMW stated that evolutions in suspension technology are making the need for the Telelever superfluous. In the past, suspension was only as good as how the rider set it up. Want a cushy ride? Set the damping to soft and enjoy better bump absorption. Want performance? Set it to hard and feel a quick reaction when cornering. The problem was that you could only have one or the other. Carving corners with soft suspension does not inspire confidence, and braking feels squishy. On the other hand, riding bumpy roads with a stiff suspension will make you very aware of your kidneys – assuming you have the patience and wherewithal to properly adjust the suspension in the first place (FYI: most of us don’t). The Telelever helped mitigate this, offering a best of both worlds approach that was otherwise very difficult to achieve.

In 2005, BMW introduced Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA). This allowed riders to tweak their suspension via an electronic interface, offering three damping and up to five weight/load presets to choose from, all with the push of a button. Some new models offer damping that actively adjusts to riding conditions, introducing a dynamic element to the suspension. With this factory-optional addition to the R 1200 R, the bike now reacts to the road far more effectively than previous models, adjusting to braking and variations in road surface in a fraction of a second. This impressive technology is far more efficient than could be achieved by the average suspension tweak. In theory, these upgrades ensure that the bike handles better than ever, offers whip-snap power and long range comfort.

The only way to know how a bike performs is to ride it, so we took the roadster to what we felt would be an ideal environment: the mountainous back roads of central California. Here we exposed the machine to the rigors of extreme twisties, long straightaways and urban gridlock. We rode day and night, in cold and warm weather (no rain to ride in – it’s California!), and of course stopped at every Starbucks along the way. The Roaster in its natural habitat!

Coming off an R 1200 GS, it is shocking how much more agile the R 1200 R is. The smaller front wheel and forward posture ensure exceptional, confidence-inspiring grip. Less ground clearance than an adventure bike gives you a new level of flickability, begging you to seek out the best yank-and-bank roads around.

A redesigned instrument panel allows riders to choose from three different digital display layouts, offering information pertinent when performance riding, leisure cruising or both. Adjusting the display on the fly took some getting used to, but once we understood the nuances, we were fiddling with it early and often.

Power on the R 1200 R is identical to the GS, but the air intake design ensures a more efficient power band. This was plainly evident on acceleration and caused some whoops and hollers as we tore along Skyline Boulevard toward Alice’s Restaurant.

You won’t miss the Telelever. The Dynamic Suspension is incredible, offering intuitive, nearly instantaneous adjustments when traversing dips and bumps. The annoying brake dive is still there, perhaps more than during the days of the Telelever, but it’s minor, performing well even when getting on the binders hard and fast.

The forward lean on the bars is well pronounced compared to the GS. We were certain this would cause comfort issues and were happily surprised when it didn’t. The forward lean is countered by a smooth passage of wind against the upper body, keeping us feeling neutral and comfortable from 25 mph on up.

Coming in at 6’2″ and 6’4″, we Adventure Brothers are not exactly small dudes. This was immediately clear when straddling the small-profile machine. There were many snickers on our Sena comm systems, with mention of something regarding a monkey and a football. At first, it was no problem. We saddled up and took off, thinking nothing of the Cirque du Soleil acrobatic fold we achieved to fit between the seat and pegs. It wasn’t long before we were yearning for a stretch, though. This was easily forgotten when carving corners, but when the long straights came up, the squirming began.

To their credit, BMW offers several seat height options for the Roadster, including a Comfort Seat designed to accommodate the larger-statured. We weren’t able to snag one, instead making do with the stock seat. It can be successfully argued that seats are a very personal element of motorcycling, and if we owned this bike, the stock saddle would have to go.

Wind protection was not an issue most of the time. California’s central coast offers mild temperatures, ideal for a bike with no fairing. When the mornings were cold, so were we. It was manageable with proper gear, but we wouldn’t want to be caught in a rainstorm or wind-chilled afternoon on the Roadster.

We have mixed feelings on the matter. In their desire to create a bike to fit a wide range of people, the Roaster is arguably too small for guys our size. Still, when canyon carving and threading through town, there is definitely an appeal. A taller seat would be mandatory, and adding the OEM side cases would be a nice upgrade. Just like suiting up in muddy textiles and a dual-sport helmet for GS rides, it’s really fun to don the garments of a Roaster owner. A whole different crowd collects to talk motorcycles when the R 1200 R rolls in, and they share the same good nature and camaraderie we have come to love in motorcyclists.

We say ride it. Most dealerships have an R 1200 R to test ride, and we promise you the roads will be a lot of fun on the Roadster!

THE ADVENTURE BROTHERS! Together, Shawn and Lance Thomas have more than 15 years of experience in the world of adventure riding. They have led tours all over the world, and taught the nuances of their craft to thousands of novice and advanced riders. The experiences they have shared make for some epic tales, which they are honored to share with the BMW Owners News.