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BMW R1200C – The Divisive Cruiser

In 1997 the BMW R1200C was unveiled, a motorcycle cruiser set to rival the big hitters from Harley Davidson and the Japanese bikes that were hitting the market at the time.

The bike had a run until 2005. It was designed by Dave Robb, an American designer but was a flat twin engineered and designed in Germany at BMW’s HQ.

Most cruisers are known for their V-twin configuration but BMW weren’t about to stray off their path, after all the Boxer engine had been powering every BMW since the dawn of time.

What they did want to do was produce a motorcycle that despite its flat twin configuration would directly target the American market, it would stand out at the local BMW dealer.

They would no longer be thought of as rational, sensible, practical motorcycles, but wild and free. They wanted to evoke images of James Dean and Elvis rocking around on a BMW motorcycle cruiser as opposed to a Harley, the marketing would be key in this regard.

Whether they were successful in that regard I am going to leave up to you to decide, Elvis may have passed on by 1997 but they did manage to get the model in a James Bond movie, starring Pierce Brosnan, that’s kind of cool right?

Let’s dig a little deeper.

BMW R1200C Review

The BMW R1200C was probably the most divisive cruiser ever built
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The BMW R1200C photo by ‘The Cruiser’ and licensed via Creative Commons

Dave Robb had one directive as BMW’s head designer, that was to design a motorcycle that was completely different and unexpected from the norm for a BMW. It needed to infiltrate the American market particularly, draw from the traditional cruiser style and shake off the idea that BMW’s were practical but more specifically a bit boring.

What he and his team came up with was the R1200C, a cruiser to rival any traditional thought process, one that was unmistakably a BMW German motorcycle but one that clearly had been influenced by the best of American engineering, driven by emotion and passion.

Engine and Transmission

BMW choose to use their reliable boxer engine, it is the very foundation of what makes up a Beemer. The engine was low powered (it put out just 61 horsepower), all of which was low down which is exactly where you want your torque on a cruiser.

The top speed might have been lacking when riding and peak power wasn’t going to shatter any records, however, anyone who rode a bike said they never felt it needed any more either.

The very same engine, same capacity, bore x stroke, once revamped and reworked would go on to feature in the 2004 GS but this produced closer to 100 horsepower. So the torque was there for the taking but perhaps BMW just didn’t think this particular bike needed it on tap.

As with most BMW’s, gear changes are clunky, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to any BMW rider.

Vibrations aren’t too bad from the engine unless you are trying to rinse the bike of everything it has to give. The exhaust note is nothing to write home about but the fuel injection provides excellent smooth throttle response.

Chassis, Suspension, Brakes, Handling

This is a motorcycle that has stripped the bodywork back to minimal with the actual frames structure being displayed more than anything else and more so than most cruisers.

The engine is the primary chassis structural member and everything else is built around it. You get a Monolever swingarm rear suspension that is fully exposed and Telelever front suspension which has a seperate spring/damper unit.

As a result you really see the bare bones skeleton more so than you do on most vehicles; some love this display of mechanical and engineering design and others consider it ugly.

To ride however, you don’t question the quality of what the bike gives you.

A very low seat height, medium height bars, forward foot pegs that aren’t as far forward as other bikes as the engine position prevents this. It is a comfortable, natural, roomy riding position that encourages you to stay in your seat for as many miles as possible.

The suspension soaks up bumps in the road with ease despite it being a relatively unusual system and the whole handling experience for a heavy bike is pleasant, it is responsive and predictable requiring little effort to steer even at low speeds.

The super low seat height, centre of gravity and overall balance, makes low speed handling a breeze and equally you feel stable at speed on the straights and in bends, cornering clearance is good despite the cylinders on either side.

While fitted with a single seat there is a passenger seat which hinges up so that can act as rider backrest if needs be, which is quite nice on long rides.

BMW fitted the model with excellent brakes with the addition of ABS (optional) the braking system was the best on the road for cruisers. Braking power is immense, revolutionary for the time of release and many cruiser manufacturers would have done well to take note at the time.

Styling

The skeleton framework, display of all the internal organs and components and severe lack of bodywork left a pretty naked but hugely muscular motorcycle that was then decked out in chrome to give it a premium quality feel.

It is a love it or hate it situation with the finished styling, what you can’t deny is the attention to detail that has been included at every stage of design. The R1200C screams quality.

BMW R1200C Performance

In much the same way as the recent 2020 release of the BMW R18 was met, when the BMW R1200C came out in 1997 it was a shock to the motorcycling world.

Although at the time it perhaps shouldn’t have been as the 90’s had seen a whole melting pot of cruiser motorcycles from manufacturers who hadn’t delved into the segment before.

There was the Yamaha Virago and V Star, the Honda Valkyrie and the Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 all around at the time so if the Japanese manufacturers were going to enter the melting pot of Harley Bagger chaos why couldn’t BMW?

The thing was that the BMW was still very different from other cruisers and some loved it while others were turned off by that very fact.

BMW’s new R1200C is apparently the kind of motorcycle you either love or loathe. Its approach to the genre is so singular that some question whether it should really be considered a cruiser.

Cruiser magazine in their 1997 review of the BMW R1200C

They end their review with what I think is the perfect summary of this BMW R model “Just the curbside conversations make BMW’s cruiser interesting. Everyone wants to talk about it and offer their thoughts. Completely original, it will annoy the narrow-minded and expand the definition of a cruiser.”

MCN rated the BMW R1200C 4 out of 5 stars with their summary “Like most cruisers, it sells on looks – this one had a part in a Bond movie too. Power is pretty modest considering the 1200cc engine but it’s enough. Dynamically it’s better than many cruisers thanks to quality engineering and light(ish) weight.”

While nobody was singing the motorcycles praises particularly, nobody was destroying the effort either and today it still has that effect on people when you come across one.

Production of the R1200C ended in 2004/5, President of BMW Motorrad (Dr. Herbert Diess) claimed that the prime reason for the bike being discontinued was that it was not a suitable engine for the current market tastes.

Arguably what Dr. Herbetrt Diess was actually saying was that the motor was simply not fast enough and the bike too slow for what people had come to expect out of a motorcycle cruiser. What was not ruled out was another bash at creating a cruiser in the future.

Fast forward to present day and we have the BMW R18 on sale.

BMW R1200C Spec list

Engine and Transmission

  • Engine – Four-stroke, twin cylinder horizontally opposed, Boxer engine, 4 valves per cylinder
  • Capacity – 1,170cc
  • Bore x Stroke – 101 x 73mm
  • Compression Ratio – 10.0:1
  • Cooling System – Air/Oil cooled
  • Induction – Bosch Motronic MA 2.4 fuel injection
  • Starting – Electric
  • Transmission – 5 speed
  • Final Drive – Shaft
  • Max Power – 61 horsepower at 5,000rpm
  • Max Torque – 98 Nm at 3,000rpm
  • Top Speed – 110mph

Chassis and Dimensions

  • Frame – Three section composite frame consisting of front and rear section, load bearing engine
  • Front Suspension – BMW telelever, stanchion 35mm, central strut
  • Rear Suspension – Die cast aluminium single sided swingarm with BMW monolever, spring preload adjustable
  • Front Brakes – 2 x 305mm discs, 4 piston calipers
  • Rear Brakes – Single 285mm, 2 piston calipers
  • Dry Weight – 236kg
  • Length – 2,340mm
  • Height – 1,130mm
  • Width – 1,050mm
  • Wheelbase – 1,650mm
  • Ground Clearance – 172mm
  • Seat Height – 740mm
  • Fuel Capacity – 17.5 Litres

BMW R1200C Variants

There were several variants of the BMW R1200C throughout its production run, some strayed off from the original bike more than others.

Classic

This was the original bike, named ‘Classic’ as there were other models later on to choose from.

Avantgarde

Hit dealers in 2000, with a lot less chrome, darker moodier graphite paint scheme and ABS was a cost option.

Independent / Phoenix

A 2001 variant, made for the solo rider, with a solo seat, new two tone paint, aluminium wheels, wind shield and the BMW rondel on the alternator cover.

Montauk

Introduced in 2003 named after a New York resort, it was one of the most popular versions. In 2004 a limited 350 unit run was produced of the Montauk variant making it the last BMW R1200C models too. Braided brake hoses, additional vertically stacked headlight, revamped engine for more power and a refreshed instrument panel were just some of the changes. It was a beefy stand out cruiser.

Troika

Trike/3 wheel version, a R1200C with a side car, giving a rider more wheels, more stability and a different riding experience.

R1200CL

2002 variant and a full dress touring model. Think the Goldwing of BMW’s, cruise control, top case with backrest for the passenger seat, floorboards instead of footpegs, analog clock on instrument panel, power outlets, heated grips, seat and cost options for electronics like an anti-theft system.

R1200CLC

Same as the CL model but with added extras, ABS, Cd player, more chrome everywhere possible

Other changes

For the final model year in 2004, BMW made ABS, dual ignition, a better transmission and a comfort passenger seat available for no extra cost.

There was also a smaller 850cc version produced, released in 2000.

Buying an Original BMW R1200C

In the UK prices for a BMW R1200C are in the region of £5,000-£7,000.

At the higher end of that figure you could pick up a Montauk limited edition (one of 350 for 2004), such as this one on MCN.

However, at the £4,500 mark you can get a 2000 model like this one on Autotrader.

CL models don’t fetch too much more than that either, so you can get a full dresser for similar money perfectly capable of long trips.

Independent and Avantgarde bikes are harder to come by. Mostly they are found in Germany and neighbouring European countries, they also have increased asking prices averaging around £9,000.

In the US prices start at around $4,000 and go up to $10,000. It is easier to get hold of a bike in the US as there are more available on the market, you have more choice in colours and variants.

Is the BMW R1200C a Good Investment?

The BMW R1200C was a standout motorcycle on its release, a bike that will always stand alone, despite its cruiser claims.

These bikes have held their value since their release and the market price is pretty steady.

The Avantgarde, Independent and Montauk variants standout as rarer editions, so if you are looking for an investment model one of these is the better option for a good return down the line, if you choose to sell.

Are they future classics? I am not sure, but they do have that air of prestige about them that leads me to think they have a cult fanbase that will continue to grow as the years go by.

Verdict

I remember a few years ago, a lovely older guy came into the store I was working in at the time and he has an R 1200 C, it was a Montauk version and one of only 5 I believe he said in the UK.

I hadn’t seen a bike quite like this, let alone a BMW. I was fascinated and once he had a cup of tea in his hand he was more than happy to tell me all about the bike and the whole history, safe to say he would have wrote this article with more detail than I can.

That day I fell in love with the R 1200 C, not because I wanted one, but because BMW Motorcycles had produced something out of the box. They had stuck to their guns and it was unapologetically 100% a Beemer thoroughbred. However, it was also a cruiser, a BMW cruiser that looked a little funky but also pretty incredible.

That gentleman rode that bike off out of the car park and I thought it was the best bike I’d ever seen. Not sure I still agree but it is up there, who wants a bike that looks like most motorcycles?

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