With all of last year's attention focused on the upgraded K 1300s, it seems the 2009 K 1200 LT had been left to collect dust in the back of the East Coast motorcycle press fleet shed. Is this on purpose? Could the aging LT be next in line to receive the new engine and upgraded components?
Tricia rides the K 1200 LT.
Built to compete directly with Honda's Gold Wing (the old 1500cc version), the luxury tourer includes most of the creature comforts one has come to expect from this category of motorcycles like locking, high-capacity hard saddlebags and top case with luggage rack; a large windshield that's height-adjustable via electronic thumb switch; an AM/FM/CD in-dash player with four speakers, six presets, and rider and passenger controls; cruise control; heated seats, handgrips and passenger backrest; dual accessory sockets; and an electro-hydraulic centerstand. Plus, for the same money you also get an anti-theft alarm, height-adjustable Xenon headlight, electronic reverse, and a top-notch, fully integrated braking system with servo-assist and ABS.
At the time of its introduction in 1999, the new tourer blew away the competition. Its modern, sporty, aerodynamic shape and powerful acceleration took corners like no bagger ever had business doing before. Interestingly, a couple years later, Honda fought back with its updated, sportier Gold Wing. So how does the LT stand now?
The K 1200 is takes corners with the ease of a sportbike while offering the storage space and comfort of a luxury tourer.
The 1172cc engine certainly isn't lacking by any means. But as one of the current touring market's smallest motors, it feels like it's working much harder than the Gold Wing's 1832cc power plant. The noisy grunt the LT's engine produces is one of the only complaints I've got to write about — if I must nitpick — but twist the throttle, release the clutch, and you'd better hang on. Pulling with a decent 86 ft-lbs. of torque at 5250 rpm, this motor likes to be revved hard. Especially when you read BMW's claimed 116 hp is reached at 8000 rpm. It's more than enough to pull you, your passenger, and all the accouterments you can fit in the 77 liters of storage volume.
The K 1200 LT has lots of storage space for all the touring necessities, like this topcase showing enough space for a full face helmet with room to spare.
Rear luggage rack.
Lockable hard-sided bags.
Our base model test bike with no additional options, came with only the mount for BMW's Navigator GPS system, leaving an ugly gathering of wires up front and center. And the radio was a bit cumbersome to use. Unless you have extra-long thumbs, like Uma Thurman's character in Even Cowboys Get The Blues, you need to take your left hand completely off the grip to use the bar-mounted radio controls (BMW's infamous turn signal switches on each grip take up a lot of real estate). Perhaps this is why BMW decided to add a controller out back, allowing your passenger to change the volume and station from the pillion. The CD player only accepts one disc at a time, and there's no place near the dash to store extras, though the small compartment in front of the player holds toll change and the garage door remote just fine. My biggest complaint about this radio setup is the lack of an auxiliary input for an iPod, which is available only as an option. But the sound quality of the front and rear speakers is quite good, and I appreciate the automatic noise leveler, which reduces the volume as the motorcycle decelerates.
Passenger radio controls enable the back seat to decide volume and station while the driver can concentrate on the road. One of the best features is the automatic noise leveler decreasing the volume as the bike decelerates.
The LCD dash displays plenty of information, including, in some cases, the song title and artist playing. Besides that, you've got your usual cluster of speedo, tach, trips, averages, air temp, mpg, etc. I particularly liked the orange glow of the nighttime illumination, which activates based on your light sensitivity setting.
The K 1200 is limited on dash mounted accessories that are now standard on most touring bikes like a GPS and a MP3 player port.
The curb weight of this beast is a hefty 835 pounds and the seat height is a bit tall at 30.3 inches (it's adjustable to 31.5 inches), but once you manage to muscle the bike off the sidestand, you notice how well balanced the machine is. The cast-aluminum single backbone with tubular steel rear frame chassis combined with BMW’s signature Telelever front fork and Paralever swingarm is simply superb. Rear spring preload is adjustable, but the stock setup felt so good to me that I felt no need to make any kind of adjustments at all. While the chassis is confidence inspiring in hard corners, ground clearance is respectable for a bike of this dimension. The sheer size and weight of the LT is, at first, intimidating, and it's true that I did break out in a sweat during some tricky parking lot maneuvers, but the overall ride quality is sophisticated and surprisingly quick and agile. It's also perfect for long hours in the saddle in superior comfort, for both rider and passenger. It's really everything a great tourer should be.
Tricia shows that at 5 feet 6 inches she can sit flat footed despite a high-ish seat height of 30.3 inches.
After a couple of commutes on the LT, I had all the controls mastered; I couldn't wait to share the large rear pillion with someone to get an impression. It wasn't difficult to find a friend who was willing. My poor, unsuspecting passenger, Ruby, and I were having a wonderful spirited ride through some of my favorite Connecticut back roads, when a fawn darted out of the woods to cross the road right in front of us. Luckily, I'd already been downshifting to a stop sign that was about 30 feet ahead. I brought the big rig to a safe halt with about an inch to spare as the poor animal fluttered to catch its footing on the pavement and escape into the woods.
The rear pillion has ample room for a passenger.
Not yet familiar with the tech specs of the braking system, I never felt or heard any pulsing, but I did hear a little tire screech, which led me to assume that the bike was not equipped with ABS. Still, I was very impressed by how incredibly quickly, smoothly, and responsively the integrated brake system worked. There was no front-end dive whatsoever as the suspension worked harmoniously with the brake system. Ruby seemed quite content on her pillion, and politely apologized for bumping her helmet with mine, never realizing the ramifications of the close call we'd just experienced together.
After the ride, I did my homework, discovering that the LT has been equipped with ABS since its introduction. As the model's brochure puts it, "Complete locking of the wheels is prevented and the maximum amount of brake pressure is automatically transferred so that the wheels remain just short of the locking boundary. The fully [integrated] brake system always takes effect on both wheels, whether you use the lever or the pedal. The new pressure modulator ensures that the brake force is perfectly calibrated for the double-disc brake at the front and the single-disc brake at the rear, depending on load and road conditions." The only downside to this setup is that I can imagine getting lazy about using proper braking techniques since the bike does it for you.
Even though the big Beemer is beginning to show its age, the fact that it began life as a futuristic machine built by some of the best, forward-thinking engineers in the business keeps it a viable purchase option. The LT is a wonderful touring machine, capable of managing long-distance tours in comfort and safety. If BMW does introduce a new version of the LT, history has proven that it's sure to be a leader in the luxury-touring category. Even better, perhaps there will be a flood of great used K 1200 LTs in dealerships. Don't toss your CDs yet.
Specs At A Glance: 2009 BMW K 1200 LT
Seat Height: 30.3 inches, adjustible to 31.5 inches
Fuel Capacity: 6.2 gallons
Weight: 835 pounds
Price: starts at $21,520 (2010 price $21,700)
This is BMW's top-of-the-line touring motorcycle and not recommended for beginners. Women who love to tour, and want the high-tech engineering and reliability of a BMW will appreciate what the LT has to offer. But remember, the LT has not been redesigned since it was introduced 10 years ago. That should be considered when thinking of buying a new one.
About the Author
Tricia Szulewski has maintained the woman rider's perspective in RoadBike magazine for the past 10 years. She became a certified MSF instructor in 2008 and logs thousands of miles each year on anything that shows up in the company stable. You can find some of Trish's bike reviews, adventures, product evaluations and more at RoadBikeMag.com.
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