BMW K 1300 S

K_1200_S_29By Kevin Ash

Pictures: Double Red, Jason Critchell

The original K1200 S was supposed to be BMW’s Hayabusa-beater. Its transverse, four-cylinder engine was the company’s first in this configuration and the claimed 165bhp output was by far the highest from any BMW production bike engine, while the sleek bodywork and forward-leaning rider stance suggested speed and handling to support BMW’s claims that this might even challenge the established superbikes such as Honda’s Fireblade, in addition to the super-sports-tourers such as the Hayabusa and Honda Blackbird.

 BMW_K1200S_10Click on image for galleryInstead it was awful. The first time I rode the 1200 S I was shocked at how underdeveloped it was: the engine fuelled so badly you were never quite sure how much power you’d be getting, it lacked low and mid-range torque, the idle was rough and unreliable, the vibration was terrible, and the handling was downright dangerous at speed. That was July 2004 with the bike’s showroom debut scheduled for September. BMW quietly agreed (despite some astonishingly fawning reports from much of the specialist bike press), and the customer launch was put back six months to sort out these issues – the official reason was to correct a camshaft hardening problem, but insiders confirmed development of the rest of the bike was frantic during this period.

So Take Two on the K1200 S arrived at BMW dealers in March 2005. It was better, a lot better in fact, but still not great, and in acknowledgement of this, development kept on going for the next two years. By 2007 it was a pretty good bike, finally with cleaned up fuelling and a good amount of torque with reasonable fuel consumption, although the high rev vibration was still unpleasant. But its rivals hadn’t stood still either: Suzuki now offers a new, faster and more power Hayabusa and Kawasaki has chipped in with its ZZR1400.

K_1200S_33So, BMW took its rough-but-finally-ready motor along to world-leading engine and vehicle design consultancy Ricardo on England’s south coast with the brief to increase capacity and at the same time, not just power and torque but sophistication too. The rest of the K1300 S was to be changed only in detail, while the same revised motor was also to power the new K1300 R and GT models. Ricardo concentrated on the top end of the engine – read the full technical appraisal here – and not only increased power by 8bhp, achieved this a full 1,000rpm lower than before at 9,250rpm, with torque up by at least 7.4lb.ft from 2,000-8,000rpm.

K1200_S_15Does it work? With some minor reservations, definitely yes. There’s a bonus too which you notice the moment you thumb the entirely new switchgear : the bike sounds fantastic! This is only partly due to the increased capacity, the main reason is the fitment of a Yamaha EXUP-style butterfly valve in the exhaust to improve low rev torque and also help the bike pass noise emissions requirements – spin the motor hard, the valve opens and the K1300 barks like an angry race bike. It snicks into gear quietly enough, then with a small handful of throttle pulls away strongly, although the clutch sometimes judders and groans like a milder version of Ducati’s braying donkey dry clutch design. Trickling around at small throttle openings is not quite as smooth as it might be – the K1300 S has a typically BMW high-geared throttle action in the initial opening phase which often gives you more power than you might have wanted, so you have to treat the twistgrip with extra sensitivity at low speeds. There’s also some occasional surging as the throttle is closed and opened, noticeable in an urban environment, while diving into a corner then opening the throttle sometimes induces a tiny delay in the power returning. Compared with early K1200s these traits are now barely noticeable and many riders won’t spot them at all, so treat this as an observation rather than something to put you off. With the speed increased you can now slot the 1300 S into top gear early and still have torque enough to slip past cars with a brush of twistgrip – previously in the 4,000-6,000rpm range you’d have had to drop a gear or two, but now the bike snarls confidently and muscles its way along with a new-found effortlessness. Spin the engine harder and no surprise, it’s very, very fast, ferociously quick even. The sensation of speed is tamed somewhat by the astonishing stability of the chassis and the excellent aerodynamics, although it’s still not as quick as a Hayabusa. Okay, nothing else is, but the K1300 S does lack the final merciless punch of the Suzuki. Even so, it should be fast enough for most, just as long as you can put up with the age-old BMW bane of vibration. Up to 7,000rpm or so it’s smooth, almost creamily so, but from there up to the 11,000rpm red zone it buzzes harshly. It’s better than the 1200, but that’s like saying being kicked in the shins twice is better than three times: you’d still rather it didn’t happen.

Howling the motor up through the gearbox is extra-satisfying if you have the quickshift gearchange option: as with a race bike there’s no need to use the clutch or even to close the throttle, just keep the throttle pinned, push up the lever and sometimes with a pop through the exhaust you’re in the next ratio faster than you can hear the change. You still need the clutch to change down, and the system does need careful adjustment or the change action becomes very heavy (even some of our test bikes weren’t quite right), but when it’s good, it’s very good indeed.

Another option (and there are lots with BMWs) is the ESA 2 electronic suspension adjustment. The K1300 series have this next generation of ESA and it’s worth every penny extra. In Normal mode the suspension is better controlled than on the base model without it, while Sport mode firms the bike up for extra poise and feedback in hard riding. The Comfort setting is for poor surfaces, fairly obviously, and at first I thought it was less soft than on the old ESA because the bike was wallowing and shuffling about less. But after a few miles it became clear it was absorbing rough roads at least as well as before, yet the bike was better controlled too. This is down to the increased sophistication of the suspension, very likely including the reduced unsprung weight at the front – the Duolever wishbone is now made of aluminium rather than steel and is 2.2lb (1kg) lighter as a result. But ESA 2 also alters the spring rate as well as the preload and damping settings, which is also a factor.

As with the old ESA, you can also set the suspension – all from a handlebar-mounted switch – to carry a passenger and/or luggage too. And it’s not a novelty gadget, you end up using it all the time, maybe even more with the 1300s as the range of settings – the difference between Sport and Comfort – is wider than before.

While you’re fiddling with the switchgear you’ll notice BMW has dropped its famous – or infamous – three-button indicator set-up. Instead there’s a conventional single left-handlebar switch, partly because BMW is keen to attract more riders from other marques (and the old system was considered something of a barrier) and partly with so many possible electrical options the designers were running out of handlebar space! On a fully kitted K1200 GT for example you might also get switches for heated grips and heated seat as well as ESA and the on-board computer info, in addition to the standard switches. The new switches look sophisticated but their action is a little heavy, while the indicator one has too little travel and is rather pointy and uncomfortable to use. Traditionalists will bemoan the loss of the old system but everyone else will sigh with relief.

There’s more sophistication in the brakes, BMW’s semi-integral ABS, meaning applying the hand brake lever also activates the rear brake as well as the front, although the foot pedal operates the rear alone. Along with the ABS the bike also features ASC, the company’s relatively new traction control system. This is not a race-type traction control as fitted to Ducati’s 1198 S, but it does prevent the rear wheel spinning under acceleration when traction is lost. ABS and ASC can be switched off by the rider, as long as the bike is at a standstill.

But none of this could prevent a very old-fashioned problem: on a twisty, downhill section of road I had to back right off at one point because of severe brake fade. The K1300 S is a heavy motorcycle and repeated hairpin bends with some exuberant stops were all too much and quite suddenly the lever started to come right back to the handlebar. It recovered reasonably fast but a proper superbike wouldn’t have suffered in the first place. As an owner I’d also be very annoyed at the amount of corrosion building up on the brake disc carriers - the test bikes were only weeks old so it doesn't bode well for durability.

Which leads to the question, what exactly is the K1300 S for? If you like really high speeds it’ll do them, but with its smallish 4.2 gallon (19 litre) tank, not for long as consumption falls to the low 30s when the bike’s used hard. The riding position is a little too forward leaning for sustained touring, and while the steering is precise, stability is excellent and agility good for the class, if you really enjoy good handling, a Japanese superbike or Ducati twin will suit you much better.

Still, the S version of BMW’s three K-series (the 1200 LT doesn’t belong in this group) outsells the R by two to one and the GT by even more, so some riders know what they want from it. And with the 1300 S they’ll be getting a whole lot more, delivered in a far more convincing package.

More significantly, for the first time I'd choose a K1300 S over a Hayabusa. Okay, it's not as fast but it's still ballistically rapid, while the riding position is less cramped, wind protection is better, there's more feedback from the suspension (the Hayabusa's front end is rather vague), the brakes are better (fade aside) and if you go for the base, non-ABS model, the prices are comparable. After that, you can spec up the K1300 as much as you like, which you can't do with a Hayabusa.

£10,165 on the road.

Options prices:
1. ABS: £895
2. Gear shift assistant: £299
3. ESA II: £617
4. Automatic Stability Control (ASC): £250
5. Heated handlebar grips: £196
6. Tyre pressure control (TPC): £172
7. On-board computer: £123
8. Anti-theft Alarm system: £172
9. Sapphire Black colour option: £385
10. Low seat (790mm): FOC
Dynamic pack – ASC+TPC = £377 (save £45)

Contact: BMW (GB), 01344 426565 - USA-based BMW sport-touring forum site


shuggiemac's picture
Joined: 23/11/2008

The test on all three bikes in the range makes interesting reading (by the way the link from the 'Recent Features' panel on the left side of the page does not work but the ones in the horizontal bar do) and it makes it a real pleasure to come to the site and see detailed reports on so many bikes.
You mention the vibration from the motor as being pretty bad but how does it manifest itself? Is it through the bars, the pegs, the seat or just every where? It also begs the question that if it is a known issue why have they not managed to fix it, do you know where it eminates from? I assume that in light of your closing statement that the vibration is not annoying enough overall as you indicate your preference for the Beemer over the Hayabusa.
It also made me smile in reading the GT report of just how quickly things change and we become used to them as the norm. You mentioned the fact that the GT is the lower powered version of the three machines but we are still talking in excess of 150 bhp. It was not so long ago that power figures like that were a fantasy for a sports bike and here we have them on a touring biased machine and a BMW to boot!

kevash's picture
Joined: 05/10/2008

I've fixed those broken links, thanks for that!
The vibes are just everywhere, bars, pegs, tank, the lot. In fact they're not as bad as on the old 1200s but still pretty strong compared with Japanese fours. Hard to say where it comes from and why they haven't got rid of them, but after years of strong vibes on the boxer twins the guy who designed the HP2 Sport's dohc heads said they finally discovered the vibes on those come from the valve gear! And sure enough the HP2 Sport is much smoother, even though it revs higher. So maybe with the fours BMW don't know, or more likely, they simply thing they're acceptable. Yup, 160bhp on a tourer as the sensible option... not complaining mind!
And yes, for the first time I'd have a GT over a Hayabusa. Yes the Suzuki is quicker and smoother too, but the BMW's other advantages finally win. If the outright speed is the main thing you want though then it'd still have to be the Busa, that is hilariously, insanely fast and I would miss that, but with my own money I'd end with the GT.

dataware's picture
Joined: 28/04/2010

Dear Kevin,

you solved me a problem with this bike test. I'm the owner of a beautiful K1300S but, same as happen to you, "on a twisty, downhill section of road", with exuberant stops, and, most of all, short straights, I had to stop because of the same severe fading that happened to you. None of my friends noticed the same problem, even during trackdays. This let me tought it was a problem of bubbles forming in the brake oil reservoir (even if I had the sponge in the reservoir). Everybody convinced me that fading for stressing was impossible since the brake system of this motorbike was oversized. I changed the fuel reservoir with the one used in the F800S, similar to japanese bike:

I wrote in many forum but I had no positive feedback: it seems like owners try to hide the problems it may have occasionally. Now when someone says that it's only my problem I reply saying "Not just mine,even Kevin Ash had the same problem". Thank you.

kevash's picture
Joined: 05/10/2008

Glad to be of help! I think on track days the kind of circuit will be important, there's often not as much braking as people think, and the speeds are high so there's plenty of cooling air.

Someone else who was riding with me had the same problem, although it's only happened on downhill twisty roads. But when it did it was severe, almost no brakes at all and the lever coming right back to the handlebar. I had to slow down enough to use engine braking only. I'm not sure how changing the fluid reservoir would help, the problem was happening because the callipers were getting too hot and were boiling gas out of the fluid - it was at the other end of the brake system where the problem was happening.

dataware's picture
Joined: 28/04/2010

Thank you for the reply Kevin. My solution will be more "philosophical" than practical. I have a beautiful motorbike: it's very fast, easy to handle and quite comfortable for long trips. I love it. But nobody is perfect, nor it is this BMW. So, when I'll be in situation like the twisty downhill roads, I'll simply reduce the speed, enjoying the "cycling" capability (does it mean something in english or is it a nonsense?) of this bike :)

I'm really very much satisfied to have an excellent witness like you, and to know that my bike has not a malfunction in the brake system, but it's just a congenital problem. Thank you again for your work.


Can you please tell me what part do you mean when you say "brake disc carriers" when you talk about excessive corrosion. At first time I was thinking you were talking about brake disc supports, but they are directly fixed to the wheels ... do you mean the disc itself?

Kermit's picture
Joined: 25/10/2011


Many thanks for the artical, I have had 2 x 1200s and am now on the 13 which I have to say is far better than the 12 but in lots of little ways.

If you were to put new tyres on a 13 what would you fit ?


Captain Scarlet
Captain Scarlet's picture
Joined: 01/12/2009

Kermit. I had a K1300S, a really great bike in lots of different ways. I fI was looking for some new rubber I'd probably go with some Michelin Pilots.

David Jerome
Joined: 26/09/2009

You might wish to consider Dunlop Sportsmarts. Thus far, they are holding up well after 4k plus miles and are most versatile; just like the machine itself. I still eulogise the K1300s after 2 years of ownership. For me the ergonomics, fuel economy and sheer all round capability continue to make the difference whether in town (I live in London) or in country. Then there's the performance .........

Rupert Bear
Rupert Bear's picture
Joined: 28/02/2011

about to buy a bike,BMW K1300s or Honda VFR 1300 ?

Captain Scarlet
Captain Scarlet's picture
Joined: 01/12/2009

Demo'd a VFR12 when I owned a K13S. They are both high quality, hugely fast, comfortable, capable, will last forever and I'd highly recommend them both.

Negatives are a short list. The VFR range could be slightly better, it's difficult to ride smoothly at very low speeds (mixture of abrupt fueling and driveline lash) and if you get a corner wrong it has a perchance for under-steer.

The K1300S clocks look old fashioned and it's long wheelbase is noticeable if thrashing down very twisty roads with friends on race-reps.

The overriding feel of both is build quality, power and dependability. Both are like an Audi A8 or BMW M5: proper quality, very powerful and slightly understated in a non flashy way.

My personal preference is the BMW. It has a little bit more power, a little bit more character. I like the quick-shifter and ESA II. Plus the traction-control saved my backside a couple of times too. I also prefer it's looks and I miss mine.

It's a win-win Rupert and will be much better than your 'Flying Chariot'! ;-D