First Ride Aboard The 2003 BMW R1200CL

Gilding the lily

2003 BMW R1200CL
BMW understands that cruiser riders prefer a low seat height, so the 29.3-inch saddle has significantly scalloped sides for easier reach to the ground.Courtesy of BMW

This article was originally published in the December 2002 issue of Motorcycle Crusier.

The Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina. You couldn’t pick a more opulent location at which to stage a product introduction than the world’s largest private residence. It’s posh, but the Biltmore Estate is not exactly subtle—it practically screams luxury. Which is exactly what BMW wants you to think its new touring cruiser does.

Designated R1200CL for "Cruiser Luxury," this new traveler is based on BMW's flat-twin R1200C—a unique blend of high style and technology when it debuted in 1997. That model became the company's best-seller in America, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a family resemblance in the touring-biased CL—its integrated hardbags, spacious seating and shark-snouted, handlebar-mounted fairing basically conceal the telltale, unchanged 1170cc powerplant. Only the jutting, chromed cylinder heads and exhaust pipes betray the bike's origins.

The components surrounding the engine, from the chassis to the drivetrain, have been redesigned from the ground up. The CL may have sprung from the R1200C, but it sports such accoutrements as heated seats from the more upscale K1200LT. To manage a wider speed range, the CL gets a new, lighter, six-speed transmission with re-angled gear teeth for quieter running. The Telelever suspension has also been reconfigured, with forks set farther apart to accommodate the 150/80-16, 3.5-inch-wide tire, and shares virtually no parts with the previous cruiser’s unit. A reinforced Monolever rear suspension system controls a 15-inch alloy wheel and a 170/80 rear tire. The latest edition of BMW’s fully integrated ABS comes standard, delivering controlled stopping power to both wheels.

New bodywork considerably redefines the visual contours of the boxer engine, and the rear frame is reinforced to support the sideboards, cases, luggage and new seat. The swing arm and rear axle have also been substantially modified.

2003 BMW R1200CL
Unfortunately the CLs 61 hp and 72 foot-pounds of torque at 3000 rpm is not nearly enough to heft its claimed wet weight of 679 pounds.Courtesy of BMW

All Aboard

Throwing a leg over the pre-production test bike was a straightforward affair—even BMW understands that cruiser riders prefer a low seat height. And although the CL's 29.3-inch saddle is slightly taller than the standard C's, its sides are significantly scalloped, allowing a more direct reach to the ground. The saddle features separate rider and passenger sections with built-in backrests and buckets of room.

Although the wide, wheelbarrow-style handlebar affords a good riding position, BMW purists will be horrified by the driver floorboards and heel/toe shifter on the CL. Not to worry—the mechanism works effortlessly, together with a brake pedal that requires minimal movement to actuate.

If the bike’s visual statement is what speaks loudest, however, that’s because überdesigner Dave Robb had a hand in it. We fixated on the swept, fork-mounted, bat-wing fairing first—it reminded us of a Harley Electra Glide’s, especially when seen coming up in a rearview mirror. A BMW insider at the intro joked, “We built the CL to fool Harley guys into waving at us because they never do.”

The aerodynamic fairing houses four lights: two outer orbs for the low beam and two vertically stacked ones for high. The unique M-shaped windshield has a center “dip” that BMW claims flows air around the rider without obstructing his view—and it did so flawlessly on our test ride. The cockpit view includes a speedometer and an odometer flanking a bank of warning lights set in a chrome-paneled background. An analog clock caps the display, and if you look closely, you’ll spot the electronic cruise control on the left handgrip.

The details are exquisite. Mirror pods extending from the fairing include integrated turn signals designed to redirect wind from the hands. My only complaint was that the closely positioned heated grips obscured a major chunk of the real estate in the mirrors. I also loved the R1200CL’s capacious saddlebags—the clamshell lids open with the press of a button for plenty of cargo room. The topbox swallows a full helmet and could be unbolted in a snap. Even from the rear the CL appears sleek, except for the dated brake/taillight assembly.

2003 BMW R1200CL
Mirror pods include integrated turn signals designed to redirect wind from the hands.Courtesy of BMW

Hanging On

The CL has a six-speed overdrive transmission, but I never fully tapped into it, finding it easier to stay in fifth gear. Unfortunately, power remains unchanged in the CL’s engine room, with 61 hp and 72 foot-pounds of torque cranking at 3000 rpm. That may be adequate for the standard R1200C, but with the CL’s added 80-plus pounds, it isn’t nearly enough.

At slow speeds, I couldn’t understand why the front end of the pre-production machine I rode felt vague, especially on tight transitions. The Telelever damped bumps admirably but never provided feedback on what the front was doing. In corners, the bike didn’t track steadily, the suspension possibly struggling to compensate for the huge fairing up front.

BMW says it’s reconfigured the R1200C Telelever to accommodate added weight, but perhaps more tweaking is necessary. The revised Monolever rear, however, did provide a smooth ride over the pockmarked roads I encountered, and I found the CL to have excellent ground clearance for a bike of its size and heft.

Another nagging feature of the standard R1200C that remains unchanged on the CL is the 4.6-gallon gas tank. On a heavy touring bike, that kind of capacity will barely get you to the next 7-Eleven. Even though this bike’s focus is luxury, I’d like to see more real-world issues addressed, especially from a manufacturer that’s known for producing superior touring machines.

Wishing and Hoping

The CL looks to be the smallest and lightest contender in the touring cruiser class, displacing 1170cc and tipping the scales at a claimed 679 pounds wet—well below its 700-pound-plus competitors (such as the Yamaha Venture and Harely-Davidson Electra Glide). BMW says its luxury tourer will be available in two trims—the standard CL without music, or the bell-and-whistle–laden CLC, which will run $500 dollars more and provide a CD player and a soft touch, heated seat. We’re pleasantly surprised by the CL’s base price of $15,990, however, which is set far below the competition’s tariffs. The R1200CL goes on sale next spring, when stablemates the Euro and Stiletto disappear from BMW’s cruiser lineup.


Designation: BMW R1200CL
MSRP: $15,990 ($16,490 for the CLC)
Standard Colors: Blue Metallic, Brown Metallic, Silver Metallic
Standard Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
Wet Weight: 679 lb.
GVWR: 1169 lb.
Wheelbase: 64.61 in.
Seat Height: 29.3 in.
Engine Type: Air-/oil-cooled opposed twin
Valve arrangement: OHV, 2 intake, 2 exhaust valves per cylinder
Displacement, bore & stroke: 1170cc, 101mm x 73mm
Compression ratio: 10.0:1
Carburetion: Electronic fuel injection
Transmission: Dry, single-plate clutch, 6 speeds
Final Drive: Shaft, 2.62:1
Wheels: Cast aluminum, 16x3.5-in. front, 15x4-in. rear
Front Tire: 150/80-16 tubeless
Rear Tire: 170/80-15 tubeless
Front Brake: Two 4-piston calipers, 12-in. discs, antilock
Rear Brake: One, 2-piston caliper, 11.2-in. disc, antilock
Fuel Capacity: 4.62 U.S. gal. (1 gal. reserve)