BMW K 1200 RS test comparison against Ducati 944 ST2 against Honda VFR

BMW K 1200 RS test comparison against Ducati 944 ST2 against Honda VFR

Three just in case

Three motorcycles, three different concepts, one requirement: As a sports tourer, you want to be the best all-rounder, whether on winding country roads or on a long holiday tour for two.

In recent years, no motorcycle has interpreted the term sports tourer better than the Honda VFR. Your trump cards: uncomplicated driving behavior, proverbial reliability and an inspiring V4 engine. After a long period of restrained model updates, Honda is sending a completely new VFR into the race this year, costing 20,295 marks. At 782 cm³ it has the smallest displacement in this comparison, but at 20,295 marks it is also the cheapest of the three sports tourers.
Ducati caused a tangible surprise with the ST2. A sporty tourer for 21,390 marks from the hallowed halls in Bologna? For die-hard Ducatisti, it is almost sacrilege. But by turning away from uncompromising sportiness, the Italians are trying to win over tourist-oriented motorcyclists for the traditional brand.
For BMW, however, sporty touring motorcycles have long been a domain. Last year, the Munich-based company presented the K 1200 RS. A motorcycle with which Bavaria wants to show what is technically feasible. Standard G-Kat and ABS are a must. With other special features, however, their price is also quite high. But the 27,859 marks cannot scare customers, as the good sales figures show.
The centerpiece and at the same time the cream of the crop of the 290 kilogram flagship is without a doubt the horizontally installed inline four-cylinder. A real hammer, this engine, which shot once again over the self-imposed 98-hp limit with 112. At 130 Newton meters, the muscle man has more torque than the unthrottled 130 hp variant. Pressure in all situations, which the BMW documents with excellent pulling power, and with two people it distances its competitors by far. This vehement advance even at low engine speeds makes the gear display in the fully equipped BMW cockpit superfluous. Gear number six of the buttery smooth shiftable transmission is completely sufficient in normal driving. The engine runs rough at times, with audible mechanical noises, but the driver doesn’t notice the pithy vibrations thanks to the elaborate rubber mounts. The exhaust noise of the K 1200 RS? Exemplarily discreet.
The Honda V4, which is now equipped with a G-Kat, also does its job very cautiously, in addition to which it runs very smoothly. The injection engine works inconspicuously, with slight vibrations in the footrests and handlebar ends only being felt at 8000 rpm. In addition, a rapturously hoarse intake noise can be heard with increasing engine speed. The turbine-like VFR engine easily overcomes its low torque due to its displacement with a wide usable speed range between 4000 and 9000 rpm.
The 90-degree V2 of the Ducati ST2 shines with similar qualities, due to its design, even at lower speeds than the Honda four-cylinder. The water-cooled engine turns out to be an extremely powerful and economical contemporary: The Desmo consumes an average of six liters of super, the most economical engine in this comparison. The Honda and especially the BMW indulge in significantly more fuel. In conjunction with the 23 liter tank, the ST2 easily enables 350 kilometers and more without stopping to refuel. Tea Ducati drive runs a bit rougher, between 4000 and 5000 rpm it vibrates violently, but not unpleasantly. Probably the reason why the Duc’s license plate was torn from its holder at the end of the test. Rough, but warmly, with a spontaneous response, as can be expected from a Ducati engine. And then there is the typical rattle of the dry clutch, which is unfortunately very difficult to operate. Noise development? In Italy phonometers seem to work differently, namely more leniently. It is more serious that the ST2 lacks a G-Kat despite the injection system. A missed opportunity.
After just a few kilometers on Spanish country roads, the testers are busy with completely different things. For example the somewhat unfortunate seating position on the large K 1200 RS (see box on page 22). But also about positive impressions such as the progressive, reliable braking system of the BMW. What is most impressive, however, is this fantastic handling. Despite its heavy weight, the BMW appears light-footed. It can be steered in an inclined position with so little steering force as if a power steering had been secretly implanted in it. Only by narrow and very slow sweeps of the bolide a little.
With its distinctly comfortably tuned chassis, the K 1200 RS simply irons all bumps and potholes. Except for clearly audible metallic knocks from the drive train, the driver does not notice much of this heavy work. But despite this sovereignty one has to curb one’s gas hand especially on bad roads. Because the Telelever fork gives little feeling for contact with the road. A short, hard blow when braking, caused by a step in front of a curve, and suddenly the fork is overwhelmed: it jumps, the front wheel shifts (see comment on page 22), and the otherwise excellent ABS of the BMW gets into trouble. It reduces the brake pressure too much, the motorcycle pushes to the edge of the curve.
The VFR masters such rutted country roads without any problems thanks to its good chassis. The comfortably coordinated and appealing telescopic fork is particularly impressive. Only very sporty contemporaries would want a tighter set-up at the front. But the Honda is keen to equalize, does not want to punish its driver with hard blows, or otherwise overwhelm. Sit down and immediately feel good, that’s the VFR motto. Not only because of the successful, relaxed seating position. No, mainly because it is so neutral and easy to handle, exactly where the driver wants it. Your effective and easily adjustable integral braking system bites almost as hard as that of an athlete. Every time they switch from the Ducati to the Honda, the testers are shocked the first time they touch the Honda brake lever.
Because the Brembo brakes of the ST2 decelerate consistently well, but demand a courageous pull on the non-adjustable brake lever. The indefinable pressure point was not only constantly criticized on this Ducati, but the criticism from the manufacturer was stubbornly ignored. Another drawback, of all things with a Ducati: insufficient lean angle freedom in left turns. In front of the footrests, first the side stand and then the main stand sit down. It’s a shame, because the ST2 offers the best conditions for sporty driving thanks to its stable chassis and fully adjustable suspension elements. Even if it takes more emphasis than the two competitors to steer the tightly tuned ST2 into corners. But the Ducati convinces with a downright stoic straight-line stability.
The BMW shines with this, especially when it comes to pillion rides. There is no question that the K 1200 RS is in comparison the best motorcycle for two people with a lot of luggage to glide quickly and without stress on vacation. Not that VFR or ST2 are unsuitable for passengers. The passenger sits comfortably on both, but in direct comparison it is more comfortable on the BMW, the seat of which is more expansive. The luggage system that can be delivered from the factory also looks more sophisticated. In addition, the BMW offers the highest payload and is most relaxed when fully packed. The driver hardly feels anything from the passenger. And because the footpegs are placed deep enough, even taller people won’t pinch the back of their knees. Another plus of the BMW: the manually adjustable windscreen. Sit upright at 200 km / h? No problem on the K 1200 RS. At most, the wind noise, which is quite loud from 120 km / h, is disturbing. On the other hand, there are hardly any annoying turbulences that tug at the helmet when driving fast on the motorway.
The ST2 fairing also offers good wind protection and allows effortless driving up to 180 km / h. The airstream only has a small area of ​​attack on the driver’s head. This is where the VFR is losing ground. Your windshield got a bit too low, from 160 km / h the airstream tears more strongly on the head and shoulders of the pilot.
Nevertheless: The Honda VFR presented itself as the best all-rounder, securing the test victory, albeit just a little, ahead of the BMW. But if the Honda is too boring for you and the K 1200 RS is too heavy and expensive, you should treat yourself to an extensive test drive with the ST 2. A successful sports tourer with rough edges.
KA little internship at the end: During the entire test, colleague Jorg Schuller wasn’t sure whether he really wanted to make friends with the BMW or not. But for the 1400 kilometer return trip from Spain to wintry Stuttgart, Jorg even spurned his otherwise dearly loved two-cylinder, the long-term test Honda VTR. He said something about inadequate wind protection, too small a tank, grabbed the K 1200 RS, switched the heated grips to level two and drove back to Germany in one go.

On the subject – too much compromise does harm

Does an all-rounder really have to be able to do everything? Or to put it another way: Doesn’t BMW expect a few characteristics too much from its own flagship? Sure, in most driving situations the balancing act between sporty, comfortable, independent and suitable for travel succeeds. And on top of that even exhaust-gas cleaned. Not bad. But it gets critical on wave-riddled roads, where the speedy driver is confronted with shifting wheels and irritated ABS regulating? in case of doubt with dangerous consequences. Too much compromised? in this case from comfort and sporty demands? just hurts. I demand courage for clearly defined target groups: Build lighter motorcycles if you advertise sportiness? then you also need fewer voting tricks!

New accessories for the BMW K 1200 RS

More comfort through modified handlebar plates and an upholstered seat

BMW is expanding its already extensive and exemplary range of accessories. The Bavarians are now offering modified handlebar brackets and a comfort seat for the K 1200 RS ?? and thus react at least indirectly to the frequently expressed criticism of the uncomfortable sitting position. Until now, not only smaller riders had to stretch uncomfortably far over the tank to reach the handlebars. The new holders should move the handlebars four centimeters closer to the pilot and thus enable a more upright sitting position. The new seat was padded by one centimeter for the driver and two centimeters for the front passenger. The recommended retail price, valid for one year: 120 marks for the handlebars, 250 marks for the seat. New buyers of the K 1200 RS can presumably order these useful parts as special equipment from June 1998 at no extra charge. The new, enlarged, lockable carrier plate (178 marks) for the well-known BMW luggage rack should also create more storage space for the top model with immediate effect. The carrier plate is pushed on, engages with two anchors under the pillion seat bracket and is clamped to the luggage rack via a lockable lever mechanism. A lock cylinder for keyed alike costs 46 marks. How practical that BMW developed the matching softcase made of nylon fabric, volume 22 liters. Cost including rain cover 198 marks. The K 1200 RS tank bag can ?? also made of nylon, volume 28 liters ?? not missing. It has a card compartment, can also be used as a backpack and is available for 349 marks.

1st place – Honda VFR

She can do everything very well and does not make a major mistake in any discipline. And therefore just won the test. The smooth-running VFR engine impresses with its wide speed range, which, however, only starts at 4000 rpm. A motorcycle for climbers from smaller displacement classes too. You immediately feel at home at the VFR, it inspires confidence. The comfortable seating position and the integral braking system are outstanding. With this, the Honda sets the standard.

2nd place – BMW K 1200 RS

Sheer power is not everything, BMW finds its master in the VFR. Even if its thick, powerful four-cylinder and the playful handling fascinate from the first moment. And the K 1200 RS? thanks to extensive accessories ?? is ideal for the big vacation trip for two. A completely different, annoying topic is the still too short guarantee periods: one year, and that at a price of almost 28,000 marks. There is an urgent need for action.

3rd place – Ducati ST2

Ducati has made a good sports tourer with the ST2. With an emphasis on sports, mind you. A powerful, somewhat louder V2 in a tight chassis that offers a variety of tuning options. It is a bit more unwieldy to handle, but compensates for this small drawback with an imperturbable straight line. Typical for Ducati. Unfortunately also the doughy front brake system and the very stiff dry clutch. That should change.

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