2021 BMW R1250RT review, prices, specs

 

You can’t say a bike is a great tourer after an hour’s riding. Or even two, three or four hours. The moment you really know you bought the right tourer is after full day in the saddle, lost, in an unknown city, in rush hour, one eye looking at unfamiliar road layouts, while the other scans for clues or a big neon sign saying, ‘your hotel this way’.

Sadly, lockdown is preventing the full touring experience right now, so to test BMW’s 2021 R1250RT, I went for the ‘let’s just ride it all day and finish in an unknown city’ approach. And do you know what? It turns out that the 2021 R1250RT is a very good touring bike indeed and Winchester is prettier than I expected.

When you’ve spent more than four decades developing your flagship touring bike it’d be disappointing if it was anything less than perfect. Of course, there’s a caveat here that we, the customer for tourers have changed significantly since BMW launched the R100RT in 1978. Oh, and motorcycle technology, tyres and electronics have come on in leaps and bounds too.

BMW has a different update strategy to Honda’s touring division. Honda typically revamps its Gold Wing every 10-15 years, adding tweaks along the way. In the 17 years between the Wing’s 2001 and 2018 revamps BMW launched the R1150RT, R1200RT, a twin-cam R1200RT and a water-cooled version too. Every version is always better than the previous one and aside from occasional blind alleys (2002’s servo-assisted brakes were a notable miss), the new tech works while the comfort and ergonomics get better all the time.

2021’s R1250RT is all about the electronics. Radar-assisted cruise control turns out to be bigger news than anyone thought on a bike and the new 10.25-inch TFT screen and connectivity with the BMW app makes expensive motorcycle sat-navs (almost) redundant.

 

2021 BMW R1250RT (39)

This R1250RT LE in ‘Sports’ trim is £19,605, but the ‘still-very-well-equipped’ base model is almost £4000 less

 

2021 BMW R1250RT Price

The standard R1250RT costs £15,820 and the higher-spec LE model tested here is £19,105 on the road (plus an additional £500 for the gorgeous blue paint and cheesy ‘Sports’ stickers). The base model is competitive for a machine that rides this well with most of the kit that most of us would want including the new 10.25-inch TFT screen with smart phone connectivity, panniers, rear luggage rack, cornering ABS, switchable riding modes, LED headlights and old-school cruise control.

If you want the radar-controlled cruise (ACC), keyless ride, wireless smartphone charging, electronic suspension, heated seats, central locking, quick shifter, adaptive headlights and all the other bits and pieces standard on the LE model, it’ll cost more than the £3285 difference. But for me, the basic bike plus ACC, smartphone charging, heated seats and keyless ride would be fine and still very good value.

Clearly, this won’t be what happens in real life and any BMW salesman worth his commission will make sure no one leaves the showroom on a plain white base model. If your dealer can’t come up with an unmissable deal on a fully-laden R1250RT or, even better the LE model, he should be made to stand in the corner, next to the still-unsold K1600B that’s been gathering dust since 2019.

As a simple example of a finance starter-for-ten, with a 20 per cent deposit and PCP plan over three years, the numbers on the standard R1250RT look as follows.

Cash Price is £15,815, so your deposit will be £3,163, followed by 35 payments of £177.68 and a Final Optional Payment of £8,909.35. Right now, a three year-old R1200RT (the oldest R1250RTs are not three years old at the time this article is written) sells for around £11,500, meaning its trade in price is probably around £10k, meaning you should have enough equity in your three year-old RT to make up some of the deposit for your next one.

The only thing to consider when arranging finance on something like an RT is agreed mileage. When a bike is this good to ride in so many different environments it’s all-too-easy to underestimate the miles you’ll end up doing.

 

2021 BMW R1250RT (50)

ShiftCam technology means strong low and midrange power but a proper kick in the pants up top as well

 

2021 BMW R1250RT Power and torque

It’s perfectly possible that an R1250RT owner could ride for years, changing gear at 6500rpm, enjoying the surging midrange, lazy motorway cruising and easy overtaking of this stunning flat-twin engine. And then one day, for no apparent reason he decides to really give it some gas at 4000rpm in second or third gear. At this point our sensible, middle-aged motorcyclist will realise that big twins no longer live by midrange alone and this German gentleman’s express has a dark and playful side. Wow.

136bhp and 105 lb-ft are very good numbers for a tourer and 33 per cent more than Ducati’s legendary 916 race replica used to make. But much more important than ‘how much?’ is ‘how is it delivered and how does that feel?’

The R1250RT is unusual for a tourer because, instead of somehow slipping into top gear without realising it, you find yourself using all the gears and always being in just the right one. It’s a tourer that you engage with. I like that, especially because every time you ask for power, it delivers…and then some.

Touring bikes don’t really need lots of horsepower because once you’ve used the horses to gently accelerate yourself and partner to cruising speed, it doesn’t takemuch to maintain that speed. Lugging a couple of people and luggage out of twisty mountain hairpins needs torque and a consistent delivery and the rest is either, fast twisting A-roads (see cruising) or filtering slowly through towns and cities, looking for ‘Los Travelodge’.

What tourers need is plenty of torque, easy and consistent power delivery and just enough ‘wahay’ in reserve when you underestimate the speed of the Fiat Uno coming straight at you as you overtake the truck. Thankfully, the BMW has it all.  

     

2021 BMW R1250RT (6)

You can’t see the ShiftCam, but you can see the radiator and, in truth the water-cooling, introduced in 2014 had the bigger impact on RT performance.

 

2021 BMW R1250RT Engine, gearbox and exhaust

Water-cooled, fuel-injected twin cylinder, with variable cam timing and a six-speed gearbox. If you’re still riding an air-cooled BMW Boxer and are yet to try the water-cooled engine, you’ll be surprised that it no longer rocks to the right when you blip the throttle. The ShiftCam variable valve timing system has been around for a couple of years now and swaps between cam profiles seamlessly giving strong torque at low revs and enough power at high rpm for significant trouser glamping when someone asks, ‘what’ll it do then mister?’ What this does in reality is remove the need for words like midrange and top-end, each of which implies that the other might be missing. Instead, ShiftCam simply gives ‘drive’ or ‘thrust’ if you prefer, everywhere in the rev range.

In practice, you rarely rev it above 6000rpm because that’s where it feels right to change gear. But when you do get a bit giddy, the BMW does absolutely nothing to discourage you from doing it again. BMW’s ShiftCam twin is my favourite modern engine, by some distance.

The clutch is light as is the gearchange – another beneficiary of all those years’ development. The LE model we tested has BMW’s gearshift-assist-pro quick shifter which, as ever is both good enough (sometimes) and not-good-enough (other times) that I had to check the spec sheet to see if it actually has one fitted. It’s not just a BMW problem – quick shifters on road bikes are all like that. Full-throttle, going-for-it gearchanges love a quick shifter, but anything else just feels clumsy and better-done with a conventional shifter.

I’m still surprised that BMW hasn’t developed a dual-clutch semi-automatic gearbox. Honda’s DCT has evolved into a slick and genuinely useful addition to its touring bikes that is a seamless auto gearbox when you want it and the quickest and slickest of quick shifters when you want to go ‘manual’, I was surprised how much I missed it on the longer trips on the RT.

 

2021 BMW R1250RT (25)

25 litre fuel tank gives around 250 miles range

 

2021 BMW R1250RT Economy

The downside of having an engine that encourages you to tour like a sports bike is that you lose around 10mpg. Consumption varied between 45-55mpg, averaging out at 51.3mpg in mixed-riding. Which means around 200 miles before the warning light comes on and another 45 careful miles until you’re pushing it and wondering if you can press the SoS button just for more fuel.

 

2021 BMW R1250RT (24)

Styling is sleeker than before, but there’s still a lot of it to push around

 

2021 BMW R1250RT weight and manoeuvrability

All-up weight with a full tank of fuel is 279kg – the same as the outgoing model. That’s around ten per cent more than BMW’s R1250GS and most of that comes from the enormous full fairing and bracketry, plus standard-fit panniers.

Having that extra mass relatively high-up and forwards makes the RT feel a little cumbersome at very low speeds. All tourers feel like this but the RT’s Telelever front suspension helps it feel much more controlled.

Pushing it around with the engine off needs a bit of confidence and some muscle to get it moving. BMW’s other big tourer, the K1600 has a powered ‘reverse’ function linked to the starter motor like Honda’s non-DCT Gold Wing (the DCT Wing has a proper reverse gear). I’m surprised they haven’t offered this on the R1250RT – it would make a huge difference when manoeuvring it around. 

  

2021 BMW R1250RT (40)

Telelever front suspension allows a big heavy tourer to corner with confidence

 

2021 BMW R1250RT Handling, suspension and chassis

BMW’s Boxer twins share a similar architecture. There are two frames – front and back – that mount to the engine. So, in essence the R1200GS is the same platform as the R1200RT. Big conventional touring bikes share the same handling problems as big conventional adventure bikes. They need soft suspension to soak up bumps, but they also have a lot of weight at the front, usually quite high up, which means they need substantial springs. When you brake, all that weight goes crashing downwards, using all the suspension travel very quickly, giving your lazy tourer the temporary steering geometry of a sports bike. As you release the brake it all springs back up again and your geometry resembles a chopper right at the point you want to start steering.

BMW’s Telelever front suspension fixes this because the steering and braking are independent of the bump management. So, the bike can have the correct weight of spring for a comfortable ride, but when you brake there’s virtually no dive from the front and therefore no bounce-back either. So, the front remains settled on the way into a corner, which in turn makes the most of all available ground clearance and doesn’t affect the steering.

It’s a superb system, only spoiled occasionally in the past by BMW choosing settings for their electronically controlled ESA system that were too soft, much too soft or only just firm enough.

This version on the 2021 RT is very good and this latest system is semi-active, in that it senses the movement and automatically adjusts the damping to suit. On a touring bike that works well because you are always getting the most comfortable ride. On a sportster it’s less clear-cut – some riders prefer a bike to behave consistently, so they know exactly how much dive and damping to expect, even if it’s not optimal. There’s no ‘best’ answer and it’s good that, on the standard RT BMW gives riders the option.

Ride comfort with ESA is superb and the transition between brakes-on, brakes-off and steering is linear and very confident. There’s a moment, as you tip the bike into a very slow turn when you’re aware of the weight over the front end of the bike, but once you’re used to it, cornering is fun like no other tourer ever.

ESA is standard on the LE version or an £820 option on the standard bike. For my money I’d take the standard set-up because I prefer the consistency and almost always ride solo meaning once set-up I rarely fiddle with suspension. Judging by the ratio of ESA-to-non-ESA used RTs for sale, most buyers prefer the electronics and I’m clearly an oddball.

 

2021 BMW R1250RT (36)

Plenty of power and cornering ABS is standard, but the front-and-rear linking is crude

 

2021 BMW R1250RT Brakes

BMW-branded Hayes (an American company) calipers replaced the Brembo items previously used in 2019. There’s plenty of power and feel both front and rear, plus cornering ABS is standard on both models. I tend to use a lot more back brake on big touring bikes – sometimes just brushing it to add a bit of stability when filtering through traffic or again, just brushing it in a quick change of direction, going through a roundabout, for example to turn the bike faster. BMW’s ABS-Pro links the front and rear brakes, so pulling the ‘front’ brake lever also adds a little rear brake.

Occasionally when slowing gently in traffic or approaching a roundabout, holding the front brake gently on, if you apply the rear brake it changes the front lever pressure at the same time. This feels like something in the linking mechanism is switching-in and it makes the front brake lever move a couple of mm further back to the bar without the rider adding any extra squeeze. I find it really disconcerting because low-speed control on a bike is a matter of subtle, tiny instinctive movements. Having the lever slip back a few mm is really distracting.

 

2021 BMW R1250RT (46)

After 43 years’ evolution, the riding position is almost perfect… so long as you’re the same shape as BMW’s test rider

 

2021 BMW R1250RT Comfort over distance and touring

After 43 years’ evolution you’d expect the RT’s riding position and ergonomics to be perfect. And mostly, you’d be right. Seat height is adjustable, but footpegs and handlebars aren’t and that still seems unthinkable on a bike designed to do long days in the saddle.

Don’t get me wrong, the RT is a very comfortable motorbike, but it could be better. My knees were aching at the end of a (very) long day in the saddle. If Suzuki could fit adjustable footrests to their GSX-R range in 2006, it seems daft that BMW tourers still don’t have it all these years later.

The electric screen is as good as it ever was (which is really good and what I’m about to say is all about extremes and context), but still doesn’t go quite as tall (and therefore quiet) as Honda’s Gold Wing or the all-time best screen ever on a bike as fitted to Honda’s ST1300 Pan European. On the ST1300 you could ride visor-up in the rain, flat-out and still be comfortable with the screen fully raised (although, given the high-speed weave you were also fighting there was a lot more to worry about than wet whiskers). On the 2021 RT you still get wet and it’s still slightly too noisy.  

 

Active Cruise Control (ACC) uses a radar sensor in the fairing and allows the rider to choose three different distance settings before it activates

 

Rider aids and extra equipment / accessories

The big news is that, while the RT is last bike in the range to get BMW’s TFT display, it makes up for it by getting the dashboard equivalent of your mate Dave’s 83-inch flat-screen home cinema. The R1250RT’s 10.25 inches is a lot of inches for pretty-much any purpose, and it allows some really useful options about what information is displayed and how. Everything from resetting the trip meter to setting up your phone and navigation is controlled via the menu button and spinny-wheel and, mostly it’s straightforward and intuitive. New for this year are four pre-set buttons so you can get to the things you need most (like the seat and grip heater controls) quickly.

On the standard bike there are two riding modes; road and rain, plus hill start control, cornering-ABS, traction control and cruise control. The LE version adds eco and dynamic riding modes, adaptive headlights, BMW’s quick shifter and radar-controlled Active Cruise Control (ACC).

ACC works brilliantly. The radar sensor in the bike’s nose measures the speed of the vehicle in front and adjusts the bike’s pace accordingly. You can set it to engage at three different distances from the vehicle in front. On the road, as you approach a slower vehicle it rolls off the speed very gently and steadily – you hardly even notice – and rolls it back on again equally gently. If you move into a clear lane the bike picks ups speed as soon as you start to turn.

I never used to bother with cruise control but since getting nicked three times in quick succession by average speed cameras I use it whenever I see those pesky yellow fellas. ACC takes away the frustration of continually engaging and disengaging cruise control on a busy motorway where all the cars seem to be doing slightly different speeds. If you use cruise, then it makes a lot of sense.

 

Wireless charging for your phone, while it drives the navigation via onboard wi-fi is all controlled by the spinny-wheel and menu button. Pre-set buttons in the fairing-inner allow quick access to your favourite functions

 

2021 BMW R1250RT connectivity

BMW’s TFT displays are designed to work with their ‘Connected’ app. The app has two main functions; it monitors the status of your bike and reminds you of things like service requirements and it plans routes and measures data on your rides, which is the really interesting bit.

How much trouser-arousal you get from things like top speed reached (you can switch this off), distance, average speed, mpg, lean angle and G-force accelerating and braking probably depends on your combination of chromosomes and number of hairs on your back, but the navigation part of the app is what really makes it.

It’s not going to replace your £400 Tom-Tom or Garmin and it doesn’t do live traffic updates, but it will plan you a route based on fastest, shortest or three levels of twistiness, you can upload your own GPX files of other routes to it and it does record the whole trip in conjunction with all the data previously mentioned like lean angles, G-force etc.

It takes a few trips before you stop shouting at it for being stupid and realise that the app is fine, it’s the operator that’s the issue. Once you get into the routine the app is simple, reliable and, for most people, all the navigation help you’ll ever need.

Very occasionally it loses signal, and the map screen freezes, even more occasionally (once so far) the app disconnects from the bike and won’t reconnect without switching everything off and then back on again and, mostly, if you go wrong or change your mind halfway round, it will come up with an alternative route.  

But the best thing about this system by far is that, although your phone connects via Bluetooth, the actual data used is transmitted via a wi-fi router built into the bike, which your phone also connects with. There’s no subscription costs for this – it’s free (apart from the £15k for the bike, obviously) which means you won’t chew your way through three months of 4G data allowance before you reach the Belgian border. 

 

2021 BMW R1250RT (53)

Probably, possibly the best all-round motorcycle in the world

 

 

2021 BMW R1250RT verdict

I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that, for me, a mid-50s, year-round, high-mileage road rider, BMW’s 2021 R1250RT is the best all-round motorcycle you can buy. Really, absolutely, definitely. Why not? Something has to be and I’ve yet to come across anything that does so many things so stunningly well as this. The engine is just incredible, it’s comfy, it handles, the gizmos and gadgets are useful and intuitive, and it has shaft drive, heated seats and grips and an enormous fairing meaning I could (and would) use it every single day.

It’s nimble enough to filter through traffic, easy to live with and it looks good too (apart from the ‘Sports’ stickers. BMW’s quick shifter is still not good enough, but I don’t have to use it. And I don’t like how the linked brakes modulate the lever pressure, but I’ll get used to that. It needs a top box/backrest to be as good for pillions as it is for the rider, but I doubt many will leave the showroom without having one fitted.

At £15,820, the base model is a steal by today’s prices, only needing heated seats and the wireless charging to be perfect (for me). Seriously, it’s that good.

 

2021 BMW R1250RT spec

New price

From £15,820 (£19,605 as tested)

Capacity

1254cc

Bore x Stroke

102.5x76mm

Engine layout

180-degree flat twin-cylinder

Engine details

Liquid-cooled, 4v DOHC ShiftCam

Power

136bhp (100kW) @ 7,750rpm

Torque

105.5lb-ft (143Nm) @ 6,250rpm

Top speed

145 mph (estimated)

Transmission

6 speed, shaft final drive

Average fuel consumption

51mpg tested

Tank size

25 litres

Max range to empty (theoretical)

275miles

Reserve capacity

45miles

Rider aids

Road and rain modes, cornering ABS TC, hill start assist, quick shifter

Frame

Bolt-on front and rear subframes

Front suspension

37mm Telelever suspension 120mm travel

Front suspension adjustment

None

Rear suspension

Electronically adjustable monoshock 136mm travel

Rear suspension adjustment

preload, rebound

Front brake

2x320mm disc, four-piston caliper

Rear brake

276mm disc, two-piston caliper

Front tyre

120/70ZR17

Rear tyre

180/55ZR17

Rake/Trail

25.9°/116mm

Dimensions

2222mm x 985mm x 1570mm (LxWxH)

Wheelbase

1485mm

Maximum loading

206kg

Seat height

805-825mm

Kerb weight

279kg

Warranty

Unlimited miles / 3years

MCIA Secured Rating

5/5

Website

www.bmw-motorrad.co.uk

 

Looking for motorbike insurance? Get a quote for this bike with Bennetts motorcycle insurance

 

2021 BMW R1250RT_MCIA

 

What is MCIA Secured?

MCIA Secured gives bike buyers the chance to see just how much work a manufacturer has put into making their new investment as resistant to theft as possible.

As we all know, the more security you use, the less chance there is of your bike being stolen. In fact, based on research by Bennetts, using a disc lock makes your machine three times less likely to be stolen, while heavy duty kit can make it less likely to be stolen than a car. For reviews of the best security products, click here.

MCIA Secured gives motorcycles a rating out of five stars, based on the following being fitted to a new bike as standard:

  • A steering lock that meets the UNECE 62 standard
  • An ignition immobiliser system
  • A vehicle marking system
  • An alarm system
  • A vehicle tracking system with subscription

The higher the star rating, the better the security, so always ask your dealer what rating your bike has and compare it to other machines on your shortlist.

 

 

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