• The BMW RT has evolved significantly over the last four decades.
• The R 100 RT is the bike Dries van der Walt fell in love with as a teenager.
• Although more refined, the R1250 RT is still as special as its first iterations.
As a teenager in the late 1970s, my dream was to (maybe one day) own a BMW R 100 RT. With its distinctive frame-mounted full fairing (one of the first on a mass-production bike), the R 100 represented the epitome of style and refinement. Other teenagers may have been much more interested in the Japanese fours of the time, but the RT was the stuff desire was made of for me.
The RT series has evolved a great deal over the last four decades, becoming bigger, more luxurious, and much more powerful, as was evidenced in the 2021 edition R 1250 RT that I recently had the opportunity to test. Today's RTs are as luxurious as they get while also benefiting from a host of modern amenities.
At first glance, the current RT doesn't seem to be much different from its immediate predecessor, but a closer look reveals several changes and updates. The most obvious is the replacement of the previous model's almost car-like instrument panel with a 10.25" full-colour TFT panel which combines all of the bike's instrumentation and offers practical functions such as the navigator and connectivity.
During the test, the display proved legible in various light conditions. According to the Boffins in Bavaria, this is due to extra sharpness and contrast imparted by a tempered, non-reflective glass cover. The cover also features an anti-fingerprint coating to keep it nice and pristine looking.
Before I started the engine for the first time, I was very aware that the RT had not slimmed down – in fact, it had gained 5kg over the 1200 RT, tipping the scale wet at a whopping 279kg. While this makes it somewhat challenging to push the bike up your driveway, as with all BMW's boxer models, the weight magically evaporates when you get rolling. However, the RT does feel noticeably weightier in front (and accordingly, seems to have more cornering inertia) than the corresponding GS model, which, to be fair, is 30 kg lighter.
The RT is as well-balanced as any BMW bike, which means that during low-speed manoeuvring (such as during lane-splitting and filtering, its weight is not an issue.
A noticeable absence when starting the engine is BMW's trademark 'boxer engine lurch'. When I tested the R18 late last year, I was almost caught off-guard by how much it lurches to the left when you press the starter button. With the RT, the lurch is virtually unnoticeable. I am somewhat ambivalent about this absence because while it makes the RT feel more refined, in my opinion, it robs it of one of the characteristics that have given me a particular affinity for boxer Beemers.
On the road, the RT is lively and responsive. Unlike the R18 and, to an extent, the K 1600 GTL, the RT is firmly on the sportier side of BMW's touring stable. With the impressive power and torque of the 1250 motor, it is a high-speed tourer par excellence. It awards you with surprisingly brisk acceleration in any gear, making it as much a pleasure to ride in the city as on the highway.
The RT invites you to go fast, and the fairing and windscreen do an excellent job of protecting you against the elements when you do. The electrically adjusted screen allowed me to experiment with positions on the roll, and I found that in its highest position, it did a credible job of keeping stinging raindrops away during an unexpected downpour on one of my highway trips.
But perhaps the bike's most exciting feature is its adaptive cruise control. This system allows you to set your speed and the distance to the vehicle in front of you from the controls on the handlebars.
A radar sensor at the front determines the speed and distance to the vehicle ahead. If this distance is reduced, the system automatically reduces the bike's speed to keep your chosen following distance. The radar beam is narrow enough not to be affected by vehicles not directly in front of the bike, and if you change lanes, the bike accelerates back to your set speed. While feeling a tad eerie at first, I soon became used to it – it is a boon for travelling on a busy highway and even allowed me to use the cruise control while commuting on the N1 between Pretoria and Joburg.
The R 1250 RT is lightyears away from the R 100 RT of my early dreams, both in terms of technology and performance. It is faster, safer, and way more advanced, but in the process of evolving, it hasn't lost the je ne sais quoi that made me lust after its progenitor – it is still the epitome of style and refinement.