BMW R1200RT Sport-Touring Adventure in Sedona

Exploring the land of red rocks on BMW’s liquid-cooled R1200RT flat-twin.

BMW R1200RT sport-tourer on-road action

They say water is life. But when the BMW R1200RT was redesigned and reintroduced for 2014, it gained the radiators that had been first introduced on the GS a year before, and traditionalists wondered if the well-balanced spirit of Munich's Reise Tourer bike would survive this and the many other upgrades.

Bringing water (cooling) to Sedona, a spiritual place itself, seemed like the perfect way to find out.

The roads and sights within a two-hour radius of Sedona are magnificent (um, Grand Canyon, anyone?). Flagstaff is a fun rip uphill and a nice destination in its own right. But if you have one molecule of gearhead enthusiasm, you'll make your first outing to Jerome, an old hillside mining town to the southwest on a glorious stretch of Highway 89A. Jerome is picturesque and rugged, if a bit more touristy than you might like these days (though the food options have improved over the years). But the real attraction here is the Gold King Mine. Ride past the fire station in Jerome, and it's a mile north of town. A man who looks as though he was sent from central casting—Don Robertson—will greet you with a floppy hat and bushy white beard. But you'll know he's the real deal at this collection of old equipment, vehicles, buildings, and more because his calloused, greasy hands show the wear of a lifetime of work. He's a Harley-Davidson and Studebaker man at the core and also a lover of old equipment: power-station engines (pay him to fire up Big Bertha on the hill with cannon-like exhausts), electrical generators, and a giant saw that cuts massive timber that no other mill in the region can touch. I spent a few hours there, and Robertson was in full entertainment mode, dropping the clutch on his Knucklehead Harley and crank starting his Studebaker straight-eight-powered circle track race car that he campaigns at regional events. Gold King Mine is all noise and rust and exposed belt drives and worth a couple hours of your time and the small admission fee.

Don Robertson with a large piston ring

Now that's a piston ring. Bearded Don Robertson runs Gold King Mine outside of Jerome. See this and many other mechanical wonders.

Wandering back into Jerome I hit the local BBQ for nourishment on a gorgeous sunny deck and contemplated the smoke-colored flat-twin parked curbside on the steep roads of this town.

It's not too much of a stretch to call this bike a dressed-up GS since the mainframe elements and 1,170cc wasserboxer engine are essentially the same. And those are both good things. It's the distinct step forward not just in engine power—the RT flat screams on top with the new engine—but also all the electronic rider aids and comforts that go along with its great riding position, fine seat, and excellent electrically adjustable windscreen.

I got a great chance to experience these in full on this trip. While my day in and around Jerome scraping footpegs and experiencing the composure of the continuously self-adjusting semi-active Telelever and Paralever suspension and precision of the chassis was sunny and warm, another day trip headed to Flagstaff was greeted with snow. The electrically adjustable windscreen, heated grips, and heated seat kept me perfectly comfortable (with the help of a Klim Badlands Pro jacket and pants sealed up tight with Gore-Tex). The ambient temperature gauge on the informative dash read 32 degrees, but the bike and I scoffed at the weather. Its 7,000-foot elevation makes Flagstaff a great escape from Sedona’s potential heat in the summer, but in springtime there’s always the risk of snow.

riding the BMW R1200RT sport-tourer in sunny Sedona
riding the BMW R1200RT sport-tourer in snowy Sedona

Sunny and warm? Snowy and cold? Must be spring, riding from Sedona to Flagstaff. Electric windshield goes full up, heated everything turned on.

And as much confidence as I have in a lifetime of experience riding all kinds of bikes in all kinds of conditions, having traction control and ABS in weather like this lowers the stress level in a big way. Even better, Shift Assistant Pro not only allows for clutchless upshifts through the gears, but it also auto-blips the throttle for clutchless downshifts, making for ultra-smooth acceleration and deceleration. The system works best when you’re riding swiftly on a winding road but gets a little clunky if you use it like a semi-automatic transmission when trundling around town. And it’s great for riding two-up because, as long as you’re smooth with the throttle and brakes, there will be no helmet clunking from mistimed shifts, etc.

As I got more and more miles under my belt in and among the winding roads and red rocks, it became ever more clear the accommodating nature of the RT had been expanded. I’d ridden the previous air-/oil-cooled version in the Alps on a long tour and found it one of the most flexible, reassuring motorcycles I’d ever traveled on. This new version has been improved in every way. The flat-twin’s essential character remains, and its steady drone has become the very soundtrack for long-distance motorcycle travel.

There are other touring motorcycles that are smoother and more powerful or more luxurious or sportier. But there might be none so satisfying in nearly every condition. And I think it’s partly because the R1200RT is as close to a sliver of the true cross as any product currently in the German company’s lineup, as the flat-twin sporty touring bike is the company’s very DNA.

As I reluctantly pointed the grippy Metzeler Z8 front tire toward Los Angeles, I knew that whatever lay ahead, from freeway to back road to snowy mountain pass, we would prevail. In swift comfort.

Sedona and surrounds are a perfect match for the R1200RT. Both are very comfortable and have just enough water to make life rich and rewarding. And when you’ve got to get back home, well, it’s there for you then too.

Photo #1

BMW R1200RT sport-tourer action.Jeff Allen

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Don Robertson.Jon Beck

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Sedona mailboxes.Jon Beck

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BMW R1200RT sport-tourer action.Jeff Allen

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BMW R1200RT sport-tourer static.Jon Beck

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BMW R1200RT sport-tourer cockpit view.Jon Beck

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BMW R1200RT sport-tourer badge.Jeff Allen