Seven-year itch scratched on BMW K1300S

BMW K1300S: What changes have been wrought have been exactly the right ones.
BMW K1300S: What changes have been wrought have been exactly the right ones.
Good for the long haul: Behind the big fuel tank there's room for a spacious riding position.
Good for the long haul: Behind the big fuel tank there's room for a spacious riding position.
Handlebar controls: For every aspect of the BMW's ride and handling.
Handlebar controls: For every aspect of the BMW's ride and handling.

Back in 2005, I rented a BMW K1200S sports-tourer for a 10-day spiritual tour of the Scottish Highlands.

Click on photo at left for more views of the BMW K1300S.

Spiritual? Well, it was a tour of various distilleries famous for their single-malt whiskies. I'd stop to witness God's own liquor being made at a historical site, then ride on to some cheap hotel before strolling down to the nearest off-licence, where I could buy a bottle of the whisky-of-the-day for a fraction of the price asked by the distillery's gift shop.

Engine: 1293cc liquid-cooled dohc 16v inline four stoked by fuel injection to develop 129kW (175bhp) at 9250rpm and 140Nm of torque at 8250rpm.
Transmission: six-speed sequential gearbox, shaft final drive.
Frame: Aluminium twin-spar frame with alloy single-sided swingarm, Single-strut Duolever front suspension with 115mm of travel, preload/rebound- adjustable rear monoshock with 135mm of travel.
Price: $33,659.
Hot: The only four-cylinder sports-tourer with suspension that you can adjust on the move; all-day riding comfort thanks to excellent fairing, seat, and riding position.
Not: BMW classify the K1300S as a sportsbike yet its steering at low speeds is far from sporty, and the Duolever masks front tyre feedback.
With limited luggage space left on the Bee-Em, the bottle would have to be consumed that night, and the Scots are such generous people that there appeared to be no shortage of folk willing to help with that elbow-bending task.

Despite the wealth of assistance from these newfound friends, the fog I rode through the next morning was often mental as well as real. Yet it only took snicking the K1200S through the first three gears of the next day's ride to clear my head, and put a huge grin on my face.

The curvaceous roads of the highlands are the British biker's Shangri-la but it was the bike that I chose to negotiate them with that made that ride memorable. Riding it during that liver-punishing tour constantly refreshed - rather than fatigued - me.

Seven years later, I find myself standing outside Cyclespot Euro, on Auckland's North Shore, where BMW dealer, John Goss, is handing me the keys to a 2012 K1300S.

As I fire up the bike and let the 1293cc inline four-cylinder engine idle up to operating temperature while donning my gear, I'm tempted to rub my eyes to make sure that this spanking-new model isn't some mirage.

For it looks exactly the same as the K-series S-model that I rode on the other side of the planet seven trips around the sun ago. They say that a period of seven years produces itches for impulsive change, usually in long-term sexual partners or choice of dwelling, but BMW has been able to totally resist changing the bodywork, riding position, frame, and most of the powertrain over that time frame when upgrading the 2005 K1200S to the 2012 1300cc model. But then, why change things that don't need changing? The lack of new development in those areas only shows how righteous the design of the original K1200S was.

The engine received another 100cc back in 2009, lifting power to either 173bhp or 177bhp depending on who's doing the measuring.

One thing you can count on is that at least 150 of those brake horses survive the journey through the six-speed transmission and drive-shaft to the rear wheel. Which makes BMW's latest electronic upgrades to the K1300S for 2012 - traction control, electronic suspension adjustment, and a quick-shifter - all the more welcome, as they all make the extra power that the bike received three years ago more manageable.

With its cylinder head inclined forward to make room for important sports-touring stuff like a generously-sized fuel tank and a spacious riding position, the engine, and the girder-like beam frame that carries it, ensure there's plenty of longitudinal real estate between the wheels of the K1300S.

Stability at speed is therefore rock-steady, and drag racers will revel in the easy launch control. However, sporty slicing of tight low-gear corners is taken right out of the riding menu, and the bike can feel a little ponderous in congested traffic during urban rides, despite what feels like a low centre of gravity.

These handling characteristics are somewhat at odds with the up-for-it engine, which delivers power throughout the rev range.

The new quick-shifter also tilts the Bavarian sports-tourer more towards the sportier side of the multi-tasking segment. It delivers instant open-throttle upshifts in a highly refined fashion without the jerkiness of the similar item fitted to the MV F3 I sampled recently. About the only thing wrong now with the powertrain is that there isn't the same provision for quick shifts on the way down through the gears as well.

Electronic suspension adjustment has also enlivened the rider appeal of the quirky front and conventional rear suspension systems of the K1300S. You can tailor the bike to changing riding conditions instantly at the push of a button. Along with the brilliant Bosch 9 ABS-equipped brakes, the new ESA II suspension really enhances the K1300S, and BMWNZ was right to include them as standard equipment on the $33,659 K13S.

Whether the changes enable the big, rangy Beemer to become the alpha-bike of the sports-touring segment is somewhat doubtful. Cheaper rides like Honda's VFR1200F and the Kawasaki ZX-14R offer sharper steering at low speeds and just as much long-term riding comfort.

However, if you invited me to meet you under the clock-tower in Invercargill on any new bike currently offered on the New Zealand market, I'd probably turn up with the K1300S.

Just don't forget to bring the whisky.