Mike Posted May 8, 2006 Share Posted May 8, 2006 While I’m fairly new to the ST ownership experience, I finally have enough miles that I feel I can finally accurately review the bike. I previously rode a ‘99 R1100RT, which I bought new, and purchased the ST a few weeks ago from Tag Sport BMW in Geneva, IL. Here are my impressions: The first thing that comes to mind is my remarkable transformation from an ST basher to an ST owner. When I saw the photos on line, my reaction was “What in God’s name were they thinking?” The ST is, uh, different–it carries its stacked headlights higher than other sport-oriented bikes, and the approach of placing the lights in a position where they are surrounded by the windscreen is pretty unconventional. However, when I saw the ST in person, my previously negative reaction mellowed substantially. Now–and maybe this is just love speaking–I like the way it looks. It’s certainly unconventional, but it’s actually a pretty cohesive design. My theory on why it looks better in person actually has to do with the perspective from which most of the photos are taken, but that’s neither here nor there. My bottom line is that I like the way she looks, and I don’t care what the rest of you think. But, it also taught me a valuable lesson about reserving judgment until I see something in person. Interestingly, the reaction from the twenty-something crowd that rides Gixxers and R1s has been pretty much along the lines of "Holy crap . . . that's awesome!" Not that I should care, I guess. But it's nice, as a geezer, to have some street cred. When I visited Tag Sport, I fully intended to buy a K12S or put down a deposit on a K12GT. But, in looking at the former, I was a little concerned about the lack of luggage capacity. The latter (the GT) takes care of that problem, but I’m a little put off by the price. What really got me interested in the ST was its combination of power, handling, and technology, along with the fact that it was configurable as a passable touring machine. Even better was the fact that BMW was offering some sizable incentives on the ST. In its first year, it did not sell as well as predicted, so I was able to buy the ST at a substantial discount and receive a generous trade-in for my RT. It’s been said before, but I think that some of the resistance to the ST was a result of its price. Configured with sidecases, heated grips, etc., the MSRP approaches the RT, which is a more fully-integrated touring machine, with a bigger fairing and an electric windscreen. However, as nice as the RT is, it’s not the direction I wanted to go. Been there; done that. My riding is not so much trans-continental as it is trans-state. A blast of a couple hundred miles is more of what I do, but I still wanted to retain the option to tour. So, all of these considerations led me to the ST. Configured with sidecases, luggage rack, topcase, heated grips and a centerstand, the ST still lets me entertain my hard-core big time tourer fantasies, but I can strip off the cases and have a bike that’s perfect for the riding I do 90% of the time. Settling into the ST’s seat, I found that it was much more comfy than the stock RT’s seat (1100-series, that is). It’s actually good for a couple of hours in the saddle, but I still am not satisfied. Understanding that any manufacturer has to build its seats to accommodate a variety of riders, I’m still befuddled as to why BMW can’t do better. In a few weeks, my seat will get shipped off to Rocky Mayer, and I’m hopeful that I’ll end up with something that’s all-day comfortable. I guess it’s not that big a deal–it seems to be the norm among those who are seeking real comfort. The riding position is, of course, quite a bit different than the RT’s. I was a little concerned about the seat/footpeg relationship, but I haven’t run into any cramping or discomfort. It seems to work well for me. The change to a forward-canted position is a greater adjustment. I’ve read and reread Dick Frantz’s master work on the proper riding position, and I’m still working on it. It does work, but the retraining of my muscles is not yet complete. I still find myself occasionally placing too much weight on the grips, but I’m consciously trying to get it right . . . and it seems to be working. But anyone coming from an RT or a bike with a similarly upright position should be prepared for a few weeks of retraining your brain and your muscles. It’s actually just now starting to feel right, though even as late as yesterday I found myself still experiencing some tingling in my throttle hand. Once underway, the greater airflow really does help to balance out your riding position. There’s considerably more airflow than with the RT, but I actually like it. For me, it gives me much more of a sensation of riding a motorcycle. Plus, at least on a nice day, it feels great! The most noteworthy thing, though, is that the ST seems to slice through the air much more cleanly than my RT did. Maybe it was just the fact that there was more frontal area and a greater side profile, but I often felt like I was buffeted around quite a bit on the RT. Not so the ST. Even following or passing 18-wheelers, it just barely twitches when hit with a blast of air. Very nice, indeed. Where I can’t fault the ST is in its power delivery or handling. The first thing that you notice, if you’ve been riding an oilhead, is that the ST (like, I guess, all the hexheads) has a modern transmission, one that shifts cleanly and snicks nicely into gear. Sixth gear gives you a relatively relaxed engine rate at highway speeds and it’s always possible to find the right gear for any situation. The engine is surprisingly powerful. I remember the day I picked up my RT: having just sold an ST1100, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. The new oilhead was pretty ragged, very industrial-feeling, and surged quite a bit. Only after I hit the magic 1,000 mile mark did I understand that I would survive the experience. The hexhead ST was smooth and powerful from the moment I first fired it up. Yep, it’s still a boxer, but it’s remarkably different than the oilhead. I can only imagine that it will continue to get smoother and faster as the miles add up. The combination of a nice transmission and an engine that feels thoroughly modern are a revelation. Coupled with a power gain of 20 h.p. and a weight reduction of over 100 lbs., compared to the old RT, it’s a remarkably quick machine. Passing other vehicles is almost effortless. And out on the open road, it’s very easy to find yourself riding much faster than the speed you think you’re going. The handling is also a revelation. The basics of the suspension (Paralever, Telelever) are similar to the RT, so I attribute it largely to the huge reduction in weight. Whatever the case, the ST is much more responsive. I find myself doing less conscious countersteering, and moving the bike around through relatively small shifts in my body position (of course, it is a biiiiig body). The ST’s responsiveness really is altering my riding, in the sense that I’m becoming more acutely aware of how a variety of inputs can alter my track. One of the things I’m learning is that my body’s attitude affects not only the balance of the bike, but also affects windflow enough to generate a perceptible reaction. I still find myself wobbling through curves a little bit–paying too much attention to what the bike’s doing and not enough to what I’m doing–but even so, my comfortable cornering speeds are easily 10 - 15% higher than they were on the RT. Finally, the brakes. I have BMW’s (in)famous servo-assisted brakes on the ST and I have to say . . . they work pretty damned well. It doesn’t take much of an effort to adjust to them and they provide a remarkable amount of stopping performance. Sure, maybe I’ve almost killed myself a couple of times when I overbraked while traveling at a crawl , but I’m getting used to them. It’s actually nice to know that even an amateur like me can generate near-racer levels of stopping performance with just the right hand. The fact that they’re partially integrated allows me to modulate the rear brake in low-speed turns, and the fully-integrated hand activation works so well that I can’t imagine achieving that level of deceleration with a conventional system. If you can’t tell by now, I really like the ST. It’s a thorough modern, though somewhat unconventional-looking, machine that offers a higher level of dynamics in every area of performance. I miss the RT’s comfort and somewhat laid-back approach, but the ST feels lithe and lively. It’s a real winner . . . and worthy of consideration. Link to comment
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