The perfect companion

The latest model in the long line of BMW's touring bikes proves its worth on a European road trip.

The BMW R1200RT was a near perfect spots tourer on the Stelvio Pass in Italy.
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"Well, as long as you're going that way?" For a typical male, those eight words are usually the prelude to some inopportune household errand, such as taking out the rubbish or stopping at the chemist for something we may find embarrassing. It's why the male of the species, especially those of us in a loving, respectful and meaningful relationship (whose spouses also read this paper), have learnt to pop out the side door with stealthy swiftness, our ghostlike disappearance the sole guarantee we might actually make it to the golf club.

But this was something of a completely different order. Upon hearing that my better half and I were heading over to Europe with the intent of motorcycling our way to Croatia, one of her friends piped up that she had relatives in Slovenia and, since it seemed so close, "Would you mind terribly dropping off a card to my dear old aunt?". Now, I've never been to Slovenia. Or Croatia. Or any place remotely associated with the former Eastern Bloc, for that matter. And, of course, it turns out that the aunt lives in a very remote village - Mrzlek - that is comprised of exactly two houses, those of the aforementioned aunt and her son.

I was going to need powerful medicine. Not only was I going to need a comfortable and agile motorcycle to carry myself and She-Who-Is-The-Princess-With-The-Pea to far-off lands, but I was going to need some sort of navigational aid, since maps and I don't get along. This is when BMW came to the rescue. "Yes, we have an R1200RT at our Munich press office; yes, we'll equip it with one of our GPS-based BMW Motorrad Navigation systems (a slimmed down version of the nav systems so common in cars these days); yes, it has a seat warmer to keep Herself's tushie warm; and yes, it has a rear topcase for She-Who-Cannot-Travel-Lightly's shoes." They must have thought I was secreting Tyra Banks behind the Iron Curtain.

So not only were we able to find two Slovenian houses that confused even locals in the next village over, but the RT's nav system's little arrows, warnings and missives found us the ultra-luxurious (and, by western European standards, dirt cheap) Park Hotel right on the beach in Split, Croatia. The thing was so accurate, it eased us through the incredible rabbit warren that is Diocletian's palace, the third-century emperor's "retirement home" that Croatians claim is the best-preserved Roman ruin in the world.

In between, the Motorrad screen, which mounts centre-stage on the handlebars and is operated via some simple buttons and a touch screen, also took us to Vienna (again, cue rabbit warren of one-way streets) and Italy's Stelvio Pass, still the very best motorcycling road in Europe. Even She-Who-Clings-Very-Tightly enjoyed the ride up the mountain, surely a testament to the 1200RT's ability to straighten out a sinewy road.

Having sampled BMW's other sport-tourer, the four-cylinder K1200GT two years ago over many of the same roads with the same companion, the slightly archaic 1200RT really does offer some distinct advantages. For instance, though it is hardly a lightweight, by sport-touring standards, the twin-cylinder boxer engine is very manageable. So enthused, for instance, was I with its handling that I managed to fade the brakes on a particularly spirited ride down the eastern side of the aforementioned Stelvio Pass. Yes, yes, yes, the bike was fully laden with a passenger and enough Manolo Blahniks to shoe an entire fashion show, but since the added avoirdupois-inspired excitement failed to dampen my ardour or scare Herself, that's high praise indeed.

It's also worth noting that the RT also offers a distinct comfort advantage over the K1330GT, since not only is its windscreen larger but it adjustable (electrically, of course). It provides more wind protection and a decidedly calmer air pocket. These things become important when you're cruising the German autobahn or the Italian autostrada at 160kph. That's the great thing about a (relatively) lightweight sport-tourer like the R1200RT. Because of that superb fairing, we could take advantage of Europe's relatively lightly-enforced speed limits. Even if it isn't as legal as it once was - Germany's autobahns have speed control areas around cities and, believe it or not, there is a speed limit on the autostrada - one basically gets to hoon around with the throttle open. Though local legends might state otherwise, I'd suggest that your riding partner's level of comfort with speed is a far greater obstacle than the law enforcement. Luckily, for me, She-Who-Is-Otherwise-Spoilt likes the scenery zipping by at speed.

Indeed, for a still-enthusiastic rider from truly over-policed Canada, riding in Europe is still the thrill of a motorcycling lifetime. Not only are the roads positively spectacular and the scenery a delight to the eyes, but I can ride around at whatever pace I choose pretty much unmolested. And there really isn't much better an all-round tourer than the BMW R1200RT. Yes, it's down on horsepower compared to BMW's own K1300GT, not to mention a gaggle of Japanese sport-tourers, but it handles well, is comfortable and, thanks to anti-lock brakes, it's safe. There's a host of amenities to make your life on the road easier. Heated grips are no longer a novelty but a heated seat sure is a handy one. Ditto for the easily detached saddlebags with the optional, fitted interior soft cases and, of course, the aforementioned GPS system.

Indeed, the continued popularity of the R1200RT proves that there's definitely a place for a sport-touring motorcycle where grace is as important as pace.