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BMW R1200C cruiser
Reptiles in paradise
BMW conducted its first-ever combined car and motorcycle launch in Queensland recently.

  Though I'm not sure who coined the term "the reptiles of the press", I suspect it was Dr Hunter S Thompson. Strangely, it sprang to mind as the assembled examples were being herded around Queensland's sunshine coast to whatever the next activity was.

However the real interest wasn't the reptiles, but the fact we were participating in BMW Australia's first-ever combined motorcycle and car launch. The vehicles involved were the new 5 Series Touring (don't you dare say "station wagon"!) and the company's first entry to the cruiser market, the R1200C.
In case you were wondering, the Touring is a wagon version of the company's middle-range saloon running a 2.8 litre six powerplant in its Australian spec. Transmission is a five-speed auto with a nifty sequential manual shift facility. It's got more airbags than ashtrays and enough leather to make the cow look like an endangered species. Price is a snip at $104,000.

As for the 1200C, Herr Wootton gave us all a pretty comprehensive rundown a couple of issues ago after the international launch. Australia is one of the first three markets in the world to receive the bike, with the first shipments arriving as this issue is being published. Price is $19,950 (plus on-road costs) plus $1900 for the optional ABS.

A flat-handlebar version is planned (no pics yet) and will be available, along with a heap of accessories and factory riding gear, around September.

WHY?
It's hard to tell who was more appalled by the other's presence -- the motorcycle journos about the car folk, or vice versa. The bike people suspected the car noters to be a bunch of pussies, while the motoring writers had the bikers placed as a herd of scumbags with a death wish. Both sides had a point...

So what was the attraction in getting them together? "Lifestyle" was the reply of BMW motorcycle MD Olaf Bruekers. It's a theme that's being followed all the way through to customer launches, where auto and bike buyers will be invited to the car dealerships to view the 1200C, and the Touring, for the first time.
The company wants to promote a complete range of lifestyle options from its range, from cars of various shapes, to bikes, clothing and even toys for the kids.

Anyone who has been exposed to Harley-Davidson's marketing will be familiar with the approach. It's one that promotes the vehicle less and the lifestyle more.

In Australia, the 1200C is probably more critical to the bike side of the business than the Touring is to the car folk. The auto range is selling well, with a 26 per cent lift in volume for the first half of 1997, compared to the same period last year.

The bikes are selling at about 800 a year, which the recently-appointed Bruekers says he would like to see climb to 1500. Of those figures, the 1200C is expected to make up 150 this year and 250 next. Not huge numbers when compared to Harley (about 3000 a year), though substantial when you look at any of the other cruiser brands on the market.

Though fighting for the same market sector, Bimmer is keen to point out that its cruiser owes nothing to Harley in the styling stakes. No argument there, though the staff went on to say it is also not a retro. Ahh, sorry guys, but I take issue with that. Certainly there's lots of modern technology in the package, but if the styling influences aren't retro I'd like to know what is.

Moving into the cruiser sector was a logical enough move for BeeEm, as it accounts for over 35 percent of the international big bike market. So where to next? Well, the company doesn't have an entry in the sport sector...
Olaf sees a substantial number of 1200C buyers coming from the company's car owners. A logical enough thought, as a big part of the cruiser market relies on recidivist riders many of whom have kept their bike licence even if they haven't had cause to use it for some years.

THE PLOT
The general plot for the launch was the bike journos got to punt the Touring round Lakeside raceway, and the car writers with a suitable licence got to do the same with the 1200. Then they'd all jump in/on their more normal transport for the road program. The exceptions were Radio National's Wil Hagon, and Wheels magazine's Glenn Butler, who opted to stick with the bikes.

Though a good number of the car folk had bike skills, there was evidence of rust in one case judging by the spectacular series of bunny hops. The one that went in ever decreasing circles in the pits until the whole plot fell over. Twice. I guess it highlighted the risks faced by all manufacturers with customers who return to riding after a long break.

Speaking of risks, Wil Hagon, who happens to be a very good rider, suffered a spill at some ridiculously low speed and broke his leg. Sod's law at work, I suppose. Naturally he was given the traditional sympathetic response, with the whole launch crew replaying the scene for the benefit of the camera.

As Wootton has already explained, the 1200C is a very competent package - or would be if you can get the suspension at each end talking to each other. A spirited hurl across some backroads near the Glasshouse Mountains proved the bikes are nevertheless capable of most uncruiser-like velocities, particularly once the rear preload is wound up to gain some needed cornering clearance.

Whether it will appeal to the cruiser buyer is yet to be seen. The overall package is a new twist on the theme, and the attention to detail is very good. For the sceptics among you, the bike looks much better in the flesh than it does in the photos.

What is really intriguing though is how the market will react to BeeEm's co-promotion of cars and motorcycles. Some fresh ideas are being tried, and there's even a previously unheard-of ratbag element creeping in. Witness the dirty great poster shown at the launch -- no copies in the media kit, dammit! -- of a helmetless (gasp!) rider on 1200C wearing a business suit with the sleeves missing. What happened to the sleeves? "They got ripped off by the staggering acceleration," was the quick-witted response from PR man John Kananghinis.

Well, this reptile hopes they succeed. Some new, or returned, blood in the bike scene is always a good thing. Let's hope they also get a bit of rider training.
Guy Allen

R1200C Specifications


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Article by Guy Allen

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