When my brother and I were young, we had a couple Schwinn bikes. Our parents, sensible folks that they are, bought us pretty standard bicycles. Being boys, we took them out and started riding them around the dirt lots and through the trees and out in the woods and stuff. The fenders starting to get full of mud and the seats were too small for proper sliding back for wheelies and stuff, so we started taking them apart and changing them. They were still Schwinns, but they, well, they'd been altered somewhat.
I couldn't help but think of that when I was riding a 2004 Rockster today. Here was what at one time was a sensible enough motorcycle when it was just a regular old R1150R. It's so sensible that MrsKbasa, the queen of practicality, went out and spent her own money to buy one, without even having me ride it around.
Well, the Rockster is to the standard 1150R what my bike was to the Schwinn that rolled out of that factory in Chicago, it's been altered so little boys can go out and play with it and do the stuff little boys do with motorcycles, namely, ride them like a nut.
So, what did those crazy fun loving, totally whimsical Germans do to this bike to change it and how does it all work? Cary Littel and the guys at Marin BMW were kind enough to let me disappear with their one and only Rockster today so I could find out. Tina and I have an R11RS, an R1150R and an R11S in the garage, so I was interested to see if BMW could squeeze yet another meaningful variant out of the R259.
Well, first off, the Bavarians ditched everything north of the steering stem. They've built an instrument cluster that has GS headlights in a new shell, a little painted fly screen and a set of slightly reworked R11S instruments.
Here's the view from the rider's side. Check the way kewl braided stainless brake line. They've changed the tach to white faced and the font on the instruments are different than they were on the S.
They've pretty much gotten rid of the rise on the bars. They're very flat. However, when you combine them with a higher seat than the stock R comes with, they move the seating posture decidedly forward. The position is much roomier than a stock R. The bars are good for backroad work, but much above 75 or 80 and you start to feel like a parachute. In the twisties, this bike feels like nothing so much as a big dirt bike. It's highly flickable and reacts well to both bar and lower body steering inputs.
The original R bars, when measured from the center of the front edge of the seat, are 24" away. The rockster, by virtue of it's flatter, less pulled back bars, are 28" away. Additionally, they're wider by 1.5" over the standard bar's 32". All this adds up to a seating postion that's closer to an S bike than a standard R. Sit up and beg? Not on the Rockster. Get down with your bad self is more like it.
Down below, they've installed a completely blacked out Dual Spork drivetrain (yeah, don't the plug covers look like a spork?) The heads are a tasty blue that matches the framework, headlight cluster and various other bits.
Note the nifty motor. It looks awfully nice all blacked out.
This is the first Dual Spark motor I've ridden and I'm amazed it took BMW this long to add the second plug, given the amazing difference it's made. On previous iterations of Oilheads, in either Motronic I or Motronic II flavors, throttle response was less than linear at low, just off idle revs. If you're coming around a switchback and you want to add just a little throttle, it would wind up coming on board as either fully engaged or not at all, almost like there was a binary switch in the throttle. The Dual Spark eliminates this phenomenon; you want a little throttle, you get a little throttle. It's nice. Any tendency to surge has been completely banished. At 3200 rpms, prime surging territory, the bike was absolutely steady. It starts and idles easily. The second plug hasn't eliminated the slight buzz that is part of the R259 experience, but the vibes are of the low frequency, low amplitude variety and don't cause issues with hands or feet numbness. I love the motor and can hardly wait to see how it works in the more powerful S variant.
Suspension bits are lifted from the S, notably, the Sport Suspended version of the S. This bike is noticably taller than the stock R. Even with the low seat installed, a rider that was flat foot on the standard R is tippy toed on the Rockster. The suspension puts the pegs a full inch and a half higher off the ground.
We've got yer S bike sliders and Carbon Fiber fender up front, with Sport shock.....
....and we've got yer big ol' 5.5 inch rim on the back with a Metzler M1 doing the the pavement/power interface. Check the stylio clear turn signals on the front and back. Who's going to make a clear brake/tail light?
I rode this bike in a wide variety of conditions, freeways, backroads of all types and varieties of tightness and gnarliness and through the city traffic of San Francisco.
At low speeds, it has the typical lightness that BWMs have when you're paddling around a parking lot or doing low speed manuevering like lane splitting. It's eminently easy to handle. On the freeway, the ride is plush, but could probably use more damping. Wind blast in intrusive after a while. A little windshield would go a long way toward making this bike ideal.
Backroads are this bike's forte. It wants to go around corners and it wants to do it all day long. At elevated speeds, it's composed and the Metzelers provide as much feedback as is typical for a Telelever equipped bike. Typical for a 'lever bike, the front end feels a little numb, but it sucks up pavement problems like there's a little asphalt factory under bike paving away. It's quite supple. More than anything else, this bike feels like an S bike with different clothes.
Steering inputs at speed are light, especially when combined with decent lower body inputs. BMWs, in general, like to be steered from the lower body and this bike is no exception. Mid corner corrections are handled without difficulty. Rolling on the throttle will widen the line, but rolling off some will not make the bike stand up. Mid corner bumps can upset the chassis somewhat, but adding preload seemed to help diminish that issue. Stability in crosswinds is terrific. I followed an R1 up the Waldo grade, through a 30 - 40 mph crosswind. He was noticeably moving around, yet the Rockster was planted and unaffected.
The bike I rode had the servo assisted ABS brakes. They're initially a little off putting, but a half hour of acclimitazion reveals that these are powerful, easy to modulate brakes. A truck pulled out in front of me and the brakes just shed speed like Enron shedding employees.
To call this bike controversial might be an understatement. I parked it at Alice's Restaraunt for about an hour. Most of the old guys hated it. Most of the young folks (including women) thought it was neat. At first I didn't really care for the flat black paint, but it's starting to grow on me. The bronze color has a way of reminding me of cars that were in circulation about the time I was putting a banana seat on my Schwinn.
So how's it all add up?
The verdict? This bike is going to fool a lot of people. Most of the folks I've run into think it's just a Roadster with a paint job. I think, given its abilities and specifications, it's safe to say the Rockster is its own motorcycle, designed to rip around the back roads, while offering up high style and function around town. It includes nice features like heated grips and a power plug, but lack of wind protection keeps it from being a high mileage pavement eater. If I was headed up the California coast and knew I'd be riding back roads the whole way, adding a set of BMW bags, the luggage shelf in place of the back seat and a tank bag would make for a supremely capable backroad ripper. If BMW would introduce a small shield that matches the bold styling of the rest of the bike,I wouldn't have anything to complain about.
My Schwinns were always a little wierd looking, but they worked well enough for me to get in all kinds of trouble. I think this bike is exactly in that vein. It might look a little strange at first, but man, will it get you in trouble.
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Big Thanks again to the guys at Marin BMW!