BMW K1600GT and K1600GTL - First Ride

BMW multiplies touring and sport touring by six cylinders.

BMW K1600GT and K1600GTL - First Ride

BMW K1600GT and K1600GTL - First Ride

The 2012 BMW K1600GT and K1600GTL touring bikes dropped like a velvet bomb at the world press introduction near Cape Town, South Africa. The two ultra-smooth and very swift six-cylinder machines are largely similar but very distinct in their market-segment focus. The K1600GTL is the revolutionary replacement for the departed K1200LT. It maintains or amplifies all the "luxury" elements of the LT while taking on-road performance for a full-rig touring motorcycle to a completely new level. The K1600GT, meanwhile, follows as the direct successor to the K1300GT sport-touring four-cylinder but is a huge leap forward, both in chassis behavior and, of course, engine refinement and power delivery.

I’ll go on record right now about the 1649cc inline-Six: It’s one of the greatest production motorcycle engines ever made. It is wickedly smooth and exceptionally linear in its power delivery. The sizzling sound it makes is off the charts, too, with a surprising and pleasing amount of intake and exhaust noise from both bikes. The 72.0 x 67.5mm engine revs to 8500, which is not astronomically high, but it still manages to sound like a Formula One car at redline. Or maybe it sounds better, especially if you are lucky enough to be sitting in the saddle. Angry bees amped on caffeine ripping apart a strip of velvet?

2012 BMW K1600GT - First Ride

2012 BMW K1600GT

A single 52mm throttle body sits atop a plastic intake manifold and feeds a common chamber, which in turn feeds six long intake runners. The abundant torque is smoothly delivered, even in sixth gear when pulling revs down below 1000 rpm. There is no shuddering or ill behavior under these circumstances, just a smooth, rapidly building symphony of sound and movement when you roll on the throttle. Once the engine revs past 6000 rpm, it’s incredible, both in terms of forward progress and the exhaust note. If there is any minor complaint, it regards throttle response at low speed. Because of the distance of the throttle body from the intake valves, the time it takes for the increased amount of air from the throttle opening to reach the combustion chambers is very slightly delayed, and this is detectable, but hardly an issue. The throttle-by-wire (with Dynamic, Road and Rain modes that vary both power and throttle response) is exceptional. So is the fueling. There was never a hiccup or odd behavior with the engine hot or cold. When entering corners at speed, rolling back into the throttle to settle the bike delivered the exact amount of power I asked for every time, allowing very smooth, fast riding.

While engine character for both the K1600GT and K1600GTL is virtually identical (there are minor differences in the silencers), chassis tune (with the Duolever front and Paralever rear suspension) and riding position are the big differentiators.

The GTL provides a softer, smoother ride, and the pilot sits more upright, with the footpegs lower, more forward and with a broader rubber platform. Additionally, the cast aluminum handlebars sweep farther back. The seat on my bike was rather low at 29.5 inches, but a 1.2-inch-taller seat is available at no additional cost. The saddles for both rider and passenger are quite wide, and while I had no passenger with whom to enjoy the experience, I can vouch for the rider’s accommodations: It’s a great seat. At six-foot-two, I would prefer the optional 31.5/32.7-inch saddle (the seats are height-adjustable by flipping mounts on the frame). Wind protection from the large fairing and electrically adjustable screen (which is both wider and taller than the one on the GT) are excellent. Sitting as low as I did caused the screen’s top edge in the lowest position to cut my vision a bit. Fully raised, there was some pressure at my back but buffeting was light no matter where I set the height. Shorter riders had no complaints regarding the screen or airflow. While I wouldn’t describe either bike as slim, neither one feels wide between the legs or the ankles. In fact, the fuel-tank is sufficiently narrow that I could rest my legs at a comfortable angle.

The riding position of the GTL is less “attack” oriented due to these factors, but don’t let that turn you off if you like to ride aggressively and at high speed. Set the optional ESA II electronically adjustable suspension to Comfort, and the ride is smooth and very plush. Snap it up to Sport, and this big, top-trunk-equipped, claimed-767-pound-wet (with 90-percent fuel load) motorcycle smokes on a backroad. It is a very impressive transformation, and the GTL can be pushed incredibly hard, with significant cornering clearance available.

How would it compare to a Honda Gold Wing? The GTL is a different animal, with much-higher dynamic capabilities. When I remarked about the differences between the softer, larger Gold Wing and the GTL, a BMW executive replied with a pleasant smile, "We wanted to build a shark, not a whale." The question that will need answering is whether the Gold Wing faithful—the true practitioners of American-style luxury touring—will convert to this very comfortable and luxurious shark of a BMW. On a long straightaway, I rolled the throttle open and held it wide until the speedometer read 240 kilometers per hour, or just shy of 150 mph. It felt incredibly good at that speed, stable and poised.

The K1600GTL truly combines a level of comfort, convenience and performance that have never before been brought together at such a level.The lighter, sportier K1600GT, meanwhile, aims squarely at a richly varied sport-touring market that includes the Ten Best-winning Kawasaki Concours 14, Yamaha FJR1300, Triumph Sprint GT (and a spied, larger sport-tourer expected in 2012), BMW's own R1200RT flat-Twin, plus crossover bikes like the Ducati Multistrada and Triumph Tiger 1050. We rode the GT after spending a long day on the GTL, and the difference in riding experience was surprising. The sportier riding position, taller seat and narrower, shorter screen gave an overall lighter, more aggressive relationship with the bike and, therefore, the road. While the top-trunk-quipped GTL can be rolled into corners quite swiftly, the GT snaps right down to its footpegs. Claimed weight (again with 90-percent fuel but without the easy-to-remove bags attached) is 703 lb. Not light by any means, but the stiffer settings for ESA II kept composure to an impressive level. The higher, more-rearset pegs allow greater cornering clearance, and chassis feedback is very good for a bike of this size. After the footpeg feelers were worn away, the sidestand-deployment tang began to kiss the pavement in left turns. But the feeling of security and control at the limit was fantastic.

Both bikes are incredibly neutral and very light handling. There were corners where I applied significant braking force while leaned well over, howling the rear tire as ABS controlled the slip, and the cornering attitude did not change, despite the clear information the chassis was supplying regarding the fact that the tires were approaching the limits of adhesion. The GTL, for example, feels lighter-steering than the Kawasaki Concours 14.

2012 BMW K1600GTL

2012 BMW K1600GTL

Heat management is excellent. The width of the engine in this case is helpful because it works as a blocker, pushing the heated air from the radiator and those six gorgeous stainless header pipes (so unfortunately hidden by the radiator and fairing) under the bike. We rode in hot weather both days and found no issues with engine heat. More on that later when we get a testbike in the States and have to idle in traffic on hot days for long periods; but the initial impression is very good in this regard.

The engine and chassis set these bikes apart from their competition, no question, but so does the electronics package. The optional Garmin-supplied BMW Navigator IV system integrates with the stereo and the BMW Communicator Bluetooth-equipped Schuberth C3 flip-up helmet that BMW supplied for us to utilize it all. The left handlebar has a wheel controller to command stereo, navigation, seat and grip heating, Bluetooth pairing, etc. The “Menu” rocker switch also has a direct-access hot button that allows bookmarking of your favorite settings menu. I chose the ESA II suspension setup, for example. The right-hand fairing cubby hole (down low at shin level) contains slotted foam to hold music players, and the system allows for display of playlists, etc., on the TFT display. I streamed music from my iPhone via Bluetooth directly to the helmet, and the sound quality and volume were quite good, although the ability for the Communicator system to talk to the iPhone software was spotty. A BMW engineer admitted that “Apple software is...different” and that it was best to use the cable connection and run it via the motorcycle. The external in-dash speakers offered ample volume and good clarity, audible even through a closed faceshield and earplugs.

We unfortunately didn't get to experience the optional Adaptive headlights, as our night ride was cancelled. We'll report how it works in the real world when we get a testbike back in the U.S.

BMW is a seriously changed company. Starting with the introduction of the 2004 R1200GS, it has placed a new emphasis on lightness and performance. A succession of models since that time has continued to impress, with the S1000RR and now these new six-cylinder touring bikes really slamming the point home, both to consumers and to BMW's competition. And if the motorcycles aren't impressive enough, the very competitive pricing structures further the cause. The K1600GT base price is $20,900, and the bike comes with an impressive standard-equipment list. The K1600GTL lists at a Gold Wing-competitive $23,200 base MSRP. If you fully crank up to the Premium package to get traction control, the full audio system, central locking for the saddlebags, ESA II and more, the GT price is $24,540 and the GTL is $25,845.

These are not inexpensive motorcycles but they are damn impressive value-for-money and will change customer expectations in both luxury and sport-touring segments. There are a lot of testing miles to come as we round up the major players to hit the dyno, the dragstrip and every kind of road the world has to offer to see how the motorcycle traveling landscape has been altered. Don’t be afraid to pack your bags; there is plenty of space. And we’ll find the answers at speed.

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