BMW has officially entered the bagger market with its new K1600B, introduced at a press launch between the high mountains of Western North Carolina and the low hills of Upstate South Carolina in mid August. BMW said the K1600B has a “classic imposing bagger design,” and “an elongated streamlined cruiser profile.”
BMW also added that it prefers the B to be considered on its own merits as a new model, rather than as a reworked K1600GT/GTL. But for those of us in attendance, that requires communicating a significant amount of information that’s not new. In my estimation this B is exactly like the K1600GT/GTL models from the seat forward, including everything. Well, okay, except for the chopped windscreen and tubular handlebars. But everything else. That’s about 87 percent of the motorcycle that’s unchanged.
Unique to the K1600B from the rider’s seat back: the rear bodywork has a new “bagger profile” and the rear framework is lowered providing for the passenger seat to be lowered 2.8 inches; two big, long mufflers with cats inside of them; and a set of permanently-mounted 37-liter hard bags with built-in tail lights and power cords. Although the bags cannot be removed, soft inner-zippered bags are available as an option.
Lowering the rear framework results in 0.4-inches less suspension travel, which is keeping with bagger standards. Still, like the GT/GTL versions, the standard ESA has preload adjustment for one-up, one-up with packed bags, and two-up, and it is a rear preload adjustment only.
How does one compare bagger V-twins to the B’s 1649cc six-cylinder engine that pumps out a claimed 160 hp, and 129 pound-feet of torque, weighs only 739 lb. (wet), is 21.9 inches wide, and has a 12.2:1 compression ratio? Beats me, but I see now that it’s a good thing I filled the 7.0-gallon tank with premium after I was separated from the group, eh?
Anyway, the B was designed to have best-in-class performance, technology, and styling, and though it’s a fair bet it outshines other baggers with the first two, it’s eclipsed by tradition on that last one.
The K1600B has an MSRP of $19,995, which includes nifty standard features such as ride-by-wire with three modes: Rain, Road, and Dynamic. In short, Rain offers the most interference with throttle delivery and traction control, and Dynamic provides the least amount of interference with those two dynamics. Different from many bikes, the traction control cannot be individually adjusted, although there are complicated instructions for locating the shut-off feature for the traction control.
Another feature is an informative, 5.7-inch, TFT display with ride mode, gear indicator, coolant temperature, fuel level, time, odometer, trip-meter, radio, Dynamic ESA fuel range, and computer modes and option controls. Standard heated seats and grips, cruise control, a power windscreen, and ABS Pro with cornering optimization are all excellent features.
None of the 30 members of media attending this introduction rode a “standard” bike; all were blessed with $24,499 options-a-plenty versions that had the add-ons of Engine Protection Bars, Floor Boards, Keyless Ride, Central Locking System, Gearshift Assist Pro, LED Auxiliary Lights, Reverse Assist, Adaptive Xenon Headlights with Dynamic (self) Leveling, Audio System with Radio Sirius and GPS prep, and Bluetooth Interface Control. These options are available in various packages, and some separately. A few that I didn’t experience were the Hill Start Control, Tire Pressure Monitor, Forged Handlebars, and Storage Compartments, which are basically lockable small glovebox-like things fitted to either lower.
Fun fact: There are 11 switches on the left handlebar, and three on the right side, plus four buttons on the left fairing, which have something to do with the audio system and if the wrong one is pushed the radio doesn’t work. Nonetheless, complaining about odd and numerous switches on a bike that one doesn’t own is like complaining about an update on a smartphone; it all seems so impossibly stupid and unnecessary until one becomes accustomed to the features and forgets that there were any issues to begin with. So, I will assume that all difficulties I had with various switches and the wheel-of- fortune multi-controller were due to operator error by yours truly. Anyway, we only had quick and dubious button training.
Not having ever ridden the K1600GT/GTL makes comparing the experience of piloting the B with those models untenable. But the first thing one might notice about the K1600B is likely the same as with those: it’s big. Case in point; bikes do not come with a reverse option unless they are big and this option was well appreciated on the B. Just push the button and back the machine goes at one mph, which is as fast as anyone should want it to go, particularly in a crowd of bikes going backward.
When going forward, though, with an open road ahead, great enjoyment can be had from wicking open that honking six, into its powerband at around 5,000–5,500 rpm, and it quickly tops out at 7,500 rpm. Big B could stand for Big Bike and Big Power. Yet at lower revs it’s a calm and smooth-running machine.
Many roads we explored were fairly tight mountain roads, and despite the K1600B’s considerable wet weight—not counting my wet weight—it was comfortably capable through the tight stuff. While riding in that tight stuff, I tended to use second or third gear, depending on how tight it was. This kept me in the sweet part of the powerband for exiting turns, and able to often use engine braking alone on entering them.
This revealed that the engine braking is oddly variable, providing a fair amount of braking at around 4,000 rpm, a good deal more braking at 3,000, and much less than either of those at 2,000. It did this consistently so it’s something one would get used to.
Despite its faults the K1600B is untouchable in this class; it goes like hell, it corners like a pro, and has lots of pleasurable gizmos.
I suspect that I did this a bunch because using the front brake into mountain curves felt a bit disconnected for me due to being unfamiliar with the Duolever front suspension, which purposely “separates suspension from braking.” But again, it’s likely a feature that BMW riders enjoy and with a feel they are accustomed to. While talking about cornering, it’s interesting that BMW will not supply maximum lean-angle numbers, even though this bike likely kills the competition on that one.
The rear suspension of the K1600B matched my riding style better at two-up preload than at the solo-rider preload setting. Possibly, the slight weight shift and geometry change to increased rear ride height might have contributed to that. Even so, in either setting ESA—Road or Cruise—and preload, the Dynamic ESA seemed as though it could use a bit more damping. According to BMW, the ESA Road mode is for fully automated damping, while Cruise mode is for gentle damping. Either Dynamic ESA settings can be used in any ride modes.
The Gearshift Assist Pro for clutchless up- and downshifts works predictably if used properly. Apparently it likes the throttle on full and held on full, for upshifts, and the throttle closed during downshifts. Also apparently, I’m a sloppy rider. But sloppy was mostly okay because a firm foot to the shift lever provided clutchless shifting when I bent the rules, though hopefully not the shift forks.
But the system cannot be “turned off,” it can only be used or not used, which is determined by whether or not the clutch lever is used; not touching the clutch lever and observing throttle-position rules, all is fine and smooth. But if you use old habits like partly rolling off the throttle or preloading the shift lever and/or half pulling the clutch, the system becomes confused and things are not smooth. It’s a nice system to have available but it also would be nice to have the option of turning it off and shifting normally.
That reminds me, while stopped in gear I never once found neutral from first gear, and finding it from second gear always took a number of tries. The clutch pull is reasonable and there was no detectable clutch drag so the cause of this issue was not clear.
As for comforting the beast in the seat, I found myself often standing, and it wasn’t just to get maximum airflow during our mid 90-degree intense heat and humidity. Sure, I don’t have much of a butt, but for a touring bagger I found this seat surprisingly unforgiving.
The feel of the ride-by-wire is unlike other systems, trading out slack in the grip for a delayed response while rotating through the initial sprung resistance. The K1600s have exhibited this quirk from the first models. This took practice to master due to the clutch not engaging until nearly full out, allowing me a bit of embarrassing over revving on launches; but again, living with the B will alone solve that. The brakes have a smooth and progressive feel that communicates adequately despite the suspension type.
Overall, comparing it culturally to classic baggers, as stated up front, is up to you. Comparing its sporting performance and technology, despite its faults the K1600B is untouchable in this class; it goes like hell, it corners like a pro, and has lots of pleasurable gizmos.
But considered on its own, BMW’s K1600B should be much more; it’s just not sorted out like the S1000R and R1200RS that I last rode. Nonetheless, its color has true bagger appeal: Blackstorm Metallic.