Join along with us on our first ride aboard the 2012 BMW K1600GT and GTL. We share our first thoughts in real-time as we experience them. Learn about the bike, it's features, and how it all works and sounds with us. We show it like nobody else, you'll feel as if you're there riding.
$21,395 for the GT and $23,695 for the GTL
160-horsepower - in-line 6-cylinder - 767 pounds
The two models are powered by a new 6-cylinder in-line engine that develops a total of 160 HP and a maximum torque of 175 NM. The rider of the K 1600 models has three different engine characteristics directly available at the press of a button at the right-hand end of the handlebars so as to be able to adapt to different uses such as touring on the road, riding on wet surfaces and sporty, dynamic motorcycling - the modes "Rain", "Road" and "Dynamic".
REVIEWS of BMW’s new luxury-class touring motorcycle, the 2012 K1600, tend to be in agreement: this bike handles well. Yet the evaluations often seem to harbor the same implied asterisk: it handles well for a big bike.
Yes, it’s a big-boned machine. With a 160-horsepower in-line 6-cylinder engine, it’s bound to be. But the bike’s 767-pound assemblage of aluminum, steel and plastic composites is beside the point. The K1600 is a plush, responsive long-distance ride that tackles highways and twists adeptly, never mind the size.
The sweat went into the engineering of the most innovative design of an open-class touring machine since the Honda Gold Wing made its debut nearly four decades ago. The Gold Wing, the obvious point of comparison for the K1600, has been refreshed many times, with larger engines, slick body work and updated electronics. Even so, at this point it’s a spry grandpa with multiple organ transplants and titanium hips.
The K1600 emerged, in part, from BMW’s own encounters with the geriatric ward.
“The K1200 LT was already long in the tooth,” said Pieter de Waal, vice president of BMW Motorrad USA. ”We had to decide: Are we going to modify the LT or start from scratch? In a market where you sell things nobody needs, what will give them enough reason to say, ‘I have to have that product.’ ”
The Beemer think tank divined that riders would want a bike with an in-line 6, a NASA-spec suite of electronics and the sportiness that the BMW brand holds dear.
The result was two K1600s, the luxury GTL and the sportier GT. In BMW’s plan, the GTL will replace the current K1200 LT and the GT model will elbow aside the K1300 GT.
Both bikes come well appointed with heated seats and grips, cruise control, onboard computer, commodious saddlebags and a self-leveling xenon headlamp. The GTL adds, among other things, Bluetooth connectivity, an audio system and a cargo box big enough for three bags of groceries.
The major difference between the models is that the GT has a sportier riding position, with its handlebars positioned forward and footpegs rearward by comparison with the GTL.
A main source of the appeal for both K1600 models is the in-line 6-cylinder engine, a design central to BMW’s heritage. Previous attempts to use an in-line 6 — notably the Honda CBX 1000, Kawasaki KZ1300 and Benelli 750 Sei — resulted in ungainly machines. Honda introduced a 6-cylinder Gold Wing in 2001, but it is an opposed-cylinder layout.
BMW addressed the size challenge with manufacturing technology developed for the S1000 RR superbike, resulting in an engine that is just “fractionally larger than our existing 1300 cc 4-cylinder,” Mr. De Waal said. And, he added, it uses 10 percent less fuel than the 1300.
The engine assembly, including transmission, clutch and alternator, weighs a svelte 221 pounds. By angling the cylinders 55 degrees toward the front, BMW was able to mount the engine lower, a bonus for stability. In the GTL model, the engine sips from a 7-gallon fuel tank, giving a range of 350 miles if you are gentle on the throttle (280 miles on average in my testing).
The engine produces 80 percent of its torque at 1,500 revs; its red line is at 8,500 r.p.m. With 160 horsepower, it will pull away from a stoplight like a muscle car, its muffler emitting an engine note that goes from a civilized turbine whine down low to a banshee-with-a-toothache screech by 6,000 r.p.m.
The K1600 is loaded with gadgetry like electronically adjustable suspension and throttle, Sirius Satellite Radio, an iPod dock and optional navigation ($899).
It’s not all MP3 frippery. The throttle offers three choices of electronic settings, Dynamic, Road and Rain. The amount of throttle twist to open the butterflies increases from the dynamic mode to the rain mode, helping the rider maintain control in slippery road conditions.
Similarly, the suspension can be set not only for riding alone or with the weight of a passenger or luggage, but for sport, normal or comfort, which adjusts the preload, damping and rebound.
In the K1600’s braking system, the four-piston calipers in front are linked to the two-piston single caliper in back, delivering confident stopping power with a squeeze of the right-side handlebar lever alone. The rear brake can be activated independently with the foot pedal.
A remarkably useful feature of the bike is the adaptive headlight. Normally, when a motorcycle leans into a turn, the headlight beam no longer provides ideal illumination of the road ahead. The K1600 has a center headlamp that levels and faces the turns when the bike leans.
All this comes together in a ride that is compliant without being lumbering. Even with the suspension in its comfort setting, the K1600 carved smartly through the curves and was easier to ride than a touring machine has a right to be. I felt the weight of the bike only at stops, when I sometimes had to put my foot down harder than I’d like to keep the bike upright.
The low seat height, just under 30 inches for the GTL, made it easy to stand flat-footed even on sloping pavement. Over all , it was a relaxing, grin-inducing machine that could lure me into riding through multiple Zip codes and make me wish I had time to transverse time zones.
Any vehicle equipped with a full arsenal of electronic features faces a problem. Should there be a buttons for every function? Or should it make do with fewer buttons but with lots of menus on a display screen? BMW chose the latter.
While critical functions like lights and ride settings have dedicated controls, many of the bike’s features are set using the motorcycle version of BMW’s iDrive. A ring inside the left handgrip controls the iDrive-style menus. Push the ring left or right to change menus, then rotate it to scroll through the menu.
It’s a challenge to learn what function is under which menu. I couldn’t recall them all after riding the bike for several weeks. The placement of the ring often led me to bump it when trying to thumb the turn signal, changing the radio station instead.
The bike has a few other quirks. Because the coolant from the radiator enters the right side of the engine and the exits on the left, there is a noticeable difference in temperature between the two sides. It felt like a hair dryer was blowing up my left trouser leg.
The electronic wizardry is impressive, but not easy enough to use. The built-in Bluetooth requires separate pairing to connect a phone, helmet and GPS — not unusual — but I couldn’t seem to get them all to work together, even when the three devices said they were linked. In addition, the iPhone dock needs work. My phone, which I tested using its iTunes function, would occasionally freeze, requiring a full reboot.
I found the styling of the K1600 fairly generic, yet strangers came up to me asked if they could have a photo taken with the bike.
“It looks expensive,” theorized a friend. Indeed, at a base price of $21,395 for the GT and $23,695 for the GTL, you are creeping up on the price of a 4-wheel BMW.
But most likely, strangers won’t ask to have their pictures taken with your 1 Series.
Skull & Bones