How does the saying go? No pain, no gain. BMW went to great pains to develop an in-line, six-cylinder engine to power its new line of flagship sport-touring and luxury touring machines, the K 1600 GT and GTL, respectively. As Pieter de Waal, VP of BMW Motorrad USA, said, “The heart of BMW’s new touring motorcycle had to be in-line six. BMW has a heritage of building in-line sixes for its automobiles. They provide good torque, are naturally balanced, and produce a wonderful, gorgeous sound. There is so much stuff on the bikes that it’s easy to lose focus on the heart of the bike — the engine.”
An in-line six for a motorcycle is easier said than done, though. Packaging and overall size need to allow for a comfortable riding position. The S 1000 RR played a significant role in the decision to build the new K 1600 GT and GTL. Product Manager Sergio Carrajal added, “Typically, six-cylinder engines are wide and heavy. The K 1600’s engine was developed to be the lightest and most compact motorcycle six cylinder.” I’ll say! It weighs in at just 226 pounds with clutch, gearbox, and 580-watt alternator, and 70 percent of the K1600’s max torque is available at as low as 1500 rpm. It measures just 21.9″ wide, similar to most four cylinders, thanks in part to putting the cylinder sleeves just 5mm apart. And it’s 10 percent more fuel efficient than a K 1300 GT (measured at a constant 55 mph). The dry sump allows the engine to be placed lower, and the cylinders are tilted forward 55 degrees to fit the frame over the engine instead of around it. From personal experience I can say it has a broad powerband. The high-compression (12. 2:1) engine is estimated to deliver 50 mpg. With a 7-gallon fuel tank, a 300-mile cruise range is not a problem. About the only negative I can come up with in regards to the engine is that I’m not fond of the chrome 6 insignia found on the sides of the engine. I think the package would have been more tasteful without them.
On the topic of why BMW produced an expensive touring machine at this point in time, de Waal said, “If you really go for something that excels, it should not just be an improvement of the old model. There were four challenges in producing this motorcycle: the old BMW LT was long in the tooth; thanks in part to the popularity of the S1000RR, there has been a fairly dramatic change in the perception of BMW; the positioning of the LT did not fit in the RT and GT family of bikes, and in a shrinking world, we needed to find the reason why people say ‘Yes, I need that motorcycle.’”
“This bike had to be desirable and lots of fun to ride,” David Robb of BMW’s styling department added. “The headlight is very aggressive for a bike in this class. The fiber optic corona rings on the headlights carry over from BMW’s automotive side, and evoke an emotional, dynamic premium. The engine itself is used as part of the aerodynamics of the motorcycle. It’s a shark, not a whale.” I found that last comment interesting, as I’ve heard the former BMW touring king, the LT, referred to as Orca, when not being called Light Truck.
The similarities between the two models many, the differences few. But in a nutshell, the K 1600 GT is the sportier model, with no top case, firmer suspension, a two-piece seat (which is height-adjustable with the flip of a mounting bracket — a 30-second job), and an electronically adjustable, V-notched windshield. I’m a big fan of the GT’s windscreen, as it allows me to look at the roadway over the windshield even when it’s in the full upright position. The GTL differs in that the footrests are 1″ forward and lower; it has a one-piece, non-adjustable seat (two taller accessory seats are available), comes with a stock top case, features chrome accents on the bodywork, and the windshield is taller and wider. Unfortunately, the GTL’s windshield requires the rider to peer through it, which some, like me, find unappealing. The GTL’s top case can be added to the GT as an accessory; however, it will mount 1″ farther forward.
Both bikes feature a laundry list of necessary touring features. The engine hangs from a magnesium front frame section and rotates a six-speed transmission with top two gears overdriven. After that, BMW’s shaft drive turns a single-sided rear wheel wearing a 190 rear tire, which looks easy enough to get to for maintenance — always a handy feature on a touring bike that chews up the miles. There are three riding modes for engine output: rain, road, and dynamic, and a ride-by-wire throttle. Dynamic traction control with lean angle sensor is optional, and the bike has front wheel lift protection. The clutch release is pleasantly light and works a back torque-limiting clutch. The GT and GTL come with standard integral ABS. The front brake activates the rear brake as well; however, rear brake application alone does not activate any front brake — great for when you want to drag a little brake into a corner.
Winglets on the saddlebags minimize dirt collection on the rear of the bikes, and the flip-out blades just above the BMW roundels on the front fairing do an admirable job of scooping air to cool the rider. One undesirable feature of the front bodywork made itself apparent when I came to a stop and moved my feet from the footpeg to the ground. My shins banged on the back edge of the lowest portion of the fairing. After a few encounters, I trained myself to watch out for that, but I still have bruises.
The instrument panel offers more information to the rider than should be viewed while in motion. But the coolest part is how the information is accessed. The left handlebar mounted multicontroller is a rotary thumb wheel, which allows you to scroll through pages of information and functions shown on the LCD color monitor. While the rotary wheel has a positive clicking feel when rotating, I found that the select button, tapping the wheel inward, felt a bit vague; it didn’t provide strong tactile feedback. My only other gripe about the instrumentation is that the analog tachometer and speedo numerals are too small. If you get the audio system package you’ll get complimentary one year Sirius XM subscription. I’m a big fan of electronic tire pressure monitors on touring bikes, and the GT and GTL have them. As well as oil level indicator, heated seat and grip control, Nav IV GPS controls, audio system with iPod integration and Bluetooth, gear position indicator, time, tripmeters, and electronic suspension adjustment (ESA) settings. The information delivery doesn’t end with the instrument display. The Garmin Nav IV is integrated into the motorcycle, and if, for example, you should be running low on fuel, the GPS will indicate this, and ask if you would like it to find the nearest gas station. How many times have you wished you had something like that working for you?
The Garmin Nav IV is in the ideal place: high on the dash and in plain view of the pilot. It slips in and out of its dash compartment with the touch of a button, and when parked and with the ignition off, the windscreen lowers to a dashboard-blocking position for a certain level of theft protection. When the ignition is started again, the windscreen rises to its last used position. For overnight stays, it would be prudent to remove the GPS head and store it in your luggage, though.
Both the GT and GTL are well-balanced bikes, and propping them up on the standard manual centerstand was a breeze. The turn signals and taillight are LEDs, although the taillight did seem a bit small. Fortunately, there’s an optional top case taillamp available; I’d spring for that accessory. Up front, BMW makes a big deal about its new dynamic leveling Xenon headlight arrangement. No doubt it’s a breakthrough in motorcycling safety and much brighter than a standard bulb — but I’m not buying everything BMW is selling. In this arrangement, the center low-beam lamp actually points up and is reflected onto the roadway through an angled mirror. It adjusts up and down for when the bike is loaded and tail-heavy, or when it’s riding empty. The optional adaptive headlight uses a pivoting mirror that gathers data from lean-angle sensors and works a small, electric servo-motor that is supposed to aim light into and around corners, but I’m sad to say it did not perform to my expectations. BMW set up a night-riding opportunity, but the adaptive headlight was not the “night and day” difference I was led to believe it would be.
BMW would have us believe it’s delivered a Gold Wing-killer, but in actuality, I would compare neither of these bikes to the Gold Wing. Both are more sport-touring oriented. When I was riding these models, I was reminded more of Kawasaki’s Concours 1400 and Yamaha’s FJR1300. BMW aims to conquer current Gold Wing owners, and convert some Harley mounted riders as well. But with these bikes, folks will be riding a totally different animal than they’re used to.
BMW also predicts this line will become its best-selling motorcycle (currently, the Superbike is). The question begs to be asked: “Now that there’s a six-cylinder engine, will BMW produce a bike like the six-cylinder, naked-standard concept vehicle it displayed a few years ago?” No comment so far.
The bulky, outdated LT model has been put out to pasture. In its place, BMW has introduced this svelte, light, nimble touring machine with a charming engine and more bells and whistles than you can learn how to use in a month’s worth of reading the owner’s manual. For my money, I’d get the K 1600 GT with Premium package (which includes audio and Bluetooth), and add on the accessory top case with LED rear lamp. That way I’d get the V-notched windshield I like so much and the height-adjustable forward seat section. And save for a few of my nitpicks (like the chrome 6), the K 1600 is the new king of sport-touring in America. RB
Words By Steve Lita, Photos by Jonathan Beck And Kevin Wing
Story as published in the August issue of Roadbike