2012 BMW K 1600 GT/GTL, New Bike Evaluation

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


  1. Too Expensive. H-D here I come………………….

    • Got me a new k16gtl and a hand full of problems. Transmission is gone, need a new transmission it will take 4-6 weeks to get it from Germany. Oil leaks and water pump leaks. I am not the only one with a hand full of problems. My original bike is a harley. and yes that’s what I am riding now as the bimmer is resting at the dealer. Get the HD, You will not wait 4-6 weeks for parts.
      My HD 2005 60,000 miles no problems, BMW K1600 2012 4000 miles big problems

      • Wow, what a nitemare. Keep us posted, Harry!

      • Now that ut’s July 2012……what is the verdict on the k 1600 GTL?

      • you wont get repair parts in 4-6 weeks — in fa ct wait times fopr water pumps alone are measured in months– bmw– big money wasted– re sale value– non existant… worse mistake i ever made buying bmw…. piece o garbage

      • I had a GTL and had too many problems with that bike in the shop more than on the road now I have a 2012 Road glide custom and it hasn’t been in the shop once, the GTL is new so it will take a few years to free it of problems. I am keeping my harley, might not get there as fast but I could care less.

  2. J Mitchell says:

    I always wanted a Beemer but I’m afraid to invest in that full fairing setup, fearing that it will not work well with my “mature” knees and 6’+ frame on serious road trip. Any feedback from like minded road warriors?

  3. This bike is expensive to buy and expensive to own. Very complex. Abundance of electronic gadgets almost insures problems. I for one would rather have the more primitive R1200RT, which is much lighter in weight and a quite a few thousand dollars cheaper.

    • Chuck Davies says:

      Yes Ed, I agree 100%.
      Loved my Honda ST1300 recently, but now I’ve sold it and they are hard to find.
      I haven’t heard if they are coming back in future, but if so, Honda better not wait long;
      there are so many competitive sports tourers coming.
      I would like to find a 1-2 yr old R1200RT next spring.
      Steve Lita wrote a very good article.

  4. I just traded my GTL in on an RT, I rode Harley Touring bikes for 30 years and have never had the problems I was having with the GTL. The GTL was my first BMW and I was very disappointed so I will see if I have any problems with the RT. The GTL started from day one.

  5. joe moore says:

    WOW more than I would of imagined smooth fast handles great love the sat. radio with blue tooth sounds great with new Helmet first tank gas avg 50mpg I am 58 and it made me have goose bumps like the first super bike I bought when I was 19 kaw Z 1 900 I am retiring at the end of may and hope this smile stays on me for a long time I would like to thank everyone at GINA’S BMW for all the the help in buying this bike Very nice shop and I cant say enough about Gina a very nice honest hard working and lovely lady thanks

  6. Ron Miller says:

    I owened the 1200 touring BMWs, I went back to the Gold wings, I oreded the new GTL but took it out for a test and asked for my money back. Faster than a gold wing but not near as nice, stereo sucked compaired to a Wings, finish and comfort not even close to a wing, now if the wing was faster I would not even look at the BMW but they are not faster and may never be so BMW ever gets there bikes to be as dependable I will buy one, just for the power

  7. Jeff Mohl says:

    I’ve been riding RT’s and GT’s for years and have always favored the RT for dependabe great hanling and adequate power, but I am a gadget lover and love power. I bought new GT 1600 and I love it. 6000 miles plus on it with no complaints, great comfort, magnificent power combined with excellent handling and gadgets galore! It is a little heavy under 10 mph, but after that it is top notch and handles with the crotch rockets. I test rode the GTL and really didnt like the riding position but the GT is perfect!

  8. i have an r1200r — 3 bad rotors 2 brake line recalls 2 bad antenna ring failures, soft clutch –waiting for it to go out 4 batterys –r1200’s eat batterys bad abs pump — thats 2500- 2800 bux people –and a few more issues– yea tell me about bmw reliability…. did i mention leaking seal on final drive?

    over priced over rated low resale an poor reliability… how about a sparse dealer network an few parts in stock? dont insult harleys by comparing them to a bmw.

  9. I’m in the process of purchasing a GTL but after reading all the “negative” reviews …. I’m having seond thoughts ! Which is a better buy ? … The GT or the GTL ? I need to make a DECISION asap …… Anybody input …..

    • I’m with ya Mike. I get it all set in my mind I want the GT and then I read about reliability issues. I realize dissatisfied owners are more likely to post than satisfied owners. I can only hope there are a lot more satisfied owners. What does bother me is the number of used GT/GTL’s that are already on the market.

  10. Got a GT1600 love it but hate the bluetooth crap. Has anyone seen a after market bluetooth fix or wired for a wired headset jack?

  11. After a year with the GTL I am very pleased. Why this blog appears to be a sieve for problems is concernin;, who’s filitering these REPLY’s. I wandered upon this site while researching issues with heated clothing. I’ve had Harleys, Honda’s, Yamaha’s, BMW’s and even several Kawasaki’s. This bike is a marvel of technology and with all these things going on your gonna have a few problems. My father told me once NEVER buy the first year of a production vehicle; I bought a 2012. I have ridden my GTL like I stole it. Even to the track where it ran 11.3 with full grear and traction control off. I do all the general maint myself and use Amsoil in the crank / trans and rear diff. I expect brakes tires, etc as I approach 10,000 miles.

  12. I am very surprised to learn all these negative comments about BMW motorcycle (not only on these blog page) that I am definitely made up my mind of not buying a BMW motorcycle…..I was focused on BMW 1.6GT and RT1.2. I currently own a Honda ST 1300/2008, 25K km and never had problems outside of regular services scheduled in the motorcycle manual.

  13. william dickson says:

    Got myself a new 1600gt 2013 model Best bike ever owened NO Problems at all now done 5400km


  1. […] back at the ranch, I do some more review searching and run across a couple of these: harry says: November 10, 2011 at 5:52 pm Got me a new k16gtl and a hand full of problems. Transmission is gone, need a new transmission it […]

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