Tech: BMW K1600 adaptive headlights

Dailies -


BMW-k1600-adaptive-headlights.jpgKnow the lights you see at clubs and at theaters? The ones that instantly redirect light by directing it through a quickly rotating mirror? The motorcycle-first adaptive headlight on the BMW K1600GT and BMW K1600GTL works like that. It can compensate for lean angle and pitch to provide ideal illumination at all times. Here’s how it works.

As standard on both bikes, a centrally-mounted movable xenon projection light shines up onto a diagonally-mounted mirror, illuminating the road ahead. As the nose of the bike pitches up and down with acceleration or braking, the projector light rotates in its housing to keep the beam level. This can compensate for loads too, so if your pillion passenger is exceptionally fat or you carry bricks in the panniers, the headlight will illuminate the road, not the sky. Basically the rotating light always keeps the beam level.

Things get more interesting if you check the “Adaptive Headlight” box (no word on cost). That adds a stepper motor which turns the mirror on an axis to compensate for lean angle. That also works in conjunction with the pitch compensation to ensure the bike’s dynamic movement on the road doesn’t affect the throw of the headlight.

Pioneered on the BMW S1000RR superbike, an on-board banking sensor feeds lean angle data into the bike’s central computer and that data is used by the traction control and antilock brake systems. That same data is what controls the adaptive headlight.

All this occurs with the bike’s central main headlight beam. Two high beam lights with “angel eye” rings sit outboard of that main beam, referencing the lighting elements on BMW’s SUVs.

  • Nick

    I don’t need the angel eyes, but adaptive lights are very relaxing on cars and seem even more suited for motorbikes (besides the added weight). Bravo BMW.

  • Ben Wipperman

    Part of me loves technology and celebrates it. Another part says, “Hey, something else to break!” I must be aging.

    • Ninjah

      “Hey, something else to break!” I must be aging.

      I agree but that’s not age – that’s experience. If it wasn’t, that would mean I’m getting… ah, shit.

    • Christian

      Exactly. I guess the air cooled, twin spark Duc (with, GASP! Fuel injection!!!) is about as modern as I’d care to go. Still prefer the 96 Monster or the CB —if it runs that is…

  • HammSammich

    This seems like such an elegant solution that it kind of makes you think, “Why didn’t they come up with that sooner?” On the other hand, I just don’t seem to be able to appreciate all of the technology BMW throws at their bikes. Granted, I’ve never ridden on one, so maybe I just don’t know what I’m missing. I’m no Luddite and after some first hand experience, I’ve learned not to overly romanticize the bikes of the 60′s and 70′s as being somehow superior to modern bikes. I’m also starting to appreciate my own need for something that isn’t limited to 110 miles per tank and can exceed that with a modicum of comfort for the rider. But I see the bluetooth, GPS, traction control, ABS, E-throttle, etc. loading down these bikes and I wonder if it takes something away from the riding experience – leavikng it as inspiring as a road trip in a Camry.

    • Chris Y.

      You’re not the only one (it’s not an age thing either). It’s something that increases complexity and weight, two things that you generally don’t want in your motorcycle. But then again, if this bike is supposed to compete against the Goldwing as a comfort tourer, I suppose it doesn’t hurt in this application, especially since those riders are probably more likely to take their bikes out at night on country roads than your average GSX-R squid

  • s0crates82

    bmw sedans. the angel eye first popped up on the e39.

    • Wes Siler

      I know, but you can hardly call modern BMW’s “cars” anymore, they’re heavier than a mid-90s pickup truck.

      • s0crates82


        z4 and 1 series are neat, though. x6 is an abomination.

  • Alex Lauerman

    Anyone else think that headlight simulation video was extremely unrealistic?

    • Peter

      Yes. The simulations were very exaggerated.

    • g

      the simulation video wasn’t just super unrealistic it was a joke! its so unreal it just makes you doubt if the guys doing this have ever ridden a bike or their so retarded they think they can fool people that actually ride…

      the limit normal lights have on the horizon does tilt with the bike and you can see it on the road on a turn, but the way its pointing to the horizon and when it turns it lowers all the way to the windscreen is plain st%&id, sorry.

      it seems like does are the adaptive lights working against you

      who the hell thought this could fool anyone into thinking thats how drastic it actually is?

  • Peter

    I’ve never used adaptive headlights before. However, I’m worried that this will make riders more aggressive at night, when they should be more careful.

    I’ve never found myself wanting adaptive headlights when I ride at night, but the general lack of visibility does make me more cautious.

    Don’t highbeams do the job just fine, as long as you don’t use them when there’s oncoming traffic?

  • the_doctor

    I hope that this tech trickles down soon. In addition to being really cool, it is also a boon to safety.

  • Baumm III

    Yes, nice technology but nice fake demonstration movie. How can they think we will take this?

  • avus9

    gonna be honest — tech like this would sway me into purchasing one brand over another.
    with all the “Watch out for Motorcyclists” campaigns out there, i never understood why motorcycle manufacturers seemingly never prioritized in us being able to see and be seen at night.
    even with 2 headlights on my Rocket III, the lighting is abysmal and the beam pattern pathetic – and the rear taillight is weaker than a child’s night light…

  • generic1776

    Go find a K1300GT and stand in front of the bike with the headlights on (just the low beam).

    Now stand 100 or 200 feet in front of it.

    Notice anything? That damn zennon bulb does a great job of aiming at the ground, actually such a good job that you can’t see the beam in daylight.

    If your goal is “see and be seen” you need to add fog lights or additional highway lights just to be seen by on coming traffic, or even the car that is about to switch lanes in front of you.

    The K1300gt headlights are too hard to see, an adaptive light is necessary (as long as it is aimed sufficiently high, without causing glare)

  • Liquidogged

    I agree it will increase safety, but the way they show the “normal” headlight looks ridiculous. Normal headlights suck not because they aren’t pointed the right way, they suck because OEMs don’t bother to put quality optics in most bikes. Shitty reflectors, shitty bulbs, shitty beam pattern. Good quality projector headlights hooked up to a small HID system are all the improvements most bikes need to their lighting. That said, this is still cool – it’s just kind of like buying a lambo because your pinto isn’t fast enough… maybe find the middle ground and get a VW GTI?

  • Bjorn

    Did the video did exaggerate the effect of lean angle on lighting throw? Yes. Would adaptive lighting improve the quality of light on the road? A qualified yes; it depends on the quality of the execution.
    Anyone who likes to press on at night will be familiar with the reduction of lighting quality at sporting lean angles. I don’t have the mathmatical skill to calculate the amount of loss experienced at a given angle of lean. What I do have is the experience of, foolishly, relying on prior knowledge of what is out of the cone of illumination when hooking through a bend on a familiar road. Only last week I found myself thinking how nice it would be to have lights that followed the direction of travel, a la the old Citroen cockroach.
    Don’t underestimate BMW’s engineering ability, they’re, in my opinion, one of the most forward thinking motorcycle/automotive companies in the mass market. They pioneered ABS braking for motorcycles, something that is now available from most manufacturers.
    If BMW set themselves to make an adaptive lighting system that will compensate for loading and lean angle, it will work. Perhaps not brilliantly in the first generation, but in a couple of years it will be fantastic.
    I find myself in the same position as Ben Wipperman, impressed by the technology, but bothered by the increased complexity. I would need to be in quite different circumstances to consider buying a motorcycle as complex as the K1600 or even a modern bike, but if I was adaptive lighting would be on my list of desired features.
    Disclaimer: I do not own, have never previously owned and do not aspire to own a BMW. I do however pay attention to what they do, because they have a brilliant engineering driven philosophy.

  • Dusty

    I just wonder why it needs stepper motors to locate and aim the light. Why not use a gimbal, such as ships use to keep their compasses level, even in heavy seas?

    • Chris

      You’re a funny guy.

      Let’s call it a gimbal light would keep the light/mirror level but would also allow for a bounce and sway to the light as well as not give an optimal angle for leaning.

      This is one of those inventions that makes me say “why didn’t I think of that?!”

  • Kit

    Wow, club-style lighting? When do we get strobes and smoke machines too? Then, wait for it, disco ball turn-signals! Wooo!

  • Beemer Rider

    Sorry, Harley riders. If you like this technology, don’t expect to see it for years, if ever, on your favorite ride.

  • Bakafish

    I think the simulation is showing how a fixed HID light would be, not the conventional incandescent lights typically used on motorcycles. HID’s have a very sharp cutoff since the lighting ‘element’ is very close to a point source, and since the output is much higher (and the coloration tends to cause people to look at them directly!) it is important that they have a sharp delineation. This is why I’m told they are not typically used in Motorcycles where a more diffuse lighting pattern works better for the exact reasons they are trying to address. The self leveler technology is well proven and should be pretty reliable at this point. I hope this is the start of a trend. As far as motorcycle safety features we can thank BMW for, think ABS should be mandatory on all street bikes as well.

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