RideApart Review: BMW K1600GT/L

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Six cylinders, big miles. Has BMW built a Gold Wing? Absolutely not, the new BMW K1600GT and BMW K1600GTL are something new entirely.

What’s New:
After putting a couple hundred miles on both the BMW K1600GT and BMW K1600GTL, I’m afraid I can’t report that they’re all-day comfortable. You see, even two days later, my thighs are still sore. It’s not a question of ergonomics, it’s just that spending an entire day hanging off the side of a motorcycle isn’t exactly comfortable and that was the only way keep the pegs on the GTL from wearing completely away. This new six-cylinder BMW isn’t so much a Honda Goldwing rival as it is an entirely new category of motorcycle — the Supertourer.

Where a liter bike like the BMW S1000RR makes 193bhp and weighs 450lbs (wet), giving it a power to weight ratio of .43:1, the K1600GT’s 160bhp has to push 703lbs (wet), cutting that ratio nearly in half at .23:1. The torque to weight ratios for the two bikes are identical though and 70 percent of the K16’s 129lb/ft peak is available just off idle at 1,500 rpm. Tellingly, the six-cylinders torque curve never dips as low as the S1000RR’s peak of 83lb/ft.

In practice, that means full-throttle, multi-gear acceleration runs don’t scare the crap out of you the same way they would on the S1000RR but you’ll be able to access a very healthy amount of acceleration at any speed in any gear. The engine’s so smooth, so torquey and its fueling is so flawless that it’s easy to forget you’re in sixth gear as you slow down for towns, then realize you’re still in it while trickling up to a stoplight at 10mph. Even at walking pace speeds, cracking the throttle open in top gear results in strong acceleration rather than hesitation.

That broad torque curve is also way more friendly to fast mountain road riding than a peaky four-cylinder. There’s just no need to worry about which gear you’re in, more throttle always results in more acceleration no matter where the revs are.

All this isn’t to say the six isn’t exciting to use, just that it has a remarkably different character to most other motorcycle engines. If you’ve ever driven a straight-six BMW car like the 335i or new Z4, you’ll be familiar with how usable and fun they can be. Even on these huge tourers, there’s still significant urgency to the power from 5,500rpm to the redline at 8,500.

The GT weighs 58lbs less than the GTL, has a seat thats 1.2 inches taller and noticeable slimmer, doesn’t come with a standard top box/backrest, has a slightly lower screen, higher foot pegs, more forward bars, firmer suspension and starts at $20,900 to the GTL’s $23,200. That’s it. having said that, they’re pretty different motorcycles.

The difference is mostly in ergonomics. Where you sit in the GTL, you sit on the GT, with legs bent a little more. Both bikes are sit-up-and-beg though. The differences don’t necessarily affect comfort, more how you interact with the motorcycle. The GTL’s wide, deep chair subconsciously encourages a passive experience, with you just sort of siting there and making minimal inputs. The GT’s narrower, taller saddle encourages you to be a bit more active, using your body weight to help control the motorcycle. You can still hang off the GTL, it just doesn’t immediately put you in that frame of mind.

The 1,649cc, transverse, six-cylinder engine employs a similar valve train to that of the K1300s, but that’s it. It’s an all-new engine intended to adapt the traditional benefits of BMW’s luxury performance cars to a new flagship touring bike. Extreme care has been taken in packaging that engine so its size and configuration doesn’t negatively affect the bike’s dynamics or ergonomics. Tilted forward at 55 degrees, the frame passes over, rather than around the 22-inch width and making the whole bike surprisingly slim.

Every aspect of the engine has received extreme attention to detail. It uses a dry sump so it can sit as low as possible, dropping the center of gravity; the cylinder sleeves only sit 5mm apart, making that slimness possible; the gearbox is a triple stack design, making it incredibly thin too. It also uses a level of equipment normally seen only on exotic superbikes — the valve and clutch covers are magnesium, for example. The whole thing, with the clutch, gearbox and alternator, weighs just 226lbs.

This is the first motorcycle engine in the world to adopt a throttle which is 100 percent ride-by-wire. Other bikes employ a backup mechanical cable to close the throttle in emergencies.

What’s Good:
There’s the traditional tourer toys — electronically adjustable screen, heated grips and seats, stereo, sat/nav, etc. The belongs-on-a-superbike stuff — traction control, ride-by-wire, wheelie control, ABS, electronically adjustable suspension. And then there’s the totally novel, new stuff like the adaptive headlight. The execution of all of them reaches totally new levels of functionality and integration.

With the electronically adjustable suspension set to “Sport” and the traction control, wheelie control and throttle response set to “Dynamic” the GTL really hustles. It steers very quickly, drops into corners and holds its line. Need to tighten it? Even with the pegs down, just at tiny amount of pressure on the inside bar dials in more lean. Roll on the throttle and you can be confident the rear wheel will stay in line as the huge spread of torque shoves you out of the corner. Note that none of that is couched with “for a tourer” or “surprising for such a large bike.” This is a fast motorcycle, irrespective of weight, size, category or expectations. No excuses are necessary.

Even feel — something traditionally absent from large motorcycles and problematic on ones with alternative front suspension — is extremely good. Riding the K1600, the front and rear tires are able to communicate what they’re doing to you in an immediate, intimate way normally reserved for sportsbikes. You can feel the difference between pavement and tar snake as each wheel passes over it, the rear wheel squiggling a little bit if you’re on the power.

You control most of the ancillary functions through buttons on the bars, a rotating, clicking wheel BMW’s not calling iDrive and a bright, clear, high-resolution 5.7-inch, full-color TFT display. The touch-screen Garmin sat/nav sits higher in the binnacle in order to be closer to your normal line of sight.

Initially there’s an awful lot of options to get your head around and initially it’s all a bit overwhelming. The multi controller wheel doesn’t help there. It spins up and down and clicks either left or right, combining with a separate “menu” button to scroll through all the available screens and options. Making this level of information and control intuitive is an enormous task and BMW hasn’t totally succeeded at it. Like iDrive, the multi-controller is intended to allow you to operate the system without looking down, but also like iDrive it’s confusing and prone to heading down menu trees you didn’t ask it to. I repeatedly found myself trying to turn down the stereo volume and instead resetting the oil change service intervals. Having said that, there probably isn’t a better or simpler way to control such a ridiculous number of functions. iDrive remains a good example, where that car system was traditionally panned by reviewers who only ever experienced it for hours or days at a time, owners operating it in the long term where able to learn to operate it easily after spending weeks and months with it.

The electronically adjustable suspension — operated through the multi-controller, so best accessed at a stand still — and switchable riding modes — thankfully a separate button on the right bar — bring very noticeable differences to the riding experience. But where you’ll want to alter the throttle response according to conditions — rain, road and dynamic modes do what they say on the tin — the suspension is best left in sport, which is still comfy, but the firmer damping actually aids straight line stability and just general confidence in the motorcycle.

It may sound a bit ludicrous for a large touring bike to come with the same performance-enhancing, lean angle-detecting traction control system as the S1000RR, but that plays back into the whole idea that this isn’t your grandpa’s Goldwing. Having it there boosts confidence while cornering and works seamlessly — in dynamic mode it allows just enough of a slide to let you know you’re trying a bit hard, reigning the bike in without spoiling the fun.

As sort of a demonstration of the slick level of integration seen throughout this bike, there’s a button on the handlebars that can lock and unlock all five storage compartments (on the GTL, the GT doesn’t have a top box), including the little pocket in the fairing that’ll fit your iPhone in a foam slot specifically designed for it. I did mention the full iPhone/iPod integration that allows you to control the phone and your music through the multi-controller, charges the device and can beam separate phone calls and audio into the Bluetooth-equipped helmets of passenger and rider, right?

Light is projected 90-degrees upwards onto a mirror that can rotate side-to-side and up and down. Using the traction control’s lean angle sensor, it does that as the bike leans, dives under braking (there’s very little dive thanks to the Duolever front suspension) and squats under acceleration, keeping the headlight beam level and pointing as far ahead as possible at all times. That also means the light adjusts to point into corners.

That’s a lot of technology delivering a result that’s so seamless, it feels unremarkable. You simply end up wondering why all bikes don’t work like this. The light adjustment takes place constantly and instantaneously, illuminating the road ahead the most effective possible way. You don’t so much see the light rotating, as the illumination just stays where you’re looking. So far as technology working as advertised, this is as good as it gets.

What’s Bad:
The 1,649cc capacity and all those cylinders don’t add up to a shocking level of acceleration. Instead, the straight-six is more about flexibility and smoothness than it is out and out power.
Neither model has a screen that fits me. All the way down, they’re just high enough to interupt vision, while all the way up, looking through two sheets of plastic (visor and screen) feels weird and there’s a curious amount of forward pressure against your back and helmet as the air curls back against you. I’d actually play with the three levels of optional seat heigh available at no-cost from dealers before fitting a different screen. All the bikes BMW made available were on the middle setting and I should probably have had the tallest seat.

There’s also some odd vagueness at walking speeds that can make parking and other slow maneuvers challenging. This could be due to the Duolever, Hossack-style front suspension which employs a single monoshock on a double trailing-link design, but more probably it’s just the only time the actual weight of the motorcycle can be felt. You really do forget these are 700+ lbs motorcycles once you get up to road speed. Plan your footing and you’ll be fine.

The Verdict:
The GT competes with (admittedly less expensive) bikes like the Kawasaki Concours 14 and Yamaha FJR1300, absolutely blowing them away with its handling, flexible engine performance, quality and feature content. But, the GTL will also out handle and outperform either of those, with a full-size adult reclining on the back rest in complete comfort. There’s just nothing else on the market that’s even close and the capability of both motorcycles is so broad that they defy any existing category.

A full-dress tourer that’s almost as involving to ride on the road as a superbike? I dunno, let’s call it a Supertourer or something.

The K1600 represents a total re-think of what a large touring motorcycle can be. It’s enormously comfortable and enormously fast while being less enormous than you’re expecting it to be. It represents the culmination of everything BMW knows about making a motorcycle, in terms of engine design, in terms of handling, in terms of quality and in terms of technology. And, it turns out that BMW knows more about making motorcycles than anyone else, this thing is simply amazing.

RideApart Rating (GTL): 9/10
Rideapart Rating (GT): 8/10

Gear:
Helmet: AGV GP-Tech ($600, Recommended)
Jacket: Vanson AR2 ($500, Worth Considering)
Glove: Alpinestars GP-Plus ($190, Recommended)
Boots: Corcoran Jump Boot ($120+, Highly Recommended)
Jeans: Levis 511 ($40+, Recommended)

  • HyperRider

    I JUST test rode the GTL last weekend and although I enjoyed it, everything I read still puts the Big ‘Wing at the #1 spot as far as touring goes. I’m still torn but this was a great write up!

    • http://ericrshelton.com/ Eric R. Shelton

      Everything you read except Cycle World, I’m guessing…? The GTL has been the top tourer with them since it’s debut, and the only thing Goldwing lovers have said to me is they have/want a reverse gear.

      • HyperRider

        I’m still trying to find one to test ride to form my own opinion. I admire the electronics and engine on the GTL but seriously hate the gear box and the passenger seat. Considering this would be mainly for passenger comfort the rear seat bothers me to no end and I would be willing to give up the fancy electronics and suspension for a more comfortable ride all around. Also, at highway speeds with the windscreen in the highest position there is pressure behind my helmet that was ultra annoying.

        Considering I currently ride a hypermotard it’s easy to say that ANYTHING will be more comfortable at speed than my bike. Also, (and this is not sarcastic or a dig) but it seems as though you work for or with BMW, is that correct? If not, it seems tough to encounter that many Goldwing lovers to confidently say ‘the only thing Goldwing Lovers have said to me is they have/want a reverse gear.’ Unless of course you ride with many goldwing riders who have also rode the GT/GTL

        • http://ericrshelton.com/ Eric R. Shelton

          I have no affiliation with BMW other than being a huge fan of their bikes. (But written text miscommunicates easily, so I understand why you might think that.)

          The closest BMW dealer to me right now is Moon Motorsports in Monticello, MN and they sell a LOT of Goldwings. My first time there I must’ve seen at least 12 riders within 30 minutes. And I’m stuck living in flyover country for the meanwhile, so it’s mostly touring bikes and cruisers here. Very sad. (I ride an R1200R.) The reverse gear thing is the only feature the ‘Wing has that BMW doesn’t that I can recall. I could be wrong. But no kidding, that was the reason at least two ‘Wing riders told me influenced their decision.

          As for passenger seat comfort, I’m completely unqualified to say. I only rode a GT and solo, so I liked it. My wife has never ridden pillion on a bike with a big windshield, so it’s just one of those things that I’ve never dealt with.

          I don’t mean to “dis” the Goldwing (except for maybe the trikes). I’ve read some publications saying it’s still on top, too. All I meant to say was that it was far from a universal statement (like your reading made it sound). Personally, I’m chomping at the bit to ride that new Triumph Trophy and see how it stacks up.

  • Sohl

    We’ve gotta figure something out with these ratings. Just “8″ feels like B+, but the article reads like “High A.” So which is it?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      5 is average and 10 is perfect. So it’s most of the way there, but it’s expensive and heavy.

      • Sohl

        Ok sure, but that just makes me ask “what is perfect?” A guy in the market for a super-capable long-distance tourer would never consider the Panigale “perfect” for his needs, but saying “it’s expensive and heavy” is like saying a 747 is a worse airplane than an F-22. Which, maybe it is, but why on earth are we comparing them directly?

        The short version of all this is: Has BMW built the best touring bike ever? If so, I’d think it should earn a 10, and not get points off just because it’s a tourer. If not, what’s better?

        • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

          Look at the criticisms in the article:

          Screen
          Low Speed awkwardness
          Buttontastic controls
          Not ultimately as fast as all that motor would have you think.

          • CruisingTroll

            Screen – a sizing/fit problem that 90% of riders experience. Don’t think it’s fair to ding too much for this.

            Low Speed Awkwardness – compared to what? A Vespa? duh. Compared to the bikes it is competing against?

            Buttontastic – granted. But then, I’m not sure I want that much tech on a bike anyway.

            Not as fast as you’d think – Not to put too fine a point on it, but did the reviewer take the bike up to its max speed? Is this about the sensation of speed, or the reality? Second consideration on speed is this – BMW could undoubtedly have gotten more speed out of the motor. But, could they have done so while still having a motor that passes all the relevant emissions and sound requirements, and can deliver 100-200k miles?

            • HyperRider

              Has anyone logged 100-200k on one of these bikes yet? Don’t get me wrong, I am not doubting the endurance of a BMW engine but how do we know unless SOMEONE has done this already? I saw a fair argument somewhere regarding the electronics on the GTL versus the [old school] button happy Goldwing that said if something electronically goes wrong on the GTL there’s no shot a shade tree mechanic would be able to fix it whereas on the Wing you stand a chance because essentially it’s just an electrical panel. To each their own I guess.

              • CruisingTroll

                I’m not aware of anybody logging that much mileage yet, although I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ve got some folks over 50k already. Nonetheless, it’s a given of engine design that, everything else being equal, a higher stressed, higher output engine won’t last as long as the same engine in a lower state of tune.

                As for the electronics on the two bikes, I mostly agree with you. Part of the reason though is many shade tree mechanics haven’t taken the time to learn the electronics. The mechanic’s electronic whiz kid may very well be able to tackle a GTL’s balky system. My concern on the GTL is more the integration of the various electronic bits into the basic function of the bike. The good thing is that CANbus tech has been in use in cars for quite some time now, so it’s a fairly mature tech. The bad news is the universe of failures that can sideline the bike has grown with each added integration.

                Price of progress…

                • Ben Paraan

                  I own a 2013 GTL and I’ve put in almost 12k miles in 10 months.

                  Buttontastic? I find the BMW motorcycle version of the iDrive (that left hand ring that controls many functions) to be the best control setup especially once you get accustomed to it. The ‘Wing has many more buttons and the Triumph setup requires that your left hand leave the grip to reach the controls (which are unlit at night). The new H-D infotainment setup I heard is the only thing better (toggles on both grips) but it doesn’t control adjustable suspension, traction control.

                  My riding experience is limited to a ’97 Valkyrie (the bike I learned on), a 2010 H-D SuperGlide, a Ducati Diavel test ride and my K1600GTL. I wouldn’t call the GTL slow by any means. It is big but easy to manage. I have the low seat height option for my 5’7″ 30″inseam frame. It’s very comfortable and quite fast and capable. I have no complaints with it. And a few more talented GT/L owners regularly drag knees on it. It’s not perfect but it agrees with my list of priorities.

    • http://ericrshelton.com/ Eric R. Shelton

      Don’t forget- the article is written to encompass the GT/L, but the two bikes have different scores with an “8″ and a “9″, respectively. That may explain the “High A” vibe you got from the article.

  • DucMan

    Wes, I think it is time for a BMW K1600GT Vs. Honda F6B comparo. Do it…for the children. :)

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Comparison articles are dumb. They take a metric ton of effort, all to produce dry review content that doesn’t tell you anything more than the individual reviews did in the first place. I’d rather spend our time and money creating awesome, creative feature content that’ll actually entertain and inform our readers.

      • DucMan

        Fair enough. I get that. You folks provide THE best moto info out there, I am a huge fan of your work, your work ethic, and your business acumen. Please don’t stop. All the best!

      • James

        Couldnt agree more mate, the number of comparo articles i have read for bikes, cars, phones, whatever, almost always comes to the same conclusion, that everything is good and to buy what you like the best, not exactly a great use of a 1000 words.

        As for the bike, its an amazing machine, i really hope bmw can expand that headlight technology to its other bikes, because thats really a problem that needed solving for a long time.

      • stever

        Also, RideApart makes comparison articles obsolete. If you want to compare two bikes, just use the RideApart webpage to load the reviews of the two bikes next to each other.

  • Robert Horn

    Necessary ADV upgrades: tires, radiator protection, sump guard, lever guards.

  • Kevin

    I own a Multistrada 1200. Are these big tourers (Goldwing/F6B, GT/GTL) really *that* much more comfortable that they’re worth the extra weight and lesser performance? It’s an honest question; 90% of the riding I do is touring and I wonder sometimes if I’d be happier on a bigger bike.

    • Gonfern

      The entire time I read that article I thought the same..”I wonder if this thing is a smarter buy than a Multi.” I think you answered your own question. The Multi is probably every bit as comfortable. I have ridden the new one and even being, short, i couldnt be any more comfortable on the couch. However, the tradeoff for massive sport bike performance, you give up all this technical wizzardry and rediculous idrive/iphone features. I think leaning more towards touring, the GT sounds better. I am considering trading up my sport bike for a long distance tourer but i need something that can still drag a knee through a canyon. Multi is the weapon for that.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Yeah, they really are that much more comfortable. Especially if you like passengers and luggage.

      But, they’re nowhere near as fast or as fun as Multi for good roads. Ultimately, there’s always a trade off.

    • http://ericrshelton.com/ Eric R. Shelton

      Having ridden both (and having owned an air-cooled Multistrada) there’s just no contest in my mind- the K1600s are MUCH more comfortable and the only one I’d want for a bunch of superslab riding. And since my wife loves riding pillion and cargo space… For touring, it’s a slam dunk. Having said that, I’m stuck in the midwest for now with work. If I lived back in more mountainous or twisty road country it would be a tougher call for me to make.

    • CruisingTroll

      Like Wes said, there’re tradeoffs. There’s a spectrum, ranging from pure performance to pure comfort. Riding from Chicago to Denver in two days, across the Interstate’s, two-up, in the rain, I’d much rather be on a luxury touring rig, with heated seat, grips, power adjustable screen, etc. Give me 5 days in in early fall to get from Denver to Salt Lake City, solo? I’d be looking for a different bike.

      Best thing for you to decide would be to rent a big tourer for a three day weekend and flog it, see how it fits into what YOU want and need from a bike. You may find the big tourer to be too isolating, too heavy, too lumbering (as opposed to quick – given that any modern non-cruiser big tourer can roll along at felony speeding speeds for hours if so desired, i.e. these bikes are fast enough for going to jail), etc.

  • Brian Benthin

    Does the K16GT feel significantly different or bigger than the previous gen K12/13GT?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Oh yeah. Bigger bike, more weight, but also much more torque and, despite all that, very good handling.

  • stever

    “ANDROID PHONE OWNERS NOT WELCOME” – bmw motorrad

    • Gonfern

      “Android phone owners not welcome” -Everyone Everywhere Ever :)

  • HelloFriend

    We need to see Jamie take this thing down to Baja with the KLR 650 hanging off the back on a rack.

  • http://ericrshelton.com/ Eric R. Shelton

    I won’t lie, I’m expecting the same as you on the Trophy. It’s not a very good looking bike. :( But then, I bought an air-cooled Multistrada when they were new… LOL.

    One of my coworkers just touted the reverse gear again yesterday. LOL.

    I think part of what I don’t care for on the Goldwing is just the image and prejudice/stereotype I have of it. Luckily, the F6B has piqued my interest.

    I’ll tell you about the Trophy if you let me know what you think of the GT/L vs the Wing!

  • CruisingTroll

    There are three bikes the GTL/GT are directly competing against, and the Trophy isn’t one of them. They are the Goldwing, the Electra-Glide and the Victory Vision. Luxury Tourers. It’s true that the GTL/GT are bridging the gap between the sport-Tourers (Trophy, Concourse, FJR1300, ST1300 and kinda-sorta the VFR1200), but with the size, engine, and tech/features on the Beemers, as well as the cost, comparing them to the sport-Tourers is pretty much always going to come out with “BMW for the win!”.

    It should be noted one reason folks want the reverse on the ‘Wing is the weight of the things. At about 200lbs lighter, the GTL/GT is going to be somewhat easier to back-peddle. How much easier depends on whether the rider is underlegged or not.

    • HyperRider

      I back-peddled the GTL with a passenger about 12 feet and I worked up a sweat and a fair amount of anxiety. I almost expect BMW to add a reverse gear to this bike as I couldn’t imagine backing it up 3 feet with a passenger and a full lot of luggage!

      • CruisingTroll

        Ease of peddling about (forward or back) any bike is primarily dependent on four factors. The bike’s weight, the effective reach (seat height AND bike width) to the ground, and the rider’s inseam and strength. I have routinely back peddled my ST1300 (about 20lbs lighter than a GTL IIRC) with a passenger, while towing a Bushtec trailer. Easy enough for me, at 6’0, to do on level ground, although the whole “backing with a trailer” thing can get interesting. Were I more than 3″ shorter, or when the ground isn’t level, then things get more difficult. I’ve back peddled the GTL a bit as well, and while I experienced some anxiety doing it, the anxiety was rooted in being unfamiliar with somebody (BMW) else’s brand new $25k+ bike.

        I think the reason they didn’t put a reverse on the bike is because reverse is something found on the “porky old guy’s bikes” (where the bike is porky, rider may be), and that’s not exactly what BMW wanted to project. I think, although I’m not sure, that the K1200LT had a reverse on it. I’d be surprised if BMW didn’t at least consider it for the GTL, and would be interested to know the reasons they chose to forgo it.