2018 BMW K 1600 B – First Ride
Über bagger challenges genre but provides amazing ride
Photos by Kevin Wing
The BMW K 1600 B is – in an overall sense – one of the best bikes I’ve ever ridden. Maybe even the best bike. It’s worth pointing that out from the get-go because a certain part of this review is going to seem like criticism. Whether it actually is criticism, though, really depends on your perspective. I personally struggle to fully understand who will end up buying this bike. But if a person can get past the mental hurdles I’m stumbling over he or she will be left with a damned fine machine.
READ MORE: BMW K 1600 B Unveiled | RideApart
The K 1600 B was introduced at Intermot last year as an outright, transparent attempt to capitalize on the North American fascination with baggers. Whereas Europe has gone loopy for BMW’s R 1200 GS platform, placing it in the continent’s top sales slot for several years running, the boys and girls of Bayerische Motoren Werke have always struggled to offer a model that so fully captures the hearts and minds of American riders.
Remember the R 1200 C? That was a stinker. Balloonish and detuned to offer considerably less power than other R 1200 models of the time, it suggested BMW didn’t quite “get” American customers.
No such silliness this time ‘round. The K 1600 B’s 1649cc inline six produces a walloping 160 hp (118 kW) and 129 lb-ft (175 Nm) of torque. That’s gettin’ close to Busa numbers, son, while looking a hell of a lot cooler and providing an infinitely more comfortable ride.
The K 1600 B is the sort of bike that grabs – and holds – your attention from a distance. BMW chose to launch this gorgeous beast in the Blue Ridge Mountains, having us slum it at the Biltmore Estate for the few days surrounding August’s total eclipse. My room faced the area where bikes were parked each morning before our rides; I often got lost standing at my window, taking in the image of them lined up in the morning mist.
Up close, the bike pulls you in even more. That handlebar is weird… it’s just… it’s just weird. It looks like it came from a different bike from a different manufacturer. But the rest of the lines flow well. You’ve got that enormous K 1600 fairing up front, a blacked-out view of the bike’s gargantuan powerplant, a stylish-looking seat, panniers that feel integral to the bike’s aesthetic, and exhaust cans that – as Lemmy pointed out over at Common Tread – are almost big enough to stuff a man’s head into. This unrepentant bigness speaks to the bagger ethos, suggesting BMW partially understands the market it is aiming for.
The bike cuts a particularly attractive figure from the rear, offering the sort of sharp lines I always appreciated in the Victory Cross Country (RIP). The full frontal view is very BMW, which says “cop bike” to me, but that’s not always a bad thing if you’re the sort of person who chooses to filter in traffic.
READ MORE: Victory's Obituary | RideApart
Throw a leg over and the seat is initially comfy. At 29.5 inches (750 mm) the seat height makes the ergonomics just a little squished for my 6-foot-1 frame, but not so much that I ever bothered to adjust it. Had I been inclined, I could have easily lifted the seat to 30.7 inches (780 mm).
Both those seat heights are greater than anything you’ll find on an Indian or Harley bagger, but, of course, the riding position here is different. The K 1600 B puts your feet back a little, angling the rider into a classic standard motorcycle pose. There aren’t any controls on those big floorboards; they’re for the open road.
Engine and Transmission
Press the starter (keyless ignition, obvs) and you bring to life the thing that makes the K 1600 B such a kick-ass bike: that engine. I’ll admit to you that I had never before experienced the joy of an inline six, and within just a few minutes on this BMW was fully converted. For those of you who remain uninitiated, the inline six experience is similar to that of a triple, but you know, more. And more is good. Really good. You get strong pulling power in low revs and useful engine braking going into corners with turbine-like smoothness at highway (and above) speeds.
Mix this with an intoxicating amount of power that’s far in excess of anything you’ll ever need (or possibly even be able to use) and it creates a feeling that will hit you again and again, ride after ride, in which you’ll suddenly exclaim: “Damn it, I love this motorcycle!”
The layman might not guess how powerful the K 1600 B is, however, because its exhaust note is very much Euro 4-compliant. BMW says some Akropovic pipes will be available as accessory items, which may help, but for the most part you’ll have to resolve yourself to being the only one who really knows what kind of monster you’re sitting on.
The bike’s ride-by-wire throttling is a little bit of an issue when trying to maintain steady low speeds. I noticed real problems when engine braking down a hill, just barely putting in throttle. The bike was jerky to the point of my wondering if the traction control was acting up. Things are fine once you give it a little more, so I guess the takeaway message is this "bagger" won’t enjoy being part of those Daytona/Sturgis main street parades.
You won’t enjoy it either, because at crawling speeds the engine can get pretty hot. Possibly too hot. Though, I had a long conversation with a number of my fellow moto-journos about whether the heat is an actual problem. It may be that my years of living in rainy, cold Britain have made me soft. I will let you know that among myself, Lemmy, Morgan Gales (I hope Bonnier are paying him a lot because he writes for about half a dozen titles), and Jon Langston, I was the one bitching the most. Lemmy correctly points out that the K 1600 B is a damned motorcycle, and an inherent part of that experience is that you’re sitting on top of a metal box of explosions – of course it’s going to be hot. Especially if you are riding through North Carolina in August.
The big Beemer’s transmission is plenty smooth. My only complaints came when I tried to use the Gear Shift Assist Pro feature that had been added to all the press bikes. That is a waste of money in my opinion. Use that $475 to instead buy one of the cool leather jackets that BMW has put out in conjunction with the bike.
Handling, Ride Quality, and Brakes
For all intents and purposes, the K 1600 B is just a K 1600 GT that’s been lowered a few inches, which means it is all kinds of sex through corners. Push hard and you’ll touch down feelers hidden beneath the floorboards (at which point you’ll want to straighten up immediately, because the next thing to touch are crash bars), but you really do have to push hard. Like, hard enough that some guy waves a shotgun to get you to slow down (Ahh, the South).
You would never get to that point with any other bike this size (336 kg/740 lbs wet). It’s just that this thing handles and hustles so much better than it has any right to. Weight is surprisingly well distributed. The only time you’ll notice it is when trying to duck walk backward up a hill. But hey, guess what: BMW offers a reverse gear as an accessory. So, when onlookers describe the bike as big you’ll always think: “No, not really.”
Meanwhile, the Dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment feature provides hours and hours of fun in allowing you to change set-ups relatively quickly. Not only can you adjust according to the number of people and things the bike is hauling (eg, you, you and a passenger, you and luggage, etc), but according to the kind of ride you prefer. Ride mode offers a suspension firmness familiar to sport tourer and adventure sport riders, whereas Cruise mode delivers the cushy feel more common on touring cruisers.
Brakes are of a quality one would expect from a bike made in a country where you can legally go 154 mph on the motorway (That’s the GT’s top speed, apparently. One of the mo-jos claimed to have hit 130 on the B, but I’m sure he was fibbing because none of us would ever break the speed limit). The sudden appearance of a black bear on the Blue Ridge Parkway gave me an opportunity to learn the bike can be brought to a controlled stop very quickly.
Comfort and Features
The K 1600 B’s stylish seat looks more comfortable than it actually is. It’s not awful – during some extended ride time (more on that in a moment) I put 400 miles on the clock in one day without complaint – but it’s not as good as I would expect from a high-end brand. Additionally, I have a less sensitive keester than many folks. Cycle World’s Peter Jones spent a good amount of his time with the bike standing up to relieve the ache.
(Full disclosure: Peter had been in an accident a few weeks before that, so his discomfort may have been related to pre-existing conditions)
Beyond that, however, the big, bad B is an all-day machine. The electronically adjustable screen won’t completely block wind blast for taller riders but can be adjusted to ensure it hits the helmet with minimal noise impact. In warm weather, side panels can be pulled out to draw air to the rider’s chest. In cooler weather, the state-sized fairing blocks out wind and rain and cold, while heated grips and a heated seat keep you toasty. On the move you can throw your feet up onto floorboards, a la highway pegs, which means you can move around a lot while eating up the miles.
To keep you busy on the road, you could try getting to grips with all of the K 1600 B’s electronic features. There are about 800 billion of them. All with extraneous words like “dynamic” and “pro” in their names. The features are controlled via the wünder wheel on the left grip. Literally every feature that I can think of exists on this bike, so there’s not much point in my listing them. If it exists on another bike, it almost certainly exists here. The same holds true for the amount of data available; this bike is so intelligent it’s probably capable of performing some mathematical equation to work out the name of the first person you ever kissed.
The Big Problem
The K 1600 B is a fantastic machine. However – ignoring concerns based on past issues with the GT and GTL platforms – it suffers from one big, inescapable problem:
This ain’t no bagger, y’all.
I like baggers. I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as a true connoisseur of the genre but I will point out that when people ask me the “one bike” question posed to all moto-journalists (“Of all the bikes you’ve ridden, which would you choose if only allowed to ride one bike?”), my answer is almost always an Indian Chieftain or Harley-Davidson Road Glide.
So, what defines a bagger? Well, first and foremost it needs hard bags (aka panniers). Perhaps controversially, I’d argue it should also possess front fairing. In part because that fairing provides space for a stereo, which is an equally common piece of the bagger recipe. The K 1600 B has all those things (though its stereo is anemic above 40 mph), but that’s pretty much where the similarities stop.
Firstly, there’s the issue of the Killer B’s floorboards. They’re just a place to put your feet once you’ve clicked the bike into cruise control. Traditionally, baggers are a part of the cruiser genre and as such have forward or, at the least, mid-set controls. You can spend a long time getting lost down the rabbit hole of whether forward controls are a good thing, but the fact is they are a cruiser thing. They create a different feel and aesthetic and attitude – things that, for me, are integral to the feel, aesthetic, and attitude of a bagger.
Even more important to baggerness is the rumble and noise of a bagger’s engine. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a 160hp monster serve as your powerplant, but the smoothness of the K 1600 B’s inline six is its downfall. You expect a bagger to be garish, to remind you constantly of the “metal box of explosions” reality, and to just barely comply with noise restrictions rather than to serve as a shining example. Crucially, the K 1600 B lacks the classic bagger spirit.
After BMW’s press event, I spent an additional six days and 1,500 miles getting to know the K 1600 B a little better. I’ll be writing up more on the bike in a week or so, talking about how well it performs over long distances and how it draws so much attention that people will roll down their windows and ask about it on the highway, so look out for that. Toward the end of my extended time I was outright begging BMW to just let me keep the bike forever. So, if you somehow find yourself in possession of a K 1600 B I think you’ll be pretty happy about it.
But I question how that first step will take place. I can’t really figure out who this bike is for. If you want a bagger you should buy a Harley or an Indian. And if you want a sport tourer you should buy a K 1600 GT. I think it’s possible for the two genres to mix in a way that creates something very, very awesome, but I’m not sure BMW has pulled that off here. It’s too much in one sense, and not enough in another.
Maybe I’m in the minority in thinking all this. Maybe there are lots of people out there who will look at this machine and think: “Finally! A bike made for me!”
For BMW’s sake, I hope that’s the case. Because as I said at the very beginning, this is one of the best bikes I’ve ever ridden. It would be a shame if it didn’t succeed because people couldn’t figure out what box to put it in.
Rider: Chris Cope
Height: 6 feet 1 inch
Helmet: Schuberth C3 Pro
Jacket: 55 Collection Hard jacket
Armor: Knox Venture shirt
Gloves: Weise Romulus
Jeans: Pando Moto Boss 105
Boots: Indian Spirit Lake by Red Wing