2017 BMW K1600GT Review: Intercontinental ballistic touring
BMW's K1600GT offers a rare and compelling combination of comfort, speed and intelligence. Active electronic suspension, adaptive headlights, central locking and a new reverse gear are just a few standard features on this 160-horsepower, 6-cylinder, mile munching beast.
With the demise of BMW's K1300 line, fast and comfy touring duties now fall to the K1600GT. And while the GT shares a lot with its plushy K1600GTL brother, BMW says the two shouldn't even be considered in the same category; the GT is a sports tourer, the GTL is a luxury tourer, and there shouldn't be many buyers who don't know which of the two they want.
I've got to confess, I find it difficult to look at the GT and think "sports anything," even though our test bike has been upgraded with the AU$500 Sport package, which best I can tell consists entirely of a funky blue/black paint job and a shorter screen. She's still a big ol' Bessie, with a good, hefty pair of standard, lockable side panniers attached and a wet, fueled weight of 319 kg (703 lbs).
But recent events have forced me to keep an open mind about this bike's sporting abilities - those recent events including watching the bootylicious rear end of the K1600GT disappearing into the distance down a winding, dirty Tasmanian road as I struggle to get my bearings on the S1000RR superbike.
There's no shame in this, to my mind. The rider was BMW Australia's Marketing Manager Miles Davis, who's about to go campaign the giant R1200GS adventure bike in the Finke Desert Race. The man is plain gifted on road, track or trail. Watching him hustle the GT around at a consistent pace of about 3 percent quicker than whoever the hell's behind him is a masterclass in calm, composed motorcycle mastery.
And heck, it'd sure be nice to have a sportsbike this well appointed. I vaguely recall having posture issues on the K1600GTL when I rode it several years ago, but there's nothing like that here. It's super comfy, and very much the bike in demand when Tasmania's famous foul weather closes in.
And that's when I manage to snare the key, on the second morning of this K/S series launch. It's been raining all night and all morning, and the first thing we have to do is get the bikes down the steep, soggy gravel driveway of the gorgeous Freycinet Eco Resort.
This is not a pleasant descent, but it's certainly made easier by the gentle ABS Pro system and the way the GT carries its weight: low and central. It's a lot more manageable at walking pace under sketchy conditions than you'd expect.
Once we're on the move, it's happy times. There's about 20 different things your left thumb can do on a K1600GT. One of them is to raise and lower the electronic windshield, and ramping that up to the top setting does a good job of keeping me dry. Another is to get into the menus, which allows you to crank up the heated grips. There's also a heated seat, which I max out until the lavish warmth in my grundle starts to feel like I've peed my pants.
I'm always surprised and delighted when I find cruise control on a motorbike, and BMW's system is as good as any. The vast dash does a good job of relaying a huge amount of information – with the exception of the speedo, which is analogue, and annoyingly hard to read. I'd take a single big ol' digital number any day over an analogue gauge that goes up to 260 km/h, putting all the legal speeds within just a quarter of the needle's circle.
Still, we're in Tasmania, a magical land where speedometers are really only used for checking your high scores anyway. And as we press on toward the famous Elephant Pass up to St. Mary's, I start playing around with the clutch and gearbox.
The K1600GT, like the rest of the bikes on test, features an up/down quickshifter as standard. If you've used one before you'll know they're a pleasure, particularly when the pace hots up, and this one's terrific on the move, powering up through the gears on full throttle with barely any gap in the power, and deftly auto-blipping the throttle to match revs on downshifts. It feels amazing.
Where I find it a bit disappointing, though, is at a stop. There's zero feel through your foot when you're looking for neutral, and if you try to use the clutch to shift, it'll feel like the lever's bent. It's best to let the quickshifter do its thing and leave the clutch for taking off from a standing start.
Speaking of which, there's almost no physical feedback through the clutch lever to tell you where the engagement point is. I noticed the same thing on the GTL several years ago; you feel the bike start moving rather than feel where the clutch starts grabbing. Feedback through the throttle is likewise quite disconnected; engine volume and the feeling of acceleration are easier to notice than any physical sense of where the ride-by-wire throttle's at. If these things have been engineered in on purpose, it's in the name of luxury – but I'm not a fan.
Still, when we get to the bends and I start pushing on, I'm pretty impressed with how the K1600GT handles itself. Suspension comes with two modes on this bike: road and dynamic, with electronically adjustable preload settings to suit one or two riders, with or without luggage. With my pannier-sized gut in mind, I select "rider with luggage" and that feels great to me.
New for 2017 is standard Dynamic Damping Control (DDC), which constantly adjusts the rebound and compression damping on the front and rear suspension. One hundred times a second it's checking what the road's doing, how hard you're riding, how far you're leaned over and what's happening with the weight distribution on the bike – and tweaking the suspension settings to give you the best possible ride. In Road mode, it errs toward a softer, more comfortable ride, and in Dynamic, it firms things up on average, but it's constantly changing and it seems to make any road feel 10 percent smoother.
In the tight, greasy stuff, you can certainly feel the weight of the GT – mainly on the brakes, where it can certainly feel like it needs a bit of muscle. With a heavy hand on the brake lever, it pulls up, but I did find myself making use of the ABS a few times.
It turns beautifully, though, which is a testament to the terrific Duolever front end and Paralever shaft drive rear suspension. This is the last remaining bike in the BMW catalogue that still rocks the Norman Hassock-inspired parallelogram front end suspension, which I think is a pity. It does a great job in conjunction with the DDC to keep the bike's geometry stable under brakes or on the gas, so steering is always consistent and predictable, and the GT feels light and agile on its feet.
In the wet, running Rain mode, it doesn't take long to get fully confident in the K16's traction control system. Opening the throttle to the stop on corner exits highlights just how much grip the bike gets at the rear, and when it does start to break loose, traction control whips it back into line.
We haven't spoken about the engine yet – it's a Euro IV-compliant, 1649cc inline 6-cylinder block of effortless muscle. It peaks at 160 horsepower, and makes a gigantic 175 Nm (130 ft-lbs) of torque at 6,500 rpm. At low to mid revs, it's as beautifully smooth, flexible and refined as you expect.
The surprise comes when you get it into the top half of the tacho; it freakin' howls. This might be the best sounding motorcycle BMW has ever made. When it starts getting throaty, it drops all pretense of civility and starts goading you into throttle abuse like the best sports machines. That massive engine fires the bike forward like it's 100 kilos lighter, and quickshifting through a few gears right up near the redline is a proper hooligan thrill.
And as the road dries up, and we hit the beautiful winding roads around Targa, I flick it into Dynamic mode for a more taut, direct feel through the suspension and throttle mapping, and I start to find a groove with the bike. It's not my definition of a sports tourer, but it can certainly dance in the medium-tight stuff, and when the road opens out a bit, it's an absolute hoot to rail high-speed sweepers on this thing.
Here, you need to bring the screen back down, because a negative pressure zone forms behind the windshield at 170 km/h and above, pulling your torso forward. With the screen down, you can go bananas out there, the bike composed and comfortable leaned over at well above 200. The GT's German autobahn heritage is very evident; this thing is ready to rumble at any speed.
Watching Miles paint the road with dozens upon dozens of fat, sticky black lines, and stand-up wheelie the thing like a 400cc dirtbike, reveals tiers of the K1600GT's potential that I can't touch. This is an easy and comfortable bike to ride, but takes some true skill to master.
New for 2017 is an optional AU$1500 reverse assistant, which makes a lot of sense. A bike this big might tiptoe lightly when it's moving, but pushing it around the garage or getting it out of a poorly chosen parking spot can take a lot of muscle. Clicking it into neutral with the motor running, you first spend ten minutes hunting for the Reverse button on the comedically crowded left switchgrip, then hold the starter button in to gently raise the revs and reverse the bike at walking pace, using a bendable shaft to drive the rear wheel. Easy and convenient.
Also new is a better set of ventilation deflectors for riding in hot weather, which channel some air around the bottom of the main fairing to give you more airflow around a jacket.
The built-in stereo system was a bit of a non-starter for me. It's nice at a standstill, but at freeway speeds it's obliterated by the roaring of air around your helmet coming off the screen. It's Bluetooth enabled, and I think that's going to be where most riders get the best out of it.
You certainly can't complain about the standard equipment levels on this thing. Keyless ignition, tire pressure monitors, central locking across all the many panniers, cubbyholes and optional top box if you've got it fitted … Not to mention the greatest headlight in the business: BMW's adaptive headlight, which uses a tilting mirror system to level itself at any lean angle, effectively looking around corners for you when you're riding at night.
The K1600GT is a premium touring machine with genuine athletic potential. It's got the chops to party in most company with a competent rider on board, and the trim to make highways and 2-up riding an absolute pleasure. It's no coincidence that long-distance monster Carl Reese chose the last model of the K1600GT to set his Guinness World Record for riding more than 2100 miles in 24 hours – it's an outstanding high-speed distance muncher.
Compared to sports tourers, it's expensive at AU$36,490 in Australia (price yet TBA in the US). Indeed, it's much more in line with what a luxury tourer like a Honda Goldwing or Harley Road Glide would set you back. It would seem to sit somewhere in the middle; more comfortable than the sports tourers, faster and sportier than the big tourers. And I think a lot of riders are going to love putting big miles on these things.
More information: BMW Australia