2013 BMW K1600GT Review
For years,I’ve been adamant that the R1200RT is the only BMW touring bike I’d be interested in owning. The I-4 powered K1300GT was uncomfortable, seemed sluggish at low revs, and, frankly, a bit ungainly compared to the RT. It was also a motorcycle line that was plagued by a number of niggling mechanical and fueling issues. It was certainly fast, but I was never impressed with it. I remember that after I put it through a ride test, my exact comment to the BMW rep when I got off the bike was, “Meh.”
It also had a narrow, sloping seat front, which meant you’d slide down and get your harbles squeezed between the tank and your body while riding. I don’t like having my harbles squeezed. I mean, I do like having them squeezed, but not…um…you know, we really don’t need to get sidetracked on that.
Anyway, soon after that, based on what I can only assume was my personal recommendation, BMW went back to the drawing board, scratched the K1300GT from the line-up, and replaced it with the new K1600GT, which is powered by a brand new BMW straight-6 motor. The straight-6 engine is the glory of BMW’s automotive division, but it’s never been seen much in the motorcycle world. Honda, of course, has had a flat-6 in motorcycles for years, successfully in the case of the Gold Wing, but unsuccessfully in the Rune and everything else.
BMW’s hope is that its compact inline-6 will allow the K1600GT to take the crown as king of the sport-touring motorcycles.
How it looks
It’s an attractive bike that has all the usual angular BMW styling. The front is especially attractive, as it makes the bike look like it’s moving fast, even when it’s sitting still. A few bonus points for the design are that the saddlebags have gotten an aerodynamic treatment to reduce drag, and there are integrated crash bars built into the frame to protect the plastic—and the engine—if the bike goes over on it’s side. They won’t be much help in some horrible mishap with a lorry, but you’ll be happy for them in a parking lot tip-over. The fairing is also aerodynamically sculpted to keep engine heat and inclement weather away from the rider.
The instrument cluster is compact, with a speedometer on the left and tach on the right. The center portion of the cluster displays a variety of warning lights up top, and a multi-function color screen on the bottom.
There is a somewhat confusing plethora of buttons and switches on the handlebar, though you don’t have to remove your hands from the bars to operate them. Most notable is the rotary switch on the left handlebar that allows you to scroll through the settings for tire pressure, suspension, cargo, XM radio, regular radio, etc. You can while away the empty hours with it, scrolling through function after function, right up to the point where you fail to notice a bend in the road, and ride into a tree.
So, you should probably not use the rotary switch dial much while you’re moving. It’s an ingenious setup, but you must discipline yourself to ignore it, because it really does suck you into fiddling with things.
How it rides
Let’s not beat around the bush. It should be impossible for a bike this large and heavy to handle as well as it does. I have rarely ridden a motorcycle of any kind that is as happy to lean from side to side and lay into a corner as well as the K1600GT does. If anything, it’s a bit twitchy, like a Honda CBR1000, in that it responds to even tiny rider inputs in the corners. It shouldn’t even be possible for a 703 pound bike to be “twitchy” in any way, but there it is.
In a previous review on the Honda Gold Wing F6B, I wrote, “One of the things that motorcycle writers always say about the Gold Wing is that once you get moving, the weight seems to fall away. Well, that’s just a bunch of crap…Honda’s engineers aren’t magicians. Inertia is still a thing.” Well, the K1600GT’s weight does fall away, BMW engineers are magicians, and inertia is no big deal. Suck it, physics.
Despite weighing 703 lbs., you can toss this bike down a winding road like nobody’s business. It’s almost uncanny. You transition from right to left in the twisty bits while sitting bolt upright as if you were in a Chesterfield armchair…and it’s no big deal. It just flops over from its right side to its left side and back again smoothly, with no drama and even less effort.
Then there’s that flat-6 power plant. Sitting still, the bike emits a noise that doesn’t even sound like a motor. There’s just this loud ominous, basso hum. Then you twist the grip and it starts to scream. The revs climb quickly, and the engine’s screaming, and you think it’s time to shift, but…it’s not. When you look down at the tach, you’re only at 4,000 RPM, well below the 8,500 RPM redline. That’s when you realize the banshee screaming is only half done in that gear. It’s going to get even better.
Meanwhile, the huge mountain of torque issuing from the engine is making the bike lunge forward faster and faster. The torque is the essence of this bike. There’s 129 lb-ft of it, with over 100 torques available way down at 2,500 RPM. Forget the 160 HP. You’ll never use it, because you’ll lose your driver’s license before you run out of torque. It’s a 703 pound bike that you can wheelie almost at will. At least, that’s what I hear.
It’s deceptively fast. 80 miles per hour on the freeway, with the electrically adjustable windscreen all the way up, feels like you’re tooling along at 30. It’s a good thing the K1600GT has such a fantastic electronic cruise control system. Unless you have a will of iron, it’s the only thing that’ll save your license from the clutches of the Highway Patrol.
The riding position is bolt upright, and you sit on a saddle that is all-day comfortable. The ergonomics are generally very natural and comfortable, with the exception of the seat height, which is a bit tall. I have a 32" inseam, and I couldn’t flat-foot it when stopped. Not that it really matters, because the only time you’ll really want to stop is when you absolutely have to get gas—which should be premium fuel, by the way.
Clutch engagement is nearly at full release of the clutch, and the clutch effort is fairly light and manageable. The transmission is a six speed, and it’s the standard BMW affair, which means it goes “clunk” and “plonk” and makes other heavy Germanic noises. There’s no dainty “snick” here, like the more refined transmission of a Honda or Yamaha. Nor, I suppose, could there be, considering the torque load the poor tranny has to manage. But the shifts are positive, and I only hit a false neutral once, at a stoplight.
I rode in traffic, on the interstate, through curvy country roads, and on old highways with bad pavement. The ESA suspension adjustment could be dialed into the riding or pavement conditions on the fly, and each setting was noticeably different and effective. In sport mode, I could blaze through the twisty bits, and the comfort mode sucked up the bumps on bad pavement with no problem.
Some purists do complain that BMWs paralever/telelever suspension system lacks feel,or that it isolates them from what the bike is doing on the road, or what the front wheel is doing in corners. Well, screw them. It works, and works well, and I like it.
You can also control the power delivery for more or less power. For instance, there’s a “Rain” mode that mutes the power delivery to ensure better traction in slick conditions. To be honest, though, I just set it to the “Dynamic” full-power mode and hooned away. In a safe, conservative, and law-abiding manner, of course.
What’s good about it
It’s a joy to ride. The torque and acceleration are exhilarating, and the handling is superb—not just for a bike its size, but for any street bike. It’s also supremely comfortable, with a wide, firm, and supportive saddle. The ergonomics are natural and comfortable as well. You can hook up your phone or intercom via Bluetooth, and you can listen to satellite radio. The BMW cruise control is the best in the business. The suite of electronics, like ESA tire pressure monitoring, power management, and all the rest of it, are absolutely top shelf. It also has a substantial load capacity, as all BMWs do, allowing you to carry a load of 432 lbs. Heated grips and seat are also standard, which is great for those of us that ride year ‘round. Finally, the adaptive headlights that shine the lights in the direction you’re turning are pretty darn neat.
What’s bad about it
The normal seat is going to be too tall for some riders, but there is a low seat option available. The speedometer is way too small to comfortably read, which, considering how fast this thing will go, makes monitoring it a bit of a pain. The windscreen is oddly shaped, and the V-shaped cutout at the top distracting when you raise the windscreen all the way up. Since the whole point of the cutout is to make it easier to look over the top of the windscreen at full extension, you have to mark that as a fail.Weather protection could also be better. Your helmet is never out of the airflow, and there is a slight bit of buffeting at some windscreen heights. Conversely, in hot weather, it’s not possible to lower the screen enough to get your upper body into a cooling breeze. Finally, it costs…wait for it…$25,000, which is essentially the price of two normal motorcycles.
So, it’s not perfect. But then again, nothing is. Overall, I can’t think of a powerful sport-touring bike I would want more. It’s expensive, but you get a truly massive number of included options that simply aren’t available in any other sport-tourer. The Honda Gold Wing and Harley Davidson ElectraGlide are priced similarly, and they are both much heavier, and way slower and less fun. Honestly, without price being considered, I can’t image why you’d ever buy anything else.