It’s been a month since I traded in my Triumph Trophy for an orange and black BMW K1600GT that I dubbed “Orange Crush”. Since it’s my primary transportation I’ve ridden it every day—except for some rainy days here and there. So, I think I have a good handle on the good, and the bad of owning it.
There’s a lot that’s good about it, actually, but first and foremost you have to talk about the power. There’s just gobs of it. How much of it you experience depends on what mode you ride in. There are three modes, Rain, Road, and Dynamic.
The Rain mode puts you in the shallow end of the power pool. Low-end torque is cut significantly, and the traction control system is intrusive. Having had to ride it in the rain once, I can verify that the Rain mode is both useful and effective, and tames the power enough to deal well with water-slickened roads. Even in Rain mode, it’s still a pretty fast motorcycle, but it’s sanely fast, which is important on slick streets.
Dynamic mode unleashes the full 129 torques and 160 HP on offer. And it unleashes it quickly. Throttle response goes beyond “snappy” to “twitchy” and everything about riding it gets faster, more exciting, and, on occasion, downright frightening. No bike this large and heavy should be this fast. In Dynamic mode, starting smoothly from a stop is nearly impossible. Doing anything smoothly is nearly impossible. It’s all speed and tire-shredding torque. Want to pull a wheelie on a 732 lb. touring bike? Set it into Dynamic mode, and knock yourself out. Expect to replace the tires every 6 months or so if this is your chosen riding mode, and your pants will probably need to be replaced once a day, because you’ll inadvertently get a bit too aggressive for your own comfort.
Road Mode is the “Just Right” setting. The throttle response is smooth and predictable, as is the power output, which, frankly, is still massive. Twist the throttle with aggression, and the BMW K1600GT fairly leaps forward putting noticeable strain on your shoulder sockets until your body catches up with the bike’s inertia. When you accelerate on this bike, you know it. But it dispenses with the heart-stopping fear to which you’re prone when in Dynamic mode.
So, the engine writes a lot of checks which the suspension has to cash and, not surprisingly, the suspension does it well. The suspension has a number of presets for different riding conditions. The three primary modes are Comfort, Normal, and Sport, with increasing stiffness at each level. Further, in each suspension setting, you can adjust for the number of passengers or luggage. Set the K1600GT to Dynamic Mode with Sport suspension, you’re all set for the track. I’m not sure why you’d want to track a touring bike like this, but the thing is, you could.
Like the BMW, the Triumph Trophy also had similar settings for the suspension, but, after two years of ownership, the only difference I could tell that changing the suspension settings made was that the LCD readout on the dash displayed a different value. Switching the Trophy from Sport to Comfort made no difference to what I felt at the seat of my pants. The suspension setting differences on the BMW are noticeably different.
Handling is superb for a bike of this size. Honestly, the Triumph Trophy handles incrementally better, but the K1600GT handles extremely well, and you’d need a fair amount of experience on both bikes to tell the difference between them. The K1600GT, conversely, is more stable than the Trophy, which I attribute mainly to the longer wheelbase. The K1600GT is just rock steady at any speed, and, in the corners, once you’ve picked a line the K1600GT holds it when the Trophy occasionally seems a bit twitchy.
What you miss on the K1600GT is a good feel for what the front end is doing. Since the K1600GT is equipped with BMWs Paralever/Telelever suspension, conventional front forks are missing, which means you don’t feel the road in the same way you do with a conventional suspension. For example, grab a handful of brake and the front end doesn’t dive. The bike just slows very quickly. The regular cues you get from a conventional suspension about front grip simply aren’t there. It’s a completely different feel, and it takes some getting used to. Basically, you point and shoot the bike through corners and trust the Paralever/Telelever suspension do work. And…it does. So, that’s good. And, as a famous motorcycle racing champion once said about the BMW suspension, “The reason there’s no feel, is because there’s nothing wrong.”
There’s nothing wrong with the comfort of the K1600GT, either. On Christmas Day, I took a 2-hour trip up to Orange County to see my family. When I got there, I hopped off the bike and walked inside without a twinge of discomfort. A few hours later, I rode back home. The wide, flat seat is all-day comfortable, and the 1,649 cc straight-six motor is almost electrically smooth and vibration-free. Setting the suspension mode to Comfort helps too, as all the annoying ripples and bumps in the highway are magically smoothed away.
Control of the electronics, suspension mode, cruise control, stereo, and windshield height are all done via either buttons or a multifunction control located on the left handlebar. It takes a bit of getting used to the various menus and controls, but the up side is that you don’t have to take your hand of the handlebar to manipulate any of the controls, unlike the Triumph Trophy. Similarly, the engine modes are controlled by a button on the right handlebar.
Naturally, there’s plenty of luggage space on the K1600GT, with each of the panniers able to hold a full-face helmet.
For most things, the K1600GT is the king of sport-tourers. With its rideability, power, comfort, and handling, the BMW K1600GT is hard to beat.
It’s not hard to beat in other ways, though.
On the right side of the fairing, there is a pocket for an MP3 player that contains an iPod-sized foam cutout and a USB connector. Now, you’d think that if you hooked up your iPod to the USB connector, it would work. But you’d be wrong. You need a special cable to hook up an iPod to the USB connector—a cable that’s only available from BMW, and which costs $100.00.
Now, think about this for a moment. The USB connection is a universal standard for transferring data. What that means is that BMW has intentionally crippled the USB connector for the iPod for the sole purpose of extracting an extra C-note from you if you want to use the single most popular portable music player in the world. What’s even worse, is that they’ve done it badly.
On my Trophy, if you hooked up the iPod to the USB port, is just worked exactly how you’d expect. If, say, you were listening to a podcast when you stopped the bike and turned the motor off, then, when you turned it back on, the podcast would start playing exactly where you left off.
BMW, however, seems to have decided they know better than you how you should listen to your iPod. “You’re listening to a podcast? Well, screw you, listen to music instead.” And since there’s no podcast playlist in the iPod music system any more (podcasts are now played via a separate app), if you restart the bike while listening to a podcast, the BMW just ignores the podcast, and starts playing the first song in your music library. So, if you want to listen to a podcast on the BMW, then every time you start the motor, you have to stand beside the bike, open the iPod compartment, and manually start playing the podcast on your iPod, then close the compartment before getting on the bike. Every. Single Time.
You can control the playlists or songs from the mode switches on the left side of the fairing, and, when you’re listening to a music playlist, the BMW will start playing the last song you listened to in the current playlist. So, at least that works. If you’re listening to anything else, though, the BMW will default to the very first song in your music library when you restart the bike.
It’s a little thing, but since I listen to podcasts all the time, it’s extraordinarily irritating.
Hey, BMW, here’s an idea: just let the USB connector work the way it was designed to and let me use my iPod for what I want to listen to, and not what you want me to. You know, like everyone else does.
The particular bike I purchased had a short, smoked windscreen. That wasn’t very good. Wind protection was just OK, and it was very noisy. The first thing I did was buy a touring windscreen from California Scientific, which fixed the noise and wind protection problems. My understanding is that the stock BMW windscreen isn’t all that great either, so an aftermarket windscreen will probably be a good investment. I’m a big fan of California Scientific windscreens.
Maybe I’m a little to upset at the whole iPod thing. Maybe I should be a little more forgiving about it. After all, no bike is perfect, and everything else about the BMW K1600GT is about as close to perfect for a touring bike as you’re likely to find. It’s got massive power, great handling, great comfort, and is just fun as hell. If you want the ability to cross the country loaded up with passenger and luggage, then strafe the canyons when you arrive at your destination, it would be hard to find a better bike than the BMW K1600GT.