Why should you care about giant luxo-touring machines, sometimes impolitely referred to as “barges?” Because they are the flagships for their respective manufacturers, that’s why, and you can sum up the direction a company is headed in a single glance.
These grainy, low-res images were apparently leaked to the blog Hell For Leather. They show the appearance of the K1600GTL, the first all-new luxury-touring bike BMW has introduced for over a decade. The new bike has a dizzying amount of stuff to talk about, but what’s notable—aside from a 160-hp, 129 ft.-lbs. of torque inline Six engine, of course—is the use of electronics that wouldn’t be out of place on BMW’s top-of-the-line touring cars. Stuff like electronic suspension adjustment (you can actually change spring rates with the push of a button) and a full-color display controlled with a small knob so the rider can use the integrated GPS, audio and Lord-knows-what-else on the fly. The headlights use electronics and sensors to adjust for load and bike angle
Despite all this, the K1600GTL won’t be that big, at least not compared to other giant touring rigs. The engine, at 22 inches wide, is very compact for a Six. It’s also tilted forward 55 degrees to keep the frame low and narrow-feeling. A Honda Goldwing (which won’t be produced for 2011—expect a new version for 2012) weighs over 900 pounds fully equipped (but doesn’t feel like it, honest), so you can bet the new BMW will be lighter, just for the sake of corporate pride. What won’t be light is the price—the 2010 K1200LT retails for a base sticker price of $21,700, and I’m pretty sure the 1600 won’t be cheaper.
Speaking of corporate pride, the use of a new engine configuration—as well as car-like amenities and styling cues—speaks to the new direction at BMW Motorrad. This is on top of revolutionary (for BMW) new products like the F800 and S1000RR. Apparently no longer constrained by the need to use traditional engines like the Boxer or K-bike Four, BMW can flex its engineering, design and financial muscles to lay out competitive new bikes in every segment. This is in an era when the Japanese Big Four appear to be shrinking their commitments to large-displacement models, losing market share and credibility with consumers. Will Europe wrest control back from its Japanese manufacturing rivals? We eagerly await the next five model years.