We all know that BMW is restless. New machines, some taking the company in new directions, have been appearing frequently from the German manufacturer. No one will be surprised that their new touring bikes are anything but conventional.BMW invited us to test its new luxury tourers, the K 1600 GT and GTL, in South Africa. It was quite an adventure, both literally and figuratively.
Upon returning to our hotel, located among vineyards in South Africa, I am still trying to sort through all of the sensations of the long ride. After sharing the dinner table with the head of BMW Motorrad the prior evening, I shared the roads with baboons and other creatures unfamiliar to us back home.South Africa is an interesting, but dangerous place. Not just the wildlife, but social and racial inequality, and problems with violent crime, still exist. We were advised not to leave the hotel at night.
Within this context, I rode nearly two hundred miles aboard the sportier K 1600 GT and then the thoroughly luxurious GTL. Expecting an experience similar to that offered by the prior model, the K 1200 LT, I found something different. Much different, and much better.
The distinguishing feature of these new bikes, of course, is the in-line six cylinder engine. 1600cc and six closely spaced cylinders provide for a surprisingly compact and light (roughly 225 pounds) engine. The engine offers both power and flexibility with 160HP available at a leisurely 7500 RPM, and huge torque of 129lb/ft available at 5500 RPM. Indeed, the torque spread is huge, and more than 100lb/ft is available at only 1500 RPM.
This engine is a marvel. Adding to the superb power delivery, we encounter virtually no vibration and surprising fuel consumption figures (more than 40mpg on the highway). We verified the fuel consumption with the onboard computer during our ride. Three different power modes are available, including rain, standard and dynamic.
Both bikes are standardly equipped with the latest generation ABS, but only the GTL offers traction control and electronic suspension adjustment as standard (both optional on the GT). Both bikes have standard saddlebags, but the GTL also comes with a huge top case and passenger backrest. The GTL also has a windscreen that is somewhat wider.
Both bikes have a new and very useful headlight system. Self- adjusting for both height and direction, the lights point where you are going despite twists and turns in the road, and lean angles of the bike. Our hosts thought it too dangerous to travel at night, so we sampled the headlight performance after dark in the parking lot at the hotel.
Ergonomics are slightly different between the two models, with the GT a bit sportier, while the GTL is bolt upright with the foot rests slightly forward in comparison with the GT.
Starting out on the GT, we were warned we would encounter roads that were quite twisty, some with poor paving and even some with dirt. Traveling through the mountains, as well as along the coast, we saw our share of baboons and other creatures. I was concerned about the size and bulk of my mount given the variety of terrain we expected to cover, particularly with all of my photographic equipment locked away in the saddlebags and a full tank of gas bringing the bike close to 800 pounds.
I was thankful, first of all, for the height adjustable seat. I set things up so that I could easily reach the ground, giving me more confidence with such a heavy machine beneath me. Nevertheless, BMW has placed the center of gravity very low, and the bike feels much lighter as you take it off the stand. Once moving, the GT is surprisingly agile.
Our GT test unit came with the electronic suspension adjustment system. I began by riding with the engine response set in the standard mode, but I soon preferred the dynamic setting for its crisper, more immediate throttle response and power. I also adjusted the suspension to the sport setting, which was firm but still comfortable. It was perfect for the rapid pace set by our group.
The big GT was quick and confident in the twisties, but you did have to be aware of its mass, particularly when braking for tight corners. Fortunately, both bikes come with excellent brakes, and I even heard the front tire chirp at times, despite the ABS system.
That smooth engine has virtually no power peak. It is extremely linear, but has so much down low that changing gears is frequently optional.
The bike seems no wider than many four-cylinder machines, and BMW provided measurements to indicate as much. The power, however, is immence and the fuel consumption, as I said earlier, quite surprising – offering a practical range of 200 miles, or more.
The electrically adjustable windscreen worked perfectly for me roughly midway between its highest and lowest setting. The instrumentation is so complete it practically requires a separate training session to understand and navigate it. It could be distracting, otherwise, but if there is any information you would like to know about your machine or your travel route, it is likely available to you.
Our last stretch aboard the GT includes a very fast pace through mountain passes that tells me two things. First, the GT is well-balanced and handles well, but the suspension, even in its sport setting, is best suited for touring, not chasing sport bikes through the twisties. Nevertheless, 99% of the time, for 99% of the riders, the handling of the GT is more than adequate.
Switching to the GTL offers a distinctly different experience, even though it is a sister machine. Aside from the additional standard equipment, the riding position is different. The more upright seating position with the legs further forward was immediately apparent. Although one journalist commented that the pegs were too high for him, the seat is adjustable to take that into account.
Traveling an additional hundred miles, or so, aboard the GTL took us through more mountain roads that reminded me of the Dolomites in the Italian Alps. Again, the big GTL surprised me with its competent handling of twisty roads… surprising for its size.
The hot African summer made me appreciate the adjustable wind deflectors that both models feature, which allow you to direct air onto your body for cooling (or away to keep you warm). While we push the pace, I set the adjustable suspension to sport mode, once again, and even add the option “with luggage” to firm things up further. Fuel consumption on the GTL is slightly higher, but still quite impressive. The difference has to do not only with the increased weight, but the aerodynamic penalty of the large top case.
In the end, it is clear that these new six–cylinder touring mounts are excellent performers, offering both long-range comfort and surprising handling. That unique engine design provides not only silky smooth, huge power, but a delightful sound. Nice company on those long trips.
Motorcycle Daily attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.