by David Soderholm
On July 8th, 2011 the final space shuttle mission blasted into orbit with the launch of shuttle Atlantis. Always pushing the envelope, the shuttle is a technological and engineering marvel. It required some pretty shrewd NASA engineers in its 30-year life span. But now, sadly the shuttle is gone, and those engineers are out of work. Or…are they?? Is it mere coincidence that the same year NASA winds down the shuttle program, BMW comes out with its amazingly advanced technological powerhouse, the 2011 K1600GTL? Did BMW select a few unemployed NASA engineers for help with its super high tech K1600 GTL program? Conspiracy theorists everywhere are digging to find answers.
BMW Motorrad has been blitzkrieging the besieged motorcycle industry. Even when sales of motorcycles in the U.S. were tanking with the poorly performing economy (down 15.8% in 2010), BMW sales were still up (12%) throughout 2010 and increasing through 2011. Amazing new bikes like the S1000RR, which outsold even the esteemed R1200GS, sure help out. Now add the amazing new K1600GTL. It’s one hot motorcycle commodity in 2011 and is sold out just about everywhere. Blitzkrieg indeed.
First off, this bike is not a direct competitor with the 2012 Honda Gold Wing. The BMW is 140 lbs. lighter and has less luggage capacity than the Honda, but is far faster and much more exciting. If you plan to heavily load the bike down and pull a trailer, all in ultra-comfort, get the Wing. If you want two-up luxurious comfort and the option of tearing up some twisties, the K1600GTL is your bike. It will leave the Wing for dead on a twisting road while giving up only a little in luggage capacity and ultimate comfort. In comparison to each other, the Honda is a Clydesdale draft horse, and the BMW is a racing Quarter Horse.
The BMW (or possibly former shuttle?) engineers loaded the GTL with so much technology, that I don’t know exactly where to begin. From the engine, to the suspension, to the safety aids, to the rider electronics, to the adaptive gyroscopic xenon HID headlight, it really pushes the technological envelope. It all works grandly, with a couple of exceptions, which I’ll get to in a bit. All part of being on that leading technological edge.
The star of the show is the glorious new 1,649cc inline 6-cylinder engine. It flat out rips! When I ran it hard through the gears the first time, I thought the front end was going to come up in a power wheelie. No Joke. It revs quick and pulls hard. The dyno says 132 hp and 111 lb.-ft. of torque at the back contact patch, with a highly accessible, table-flat torque curve. It’s genuinely one of the coolest sounding and exciting engines I’ve ever used, and totally unexpected on a “touring” bike. It’s dead smooth and has a turbine-like growl at low rpm that ramps up into an exotic Ferrari-like wail at higher rpm. At cruise, it settles into a nice background growl, just waiting to be stirred again. And trust me – with the amazing sound track, stir again you will! Pretty amazing stuff.
The GTL incorporates a fly-by-wire computer controlled throttle system known as “E-gas”. There are no cables between you and the fuel injection unit – only computer wires. It incorporates three handlebar selected fuel maps: dynamic, road and rain. Dynamic is very aggressive and race-like, but hunts a little at partial throttle openings and is pretty abrupt. Road is my favorite map with less edginess and all the abruptness gone. Rain is very smooth and almost lazy feeling in comparison. It’s great for cold, wet or slippery conditions. All three maps have an odd, laggy feeling to them right off idle. The engine revs lag behind quick throttle movement right off the stop. It’s an odd E-gas characteristic, but its only apparent just off idle. Otherwise, the fuel injection works extremely well.
The clutch and transmission have a unique trait as well. BMW built in a pseudo slipper clutch by including a variable pressure plate mechanism into the transmission. It worked really well at limiting engine back torque to the rear wheel, but causes the engagement point for the clutch to change dependent upon how hard you’re revving the engine. The clutch lever actually moves according to engine speed. In conjunction with the fuel injection glitch, quick getaways from a stop can be challenging at first. I actually stalled the bike a couple of times because of it. It’s an oddity you adjust to, but it’s definitely a unique characteristic of the GTL.
Moving onto the handling, one word comes to mind – stellar! Quite literally, it feels like a big, nimble, luxurious sport-bike in the curves. Combine the fine handling with the amazing engine and you can flat out hustle this bike on twisty pavement at very close to a sport-bike pace. Its also finely balanced in low speed parking lot maneuvers. Feet up U-turns are quick and easy. It doesn’t have that top heavy, impending doom feel of other luxury barges at low speed. The GTL uses BMW’s Duolever double A-arm front suspension and Paralever shaft drive. Our GTL also had the optional ESA II suspension adjustment. This allows three different handlebar-selected damping settings: Sport, Normal and Comfort. In addition, you can assign one of three different preload settings (passenger, passenger + luggage or two-up) to each one. The bottom line with all the electronic suspension trickery is that you can firm it up with “Sport” for the twisties, soften it up with “Comfort” for super-slabbing, or leave it in “Normal” and forget it. It’s all very rider-friendly, can be done on the fly and is easy to use.
Braking is yet another area in which the GTL excels. Big, 320mm semi-floating discs are standard; two up front and one out back. The fronts are clamped by four-piston calipers with a two-piston caliper out back. Stainless steel lines are standard. They all have integrated ABS as standard fare. Use the front brake and you also use the rear, but the rear is stand-alone. In use, the brakes feel like arrestor cables on the flight deck of the USS Ronald Reagan. They are smooth and powerful, and don’t fade while having fun in the twisties.
Things get even more entertaining in the cockpit. First, you have the multi controller. It is a rotating ring on the left handlebar that allows you to scroll through menus on the bright, crisp high-contrast 5.7” TFT display on the dash. This controls a myriad of things including music options (volume, satellite, mp3, Bluetooth, WB, AM/FM stations), ESA II settings, time, distance, trip, gear indicator, fuel level and range, engine and ambient temp, heated seats and grip settings and tire pressures. Wow! The cruise control and electric windshield adjustment are also located on the left handlebar. On the right handlebar, in addition to the standard motorcycle controls, you have the engine map selector switch. It sounds intimidating, but it all soon becomes entertaining and second nature to operate. The multi-controller works brilliantly!
Riding the GTL, you’ll find very comfortable accommodations for you and your passenger. Ergonomics are excellent with no major flaws as the miles pile up. Mirrors provide a clear wide view of your six. The seat is very comfy and those short of inseam will be very happy. In standard form, seat height is 29.5”. BMW provides a no cost taller seat (30.7”) that I would get were the GTL mine. The fairing provides excellent wind and weather protection. It also incorporates flip out wind deflectors to allow an amazing amount of cooling airflow on warm days to your midsection while maintaining a turbulence-free cockpit. The luggage is exquisitely finished and completely removable. Luggage hardware is of very high quality and on the premium GTL, it’s all lockable with the push of a button on the dash or a key fob! It might not carry as much as the Wing, but it still carries a lot.
I’d be remiss not to mention the GTL’s lighting. It’s a huge safety enhancement to riding at night. The xenon HID self-leveling adaptive headlight is amazing. Our GTL also had the optional driving lights. Never, ever, have I felt so confident riding back roads at night. Simply stated, with this lighting package night no longer exists.
As you can tell, in my time with the GTL, I was immensely impressed. This bike is a genuine game changer! I rode freeways, highways and back roads and never found an area it doesn’t excel at. As a guy coming from a sport-bike background, I found the GTL just about perfect. To me, the GTL is the perfect compromise. It has great luxury and comfort for hundreds of miles of stress-free riding at a stretch, and enough sportiness mixed in to have genuine fun if the road gets twisty. All the while, she is thrilling in demeanor and ruthlessly efficient in motion. Too bad I didn’t have the GTL before Atlantis launched for the final time. I would have been tempted to ride down and see it in person.
In closing, I’d like to personally thank Kyle and Joel Erickson at Moon Motorsports in Monticello for their exceptional hospitality, flexibility and cooperation in making this highly sought after BMW available to MMM® for testing. You can expect the same as their customer! Contact them at 763-295-2920 or on the net at www.moonmotorsports.com..
by Kevin Kocur
Most of the good roads that day had neither names, nor numbers, as they were simply designated by one or two letters. And they were all wonderful. One of a motorcyclist’s greatest joys is to be riding a fantastic road. This is made all the better if that rider is lucky enough to be on a fantastic bike as well. On such a day, the planets aligned and I found myself on western Wisconsin’s alphabet roads, riding a motorcycle that is as close to all-around perfection as any I’ve ridden.
Many of you won’t be surprised that it’s a BMW. The last Beemer that I rode for MMM® was the F800ST back in issue #107. Man, I loved that bike. Loved it so much that I swore that some flavor of F800 would find its way into my garage. Well, that hasn’t happened yet and my longing for an F800 is now shared with a desire for a bike with three times as many cylinders…
The BMW K1600GT and GTL were announced in July, 2010 and were available to the public a mere year later. Sporting 300ccs and two more cylinders (but only two more inches of width!) than the K1300GT, the 1600s have received rave reviews from the media and potential owners were lining up for test rides. As luck would have it, MMM® scored a bike for short-term review and my turn came during an extended weekend.
The first thing I’ll tell you about the K1600GTL is that it really has no rival. That six is an absolutely brilliant motor in both sound and performance. Throttle is fly-by-wire and a bit touchy if you’re not used to it. Leaving Moon Motors, I almost launched the bike into Stearns County. To say this thing is responsive is an understatement.
If you’re a huge, tech geek, you’re going to love this bike. I must have some Luddite lurking in me, as I thought there was just too much going on. Both the traction control and suspension can be set to one of three modes. In all honesty, I played with the settings a bit, then left them the hell alone. For me, it’s all about riding the motorcycle. I would rather adapt to the bike and road conditions then ask the bike to adapt for me. Your mileage may vary.
There are lots more things for the geeks to love. The cool dashboard has a digital display and can pretty much tell you anything you need to know about what’s going on with the bike, as well as nearly everything around you. I wouldn’t be surprised if it could tell you the current temperature and wind direction in Singapore, or let you order a movie from Netflix. All of this info, along with many of the bike’s features, is controlled via a wheel on the left hand grip called a multi-controller. Flipping through the various menus will allow you change things like the settings for heated grips or seat, or monitor your tire pressure. Now granted, a new owner will likely learn this system in a reasonable amount of time and will probably fall in love with it once it’s mastered. For those of us who still question why semaphores aren’t widely used today for communication, we struggle with such things. I had gone about ten miles before I finally figured out how to dial down the heated grips that I didn’t even know I had turned on. The multi-controller can also increase or decrease the volume on GTL’s stereo system, as well as change stations. Everything else audio-related is controlled via a series of buttons on the left side of the fairing, including am/fm, iPod/MP3 input or even Sirius satellite radio. Once I found the 70s channel, I was happily singing along with Hot Chocolate, because “Every 1’s A Winner”, baby.
The stock seat height is only 29.5 inches, with a high seat option that bumps that number closer to 31. I could easily flatfoot the bike, for which I was thankful, as this beast tips the scales at a road-ready 785 pounds. Once underway, that weight isn’t remotely noticeable and you begin to appreciate the ergonomics. The bars reach back to you and the pegs are right where I want them to be. I was immediately at home on this bike. When I hit the freeway, I played with the electronically-adjustable windshield, trying to find the perfect balance of visibility and minimal wind buffeting. Well, tried to anyway. To get the buffeting down to a comfortable level, I had to raise the shield enough so that I was looking through it. I’m not a fan of that, so my solution was to lower it enough to be able to look over the top edge and called it a happy compromise.
I lower the shield, because we’ve arrived at the first (and probably my favorite) of today’s list of Must Ride roads. Time to pick a line and put the hammer down. The motor’s howling, I hit the next gear and we’re already at the next curve. Downshift. Brake. Look. Lean. Power’s back on and we’re hustling through the corner like some sort of Supertrain. I am in awe at how well this bike handles and that insane motor. Always composed and ready for more, it was even better than I expected—and I had set the bar really, really high for this one. Now rounding the final curve, I engage the afterburners for a quick blast towards Highway 35. Once on the river road, I point the bike downstream towards our next road. The whole time, I am giggling like a teenage girl that just scored Justin Bieber tickets. It’s not even noon and I have nine more roads to go!
I had planned a couple of stops during the day but, truth be told, I was having way too much fun and blew right past them. Believe me, folks, when I pass up the opportunity to stop for pie, that’s really saying something. I absolutely cannot find fault with this motorcycle
At some point, I knew that I would need to set a course for the land of 10,000 lakes, so I took advantage of the GTL’s wonderful saddlebags and filled each with bottles of tasty New Glarus Spotted Cow to enjoy once I got home. I seriously considered loading up the spacious top case as well, as one can never have too much Spotted Cow. All three pieces of luggage can be locked electronically, thereby insuring that my stash of Cow remains with me and not in the hands of wayward hobos or mooching MMM® staffers.
Crossing the river in Wabasha, I hit Highway 61 and took advantage of the cruise control. I have to say that this is by far the best cruise I’ve experienced on any motorcycle. The fly-by-wire system means that the throttle grip never moves when the cruise is in operation. I settled in for a scenic ride along the river, all the while enjoying the comfortable seat and great ergonomics. I neither wanted to go home, nor return the bike. I may have even started pouting at this point.
I made it home before dark, but made a point of taking it out again once the sun set. Our test bike came with BMW’s adaptive headlight system and LED fog lamps. Unfortunately, the road I thought I could put the headlight to good use on was lit much better than I thought, so I never enjoyed the full benefit of it. The fog lamps not only help fill in the low areas, they make fantastic daytime running lamps. I just wish that you didn’t have to keep turning them back on every time you start the bike.
It’s pretty obvious that I like this bike, despite pointing out a lot of things I didn’t like.
Outstanding handling, awesome engine and powerful, flawless brakes with ABS. Plus, it’s pretty easy on the eyes, to boot. Once again, BMW has nearly built the perfect bike for me. Did I say nearly? Actually they may have–the K1600GT comes without the audio system, minus some of the GTL’s bells and whistles and runs about $2,200 cheaper. Same great motor with less weight. So, what’s it gonna be? F800-something? K1600GT? One thing’s for sure: we’re gonna need a bigger garage…
MMM® would like to thank the good folks at Moon Motorsports for the use of the BMW K1600GTL. Give them a call at 763-295-2920 or surf over to www.moonmotorsports.com.