Tour Test Review
BMW entered the popular bagger segment for 2018 with the K 1600 B, a long and lowered cruiser based on the K 1600 GT sport tourer. Powered by a 160-horsepower in-line six-cylinder engine, built around a sharp-handling chassis and available with a full suite of electronic rider aids not normally found on touring cruisers, the K 1600 B is the German performance brand’s take on a distinctly American style of motorcycle.
Last summer I rode the “über bagger” cross-country as part of a 3,500-mile, 14-state road test (Rider, November 2017 and here), and it excelled in terms of performance, handling, comfort and technology.
Available only in Black Storm metallic, the high-tech, menacing K 1600 B is aimed at solo riders—guys like Darth Vader, ready to blow off some steam after a hectic week running the Galactic Empire. The K 1600 B has passenger seating, but if Mrs. Vader is as clinched-fist demanding as her husband, she’d insist on a pillion throne more befitting her stature.
That’s where the K 1600 Grand America comes in. Similar to the K 1600 GTL luxury tourer, it has a wide, thickly padded king-and-queen seat with separate rider and passenger heating controls, easy-to-reach grab handles and large passenger footrests.
And like the Bagger, the Grand America’s rear subframe and passenger seat are nearly 3 inches lower than the GTL’s, and it has tubular handlebars, enormous chrome mufflers and long, narrow, non-removable saddlebags. Shaped to match the teardrop side cases is a spacious, carpet-lined top trunk with a padded backrest and an integrated LED taillight.
Designed for two-up touring and meant to indulge, the Grand America is equipped with nearly every feature one could want—a tall electric windscreen, heated grips, highway boards, central luggage locks, Reverse Assist, Keyless Ride, Gear Shift Assistant Pro (for clutchless up- and downshifting), auxiliary LED lights, an anti-theft alarm, engine protection bars, two 12V sockets, a USB port and an audio system with Bluetooth and preparation for satellite radio and GPS (our test bike came with the $949 BMW Navigator VI, which drops into a theft-proof slot above the instrument panel).
On the electronics side, there are three riding modes (Road, Cruise and Rain), semi-active suspension with two modes (Road and Cruise), lean angle-adaptive safety features (ABS, traction control and headlight), Hill Start Control, cruise control, the Multi-Controller menu wheel, a TFT display and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
For a motorcycle that has virtually everything, especially since every BMW owner I know insists on hoisting their bike up on the centerstand, it’s surprising that adding one to the Grand America costs an extra $175.
Although I’m no Lord Vader, my wife is certainly a Lady, and Mrs. Drevenstedt found the Grand America’s accommodations more than satisfactory. We traveled two-up for a week, taking a scenic route from BMW’s headquarters in northern New Jersey to the Americade rally in Lake George, New York, by way of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, and our return route included loops through New York’s Adirondack and Catskill mountains.
Our 1,000-mile tour ran the gamut, from stifling heat and humidity to late-spring rainstorms that brought unseasonably cold temperatures, from traffic-clogged freeways and city streets to rural byways, giving us a chance to experience the Grand America over a wide range of conditions.
Upon returning to California, we took delivery of another Grand America decked out in the same Austin Yellow metallic paint (a color borrowed from BMW’s M performance car division) plus a beautiful set of forged wheels (a $1,500 upgrade), racking up hundreds more solo miles on our usual test roads.
All of the models in BMW’s K 1600 lineup, including the B, Grand America, GT and GTL, share more commonalities than differences. Each has features—windscreens, seats, handlebars, luggage, etc.—that makes it more suitable to a particular style of riding, but they have the same engine, chassis, front bodywork, instrumentation and available electronics, though some of the settings differ.
The liquid-cooled, 1,649cc in-line six is an incredibly smooth and powerful engine; the last K 1600 GTL we tested (Rider, May 2018 and here) churned out 129 horsepower at 8,000 rpm and 106 lb-ft of torque at 5,200 rpm, measured at the rear wheel on Jett Tuning’s dyno.
We weren’t able to get reliable dyno results on the K 1600 B we tested last November, and we didn’t attempt to dyno the Grand America because its top speed is electronically limited to 101 mph (which we verified by GPS), a constraint that doesn’t apply to other K 1600 models.
According to BMW’s official press release for the Grand America, “Based on the principle of ‘The American Way of Riding,’ the top speed is limited to 162 kmh or 101 mph. This takes into account the fact that customization with additional fittings in the rear section—as is popular in this vehicle segment—can impact significantly on wheel load distribution, so in terms of riding dynamics, stability and safety are guaranteed in all situations.”
Exactly what those “additional fittings” are is unclear, but a representative from BMW told us that, because the Grand America is intended for fully loaded, two-up touring and its standard highway boards and unique top trunk affect aerodynamics, the Germans deemed 101 mph to be fast enough.
Following my cross-country test of the K 1600 B, I reported, “the bike felt as stable—and as fast—as a bullet train.” However, during our last test of the K 1600 GTL and on the Grand America, we noticed some straight-line unsteadiness that wasn’t apparent in our previous K 1600 tests.
Every model in the K 1600 lineup has very light, nimble handling for bikes of their size (the Grand America weighs 807 pounds fully fueled and has a 63.7-inch wheelbase). But in some situations, particularly when the road surface is irregular or there’s turbulence caused by crosswinds or surrounding vehicular traffic, extra vigilance is required to follow a straight path.
While riding two-up with the luggage filled to capacity, the Grand America tracked steady and true, perhaps due to the added stability of a heavier load. During solo riding, however, several staffers (including me) remarked on the bike’s nervousness on straight roads, particularly on grooved, poured-concrete freeways.
Then again, when I rode the Grand America down a long stretch of freshly paved asphalt on a hot, calm evening after the photo shoot, it felt relaxed and settled. Although this issue was bothersome at times, it might be easily resolved with a different set of tires.
In corners, on the other hand, the Grand America behaves like other K 1600s—planted, well-composed and able to hold a line effortlessly, aided by crisp throttle response, useful and easily manageable engine braking, electronically adaptive suspension and brakes that are not only gorilla-grip strong but provide some of the best lever feedback of any motorcycle I’ve ridden.
Its 6-speed transmission shifts smoothly with or without the clutch, and there’s barely a hint of lash from the shaft final drive. Except for a brief burble when the engine is started and a six-cylinder howl at high rpm, the Grand America is quiet and supremely civilized, qualities my wife appreciates.
Comfortably and securely ensconced behind me, with the suspension set to Cruise mode she compared the experience to riding on a cloud. During a cold, wet morning the fully raised windscreen protected us from the worst of the elements and Carrie liked being able to control her seat’s heating.
Even though the pillion sits a few inches higher than the rider’s seat, however, she wasn’t able to see over my shoulders and was limited to side-to-side views (admittedly, I’m nearly a foot taller than she is).
Riders are spoiled with options in the heavyweight touring market, which has seen many new models and major updates in recent years, from traditional V-twins on one end of the spectrum to sportier, multi-cylinder options on the other. With its shapelier luggage, unique styling details and lower stance, the Grand America offers a different look than its GTL sibling but provides a comparable level of luxury and convenience.
Despite all of the power and performance available, much of it can be left in reserve, relying instead on a deep well of low to midrange torque, intuitive handling and excellent ride quality to keep the pilot and passenger comfortable all day, day after day. Set the cruise control, dial in the audio and burn through a full 7-gallon tank of gas before lunch—based on our 37.2-mpg average, you’ll be 260 miles closer to your destination.
Or, if so inclined, touch a few buttons to switch over to Dynamic mode and firm up the suspension, and a full sport-touring experience awaits. Like the land of opportunity it’s named after, the Grand America can be anything you want it to be.