2012 BMW K1600GTL

Road Test Review

When upbeat reports started hitting the Interwebs from the very first evening of the BMW K 1600 GT/L world introduction in South Africa in February, including some from our road test editor on the scene, we were elated. The new six-cylinder bikes were not just good, they said, they were “Game Changers,” and had an “Unsurpassed level of sophistication and refinement.” Another great bike is always good news. The next day brought even more superlative language and enthusiasm about the K 1600s online. Then, as motoscribes began to trickle home and write, post and print more detailed stories from the intro, the K 1600s took on an air of not just great, but unequaled and perfect in every way, even a “Second Coming” for motorcycling’s luxury-touring segment.

Uh-oh, I thought, I’ve seen this before. Something can happen to moto­journalists when they snap on the belt in a Business Class seat, off on an exotic boondoggle complete with the keys to the first ride on an OEM’s latest and greatest bike. Glowing reports emerge from intros in Europe and other far-flung places that are later toned-down or even wholly contradicted when the motorcycles are put through the reality of stateside gauntlets in solo or comparison tests (in BMW’s case, the K1300GT and K1 come to mind). One of our staff would never succumb to such intro brainwashing, but nevertheless we decided to follow-up with a U.S. test of the fully kitted K 1600 GTL right away, including confirmation of its supposed miraculous light weight and stupendous power on the Rider scale and dynamometer.

After those tests and 500-plus miles here both two-up and solo, I’m happy to report that not only does our road test editor have impervious scruples, the BMW K 1600 GTL is flat amazing. Almost every word of Greg Drevenstedt’s report (online at www.ridermag.wpengine.com and in the May 2011 issue) is stingingly accurate, particularly his description of the bike’s power, handling and braking. Here on the Jett Tuning Dynojet dyno it blasted out 134.9 horsepower and 114.3 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheel, right in keeping with BMW’s claims at the crank after accounting for frictional losses. Combined with a 776-pound wet weight for the Premium-package-equipped model, the K 1600 GTL has the best power-to-weight ratio in the luxury-touring class by a wide margin. The new six-cylinder sounds and feels just as good as described, too, and our fuel economy on the specified 89-octane stuff here in California was quite good at 40.2 mpg average, giving it a more than 280-mile range from its 7-gallon tank.

The bike lives up to its billing in many other areas as well. While not as broad as some other bikes in the class, the GTL’s fairing provides excellent wind and weather protection, and on a warm day only a moderate amount of engine heat reaches the rider’s left leg. Flip-out wind deflectors can be aimed to direct blasts of cooling air to the rider’s midsection, and fully raised the electric windscreen provides a quiet ride for rider and passenger (though you will have to look through it). Lowered for looking over it (when it’s covered with bugs, in the rain or in corners, for example) you’ll still need earplugs, but it doesn’t create much turbulence.

Four full-face helmets fit in the luggage as promised, with two on their sides in the top trunk, which is mounted on a well-designed luggage rack. The power central locking with remote on the Premium GTL is a giggle, and even without it a key is not required to open or close the cases, and all come off easily.

Ergonomics are on the comfortable yet sporty side for a luxo, with slightly higher, more rearset footpegs than others but an upright seating position and a wide, comfortable seat that is very low, making the bike easy to paddle around (a good thing since there’s no reverse). Anyone with an inseam longer than my 29 inches will probably want the no-extra-cost taller seat for more legroom. Contrary to some initial reports the passenger accommodations are well shaped, too, with a plush seat and backrest that are supremely comfortable for long rides. The grab handles are mostly blocked by the seat and too low, however, and the topmost pad seems superfluous (and unsightly?). Functional rearview mirrors are on stalks that fold inward and the bike is fairly easy to push around, with easy-to-deploy center- and sidestands. Instruments, menus and switches are all well-placed, comprehensive and even fun to use. I found that a Garmin Zumo 660 fits perfectly in the GPS carrier and turns on and off with the ignition, but you’ll need the BMW Navigator unit to control it from the handlebar.

Disappointments are few. We don’t see much in the way of standard tipover protection, which could get quite costly with all of that pretty plastic, though we didn’t push the bike over to disprove it. While the sound system is great, there are no rear speakers and audiophiles will need headsets to capture music that is otherwise unintelligible from the front-only speakers at high speed. There aren’t any passenger storage compartments that are accessible while underway, and the two front locking fairing pockets are small. Some driveline lash and clunky, long-throw shifting intrudes at times, and riding loaded and two-up we’d like a little stronger engine pull starting out from a stop, the only time the revvy, light-flywheeled engine lacks torque. We’d also like to be able to change power modes (Dynamic, Road and Rain) with just the handlebar button instead of also having to pull in the clutch. And while the GTL has far better stability than the K 1200 LT ­at speed or a walking pace, two-up it can still feel a little unpredictable coming to a stop until you’re well practiced.

We had our first chance to sample the Adaptive Xenon headlight with this test bike, and it also exceeds our expectations. Although you can really only see the dynamic leveling in action at a stop—while using the Electronic Suspension Adjustment to adjust preload or when a passenger climbs on or off, for example —in corners the white, bright little golf-ball-like Adaptive headlight seems to predict your intentions and magically reaches well ahead around the corner, like a slice or hook shot. Supplemented with the high beam and the auxiliary fog lights on our test bike it’s almost like riding in daylight.

While it may not be the Second Coming (my understanding is that if and when that takes place it will be on two legs rather than two wheels), a fast, sporty version of luxury motorcycle-touring heaven is definitely coming to dealerships very soon, and it’s called the BMW K 1600 GTL. We’ll have a test of the GT version and the expected comparisons with both in future issues.