2009 BMW K1300GT
MSRP: $21,045 ($19,150 ABS base without options)
Horsepower: 139.9 hp @ 9400 rpm
Torque: 86.1 lb-ft @ 7900 rpm
Weight: 667 lbs Range: 254 miles
BMW’s K series touring platform arrives for 2009 with one major upgrade – an all-new 1293cc engine. The larger, more powerful mill necessitated a new name, the BMW K1300GT. Not that the previous 1157cc version was a slouch, as the K1200GT won of our 2006 comparison in its first entry. But do an extra 136cc really make that big of a difference?
Consider the dyno runs: Our 2008 test unit spun MCUSA’s dyno drum to a 123.6 hp peak, while the 2009 bike topped things off at 139.9 hp. That’s right, the BMW doesn’t just knock the Kawasaki off the top of the horsepower hill, it tacked on an extra 6 hp more for good measure. Torque jumped too, from 79.7 lb-ft to 86.1 lb-ft. The extra oomph and displacement comes via 1mm-wider bore (80mm) and 5.3mm-longer stroke (64.3mm), along with other revised internals (for complete details read our 2009 BMW K1300 First Rides). The K1300 makes gains over the K1200 across the entire powerband. In its 2009 company, the invigorated Beemer better matches the previously matchless Kawasaki until 8000 rpm, where it presses its advantage, pulling harder and longer.
The BMW gets the better of the Kawasaki in the upper revs, where it peaks a full 6 hp higher than the mighty C14.
Dyno readouts illustrate the point, but we didn’t need them to tell us the Beemer swings a bigger bat this time around. Thumb the starter, crack the throttle and pleasing tones howl out of the highest-revving motor in the lineup, complemented by a crisp exhaust tone. Start rolling and the right wrist doles out the bounteous power. While the Kawasaki still gets a slight edge in our tester’s engine performance evaluation, the BMW confirms dyno evidence by pulling harder at higher rpm.
Unsteady hands take some time to acclimate to the immediate, potent throttle response. Also, some test riders reported a brief hesitation when gassing the throttle after cruising at a steady rate. Specifically, when revving to make a pass after motoring along at 70 mph on the freeway it would lag on ocassion. Minor FI-glitch aside, the BMW’s motor proved the biggest surprise of the shootout, pulling hard in every gear, sounding great and just plain stomping on the open road.
Speaking of gears, the BMW transmission registered its lowest marks on its otherwise impressive scoresheet, yet still rated ahead of the Yamaha. True, a very BMW-eque ‘clunk’ accompanies stomping down on the shift pedal going from neutral into first gear. However, the six-speed gearbox is precise and the shaft drive, while not as smooth as the Kawi’s, doesn’t register much lash.
The BMW brakes hold up their end of the bargain, with the marque’s Integral ABS coming standard. The linked braking system activates both the front and rear calipers with the front lever, while the rear pedal controls solely the rear. The K1200GT in our previous test sourced servo-assisted brakes, one of our biggest gripes that year, as they transmitted plenty stopping power but with a cold machine-like feel at the lever – not to mention they didn’t work until the bike was turned on.
This year’s GT wipes away that sour braking taste with the sweetest stoppers in the test, taking top honors in our tester’s eyes. Ample bite from the four-pot calipers up front, latching down on dual 320mm rotors comes without much front end dive, thanks to its Duolever front suspension design. Dragging the rear’s two-piston caliper / 294mm rotor configuration is as effective as it needs to be. Try to lock either of them up and the ABS kicks in less intrusively than we recall from prior BMW ABS, lacking any harsh hand-jumping pulsation at the front.
BMW’s unique Duolever front and Paralever rear comprise the GT’s suspension and both perform well. The latest ESA II (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) controls settings on-the-fly via left thumb at the handlebar switch. Riders swap between Comfort, Normal and Sport base settings, with sub-options in each for solo, luggage and pillion. The rear shock is further adjustable for rebound damping, with a handwheel offering hydraulic preload adjustment. Differences between the three base settings manifest in handling, and rider’s will quickly switch from the spongy Comfort to stiffer Sport once the corners on the road start bunching up.
And riders will actively hunt out corners on the BMW. While the Yamaha delivers a hair more stability and the Triumph is a sharp turner as well, the Bavarian mount delivers the most refined steering. Interestingly, the GT sports the laziest rake at 29.4 degrees (though the 4.4 inches of trail is comparable to the other Fours) and the longest wheelbase at 61.9 inches. Did we mention the BMW also weighs in the second-heaviest at 667 lbs? It doesn’t matter. The BMW turns silly fast, with the greatest ground clearance, and for 2009 our test riders rated the GT without peer in the handling department. Teamed with the ample performance of the Inline Four, BMW more than fulfills the sporting end of the sport-touring quotient.
RIder protection from the elements is best on the BMW with its effective windscreen and fairing, not to mention the heated grips.
Said touring capabilities further distinguish it as the class leader. It starts with the best rider protection from its tall windscreen. While it does not completely engulf the rider – none of the others do either, with the only bike we’ve tested in its class to do so being the Honda ST1300 and its mammoth-sized screen – the BMW best directs the airflow and at its tallest setting a slight forward lean delivered complete protection. The faring also provides some of the best coverage.
The upright riding position best accommodated our test riders, though it’s worth noting all our testers were at least six feet tall and the BMW does feel better suited to the larger-statured. Though its 32.3-inch seat tops the Kawasaki by a mere 0.2 inches, the BMW rider feels much taller in the saddle. The high-placed handlebar, which is also adjustable, delivers great leverage and mild input yields immediate results.
Spacious saddlebags may remove from the bike in a tricky manner, at first, but they were esteemed second only to the Kawasaki in ease of use. But it’s really the intangible extras that make the difference. The brilliant illumination of the optional Xenon headlight and heated seats, for example aren’t needed per se, but certainly don’t hurt. And, of course, there are the heated grips, which are optional but warrant a standard inclusion on all S-T mounts in our opinion. On top of everything the BMW delivers one of the best ranges, 254 miles, from a solid 40.3 mpg and 6.3-gallon tank.
Styling divided rider opinion. Most found the BMW’s lines attractive, while others found them detestable. But love them or hate them, BMW manages to imprint a distinctive look across its entire motorcycle range and the GT reflects it.
The refined fit and finish on the Beemer delivers a sense of luxury, with attractive instrumentation displaying the most information, including ambient temperature among a myriad of other available data. The switchgear is also notable, primarily because BMW dropped the big turn signal paddles that the press, including us, liked to ridicule. So it’s a plain old turn signal switch on the left control. Most enjoyed the simpler new arrangement, though it dismayed Tom to no end that BMW had yielded to a bunch of whiners by killing a design he enjoyed, as it was much easier to use the large paddles with his gauntlet-style cold weather gloves.
There is one gigantic low to the BMW – it’s flabbergast-ingly high pricetag. In stock trim, which includes ABS, the BMW costs $19,150. Add on the extras adorning our bike (ESA II, Xenon light, heated grips, heated seat and on board computer) and the price jacks up to $21,045. The 15K threshold, much less 20K seems like a hard sell, even for the best sport-tourer on the market. (see for my money sidebar for a very reasonable case for the BMW’s MSRP).
Even with the steep asking price, BMW takes top honors for 2009, and it wasn’t even close. While the bottom three bikes all registered within three points of the each other, the Beemer sports almost a 12-point advantage over the second-place FJR. How? It matched or exceeded the previous strengths of its rivals. Where the Kawasaki had the more powerful engine, BMW closed the gap. Where the FJR was the best handler, the GT blows right past it. With so many strengths and no real performance weaknesses, the BMW’s premium price tag delivers a premium performance – the best sport-tourer money can buy in our 2009 comparison.