2012 BMW K1600GTL First Ride

March 8, 2011
Ken Hutchison
Ken Hutchison
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The ulcers keep piling on for the warden of the MotoUSA asylum. With the inmates running rampant around the globe, Hutch has opted to get in on the madness more these days than in years past and is back in the saddle again.

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Watch the all-new Beemer touring bike in action in the BMW K1600GTL First Ride Video.

Germany may not have come away from South Africa with the World Cup trophy last year, but the nation does boast a winner in the form of the new K1600GTL. At least that’s our take on the latest Beemer during our first ride introduction in South Africa.

The world of luxury touring motorcycles has been dominated by relics and sewing machine quiet engines for the past few decades. The manufacturer mantra of late has been that bigger is better so when it came time for BMW to unveil its new ultimate sport-touring motorcycles, the K1600GTL and K1600GT, it should have come as no surprise that these would be monsters. 

BMW has the process of engineering great touring motorcycles down to a science. You might think the engineers milled around the catacombs of a bizarre secret laboratory below the streets of Berlin cackling arrogantly in their static-free pressed lab coats with safety goggles and dust masks as they pieced the beast together under cover of night. It all begins with the largest array of state of the art electronics ever seen on a production motorcycle, coupled with BMW’s unorthodox suspension components, aerodynamically designed bodywork and a special emphasis on rider comfort

This is not your Dads Six-Cylinder this is the lightest  slimmest and most compact Six ever created. Its long stroke and tiny cylinders combine to produce plenty of torque and a wailing top end.
This is not your dad’s Six-Cylinder. The BMW K1600GTL sports the lightest, slimmest and most compact Six ever crammed into a Beemer. Its long stroke and tiny cylinders combine to produce plenty of torque and a wailing top end.

that culminates in a rolling chassis designed to be an extension of the rider themselves. Then the real madness comes to bear. Powering the motorcycle will be an engine featuring a layout last seen at the turn of the century: The Inline Six-Cylinder. Behold the ultimate heavy-weight luxury sport touring motorcycle, the new 2012 BMW K1600GTL.

This bike was not designed to beat any one particular motorcycle or replace any one bike in BMW’s line-up. Once it was complete, however, it was clear this Beemer might be better than all current touring motorcycles no matter what name is emblazoned on the tank. At least that is BMW’s perspective. There’s no use making you wait to find out what we thought about the engine either. The Inline Six lives up to the hype.

The K1600GTL features a fly-by-wire throttle that operates the unique fuel-injection system layout that has a single throttle body distributing fuel to each cylinder by the way of a sextet of intakes.When you crack open the throttle the intake honk is noticeable but is understated compared to that delicious internal gear whine of the engine. Its sinister growl is more reminiscent of a race car than motorcycle and we couldn’t get enough of it during our days in the saddle.

Twist that throttle and power starts to build nice and fast from 3000-8000 rpm – pulling like a much sportier bike than expected. The long stroke and small bore allow the engine to remain narrow despite its six cylinder layout, but the resulting character of the mill is exciting. In fact, there’s only 5mm of material between each bank of three cylinders. The

We didnt have the opportunity to ride with a passenger but a few editors took turns riding pillion and they came back with mixed reviews.
BMW’s Duolever front suspension returns on the K1600 bikes, with the unique Beemer componentry delivering its familiar handling quirks.

Six is smooth and mild-mannered but it spools up quick and has quite a bit of mid-range torque. Add in some hellacious top-end power accompanied by that sweet wailing multi-cylinder exhaust sound and you won’t ever want to let off the gas. With a claimed 160 horsepower at 7750 rpm and 130 lb-ft of torque at 5250 rpm, this is an engine that is as capable of crawling through towns as it is blitzing canyons.

As much fun as the engine is, it wouldn’t be worth its weight in Rands (that’s South African currency by the way) if the chassis wasn’t a perfect complement. It starts with a twin-spar aluminum bridge frame that’s suspended by a pair of hydraulic shocks via the proven combination of the Duolever front end and the Paralever shaft-drive single-sided swingarm. BMW’s Duolever continues to resist diving hard under braking but the biggest advantage is how it resists standing up when trail-braking late into turns. The shaft drive is good too. It gets the power to the 190-series Metzeler Z8 rear tire without much driveline lash and the obvious maintenance advantage associated with this layout is a benefit as well.

The GTL we rode in South Africa was equipped with the Premium Package which includes the Safety Package of Adaptive Headlights (which we didn’t get to experience during a night ride…yet), Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), tire pressure monitor and the GTL Luxury Package which consists of the Electronic Suspension Adjustment II (ESA II), central locking system, alarm and LED fog lights. While hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup last year did wonders for improving the country’s infrastructure around the bigger cities, the stretches of tarmac through the mountains aren’t always so smooth. We became very familiar with the second generation ESA II while switching on-the-fly between the Normal, Comfort and Sport settings.

The K1600GTL riding position is very relaxed. The pegs are lower and more forward than the GT stable-mate and the handle bars are swept back  TK -inches closer to the rider. This  combined with a comfortable saddle make the GTL a candidate for long  long luxury touring rides.
The K1600GTL engine gets the headlines, but the big new BMW delivers sporty handling with an impressive chassis.

Changing those settings is now a function of the new Multi Controller wheel on the left handlebar of the BMW K1600GTL. The innovative apparatus allows the rider to toggle through a wide array of menu settings without taking their hands off the controls. There is a myriad of controls now available at your fingertips ranging from the heated seat/grips, ESA II, communications, trip meters and much more.

Again, I digress so let’s get back to the riding impression. The majority of the SA roads twisted and snaked through steep, cavernous mountains of the region outside of Cape Town’s wine country before turning towards the spectacular western coastline. It’s a good thing the chassis is up to snuff because riders will be compelled to hustle this beast along all types of roads. The low CG and well balanced layout of the GTL make it surprisingly easy to snap from side-to-side, despite its claimed 767-pound curb weight. It is a real eye-opener to see a caravan of GTL luxury touring machines scything through these spectacular canyons and back roads.

In the fast sweepers and long, long switchbacks the bike maintained a level of composure that contradicts its physical size. It was a real eye-opener how well the GTL performs under sport riding conditions. Add into the mix the on-the-fly adjustability of ESA II and it doesn’t matter whether you are riding two-up, one-up, on the highway or the canyon the suspension can be tailored to suit each. It is important to note that even when you leave the bike on Normal setting it is quite compliant – it’s just so convenient to dial up the suspension you need – or want.

The removable saddle bags and top case are easy to lock  remove and close but BMW takes it a step further by offering the Central Locking System feature on the Premium Package which locks or unlocks all the cases with the touch of a finger on the right handlebar.
The K1600GTL side and top cases offer impressive storage and are more than wide enough to accommodate a helmet. All three bags are able to be locked simultaneously from the right handlebar switch.

The engine and handling of the GTL seems to take center stage but there’s much more to this motorcycle than its sport riding prowess. It has the necessary accoutrements to be a long-distance touring machine as well. From the moment riders set their butt in the comfy saddle, it has all the right stuff. The riding position is very neutral and upright. The bars are swept back and the foot controls fall in a comfortable position as well. The bike will be equipped with the lower seat on showroom floors to accommodate the shorter statured of American luxury touring motorcycle consumers but there are three different seats to choose from which offer a two-inch range of seat height.

Wind protection from the huge adjustable windscreen is great and the bodywork channels airflow around the rider effectively. At 5‘8” the windscreen was right at eye level when perched on the low seat. It was hot in the South African mountains which made for a perfect opportunity to see if the flip-out airflow ports on the side of the fairing worked or not. By simply opening the flaps on the side it channels air right into the rider’s lap and is a nice way to get some relief from the heat.

Although I found it irritating the bike is replete with Bluetooth, a full audio system, Sirius, AM/FM radio and MP3/iPod tether. You can even synch you and your partner to the bike so you never hear anything but the incessant combination of discussion, radio and driving direction if you are so inclined. The optional GPS Navigation System drops neatly into the dash but the last thing I want to hear is that Garmin voice telling me where to go via headset, so I unplugged all that stuff and went au naturale. It was cool to have MP3 tunes rocking through the dash mounted speakers for a while but Jim Jones and Ke$ha don’t have anything on the Straight Six melody. For the technophiles, they will be happy to know that there is no other motorcycle on the road with a communication and entertainment system like this one. It is impressive.

The K1600GTL has a variety of seat options available that will give potential riders a range of two inches of seat height that should accommodate riders of any inseam length.
The K1600GTL is purpose-built for luxury touring and two-up comfort, with mixed reports from testers in our riding group.
The dashboard would be right at home on an M-Series car so it is full of information and details on the motorcycle and the ride. The integrated GPS housing in the center of the dash make it very easy to use.
The dashboard would be right at home on an M-Series car, full of information and details. The integrated GPS housing in the center of the dash make it very easy to use.

There’s plenty of storage on the GTL as well. The removable saddle bags and top case are easy to lock, remove and close but BMW takes it a step further by offering the Central Locking System feature on the Premium Package which locks or unlocks all the cases with the touch of a finger on the right handlebar. Each case is capable of holding a full face helmet and then there are an additional four cubby holes, two in front and two in back that are great for cell phones, iPod or other various sundries you want quick access to.

We didn’t have the opportunity to ride with a passenger but a few editors took turns riding pillion and they came back with mixed reviews. BMW assured us there are fine-tuning adjustments in the works because the pillion accommodations are a key element to the success of the GTL. We also did not get to ride the motorcycles at night, so we cannot report on the glory of the adaptive headlight system at this time either. Stay tuned as we will be conducting a full report once we get our hands on a GTL in the states during the upcoming months.

Now, let’s switch gears and get back to the clutch and transmission. They are German engineered to be mechanically durable so in BMW style there is the precise clunk when shifting. The clutch actuation is weighted so the first bit of pull on the lever is quite light and engagement happens early in the action. A side effect of this technology is a slight pulsation at the lever when you are lugging or just starting to slow down.

It also has great brakes. Integral ABS is standard equipment on the GTL and both power and feel at the lever is very good despite being a linked ABS set-up. It isn’t a big deal but BMW chose to use clear plastic reservoirs for the hydraulic brake and clutch reservoirs and while it probably seemed like a good idea at the time, the more I looked at it the more I thought it cheapens the overall finish of the bike. The gaudy chrome plastic accessories, trim and badges that are supposedly a selling point for our market don’t do much for me either. Other than those gripes, fit and finish are what you would expect from a $20,000-$25,000 BMW motorcycle.

BMW has created what might very well be the supreme heavyweight luxury sport touring motorcycle in the 2012 BMW K1600GTL.
The K1600GTL riding position features more relaxed footpegs positioning than the GT stable-mate, and the handle bars are swept back closer to the rider.

So, yes, it appears BMW has created what might very well be the supreme heavyweight luxury sport touring motorcycle. This is a bike with no exact niche just yet but it is clearly an excellent option for riders who want to have their luxury touring with the option of super sport-touring as well. Without a doubt the K1600GTL is one of the most technologically advanced touring motorcycles we have ever ridden. In base trim it is equipped with Integral ABS, self-leveling headlamps, heated grips & seat, cruise control, on-board computer, selectable power modes, adjustable windshield, Multi-Controller, Bluetooth, audio system, top case, comfort windshield, comfort footrest and the all-important chrome body kit with an MSRP of $23,200. We went into this test expecting to discover a motorcycle that was either aimed at Honda’s Goldwing or a new generation Sport Touring motorcycle market but neither was exactly the case. The K1600GTL is a creature that is equal parts luxury liner and sport touring. It was designed with passengers in mind plus it has a low seat height which should be appealing to more mature riders.

When the sun set on our long day with the GTL it was clear this motorcycle has no peers. It is in a class all its own. Inevitably the K1600GTL will be compared to the Honda GL1800 but it is a different animal. It was designed specifically to appeal to BMW owners who are accustomed to having the best of both worlds. For the rest of the world, once they swing a leg over the GTL it is likely BMW will earn another of its coveted conquest sales.