BMW K1600 GTL – A Tale of Two Bikes

Its a widely known fact that BMW are really rather good at building touring motorcycles. Yes, nowadays they may be better know for producing round-the-world motorcycles and litre sportsbikes that are now teaching the Japanese a thing or two, but look through BMW’s past and its always been touring that’s been their trump card. In recent years, other manufacturers have caught up, and in some cases surpassed BMW, particularly in the luxury section of the market. Their rapidly aging K1200 LT was getting very long in the tooth and its main rival – the Honda Goldwing – has exceeded it both in performance and luxury. But now, 12 years after launching the LT, BMW has finally brought something new to the party – the K1600 GTL.

The new K1600 GTL - a powerhouse

In launching the new K1600 GT & GTL, BMW have developed a whole new 1649cc six cylinder engine, which is mounted transversely across the frame. On paper this could sound like an absolute monstrosity of a machine, but when you see this bike, its hard to believe that lurking under its clean lines and streamlined bodywork, rests a mammoth engine. Working closely with their four wheeled colleagues, BMW have created an engine that has once again raised the bar in terms of power, performance, smoothness and packaging. It is only 2.6 inches wider than their K1300 engine, which itself was a very compact unit. It produces 158 bhp and 175 Nm of torque which in a motorcycle weighing just over 270 kgs leads to impressive performance.

Turbine smooth, and sounds like nothing else above 7,700 rpm

In addition to the class leading engineering on this bike, there is also, as you would expect, a huge list of options and specs available. ABS is of course standard, as is heated grips, heated seats, an electrically adjustable windshield, a Xenon headlamp with dynamic levelling and a mutlifunction dash display. The integrated panniers easily swallow enough luggage, and can easily take a full face helmet on each side – the GTL also comes with an enormous top case with an integrated pillion back rest. Other neat features on the bike include a USB connection for your iPod and also a multifunction track wheel on the left grip that allows you to easily flick through different music tracks or other functions onboard.

Forget CD's, the GTL will now accept your iPod

Getting onto the GTL for the first time, its easy to spot the difference between to GT and GTL. Pegs are slightly lower and bars are slightly nearer on the GTL, giving a more relaxed and less sporty riding position. That said, pulling out onto the road, any worries one would have about the mass of this bike quickly goes. It feels nimble and light on smaller roads, and the fly-by-wire throttle is easy enough to get used to (I found it slightly strange when pulling off in first gear on the first few occasions). Once onto some more open roads, opening up the taps on this engine moves the bike forward at a pace that is almost hard to fathom on a bike of this size. It propels itself forward at almost comical rates. The power comes effortlessly from way down in every gear, and not once does it give them impression that it may be struggling. Hitting the twistier roads, the ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) gets moved into Sport mode and now the GTL is devouring corners, tempting me to push it more and more. It could be easy to lose the run of yourself on this bike, but a quick dab of the brakes immediately pulls it back into line.

All new dash design from BMW displays a host of information

As fun as the 1600 is on fast back roads, this machine is really built for crossing continents – which I can imagine it does with almost zero effort. Putting up the wide screen protects the rider almost completely from any wind buffeting, while the GTL’s seat offers just enough lower back support to make any long trip seem a cinch. The single thing about the BMW that sticks in my mind is the engine. Its almost Jeckyll & Hyde in terms of its performance – docile and relaxed one moment, then full on rocketship the next. And it has a refinement that most four cylinder engines could only dream of. It is physically bigger than some of the other more well know touring bikes, but after only a couple of hours on the BMW, its clear to see that once again the boffins in Munich have firmly raised the bar. Not only should the K1600 be considered a rival to the Goldwing, but also to smaller tourers such as Kawasaki’s 1400 GTR, such is the performance of this machine.

Xenon headlights self-adjust to follow the contours of the road ahead

The BMW K1600 GTL costs €23,750 OTR, and is available from Keary’s Motorrad and other BMW dealers nationwide. Special thanks to Alan O’Connor of Keary’s for supplying the bike and showing me some fantastic roads in and around Cork.