2012 BMW K 1600 GT and GTL

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Kevin Wing, Jonathan Beck

Pieter de Waal, the vice president of BMW Motorrad USA, told us how the sporty new K 1600 GT and GTL models started out as a clean-sheet approach, with a five-year gestation. Although both the GTL and GT share most major components, they maintain separate personalities. The GTL offers more wind protection, a bigger gas tank, and a top trunk, more suited for long-distance two-up rides, while the GT has sportier ergos aimed at solo sport-touring riders.

Powertrain

BMW's autos (Have you heard? They make cars too!) are famous for their excellent inline six-cylinder engines, and the Motorrad division decided to design one for the K 1600 series. The trim engine design, which at 22 inches is narrower than any inline six-cylinder motorcycle in serial production to date, was achieved in part by spacing the cylinder sleeves just 5mm apart.

The resulting 1,649cc transverse-crankshaft DOHC inline six weighs only 226 pounds and is rated 160.5 horsepower at 7,500 rpm, redlining at 8,500 revs. Maximum torque of 129 lb-ft arrives at 5,500 rpm, and the torque band is as wide as the Rhine River, with 70 percent of max available as low as 1,500 rpm.

This engine is a jewel, with spot-on fuel injection giving superb drivability, gobs of smooth power, and very linear torque. There's almost no vibration, and the wide torque band greatly reduces the amount of gear changing needed. Clutch effort is light and the 6-speed manual transmission changes gears smoothly and easily. A Cardan shaft drive eliminates chain maintenance, but there is some driveline slack that causes a clack-clack noise when you abruptly roll on and off the throttle.

Reasonable fuel consumption was a design goal, and we found that mileage was similar to many motorcycles with smaller engines and less power. Using the onboard computer we noted about 38 mpg when riding aggressively, up to about 44 mpg when cruising, with an average of 41. This nets a usable range of 200 miles or more.

Exhaust exits via a six-into-two system with dual catalysts and silencers tucked beneath the saddlebags. The GT has a more aggressive engine tune and slightly louder mufflers, but both models make sweet music!

Chassis and Handling

An aluminum, bridge-type frame and rear sub-frame help pare weight. BMW's Duolever front end and Paralever rear suspension, with a single-sided swingarm, ably connect the bike with the road. These proven designs work well, reducing front-end dive under braking while delivering good stability and ride quality.

Handling is confidence-inspiring; both models turn in readily with a neutral feel and hold a line easily through turns. Our test bikes had Metzeler Roadtec Z8 and Bridgestone BT021 tires, which grip and track nicely. Despite weighing more than 700 pounds the big machines feel lighter as soon as you get moving, thanks to well-centralized mass and a fairly low center of gravity. You'll become aware of their weight, however, when you have to flick them rapidly and repeatedly from side to side in twisties.

With all that power you can pick up a lot of speed. Fortunately, both models come with BMW's latest ABS, four-piston calipers, and dual front discs as standard. The powerful binders are easy to modulate, don't require a lot of effort, and stop consistently without fading.

You'll find a slew of standard and optional electronic systems, such as GPS, tire-pressure monitoring, and central locking. BMW's E-Gas throttle-by-wire interfaces with cruise control and Dynamic Traction Control (DTC). DTC lets the rider select three distinct power modes: rain, standard and dynamic (sporty) with the touch of a button. Switching from rain to normal to dynamic modes yields ever-quicker throttle response and more power. Sometimes DTC is a little too sensitive and intervention lasts too long, but it certainly does work to prevent wheelspin. DTC now employs a gyroscopic sensor, which is also used with the Adaptive Headlight (see sidebar), to detect lean angle, in addition to wheel-speed sensors.

With Electronic Suspension Adjustment II (ESA II) the rider can press a button to adjust front and rear rebound damping, plus rear-spring preload and rate. There are many combinations - comfort, normal and sport-damping - and each can be used with solo rider, solo with luggage, and passenger with luggage-preload settings. These are available on the fly and let riders tune the suspension to changing loads, road conditions, and speeds. Only the GTL offers DTC and ESA II as standard.

The plusher comfort setting is great for long-distance riding over choppy pavement. Switching the suspension to the sport setting is firmer, but still comfortable. For aggressive solo riding you can select the two-up position, which raises the ride height for more ground clearance and firms the ride for sporty forays.

Features and Ergonomics

Both models have an extensive range of standard features, including xenon headlamps, heated grips and seat, cruise control, and an alphabet soup of electronic aids. Counting the ABS, DTC and the alarm system, all together there's a total of 16 control units on the CAN-bus communication network.

The dash panel comprises two analog gauges for the speedo and tach, plus a TFT color display that has every conceivable readout. The audio system, optional on GT, can interface with an iPod, MP3, USB, Bluetooth, GPS, FM and satellite radio, and sounds great. The switches, settings and multi-controller, however, have so many features they should require a training session.

While both models have standard 33-liter saddlebags, the GTL adds a 49-liter top trunk with passenger backrest. You can stow a full-face helmet in either side, and the trunk has lots of space. Central locking with an alarm and remote control for the storage compartments, panniers and topcase is optional.

Ergonomics differ noticeably between models. The GTL rider sits more upright, with a lower saddle, footpegs slightly forward, and handgrips 2 inches aft, compared with the more aggressive posture on the GT. While GTL passengers get a comfy backrest and armrests, the thinly padded GTL front seat is rock hard. Riders taller than 5 feet 10 inches will prefer the higher, plusher GT seat, or the taller optional GTL seat. Seats are not interchangeable between models.

Windscreen coverage on the GTL is excellent, although at its highest position there's noticeable back pressure and buffeting. The GT's windscreen is lower and narrower, with a U-shape at the top that lets the rider peer over it. There's little buffeting and no back pressure but less wind protection. A pair of wind deflectors just forward of the rider's knees can be flipped outward to direct air onto your body in hot weather. They work surprisingly well, but it's all or nothing; a middle setting would be nice.

Final Thoughts

With the K 1600 series, BMW has truly raised the bar, producing highly sophisticated, powerful and agile motorcycles. The model allocation for the U.S. market is about 70 percent GTL and 30 percent GT versions. Whether you choose the slightly sportier GT, or the more-luxurious GTL, both models deliver loads of silky smooth power, high-tech features, and true refinement. Either way you get excellent performance, long-distance comfort, and top-notch ride and handling in a classy machine that's sure to go down in history as a milestone motorcycle.  

Adaptive Headlight

The K 1600 is the first motorcycle to offer an Adaptive Headlight as an option. The center xenon high-intensity discharge (HID) light is flanked by a pair of halogen high beams with white fiber-optic surrounds similar to BMW cars. The HID beam reflects off a mirror that's moved by a fast servo motor. With the standard system, level sensors signal the control unit, which only aims the beam up or down to compensate for acceleration, braking and load. BMW's optional Adaptive Headlight adds another control unit, which communicates with a gyroscopic sensor. In addition to standard pitch compensation the main lamp adjusts its aiming point for lean angle. Whenever leaning is detected the headlamp's mirror directs the light beam into the curve, even in really tight corners. We had a chance to try it out on dark rural roads and it worked seamlessly, lighting the way through curves like never before.