2018 BMW K 1600 B: A Fresh Perspective

Text: Jeff Buchanan • Photography: Kevin Wing

Since its earliest days, BMW motorcycles have fostered a reputation as touring mounts, the machines synonymous with world travel and adventure. There is really only one category in which the German mark hasn’t had a presence: the realm of heavy cruiser in the great American landscape. That’s about to change with the introduction of the K 1600 B.

The concept of baggers is indigenous to America, the category born out of the vastness of the country and the romantic allure of the open road—the highways that crisscross the contiguous 50 states influencing a specific type of machine built for long-haul comfort. Despite some flirtations from foreign manufacturers, it’s been the stalwart American brands that have enjoyed a kind of mythical stranglehold on the class, espousing large displacement V-twins with heavy stances. BMW boldly enters the bagger fray with a unique approach; a marriage between the mechanical sophistication of their K 1600 and the immense U.S. road system. The result is an elegant, laid-back bagger that defies the accepted norms of the category.

Powertrain and Performance

Paying homage to the aura of baggers BMW has bathed its new machine in black, from the engine and chassis to the stretched, drop-shaped bodywork and side cases. However, that’s where the bow to tradition ends. Whereas chugging V-twins are what have defined the category, the BMW’s new mount is saddled with its superlative 1,649cc in-line six-cylinder DOHC engine. The seamless sewing-machine operation of the powerplant offers unmatched smoothness and exceptional performance. It’s not merely a matter of the formidable 160 hp that makes the K 1600 B appealing for bagging, but the fact that the virtually vibration-free delivery of power greatly reduces rider fatigue over a long day of riding. With a wet weight of 741 pounds, the K 1600 B is between 40 to 130 pounds lighter than the other bikes in its class, such as the Indian Chieftain and Harley-Davidson Street Glide, and in some cases possessing close to twice the horsepower, effectively making the BMW a muscle bagger. Perhaps the only negative is the fast-revving engine, which takes getting used to in order to avoid over-revving on pull away from dead stop. 

The K 1600 B has three riding modes: Rain, Road, and Dynamic, all available on the fly with an easy-to-reach right handlebar button. Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) functions autonomously with each of the engine modes for optimum riding performance and safety. The six-speed transmission provides succinct shifts and can be augmented with the optional Shift Assist Pro. Although developed for racing, the option provides smooth, clutchless up- and downshifts that eliminates the centrifugal whip transmitted to the passenger during gear changes. There’s an optional Reverse Assist, which greatly eases backing into or out of a parking space, especially if on a slant or incline. 

Chassis and Handling

The B model uses the aluminum bridge frame of its K 1600 brethren, with a lowered, sloping subframe that places the passenger a full 70 millimeters lower than the GT. The result is a bagger with adept handling characteristics. The fairing is a carryover from the GT, fitted with a cut-down windscreen (electronically adjustable) that maintains the sleek design flow of the bike. Large diameter chrome-plated exhaust pipes carry the growl of the in-line six-cylinder, albeit at a conservative decibel—making one wonder what sort of sonorous exhaust note after-market pipes will unleash. 

Front suspension is handled by BMW’s proven duolever system while the rear is a signature paralever. The two systems are augmented with electronically controlled Dynamic ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) with Road and Cruise modes; the Road mode offering the highest level of comfort and traction, while Cruise grants the bagger gentler damping. 

The BMW is a pleasure and surprise to ride, not restricted to any one mannerism or characteristic, mirroring the attitude of a genuine dyed in the wool bagger/cruiser, while possessing a sporting demeanor when called upon, with plenty of lean-angle clearance (not a single body part touched down over 450 miles of Smoky Mountain backroads). The front end steers with sportbike precision, responding to the slightest rider inputs and delivering immediate feel with the front tire. The bagger is incredibly stable under hard braking courtesy of twin 320-millimeter rotors on the front, mated to four-piston calipers, and a single 320-millimeter unit on the rear, both ends married to BMW’s cornering-optimized ABS Pro. The end result is a motorcycle that defies convention and is surprisingly adaptable to a variety of riding preferences.

Aside from impressive performance at highway speeds, the bagger, due its low weight, responsive engine and agile handling, has an ease of maneuverability at extremely low speed—often the bane of big bikes. The torque of the engine and the precise feel of clutch engagement all contribute to confidence in that troubling zone of stop and go traffic, which can take a toll on a rider in very short order.

The smooth operation and ease of riding inherent with the K 1600 B is invitation to travel, especially welcome on America’s lovely, yet often very long stretches of road. The B machine can be lugged along at low rpm, soaking up the miles in laid-back cruising (with optional rider floorboards rendering a classic feet-forward riding position) or easily transition to a more sporting nature simply by turning up the wick. The K 1600 B is a touring motorcycle with a great deal on tap in terms of pure riding enjoyment, expressed in a classy and unique package. Naturally, BMW has an extensive array of options to shape the machine to individual tastes (yet another bagger prerogative), from adaptive headlight and keyless ride to Hill Start Control and central locking. 

Wrapping It up

The BMW K 1600 B brings a stature of rarefied air to the bagger segment, with its exclusive in-line six-cylinder powerplant in a realm traditionally given to large displacement twins. It will be interesting to see just who the K 1600 B appeals to in terms of sales. The base price of $ 19,995 will certainly be a factor in attracting riders. It’s a lot of motorcycle for the money. Whether it’s hardcore American V-twin riders ready to experience a new level of performance, enthusiasts tired of cramping themselves onto sportbikes, or new riders unbound by loyalties, BMW is certain to secure a niche in a segment long dominated by sentimentality—provided that potentially stubborn attitudes as to what a bagger is supposed to be can be renewed to what a bagger can be.