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BMW goes big with K1600GTL

2012-06-11 10:39

PUTTING THE LUXURY BACK IN TOURER: The BMW K1600GTL is the bike maker's biggest and baddest, most sophisticated and luxurious, yet.


The BMW K1600GTL is a bike best defined in superlatives: it'sthe biggest, heaviest, most expensive, most sophisticated, most luxurious and most comfortable bike I have ever tested. It has more cylinders, more torque, more electronic wizardry and more crowd-gathering magnetism that anything I have ridden before.

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One of the obvious spin-offs of writing motorcycle reviews is the fact that I get to ride a variety of bikes. I've tested machines ranging from tiny, underpowered scooters to insanely powerful hyper bikes, and I can quite honestly say that I have never been intimidated by any particular bike – until I climbed on the GTL.

The sheer size and weight of the beast, the unusual feel of the combination of BMW's Duolever suspension and the radically swept-back handlebars, and the staggering array of information available on the instrument panel all combined to cause a bad case of sensory overload.


In all fairness to the BMW, though, it only lasted as long as it took to get the bike up to the speed of the surrounding traffic. In motion, the GTL turned out to be a surprisingly dynamic bike for its size, endowed with sprightly performance despite its almost 350kg wet weight.

When you switch on the ignition the first thing that attracts your attention is is the audio system which turns on automatically (if you don't want to listen to the radio or your favourite MP3s you have to switch it off manually using the audio control buttons on the left-hand side of the fairing). You have the choice of either listening through the speakers or through a headset via Bluetooth. Going the former route I have found that you can comfortably listen at up to the national speed limit, provided you set the electrically-adjustable windscreen to its highest setting.

The Multi Controller wheel on the left handlebar controls a staggering variety of electronic functions available on the bike, including the audio volume, the information system and, if the bike is so equipped (as the review model was), the electronic suspension adjustment and the dash-mounted GPS. Simple and intuitive, it allows you to control just about everything on the bike without having to remove a hand from the bar.

The seat is firm (without being hard) and well-contoured, which results in an extremely comfortable ride. Although I initially thought it to be too low, the riding position is very neutral and upright. Despite the low seat, the bike feels more like a sports tourer than a cruiser, an impression  further reinforced by its surprisingly nimble handling.


The GTL is fitted with a mind-blowing list of convenience features. Standard equipment includes cruise control, ABS and five levels of heating for the seats and grips. Ample luggage space is provided by voluminous, easily detachable panniers and a top box. On a bike offering 212kg of available payload capacity, this means you can take everything bar the kitchen sink when you hit the open road.

In addition to the standard features, the review bike also had a directional headlight that will quite literally shine around a bend, the aforementioned electronically adjustable suspension, LED spotlights and central locking for the topbox and panniers.

Performance comes courtesy of a 1600cc six-cylinder mill. BMW has gone all-out to make the motor as compact as possible – to the extent that there is apparently only 5mm of material between the two cylinder banks. From a rider's perspective, the engine is butter-smooth and the sound, especially under load, is nothing short of symphonic. With 175 Nm torque on tap, the bike obviously pulls like a steam locomotive. What makes it all the more enjoyable is the fact that a good portion of that is available from as low as 1200rpm.

Everything in this bike combines to conjure up visions of twisty mountain passes and long, straight Karoo roads. In the late 1970's BMW practically defined the tourer class and the brand's experience in this field is evident in the K1600GTL. An horizon-muncher par excellence thanks to its extreme levels of comfort and copious luggage space, it fairly begs you to take it to explore distant horizons.



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