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Review: BMW's K1600GTL, featuring headlights that look around the corners

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April 2, 2013

The BMW K1600GTL (Photo: Loz Blain)

The BMW K1600GTL (Photo: Loz Blain)

Image Gallery (31 images)

The BMW K1600GTL is a luxury mega-tourer. It falls into that category of bikes that has next to zero relevance to me at this point in my riding life cycle, as I've got no current plans to circumnavigate Australia or have a crack at the Saddlesore 1000. And yet I've actually been hanging out to get my hands on one of these things, because it features what I'd call the single coolest innovation I've seen on a motorcycle since I first put aside my prejudices and felt just how good the Piaggio MP3 tilting 3-wheeler is to ride. It's the second coolest thing I've thrown a leg over this week.

We'll get to the headlight later. To start with, the GTL is a bit of a beast when it comes to basic specs. It starts with a 1649cc, inline 6-cylinder engine block that by all rights should make the bike a barrel-chested brute of a thing like Honda's old CBX. Except that it doesn't. Despite more than a whole supersport bike's worth of extra engine capacity, the K1600 engine barely makes itself noticed poking out of the fairings. You'd easily mistake it for a K1300 4-cylinder job if it didn't have a big chrome 6 on it, and BMW tout it as the lightest and narrowest 6-cylinder engine ever mass produced for a liter-plus motorbike.

The BMW K1600GTL - the 6-cylinder engine is narrow and light (Photo: Loz Blain)

Tilted forward at a slightly odd-looking 50 degrees, the motor produces a healthy 158 horsepower and a stonking 175 newton-meters of torque, while revving out to around 8500 rpm. That's more than enough to make light work of the GTL's 348 kg wet weight – pulling power simply never feels like an issue and I'd happily hook up a caravan if I couldn't already make camp in the huge luggage allotment.

The BMW K1600GTL - spacious removable top box with passenger backrest (Photo: Loz Blain)

K1600GT vs K1600GTL

The GTL is the luxury upgrade to the K1600GT. As such it features slightly altered ergonomics for a more upright riding stance, and a standard top-box with built in passenger backrest. I didn't personally get along so well with the seating position, I found it made me slump a bit – but that's very much a personal thing. For reference, I'm a shade under 6 foot and weigh around 110 kg. None of the passengers I took out on the GTL had any complaints whatsoever. They're looked after with a big wide seat, nice chunky footrests and that most effective of selling points, the sturdy, reliable backrest.

The BMW K1600GTL - inbuilt lockable phone compartment with USB charger that interfaces wit...

The luggage is enormous and spacious. Each of the removable side panniers will fit an XL helmet with room to spare, and you can fit two more lids in the top box. The top box is also removable, although you have to rummage around underneath all your stuff to get to the latch. There's also another two small compartments in the side fairings big enough for phones, wallets and the like – one of them has a built-in USB charger with an iPhone connection. Each of the luggage compartments opens at the touch of a button, and since there's so many, BMW has endowed the K1600GTL with central locking off the key fob so you can lock and unlock them all at once.

The BMW K1600GTL - dash and cockpit, with touch screen GPS (Photo: Loz Blain)

Audio system

The GTL also comes with a standard audio system (pretty much every extra on the GTL bar the ergonomics are options on the GT) that's nicely integrated into the bike's multi-control menu and operable off a toggle and scroll wheel on the left handlebar that's quite nice to use once you get the hang of it. The stereo on our test bike came pre-set on our local hits and memories station – and that felt pretty much spot on, so that's where it stayed.

The audio system shares is also integrated with the in-dash, touch screen GPS, and can also plug into an iPhone or other USB audio player, complete with the ability to choose tracks directly through the dashboard menu. And if that wasn't enough, the whole thing is Bluetooth enabled so that if your tunes are lost in the wind noise of freeway riding, you can pipe them straight into your Bluetooth helmet. Bodacious.

I'm not usually the kind of rider that likes listening to music as I go, but I thought I'd give it a go. The stereo adjusts its volume to account for wind noise as you speed up, and it sounds great around town. But at freeways speeds it gets pretty difficult to hear through a full face lid. And it's also easy to forget you're on a motorbike – I pulled up and parked outside a university campus at one point and wondered why everyone was staring at me … it took a minute to remember that it's not normal for motorcycles to blast "Money for Nothing" at ear-splitting volumes. Whoops.

Other gadgetry

BMW makes a good argument for consideration as the most technology-forward motorcycle company in the world. And the K1600GTL is more or less its technology flagship. So here's a quick rundown of some other gadgets it features that you wouldn't ordinarily find on your motorcycle:

Fully electronic cruise control – I can't stress enough how lovely it is to have a good cruise system on a bike. You can rest your wrists on the highway, or just use it to keep yourself under your local area's idiot-friendly speed limits.

Electronically operated suspension – this makes quite a noticeable difference. Set on "comfort" you can enjoy a nice soft ride that cushions the bumps on a highway very nicely but decks out the centerstand fairly early if you try to ride it hard. Pop it on sport, and the whole thing firms itself up to let you turn much more aggressively in the twisties.

Tyre pressure warning system – over the years I've developed the ability to tell when my bikes are maybe 4-5psi down on tire pressure. This system takes away the need.

The BMW K1600GTL (Photo: Loz Blain)

Electrically adjustable touring screen – honestly, this is one of the most annoying features of this bike for me. I don't like screens much at the best of times, but the GTL's is a shocker. You have to drop it all the way down if you want to see the road surface in front of you clearly, but when you do, it forces a lumpy stream of buffeting wind right at your helmet. Raise it up higher and the buffeting wind disappears, but you have to look at the road through a curved bit of perspex, and it also creates a slight negative air pressure hole that draws your upper body forward at freeway speeds. There's probably an aftermarket fix out there but I spent a lot of time fiddling with the switch that I could have spent concentrating on other stuff.

Switchable engine mappings, ABS and traction control – almost not worth a mention given how common these features are becoming on modern motorcycles, but all three systems work well here. Unfortunately it's a bit of a slog to go and turn off the traction control if you want to chuck a wheelie – but that's probably for the best.

The BMW K1600GTL (Photo: Loz Blain)

The ride

You've doubtless read a tonne of other megatourer reviews that praise the way these behemoths handle once they're moving – and this is a fantastic example. At 348 kg (767 lbs), there's no getting around the fact that the GTL is a handful to push around. You'd better think about where you park it, and if you end up nosed into a downhill parking spot, you may well need help to get the big bugger out.

Slip the clutch and get it moving though, and from walking pace upward the big K handles beautifully. At low speeds it's responsive and maneuverable enough to do figure-8s on, or dodge around blockages while you're lane-splitting in stopped traffic.

Credit for the K1600GTL's superb steering has to go at least partially to Norman Hassock – BMW basically out-waited the patent life of the Hossack front end suspension system and re-branded it as "Duolever." It works superbly to deliver pinpoint-sharp steering at all speeds, to eliminate front-end dive under braking and maintain constant steering geometry under all conditions.

The BMW K1600GTL - ABS braking (Photo: Loz Blain)

Riding the GTL hard in the twisties, you're certainly aware you're on a weighty bike – particularly when you have to pull up hard from high speed for a corner entry. But the big ABS brakes are up for the job, and the bike's steering is light as a feather at all times, so it's actually a pleasure to play, even if its performance envelope is well down on sportier machines.

Firing it out of turns is also quite a pleasure thanks to the surprisingly loud and throaty engine roar that develops when you wind the K1600 up – and there's muscle aplenty to trouble the traction control as you do.

I will note that the GTL suffers a little from what I'd term overapplication of the luxury brush. I don't like it in cars either – there's a big difference between the immediacy and responsiveness and instant feedback of a sportscar, and the soft, neutered, unmechanical feel through the pedal of some luxury cars. In the K1600GTL, this manifests as a vagueness through the clutch lever that makes it difficult to find the clutch point, and a weird sense of disconnection between the throttle and the engine. It might add a touch of "class" to the feel of the ride, but I didn't appreciate stalling this giant thing more than a dozen times, often in embarrassing places. And I'm not a bloke that normally stalls bikes.

BMW's excellent adaptive headlight

The Headlights

And now, with all that riding around rubbish out of the way, we get to the best bit. The K1600 series is the first in the world to feature an optional adaptive headlight that freakin' looks around the corners when you tip in.

Here's the problem – headlights are designed to illuminate as much of the road in front of you as possible, but without shining directly in the eyes of other road users coming the other way. So they cut off with a horizontal line. Of course, when you lean a motorbike into a turn, that horizon line tilts with the bike, putting the side that you're turning towards downward and basically ensuring that you can't see where you're going:

Standard headlight, showing how you lose visibility when you dip into a corner.

So you've got to hit the high beams or fit special driving lights so that when you go riding in the twisties at night, you can actually see a bit.

Not with this little black duck. BMW's ingenious adaptive headlight system shines a constant beam into a tillable mirror. When you turn the bike on, it tests the mirror by scanning the headlight up and down, and when the bike's inbuilt lean angle sensors tell it you're tipping the bike in to a corner, it tilts the headlight the opposite way to maintain a constant horizontal beam.

BMW's excellent adaptive headlight

Does it work? Hell yes. So nicely you can hardly tell it's doing anything at all unless you're actively concentrating on it and trying to catch it moving. Sure, it's an added complication when it comes to long-term servicing, but as a safety feature for night-time riding on bendy roads, I wish I could retro-fit it to every bike I own.

The BMW K1600GTL (Photo: Loz Blain)

Conclusions

BMW's K1600GTL is at the sportier end of the luxury mega-tourer market, particularly placed next to the Honda Goldwing. At an MSRP of US$23,650 (including ABS) it's slightly cheaper, some 50 kilograms lighter and nearly 50 horsepower up on the big Honda GL1800. Its outstanding suspension caters nicely for comfort while being ready to flat-out boogie in the twisties.

It features pretty much every gadget known to man, nicely integrated into a sweet control system. It gives a really sweet combination of "king of the road" feeling and light, nimble steering. And it has headlights that look around the freakin' corners. That's enough for me. I'm a fan. Enjoy our photo gallery!

About the Author
Loz Blain Loz loves motorcycles - at the age of two, he told his mother "don't want brother, want mogabike." It was the biker connection that first brought Loz to Gizmag, but since then he's covered everything from alternative energy and weapons to medicine, marital aids - and of course, motorcycles. Loz also produces a number of video pieces for Gizmag, including his beloved bike reviews. He frequently disappears for weeks at a time to go touring with his vocal band Suade.   All articles by Loz Blain
Tags
8 Comments

Awesome, sexy ride. BMW as always at its throttle.

Web Edge
2nd April, 2013 @ 04:43 am PDT

Interesting bike. I'll have to do some more research to compare the BMW with my GoldWing. Unfortunately, some details are rarely included in the reviews or dealer websites. While I can usually dig up the facts for comparing the luggage space and gas mileage and drive train, it is very difficult to find out how much noise it makes. Need a quiet bike to keep my neighbors happy.

GreggN
3rd April, 2013 @ 09:48 am PDT

One of those BMWs would have made my Saddlesore 1000 a lot more tolerable. Oracle, AZ to Houston, TX in July, on a 23-year-old GL 1000. I could even see doing the Bunburner Gold on one of those.

Joe Henderson
3rd April, 2013 @ 11:24 am PDT

It's a motorcycle so it's dangerous especially if you're just learning to ride. Every safety feature you can give it is reason to applaud. Good looking bike.

Gargamoth
3rd April, 2013 @ 12:45 pm PDT

As always,nice write up Loz. As a rider closing in on 50 years & 400,000 miles,one's motorcycles and chain saws are getting smaller and lighter.

Instead of 900 lb. masses of complications,countless gizmos, & electronics,some of us yearn for a modern,simple,lightweight (425 lbs. wet) 800cc with good handling and reasonable price. Just have a drive shaft,a 20 minute valve adjustment and reliability. Didn't really even need a starter,as the 80's Aireheads kicked/started so easily.

Back to the future!

chidrbmt
3rd April, 2013 @ 01:10 pm PDT

I love this bike,but would love this engine in a enclosed motorcycle or the BMW Simple concept,wow what a ride that would be.Is it me,it seems know one see's the incredible beauty and ride experience in a aerodynamically enclosed body.The advantages,quiet ride,double the fuel economy,more speed[not that you need it,but aerodynamics do create a lot less drag and normal motorcycles are not very efficient in cutting through the wind.Safety would be vastly improved,a body verses your body grinding on the pavement at 70 mph,I have fallen off at 70,it not pretty and then they stick you in a tub,using brushes to get the asphalt,dirt,sand out of the huge burns you now have.So lets build some really nice enclosed motorcycles or how about the 4MC 4 wheel concept,it consists of a narrow 4 wheel tilting chassis,so you have 2 times the contact patch,twice the braking,it stands up by inself,so enclosing it,you don't need GYRO'S or OUTRIGGER'S like the Lit Motors C-1 or the Peraves Monotracer.Slick enclosed aerodynamic motorcycles should be on the design boards now,let us hope someone see's the advantages and brings one too market.I think the 4 MC type chassis would eliminate the standing at stopping while still being just as narrow as a regular motorcycle,so in a enclosed body,you wouldn't know it has 4 wheels,and with the tilting the handling is fool proof and fast,with increased safety.Hope somebody agree's with me.

Thomas Lewis
22nd April, 2013 @ 05:25 am PDT

Based on the article written by Loz, and several other write ups, I purchased the 2013 BMW GTL. On delivery, the rev counter did not work, however, took the bike as the salesman convinced me that it may be new, so after a ride, it would reset - no chance. the motorcycle is stunning - powerful, gracious and definatley a world tourer - until, I reach 120km's and suddenly my head was being pushed from side to side and no matter where I set the screen, my head was being bobbing in the wind - after an email discussion with the saleman, I was advised to adjust the air-intake on the fairings - which i duly did and - still the same - I am 6 foot, so maybe when BMW tests the bikes, they use 5foot people - I don't know -but when I went to collect the bike after hassles with the BMW dealer - the cons out weighed the pros and I returned the bike to the dealer with a huge loss on my refund despite only 200km's on the clock and the bike being parked at BMW as long as I had it (A week each way) - do insist on a test ride and don;t believe everything a saleman tells you - test it for yourself before you buy as to return, is a massive dent in ones bank balance.

GaryL
19th August, 2013 @ 01:35 am PDT

I wish BMW would build a nice enclosed motorcycle or tilter like the Simple ,except with weight shift type tilting,not the Carver.That 6 in a sleek aerodynamic body,wow !!!

Thomas Lewis
8th September, 2013 @ 11:07 pm PDT
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