2011 BMW K1600GT

BMW’s new wunderkind pushes motorcycling’s sport-touring envelope. Six cylinders, 160 horsepower and enough electronic wizardry to satisfy James Bond.

The Specs

2011 BMW K1600GT

Type of vehicle: Sport-tourer

Engine: 1.6L DOHC six-cylinder

Power: 160horsepower at 6,000 r.p.m; 125 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 r.p.m.

Transmission: Six-speed, shaft drive

Brakes: ABS

Tires: 120/70ZR17; 190/55ZR17

Price: from $24,100

Standard features: Heated grips, ABS, heated saddle, electrically adjustable windshield, side cases, Xenon headlights

“Be careful with the throttle – it’s drive-by-wire, and twitchy”, warned the demo bike wrangler from BMW as he handed over the keys to a new, 2011 BMW K1600GT.  Gingerly nursing the throttle, I eased the K-bike onto the busy arterial road and merged into traffic, heading for a 300-kilometre test ride through Central Alberta.  Picking up speed, BMW’s new flagship sport-tourer, with an all-new 1600 c.c. DOHC inline six-cylinder rated at 160 horsepower, actually feels docile.

My first impression is, “This isn’t bad – power delivery is as friendly as a pussycat.”  That is, until I realized the K is in ‘Rain’ driving mode, which cuts engine power, slows throttle response and alters the electronics managing the traction control.  Once I change the drive from ‘Rain’ to ‘Road’ mode, the GT shucks its Clark Kent demeanour and its Superman persona emerges.  And things begin to happen very, very quickly.

With the 2011 K1600GT, BMW has unleashed an impressive motorcycle that has enough techno-wizardry to satisfy super spy 007, James Bond.

The inline 1600 c.c. DOHC six-cylinder engine is the centrepiece of the new K-bike.  BMW is hoping its reputation for building some of the sweetest engines in the auto industry –smooth and powerful inline sixes – will translate into a desirable and very unique motorcycle.

BMW says the new inline six produces 70-percent of its torque at a mere 1500 rpm, but this is one engine that likes to rev.  At 5,000 rpm the six comes alive and sound from the air intake and exhaust combine to produce an intoxicating moan unlike anything else in motorcycling.  Enjoy that mechanical music in town, though, because on the highway, the windscreen, which gives decent protection, produces a turbulent airstream to the helmet, and riders will be wearing ear plugs on tour.

Design-wise, the K1600GT has muscular, good looks and styling cues shared with the handsome R1200RT.  It’s bodywork is less bulbous than the K1300GT, which continues to be sold alongside the new machine for now.

In the saddle, the K has slightly sporting ergonomics.  The handlebars require a modest forward lean and footpegs are positioned comfortably rearward.  The K16’s ergos are comfortable and relatively upright.

All of the K1600GT’s technological features come at a cost.  The left handlebar is packed solid with controls:  the multi-controller rotary dial for scrolling through and selecting from the digital menu; menu button; turn signal; horn; cruise control on/off; cruise control resume/set; electric windscreen; and hazard flasher.  The right handlebar houses the control for power mode (Rain/Road/Dynamic), which adjusts throttle response, power output, and traction control.

With the optional ESA (electronic suspension adjustment) set at Comfort, the GT rides well, and impressively soaks up large road imperfections.  Engaging in a short, speedy blast on a weather worn, country road, the K starts feeling ‘floaty’, but that’s at high speed and in the Comfort setting.  Switch to Normal suspension mode and the bike settles down nicely.

Typical K1600GT customers are serious touring riders, the type to say, “Vancouver is only 1200 kilometers.  If we leave early, we can make Granville Island for a late supper.”   So comfort, weather protection and luggage capacity are priorities, and the K1600GT scores well here.  Two-and-a-half hours in the saddle revealed no issues with the seat design and weather protection is a good compromise for a sport-tourer. The windscreen gives good protection, but isn’t perfect.  The top edge of the screen is ‘V’ shaped and allows the rider to look through the cut, and produces turbulence.  As for luggage capacity, the standard side cases are spacious and hold the requisite full-face helmet.

On the road, the K1600GT is easy to love.  Handling, especially navigating low speed corners, is impressive.  Large motorcycles are often intimidating because they feel top heavy, particularly at low speeds.  Not the K1600GT, which takes slow turns confidently and without feeling it wants to fall into the corner.

For me, BMW’s new flagship sport-tourer has a few design issues.  The instrument’s LCD readout gauges are hard to read in bright sun.  Opening the bags requires an annoying 3-step process.  And the OEM horn. . .how do I say this politely?  The K’s horn sounds like a wounded goose being smothered with a pillow while being strangled.  It’s pitiful.

Nevertheless, the new K1600GT provides everything sport-touring riders want in a machine.  Comfort, weather protection, numerous features to tailor the bike for different on-road circumstances, power to spare, all wrapped in stylish package.  When all is said and done, the 2011 BMW K1600GT is the undisputed new benchmark of the sport-touring class.

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