It has been four decades since BMW introduced the K 100, its first motorcycle powered by a liquid-cooled in-line 4-cylinder engine. Known as the “Flying Brick,” the 987cc Four was laid on its side, with the cylinder head on the left and the crankshaft on the right. In 1988, the K 100 became the first motorcycle equipped with anti-lock brakes.
From such humble, idiosyncratic roots grew a K Series family tree with many branches, including the K 75 (essentially a K 100 with a cylinder lopped off), the futuristic K 1 (winner of Rider’s first Motorcycle of the Year award in 1990), the 167-hp K 1200 S sportbike (its transverse-mounted engine marked the end of the “Flying Brick” era), and the opulent K 1200 LT luxury-tourer (available with such options as a CD changer and a small refrigerator).
BMW gave its K Series a clean-sheet reboot for 2012 when it launched the K 1600 GT sport-tourer and K 1600 GTL luxury-tourer. Compared to its K 1300 predecessor, the K 1600 engine grew from four cylinders to six, and displacement increased from 1,293cc to 1,649cc.
The perfectly balanced, incredibly smooth in-line Six was – and still is – one of the best engines ever stuffed into a production motorcycle. Mild and unassuming at cruising speeds, a hard twist of the right grip releases a wail like a long-tailed cat caught under a rocking chair. Generating 160 hp and 129 lb-ft of torque at the crank, the engine supplies stump-pulling grunt at any rpm in any gear. At the K 1600 GT/GTL world press launch in South Africa, my colleague Kevin Duke – at the time Editor-in-Chief at Motorcycle.com; now EIC at American Rider – demonstrated the Six’s prodigious torque by pulling an impressive wheelie on the nearly 800-lb GTL.
With features such as throttle-by-wire, ride modes, lean-angle-adaptive traction control, electronically adjustable suspension, and an industry-first cornering headlight, not to mention class-leading comfort, wind protection, and storage capacity, the K 1600 GT and K 1600 GTL were groundbreaking machines in their respective segments.
The K 1600 GTL was the unanimous choice for Rider’s 2012 Motorcycle of the Year award. “The K 1600 platform makes the most sense parked under the GTL luxury-tourer’s standard equipment,” we said. “Stacked against its luxo competition [i.e., the Honda Gold Wing], the GTL offers less weight, more power and load capacity, and, if the owner of one wants more of a sport-touring experience, the top trunk is easily removed (and it fits and is offered as an accessory for the GT). Comfort is equal to or better than anything in the luxury-touring class, and the GTL steers, stops, and handles like it weighs even less than its 776 pounds ready-to-ride.”
Over the past 10 years, the K 1600 platform has evolved and expanded. From 2012 to 2017, there were just two models: the GT, which has saddlebags (but no trunk), sport-touring ergos, and a short windscreen, and the GTL, which adds a trunk with an integrated passenger backrest, a plusher two-up seat, and a larger windscreen.
For 2018, BMW introduced the K 1600 B bagger, which has a tubular handlebar, streamlined saddlebags, and a lower profile than the GT thanks to a shorter windscreen, lower seats, and less suspension travel. Next came the K 1600 Grand America, which is to the B what the GTL is to the GT, with a trunk, a taller windscreen, and more generous rider and passenger accommodations.
In all, I’ve probably logged 15,000 miles on various K 1600 models. I attended the K 1600 GT/GTL launch in South Africa in 2011, and in the years that followed, I spearheaded comparison tests of the K 1600 GTL vs. the Honda Gold Wing, the K 1600 GT vs. the Kawasaki Concours 14, and others. In 2014, I tested the short-lived ultra-premium K 1600 GTL Exclusive. Three years later, I flew to North Carolina for the launch of the K 1600 B and then rode one 3,500 miles through 14 states on my way back to California. And in 2018, my wife, Carrie, and I picked up a K 1600 Grand America from BMW’s headquarters in New Jersey and spent a week riding it through New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont on our way to and from the Americade rally.
For 2022, BMW has given the K 1600 platform its most extensive update yet, starting with the engine, which now meets Euro 5 regulations and makes a claimed 160 hp at 6,750 rpm (1,000 rpm earlier than before) and 133 lb-ft of torque (up from 129) at 5,250 rpm. All models get a new 6-axis IMU that informs most of the electronic rider aids, and standard equipment now includes engine-drag torque control, Dynamic ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment) “Next Generation” with automatic load leveling, a 10.25-inch TFT color display with integrated navigation (via the BMW Motorrad Connected app) and Bluetooth connectivity, BMW’s Audio System 2.0 (on the GTL and Grand America), and several new comfort and convenient features.
Grand Touring Luxury
In June, I picked up a K 1600 GTL with only 55 miles on its odometer in Riverside, California. The standard GTL ($26,895) has a Black Storm Metallic paint scheme. Our test bike had the $795 Exclusive Style Package, which includes Gravity Blue Metallic paint, black tank trim, chrome slipstream deflectors, and chrome saddlebag trim. It was also equipped with the $1,850 Premium Package, which adds Keyless Ride, a central locking system, a bi-directional quickshifter, LED auxiliary lights, and engine protection bars, as well as floor lighting ($100). Our GTL’s as-tested price comes to $29,640, and the destination charge adds another $795.
My first task was to download the BMW Motorrad Connected app and use it to pair my iPhone to the bike. Replacing the dash cradle that held a BMW Navigator GPS unit (a $900 option) is a new air-conditioned smartphone charging compartment. The windscreen must be raised to access the top-loading compartment, and pressing a button next to the TFT display opens it. The compartment lid is secured by two latches, and pressing the button typically released the left latch but not the right one. The button and latches were balky through our test, and my iPhone 12 Pro with its slim Otterbox case was a tight fit, making it sometimes difficult to get both latches to catch when I pressed down on the spring-loaded compartment lid.
To use the app’s turn-by-turn navigation, I had to set the app’s location access on my iPhone to “always” and change the phone’s display auto-lock (sleep mode) to “never,” both of which accelerate battery drain. Rather than leave my phone in my pocket, I used BMW’s specially angled adapter cable ($30) to charge my phone while the compartment’s A/C kept it cool. When the ignition is turned off, the windscreen automatically lowers to prevent someone with sticky fingers from opening the nonlocking phone compartment. If you want to remove your phone when you get off the bike, you must remember to do so before shutting off the power.
As much as I appreciate not having to spend another $900 on BMW’s Navigator GPS, the smartphone solution doesn’t work as well as it should. With practice, the steps involved become easier, but the app’s user experience needs to be simplified, and the smartphone compartment is too fiddly. On a $30,000 motorcycle, I don’t want to fight with the smartphone compartment or the windscreen every time I put my phone in or take it out. I also shouldn’t have to remove the protective case so my phone fits better. And if I had the taller, wider Max version of the iPhone? Forget it. It wouldn’t fit.
Once I got the maps for Southern California downloaded to the app, the app paired to the bike, my phone’s settings dialed in, and my home address punched into the app, the on-screen navigation worked great and provided clear routing for my 125-mile ride home to Ventura.
The enormous 10.25-inch TFT display, which first appeared on the R 1250 RT and is also on the R 18 B and R 18 Transcontinental, has crisp graphics that are large and easy to read. The screen is large enough that the navigation can be on the left and vehicle info on the right. BMW’s Multi-Controller wheel, which debuted on the K 1600 GT and GTL a decade ago and has since migrated to other premium BMW models, remains one of the easiest menu navigation devices available.
New on all K 1600 models are four configurable Favorites buttons, which are located within reach on the fairing to the left of the fuel tank. Each button can be programmed to provide quick access to 18 different functions, including everything from the grip and seat heaters to phone contacts and call history. Navigating to some of these functions through the menus can take multiple steps, so shortcut buttons are useful. However, the buttons are not backlit, nor are any of the buttons on the handlebar switchgear, making them difficult to use at night. On a flagship luxury touring bike, the little details matter.
Out on the road, the K 1600 GTL is large and in charge. The rider sits deeply into the 29.5-inch nonadjustable seat, which has wrap-around lumbar support. Those with long legs will want the optional high seat that’s 2 inches taller. The passenger sits on a wide, plush seat with large grab handles and a well-padded curved backrest built into the trunk. Both the rider and passenger perch their boots on wide, rubber-covered footrests.
The GTL has a comfortable, upright seating position, but the standard 29.5-inch seat limited legroom for our 6-foot-tall tester with a 34-inch inseam. BMW offers a taller accessory seat that adds 2 inches.
Wind protection is first-rate. The large fairing punches a huge hole in the wind, and the aerodynamic windscreen smoothly parts the air. With the screen in the lowest position, airflow hit me at helmet level and assisted the ventilation of my Schuberth C5 modular helmet, but it caused some buffeting for Carrie when she rode as a passenger. Raising the windscreen 5 inches to full height, I had to look through the screen, but it created a quiet bubble of air for both of us. On either side of the bike, between the upper fairing and side panels, are two slipstream deflectors. In their normal closed position, they help push air out around the rider. When opened, they direct fresh air into the cockpit.
Measuring more than 8 feet from nose to tail and weighing 802 lb with its 7-gallon tank full, the Premium-equipped GTL is a long, heavy machine. You certainly feel that heft when lifting it off the sidestand or pushing it around the garage, but it’s less apparent on the road. The top-heavy bike tends to fall into turns and has remarkably light steering despite its size. Occasionally it has a vague, slightly disconnected feel when cornering, which is most likely due to its unconventional Hossack-style Duolever front end.
The GTL has three ride modes – Dynamic, Road, and Rain – that adjust throttle response, engine drag-torque control, Dynamic Traction Control, and Dynamic ESA, with input from the new 6-axis IMU. BMW has been refining its suite of electronics for years, and their integration and responsiveness are impressive. All the bits of data flying around in the background never intrude on the riding experience. The connection between the right grip and the rear wheel is direct, and the growl from the 6-into-2 exhaust with howitzer-sized cans taps into the brain’s pleasure center.
For braking, enormous 320mm discs – two in front and one in back – are grabbed by a pair of gorilla-grip 4-piston front calipers and a supporting 2-piston rear caliper. It’s hard to believe such a big bike can stop so fast and with so much feel at the front lever – and with barely any fork dive thanks to the Duolever design. The GTL is equipped with BMW’s Partial Integral ABS, so the hand lever applies the brakes to both wheels, while the foot lever applies braking only to the rear wheel.
Out of the Fog
After a series of daylong solo and two-up test rides, I was itching to put some miles on the GTL, so with photographer Kevin Wing astride our Yamaha Tracer 9 GT long-term test bike, we left Ventura early one morning and headed up the coast. After stopping in San Luis Obispo for gas and coffee, we rode up Highway 1 to Big Sur, arriving just in time for lunch. We had tri-tip tacos on the back deck of Fernwood Bar & Grill in the shade of towering redwoods.
Even though it was late July, for the previous two hours we had ridden through thick, cold fog and erratic wind gusts, so I kept the grip and seat heaters cranked up to fight off the chill. Our plan was for late-light photography on the Monterey Peninsula, but the marine layer had the coast completely socked in. Instead, we continued north on Highway 1 to Santa Cruz, crossed over the coastal range to San Jose, and then made our way to San Francisco. After crossing the fogbound Golden Gate Bridge, we climbed into the mountains of Marin County until we were out of the pea soup.
Our photo shoot lasted until after the sun went down, so it was dark when we rode along a series of tight, twisty roads through a dense forest on our way to the town of Mill Valley. Like all K 1600s, the GTL has a new headlight array that includes a pair of position lights made up of six LEDs, four high beams made up of eight LEDs, and a central low beam made up of nine LEDs. All the lights are bright, and, informed by the IMU, the low beam expertly rolls left and right through a 35-degree arc based on lean angle to directly light into corners.
Also new this year are “welcome,” “goodbye,” and “follow me home” light functions that activate the headlights, taillights, and auxiliary lights when turning the ignition on and off. Our test bike also had optional floor lighting, which activates an LED puddle light when the ignition is turned off.
By the time we checked into a motel, it was after 9 p.m. and we had been on the road for 15 hours. Packing and unpacking the GTL is a breeze. Two small fairing pockets in front of the rider’s shins, two saddlebags, and a top trunk provide 115 liters of total storage capacity. Tapping a button on the Keyless Ride fob remotely locks or unlocks all the storage compartments and luggage (except for the smartphone compartment). The saddlebags and trunks are removable, and the trunk has an interior light to help find stuff in the dark.
We were on the bikes again at 6 a.m. for a morning shoot, and then we made our way south. Our hopes for shooting the GTL at a Marin Headlands overlook with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background were thwarted by heavy fog. We filtered through city traffic, cruised the freeway, and took Skyline Boulevard (State Route 35) along a high coastal ridge under a canopy of redwoods, stopping for lunch at Alice’s Restaurant, a well-known moto hangout.
Kevin and I put in another 15-hour day of shooting and riding, logging 800 miles of our 2,000-mile test in just two days, many of them on some of the best curves in California. Hustling the big GTL through a tight set of twisties takes some work, but the reward is one of the most viscerally and aurally exciting corner exits one can hope for – lather, rinse, and repeat. When the road straightens out, it cruises smoothly and quietly, like a Great White shark gliding through the depths to conserve energy.
BMW’s K Series has come a long way in four decades, and 10 years on, the K 1600 GTL continues to impress.
2022 BMW K 1600 GTL Specs
Base Price: $26,895
Price as Tested: $29,640 (Exclusive Style Package, Premium Package, floor lighting)
Warranty: 3 yrs., 36,000 miles
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse in-line Six, DOHC w/ 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 72.0 x 67.5mm
Compression Ratio: 12.2:1
Valve Insp. Interval: Varies, computer monitored
Fuel Delivery: BMS-X EFI, 52mm throttle valves x 6
Lubrication System: Dry sump, 4.75-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated wet clutch w/ quickshifter (as tested)
Final Drive: Shaft
Frame: Cast-aluminum-alloy twin-spar main frame w/ engine as stressed member & aluminum subframe; cast-aluminum Paralever single-sided swingarm
Wheelbase: 63.7 in.
Rake/Trail: 27.8 degrees/4.2 in.
Seat Height: 29.5 in.; optional high seat: 31.5 in.
Suspension, Front: BMW Duolever w/ Dynamic ESA, 4.5-in. travel
Rear: BMW Paralever w/ single shock & Dynamic ESA, 5.3-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual floating 320mm fixed discs w/ 4-piston calipers & ABS
Rear: Single 320mm disc w/ 2-piston caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast, 6.00 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17
Wet Weight: 802 lb (as tested)
Load Capacity: 432 lb (as tested)
GVWR: 1,234 lb
Horsepower: 160 hp @ 6,750 rpm (claimed, at the crank)
Torque: 133 lb-ft @ 5,250 rpm (claimed, at the crank)
Fuel Capacity: 7.0 gals.
Fuel Consumption: 39 mpg
Estimated Range: 273 miles