The K1600 has been around since 2010 and is becoming a familiar site touring the big roads. The cautious are warming to it and the purists are no longer turning their noses up. As we know every new machine has a few tweaks and modifications to improve and rectify issues but testament to the K16 is that very little has changed. Bar a few styling and rider comfort options the 2017 K1600GT is much the same beast as before. One of the most noticeable changes however is the re-introduction of the ‘reverse’ function. Like a Sumo Wrestler squeezing in to a toilet cubicle the vast weight and size of the K16 mean that the reverse function is a long over due ‘must’ in making life easier for the rider and lets face it, the K16 is all about making life easier.
Big touring bikes are becoming more and more popular, insurance hikes, the ease of getting abroad along with the constant threat of having your licence tainted have push more and more into getting riding thrills elsewhere. The power rangers are growing up and the missus wants to come away on the bike trips. It’s easy to see why a massive brand like BMW attract a lions share of the touring market. Celebrity endorsements have rocketed GS sales and taken the limelight from the GS siblings. The R & K-series of tourers that have long been the mainstay of Motorrad have kept their faithful band of followers despite regulations surrounding emissions forcing a big change to the boxer engine.
You don’t just buy a BMW on a whim. You have to be introduced to the brand by a friend, a bit like finding your spouse the ‘old fashioned’ way via your mate’s sister. You don’t speed date a BMW. So you know the brand already and are already familiar with some of the BMW quirkiness. It is safe to say you will already be expecting a level of quality and a prestige above that of it’s competitors. Well, fear not! The K1600 is not going to let you down.
If you are new to the K1600 but familiar with touring bikes and in particular BMW’s then you need to brace yourself though, it is Heavy. Sure, you're used to your ‘in-line four’ K12 or K13 or you are ditching the torquey boxer powered RT for the ‘big 6’ but you seriously need to be aware what you’re getting yourself into. At around 320kgs bare naked it’s a whole rugby player heavier than the R1200RT. Therefore it doesn't take much before you, your pillion and your luggage are topping the scales at over half a ton. All this weight despite BMW’s weight watcher considerations of a magnesium alloy subframe and hollow camshafts. Where was that reverse function again?
Throw a leg over and heave it off the side stand and you would be forgiven for thinking your pillion has jumped on before you. Engage first and twist the throttle however and suddenly you realise why the K16 is such an epic bike to ride. In fact why stop at first gear, the K1600’s delivery of power ensure all gears are in the frame for play-time. The turbine roar of 6 cylinders is captivating and will have you looking for any excuse to give it a little wrist action. It’s flies!
Braking is superb and positive on both front and rear wheels, giving the rider confidence and enabling you to relax knowing that the 160 horses and sheer weight is fairly easy to keep under control. Especially useful as rolling off the throttle with 6 cylinders doesn't bring the expected reduction of speed. The dashboard has been updated and will have the techies gasping in wonder at the bright lights and full scale deflection of the tacho on start-up. You really do feel you are sitting somewhere special enhancing the GT experience. The K16 real does feel like the King of the road. But it is King of some roads but sadly not all. The long reach of the bike make it great for mile munching Grand Touring but I do feel that as a quick leap on, leap off bike it is just too cumbersome. Its like putting on a dinner suit every time you pop down to the kitchen for a snack. Sure you can manoeuvre the K16 and I’m sure there are loads of clips on the web of riders throwing it around the tight cones on an agility course but for common and garden day rides I did feel like I was taking the Winnebago to the beach.
The tank is big but it’s not the biggest tank in the touring arena and the MPG isn't as good as some of the competition either so if you’re out devouring miles, some of you mates will be tutting each time the K16 needs a drink but it’s not a titanic gap so you do still get a respectable range and far better than that of the sports-tourer faithful.
As far as we can see the K16 only has one real contender to worry about, its own sibling, the Cain to this Abel, the R1200RT. The RT can be fitted with the same luxury extras as the GT, the same sparkly dashboard lights, the same adaptive ‘look around the bend’ headlights, the same ‘warm the bum’ buttons, same panniers and baggage space, same rider aids to help cope with varying road conditions, but the RT is cheaper, more economical, lighter, more nimble and, some may even dare to suggest, much prettier than the K16. It handles better from the off and still carries you and your pillion in exquisite luxury to your hotel in the south of France but it does lack the smoothness of the big 6 cylinder and that fantastic soundtrack.
It really comes down to personal choice - You are already sold on having a BMW or you wouldn't have walked into the showroom and therefore the rivals from Japan or elsewhere aren't even in with a shout, it’s just which one do you blow you twenty-ish grand on?
So who is the target customer? The K16 engine characteristics and its additive turn of speed mean it will suit the sports-bike come touring rider perfectly. Leaping from a pure sport or even a sport-tourer on to a full tour specific machine will have you grinning from ear to ear and possibly wondering why on earth you hadn't made the leap years ago.
The model we rode, supplied by Ocean BMW Plymouth, came with keyless start and central locking. Oh, how I scoffed but actually once the novelty of pretending I was unlocking the car has passed I found it was actually very useful for quickly throwing helmets etc in the pannier without the hassle of old fashioned keys. And that’s the big plus with the K16, you get ‘useful’ and ‘convenient’ wrapped up nicely with a biblical turn of speed and a feeling of real provenance.
It absolutely, thoroughly and inexcusably punches the Grand into ‘Grand Tour’.