This is the 2012 BMW K1600 GTL that Kissell Motorsports provided me with to find out what a Vespa rider thought of this serious touring motorcycle. I made this picture later in the evening after a few hours of riding. I had to sit down for a minute and compose my thoughts, think about where I would ride in the morning, and wonder how I had come in a short period of time to think it wasn't such a big motorcycle after all.
This isn't really a review of the bike. That will come in the next installment. This is just our first date.
Craig Kissell doesn't offer these motorcycles lightly, especially something as expensive and complicated as the K1600. Arriving after work I saw a group of machines in the parking lot near the bike. Nate Mattern, sales manager for Kissell Motorsports, and I had planned to ride together for awhile and compare notes. I thought they were going to have me ride the pink Vespa until I realized Nate would eventually have to take a turn with it. Not that I have anything against pink machines, my mountain bike is a more subdued version of pink, but I really didn't want to have to manage a 150cc machine against a six cylinder powerhouse like the BMW.
Nate and I discussed routes, time limitations for him, and decided I would ride a BMW R1200 RT during the first leg of our trip. I would take the lead so I control stops for pictures, set the pace, and generally make sure I didn't embarrass myself with an official representative of Kissell Motorsports. I wanted to be able to do more reviews in the future.
I'd never ridden with Nate before but knew enough about him that I'd convince myself he would be uncomfortably fast on the road and I'd spend all my time wondering which way he went. It was bad enough that he's a Ducati owner and rider, a gonzo mountain biker, (I've not met a slow Ducati rider yet) but he's also a commercial pilot having flown for a number of commercial carriers.
Pilots are all about speed right?
So I thought it best for my image that I stay in front.
We left town in a hurry heading west on US 322. Sailing over Skytop I was cruising at 75mph with Nate in the distance in my mirrors. The RT was smooth and I felt almost no transitional weirdness from the Vespa. It's easy to understand why riders like them.
It was a bright, clear evening and we owned the road. That bubble burst as a Burgman 650 cruised by us like it was nothing for the rider in shirt sleeves and dress pants to commute home at 80mph. For a moment I considered turning the throttle but I had Nate to worry about. It's what you do when you're in the lead.
First stop at a familiar road cut on the way to Philipsburg. The GTL isn't that much bigger looking than the RT but to my eye it has a sportier look to it. The topcase and big rear seating area does place it squarely in the tourer world but it still looked sleek. Nate and I talked a bit and he shared his thoughts on the fly-by-wire throttle and how different it felt from conventional throttle cable systems. I held my tongue and didn't ask what he was talking about. I figured I would find out soon enough.
I turn off into a gravel parking area near Black Moshannon State Park, in part to take a few pictures and in part to make sure if someone is going to drop the K1600 Nate can go first. You can't tell in the picture but the gravel is loose. And it raises the question of how I am thinking about the motorcycles. The RT seems completely manageable and not much different than riding my Vespa, something which indicates a mastery on my part of motorcycles or a wildly unreasonable idea of how big the K1600 really is.
For now, let's go with the idea that I'm a really great rider.
Nate shared with me later that he swallowed hard when I turned off into the gravel. He's smiling in the picture because I think he thought I would be taking my turn on the big bike.
I told him I wanted to ride the RT a little longer. What I should have said was that I wanted to ride to a paved swap point.
The moment finally arrives where I'm going to take the new machine. Nate's pilot training surfaces as he begins a fluid expression of a K1600 checklist outlining every feature and mode on this seriously equipped motorcycle. I didn't exactly quit listening but my brain quit accepting data as he was running through the various computer controlled riding modes.
So I didn't seem ungrateful I asked Nate to show me how to get the K1600 on the centerstand. There is always a trick and he showed it to me. I wouldn't want to try it in gravel or on soft ground but it wasn't all that difficult.
We also discussed the sensitivity of the throttle and Nate urged caution for a few miles as I got used to how touchy it could be. It didn't take long to appreciate the advice. He talked about his preferences leaning towards impractical motorcycles like his Ducati 696 or his favorite the Ducati Hypermotard 1100 EVO. Fast, powerful, but not possessing much utilitarian value.
The BMW K1600 GTL is designed to meet utilitarian needs. "Honey, I'm going to the store to get a loaf of bread. Then I'm going to swing by Seattle and be home." This is the machine for that kind of quick trip. Nate has to get back and we head down the mountain towards home.
Sitting on the bike I can sense the greater mass. Or at least I've been telling myself this for the past hour. The throttle is sensitive and the power response is instantaneous. Sloppy throttle work won't be appreciated on this bike. After a few miles the bike and the throttle seem to merge with my body. I'm not pushing anything but it's kind of a marvel how easy it is to ride.
Nate heads back to the shop and I turn towards home. I stop on campus for another picture and think about where I'm going to ride in the morning.
The first date was almost over and with only 50 miles on the BMW I wanted a second. At this early point I already knew a few things.
1. Without a doubt this was the smoothest motorcycle I have ever ridden. Engine, road feel, everything. An engineering marvel.
2. It's surprisingly nimble for a big touring motorcycle.
3. The fly-by-wire throttle takes a little time to acquire the right touch but once you do it is a pleasure to use.
4. It's not my Vespa. No room for sloppy handling. Too much mass to think you can muscle this around. It requires a rider who pays attention and understands what it means to manage this kind of weight.
5. If I were buying a touring bike, this would be it. I like the BMW R 1200 RT but this K bike is in a different league.
I'll be posting more involved review of the BMW K1600 GTL in the next week or so. I have been letting the story simmer for awhile but it's time to write it down.
If you can't wait stop by and have Craig or Nate show you the bike.