Monday, June 20, 2011

First Date with the BMW K1600 GTL

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. 


Charlie6 said...

Sounds like one hell of a first date with that K1600!

Such a large motorcycle and yet you use words like nimble and "easy to ride".

I don't think that I would have turned onto gravel roads while riding someone else's motorcycles, especially large motorcycles like the RT and the GTL!

Looking forward to the review!

ps: I think I can hear Mr Riepe's lustful thoughts aimed at the K1600....


Redleg's Rides

Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

RichardM said...

Phrases like "easy to ride" or "nimble" are not what comes to mind when looking at either of those bikes. Looking forward to the rest of your review. I like the road cut photo.


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Steve:

There is nothing quite as refreshing as a nice glass of Kool Aid on a hot day.

Just drink the Kool Aid and get it over with.

Fondest regards,
Twisted Roads

Brady said...

I'm looking forward to some real-world accounts of that machine. It's been a long time coming with a hell of a lot of hype along the way. I've been goading my father-in-law one to buy one sight unseen for about six months already. He's got a Goldwing, and Honda is seriously screwing around in their redesign of that machine.

If the BMW is what they say it is, the Goldie is going to get a good whoopin in the next couple of years as it comes in at the same price point.

And I know what you mean about touchy throttle. I'm not in the same league as that machine with my Kawasaki Concours, but it's worlds apart from my BMW f650gs - which is a glorified scooter. If you tap the brakes too hard on a huge machine like that it'll stop immediately and fall over and laugh at you as you groan about incidental (and mind-blowingly expensive) cosmetic damage.

Behind Bars - Motorcycles and Life

Anonymous said...

Now that my children are grown I am looking to get back on a motorcycle. But, the size (and price) of the K1600 is well out of my league and experience. I am looking for a bike in the 300-500 range with all the modern accoutrements (ABS, etc.) for short tourning in the NC mountains. Any suggestions?

Steve Williams said...

Charlie6: You know what it's like -- a sense of uneasiness at first but then you get more and more comfortable. I guess I am ready to have a try at the Triumph Rocket now.

I rode into some loose sand with your BMW and Vikki. Gravel is much easier to negotiate than that stuff.

I hope to get to the final, real review by the end of the week. So much to do this summer!

Mr. Riepe is just blind to everything but K75s. And his thoughts are focused on literary endeavors...

Steve Williams said...

RichardM: All those terms are relative to me and my experience. Gut feelings can be misleading but when I returned home that first evening I was completely comfortable riding.

Didn't try any figure 8s or feet up U turns but for everything else it was a breeze.

Steve Williams said...

Mr. Riepe: My Vespa is akin to Samson's locks -- I'll loose my riding power if I abandon the Vespa.

I do like the BMWs but this isn't the one for me. Someday I will take the plunge.

Steve Williams said...

Brady: There is an excellent review of the K1600 GTL in the current issue of BMW Owner News magazine. But in some of the other commercial magazines the reviews have been pretty superficial.

Not sure what mine will be like.

I've meet people who buy big motorcycles as their first bike. Some have never ridden before. I can't imagine it. I've put a lot of miles on two wheels and each time I get on something new it's unsettling.

Hard to believe your BMW is a glorified scooter. You need to ride more scooters!

Steve Williams said...

Skye: I've seen some early 90's Hondas and Yamahas for under a grand but nothing in the 300-500 range.

I'm hoping you mean 3000 to 5000. At that price you could find some nice bikes. Just depends what you need.

SonjaM said...

Scary big bike the K1600 GTL. I guess I would gladly settle for the R1200RT.

Conchscooter said...

My buddy Giovanni has ridden it and will swap out his R1200Rt for a 1600. Never mind that I think his 1200 is the perfect touring bike...I don't see the point myself, but I'm just glad there are so many motorcycle choices for all to indulge before oil vanishes.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Scooter In The Sticks (Steve):

The blasphemy I am about to type will rattle you. Despite the fact I am written off as a BMW toady, the truth is I have a lot od respect for the mechanical vision that drives the Bavarian elf factory. A good deal of their stuff is over-designed, and some of it failed to meet consumer expectation.

But BMW has taken the 1923 concept of the Boxer 2-cylinder and taken it far beyond anyone's expectations, without getting up into 1600, 1800, amd bigger cc categories. The concept is not bigger at any price. The new K1600 is a mechanical marvel, designed specifically for horizon to horizon conquest, providing the perfect balance of speed and power, without creating a ripple on the surface of the liquid in the rider's kidneys.

It is a bike for people who like to cover a minimum 400 miles in a day, or even a morning. They thought of everything... Except the way it looks.

My dream bike is a BMW K1200GT from 2003/2004. To my way of thinking, these motorcycles are stunninly beautiful. And at 127 hp in K-bike engine that will rip your lungs out at the high end, what else would a man need. I'd be thrilled is some secret maestro engineer came up with beautiful frame sliders for these models.

Look at how many new motorcycles are copies, n some form, of a previous BMW. Show me an upper-strata worldclass off-the road bike that is NOT compared with the BMW GS.

And it can be said that this model has problems, or they didn't get this right, or their corporate attitude sucks... But they try... And the models they have roled out in the past year need no apologies.

I am purely superstitious about the K75. I have seen more bare hooters on the back of this rig than from any other. Six hours in the saddle of the K-75 is getting to be more than a man of my advanced ass should have to accomodate. But every BMW is built for a rider in good shape, as opposed to many cruisers, whose riders are more or less in my shape.

And how could I ever pass on this K-75? It's built to my blind eye lighting specification, with a seat as broad as a poll table.

I will stop bugging you about the Beemer... You and I both know how this is going to turn out. (Deutshlund... Deutschland... Uber alles...)

Fondst regards,

PS: It has occurred to me that I might see even more open female shirtage on a K1200 GT.

Steve Williams said...

SonjaM: it is a big bike but you get used to it. Solid riding skills make for an easier transition. I spend some time doing deliberate actions to help build new muscle memories.

And it was weird to think of the 1200 as the small bike.

Steve Williams said...

Conchscooter: I've given up trying to understand why riders make the decisions they do. It's often so personal and shrouded in secrets that you can't really have a rational discussion. But it is cool that there are so many things to ride. But why bother when you already have a Vespa. Or a Bonneville!

Henry McCreary said...

Nice review. I'm a 2005 K1200 LT owner. I understand that the new K1600 is lighter and more nimble than my bike. I'll meet you in Seattle after picking up that loaf of bread :-)

Steve Williams said...

Mr. Riepe: Riepe and blasphemy are not terms I put in the same sentence so anything you share has to be insightful, delightful, or both.

I'm not as conversant in all things BMW as you but have heard about the Bavarian Motor Works as a kid. My dad was doing something in the Munchen plant after the war. Not sure what the 3rd Army had to do with the place but I remember him telling me about it.

The K1600 is an engineering marvel from my vantage point and I agree that it's suitable for the rider who wants to get 400 miles in before breakfast. Seems like extreme overkill for the incidental riding I do. But then I know a fellow who has a Goldwing that he only rides across town once a week for breakfast at Eat N' Park. So go figure.

Keep bugging me about the BMW. It keeps me strong...

Steve Williams said...

Henry McCreary: thank you for the kind words about the review. The real view is yet to come.

I've not had the good fortune to ride a K1200 LT. Kissell Motorsports had them but I was working my way through Triumphs at the time. Maybe a used one will show up.

I'll let you know when I'm going to get that loaf of bread!

Ghost Writer said...

Thought you might find this interesting:

Skye said...

I should have been more specific ref what I was looking for. The 300-500 referred to size, not price. I am looking for a relatively lightweight, smooth riding bike with modern conveniences such as ABM. My goal is leisurely tourning in the NC mtns.

irondad said...

I rode to Seattle and back on Monday. Somehow I can identify with that statement. For some reason Katie bought me a BMW t-shirt that says:

What day is it and how did I end up in Alaska?

She finally accepted my long runs to the store.

The 1600 will seriously be our next bike. We "babysat" one for a few days for a friend. Katie loves the passenger accomodations. Our next stage in life will involve long two-wheeled trips.

Your arrangement with Kissell's is a jewel. I'd cherish it if I were you. You are also a good person to do these write-ups. I appreciate your thoughtful and honest approach.

I'll gladly go with "you're a good rider" as a start!

Ronman said...

Can't wait to read your review. This bike caught my eye from the moment I heard about it.


Steve Williams said...

Ghostwriter: That is an interesting concept for a camera. Implies that there is no way to go wrong. Seems to good to be true. I wonder how long it takes the camera to collect all that data? Do you need a tripod, etc?

There are times when I could use that feature to fix my focus issues....

Steve Williams said...

Skye: I understand.

The Vespa GTS 300 would be high on my list. The Suzuki Burgman 450 scooter might be right if you like the styling.

The Piaggio MP3s are nice for touring though much heavier than a scooter or motorcycle of similar size. But they don't feel heavy.

Let us know what direction you head with this.

Steve Williams said...

irondad: You are always making routine long, long, long rides. Can't imagine doing what you do. It must be in your blood. So finding yourself in Alaska doesn't seem like much of a stretch.

You certainly fit the BMW high miles riding profile. And you have the Aerostich Hi Viz gear. Get an English-German dictionary and before long you can qualify for ownership.

I on the other hand have dug myself into a deep hole with the Vespa. If I understand correctly I have to wait 13 years before being permitted to own a BMW.

The K1600 GTL would be a nice fit for you. I imagine the riding you do now on your bike and see a seamless transition to the BMW. The only pain would be in the wallet.

I really appreciate the opportunity Craig Kissell has given me and I try and make sure we both feel satisfied with the arrangement. I probably should post something disclosing exactly what that arrangement is.

Steve Williams said...

Ronman: I will try and not take too long to post it. With the BMW rally approaching I have some other things to get up first. But soon....

GearedbikeUK said...

Thanks for this review Steve. In my opinion this motorbike is best for riders who love to travel on their motorbike. Its features are amazing.