Six For the Road: BMW's New 1600 Redefines Sport Touring

Anyone walking into Shreveport Motorsports one recent Saturday would have surely believed Gerard Butler or Jessica Biel was hanging out in the parts department, signing autographs and eyeballing lug nuts.

Is it unique in the universe of people who love motorcycles that a movie star of any variety would be unceremoniously elbowed out of the way if he or she was blocking the view of a cool bike? Such would surely have been the case with  the Red River Riders who had gathered to ogle the new BMW 1600 GTL.

Charles ogles the new BMW K1600GTL

 The bike, the newest in the BMW stable, is and isn't the replacement of the venerable BMW K1300 LT, aka  "Luxury Touring", "Light Truck", Large Transit," or "Up, Simba!" It isn't the replacement because the 1600 GT has very little in common with the LT. It is the replacement because BMW has ended production on both the LT and the 1300GT, so the 1600 GT is the closest thing going. Confused? Just wait, it will get worse.

There are some among you who may say, "BMW 1600GT? New? What? I'm confused again!" You would have a right to be. The Bavarians, while wildly efficient in many ways, could use a little help in say, the creativity and naming departments. This is, in fact, the orignal BMW 1600GT, circa 1960s.

The (old) BMW 1600GT
The new BMW 1600GT is much more 2011 Bluetooth than 1960's rotary dial. The list of standards and options on the bike is impressive, running the gamut of ABS, Dynamic Traction Control, electronically adjustable suspension, tire pressure monitor, alarm, satellite radio, heated seats and grips, cruise control, power adjustable windshield, Bluetooth communications, and more. There are  three nice new touches: an adaptive headlight that leans with the bike, a central locking system that locks and unlocks all the bags on the bike with one flick of the key, and LED turn signals guaranteed to put out a lot of lumens.

The 1600GTL is considered a Sport Touring Bike and despite it's 766-lb heft, it is amazingly nimble. The peppy inline-6 engine is responsible for just a small percentage of that weight and BMW has reconfigured the powerplant to make it the narrowest inline-6 ever mounted on a motorcycle. Because of that, The K1600GT/GTL manages a much sportier look than the LT and seemlessly displays its Bavarian racing lineage.

So, let's recap, shall we? Heavy? Yes. New? Yes. Looks better than an LT? Yes. Fun to drive? Well, let's see. SMS offered Shreveport bike builder Steve Culp and me a chance to take the GTL out for a spin and we obliged. I'll start with my observations and then turn it over to Steve, because the girl should always go first.

Let me start by telling you something very important. I am not a Luxury Touring/Big Cruiser kind of gal. This is not the type of riding that I do and this segment of motorcycles has never, ever appealed to me.I believed my husband had suffered some type of mental collapse when he bought a Harley Big Wonker and I have made so many rude comments about the alleged ages of my Gold Wing-riding friends that I am banned from talking to them or about them. At Bike Week once when Steve and I test-rode a Gold Wing just to see what the big deal was, I covered my face for the entire ride and felt physically repulsed. So you can see that it was with great joy that I prepared for my ride on the GTL.

Liz sitting very flat-footed.
 It certainly did not help when SMS salesman Jason Kilpatrick told me that BMW set the standard seat height (31.9 inches) so that it would be same seat height as the Gold Wing. Bravo! Off to a good start. The seat height is immediately noticeable. One of the issues many BMW riders and rider-wannabe's discover is that these bikes tend to sit so high that only drivers with the longest legs feel like they are not on tip-toes. I do have long legs, so this standard GTL height was too cramped for me, but for many others, it will be a welcome change. Thankfully, seat height would be the only resemblance the GTL would have to a Gold Wing.

I had enough time to ride to Arizona and do this wheelie!
Though heavy sitting still, the GTL is amazingly well balanced when moving, giving one the feeling of riding on rails at even extremely slow speeds. Once I rolled on the throttle, the BMW sport lineage became apparent. The bike's weight did not hamper either speed or quickness. The GTL leans easily into corners, accelerates with gusto, and its 50 more horsepower (which Kilpatrick believes is highly underrated) gives it the ability to climb into the three-figures without laboring at all. (I broke off not because of the bike, but because of a fear of a very large speeding ticket.) Like all BMWs, the GTL is quiet, but unlike many models, the GTL doesn't have an annoying engine whine, even at high speeds.

Since there are enough buttons, nodules and nodes on the panel to distract any driver, the ABS brakes are important, and they do the trick, easily bringing the heavy motorbike to smooth stops. Though I am not the market audience for this bike, I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone who is looking for a luxury sport touring machine. BMW should have a hit on their hands.

Now let's hear from Steve.

I was cramped on the bike, too, so I would definitely choose the higher seat option that is available. The cornering and manuevering ability really belies the size and weight of this bike. It's smooth, nothing is twitchy, even when Liz jumped on to try out the back seat. Even when she was moving around to try to get the bike to behave badly, it never once wanted to turn in with the passenger. The acceleration was excellent, what I would expect from BMW. (Steve wasn't as worried about a ticket, and got the GTL up to 120 mph - in 5th gear-somewhere in Caddo Parish.) I kept the bike in 6th gear and slowed to 30 mph, and the engine didn't lug.

That is a wonderful inline-6. The brakes were solid, the seat was comfortable, the fabrication and paint are good. The price is about what you would expect for a big tourer or cruiser, so I am not uncomfortable with that. This is a much more refined bike than a Harley, it doesn't throw off as much heat, is light years smoother. BMW should find a very enthusiastic audience for this bike.

Lest you think we were all drools after our rides, we compared notes and did find that we had some issues. Neither Steve nor I could find a windshield setting that prevented buffeting or the vaccuum-effect at highway speeds. It was uncomfortable to me, Steve was more stoic about that than I. I sat in place for about 5 minutes fooling with some buttons and the bike started throwing off a lot more heat than I am used to with other BMW models. Steve discovered when we were riding 2-up that the cruise control causes a pronounced lurch when disconnected. He tried several ways of turning it off and could not smooth it out. I believe most new owners will throw the factory seat away asap, but Steve found it comfortable. These were small annoyances on an otherwise great bike.

Overall, we liked it THIS much.
 "We believe BMW is creating a new market segment with this bike," Kilpatrick told us and quite possibly, he is right. Red River BMW Rider member Don Glover, a former LTowner, already has a GTL on order and is counting the days to delivery, whenever that will be. "This bike will make me look like a better rider than I am," he says, referring to the bike's easy handling and speed.

SMS will be getting 3 GTLs and 1 GT soon, they hope. If you're interested, put some money down. These Tourers could be shooting out the door at speeds normally reserved for sport bikes.

A Few Other Interesting GT/GTL Bits:
  • The GT/GTL doesn't have the LT's hydraulic center stand or reverse. It's still a heavy bike, so the jury is out on this decision.
  • Base price for the GT is $20,900, for the GT- $23,200. Expect to add $3,000-$4,000 more for the stuff you want.
  • Bluetooth is standard on the GTL, but BMW suggests Schuberth C3 helmets if you want your wireless to work. Those helmets run about $700.
  • Since BMW expects most riders to listen to music wirelessly, there are no rear speakers for the back rider.
  • BMW is already offering a load of accessories such as Akrapovic exhausts, LED ground lighting, windshields, seats and bag liners. These accessories can be seen in BMW's new "Why We Love Bob Critcher" Catalog.

Culp Street Fighting S1000RR Vs. Sport Bike: Ready to Rumble!

The last Saturday of Daytona Bike Week is traditionally the big Rat's Hole Bike Show, a place for bike builders to see and be seen. Rat's Hole has been good to Shreveport, La., bike builder Steve Culp in the past, handing him wins for every bike he has ever entered. But this year, Culp decided to bypass Rat's Hole to take his custom BMW Street Fighter to the home turf of a different biking community.

At its core, of course, the Culp Street Fighter is a BMW S1000RR sport bike, but in its transformation, the plastic bits have been stripped away, leaving less Rickey Roadracer and more of something completely different.

How would the true and pure sport bike afficianados react? To find out, Steve decided to take the double-R to the heart of the competition, to the popular Maravilla Productions Sport Bike Fest in Daytona. It was a gamble, to be sure. To compete in the Sport Bike Fest, Steve would have to bypass Rat's Hole, on the heels of his Boardwalk win. It is a risk not many builders would take.

Sport Bike Fest is all about big. Big bikes done in big colors with big ideas and big bling. It is truly a place to go big or go home.

The themes transform the bikes into skeletons, sports teams, cartoon heroes, military operations. Swing arms are lengthened, bikes are lowered, lighting and chrome are added.

The bikes become highly individual and oftentimes, insanely expensive works of art. On the flip side, the Culp Street Fighter is understated, retro, muscular. Bling is in relatively short supply, but meticulous fabrication work is not. Would the Sport Bike Fest judges overlook lack of bling for concept, finish and execution?

The answer came when the announcer called the name of the winner of the Hottest Bike. "I was amazed," said Steve. "When I heard my name, I just couldn't believe it. I'm still stunned. The crowd at the Sport Bike Fest is not the biking crowd I normally am around. I didn't know what they would like and whether I had any chance at winning." Now he knows. Biking people may like different styles of bikes, music and clothing, but the appreciation of a creative idea executed well seems to unite us all.

A photographer asks one of the models to pose with Steve's Street Fighter for some publicity photos.

Culp S1000RR Blows Away the Boardwalk

In the more than 20 years that the Daytona, Fla., Boardwalk Custom Bike Show has been going on, it has gained the reputation as being a gathering place for top flight builders. 2011 was no different, drawing competitors from across the U.S. as well as Montreal and Ontario, Canada, and several European nations. The Boardwalk show also attracts international press to see the latest, greatest and most interesting...from antiques to radical customs. The show has a special charm, and is always held seaside along the historic Daytona Beach Boardwalk, near the beach where automobile and motorcycle racing history was made in the 1920s and 30s. It seems somehow fitting that daring and imaginative men (and women) would be drawn to this spot.

The bikes entered in the Boardwalk Show, which is sponsored by Full Throttle magazine, come with a reputation of always interesting and meticulously executed. One of the competitors told us the judges at Boardwalk expect the best and always look for technical expertise. The bikes run the gamut, and no matter whether they are your cup of tea or not, they are unfailingly well-executed with amazing attention to detail.

It was into this that Shreveport, La., builder Steve Culp brought his 1969 Suzuki T500 cafe racer, his antique 1966 T200 Suzuki and his newly-minted 2010 S1000RR Street Fighter.
Within moments after arriving, the S1000RR was surrounded by photographers and curious onlookers.

Boardwalk judges took special notice, too, giving Steve a one-two sweep in the hotly-contested Custom Metric division (S1000RR-1st, Cafe Racer-2nd), and a first in the Antiques class for his pretty little T200.

But perhaps even better than the adulation of the pretty 'trophy girl' and the additional awards was the attention from Germany, in the form of a photo shoot for Custombike magazine. Custombike is a European publication constantly looking for the new and unique, both in the US and across the pond. Within moments of spotting Culp's Street Fighter, the editor and his photographer were making plans with Steve for a full-blown photo shoot for both the magazine and a soon-to-be-printed book on BMWs.

Photograph of the photograher taking a photograph. Not at all clever, but I was out of ideas and I was getting hungry.

German photog's crack thoughtfully blacked out for your increased viewing pleasure.

Magazine editor Heinrich said Steve's BMW was 'sick' and that his readers wouldn't believe it without photographic evidence, which Steve was happy to provide.
 All in all, a good day in Daytona as Bike Week 2011 winds down. The fun times are not over, though, not by a long shot. Stay tuned for more!

Bike Week Part II-Victory Is Ours!

In my last post, I mentioned that Main Street during Bike Week or Biketoberfest is an event that must be enjoyed at least once in life. Where else might you see a tubby and smiling Captain America--- mask, cape and all--- pull up on his equally decked-out Boss Hoss, read t-shirt sogans so gross you fear blindness or see a crusty old dude wandering the street wearing a handmade cardboard sign saying "Will Work for Sex or Filet Mignon"? Alas, the wonders and delights of Main Street are but one reason Daytona during a motorcycle event is so special.

Equally as enticing is the fact that during most Bike Weeks, Triumph, Harley Davidson, Victory, Boss Hoss, Yamaha, Can-Am, Suzuki, and Kawasaki spend millions to set up lavish tents and trailers and allow anyone with a motorcycle endorsement to ride anything they would like...for free, mostly. (Boss Hoss is the exception, but with gas nearing $4 a gallon, paying $10 to ride a big 13mpg V-8 Hoss is still a bargain.)

To anyone who loves motorcycles, this group dealer demonstration ride set-up is just one step removed from heaven. Once upon a time Moto Guzzi, Buell, and BMW also participated...but the cost of the event became daunting or the brand went away. Ducati also used to come, but never let you ride. Of all the major players, only Honda refuses to allow riding, claiming the liability is just too great. Oddly, Suzuki and the others do not seem to agree. In fact, one wag at Kawasaki told me several years ago that not being at the show does their reputation harm. It seems people are far too quick to jump to the conclusion that the brand is in trouble if it is not represented at Bike Week.

At 8:30ish each morning, the manufacturers start taking names for the days' rides. Plan well and get a bit lucky, and you can go from ride to ride for most of the day. Since Steve and I have ridden most of what is available, we now tend to be more choosy, and so today, started at Victory to ride the as-yet unobtainable High Ball, which comes standard with 6-speed overdrive, 97 horsepower 106 Freedom V-Twin, 16-inch laced wheels, and best of all, ape hangars.

The 2012 High Ball, due out in April, just LOOKS cool, and it drives cool, too. I have never ridden with ape hangars before and wondered what the higher handlebars would do to the bike's handling. I've seen riders with high bars struggle with corners and tight spaces before, but Victory has this bike dialed in. My demo bike, outfitted with aftermarket pipes handled like a charm, cornered well, stopped on a dime, had power to spare and was ten tons of fun. I can always tell which bike I really love by the size of the smile plastered on my face when I return from the ride and this smile was larger than Boss Hoss' Bike Week gasoline bill.

I had high hopes, then, for the test ride of the new Triumph GS clone, the 800XC. The first thing we discovered is the price spotted on-line was low, and the new bike will be much closer in price to the BMW F800 than expected. Stay tuned for more!

Daytona Bike Week 2011-Back With a Bang!

Petrol nearing $4 a gallon and bad weather across much of the East Coast has not been enough to put a damper on the annual pilgrimage to central Florida beaches. Bike Week diehards starting arriving in late February and by the 'official' first day, Friday, March 4, the cities that comprise the greater-Daytona Beach- area were crawling with cycling crowds seeking sun and fun. They were not disappointed with either. Dire predictions of a wet and nasty first Sunday didn't materialize as the system that pummelled Shreveport on Saturday veered far north. A slight cool front blew through Sunday night but the Monday highs of mid-60s will be the coolest of the week.

As with every Bike Week, there are great motorcycles to gawk at, fun stuff to buy, good eats to uh, eat, scenic rides that include palm trees and sun!, daily calorie-free Dairy Queen hot fudge sundaes, and Florida lotteries to win, but the biggest fun comes from people-watching. Until you pull up a rail on Main Street in Daytona and spend a few hours watching the motorcycling world go by, you are a flat dud. D-u-d. This show is better than "Cats", it's better than anything your feverish brain could dream after a dinner of bad sushi, it's better than anything has the right to be. Add the Main Street experience to your bucket list. I beg you.

But since you have obligations and jobs and can't miss a weekend of yard work, here is the next best thing. Bike Week according to me.

The new star of a Goth reality show or one of the 'beer girls' at Destination Daytona? You be the judge.

Heaven help us, everyone.

The new 'Vintage Indian" just $37,000 less tax, title, license, transport and the new bachelor pad you will need to rent when you tell your spouse what you have done.
The first weekend of Bike Week the nearby town of Deland hosts its bike rally. While there, I asked Steve, 'Where are all the young people?' because there weren't any. The next day, the local newspaper reported the rally 'attracted the elderly.' Hahahaha.

Steve's S1000RR StreetFighter was a huge hit at BMW of Daytona, and several of the employees there had already seen it on-line. The store emptied when the double-R pulled into the lot and Steve spent the better part of an hour answering questions. David from the Orlando BMW store tries the S-Fighter on for size.

This was spotted NOT at the BMW tent (there isn't one this year), but at the TRIUMPH demo display at the International Speedway. This is the 2011 Triumph Tiger 800XC, a GS-knockoff if ever there was one. The lines are similar, the luggage is similar...but apparently the price, and some say performance, is not. The price of the 2010 BMW F 800GS, is $11,395 according to the BMW website. The price of the Triumph is, according to one website, $7995! This beast could be serious competition to our favorite dual sport ride. Steve and I plan to put the 800 XC to the test tomorrow and will report back on what we find.

So there you are, the first weekend of Bike Week condensed into an edible morsel. Check back often this week for more good eats.

Steve Culp's Street Fighting S1000RR: Thoroughly Modern Mayhem

In the world of custom built motorcycles, a "Streetfighter" falls into the category somewhere between aggressive and "look at me once more, and I'll cut you."

Not for the timid or weak of heart, Streetfighters exude speed, testosterone and swagger even while standing still. When Shreveport motorcycle builder Steve Culp first saw the BMW S1000RR sport bike, he knew its lineage and its claims of performance made it a perfect candidate for this most unusual category.

 Though Streetfighters come from the world of cafe racing and were made popular by European riders, the movement was very much inspired by the inexpensive and fast-for-their time Japanese bikes. In fact, at most of the bigger bike shows Streetfighters are almost exclusively of Japanese lineage. Culp believed the big, bad BMW could set the Streetfighting world on its ear and plans to debut his German goliath at Daytona Bike Week's Rat Hole and Boardwalk custom bike shows in early March. Culp himself is no stranger to Streetfighter swagger. The bike builder is a former air show pilot who regularly aimed straight at the ground at speeds exceeding 200mph, pulling up at the last minute and barrel-rolling his aircraft into the blue skies above.

Prior to flying and building airplanes of his own design, he was a race car driver for Mazda, Hyundai and Dodge during a rough and ready time in which he who could most intimidate his opponents, won.

It did not hurt that Culp was an extremely accomplished driver who could also repair the cars he broke while (mostly successfully) intimidating the other teams.

For Culp to be building a Streetfighter, then, seems only natural. The story of how it came to be a BMW is not. Steve has long loved vintage bikes---Harleys, BSAs, Indians, Japanese bikes and especially BMWs. He has owned nine antique BMW bikes and his current rider is a 1974 R-90.

 He admires not only their lines but their performance, and he regularly takes his 30-year-old bikes on cross-country treks that most would consider tackling only on a cruiser. A member of a Shreveport, Louisiana BMW motorcycle club, Steve knew about BMW's plans to debut a sport bike to compete with the hugely successful Suzuki Hayabusa, and he had heard the specs. The S1000RR wasn't only a liter bike, it was going to have the highest power-to-weight ratio in its class. It wasn't only going to be agile, it was going to have electronics components that included traction control, race ABS and a gearshift option that allowed full throttle upshifts without using the clutch. In other words, it was going to be a certified Bavarian bad ass.

In Culp's mind, the S1000-double R had Streetfighter written all over it. Believe it or not, one of the reasons behind the Streetfighter decision was practicality. Since Culp passed his 20s some years ago, he has found the crouched position of most sport bikes to be supremely uncomfortable.

He wanted a bike that would go fast, be agile but not cripple him to ride. As he tore the newly-purchased S1000RR down to its frame, he looked for a way to lower the seat by three inches to make it a more comfortable ride.

Though the superfast sport hottie has a thoroughly modern look, Culp saw its heritage and envisoned a way to bring the two together that would be instantly recognizable to any fan of vintage BMWs.

The black color and double white pinstripe harkens to the 1920s and 30s. Culp added diamond dust to the paint so that the bike glitters like a new dime.

The solo saddle is consistent with the vintage BMW look, but the tractor seat with fringe and inlaid BMW-blue stones gives it a retro funky feel that becomes completely modern.

Other vintage-look touches include the front and back fenders, fender braces, headlights, handlebars, bar end turn signals, megaphone exhaust, taillight frame, and a taillight off an early 20's Buick.

Culp built by hand the fairings, the tank cover, the mount for the instrument cluster, the seatmount for the subframe. The grab bar behind the seat is a 1930s Indian rear fender guard and exists for more than esthetics. "Everyone who rides an S1000RR tends to wheelie it," says Culp. "The grab bar is to keep them on the seat." So much about this street-fighting S1000RR is custom that it is often easier to say what is not: the wheels and tires, frame, engine. Period.

"I've taken the bike down to its essentials," says Culp. "This is basically what a chopper is supposed to be. I peeled all the plastic off and let it tell me what it needed to be." Culp has let bikes talk to him before and has walked away with the awards for his efforts. This is the next step up.

His cafe racers took Bike Week '10 by storm, but he wanted to compete head-on with the big boys in a category that attracts worldwide attention. "There are a lot of things on this bike that aren't normal," says Culp. "But a BMW Streetfighter isn't normal, either, so I think it works."

"When people see this bike, I want them to have to stand there a moment and clear their minds. It's not an S1000RR, it's not a vintage BMW, it's something new and totally unique. But unlike many custom bikes, this one is going to perform well and be comfortable to ride...and I can't wait to let it rip!"

To find out more about Steve's background and his marvelous machines, go to: