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.