BMW Bag­ger breaks new ground

Firm comes up with ex­cel­lent com­bi­na­tion of form, func­tion and style

The Province - - RIDING - David Booth

It was not so long ago that if a BMW mo­tor­cy­cle was at­trac­tive it was by ac­ci­dent. Func­tion so con­vinc­ingly tri­umphed over form in Mu­nich that many were the Beemers with faces that only an en­gi­neer could love.

Oh, oc­ca­sion­ally, BMW’s stylists would latch onto a theme that no­body had thought of — the ad­ven­tur­ing GS, for in­stance — and, by sheer unique­ness, prove stylish. But the K75 was the most som­no­lent of sport bikes, the slab-sided K1 a de­sign “marvel” that only a few man­aged to grasp and, my Lord, how did the R1200C ever get past the plan­ning stages? The worst thing about BMW’s orig­i­nal cruiser is that, with the com­pany’s rep­u­ta­tion for re­li­a­bil­ity and the mi­nus­cule miles the typ­i­cal cruiser rider ac­cu­mu­lates each year, the few C’s that BMW did man­age to sell may plague us for all of eter­nity.

Of late, that stylis­tic an­tipa­thy has faded. The S1000RR is the most at­trac­tive of su­per­bikes, the R1200 G/S is the style leader of the ad­ven­ture tour­ing set and, most re­cently, the R nineT se­ries — es­pe­cially the glo­ri­ously-styled but er­gonom­i­cally-flawed Racer ver­sion — have lit­er­ally taken the mo­tor­cy­cling world by storm.

Which brings us to the K1600 B, prob­a­bly BMW’s most am­bi­tious test of its stylis­tic bona fides yet. You see, the B stands for Bag­ger, a pseudo tourer-cum-cruiser hereto­fore dom­i­nated by mo­tor­cy­cling’s styling mad ge­niuses, Har­ley-David­son. Bag­gers are also all the rage right now, BMW’s de­sire to tap into a bur­geon­ing market — much as it wanted to with the R1200C — ob­vi­ous but not with­out peril.

In al­most ev­ery sense, the K1600 B is a tri­umph. For one thing, the en­gine has been neatly de­signed into the cut, chopped and chan­nelled look, no easy feat when your cylin­der block is 560 mil­lime­tres and six pis­tons across. The fair­ing, lit­tle dif­fer­ent from the K1600 GT tourer’s body­work, re­sponds well to the chopped wind­shield/sin­is­ter black mo­tif. Even the op­tional floor­boards, at­tached di­rectly to that huge en­gine, add to the B’s stylis­tic bona fides. Only some muf­flers that look large enough to si­lence a Mack truck mar an oth­er­wise flaw­less de­but in bag­ger de­sign.

Mak­ing those gar­gan­tuan si­lencers a lit­tle eas­ier to stom­ach is the en­gine they are at­tached to, BMW’s unique in­line six. As en­gine con­fig­u­ra­tions go, the in­line six — orig­i­nated by Honda’s RC161 racer and pop­u­lar­ized with its CBX — has as much mys­tique as any V-twin. More im­por­tantly, the 1,649-cc six is some­thing of a tour­ing pow­er­house. Con­trary to the high-revving mon­ster one might ex­pect from so many cylin­ders, the K1600 is all grunt, its max­i­mum 160 horse­power — yes even tour­ers are well en­dowed, these days — oc­cur­ring at an in­cred­i­bly low 7,750 rpm. And even though the K1600’s max­i­mum torque of 129 pound-feet of­fi­cially oc­curs at 5,250 r.p.m., it feels like most of that is avail­able right off idle. In­deed, the K1600 may be the only mo­tor­cy­cle — other than Honda’s Gold Wing — that can ac­cel­er­ate from 1,000 rpm com­pletely snatch-free in top gear.

And ac­cel­er­ate it most cer­tainly does. Twist the (quick-turn) throt­tle and the K1600, all 336 kilo­grams of it, does a fair im­pres­sion of a scalded cat. It’s also im­pres­sive how smoothly BMW’s (op­tional) Gear As­sis­tant Pro shifts in the top three gears. Not nor­mally needed on typ­i­cally slow-revving bag­gers, it comes in handy in main­tain­ing mo­men­tum with the rel­a­tively light-fly­wheeled six, so quickly does the K1600 rev. It would be the first op­tion I’d spring for were I buy­ing a B. Next up would be the new re­verse gear op­tion (it’s a part of a $2,500 Tour­ing pack­age) par­tic­u­larly use­ful for those of short in­seam who might have trou­ble back­ing a 739-pound mo­tor­cy­cle out of a down­hill park­ing space.

The K1600’s han­dling is sim­i­larly im­pres­sive, the GT’s ma­neu­ver­abil­ity be­ly­ing its im­mense girth and the B, lighter and lower, feel­ing that much more sprightly. Fairly firmly sprung and sur­pris­ingly ag­ile, BMW’s bag­ger also has a sur­pris­ing amount of ground clear­ance, noth­ing ground­ing out — not even the op­tional floor­boards — un­til you’re well into silly-bug­ger lean an­gles.

Like most of the B, the brakes — anti-locked and four-pi­s­toned — are GT du­pli­cates, so there’s plenty of whoa Nel­lie! power. Ditto for the elec­tron­i­cally-ad­justable sus­pen­sion (ESA): Like the GT, chang­ing from ami­ably soft to sport­ing firm is but a han­dle­bar switch away as is — and I find this much more prac­ti­cal, es­pe­cially in a tour­ing-ori­ented mo­tor­cy­cle — the rear spring preload. In all cir­cum­stances, the ESA sys­tem au­to­mat­i­cally re­con­fig­ures the K1600 B’s preload, keep­ing its stance on an even keel and, more im­por­tantly, main­tain­ing the in­tended steer­ing ge­om­e­try for con­sis­tent han­dling.

And, un­like so many other bag­gers, which are more show than go, I sus­pect that you will ac­tu­ally see lots of K1600 B’s prowl­ing the in­ter­state. The rid­ing po­si­tion, with con­ven­tion­ally-placed foot­pegs, is ra­tio­nal, the seat typ­i­cally BMW firm but comfy none­the­less and even the op­tional floor­boards — you have a choice of the ex­tra foot­pegs or two dinky lit­tle stor­age con­tain­ers — not so rad­i­cally dis­posed to cause lower back dis­com­fort. In­deed, for the first time in my mem­ory, I used the for­ward-mounted floor­boards and my lower lum­bars didn’t suf­fer for it.

The elec­tri­cally ad­justable wind­screen, car­ried over from the GT, proved quite use­ful, al­beit with a much shorter wind­shield than the tourer. But, in most cir­cum­stances, I pre­ferred the B’s wind cov­er­age. For one thing, you’re look­ing over — rather than through — it and, for an­other, while there’s less cov­er­age, there’s also less tur­bu­lence. The GT’s ad­justable wind de­flec­tors — es­sen­tially two flaps on the outer fair­ing just be­low the mir­rors than can be opened to di­rect air to the rider — make the tran­si­tion so there is some mod­icum or re­lief on hot days. For cool days, the B, like the GT, of­fers both heated grips and seat.

As for down­sides to the tran­si­tion from tourer to bag­ger, a lack of stowage space has to rank first and fore­most. Of course, the top case is gone but even the sad­dle­bags, as stylish as they are, are not as com­modi­ous as their size might in­di­cate. As well, be­ing a cruiser, BMW opted for a slightly wonky tubu­lar han­dle­bar de­sign rather than the GT’s forged ar­range­ment, though there is an op­tion to mount those — ac­tu­ally the GTL’s — to the B. And, like the GT, the B’s dig­i­tal in­fo­tain­ment/sys­tems screen is a lit­tle too lit­tle — and, in over­head sun, not nearly bright enough — for easy read­ing.

Quib­bles aside, I pre­dict the ($26,100) K1600 B is go­ing to be a big hit for BMW. Of course, the im­por­tant tech­no­log­i­cal bits — chas­sis, sus­pen­sion, en­gine, etc. — are go­ing to be well-en­gi­neered; it is a BMW, af­ter all. But what will make the tran­si­tion from land yacht to bag­ger truly suc­cess­ful is that BMW’s lat­est cruiser is at­trac­tive. And, as the R nineT se­ries proves, that’s no ac­ci­dent.


2018 BMW K1600 B (for Bag­ger) is prob­a­bly BMW’s most am­bi­tious test of its stylis­tic bona fides yet, David Booth writes.


The tran­si­tion from land yacht to bag­ger works be­cause the BMW K1600B is at­trac­tive, writes David Booth.

BMW’s Bag­ger has a sur­pris­ing amount of ground clear­ance, noth­ing ground­ing out un­til you’re well into silly-bug­ger lean an­gles.

The BMW K1600B is pow­ered by an in­line six that when ac­cel­er­ated, makes the bike do a fair im­pres­sion of a scalded cat.

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