BMW Bagger breaks new ground
Firm comes up with excellent combination of form, function and style
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.