FIRST RIDE: 2018 BMW K1600B

The Bavar­i­ans have gone bag­gers By Peter Jones

Cycle World - - News -

A Bavar­ian bag­ger raises the bar and restyles the rear for a fresh take on the fa­mil­iar K1600 in­line-six-pow­ered plat­form

BMW has of­fi­cially en­tered the bag­ger mar­ket with its new K1600B. BMW said it prefers the B to be con­sid­ered on its own mer­its as a new model, rather than as a re­worked K1600GT/GTL. In my es­ti­ma­tion this B is ex­actly like those mod­els from the seat for­ward, in­clud­ing ev­ery­thing. Well, okay, ex­cept for the chopped wind­screen and tubu­lar han­dle­bars. That’s about 87 per­cent of the mo­tor­cy­cle that’s un­changed.

Unique to the K1600B from the rider’s seat back: The rear body­work has a new “bag­ger pro­file” and the rear frame­work is low­ered, pro­vid­ing for the pas­sen­ger seat to be dropped 2.8 inches; two big, long muf­flers with cats in­side of them; and a set of per­ma­nently mounted 37-liter hard bags with built-in tail­lights and power cords. Low­er­ing the rear sub­frame re­sults in 0.4 inch less sus­pen­sion travel.

How does one com­pare bag­ger V-twins to the B’s 1,649cc six-cylin­der en­gine that pumps out a claimed 160 hp and 129 pound-feet of torque, is 21.9 inches wide, and has a 12.2:1 com­pres­sion ra­tio? The B, at a claimed 741 pounds wet, was de­signed to have best-in-class per­for­mance, tech­nol­ogy, and styling, and although it’s a fair bet it out­shines other bag­gers with the first two, it’s eclipsed by tra­di­tion on that last one.

The K1600B has an MSRP of $19,995, which in­cludes nifty stan­dard fea­tures such as ride by wire and three power modes: Rain, Road, and Dy­namic. Dif­fer­ent from many bikes, the trac­tion con­trol can­not be in­di­vid­u­ally ad­justed, though there are com­pli­cated in­struc­tions to turn off trac­tion con­trol.

An in­for­ma­tive, 5.7inch TFT dis­play makes for a great in­ter­face

to con­trol the bike’s many fea­tures. Stan­dard heated seats and grips, cruise con­trol, a power wind­screen, and ABS Pro with cor­ner­ing op­ti­miza­tion are also ex­cel­lent ad­di­tions.

Not hav­ing ever rid­den the K1600GT/ GTL makes com­par­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence of pi­lot­ing the B with those mod­els un­ten­able. But the first thing one might no­tice about the K1600B is likely the same as with those: It’s big. Case in point, bikes do not come with a re­verse op­tion un­less they are big. Just push the but­ton and back the ma­chine goes at 1 mph.

When go­ing for­ward with an open road ahead, great en­joy­ment comes from wick­ing open that honk­ing six into its power­band at around 5,000 rpm, and it quickly tops out at 8,500 rpm. Big B could stand for Big Bike and Big Power. Yet at lower revs it’s calm and tractable. Noth­ing is smoother than an in­line-six.

De­spite the K1600B’S con­sid­er­able wet weight—not count­ing my wet weight—it was com­fort­ably ca­pa­ble on the tight moun­tain roads we en­coun­tered on the South Carolina-based press launch. I tended to use sec­ond or third gear, which kept me in the sweet part of the power­band ex­it­ing turns and able to of­ten use en­gine-brak­ing alone on en­ter­ing them.

The rear sus­pen­sion of the K1600B matched my rid­ing style bet­ter at twoup preload than at the solo-rider preload set­ting. Pos­si­bly, the slight weight shift and geom­e­try change to in­creased rear ride height might have con­trib­uted to that. In ei­ther set­ting—road or Cruise— and preload, the Dy­namic ESA seemed as though it could use a bit more damp­ing. Ac­cord­ing to BMW, the ESA Road mode is for fully au­to­mated damp­ing, while Cruise mode is for gen­tle damp­ing. Ei­ther Dy­namic ESA set­tings can be used in any ride modes.

The Gearshift As­sist Pro for clutch­less up- and down­shifts works pre­dictably if used prop­erly. It’s not re­ally meant to be a semi­au­to­matic but works well if you up­shift un­der sig­nif­i­cant ac­cel­er­a­tion and down­shift with throt­tle fully closed.

I of­ten found my­self stand­ing while rid­ing, and it wasn’t just to get max­i­mum air­flow dur­ing our in­tense heat and hu­mid­ity. I don’t have much of a butt, but for a tour­ing bag­ger I found this seat sur­pris­ingly un­for­giv­ing.

The en­gine throt­tle re­sponse on this ride-by-wire sys­tem feels quirky in its slight de­lay, as it did on the very first K1600GT and GTL mod­els as re­ported by CW staffers. Cou­ple this with a beau­ti­fully quick-revving en­gine and a clutch that fully en­gages only near the end of its travel, and it caused me a bit of em­bar­rass­ing over-revving on some launches. The CW staff says it grew ac­cus­tomed to the long-term 2012 K1600GTL and was not em­bar­rassed.

Over­all, com­par­ing it cul­tur­ally to clas­sic bag­gers, as stated up front, is up to you. In com­par­ing its sport­ing per­for­mance and tech­nol­ogy, de­spite its faults, the K1600B is un­touch­able in this class. It goes like hell, corners like a pro, and has lots of plea­sur­able giz­mos.

But con­sid­ered on its own, BMW’S K1600B should be much more; it just doesn’t feel sorted out like the S1000R and R1200RS that I last rode. None­the­less, its color has true bag­ger ap­peal: Black Storm Metal­lic.

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