FIRST RIDE: 2018 BMW K1600B
The Bavarians have gone baggers By Peter Jones
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.