BAT­TLE OF THE SIXES

If four cylin­ders aren’t enough but you don’t fancy a ‘full dress’ tourer what sixes are out there – and what do you get?

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Road Test - By Adam Child MCN SE­NIOR ROAD TESTER @MCNNEWS mo­tor­cy­cle­news

There’s noth­ing in the whole of mo­tor­cycl ing quite like the feel­ing of a mighty six-cylin­der en­gine. Ex­pe­ri­ence it and you’ll revel in the in­stant power, be amazed by the low-down torque and be cos­set­ted by the su­per-smooth­ness.

Trou­ble is, the most com­monly avail­able sixes, Honda’s lat­est Gold Wing and BMW’S K1600GT, are also ‘full­dress’ tour­ers wrapped up in acres of body­work, slathered in giz­mos and gad­gets and fet­tered with the £20K+ price tags to match.

So what else is out there if you fancy a six cylin­der ma­chine – but want one that’s leaner (and less ex­pen­sive) than those two be­he­moths?

BMW’S new­est ‘six’ is ex­actly that. The Ger­man mar­que’s K1600B is a stripped- down ver­sion of the fully-dressed K1600GT.

Aimed pri­mar­ily at the US mar­ket it’s a ‘bag­ger’ so has been given a more laid-back, cruiser at­ti­tude, via dif­fer­ent bars and pegs but still has some tour­ing prac­ti­cal­i­ties such as a screen and pan­niers (or ‘bags’). It’s long, low and punches 158bhp to its fat back tyre while sound­ing like a dis­tant F1 car.

Al­ter­na­tively, if you want your six to be even more ba­sic and un­clut­tered, you can still pick up a brand new Honda F6C which is ba­si­cally a naked ver­sion of the old Gold Wing which dates back to 2001. As the Wing was up­dated this year a new F6C has yet to ap­pear but all is not lost – there are still ‘new’ ex­am­ples of this one in deal­ers, of­ten at far less than its £19K list price.

It’s all about the looks

De­spite be­ing based on a 15-year-old ma­chine, the F6C, which it­self de­buted in 2013, doesn’t ap­pear dated at all. Its stripped-back body­work, shapely rear end, clev­erly hid­den side-mounted ra­di­a­tors and eye-catch­ing flat, six-cylin­der en­gine give the Honda a mod­ern look.

But roll the K1600B along­side the Honda and the age dif­fer­ence is im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent. The new Beemer

‘There’s noth­ing quite like the feel­ing of a mighty six’

may be in­spired by Amer­i­can bag­gers, usu­ally retro Har­leys or In­di­ans who take their styling-cues from the ’50s, but in the metal it’s ev­ery inch the slick, mod­ern, high tech, Teu­tonic two-wheeler. Those slash-cut pipes and the slightly leant-back at­ti­tude may be a nod to the cruiser genre but oth­er­wise the K1600B is slick and mod­ern. Equipped with rid­ing modes, cruise con­trol, ABS, a full mu­sic sys­tem and more, our test ex­am­ple was also fit­ted with op­tional next-gen­er­a­tion ESA, on­board com­puter, cor­ner­ing lights, cen­tral lock­ing, heated seat and grips and more, all of which lofted this ex­am­ple’s price to over £21K.

And if all that ex­cess means the K1600B’S spec and price is too near its full-dresser brother for com­fort you may also be slightly dis­ap­pointed BMW make a bet­ter show of its six-cylin­der en­gine. With an in­line, trans­verse ar­range­ment it could eas­ily be mis­taken for a con­ven­tional four (which is why BM’S tacked a slightly crude ‘6’ on the end of the block). While fin­ished in all-black (like the rest of the bike), the big six-cylin­der could eas­ily be missed all to­gether.

The Honda, by com­par­i­son, is pure and sim­ple – there’s not even the Wing’s re­verse gear which has been re­moved to save weight. But de­spite its lack of giz­mos, you warm to the F6C. On looks alone we pre­ferred the Honda with its more ex­posed en­gine.

The joy of six

Rid­ing a six-cylin­der mo­tor­cy­cle is al­ways a stun­ning ex­pe­ri­ence: a magic car­pet smooth wave of torque backed up by an un­mis­tak­able cacophony of spine-tin­gling sound.

And with the 160bhp BMW there’s the lit­tle mat­ter of mind-warp­ing per­for­mance, too. Nail the K1600B’S throt­tle and its elec­tronic rider aids go into a panic to stop the rear spin­ning. In fact, in the re­cent wet and cold con­di­tions, with­out the in­ter­ven­tion of its trac­tion con­trol sys­tem, the BM would be al­most un­ride­able. But with it you just have to hold the throt­tle open and tap the quick-shifter to soon be ef­fort­lessly blast­ing past 100mph.

By com­par­i­son, the Honda’s much older f lat six only makes a quoted 114bhp (and that might trans­late to less than 100 at the back wheel) which won’t raise much of any­thing down the pub. Worse, de­spite its larger displacement, the Honda also ac­tu­ally pro­duces less torque than the BMW, too.

But de­spite all of that and be­ing close to 20 years old the Honda’s flat six is still a stun­ning en­gine. It’ll pull away from vir­tu­ally noth­ing and in fifth (top) will hap­pily ooze away at just 800rpm. That’s sim­ply in­cred­i­ble and has to be ex­pe­ri­enced to be be­lieved. And if you con­ven­tion­ally short-shift at 2000rpm the big Honda sim­ply romps on.

That all said, with the Honda you do miss some of the more mod­ern K1600B’S elec­tron­ics and giz­mos and, in the twisties, it sim­ply can’t match the lighter, leaner, sharper BMW.

Han­dling the power

Power is noth­ing with­out con­trol and, thank­fully, BMW have ad­dressed that – and then some. Sim­ply: the

K1600B, like its big­ger K1600GT and GTL brothers, han­dles far, far bet­ter, sharper and more re­as­sur­ingly than its bulk may sug­gest. Be­ing the more mod­ern ma­chine, the BMW’S brakes win out, too. The Abs-as­sisted twin front discs im­press and stop the pretty hefty K1600B in eye-pop­ping time. By com­par­i­son, the ABS on the Honda isn’t that bad, but they’re no match for the clever Beemer stop­pers.

In­evitably, the F6C has many chas­sis sim­i­lar­i­ties with that of the 2001 Gold Wing on which it’s based – al­beit 80kg lighter (which is the weight of a pil­lion). Honda has raked out the front end, but oth­er­wise the two are very sim­i­lar. It even has the same, odd 19in front and 17in rear wheels. So on pa­per it shouldn’t work – but some­how it does.

The Honda’s sus­pen­sion is sim­ple but smooth. And thanks to rea­son­able ground clear­ance, the F6C will hap­pily take on some rel­a­tively ag­gres­sive cor­ner­ing.

With the BMW, mean­while, it’s all about elec­tron­ics. You don’t have the feel of the Honda, nor have to work out grip as its lean-sen­si­tive trac­tion con­trol and ABS do that for you. Once you learn to trust its elec­tron­ics, you can re­ally make the BMW hus­tle. For a big girl she can still get up and run.

De­spite its bulk, the big Beemer still feels lean, ag­ile and alive Side by side with a mate, you’ll own the road on a six State-of-the-art it ain’t, but there’s a whole lot to love with the huge Honda

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