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?
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