2011 BMW K1600GT & GTL – Press Launch
by Uwe Wachtendorf
Like a person who alters their life after surviving a near-death experience, BMW is a changed company. Rather than a cataclysmic event, BMW’s change was spurred by the tentative future of motorcycling and the necessity of attracting younger buyers to their range of motorcycles. The first sign that BMW understood the need for change was the release of the S1000RR, their first-ever, in-line, four-powered superbike. And it would appear that they got it right. The S1000RR became the best selling BMW in the United States last year. In Canada, the top seller was the F650GS, but only because of a supply issue, not a lack of interest. “We sold every S1000RR that we could get our hands on,” commented Rob Dexter of BMW Canada. “Production versus demand was not skewed in our favour last year.”
Following the challenge of putting an ultra-performance motorcycle in their showroom, BMW moved on to designing a pair of über-tourers, the K1600GT and K1600GTL. The new high-end touring bikes are indicative of BMW’s change in direction. The new machines embrace what younger riders value most: edgy performance combined with the latest electronic innovations. While there were many challenges facing K1600 designers, among the more worrisome for BMW was to convince people that they needed to have this particular motorcycle. Pieter de Waal, VP of BMW Motorrad USA, summed up the angst experienced by plunging into the unknown: “We took a deep breath, made the calculations and realized how hideously expensive it would be to build. We also decided that if you really go for something that exceeds, people will buy it.”
And exceed it has. Early signs indicate that the Bavarian bike-builder’s efforts have struck a chord with potential buyers, as the 2011 production run has almost sold out on the strength of pre-orders alone. Although the introduction of the K1600s has caused BMW to drop the K1300GT from their line-up, they’re quick to point out that it shouldn’t be considered a direct replacement of their K1200LT luxury tourer. In an example of “out with the old, in with the new,” the LT was BMW then; the K1600 is what BMW is now. Lumbering and stodgy has been replaced by a more svelte and powerful form of touring.
While absorbing the technology and features that have been built into these two models, it’s easy to lose sight of the main story – the six-cylinder powerplant that propels the bike. Drawing on their automobile heritage and extensive experience with in-line, six-cylinder engines, BMW has built what they say is the lightest and most compact engine of its kind. Weighing 103 kg (including the clutch, gearbox and alternator) and only measuring 56 cm in width, the engine is almost comparable to four-cylinder units. Its compressed mass was achieved by spacing the cylinder sleeves only 5 mm apart and by using a tight valve angle to create a compact, high-compression (12.2:1) combustion chamber.
The most notable qualities of the 1649 cc engine were its smooth operation and powerful thrust. It felt remarkably similar to an electric motor; aside from the sports sedan snarl that emanated from the exhaust at higher revs, the engine was almost completely silent. Then there was the instant torque hit whenever I twisted the throttle. Seventy percent of the engine’s maximum torque of 175 N-m is claimed to be available by 1500 rpm – there’s more torque available right off idle than the peak available from BMW’s superbike. These engine traits, combined with its perfect fuelling and ability to spool up quickly, made the bike deceptively fast; every time I glanced at the K1600’s speedometer, it was a shock. Clearly, riding this barnstormer required a recalibration of my seat-of-the-pants speed sensor…