I believe all motorised vehicles have a purpose, and can be fun when used for that purpose. Yet somehow, I’ve always had trouble finding the purpose of oversized, lumbering touring style motorcycles fitted with massive luggage compartments all over the place. The American cruiser category (of which I’ve owned several models over the last 15 years) certainly has a fair stake in this market too, but even there my style has always been for slimmer, lighter and faster machines. Nonetheless, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about when the opportunity of a few days aboard a BMW K1600 GTL came up.
So yes, first glances confirmed — it’s big. There will be no filtering through a line of cars waiting at a signal, that’s for sure. A quick walk-around and the first thing that stands out is the aggressive view from the front with the huge fairing and bright circular running lamps, distinctly BMW style. Throwing a leg over the saddle for the first time strangely didn’t feel too awkward. Although there is a lot of bulk to this bike, it’s still offers a surprisingly narrow seating position and together with the low centre of gravity, it’s easy to forget you’re straddling a huge 360kg six-cylinder beast. Then there are the controls, which are nothing short of overwhelming at first. I can’t say I’ve ever thought a motorcycle would have so many features that it requires a mouse to control them, yet I’ve found one right by my left thumb. The instrument cluster appears well laid out, and a treat to look at with the big, backlit gauges tucked behind the windscreen. Very car-like by anyone’s standards.
So once familiarised with the controls, what’s it like to ride? The smooth straight-six is almost imperceptible at idle, with a very restrained exhaust note. The driving mode selector gives you three modes to choose from — Rain, Road or Dynamic. Throttle response is very snappy, especially when making use of the ‘Dynamic’ setting which also firms up the suspension quite noticeably, but ‘Road’ is a perfectly good place to leave it for all-round comfort and well mannered driving. I didn’t try the ‘Rain’ setting for obvious reasons. The suspension can be further fine tuned at the flick of a button depending on passenger and luggage load, and again I found this feature very useful during a few two-up riding sessions. BMW thoughtfully included a ‘Hill Start Control’ feature, which cleverly acts like an automatic parking brake and prevents you from rolling backwards on an incline take off.
Once rolling, the electronically adjustable windscreen makes it very easy to find the perfect balance to eliminate wind buffeting completely and even at speed it’s still possible engaging in conversation with your passenger without yelling. Exhaust note at steady cruise sounds mellow enough, but a twist of the throttle into the high rev range brings a wonderfully crisp howl that you’d only expect on sportbikes. Gear changes are effortless and slick, and again BMW elevates this experience by providing very smooth and quick ‘clutch-less shifts’ in a semi-automatic riding style. With such bulk, I half expected the brakes to be either spungy and soft, or grabby at the other extreme, but these are most definitely very predictable and linear. The chassis seems to know exactly what you want from it, and delivers before you even have to ask. Soon as the sun sets, the xenon headlights proved to be completely adaptive by lighting up the road through a bend, and making it a pleasure to ride at night.
During my few days aboard, I’ll happily admit that this was far more fun than I’d expected it to be! Yes, in town you’d likely be stuck in traffic like any other car, but I can see how the sophisticated yet agile Beemer would be an absolute joy to pilot on anything from a nice long trip from coast to coast, or a brisk mountain run.