It’s early 2011 and a 31 year-old me is on the BMW K1600GT launch in South Africa. I lucked out when the launch dates clashed with a family holiday for the then editor, and found myself on what we like to call ‘a grown up launch’. Long haul, luxurious and lazy, I was handed the keys to a small cottage in a wine region called Franschhoek. I ate mysterious meats (the good kind, not the drunk in Brixton kind) and drank wine that I absolutely had no right to be drinking. Everything about the launch experience was premium from start to finish, including and most especially the bike. That straight six motor was as smooth as the wine, full bodied and with stacks of punch if you hung on to it for too long. I was amazed at how capable a machine the bike was and filled my belly and brain with roads that I’ve yet to find better anywhere in the world. The sound of that six pot being pushed up and down the rev range was addictive and those of us lucky enough to be on the launch rode like absolute knobs for a few days. It was the early days for video editing for me, but this video from back then will paint a decent picture…
Since then I’ve seen plenty of K16s out on the roads, usually wafting towards Europe, two up and carting a boatload of luggage. I know that this was the intended purpose but I always felt a little bit sorry for both bike and rider. I know these bikes are more than capable of painting a performance based smile on any face and when I see them loaded to the hilt with toot, it makes me think of an ageing race horse being used to pull a plough across a rutted field. There’s so much more to this bike than just comfortable continent crushing.
When BMW announced the Bagger, I decided before I’d even got on the thing that I was going to love it. I know that doesn’t sound particularly professional, but I already know enough about the base model to know that if BMW have just made it look cooler by lopping a few bits off and smoothing everything out, then I would want one. Turns out I wasn’t wrong.
There’s a cast aluminium frame under those sleek black clothes, and the six-cylinder dohc, 1649cc motor is a stressed member in the geometric sense, if nothing else. A six-speed gearbox feeds a shaft rather than a dirty chain and there was a slick clutchless gearshift assist fitted to the model I rode. Duo and Paralever suspension irons out the creases front and rear and assisted brakes have the unenviable job of hauling all this mass back from hyper speed. It wasn’t until I looked at the specs that I realised this bike weighs 336kg ready to ride. In case you don’t already know, that is a shit load. If ever there was a case for ignoring the numbers and just jumping on a bike, this is it. Let that smooth clutch glide out and you’ll find yourself pushing and pulling this thing round like it weighs half of what the specs tell you. It’s a combination of manageable seat height, great leverage from the bars and that seemingly un stressable drivetrain layout, everything is low and easy.
The bars are slightly different to those on the standard GT, although you can choose from different sets if you feel the need. As is, they rise up and out of the dashboard perfectly, offering leverage and comfort in equal measure. You can rest your feet on the pegs or the footboards and once you’ve set the electric screen, you’re pretty much ready to tick off the miles. Obviously being a premium machine from BMW, there are stacks of buttons to push that’ll keep your interest. Heated seats (front and rear), cruise control, multiple suspension and riding modes, heated bars, a stereo (good enough for motorway speeds) and a host of other bits and pieces that are either practical or luxurious, exactly what you’d expect at £21,240 which was the as ridden price tag on the bike I was on. You can get onto a K1600 Bagger for £16,750, but all you’ll do is spend your time wondering how much better a bike you’d have got if you’d gone all in. That’s a bit of a lie, if you ‘only’ spent £16,750 you’d also spend your time doing 150mph like a ginormous badass. If you wanted to…
I liked the little bag in the (centrally locked) panniers with a jack for my iPhone, but nowhere near as much as I liked the quick shifter and the 158 bhp. Those sculpted panniers will swallow enough socks and pants and heroin to get you across whatever border you’re heading for without even flinching. The little wings on the edges of the fairing looked like little more than a nod to Bat Man, but it turns out they work too, channelling air into the ‘cabin’ that you sit in. There are a couple of other smaller storage compartments dotted about the place, but they didn’t really grab my interest.
The reverse gear did, though. Push a couple of buttons and you’ll never struggle to paddle 336kgs out of a parking bay again. I tried a couple of parallel parking tricks and got to grips with it straight away. Like some of the other gadgets on the bike, I couldn’t work out which was gimmick and which was useful, but I was glad to have them all around me, everything on it plays a part in the theatre of riding the Bagger. There’s also a hill start assist function but I didn’t get a chance to play with this.
I did get a chance to play in general, going at the test route like I had someone else’s licence in my pocket. I defy anyone to not want to hear that motor wailing away, smothering 175Nm of torque across the useable rev range of 0-rev limiter. Full gas exits from second gear corners seemed to give the traction control a workout, although I think some of this was down to the shaft drive and suspension setup rather than just me being some kind of hero. Rolling through high-speed sweepers was effortless for both rider and for bike. Well-timed gearshifts and a rolling rather than see saw action on the throttle showed exactly why so many people like wracking up big miles on these things. I knew that I had hours rather than days on the clock though, so instead settled for pointing, squeezing, squirting and smiling. The naughty nature of the K1600 B is in there and doesn’t take much looking to find.
However I rode it, I know I hadn’t had my fill by the end of the day and was way more reluctant to hand the keyless ignition keys back to Mr BMW than I expected to be.
However you dress it up, this is an expensive piece of kit, there’s clearly no denying that. But, much like a well-flung C90 on a muddy field when you were a kid, or a freshly tyred R6 at Donington in the sun, there’s something almost indefinable that certain bikes have that make them stand out from their competitors. Granted the K16 Bagger doesn’t have many genuine competitors, but I can say now that I’ve yet to ride a bike of this stature that made me smile quite as much as I did after a tankful. With rumours abound of a new Honda Goldwing, clearly there’s enough interest in this corner of the market for manufacturers to still want in. I look forward to coming up with some spurious excuse for needing to ride both of them back to back.
Baggers are weird beasts. Of course it makes complete sense if you have a huge bike in your range to send it to fat camp and shed some weight, but the style adds a completely different attitude to a bike. Witness Goldwing Bagger and this thing. With all the clothes on, the K1600GT is a refined, comfortable and obvious choice for mileage fans. In Bagger mode, especially in triple black, I don’t know whether to ride to Garmisch or just fill the panniers with drugs and a knuckle duster and blast into town. This bike could pull off both with equal aplomb.