I previously owned an R1150RT and thought it was a great bike. I would tuck it into bed every night and read it bed time stories, of sunny rides in the country where convoys of Boxers would ride past Harley dealerships and laugh at their owners who were lined up at the service department – yet again. It was marital bliss and it looked like we would grow old together like Ma and Pa Kettle. Then something happened. That young hussy the K1600GT came along and suddenly my poor old R1150RT looked like the old embarrassing uncle at the party that everyone tries to avoid. That is probably a bit harsh considering my old bike is still a good bike by most standards, but using those standards to judge the K1600GT is a bit like comparing an iPad with a Commodore 64. A bit pointless really.
So what makes this bike so good, well there are 6 great reasons really. BMW are renowned for producing in-line six cylinders engines that are superb and it appears that all those drinks down at the Bavarian Bier Bar with the boffins in the M3 department have paid off. If BMW’s S70/2 engine ever had a wild romp in the garage with some chains and lube, I suspect that the K1600 engine would be the end result nine months later. The engine is an east-west configuration but looking at it from the front you would be hard pressed to notice the difference in width between it and its K1300 cousins (about 100mm according to the literature). But where the K1300 fours teleport you from one location to the next, the K1600 seems a little more sophisticated and relaxed, giving you a split second more to notice the speed camera flash and a little extra time to think of the excuse you will use as you plead with the judge not to take your licence away. Clearly it has also been watching the Biggest Loser whilst drinking beer and pizza, because with rider, pillion and some luggage you could easily top the ½ tonne mark. But don’t worry because you will have enough ponies between your legs to ensure that all the other sports tourers will be able to memorise your licence plate number. Being a 6 cylinder sports tourer, the main game is torque and this baby delivers it in creamy, smooth spades. From around 2000rpm, open the throttle and the power comes on in a nice, steady surge which feels quick but not out of control. Get the revs over 4000, close your eyes (figure of speech, don’t try this at home kids) and your mind will reminisce of old M3s tearing up country roads all the way to the red-line. And although there are 3 engine modes to choose from; Rain, Road and Dynamic which change the engine mapping and traction control, in all likelihood after the novelty wears off, you probably will find that you will only use the first two. In some ways this bike is great for older people who have become a little lazy. I recently went for a ride with a friend who just brought a new R1200RT at about the same time as mine. We went for a ride through some beautiful twisty roads and where he was working the gears trying to get the best out of the boxer; I simply put it in 3rd, twisted the throttle and disappeared into the sunset. Last thing I heard on our Bluetooth intercom before I got out of range was “Bastard.”
Although I could go on for days about the engine, there are other things that make this a great bike. You have just about every electronic safety device known to the Motorcycling Gods and being BMW, they generally work although probably geared towards safety rather than performance. So a Ducati traction control system it ain’t. Also being a sports tourer there are some nice comfort touches that clearly were designed by people who actually ride bikes and not by computer geeks who spend a bit too much time in their rooms looking at Thai Lady Boy sites. Of course there are all the creature comforts that we come to expect from BMW but one of those simple, “I wish I had of thought of that” touches are the flick out flaps (air diverters – see even that sounds posh) on the side fairings that direct air over the tank and onto your chest and stomach. Simple, but so effective during a mid day summer ride. There are also all the electronic gadgets that will keep you amused for hours like MP3, Bluetooth, Cruise Control, Sat Nav (optional extra; ka-ching), Central Locking (yes, I laughed too but think about it, four compartments to lock, 5 if you get the top box) and adjustable everything including suspension. Trust me, the suspension does work and is not just a gimmick, although I still refuse to think about how much they are going to slug me to service it. Probably the GDP of a small African state I suspect. You also get a slipper clutch which for those who are used to matching your revs every time you kick down, is one of those life changing moments. BMW if you are reading this, make a big deal of it because it bloody well is otherwise people are going to think your bike is a POS. It took me couple of days to work out what the hell was going on because every time I changed down a cog, the bike was bouncing around like a Spanish honeymooner’s bed. It was only when I did it by accident and kicked down without revving that I noticed that the bike behaved completely differently and was as calm as the Delai Lama on valium. There is also fly by wire throttle which is a little on the touchy side but something you do get used to. But all this leads me to the Pièce de résistance, the adaptive headlight. In lame man’s terms, lean the bike into a corner and the bike adjusts the light beam so that it’s pointing around the corner at the right level. To call it brilliant is an understatement. No longer will I have to bother St Peter again on night time rides with constant pleas of “I promise I will never make inappropriate religious jokes again” as I wonder which fury critter has decided it wants a close up view of a Metzeler tread pattern. This thing lights up the night sky like an ill directed American bombing raid. Flick on high beam and you will think that the Yanks have gone nuclear. It’s that good. Oh by the way, did I mention the engine?
As stated before this thing is a bit of a porker. You certainly need to be aware where you park it otherwise you might find that your middle aged gut has suddenly doubled in size and your doctor is relieving you of the funds that you saved up for the suspension service to take out your hernia. But once it starts moving, a lot of that weight disappears and what you have is a bike begging to be leant over and to be given a jolly good spanking. But don’t get any silly ideas of buying leathers with those knee pads because if you do have them, everyone will think you are a knob. Furthermore, this will mean you will have no friends and so you will be sitting by yourself at the table next to the toilets that don’t flush drinking that horrible coffee that was supposedly roasted between the buttocks of Himalayan Monks but really is only Nescafe International Roast. Can you lean it over as much as an RT Boxer? That’s debatable but what is not debatable is that the grin you will have as you punch out the other side (2nd or 3rd if you couldn’t be bothered) will annoy the hell out of your mate on the Boxer. Flick the suspension setting to sport (which can be done on the move) and the bike is sure footed in any corner, with the centre stand only bottoming out when you hit one of those massive pot holes that used to swallow unsuspecting dinosaurs (or Harley riders, I can never tell the difference). And that sound. Oh my god. I know some people have written reviews which state that putting on after-market pipes would make it sound better, but really that would be like saying “No” to Keira Knightley (or Hugh Jackman in these liberated times) because they won’t go Brazilian. Does it really matter?
So is it the best bike in the world? Well that depends on your perspective. For a bike that won’t give you much change from $AUD 40K on the road you would want to think so. Obviously some of that coin is for the privilege of having that little blue and white propeller all over your bike, but when you start to compare it with what you get, say on a Ducati it doesn’t look so bad. Compare it to your Harley which is still in the workshop and it looks like a damn right bargain. The other gripes I have, well the Bluetooth system doesn’t work with two helmets unless you buy BMW approved ones and the USB cable point is in the compartment next to the engine. I suspect that your phone might enjoy a little warmth if you’re cruising high up in the French Alps, but in the Australian summer the only thing that compartment is good for is testing the heat resistance of tiles for the Mars probe.
It is clear who BMW have in mind with this bike. It’s not Boy Racers, who will still be in awe of it but haven’t quite worked out that it’s far better to spend your money on cappuccinos and home baking than on endless physio. Its target market are cashed up empty nesters who want to relive the yester years of easy rider freedom but without all that risk and pain of 70’s and 80’s motorcycling. It’s for those who would prefer a Bentley than a Ferrari or an aged bottle of Cognac rather than a Jägerbomb. And on that note, I find myself thinking that BMW have created a bit of a dilemma for themselves, as I come back to the beginning of my sermon. Where does that leave the RT? The GT does everything the RT does only exponentially better (and also empties your wallet exponentially quicker too). Of course there are die-hard oil heads that love Boxers but with the advent of the water cooled version to appease the European Tree Hugging Society, there is no longer that appeal of your engine lasting longer because there is no water in the mix to corrode things. The Boxer Boys are going to have to suffer water pump failures like the rest of us. Judging by spy photos on the net, it looks like BMW are not going to be getting rid of the RT anytime soon as it looks like a water cooled RT is just around the corner.
So don’t stop talking to your uncle just yet, he still alright and clearly not as bad as Grandpa Harley who sits in the garage making horrible noises and won’t move unless you spend a considerable amount of money on some more moving parts. But when your hot young cousin arrives remember technically it’s not illegal to marry your cousin. Or is it?