2023 BMW K1600 GTL

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Spend $50k on a new BMW car and you get a four cylinder engine. Spend half as much on a BMW bike and get a six cylinder engine – and a power-to-weight ratio that’s a lot more favorable.  

So why does BMW’s K1600 GTL come standard with a six while every BMW car shy of a 7 Series comes standard with . . . a 2.0 liter four? 

It’s because they haven’t gotten to bikes yet. 

Not BMW.

The government regulatory apparat that has been regulating car engines out of existence via ever-upticking fuel economy mandatory minimums and carbon dioxide “emissions” standards that effectively require less and less engine in order to comply with.   

Inevitably – once they have succeeded in eliminating engines from cars – in favor of electric motors –  it will be time for the mopping-up operation and bikes such as the GTL will be no more.

Ergo, better hurry.

What It Is

The K1600 is BMW’s line of shaft-drive sport-touring bikes.

The GTL falls in between the sportiest version of the series – the $23,895 K1600 GT, which is solo-oriented, with a minimalist, sport bike-style passenger seat sans backrest, sport bike-like cowling and two rather than three storage cases – and the $27,645 K1600 Grand America, which has a fully padded, backrested and heated perch for the passenger as well as floorboards, three larger bags and additional headlights.

The $26,895 GTL has the heated backseat perch – as well as three storage cases – but without the floorboards and with sportier ergos for the rider as well as jauntier sport-bike-like exhaust pipes. It also comes standard with five-stage heated grips, electric-adjustable windscreen, driver-selectable modes (Rain, Road and Dynamic), a load-leveling adjustable suspension, 10.25 inch configurable main gauge cluster, satellite radio, GPS and Reverse Assist.

It’s designed for a long, comfortable ride  . . .  and a ride.

Like every K1600, the GTL comes standard with what costs extra in just about every car BMW currently sells – an inline six cylinder engine that’s also as historically “BMW” as the big boxer twins BMW uses to power its big cruiser bikes.

What’s New for 2023

All K1600s come standard with a new adaptive LED headlight, keyless ignition fob (also keylessly unlocks the gas tank) and – if you like – you can turn off the self-cancelling turn signals to allow full manual control. Real-time tire pressure monitoring is standard and the optional Premium package includes Gear Shift Assist Pro, which when engaged allows the rider to change gears without manually operating the clutch.

There are also some color changes for the new model year. Meteoric Dust II Metallic replaces last year’s Mineral White Metallic and Gravity Blue Metallic replaces Elegance Manhattan Metallic.

What’s Good

Standard six is electric smooth – and makes the sounds no electric motor makes.

More comfortable to ride in the rain (and cold) than lesser bikes are in the sun and warmth.

Half the price of a BMW car – with a four.

What’s Not So Good

Rotary knob left-grip controller for the various displays (and that you use to activate various functions such as the heated grips and adjust the stereo) takes a while to memorize.

You must deploy the kickstand to get the keyelss gas cap to unlock.

Upper compartment for your phone is a tight squeeze for some of the latest (larger) phones.

Under The Tank

As per above, the heart of every K1600 variant is a DOHC inline six similar to those that used to be commonly standard in most of BMW’s cars. It’s mounted canted forward and sideways, with bold “6” lettering on the head to let everyone who sees know there’s more than just a four powering this BMW.

BMW identifies it as a “1600” six but it’s actually a 1649, in terms of its actual displacement. But “1600” rolls of the tongue more mellifilously. It’s a high-compression (12.2:1) six that generates 160 horsepower at 6,750 RPM and 132.7 ft.-lbs. of torque at 5,250 RPM – wich means it isn’t necessary to rev it to its 8,500 RPM redline.

Just fun.

A six speed transmission sends the signals to the rear wheel via shaft drive, so you’ll never have to deal with adjusting or cleaning a chain.

You’ll also rarely need to stop – for fuel – because this BMW carries 7 gallons of fuel (1 in reserve) which means a range approaching 300 miles. Put another way, you can travel around 500 miles in one day without having to stop more than once.

A 700 watt alternator is standard, along with a plug in for a heated jacket, etc.

Because this bike is fairly heavy – just shy of 800 pounds before you throw a leg over – it comes standard with a Reverse assist that can be helpful in certan situations, as when you’ve parked head-first in a spot on a slight incline that you can’t roll forward out of. Just push the “R” button on the left handlebar and then back ‘er up using the starter button.

On The Road

One of the usual downsides of riding a bike rather than driving a car is that being on a bike in poor weather usually sucks. It’s wet – and now so are you. It’s cold – and now so are you. It keeps many riders off their bikes when the weather isn’t good.

Usually.

The GTL is an exception to that usually.

BMW sent me the bike to test ride the day before the remnants of Hurricane Ian blew through my neck of SW Virginia. Lots of rain, accompanied by cold (high 40s, which feels even colder on a bike – especially when it’s wet). Well, what the heck. It is my job to drive – or ride – whatever I’m sent to test, irrespective of the weather. And so I girded my loins – whatever that means – and rolled the GTL out of the garage and into the weather.

It might as well have been dry – and warm – for all I felt.

Now, that’s a slight exaggeration but not much. You have to ride this bike to understand. The fairing is designed such that it deflects almost all of the weather around you. The adjustable windscreen keeps almost all of the rain off you. The five-level heated grips and seat do their work so well you are likely to need to turn them down.

I did.

Maybe you’d want to have heated gloves and a riding suit come December – when the weather’s even colder – but I’d bet you could ride comfortably in December wearing just a pair of good gloves (and jacket, etc.) without the hook-ups because of how protected from the elements you are on this two-wheeled 7 Series.

Which feels nothing like that rig.

Well, that’s not quite right. It does feel like it – in terms of how comfortable and secure it makes you feel – especially in poor weather. But it does not feel like a 7 when you lean into it. The big 7 is a marvelous luxury sedan. It isn’t a sport sedan. It’s too big, too heavy for such work. It is designed for effortlessly comfortable high-speed cruising – and so is the GTL. But the GTL is also designed for pretty aggressive maneuvering, should you be in the mood for it.

Though 800 pounds isn’t light, the bike does not feel heavy. It rolls naturally, without having to bully its weight left or right – and back upright. The clip-on like handlebars telegraph your inputs to the Duolever front end, which very cleverly isolates the front suspension from the steering. Get on the brakes hard and the bike doesn’t dive forward and threaten an unasked for stoppie. It also helps make this bike almost as easy to U-turn as a dual sport half its weight.

A trick thing about the brakes. They are linked, if you use the handlebar control. But if you just want to trail-brake, use the foot lever – and only the rear brake is activated.

The centerpiece of this bike, of course, is the big six. It is almost as big as the proportionately much smaller 2.0 liter fours used in so many BMW cars. But while size does matter, it is layout that matters even more. Inline sixes are always smooth – and revvy, too. This is one is perhaps the smoothest – and revviest – you’ll find. There is no – as in literally zero – vibration emanating from the six. Even when you rev it to five or six thousand RPM. It will happily – eagerly – rev to almost 9,000 RPM (remember, this is a six!) before the limiter kicks in. But because the engine makes so much torque – and power – thousands of revs lower than that – you only need do that in order to hear it.

And that is something you will want to do, a lot.

Though injected and very quiet at lower revs, if you rev it, the engine’s character changes from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde – but without any change in vibration or smoothness. Very easy to slip into sport bike mode – on a bike that can more-than-hold its own as a luxury cross-country touring machine with a Goldwing or Indian Chief.

And hold nearly as much of your stuff, too.

At The Curb

One of the great appeals of this bike is that it’s not too big – and not too heavy. While 800 pounds isn’t light, it isn’t as heavy as the pushing 1,000-pounders in the full-boogie cruiser-touring bike class – including BMW’s own R9, which I was able to get some seat time on last fall.

And as far as big – this BMW didn’t take up much more floor space in my garage than my ancient beater bike, an ’83 Honda Silverwing GL650 Interstate (which isn’t even 50 percent as comfortable on the Interstate as this BMW).

Though it is mechanically essentially identical to the other K1600 variants, aside from small differences such as wheels – there are a number of cosmetic and functional differences that separate the GTL from the other K1600s in the lineup. The most obvious of these being the top/center storage compartment and full seat with backrest for the passenger. The base GT does not have these while the Grand America does (its bags are also more streamlined and hold a little more). Thus, the GTL retains most of the sport-bike character of the GT while also offering essentially the same degree of utility/practicality as the Grand America and for less money, too (the difference in price between the GTL and the Grand America is appx. $750).

Ergos-wise, the GTL’s 29.5 inch seat height makes this bike very easy to back up using your feet if you’re a tall geek like me but the relationship of seat to pedals doesn’t cramp you up, either. This is a big bike that can be handled by people who aren’t – which is harder to say about some of the big crusiers, including the R9 I test rode last fall. That bike is well over 1,000 pounds with just an average size rider on and that weight can get away from you in a tight, low-speed turn.

The bike’s fairings and bags are as beautifully finished as any top-of-the-line BMW car – and that is saying a lot given this BMW bike only costs about as much as a mid-trim Honda Accord. The cases are insulated and lit. They can be taken off, suitcase-style (just like my ancient GL650’s) and they hold so much stuff you won’t need a car when you’d prefer to ride.

And that is perhaps the essence of this bike. It can take the place of a car. It imparts the feelings one used to feel in great cars – largely gone, now.

And you can feel them for a lot less than the cost of any of BMW’s cars.

The Rest

There are only a few options to consider, such as a different seat, optional wheels and extra lights. BMW also offers the semi-automated shifting feature described above – though why anyone would not want to shift a bike like this is as mysterious as the appeal of Beyond Meat.

The only nit I found to pick is that the two small storage cubbies for the rider are mounted low in the fairing (both sides) where they are hard to reach while you’re riding the bike. That and the tightness of the upper compartment by the windscreen for the cell phone charger. Some of the newest phones don’t quite fit or just barely.

Just FYI.

Also, be hipped to the fact that the kickstand must be deployed to open the keyless gas tank. It took me a few minutes to figure that one out!

The Bottom Line

If you’ve been holding back on getting a big touring bike because of the weather – or because maybe it’s too big and too old for you – here’s a reason not to hold back.

. . .

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11 COMMENTS

  1. Q: Not economical, but for those of a rebellious mind set, would it be possible (mechanically) to remove the L6 engine (and transmission?) from the bike and install it in the car? (bwhahahahahahaha…..)

    • Hi president –

      Of course! I all comes down to how much you want to wrench … and can wrench. I think this engine would be a fabulous powerplant in a 1,200 or so pound kit car, a la the Lotus 7.

  2. A beautiful and capable machine, in virtually all respects.
    Looks, torque and horsepower galore.
    But $24K to $28-29K????
    OUCH!!!!
    Reminds me of the true meaning of BMW’s initials…
    Break My Wallet….

  3. Looks sicker than the Goldwang, but euro bikes suffer from parts availability. It’s gotten much worse since Globohomo started collapsing Europe. BMW isn’t as bad as Aprilia and Ducati, but us that own them will always have a solid jap bike on standby…

    • Indeed, Local –

      All my bikes are Japanese (Kaws and Hondas). Even the ancient ones – ’76 Kz900, ’75 S1 – are still easy to get parts for. Plus, most of them hardly ever need parts.

    • Thanks, Chris!

      I just returned from another jaunt (and embedded a movie in the review). I love this bike. It reminds me of the way cars used to be.

      • Great video too. I am currently intrigued with the new HD Pan America and am considering trading in my FJR1300 on one. I love the FJR but it absolutely can not go on dirtroads or dirt parking areas with it, which i need/want to do from time to time. Can you get a HD P-A to review?
        Thanks

  4. Not thrilled with the riding position, long trip with knees bent back, peg no floorboard? No thanks.

    Wish they’d “Valkyrie” one of these modern scooters – I’m a minimalist for motorcycles. Two wheels, big motor, just a windshield, let’s hit it!

    I am a fan of shaft drive and cruise control is a plus for long trips.

  5. That’s a BEAUTIFUL bike! I wish I could afford one. Even if I could though, I don’t ride enough to justify a bike like this. Plus, I’d lose my license on this thing! I wouldn’t be able to resist opening the throttle to feel the smooth, rocket like rush of power this thing gives; plus, I’d want to hear that sound!

    Also, the existence of the BMW K1600s is why I think Honda won’t stop producing the Goldwing. If BMW sees ROI in this segment of the market, then why doesn’t Honda?

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