For some reason motorcycles powered by engines possessing six cylinders in parallel format appear to lead short lives.
|AT A GLANCE|
|Engine: 1646cc liquid-cooled transverse-mounted fuel-injected dohc six, 118kW (160bhp) at 7750rpm, 175Nm at 5250rpm|
|Transmission: Six-speed sequential gearbox, shaft drive.|
|Chassis: Aluminium bridge-spar frame with single-sided swingarm, Duolever front forks with 125mm of travel and preload-adjustable rear monoshock with 135mm of travel.|
|Hot: Combines the comfort levels of Honda's Gold Wing with the dynamic performance and handling of a VFR1200F sports-tourer; perfects the inline six bike engine format.|
|Not: Duolever masks feel from the front tyre, especially at lower speeds; expect fuel use to reach an average 7.0litres/100km during enthusiastic use of the engine performance.|
It's this daunting history that was perhaps BMW's biggest challenge when it first began to develop the K1600GT sampled here. Could the niche Bavarian brand succeed where powerful mainstream bike- makers like Honda and Kawasaki had failed?
It doesn't take much time in the K16's saddle to cement an opinion that the bike's stupendous engine deserves to enjoy a long and successful amount of time in the marketplace. It delivers serious helpings of torque in a highly responsive and refined fashion, and sounds just as evocative and emotionally-stimulating as a six- cylinder M3 sports-coupe that's been fitted with a race exhaust. It's like a jet turbine has been attached to a pair of hard-case panniers, a generous windscreen, and plusher accommodation than that provided by any helicopter.
You also sense that perhaps only BMW could successfully build this type of bike, given that the company's auto division has embraced the inline-six layout like no other in the car-making world. Then there's all the lessons that the Motorrad side of the company gained from its first foray into multi-cylinder bike engine design with the first K-series models in the early 1980s. Those first K-bikes were special in the way that their inline-four and inline-triple engines were mounted horizontally with the crankshafts located longitudinally along the left sides of the bike for ease of power transfer to the shaft- drive delivery system that was then a requisite BMW technology. To ensure those early K-series engines didn't result in wheelbase extensions that would affect the handling of the bikes, BMW had to learn some valuable lessons about how to compact the length of an inline engine. These now come home to roost in the K1600GT.
The real beauty of this bike is that you're hardly aware that there is a parallel six-cylinder engine in its midst. Only the uncanny smoothness, the Porsche- like bark of the exhaust, and the rev-happy howl of the intake system give the game away. For a large inline six, the engine is incredibly slim and light. The cylinders are spaced just 5mm apart, there are no ancillaries powered off either end of the crankshaft and the overall powertrain mass is just 102kg. It's this attention to engine packaging that makes the K1600GT also feel slim and light. The handling of the obvious competitor, especially in the all-important US market - the Honda Gold Wing - feels far less agile and more ungainly by comparison. That's especially so when we're talking about the GT version of the K16, rather than it's more blinged-up sibling, the K1600GTL. For, ask any rapper, bling adds mass. That's why these microphone merchants have such thick necks - they've obviously become that way from having to support the weight of all the gold chains and medallions.
With a 29kg difference in mass between the GT and GTL, you feel the positive effects of weight- saving measures like the magnesium-alloy front subframe fitted to both K1600s more keenly when riding the former. The less expensive GT has a dynamic that is more comparable to Honda's VFR1200F sport-tourer than the Wing, especially noticeable in its enthusiasm to change direction. First impressions of the BMW suggested the bike would be slow to respond to tiller input, simply because it looks so big and imposing. These proved to be utterly false. I had to delay my timing of corner entries because I was initially hitting the apexes of turns too early. The K1600GT is no S1000RR but its handling is closer to that of the latter BMW sportsbike than any 319kg fully- equipped sports-tourer has a right to be. The GT doesn't come with electronic suspension adjustment (ESA) standard, although it does have a handy hand-wheel to alter the spring preload of the rear monoshock as required. I felt the set-up of the analogue suspenders had found the happy place between touring comfort and sporty suppleness. The result is a bike that is rewarding to ride in just about every conceivable situation, making even the negotiation of boring roads an event.
As good as the chassis is, this is a bike that is most defined by its stellar engine, which played its seductive sextet music every time I took it for a ride. At $44,628, the BMW K1600GT is no cheap ride, but it does deliver a sports-touring experience that borders upon being priceless. It appears highly likely that excellence of this standard will endure longer than the short-fused appeal of any inline six-powered motorcycle model that preceded the K1600GT.
- © Fairfax NZ News