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Next-gen tech comes to BMW bikes

The latest versions of BMW’s six-cylinder K 1600 motorcycles have arrived in South Africa, with full connectivity. LANCE ROTHSCHILD put them to the test

BMW Motorrad, the motorcycle division of BMW, has brought the revamped the iconic in-line BMW six-cylinder 1600 cm3 motor to South Africa. It delivers increased torque through improved engine management, better emissions control, anti-knock sensors, the latest 10.5 inch TFT display, “next-generation” electronic suspension, and adaptive headlights. And it comes with full connectivity.

BMW has a proud history of excellence in six-cylinder in-line motors, and introduced the 1.6 litre K 1600 platform to their Motorrad offering in 2010. Their latest upgrade to this platform comes in the form of four variants with differing levels of luxury and features. The variants are:

  • K 1600 GT
  • K 1600 GTL
  • K 1600 B
  • K 1600 Grand America

The key differentiator between the models is styling and level of tech, accessories and finish.

All the models come with panniers for packing luggage and a fairing to protect the rider from wind buffeting. At the launch, BMW Motorrad SA presented the K 1600 GT and the K 1600 B. The K 1600 GT is the platform entry-level model, whilst the K 1600 B is of the American “Bagger” ilk, with characteristic streamlining of the low rear section in the iconic “bagger” style. The motto for the “B” is “The Spirit of the Open Road” and it is on the open road that this bike delivers in abundance.

So, what’s new in the K 1600 series?

The revised six-cylinder in-line engine complies with EU-5 regulations with new engine control, a knock sensor system, revised emission concept, and engine drag torque control. In technical terms, the use of the BMS-O engine control, two knock sensors and two additional broadband lambda probes are the centrepiece. These contribute to substantially improved emission values, but there are also noticeable benefits relating to the torque of the six-cylinder engine. Peak torque has increased to 180 Nm (previously 175 Nm) at 5 250 RPM. This results in better pulling power and acceleration. The motor’s power output remains unchanged at 118 kW. However, with the new technology, it achieves this at 1000 rpm less than on previous models.

The MSR Engine Torque Control system improves traction across particularly unstable road conditions, making for safer riding.

BMW’s Dynamic ESA “Next Generation” electronic suspension fully compensates for load, automatically. Damping is automatically adapted to the riding conditions and manoeuvres, and there is also automatic riding position compensation in all load states.

Headlights have been modernised with the introduction of LED light units and a new full-LED adaptive headlight. This is an important safety factor – a key consideration of BMW Motorrad –  and the new full-LED headlight with LED lens technology and daytime riding light illuminates the road with an unrivalled bright, clear light. Another standard feature component of the headlight is the swivelling “adaptive headlight” function. With it, the low-beam LED headlight is turned into the curve according to the lean angle. This enables the rider to see through the curve, because the light shines where the motorcycle is heading. To top this, BMW has also added some “sexy” features like a welcome light, which illuminates the bike when approaching it in the dark.

All the models are equipped with BMW’s new, 10.25 inch TFT colour display with integrated map navigation, easy-to-use route planning and comprehensive connectivity, as standard. This provides excellent readability whilst ensuring that the rider has full awareness of critical information.

The top-of-the-range models (GTL and Grand America) come with BMW’s Audio System 2.0 which provides a digital sound experience as standard equipment. This is also available as optional equipment on the GT and B variants.

One of the sexiest innovations by BMW is a new “paint option”, which is its “water transfer printing method”. This makes each bike unique and the colour and appearance of the bike shifts with the differing light conditions. I could not believe that the same bike could look so different on the same day. I have to admit that I was mesmerised by this option.

Enough of the tech stuff; what’s it like riding these bikes?

Let’s get one thing straight, these are not small bikes and are not for novice riders. They are big and have a long wheelbase and are quite bulky to manoeuvre when moving slowly, but the concept is for an open-road tourer that is comfortable, safe and enjoyable. Ignition is keyless and the engine fires up and settles to a really nice smooth burble – which is synonymous with BMW’s six-cylinder car engines too. A twist of the throttle gives off a really nice exhaust note that accelerates the pulse of any enthusiast. A reverse gear is provided for ease of parking-lot manoeuvrability, selected by pressing a button on the left-hand side of the handlebar.

The gearbox is very smooth and selecting first is less clunky than on many other bikes. Pulling off on the K 1600 is easy and gear changes are silky smooth. The bike has very good low-down torque and you can ride it at low revs in a high gear without it feeling like it is about to stall. As with all bikes, as soon as it gets moving, it gets a lot lighter and easier to manoeuvre. The engine note is very rewarding when you give it a bit of gas as you progress through the gears, but if you don’t feel the boy racer spirit, the engine is quietly understated while oozing confidence and competence.

Once on the open road, it’s really easy to cruise at the National Speed Limit (or even above) with the cruise control allowing you freedom of not having to watch the speedometer constantly. The bike is very stable and has so much power, that overtaking slower traffic (and there won’t be much faster traffic) is easy. While it was cool to change down a gear and give it gas to hear the beautiful engine note, the K 1600 has plenty of torque and pulls from about 80km/h in sixth, all the way to way north of 200km/h (not that we tested the upper range).

BMW’s famous shaft drive keeps the bike progressing smoothly, and the excellent braking system (which includes ABS) ensures that the bike can be brought to a stop rapidly, when this is required. The seat is comfortable and the seating position is really great, making it ideal for eating up long stretches on the open road. The heated grips keep your hands toasty warm in cold conditions and the heated seats ensure your bottom stays warm too.

There was very little to differentiate between the GT and the B models, although my personal preference would be for the B, particular because I preferred the handlebar style. (That’s really nit-picking).

The BMW K 1600 is the kind of bike that I would love to ride on long trips, taking full advantage of SA’s open roads and Big Sky. It’s an ideal bike to tour this beautiful country and to enjoy the immersive experience of travelling in nature – as opposed to travelling through it.

I know that if I owned one, I would constantly be making plans to go to far-flung places, just for the riding experience. A trip on the K 1600 to Namaqualand later this year to experience the wild-flowers season is tugging at my heartstrings. It is the ultimate in touring bikes and will make you take trips, just to enjoy the sheer riding pleasure.

See you on the open road.

Price list:

K 1600 GTfrom R353,300
K 1600 GTLfrom R361,950
K 1600 Bfrom R400,400
K 1600 Grand Americafrom R463,500
All prices include 15% VAT
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