Just for a moment let’s pretend you haven’t seen the bike featured in the picture above. Now let’s say while visiting the local motorcycle shop, a friendly salesman approaches you and says the following, “if you give me $30,000 I’ll sell you the last bike you’ll ever need.” The first reaction most of us would have would either be to back away slowly or to find the manager and ask that this guy be removed from the floor. No current bike on the market is worth that much, and even if it was, it’s probably some sort of one-off custom sportbike that demands ridiculous maintenance fees due to an engine recalibration every 5,000 miles, right?
Well as it turns out the sales guy isn’t that crazy after all, and while the asking price might seem a little high, what you get in return is arguably one of the best touring bikes on the planet.
BIG DADDY K
The K 1600 GTL Exclusive is BMW’s top of the line luxury performance machine. From its perfectly balanced 6-cylinder engine to an integrated technology system that would make your smartphone seem…not so smart, the GTL has no problem showing you why it’s sitting at the head of the class. For the past three weeks, we were granted access to this sporty behemoth and happily attempted to push it to the limits. Despite the loopy grins still on our faces, what we found out may surprise you.
With a 1,649 cc in-line 6-cylinder motor, 3 storage cases (that include personalized BMW removable luggage), and a 7-gallon fuel tank that helps propel its weight to almost 800lbs, the GTL Exclusive isn’t winning any “Super Lightweight Touring” competitions. For a true test of your motorcycle balancing skills, try slowly maneuvering it in a crowded parking lot while looking for an open space. But what it lacks in low-speed maneuverability, it more than makes up for just about everywhere else.
The aforementioned motor easily churns out 129 lb-ft of torque, and HP is rated at 160. Snap open the electronic throttle in any gear and be prepared for a rush to hyper speed, which will undoubtedly get your attention no matter what you normally ride. Even more impressive than the speed factor is the amount of achievable lean angle and cornering clearance this large machine allows.
While riding through the twisty hills of Santa Clarita, CA, we easily kept pace with what turned out to be two local KTM sport riders. The conversation that took place at the end of the road centered around, “I can’t believe how far you got that thing leaned over, man; it looks like it just snaps into corners. How big is that thing?” After a quick walk around and some scratching of heads, both riders agreed to let us go on so they could witness the large beast tackle the canyons from behind.
The LED control screen that flashes the word Exclusive when the bike starts up is cool enough, but properly explaining all the technical wizardry that this bike contains could easily fill up an entire article by itself. So for the sake of time and our editor’s sanity let’s keep it simple. Our test model included BMW’s navigation system, an iPod adapter cable, XM Satellite Radio, adaptive xenon headlights, standard ABS, cruise control, hand and seat warmers, keyless alarm system, and Hill Start Control (a system designed to prevent riders from slipping on takeoff while parked on a steep incline).
While some of us are still attached to using buttons to manage our tech, BMW has taken steps to encourage you to join the new age of digital controls. Located on the left handlebar, the multi-controller digital wheel (iDrive-like system) lets you
access almost all of the bike’s modes. This includes, among many other things, the ESA II dynamic suspension set up and various traction controls. The dial also doubles as the volume control. Just try to resist cracking a giant smile when AC/DC’s “Shoot to Thrill” comes on and nothing but miles of open road lies ahead of you. And while the RPM and speedo tach still maintains an analog face, everything from the fuel mileage, time, temperature, and trip meter are conveniently digitally displayed right in front of the handlebars.
The capabilities of this 4-stroke in-line 6-cylinder engine will no doubt be talked about for years to come. Pick any gear you like and there’s no shortage of power to get you moving. But while blasting down highways and back roads for days at a time is clearly what this shuttle is designed for, it does happen to come with a back seat. Chances are if you’re shopping for a long-distance tourer, you likely won’t be traveling alone. So when the road plans involve riding from Maine to Miami or Alaska to Louisiana, your riding partner’s main concern is going to involve comfort. During our time with the GTL Exclusive, we brought along at least three passengers ranging in height from 5’ to 6’ ft tall to get their opinions on how it feels on the back.
Depending on which suspension setup was chosen (usually Normal or Comfort) almost everyone came back with the same response. On a scale of 1 to 10, the seat comfort was between 8 and 9, with only one person requesting a little more padding. Time in the passenger saddle usually ranged between two to three hours before really having to get off and stretch the legs. One minor complaint was that the stock seat was tilted just a tad far forward. This sometimes resulted in sliding forward in the seat, but this was usually associated with high corner speeds or severely bumpy roads.
The padded armrests were a nice touch, and the ability to control the seat warmers if traveling through a cold snap was a big plus. On one of our longer rides, a passenger even admitted to falling asleep twice. “I felt oddly safe and protected back there; maybe it was the temperature outside but I honestly fell asleep for a good five minutes.” While this was important information to gather, it did bring up another interesting conversation — one that could completely sway your mind about purchasing a large touring bike.
The demographic for large touring bikes is usually riders age 40 and older, and that’s being generous. If you’re only used to riding high-end sportbikes, power cruisers, single-cylinder standards, or hot rod triples, the idea of owning a K 1600 GTL Exclusive might seem light-years away. And while we could sit here and extol its virtues for hours, the reasons that makeup, why it’s such a phenomenal piece of engineering, are exactly the reasons why you might not want one.
Throughout all of our testing, the only thing we found to really nitpick was the position of the foot controls. Moving them just about an inch forward would almost make this machine argument proof. After becoming familiar with the controls, in less than a minute, a rider can set up the suspension on the fly, easily raise the electronic windshield to the desired level of wind resistance, and find his or her favorite tunes on the XM stations. After that, it’s just a simple matter of letting the miles roll by. Granted, your attention level will largely depend on what routes you take and what time of day you are riding. But the longer we rode this GTL, everything from its flawless engine design to the effortlessly shifting gearbox made us feel like we weren’t on a bike, but in some sort of super-hybrid sedan.
Perhaps it’s the naiveté of youth and that our bones haven’t had time to properly age, or maybe we’re just too stubborn to agree on what makes up the ingredients of an engaging motorcycle. Better yet, we might just need to shut up and take on a few Iron Butt marathons. Whatever the case may be, there’s something unsettling about a large touring motorcycle that’s almost faultless, and the K 1600 GTL Exclusive is eerily close to perfection.
As with everything motorcycle related we encourage you to do your own research. However, if you’re seriously in the market and looking for the very best touring motorcycle out there, let us put your mind at ease with a few quick facts.
Harley Davidson’s Ultra Limited is cheaper but weighs 100lbs more. Honda’s top of the line Gold Wing will cost you just as much but has a smaller gas tank and significantly less horsepower. Aprilia, Ducati, Kawasaki, Moto Guzzi, Triumph, and Yamaha all have smaller sport-tourers that are substantially lighter, but none will have as much refinement as the BMW.
The simple truth for now, and possibly the next few years, is that you just won’t find a better all-around luxurious tourer than the K 1600 GTL Exclusive.
BMW K 1600 GTL Exclusive
Engine is Phenomenal
Technology at the flip of your wrist
California to New York and back, not a problem
Might put your passengers to sleep
Rising gas costs might mean you can only travel 4,000 miles a month versus 7,000
Wearing a black helmet will convince motorists in front of you that you’re a cop (Wait, shouldn’t that be in the good column?)
It’s hard to go back to a 1200 cc touring bike after this; very hard indeed
- Matt Hansen, Director/Producer