Eric Peters: 2018 BMW K 1600B new motorcycle review

By Eric Peters

Motorcycles aren’t subject to Uncle’s fuel-efficiency fatwas.

Not yet.

Which explains why BMW is putting its sixes in its bikes  . . . while removing them from its cars. Including even mid-sized cars like the 5 Series sedan, which now comes standard with a tiny 2.0 liter four. Not because that’s what BMW buyers want but because it’s what Uncle effectively requires. The six can’t make the CAFE cut and so it’s being back-benched in favor of far less euphonious fours, their output crutched by turbochargers.

It is heartbreaking.

But there is a two-wheeled end run. A Colonel Bogey salute to Uncle and his fatwas.

BMW’s K series bikes.

They all come standard with sixes – at least until Uncle gets around to gimping them, too.

This includes the latest addition to the lineup – the K 1600 B.

The B is for bagger – and it does have streamlined bags, a fairing to match and sits lowered in the tail. But the main thing it’s got that sets it apart is a pushing 1700 cc straight six like you used to find under the hoods of four-wheeled BMWs.

It makes 160 hp at 7,750 RPM and 129 ft.-lbs. of torque at 5,250 RPM.

Mounted low and mean in a 741 lb. bike instead of a 3,400 lb. car equals an acceleration blitz no four-wheeled BMW can touch  . . . even those that still come with a six.

WHAT IT IS

The K 1600B is BMW’s Bismarckian 16-inch salvo aimed directly at a market niche that – up to now – has been owned by big V-twin baggers made by Harley, et al.

It’s a niche that Honda tried to penetrate with its F6B, a bagger version of the Goldwing – but to no avail (more on this below).

The K 1600 B is based on the K 1600 GT and GTL adventure-touring bikes. They all share the same 1649 cc six and also BMW’s unique Paralever rear and fork-less Duolever front suspension, but the bagger sits about 2.8 inches lower in the tail, gets unique streamliner bodywork, has a lowered seat (in two available heights) tubular bars and – of course – bags.

These are narrower and longer – with integrated twin thunderbolt LED brake lights to set it all off.

Only one color is offered: Black Storm Metallic.

Too bad it’s not radar reflective.

Base price is $19,995 and that includes three rider-selectable modes (Rain, Road and Dynamic), linked ABS/Traction control, heated grips and seat (including passenger) a power-adjustable windshield, cruise control and a 5.7 inch color LCD screen whose various functions can be accessed via a clever rotary thumbwheel controller adjacent to the left grip.

Two major option packages are available, Premium and Touring.

The Premium package bundles BMW’s high-performance Gear Shift Assist Pro – which when activated enables ultra-quick throttle-only gear changes (the computer deals with the clutchwork), keyless ignition, Bluetooth/radio software, LED auxiliary lights, central locking and an alarm system. It stickers for $3,550.

The Touring package adds Reverse Assist (it helps you back up the bike using the starter motor) and a SiriusXM-enabled audio system. MSRP for this package is $445.

You can also add floorboards, forged handlebars and case guards, as you like.

WHAT’S NEW

The Bagger is a new addition to the K series roster and BMW’s first assault across the trenches into Bagger Country.

WHAT’S GOOD

That six. Holy hell!

This bagger is also a zerstorer. If it could fly, you could use it to attack Poland.

Or make peace with Poland. It is equally civilized when asked to be.

Two available seat heights.

Big range: 7 gallon tank; stop once every 250-ish miles  . . . assuming you want to.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Streamlined bags cost you some capacity; they are too small to accommodate some helmets.

No “off” switch for the ABS and traction control.

Black Storm Metallic isn’t radar reflective.

Given that six, it ought to be.

UNDER THE TANK

The Bagger gets a standard six in part because it is a bike and – for now – there are no fuel efficiency fatwas for things on two wheels.

And also because it’s just bad-ass.

There is nothing in the class that approaches this bike’s stupendous, fatwa-shivving 160 hp. The ‘Wing F6B’s larger (1800 cc) six made just 118. Most of the big twins are in the same territory as well.

For a bagger, 160 hp is braggadocious.

Hell, for anything.

One of the fastest sport-touring bikes ever was the Kawasaki ZZR1200 – a 180 mph motorcycle with bags – and its open-class four made slightly less power than you get here.

I have ridden a ZZR up to 170 and this baggerfeels like it could get there, too.

Just ask the cop who nailed me the second day out. That’s what I get for saddling up without my trusty Valentine 1.

The in-line six lies seductively, almost flat in the frame – at a 55 degree angle –  and it does not poke out of the fairing at each side. This is an amazing feat of engineering and packaging. The engine’s cylinder bores are only 72 mm in diameter and practically siamesed  – the sleeves spaced just 5 mm apart. This allows a six that’s not much longer overall than most inline fours – including the old ZZR1200’s.

To appreciate BMW’s achievement, have a look at a late ’70s Honda CBX or Kawasaki KZ1300. The outer two cylinders of the in-line sixes in those bikes served as fairings, practically. They were an awesome sight – but in the same way that Lou Ferrigno in his prime doing a double bicep was awesome.

A bit much.

Those classic-era sixes were also much smaller in terms of their displacement – and they made nowhere near the power the BMW’s six does.

But they took up a lot more room in the bike.

They were also mounted closer to the vertical – all that weight gawkily up in the air – while the Bagger’s six lays canted far forward, into the wind, putting the weight of the thing close to the asphalt – as if to eat it up. Which, of course, is exactly what it does.

Zero to 60 in a 2.8 seconds. Roll-on thrust like god’s own hand, smacking you in the small of the back.

The Wing’s flat six sits even lower, it’s true. But the Honda is much less a zerstorer (that’s German for destroyer; a designation given fighter-bombers like the infamous Me110s which terrorized London during the war).

Its flat six is shy almost 50 hp and is a low compression (9.8:1) low-rpm (5,500 RPM power peak, 6,000 RPM redline) single-overhead cam engine designed for the low and mid-ranges, which up till now has been the altitude at which your typical bagger operates.

Enter the zerstorer. 

It comes at you vertically, in a steep dive out of the sun. Its engine features dual overhead cams, 12.2:1 compression and can spin to almost 9,000 RPM.

Wants to spin to almost 9,000 RPM. Practically begs you to twist your wrist.

There is also a six-speed gearbox to play with here – vs. a a lazy-day five speed in the Honda.

And the BMW is lighter: 741 pounds gassed up vs. 904 pounds for the ‘Wing.

One’s for cruising. The other’s for bruisin’ .  . .

Or, both – as you prefer.

ON THE ROAD

Baggers are big and heavy and torquey.

Right? Isn’t that the rule? They are not supposed to be light and agile and berserkerfast, too.

But BMW reasoned – why not? Screw the rules!

Indeed!

The six’s displacement provides the low-down torque (129 ft.-lbs.at 5,250 RPM) expected in this class of bike. For the “relaxed” and “comfortable touring qualities” the bagger crowd esteems. No need to rev much to get going.

In any gear, just about. Downshifts are fun, but rarely mandatory. You could ride all day – comfortably, easily moving faster than anything in your orbit that wasn’t really trying – and never crack 4,000 RPM. At 70, in sixth, the tach barely registers 3,000.

That is expected. Big baggers, it’s the rules.

Most unexpected is the BMW’s capacity to rev.

 

And break every rule in the book. 

At 7,000-plus RPM, the six begins making extremely serious horsepower. Be ready. The low and mid-range easygoingness transforms into – cue Dr. Jennings from Howard the Duck  . . . something else.

A deep bellow wells up from below as the Dark Overlord opens his eyes. If you keep your wrist rotated, better have your radar detector on. “Relaxed” and “comfortable touring qualities”  . . . yeah.

Maybe in Germany – where you can “relax” at 120 in the fast lane.

Which this bike will do without half trying. Jail bait on two wheels. I got tagged on the second day of my week-long ride: 74 in a 55. Which is barely cracking the throttle on this thing. If you snap it open, it will wheelie.

In second and third gear.

The power is tractably applied, though; kept in check via the electronics. Particularly helpful is the Rain program, which yanks the Dark Overlord’s chain on slick asphalt. The other two programs – Road and Dynamic – amp up the power delivery/cinch down the adjustable suspension for hooning or not, as per your mood.

BMW’s Duolever/Paralever suspension is strange looking but functions brilliantly. The bike yin-yangs with the road’s undulations; is never bouncy and always imparts a feeling of total control. The general tendency of a shaft-driven bike to jack up under hard acceleration is completely muted by BMW’s unique approach to motorcycle suspension design.

Although the B’s windshield is smaller than on a touring bike – per bagger aesthetic etiquette – wind protection is decent enough to make a ride on a 48 degree late fall day enjoyable ( as oppose to bearable) even without a heated riding suit. The excellent heated grips and seat make up for the nominal increase in breeze vs. the more fully-faired/windscreened GT/GTL.

Most of the bike’s electronic features can be toggled through via the multi-function rotary thumbwheel adjacent to the left grip. Up and down to access what you want, then a push inward to select/engage. It can be done without looking. Cars should have systems this well-designed but generally don’t.

This includes – ironically enough – BMW’s cars.

Reverse is available but much less needed than it is on a bike like the much-heavier ‘Wing. The BMW’s 740-ish pounds (vs. the ‘Wing’s 900-plus pounds) is only about 150 or so pounds more than a full-size sport bike and because you sit lower, it’s easier to walk the thing back using pedal power.

If you prefer, let the machine do it for you.

Push the R button and use the starter motor to walk the bike back as needed.

Two seat heights are offered – 30.7 inches and 29.5 inches – which makes the bike that much more agreeable to different body types. The ‘Wing is more take it – or leave it – as it comes with just one seat height.

Despite the things it is capable of doing, the BMW is more manageable than the typical bagger bike.

A 900-plus pounder like the Honda is a handful, even for a young, tall and strong rider. Not just reversing, either. Slow u-turns can result in all that weight getting away from you; it only takes a moment for the tipping point to be reached – and passed. This is less likely to happen when you’re balancing 741 pounds – and if you do manage to drop the BMW, you’ll probably be able to pick it up yourself.

The ‘Wing will take two.

BMW offers car-type keyless/pushbutton ignition and central locking. Just keep the fob in your pocket.

It beats hell out of fumbling for the keys.

AT THE CURB

The main functional/dimensional difference between the B and the GT/GTL is the lowered rear, which is dropped 2.8 inches vs. its adventure touring siblings. This makes it easier to mount/dismount, of course – and gives the bagger its distinctive squat.

There are also unique-to-the-B pipes, finished in chrome and brushed aluminum – each side having three tips, one for each cylinder.

In addition to a fantastically powerful main headlight array, the B also gets a pair of secondary projector beam lamps mounted low – just ahead of the floorboards. 

The B also gets those slim-line bags, which like most things designed primarily to look good are a bit less practical than the boxier storage compartments hanging off the sides of the GT/GTL. Your helmet may – or may not fit.

The bike is finished in alternatingly shiny and menacing black matte paint.

Perfect for the Dark Overlord within.

THE REST

The deal-cincher here – vs. the Goldwing, at least – is that the BMW costs less. Especially now that Honda has cancelled the F6B – which was priced just a few hundred bucks higher than the BMW. 

The 2018 Goldwing starts at $23,500 – which is several thousand bucks more than the BMW – and reverts back to the big (and heavy) touring trade it has plied so successfully all these many years.

As for the domestic iron, that’ll be a tougher nut for BMW to crack. Not because of any objective failings but in spite of their lack. V-twin people are V-twin people.

But if you are one of those people, you might want to at least have a look.

Better yet, a ride.

THE BOTTOM LINE

It’s a shame about BMW’s cars. But we still have BMW bikes.

For the moment, at least.

 

 

Eric Peters is the automotive columnist for the Southern Arizona News-Examiner. Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in! Visit his website for all things automotive and motorcycles at ericpetersautos.com.

 

 

 

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2017 Southern Arizona News-Examiner