2011 BMW K1600GTL | Review

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BMW K 1600 GTL Review

Not only did BMW create a stylish luxury tourer with more high tech equipment than a US Manowar, the Bavarians launched it in style in South Africa, too. The GTL isn't quite as luxurious as a Honda Gold Wing, but it's 10-times more high tech, faster and about $16K cheaper.

With the "stripped down" BMW K1600GT fresh in mind I set off on the GTL luxury version one gorgeous morning in Franschhoek, a few clicks north of Cape Town. Julia from South Africa agreed to be my pillion in the morning and off we went.

The seat at 750mm is considerably lower than what's standard on the GT. I found it very comfortable and Julia reported she was very satisfied on the back as well. The top box with its incorporated backrest for the passenger makes for a comfort level of the highest kind. The top box easily accommodates a full faced helmet.

I filled it with my camera kit and a pair of flip-flops for the lunch break. When touring in a hot country there's no better welfare than slipping out of the boots for an hour and into flip-flops.

The GTLs we were provided with from BMW were equipped with stereo, GPS, ESA II, DTC, Cruise control and anti-aircraft missiles. The night before we had received a demonstration from BMW of the directional headlight and it's impressive stuff for a motorbike journalist I tell you as it's the first time we've seen this on any motorcycle.

This is soon standard in the car world but for bikes this is revolutionary stuff. Even in the daylight you can see this gyroscopic wizardry in action as the center light and sensors are at work even then staying level in the corners by help of an advanced gyroscope. Gyroscope's are essential in many of the recent motorcycle inventions such as traction control and advanced ABS braking systems.

BMW have been at the forefront of this followed only by Aprilia and Ducati so far. Gyroscope's isn't recent technology but its expensive stuff and to visualize how it works just think of a glass of water on a ship. The water will always try to stay level whilst the ship rolls on the waves and this is basically what a gyroscope does.

If you want to do serious touring many of those miles will be in the dark and the directional light feature on the GTL will then be a formidable advantage particularly on twisty B-roads in the dark as you can basically with a lot more safety maintain the same speed as if it were daylight.

It's no secret either that as we get older we loose some sharpness in our eyesight and the directional lights can correct some of the disadvantage certain older riders might experience. Optical express eat your heart out!

Out on the motorway the BMW GTL takes care of the wind resistance a lot better than the GT does. The lower seat height coupled with an even higher electric windscreen really sheltered the whole of me from the wind as one of the first bikes to do so.

Even at really high speed above 120mph I was cocooned and protected from the wind. The pillion passenger also takes advantage of this extra wind protection. If you're interested in the difference from a Honda Gold Wing in this area I can tell you that the GTL wins.

The aerodynamics is better as well as the frontal area is narrower and the push through the wind doesn't feel as mighty a task as it is on the big wide Honda. Your legs also have more space than on the GW as BMW's big-six is an in-line engine narrower than any other six-cylinder bike in history (Benelli Sei, Kawasaki Z1300, Suzuki Stratosphere concept and Honda GW).

The Gold Wing only wins in two areas and that's in the super sofa seats and the unrivalled stereo system. Why am I talking so much about the Gold Wing in this article you may ask? Well, it's the only other luxury touring bike with a six cylinder engine that's why. Despite the fact that the BMW GTL is placed in a super exclusive club of luxury touring bikes it's more of a bike to topple the Yamaha FJR's and Kawasaki GTR's (Concours in the US) but at the same time the features and value is far better than the Honda Gold Wing.

The BMW K 1600 GTL's wind screen is adjusted by a button on the left handlebar and its variable at any point you like the screen. A clever solution exists for the GPS as when you park the bike and the windscreen is lowered it also works as an anti-theft device for the GPS.

When the motorway turns into a long and boring trek you can easily activate the cruise control from a slide button on the left handlebar. It's got a safety slide that when slid to the right allows access to the cruise control speed lock push button.

I found it didn't particularly like being activated at higher revs in lower gears so in sixth gear at steady rpm just accelerate to the required speed and activate the cruise control and the BMW GTL will maintain that speed until you touch the brakes, clutch or throttle.

I had some fun with the cruise control following the camera car and at points I wished I could have what the car world already have in a sensor that can also follow the car in front at a set distance because I sped past a couple of times sat on the pillion seat. I suspect with the electronic capabilities already present this could be implemented with ease in the future.

With a pillion passenger I could adjust the ESA II to just that scenario for a slightly firmer suspension ground set-up. Then you still have the Comfort, Normal or Sport settings to choose from to further adjust to the riding environment. The GTL soaks up the extra weight of a passenger or luggage remarkably well. With Julia I was mostly just gliding along and she loved it.

Later in the day I was more in the dynamic mood and the suspension firms up properly when adjusted even on the move. I've got to admit that when choosing the most dynamic modes for a sporty ride the GTL isn't far from the GTL despite the riding position being much more relaxed.

I still enjoyed riding the GTL pretty much as fast as the GT through corners. It's the same story again with that fantastic in-line six engine that is so easy to wake up to life. 160hp and 175Nm is what makes this engine so flexible. Several times I engaged full throttle in sixth gear from a meagre 1000rpm and the GTL responded without hitches.

In fact 125Nm of torque is available from 1.500rpm and this is a major contributor to the smoothness of the engine. When in dynamic mode when I want to move quickly through the gearbox there's sometimes difficult to work the clutch fast enough as it grabs too far out on the lever travel. The clutch is adjustable so I reckon some of this can be adjusted out but for the standard set-up it's not quite ideal.

As soon as the engine gets some revs the whole character of the engine changes and you soon forget that this GTL has panniers and a top-box and in your mind you're more on a sports tourer than a big old luxury tourer. This is one of the many things I like about the GTL; its several bikes in one with plenty of toys to play with.

I work the stereo through the menu and then from the multi-controller where I can scroll through tracks or radio stations with ease. On the right hand side of the front fairing BMW have placed the antenna which might not be aesthetically pleasing enough for some.

The sound from the rider's seat is good and can also be connected to the GPS for oral instructions but there's something missing for the pillion (no speakers at the rear). If you ride with a Bluetooth enabled helmet it can be paired with the GTL. I paired my BlackBerry with the GTL before I was told I couldn't play my tunes through the system. Only an iPhone can do that currently I was told. The Bluetooth pairing with my BB worked through the GPS though and I could receive phone calls if anybody had called me whilst riding.

The GTL also invaded my BlackBerry and changed all my language settings to German. This lead to strange things such as my twitter messages later wanting to spell check Lufthansa to Luftwaffe and such things.

The extensive new TFT (high resolution LCD type screen) is a delight for the eyes and shines bright and in colour. There are so many features to explain and I can't do them all in this article but to mention a few you can adjust the heating of the seats and handlebars whilst riding, check out the atmospheric temperature, ESA II settings, Traction control settings, Tyre pressures, fuel consumption, average speed and many many more information's relating to the riding.

The GTL has a 26.5 liter fuel tank which is 2.5 liters bigger than on the GT model. This is to compensate for the extra 30 kilos or so weight compared to the GT plus the fact you're more likely to carry a heavier load with the extra luggage capability. I personally think this difference between the two models is a bit pointless as I'd like the 26.5 liter capability also on the GT.

The chassis works well in all situations and when I choose the comfort mode to cruise in peace the GTL is the friendliest most docile thing in the world. I can soak in the impressions from the grand nature around me and relax.

It's fair enough, the GTL has got some of the most advanced electronic systems fitted in the world but it's still nothing but a motorcycle when you cruise along from one breathtaking view to another along the South African coast. The bridge-type aluminum frame is mounted low courtesy of that steep engine mounting. It's connected by a Paralever containing a re-enforced cardan shaft drive.

The Duolever front anti-dive suspension behaves well under heavy braking but there are certainly movements back and forth under heavy acceleration and the movements are quit different from a conventional fork. The movements are much shorter and sharper and independent of the front wheel enabling harder front braking than you think. ABS plays into the picture as well and I felt very safe on the brakes even though at maximum power they'll let the wheels slide a little bit creating some sexy sliding noises.

The rear shock assembly looks massive and with the ESA II system I reckon it's one of the major weight contributors. I don't mind though as it makes ambitious touring so easy. 348 kilos is the claimed wet weight.

The Metzeler Interact tires copes well with everything I can throw at them but it must be said that BMW have some pretty cool systems to keep them both healthy and sticky. Accelerating on gravel demonstrates the DTC system and also on the road accelerating rather hard from low gears out of corners proves its worth.

When I did stop for a coffee break the central locking system is great. Along with the immobilizer and GPS anti-theft windscreen the central locking system for all three panniers plus other smaller compartments makes this BMW one of the safest and most practical touring bikes on offer.

Compared to the GT the BMW K 1600 GTL steps up one notch in the finish with lots of chromed parts albeit plastic ones. One of my favorite features is the "organic air-con" found also on the GT in the two flaps on the front fairing.

When it's really hot you can slide the flaps out on each side of the front fairing and direct air to your upper body. This is great particularly at low speed through towns when the temperature rises. On the GTL the flaps are chromed plastic which may or may not see some wear through stone chipping etc after some miles.

In the right front compartment there's a USB connection where you can connect your mobile phone, USB stick or mp3 player to play your tunes using the multi controller whilst riding. This compartment is water proof and lockable with the central locking button.


BMW have really pulled all the stops with the K 1600 GTL. The technological advances over previous generation tourers are immense. The GTL is super comfortable both for the rider and the pillion passenger. The number of practical solutions solved by electronics are superb and they all work.

The new 1649cc in-line six engine entertained me all day and the torque response is great with a midrange that "is already there" and it never ends. The engine changes character to something very exciting so I can safely recommend the GTL to anybody that both like long tours and also to those that like their sport touring. It's only one thing it can't do and that's to be a GS, in every other respect it's much better.

2011 BMW K1600GTL Positives:

  • Great new six-cylinder engine
  • The amount of practical electronic solutions is immense
  • Comfortable enough for globe trotting
  • Great wind protection

2011 BMW K1600GTL Negatives

  • Clutch/gear-box interaction needs to be smoother

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