BMW K 1600 GTL Review – Touring the West Coast
An amazing eight-day journey through California and Oregon had an inauspicious start when a California Highway Patrolman, riding a BMW R 1200 RT, came alongside, watching me for about two minutes near San Jose. I was accompanied by my close friends, Alex and Zaid – the perfect wingmen riding twin BMW K 1200 Rs.
I was doing the speed limit and not worried. I thought the Patrolman was admiring the new GTL and gave him thumbs-up. He pulled close to me and shouted, “Where are you from?” I shout back, “LA.” Apparently, it was the wrong answer. “Pull over,” he ordered.
I got off the bike and he was talking to me, but I couldn’t hear because my pals were chatting through our Schuberth SRC- System Bluetooth headsets, excitedly discussing what might be my fate.
My BMW K 1600 GTL Exclusive had a distributor license plate with a rare two-year sticker, which the Patrolman didn’t recognize. It’s always fun when a LEO walks up and tells you that he thinks he will have to impound your bike.
Happily, a close inspection of the sticker turned him from lion to lamb. When he found out I was a magazine editor he smiled and said, “I thought I had a good job.” After this it was smooth sailing for the next 2400 miles.
Our trip started in the Los Angeles area, where we busted out of town via El Camino Real then headed through Morro Bay to Cabrillo Highway and on to Monterey. I have ridden this road countless times yet it is, in any weather, always spectacular and never gets old, as Jeff Buchanan eloquently pointed out last issue.
Our intention was to stay on two-lane roads as much as possible and make no plans farther out than where we were going to end each day. Every fuel stop was an invitation to change our minds. There is a wonderful feeling of freedom when there is no itinerary and no reservations. At this stage of the trip, our only requirement was to be in the Napa wine country in time to catch the final World Cup match.
Our chain of command was set. I usually navigated, Alex was the guy to find a place to stay each night, and Zaid was in charge of food services—he always has a good idea and can sniff out the best restaurants intuitively.
Alex is remarkably adept at searching for surrounding accomodations and grinding out a good deal. In Coos Bay, for example, he managed to get a big discount, usually reserved for government employees. He secured three rooms on the one school administrator’s ID he carried, but I digress.
Our route never disappointed, covering coastal and inland California, along with a taste of Southern Oregon. During our eight days we sampled roads, conditions, and a wide variety of temperatures, often closely following each other.
VISITING THE GIANTS
Once we cleared Monterey there is—apologies to the East Bay—nothing of interest on our route until we reach Napa Valley and, even there, the real beauty of Napa begins north of St. Helena.
We fuel ourselves with breakfast at Gillwoods Cafe in St. Helena, where I scarfed the best Eggs Benedict ever. A quick stop at Dean & Deluca for more coffee, and then on to the famous Oakville Grocery and Darioush Winery for a look around but wine tasting is no fun without tasting. No bottles and throttles for us.
Fortunately, the miles of vineyard properties, restaurants, and sights along the two main north-south thoroughfares, Route 29 and Silverado Trail, are out of a picture storybook. In July, the weather here is more like Southern California, with abundant sun and a dry climate.
Onward north we press, through Calistoga, to Geyserville for the night. We have been riding mostly freeways since Monterey, and the excitement builds as we blast on California Highway 128 east of Preston, knowing we have left the slab behind us, for now. This section, make note, is sweet and highly recommended, often tree lined, with giant sycamores whose branches intermingle, forming majestic tunnels.
We are now near the Northern California coast and the route choices are ample. Wanting to sample the Avenue of the Giants, we found ourselves on Redwood Highway, which is two lanes in each direction with many curves and elevation changes.
The scenery, giant redwoods, crisp air and solitude are worth changing any plan should you ever be in the area. We stopped several times in the shadows of the giants to snap a few shots and just bask in the shade, sights and smells of the forest.
By the time we reached costal Fortuna, the temperature had dropped to 61 degrees. This was a pleasant respite from the heat in Napa Valley, with long vistas when the road gained altitude and one could see over the trees. These are the sights that evoke thoughts of earlier, less complicated times. I can’t help but wonder how the first explorers found their way through these vast expanses.
Little did we realize when we headed due east, into the Shasta Trinity National Forest to Weaverville, that we were aimed directly into the jaws of the oven that is summer in these parts.
PUDDLES AND ICE CREAM
There were fires burning to the east of Weaverville and the smoke was billowing high in the sky. Once inland, temperatures this day varied from 104 to 108 degrees and, even though I had on an evaporative vest, the temperature change was so drastic that we just hauled our hot butts to a seedy motel and jumped into the swimming pool.
If you ever get to Weaverville, you must eat at The Nugget Restaurant on Main Street. Dinner there with a few locals and the waitresses turned into a laugh-a-thon with everyone chatting like old friends. This place has that throwback Americana feeling that so many seek and enjoy.
Bright and early the next morning we saddled up and continued north on California Highway 3. We soon pass Trinity Lake whose level, like all California lakes, is disturbingly low due to a persistent drought. It looks like a puddle lost in the crater that once was full. The concentric circles outlining the hills bear witness to the year-by-year decline. As a conservationist, and husband of a gardening wife, I wish for rain—as a motorcyclist, the opposite.
As we head toward Yreka I tell myself this is the best section of road we’ve yet traversed, and then realize I’ve been telling myself the same thing on every stretch. Such are the roads in this part of the country. It’s not Yosemite, with stunning landmark stone structures, but the breadth and grandeur stirs the heart, making it equal to any place you can imagine.
At Yreka, we are forced to ride on Interstate 5 north. Klamath National Forest has few roads that cross the Oregon/California border. We hit Ashland for ice cream in Oregon, across from the park in the center of this beautiful little city, and then to a nearby stop at the BMW dealer in Medford. The boys want t-shirts. Personally, I only wear t-shirts given to me, never purchased. Call me cheap or strange, but that’s my ritual.
FROM THE FRYING PAN INTO THE FRIDGE
On the 75-mile section that leads from Old Highway 99 at Winston, to Coos Bay on Oregon Highway 42, the strong inland weather influences gave way to those of the coast. Starting with the temperature at 104, we wore full mesh jackets with cooling vests. Halfway along, the temperature dropped rapidly, and we stopped to make a complete switch to cold weather battle gear and heated vests.
An hour later in Coos Bay, the thermometer read 55, the clouds were swirling in the sky, and it looked like the heavens were about to descend upon us. A 49-degree drop over such a short distance did, indeed, make this more of an adventure.
It was so cold, gray and miserable in Coos Bay that when we left the next morning I was sure it would be like this the rest of the day. To my surprise and delight all it took to regain some heat was to get off the little peninsula that this city lies upon. By the time we reached Bandon, we were enjoying 70s and sun.
Ah, coffee. I have no aversion to big chain coffee shops, though when I have a choice, I always patronize the little local store. In Oregon, especially along the coast, I adored the many roadside coffee carts seemingly in every town. They are myriad and often rolling wagons that have been built into a foundation like a little mobile home and they serve you through a window. My usual quad espressos are a third the price of back home and, usually, gigantic. Petrol and espresso fuel the GTL and me.
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE
Throughout these days and miles of varied roads and tarmac conditions, the GTL Exclusive simply took everything in stride. Grinding out miles of freeway for breakfast and railing, fully loaded, through the twistiest of country roads for lunch, this bike was nothing short of amazing. It was my best friend for the trip and had my back. At a claimed 794 pounds (ready to ride), with another 60 pounds of gear, plus my 190, the performance was startling.
I would set the ESA II suspension to Comfort mode for the freeway and tar strips disappeared under my wheels. In the tight stuff, I would switch to Dynamic mode, which tightened up the suspension and even allowed a bit of drift from the traction control system. There was no road on which I could not keep up with the K12s; all this in the lap of luxury. I’ve said it before and reiterate—for heavy touring, at any speed, on any road, and under any conditions, the BMW K 1600 GTL Exclusive is without peer.
CALIFORNIA, HERE WE COME
We are now at about the halfway point of our trip and heading back south. We take the Oregon Coast Highway before returning to California and a stop at Crescent City for lunch. We cross through Redwood National and State Parks on the way to spend the night in Eureka and marvel the entire way through the forest.
Alex finds us accommodations in the very old and very funky Eureka Inn. This place is right out of The Shining, and I expected Jack Nicholson to poke his head around the corner at any minute and say, “I’m home.” It is not a terribly posh neighborhood, so they let us park the bikes around the fenced swimming pool. It was too cold to swim, but this location made for some interesting photos.
We reprise our ride through Avenue of the Giants and turn toward the coast at Leggett. While beautiful and cool on Shoreline Highway, it’s relatively straight. We turn inland on 128, and remind ourselves of how much we loved this world-class strip of asphalt in the other direction.
South of Boonville, we gorge ourselves under a shady tree at a farm fruit stop. We end up in Santa Rosa for the night, but first, a t-shirt stop at the local BMW dealership. I still don’t get it.
Of note is Zaid’s discovery of Willie Bird’s restaurant in Santa Rosa, a famous old joint that serves, mainly, turkey dishes and derivatives, every way you can imagine and some you cannot. They raise their own birds in Sonoma and manage every part of that food chain. I had Thanksgiving dinner in July, and it was quite good.
RUSSIAN TO THE COAST
I can’t get anywhere near Napa Valley without a visit, so next morning we rode through the Petrified Forest, and on to Calistoga and the Silverado Trail. This trip was rapidly coming to an end and we wanted one more dose of twisties, as though we hadn’t had enough.
We followed the Russian River back out to the Pacific Ocean, through Guerneville, to Jenner. From there Shoreline Highway passes Bodega Bay then Point Reyes and funnels us over the Golden Gate Bridge for a final dealership t-shirt stop in San Francisco.
This stretch of the California coast, with Point Reyes off-shore to the west, through Tomales, Mount Tamalpais, and Stinson Beach, is a popular day-ride for many San Franciscans and it’s no wonder. The scenery is breathtaking and the roads are fast and lonely.
We ended the day in Newark, in the East Bay. This made for a very long but enjoyable ride since sunrise, and was a great jumping off point for the final segment of our trip.
GETTING ANYTHING WE WANT
As far as Newark was from San Francisco, it was only a hop over the Dumbarton Bridge, the southernmost crossing from the East Bay to the peninsula. We were headed to the iconic Alice’s Restaurant in Woodside on the famed Skyline Boulevard. I must admit that, with all my adventures in California, I had never stopped here.
Alice’s is one of the nicest moto hangouts and has excellent food with large portions. What is even better about the place is that it lies within some of the best riding roads I had never taken. This area, west of Silicon Valley and along the coast from Half Moon Bay south to Santa Cruz is crisscrossed with challenging tarmac and getting lost is easy. That was avoided, as we ran into my pal Herb at Alice’s and he gave us a tour through the area.
When he saw the GTL, he said the big BMW might not be appropriate for the tight stuff in this area. After I told him that this bike and I, on an earlier trip, has done the impossibly tight Caliente-Bodfish run east of Bakersfield in less than 12 parsecs, he said I would be okay and the GTL didn’t make a liar out of me.
ON OUR WAY HOME
Alex, Zaid, and I decided that, instead of stopping for the night so close to home, that we would press on the rest of the way and return Saturday night to have Sunday to decompress. We hugged the coast through Monterey, and took the turn up Nacimiento-Fergusson Road that would send us high above Big Sur and through Fort Hunter Liggett, itself a highly recommended interesting diversion.
At our final gas stop, we said goodbye to one another and were already making plans for next summer, even though this day was the longest of the trip. I think Montana is high on our list.
Story from Ultimate MotorCycling magazine.