Germany! Land of delicious beer, highly refined motor vehicles, and the Autobahn with no speed limits. Since the start of the pandemic, international travel has been limited, and I have missed Europe. Growing up with a German mother and traveling to Europe when I was young made it a second home for me.
As travel restrictions started to lift, a couple buddies and I started planning a motorcycle trip. As a motorcycle journalist, I have good opportunities to travel and test motorcycles. My wife and family, however, don’t always appreciate my “dedication” to my craft and the fact that it leaves them out of the travel. So, this time it would be a family trip to Europe—two weeks on a motorbike with my wife, with my three adult daughters joining for the second week in Slovenia.
Having done some light touring in the past with my wife, she was aware of the requirements and challenges of riding a motorcycle for vacation. That being said, asking a spouse to travel on the back of a bike for two weeks and forcing her to fit all her clothes and belongings for the entire trip into two panniers and a top box can be a recipe for divorce!
I needed to make the trip as comfortable as possible, which meant a big bike with plush seating and lots of storage. It also had to be fast enough for the Autobahn and maneuverable enough to handle the Alps—a perfectly suited trip for a BMW touring bike.
As luck would have it, BMW recently released a new K 1600 model range. The K series is BMW’s line of performance-oriented touring bikes, and the K 1600 GTL is one of the top luxury touring motorcycles in the market. It competes head-to-head with the Honda Gold Wing for best in class. With large panniers, a club chair-level of comfort for the passenger, and a beastly inline-six engine with seemingly limitless power, the 2022 BMW K 1600 GTL is an ideal two-up touring machine.
The planned route was a loop from Munich through Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Austria, and back to Munich. For the first week, we would travel with two buddies and their wives, then split off to Slovenia to meet my daughters.
We spent a few days in Munich drinking delicious Bavarian beer, eating all manner of pig (mostly charcuterie and sausage), and taking in the sights of old Munich. While the old town area was filled with tourists, it was still extremely charming. Sit down at almost any beer garden or restaurant, and you will be treated to fantastic beer and German food. If you travel to Munich, make sure to catch the Glockenspiel (old city hall clocktower) and the Viktualienmarkt, a massive open market with excellent produce and food.
The day after arriving and checking into the lovely Platzl Hotel in the Munich city center, I picked up the motorcycle from BMW on the outskirts of town.
Dressed in the beautiful Gravity Blue Metallic paint job, the 2022 BMW K 1600 GTL looks terrific. Designing a large touring motorcycle to be practical and good-looking is a difficult task. Often, the machine’s proportions can seem a bit unbalanced, with either too much fairing upfront or too heavy with the bags and trunk in the back. The GTL, however, is beautifully designed with sexy lines and a balanced look.
As I approached the bike, I noticed the driver’s seat looked quite low. Sitting on the seat felt normal, with my feet comfortably flat on the ground and enough bend in the leg to control the bike. The 29-inch seat height is good news for shorter riders, making flat-footing this beast possible for most people. What I didn’t realize until leaving the facility was that the seat to peg distance and positioning was bad news for my six-foot frame and old knees and hips. I had assumed that, like other models in BMW’s lineup, there was a way to manually adjust the seat height. Unfortunately, I found out that the GTL requires an entirely different seat.
Before taking off, I quickly synced my phone to the motorcycle. It has a massive 10.25-inch TFT screen; when paired with the BMW Connect app on your phone, it provides excellent navigation on screen—theoretically.
While linking the phone was easy, getting the BMW Connect app to work consistently was a massive pain. As the trip wore on, the navigation connectivity issues grew from a minor annoyance to full-blown exasperation!
BMW has a very good proprietary navi system, yet its flagship GTL requires the rider to use a smartphone to navigate.
I am continually surprised and highly disappointed that motorcycle manufacturers try to create their own smartphone interface for navigation rather than using the far superior Apple CarPlay or Android Auto systems. Smartphone-based navigation systems are inferior to true satellite systems, which do not require cell coverage, do not drain your phone battery, and do not fail if the phone overheats (all of which happened to me on this trip—multiple times). Additionally, the BMW app requires the app to be open on the phone, which means the phone can’t be used to do anything else!
The BMW Connected app was also glitchy and unstable; it randomly lost connection with the dash repeatedly. The K 1600 is a top-of-the-line touring bike with a massive TFT screen. Why BMW can’t or won’t integrate its satellite-based system into the motorcycle’s electronics is a mystery.
Moving on, the first real challenge we faced was transferring all our clothes and gear into the BMW’s hard cases. Fortunately, after making some difficult clothing choices, everything fit in the large panniers and top box—barely. The expandable tank bag I brought helped. If the GTL were mine, I would add a luggage rack on the top box and strap on a dry bag.
As we pulled away from the hotel in downtown Munich and navigated the old-world streets with a passenger and fully loaded with luggage, the K 1600 GTL felt big and heavy—not surprising with a curb weight of 800 pounds before adding a passenger and gear. Mitigating this is a low center of gravity and a well-balanced chassis that keeps the motorcycle manageable at low speeds. Once we were on slightly faster roads, the weight melted away quickly, and the bike felt lighter than it should have.
With BMW’s excellent Dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment, the ride was buttery smooth over all types of roads. Unlike the boxer engine on the R 1250 RT brethren my friends had rented, the K 1600 engine has less immediate torque but deep power, creating very smooth and easily accessible acceleration.
The stop-and-go traffic in the city can make the passenger experience not so much fun with a torquey engine. However, the 1600 has very easy roll-on of the throttle and very little jerkiness while shifting with a clutch or the excellent quickshifter. This makes the passenger experience much more enjoyable.
Still, don’t let the easy-going power delivery fool you. The 1600 engine is a beauty and a beast! With 160 horsepower on tap and 132 ft/lbs of torque, rolling on the throttle feels like a freight train gathering speed. Despite the weight and all the load, I never felt I needed more power to pass or accelerate.
The first stop of the trip was St. Moritz in Switzerland.
The road from Munich included some Autobahn before hitting the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the more rural alpine roads. The BMW was rock solid at Autobahn speeds, with good wind protection for both of us up to 75 miles an hour when some buffering came into the mix.
The K 1600 GTL has a large power-adjustable windscreen that is excellent and works beautifully. Power adjustability sounds like a bit of luxury. However, in a single day, changes in direction and wind and road conditions necessitate incremental adjustments to the windscreen for optimal wind protection. Pushing a button to do that is nice.
Transitioning to curvy mountain roads on the 2022 BMW K 1600 GTL meant adjusting to the added weight. While it is well-balanced, it certainly wouldn’t be considered nimble. That said, downshifting and rolling on the throttle provided excellent passing power and a stable chassis.
Even with some ominous clouds, the alpine scenery was breathtaking, and the road conditions were fantastic. Rolling into St Moritz, we checked into the fantastic Art Boutique Hotel Monopol, excited to have the first day of riding under our belts.
We spent two days exploring the mountains and the beautiful town of just 5000 people. There is a great gondola system to take you to the top of the Munt da San Murezzan and trains to whisk you to terrific dining spots throughout the town. We could have spent more time in St. Moritz, but our next destination, Lake Como, Italy, awaited!
Departing St Moritz, we traveled down the valley, skirting beautiful lakes and cruising through quaint town after town. At the end of the valley, we started a long series of tight switchbacks that eventually took us down the mountains and into Italy.
Getting the large, fully loaded dresser with a passenger down the mountain was not for the faint of heart. There were a couple times when a car or truck blew by us much closer than I would’ve liked, and leaning the GTL over enough to make the hairpin turns was initially nerve-racking. As I got more used to the chassis, I found it quite manageable, as long as we moved with a little speed.
As we descended the mountains, we encountered a new foe that we would battle for the rest of the trip—heat! Global warming is no joke, and Europe was experiencing record temperatures. We had heard that roads were melting in Spain. Luckily, we did not experience it first-hand.
Quickly, all of that wonderful wind protection I mentioned earlier was no longer a good thing, as the temperature climbed into the 90s. To the BMW K 1600 GTL’s credit, I never felt any excessive heat off the engine, although the engine started sounding a little more clackety (technical term). At stops, I could feel the radiator fan blow hot air on my legs.
Our next stop on the trip was the town of Bellagio on Lake Como. The trip down the lake from the north can be made on local roads, ferries, or highways. The heat and our desire to quench our parched throats with delicious Italian wine pointed us to the much faster highway route.
The roads we selected put us in a lot of long tunnels. Usually, I would not like that, but the tunnels provided a bit of a reprieve from the heat, and I much appreciated that.
We arrived in Bellagio for three days of amazing Italian food and beautiful vistas along the lake. The heat was settling in, so we stayed off the motorcycles most of the time.
We did venture out on the bikes for a day trip to the Moto Guzzi factory in nearby Mandello del Lario for a guided tour of the Moto Guzzi Museum. The museum is a great experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone passing through that way.
The history of the Moto Guzzi is fascinating, and it was amazing to see how the motorcycles evolved over the last century. We had the full tour and gained a great appreciation of the Guzzi brand and heritage.
After a few days of fantastic food, superb wine, and great company, my wife and I parted ways with our friends. But, before doing so, we had one last thing to tackle—the famed Stelvio Pass.
Stelvio is the second highest paved pass in the Alps. With its 75 (at least!) 180+ degree hairpin turns, it is a Mecca for motorists, motorcyclists, and bicyclists looking to test their mettle. In addition to the turns, it has countless sheer drop-offs and several single-lane tunnels requiring stop lights to manage traffic.
Stelvio Pass is as epic as it sounds. But it is also very crowded, which isn’t the best thing on an 800-pound motorcycle!
There were a few turns where spirited car drivers came awfully close to clipping the Beemer. Fortunately, one of the wives had rented a car. My wife opted to ride shotgun instead of a pillion for the harrowing ride up and back down.
All in all, Stelvio Pass was a great experience, but if I do it again, it will be on a much lighter and more nimble motorcycle!
Our day ended in Bassano del Grappa, an absolutely gorgeous Italian town with many piazzas and town squares filled with cute shops and restaurants—definitely a place I would return to on a future trip.
Coming down from the Alps, we started to experience the oppressive heat again. Leaving Bassano del Grappa the next day, we were absolutely roasting. Our destination was Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, which took a lot longer than anticipated due to required stops for water and cooling down. Although the heat made it a rough go, the 2022 BMW K 1600 GTL continued to perform beautifully.
Ljubljana is Slovenia’s largest city. It also claims to be one of the greenest capital cities in the world, having much of the downtown cordoned off from traffic.
When planning, it sounded like a beautiful destination. However, after many hours in the sweltering heat, parking the GTL outside the pedestrian area and hauling all of our gear 10 blocks to the Vander Urbani Resort sucked. Thankfully, the hotel had a rooftop pool and was well situated along the river, with numerous restaurants and bars available to offer a cool celebratory drink!
Joining us were my three daughters, who had trained down from Munich and arrived a few hours after we did. The three days we spent sightseeing and exploring Slovenian wine country with our guide from the Winerist wine touring company were fantastic and highly recommended. The countryside and hospitality are remarkable, and exploring the multitude of vehicle-free streets in Ljubljana on foot is great.
After a great few days, we were on the move again. The kids headed back to Munich while we rode to the even more beautiful Lake Bled for two final nights in Slovenia.
Lake Bled is a gorgeous alpine lake, with a beautiful church on an island in the middle, surrounded by mountains. Locals and travelers flock to it for swimming, paddling, and casual row boating. We stayed at Vila Bled, the summer palace of long-time Yugoslavian President Josip Tito. Despite not having air conditioning, it featured beautiful rooms, a fantastic restaurant, and epic views of the lake.
The final leg of the trip back to Munich took us through the beautiful alpine countryside of Austria and southern Germany, with rain threatening but only delivering a few drops.
Motorcycle touring provides an intimate experience, embedding you deeper in the environment than cars, trains, or planes. While we suffered through some heat, we experienced far more on a motorcycle than we would have otherwise. We felt much more in touch with the countries we traveled through, the villages and towns we stopped in, and the people we met.
Our European ride was fantastic, and the 2022 BMW K 1600 GTL delivered an extraordinarily comfortable and confidence-inspiring experience. My biggest complaint is that my wife is now spoiled and will not travel on anything less than a top-of-the-line touring machine.