Ride Review: BMW K 1600 Bagger

Test Drives | November 21st, 2017 by 2
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IMPOSING. The single best word that I can conjure to describe the presence of the blacked-out K 1600 Bagger, upon first inspection. Its size, of …

IMPOSING. The single best word that I can conjure to describe the presence of the blacked-out K 1600 Bagger, upon first inspection. Its size, of great immense, is awfully fitting, as it plays a part in cumulatively building the masculine and domineering personality of the Bagger’s appearance, with its proud stature. Beyond mere premium, surfaces with which the rider interacts are better described as luxurious, especially within the two wheeled realm. Indeed, every button serves as an overt reminder that this motorcycle is an exhibition of quality. Fine details, such as the “K 1600 B” stitched into the rear support of the operator’s seat, serve to immediately convey the meticulous nature with which the Bagger was designed.

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The K 1600 B brings to my mind a quote from Benjamin Franklin. “America cultivates best what Germany brought forth.” You see, this particular Bavarian’s design and very concept were influenced very heavily by American baggers, a segment which is almost exclusively occupied by American manufacturers. Concomitantly, this bike is intended to directly appeal to American consumers. This American influence has cultivated itself, in conjunction with BMW’s existing touring bike platform, to create a product which is really quite distinctive amongst its rivals.

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With the key in hand, I take the first step in starting the bike. I press the button at the base of the handlebar, rather than inserting a key and turning it, as is required on simpler and lesser motorbikes. The key, which rests inside of my pocket, is itself far more akin to a key belonging to a car, even enabling remote locking and unlocking. The instrument cluster illuminates and the central information screen powers up. My particular press bike was also equipped with a navigation system, clearly sourced from Garmin, which too activates at this time. Instantly, audio begins to play at a low volume through the integrated stereo system.

The previously mentioned central info screen reflects the selected radio station, among numerous other things, and can be partly controlled with great ease, thanks to the intuitive wheel placed on the left of the handlebar. The menu button, also to the rider’s left, is the other crucial component to operating the screen. A quick press of this button allows you to efficiently access different options and datums within the screen. Things such as audio options, riding mode, trip odometer, and heating controls. The K 1600 B has not only heated grips, but also a heated seat. Passengers rejoice, as the heated seat is not just for the rider. The passenger has access to independent heating options via a button placed on the right storage case, which provides two different heat settings. Pretty shmancy.

To the right of the menu button is a button I later became very fond of using. That is the button which controls the windscreen. Depressing the upper and lower edges of the button enables the raising and lowering of the windscreen. At its greatest height, it mimics the aesthetic of a peacock, as it draws the eyes of onlookers. At its lowest, it appears quite sleek and better balanced with the bike’s proportions, though noticeably less efficient at directing airflow.

Another button positioned within reach of the left hand is for the lower running lights. As these lights serve to increase the bike’s visibility, it is most probable that any rider would prefer to keep them on, but having the option to turn them off is always welcome.

Now, after familiarizing myself with the bike and its controls, a bit, I must depart. An eighty mile journey back from BMW’s American headquarters awaits me. After glancing down at the gear indicator within the info screen to confirm that the bike is in neutral, finally, I depress the starter button and the 1,649cc, six cylinder engine takes its first breath, in my presence, creating a whirring noise not dissimilar to the sound of a jet engine. Whilst giving it a moment to warm up, allowing oil to circulate and lubricate, I slip on the rest of my riding gear.

Lifting the bike off of its stand, I find myself in disbelief that this is a 741lb bike. The relatively low rider’s seat with the low placement and superb balancing of the motor’s weight make the Bagger feel much lighter. I don’t mean to suggest that it feels light, it is a perceptibly heavy motorcycle, but its true, full weight is not perceptible. It feels lighter, but not light.

Pulling the clutch in, I notice the clutch pull is quite light, though a tiny bit of a reach for my fingers, restricted by the seams of my riding gloves. Pressing down upon the gear shifter with my left foot, I find something very characteristic of BMW motorcycles. An audible and tactile clunk accompanies the shifting of the transmission into first gear. A sound and sensation I’d sorely miss if it were absent. I rotate the throttle, building the revs a tiny bit, in order to gauge the throttle’s responsiveness. Upon which I encounter a very noticeable delay. Though, it is not too severe that I could not adjust to it. I begin to release the clutch lever, and roughly three-fourths of the way extended, the Bagger begins to roll forward.

Already very impressed with how the bike felt when stationary, I was even more so, once feeling how nimble it felt in motion. After riding through some twisty backroads, as I headed towards the highway, my impression improved even further.

On the highway, the bike was an absolute dream. If the experience of riding a ‘typical’ bike on the highway is like driving a ’50s Isetta with more power, then the experience of riding the Bagger on the highway is like driving an Alpina B7.

With the audio volume cranked to its maximum, thanks to the effective wind protection, music can accompany your highway cruising. For those of us whom infrequently ride Touring motorcycles, the ability to have a soundtrack to your ride is intoxicating. Sure, someone could ride around with headphones, which isn’t the best option for someone concerned with safety, but then you will undoubtedly lack the wonderful integration that BMW has achieved. Changing stations and adjusting the volume become second nature after just a few moments.

The navigation system is simple to use and operate, lacking unnecessary complexity masquerading as sophistication. Thanks to that aforementioned stereo system, the GPS can even communicate directions to you verbally, minimizing distraction. Additionally, the GPS also displays your current speed with the speed limit.

Stability at highway speed is outstanding. As is comfort, of course. Surely, New Jersey motorists driving at roughly 100mph in a 65mph zone, passing me as if I were at a standstill, ensured that I never got too comfortable. The Bagger, however, enabled me to be as comfortable as was possible. Particularly with my feet extended forward upon the footrests, which themselves rest upon the crash guards. Something which I could not imagine being absent.

When contrasted with the rest of BMW’s touring lineup, the K 1600 B’s seat height is lower. Yet, the seating position is very commanding. Reminiscent of the height that one sits at inside of a Rolls-Royce Phantom. Not only a pleasantry in itself, but arguably something which enables other motorists to see you more easily.

Then came the heaviest traffic. Due to an accident ahead, there was a short period of being completely stopped. This was preceded by slow crawling between many brief stops. A rather unpleasant situation on any motorcycle. However, I had good music, along with features which I could fidget with, as I waited. The very slow speed articulation during the dreadfully slow movement was not in the least bit daunting or challenging. Something which I could not have said if I’d been straddling a bike like the Triumph Thunderbird LT instead, due to the way in which they carry their weight.

A while later, as the traffic had mostly cleared, I was driving through the small riverside town of Lambertville, NJ, with its quaint restaurants and artsy shops. My first day of riding the K 1600 B, just the first of many, was nearing its end, as I was drawing closer and closer to my destination. I felt not, even in the least, fatigued.

Something which was evident after my first ride, and which was only further validated in the time that followed, was that the bike has an abundance of power. Unsurprising, of course, but it has ample power throughout the entirety of its rev range, in all of its gears. Whether you’re in sixth gear on the highway, passing a vehicle, or on a back road commanding power as you exit from a sharp turn, it’s always willing to oblige. The bike’s engine is also very smooth and refined, providing power in a linear way, which contributes to its well mannered disposition at low speeds, riding through town.

I mentioned the clunk of the transmission earlier, very much a positive, in my mind. I’d describe it as being similar to the solidity that is conveyed when closing the door on a fine automobile. It’s a mark of quality. It’s a clunk, and certainly not a crunch. Shifts themselves are quite smooth, and absent are false neutrals or difficulties getting into neutral. Whether engine braking downhill, shifting through gears while accelerating or going back and forth between first and neutral in traffic, the transmission always met my high expectations.

Engine braking is very effective, quickly decelerating the bike but not in a jarring manner. It strikes the perfect balance between being too severe and too weak. Consequently, I mostly only utilized the brakes when I’d already slowed the bike to about 10mph, and was coming to a complete stop. However, there were a couple of instances where I had to employ the brakes to bring the bike to a stop more abruptly. In such instances of emergency stopping, the brakes were more than capable of bringing all 741lbs of the K 1600 B to a stand still, with little notice. Independently, even, the front and rear brakes were able to stop the bike within a reasonable time. Of course, the front always outperforms the rear, due to physics, but its independent performance was so good, I presume that engaging the front brakes also engages the rear without utilizing the rear brake’s pedal.

Rather than utilizing a chain, which should be cleaned and lubricated every 500 or so miles, the K 1600 Bagger has a shaft drive system, like a car. Can you imagine embarking on a 2,000 mile trip and having to stop to service your chain every 500 miles? The shaft drive’s fluid need only be changed when your engine oil is changed. Too, there is less risk posed to your fingers during service. You don’t have to get your hands, forearms and rims dirty scrubbing gunk from a chain, either.

Now, don’t worry, I won’t bore you with every trifle during my entire time with the K 1600 B. There is one which I would be remiss to exclude, however. A late evening ride to acquire groceries. Riding in low light conditions with the Bagger is vastly different from night riding with most other motorcycles. With the lower running lights and the adaptive headlight, paired with BMW’s characteristic Corona Rings, visibility at night is seemingly much more comparable to that of a car, rather than a bike. After picking up some items, the generously sized storage containers, which too can be remotely locked and unlocked with the key, were very much useful. Not the most exciting activity, just an errand, but very insightful into what actually owning the K 1600 B would be like.

As my first week enjoying the bike was coming to an end, the weather was significantly improving. Temperatures were elevating into the mid and high 70s. Rather than elated, at first, I found myself to be a bit concerned. Pondering whether or not all of that wonderful wind protection would turn out to be a curse, rather than a blessing, on warmer days, which were more similar to summer conditions? Thankfully, and unsurprisingly, the design team and engineers at BMW Motorrad had already envisioned the dilemma which this posed, and solved the issue. What they did to correct it is both simple and effective. They added two ‘vents’ that can be manually opened from the upper-side fairings. These vents drastically re-direct air inwards, towards the rider.

There is another feature I’d like to discuss briefly, because I used it often. That is the reverse function. Yes, this motorbike has reverse. Though, far from exclusive within this segment, I was so very thankful for its presence, as backing up 741lbs against even the slightest incline can be an arduous task. A feature I wish the BMW K 1200 S I previously owned had, as there were numerous times that I had difficulty reversing that nearly 600lb, top heavy bike up minor inclines. The way it works is quite simple, you put the bike into neutral, press a little R button to your left and then just depress the starter to begin moving backwards. Now this reverse system is much more refined than others I’ve experienced. As they’re powered electrically, they tend to be quite jarring and abrupt. This system, however, moved at the precise speed you’d desire, and did so in a predictable manner.

Of course, any thorough test of a motorcycle must include testing its overall performance on switchbacks. To my amazement, it handled them beautifully. Surely, the maximum lean angle isn’t remotely comparable to that of a sport bike, but that didn’t deter me from keeping up with sport and naked bikes during spirited riding. At first, you feel yourself being unable to forget that regardless of how it feels, it’s a 741lb bike, and you enter the turns with particular consideration of that. Once you get past that, riding the bike somewhat sportily actually becomes very enjoyable.

The suspension is definitely more on the luxurious side, but retains much of the balance present in many of BMW’s current car lineup. It’s softer than an E90 3er, for sure. Bumps, potholes and railroad tracks are easily mitigated. Yet still, it doesn’t feel sloppy or too soft. When pushing it a bit harder, it remains relatively composed and confident.

Riding along route 32, which stretches along part of the Delaware river, and while making use of the cruise control, I ran into something that bikers despise. Patches of gravel. The gravel had been laid the day prior to fill potholes, and had blown about, all across the road’s surface. Here, the bike’s traction control system stepped in to ensure my safety. Whilst riding across the gravely surface, unlike certain other bikes I’ve ridden in such unexpected conditions, the Bagger was frankly unphased. I felt a bit of a slide over a particularly nasty patch, but the bike is so manageable and the correction was seemingly effortless. A few times, I could feel and see the traction control intervening, but it did so in a way which was completely unobtrusive to the rider.

I took the bike to a classic and custom motorcycle show, and even here with many other interesting bikes vying for attention, the K 1600 B managed to draw a crowd. Riding into the town in which I live, where you often find many bikes and outstanding cars parked along Main Street, the Bagger lured the eyes of people walking by and those dining in the outdoor restaurants. People approached me often, “Is that the new model?,” “How big is that?” and “Nice bike!,” among other compliments and questions. Many bikes can draw attention with their exhaust note, but as this is a rather quiet bike, it relies on its size and design. Interestingly, I found it aroused the interests of a diverse swath of individuals. More diverse than almost any other bike I’ve ever ridden. Young and old. Riders of European and Japanese bikes, as well as the Harley crowd.

Filling up is not something that you have to do frequently with the Bagger, due to its seven gallon capacity. However, when you do, you don’t have to insert the key to unlock the gas cap, because it too benefits from the Keyless Ride system. As long as the bike is unlocked, you only have to lift the little tab and the cap opens up. One thing I did find is that the center of the handlebar is in very close proximity to the gas cap, to the extent to which it can be obtrusive to certain, larger gas nozzles.

Towards the end of my time with the K 1600 B, temperatures became increasingly cold. Enough so that use of the heated grips and seat became warranted. Heated grips can have a surprising impact in helping you to fight off the frigid air, at speed. The combination of that with the heated seat, however, was all the more impactful.

As I said earlier, the bike had a noticeable delay in its throttle responsiveness. A negative, undoubtedly. You get used to it, though. The delay is consistent and therefore predictable. If mine, I’d immediately search for a louder exhaust, as the whisper quiet stock canisters may be well suited to touring, but they simply don’t mesh well with the bike’s character. Lastly, the antenna. Though not especially outstanding, you cannot ignore it once you’ve seen it. It sticks awkwardly between the windscreen and the right mirror, and appears far too utilitarian in its design to match with the looks of the Bagger. I’d much prefer a sleek shark fin-like antenna, or at least a better integrated design. “Johann, ve forgot to put on ze antenna,” is how it appears. In all seriousness, these few criticisms can be addressed or are of little significance. Nonetheless, I have to highlight them.

In all, this is clearly a lot of bike, and prices for touring bikes can be quite high, relative to motorcycle prices. Base MSRP starts at $19,995.00USD, which is, dare I say, a value. My press bike was well equipped, and the price crept up closer to twenty five thousand. There are numerous things that can be done with twenty five thousand dollars, surely. After experiencing a nicely equipped model, I can think of no optional equipment I’d willingly forego. Do I think that the K 1600 B is worth such a price? Indeed, I do. It’s one thing to say that I’d recommend this bike highly, which I certainly would, but it’s another to admit that I actually missed this bike when I returned it. I didn’t want to return it. Though never one to consider purchasing a touring bike previously, I can very much envision adding a K 1600 B to the contents of my garage. Its versatility, its sense of occasion, its quality and its uniqueness make this a very desirable bike.

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