Common Tread

BMW K 1600 B review

Oct 21, 2017

The BMW K 1600 B is a bike that’s easy to dismiss as “another bagger.” I know. I tried.

But really, that’s just not true. The K 1600 B is just not like other bikes. If you asked me what the competition for this bike is, I’d have trouble telling you. Maybe a Moto Guzzi MGX-21? Maybe a Beemer K 1600 GTL? I can’t really say. The K 1600 B is a bike without peer. I don’t necessarily mean that in a complimentary fashion. I mean it matter-of-factly. The B is simply a bike with a mix of features I don’t believe I’ve seen in one package before.

Riding the B
I don't know what it is, exactly, but it's a hell of a lotta fun to ride. RevZilla photo.

Much like the ill-fated R 1200 C introduced a score of years ago, Big B is definitely a bold move on BMW’s part. In both scenarios, BMW put their own spin on what they thought the rider of an American-styled bike would want. I personally thought the R 1200 C was a better bike than it got credit for. I also realize (painfully) that many years have passed, and it might be time for another go. BMW gave it another crack, and the K 1600 B is a bike for a rider with a specific set of needs. Presumably, this is aimed at a rider who is young enough to have started riding on cheaper, high-po motorcycles (read: not Harley-Davidson) way back when and now wants a more luxurious ride, but finds traditional tourers too sedate.

Before I go hammering along here, let me just float an idea out here: at $20k ($19,995, actually, for a stripped-down model, which will likely be about as available on showroom floors as clam fritters), no bike can afford to disappoint. Twenty grand represents a fine motorcycle from nearly any manufacturer. So while I may come off as harsh on this bike, recognize that’s because A) the competition is extremely stiff and B) it’s understood that when a bike reaches twenty-k status, it’s pretty damn good to start with.

The mix

The K 1600 B suffers from the motorcycle equivalent of Multiple Personality Disorder. That's precisely what makes it hard to review, simply because it’s a good bit different from the other options currently available. The K 1600 B is for the rider who wants to lean over in a turn while leaning back in the saddle.

Tires
Heeeey... that's not a touring tire. RevZilla photo.

To wit: The Bridgestone BT-021s in 190/55R17 and the corresponding front 22's 120/70R17 sizes are aggressive and offer delightfully playful handling for such a massive motorcycle, but that’s not really “the recipe” for a bagger. One would expect to see two different rim diameters likely draped in bias-ply clothing.

Similarly, the concept of highway footboards — as well as the kicked-back Barcalounger position — are completely alien in the world of sport-touring. Those bikes are characterized by footpegs in a middling position, coupled up with a distinct lack of alternative options. They might not feature clip-ons, but something made of aluminum is expected. What’s not going to be present is a set of funky, welded-steel one-inch handlebars, no sir.

Unlike a dresser, this motorcycle uses the engine as a stressed member of the cast aluminum frame. However, for those who live dat bagga life, you’ll be pleased to know the B has a certain road...uh, presence: it weighs in at 740 pounds.

seat
With Mrs. Lem bringing up the rear, this saddle is a loveseat. This seat rivals the best aftermarket units for comfort. RevZilla photo.

Seat height, at 30.8 inches, is taller than a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide (29.1 inches) or a Honda Gold Wing (also 29.1 inches), but shorter than the K 1600 GT (30.8 or 32.7 inches, because it has two heights) or a Yamaha FJR1300 at (31.7 inches or 32.5 inches, also able to be altered.) The bike sits… well, right in the middle. And that seat is a throne, lemme tell ya.

In all these ways, the BMW is a little like all these bikes — bagger, sport-tourer, dresser — but it's not exactly like any of them.

Testing the K 1600 B

After BMW’s launch in North Carolina, I brought the bike pack to Pennsylvania, riding through the night. The power from the 1.6-liter engine is simply breathtaking. Due in part to the eye-popping get-up-and-go, coupled with the cacaphony of all those cylinders wailing away, I began thinking of the engine sound as “The Brown Note.” One special aspect of the I-6 layout is its perfect balance: at high speed, the bike is as smooth as glass. Most sport-tourers are fitted with an inline-four engine, and many traditional baggers sport a V-twin. Sixes are usually seen in straight touring motorcycles, because vibration kills riders (and bike sales.)

Engine
I don't care how heavy it is, I love this engine. RevZilla photo.

This engine in this package is a compelling choice. Running home on the highways at a cool 10 over the speed limit, I nearly touched 43 mpg, but on my usual, familiar I-know-where-the-cops-hide roads, that dropped to about 38.7. It’s my fault. I’m a roughneck. Oddly, range is a little short relative to what I would expect on this style bike. 220 miles was the best I saw before the fuel light started twinklin’.

The other immediate standout on this bike is the braking. Jam up the front brake as hard as you like — hell, engage the ABS — and the bike has just the barest bit of dive. (That's ABS Pro, better known as cornering ABS.) Brakes are linked in an intelligent way: the front lever adds in rears automatically. Rear only is rear only. (There is no way to do a burnout on this bike without pulling some fuses.)

Brakes
They're good brakes, but the suspension makes them even better. RevZilla photo.

The four-pot calipers up front and two-pot out back all clamp down on big ol' rotors. The feel is superb. But that lack of brake dive is heavenly. I’m normally very heavy on the rear brake relative to most riders simply because I am light on the fronts. I’m light on the fronts, of course, because I weigh so much. If a bike hasn’t been resprung for me, hard front braking stuffs the wheel up against that bottom triple, pogoing as I come off the brake and back onto the gas.

All of this talk about braking efficacy really points to the suspension. The front suspension on this bike (Duolever) is really the motorcycle equivalent of the automobile’s double-wishbone suspension setup. On a bike, it’s able to isolate braking forces from steering, hence the lack of brake dive on the K 1600 B. (There’s actually a small amount of intentional dive allowed. It’s engineered into the system specifically to help riders get oriented to a front end that doesn’t try to do a half-gainer when the anchors get dropped.)

On our test model, I was also making use of BMW’s Dynamic ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment). By allowing preload to be set by button and controlling damping with two modes (Road and Cruise), this is as easy as suspension gets. I’ve said it before about other BMW bikes with electronic suspensions: they just work for me. The S and R bikes seem to have precognitive abilities, and my thoughts now extend to the K range as well.

Boards
I do love multiple clodhopper rest areas. RevZilla photo.

My favorite part of this bike were the optional footboards and footpegs. I had so many places to move around; I felt like I could have ridden for days. I could go feet out or feet down, and then when my ass got hurty, I was able to simply stand up. How many baggers let you do that?

And a final note: the K 1600 B has the loudest horn of any motorcycle I have ever tested. It’s positively arresting.

The K 1600 B is a fun, heavy, fast motorcycle. I felt like Casey Jones on it. But trains ain’t made to run empty.

The peanut gallery

After my high-speed solo run, I tapped the lovely and talented Mrs. Lemmy for some input on the back of the bike. We decided to meander up to Cape Cod, and after 800 miles on the bike, she pronounced it the most comfortable bike she’s ever ridden. (This is a bit of an achievement. She’s been on almost as many bikes as I have.)

Napoleon
Some of you may remember that article where I waxed poetic over a diner that made killer desserts. I remembered, too, so we stopped in and had 'em! Photo by Lemmy.

She loved the Napoleon pastry we ate in Connecticut best. After, that, however, I think her favorite items were the footpegs. She liked the angle and heavy rubber coating, and her leg position. (Mrs. Lem has a bum knee that loves to be whiny on long bike trips.) I believe the narrow spread between the pegs had a lot to do with her comfort.

Heater
That's the Mrs. Lemmy button by the lock. (Seat heater.) RevZilla photo.

Next up: she was madly in love with seat heaters. Mrs. Lem is perpetually cold. She ran that seat smokin’ hot for two weeks straight. I questioned my bride on her comfort without a backrest or sissy bar. She insisted this was best.”Ah,” I said. “You’ve never sat on a GTL!” So off we headed to put her on a GTL with a top box and an even more sumptuous passenger area. She said she didn’t care about it, which surprised me. She loves this bike just fine, but the thing she doesn’t mind is just the first in a list of pet peeves I had.

GTL
I put her on the GTL, but she prefers the B. I wouldn't have guessed that. Photo by Lemmy.

For right now, this is Mrs. Lem’s GOAT. That's a damn powerful reason to buy one of these. Let's not beat around the bush: bikes like this are intended to carry two, and the buyer(s) likely have a few years of marriage under their belt. Pillion opinion matters.

How much it costs

Pricing on BMW bikes is always weird. The price is for a stripped-down model, which is a bit daft. They are never seen on sales floors, and even if they were, this is a luxury bike. Add the good stuff. Our pretty-well-equipped bike had (I think) a $24,390 price tag on it, which is competitive with other similarly equipped bikes. (Engine Protection Bars, Floor Boards, Keyless Ride, Central Locking System, Gearshift Assist Pro, LED Auxiliary Lights, Reverse Assist, Adaptive Xenon Headlights with Dynamic (self) Leveling, Hill Start Control, Audio System with Radio Sirius and GPS prep, and Bluetooth Interface Control. Whew. I think that’s all.) Not bad for the price, but the base package doesn’t make sense in the context of this scooter. Fix your pricing, BMW. See Indian to understand what I am talking about. Throw all the stuff in, then put the price tag on.

Complaints

Let’s get back to that backrest. BMW offers no backrest, no six-pack rack, no top box… nothing. Now, Mrs. Lem is an anomaly. Most pillions prefer a sissy bar. Here's the rub: I want one too, but not for comfort reasons. We can’t haul gear on this bike. The sharply sloped rear fender makes lashing gear all but an impossibility.

bag
Really? It's a bagger. Come on. In fairness, this usually only fits in top boxes. Photo by Lemmy.

I told Mrs. Lem prior to our New England excursion that this was to be a junkless junket. We stayed in houses and hotels. Each saddlebag on the B holds 37 liters, or 74 liters total. Compare that to a Street Glide at 64 liters each. For solo or non-camping riders, this may be fine. For me? Total deal-breaker. I suspect the aftermarket for these bikes will be very thin indeed. Caveat emptor, my fellow tinkerers. Fabricate what you need, I guess.

Where does the sissy bar go?
No lash points, no flat area to lash, no factory rack available... no way. RevZilla photo.

If that project piques your urge to wrench, boy, are you in luck. Six cylinders means that the big six has 24 valves(!) that all like to party. Their adjustment needs to be checked every 18,000 miles. I called Hermy’s BMW for a quote on a valve check (Just a check, not an adjustment!) and they wanted $1100. Adjustment, of course, sends that price north in a hurry. I mean, if you’re buying this bike, you probably ain’t standing on the cheese line, but this is still a staggeringly expensive valve check.

Controls
So many buttons. And only those four on the left fairing are backlit! #nightridingnightmare Photo by Lemmy.

Next up we have the information and entertainment portion of the bike. Whoa, brother. First things first: backlit buttons, guys. 18 buttons and a scroll wheel, if my count is correct, and only four are lit. The four that are lit are tuner controls. Oddly, some stereo functions are also selected in menus accessed through the TFT display. Good luck figuring out what is where. It takes a while.

And the speakers are useless at highway speeds; less if you have a full-face lid on and the visor down. (Although, having the power windshield as far up as it goes sure helps. That ‘shield is a little smaller than the one on BMW’s GTL, for reference.) The BMW’s ability to hit triple-digit with speeds exacerbates the problem. USB sticks seemed to play louder than FM radio or satellite; I am sure this has something to do with signal strength, but I don’t profess to be an audio engineer.

I’m not a huge tech guy, so Caleb, our resident electronics guru, helped me out. Caleb is to puhdooters what I am to wrenches. My first complaint was that I could not connect my phone to speakers via Bluetooth. Caleb tells me BMW just doesn’t use a Bluetooth controller for that, likely to save a few bucks.

Next, I couldn’t play Pandora, either. Caleb says, “This BMW does not have USB HID + Isochronous Audio. Isochronous Audio is the audio transfer part. HID (Human Input Device) is the part that lets you control it. (volume/track/etc.) There are Bluetooth controllers that use this protocol easily. A2DP and AVRPC are the Bluetooth equivalents.” Long story short: no streaming Pandora.

There is a pouch in the right saddlebag (intelligently placed at the top, in case of water ingress.) In that pouch is a USB port and a 3.5 mm auxiliary jack. Here’s the rub: If you want to mount your phone on the bars for GPS, you’d have to charge it with one wire to the Powerlet up front (there is another one out back for your pillion), and then run an audio cable back to the bag for music. How imbecilic.

Our Sirius subscription actually shot craps in the middle of testing. I switched over to USB-sourced tunes, and that wasn't bad, but satellite radio makes for nice long hauls so you don't have to beat up the "seek" button. Photo by Lemmy.

I should be fair and mention that I really enjoyed having satellite radio. I’m a sucker for it. I know some other bikes offer the option, but it’s still a relative rarity. SiriusXM is a miserable company, but not hunting for stations and having lots to choose from is really nice, especially on long hauls.

I also couldn’t stop hitting the scroll wheel with thumb every time I indicated a turn. (Caleb has an R 1200 RS, and has the exact same problem.)

Gas pump
One oddity of this bike is how close the handlebars sit to the fuel filler cap. You gotta be careful working the gas pump into the tank or you'll scratch up the handlebar. Photo by Lemmy.

My last gripe is not completely tech-related, and it’s a clarification. If you read my first ride report on this bike, you’ll remember I complained about a horrifically notchy neutral. I was using Gear Shift Assistant Pro, which is effectively a quickshifter that allows clutchless up and down shifts. (Throttle open for up, and closed for down.) I vaguely remembered when testing the S 1000 XR years ago that the manual recommended not using the Assistant on the 2-1 downshift, which I had been doing on the B. (The manual doesn’t mention it.) Once I stopped, finding neutral was easy as pie. Quirk of the bike, I guess.

The last word

This bike is a great one. It’s not for me, and it won’t be for many current people who have a bike that works well for them. But for the person who doesn’t need a bundle of space but does like to ride aggressively, the 16B seems to be the hot ticket. It's a sport-touring bike with a different seat and more fancy stuff. Hell, that's probably why I like it.

BMW
This is one of the nicer tools I have used for covering ground in comfort. RevZilla photo.

In this price range, trying to determine “best” is just a question of what things drive you nuts and what things you can live with. The K 1600 B is, for me, best at letting me change where my feet are, and probably the best at not vibrating my fillings out of my teeth, but it has its shortcomings. That said, my wife’s admiration of the bike is enough that I’d consider one. I would make her fetch me beers the whole time I was in the shop fabricating our luggage rack/sissy bar, though.

Long story short: This bike is a K 1600 GT with a few tweaks and a look of its own. And for a few riders, that’s a very good thing.