Since its release in 2011 as a '12 model, the BMW K1600 twins--the sportier GT and slightly more Gold Wing-like GTL--have clamped down on the sport-touring category like a six-cylinder DeBakey Bulldog. Everything we thought we knew about big, heavy, powerful STs got rewritten by the BMW--it's lighter feeling, sportier, faster, and generally far more capable than it has any right to be. The inline-six engine has amazed us from Day One with its incredible torque curve, proper manners, and distinctive six-pot shriek to redline. We knew the K1600 would be something of a performance overdog, so the question was this: Is it that much better to justify the large price differential? Our 2012 testbike topped out at $25,035 as equipped--with heated seats, Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA), traction control, tire-pressure monitors, audio system, and adaptive headlight. The '13 bikes are mechanically unchanged, only new colors, with a $300-higher base price.
Joining the new Triumph and the familiar BMW is the Kawasaki Concours 14, a longtime favorite around here thanks to its ZX-14R-derived engine and aluminum monocoque chassis, generous ergonomics, available (now standard) traction control, and linked ABS. Kawasaki introduced the C14 for the 2008 model year and refreshed it in 2010 with mods to reduce the amount of engine heat sent to the rider. Since then, aside from dropping the non-ABS model and switching colors every year, the $16,199 Connie is largely unchanged.
For 2013, Yamaha gave the evergreen FJR1300 a substantial rework to include an entirely new front fairing and dashboard along with the adaptation of ride-by-wire electronics and cruise control. Yamaha says the suspension was stiffened slightly from before, but the engine, drivetrain, main bodywork, luggage, and ergonomics largely carry over. No more power, no sixth gear, but an improved feature set for the lowest price--$15,890--makes the FJR the value leader in the group.
We had the bikes, now to work out the ride. Our route brought us out of the Los Angeles/San Diego sprawl toward the Mexican border as we sought to skirt a weather system dumping rain and snow on Northern California and Arizona. Weather aborted our attempt to run up and over Palomar Mountain--we were halted by snow and near-zero visibility, stopping to take a photo next to the chains required sign. "That's our problem," quipped Digital Editor Thomas Kinzer. "All these bikes are shaft drive!"
After turning tail and riding the lower roads toward the stunning County Highway S22 down into Borrego Springs, we finally got a chance to sample the bikes twisty-road performance. Editor at Large Aaron Frank, catching his breath at the bottom, said, "I remain consistently amazed at how well the K1600GT handles. You can flat-out haul ass on it, in a way that seems like it should be just impossible on such a long, low, heavy machine."
I was just ahead of him on the pass, there to appreciate the Yamaha's straightforward steering and no-glitches feedback. But in an effort to stay ahead of the BMW's indomitable thrust I had to slightly over-ride the FJR, causing it to drag hard parts with regularity. Moving the shock preload to the Hard position and dialing the rebound damping up would help some but not enough; the FJR is willing until the ride motions get out of hand and the pegs begin losing metal. The FJR's evenhanded thrust and smooth throttle response promise more backroad fun than the suspension calibration allows.
Virtually perfect luggage. Two-step latches that can remain unlocked protect roomy, water-
Besides a speedo with too-tiny (and too many) numbers, the BMW’s instrument panel is super
The optional adaptive headlight is the centerpiece of BMW’s artfully tuned and thoroughly
Associate Editor Zack Courts, following the spark show on the Triumph opined, "It feels big, but once moving the handling is pretty light. It's not too much work to wind along a twisty road, but it starts to feel like a behemoth when you push past about 80 percent of your own capability." He noted, as we all did, that the Trophy's steering is uncommonly light for a bike of that size, offering the promise of lightning reflexes that its heft can't quite fulfill. As the second heaviest bike here--697 pounds wet, 59 under the BMW but up 7 lbs. and 29 lbs. on the Kawasaki and the Yamaha, respectively--the Triumph uses aggressive steering geometry to conceal its bulk. Where physics is concerned, you can run but you can't hide.
What do we pack? At least one tire-repair kit, a first-aid kit, SPOT GPS Messenger, and a small tool kit with fuses.