2012 BMW K 1600 GTL | First Ride

Report from South Africa

By Jamie Elvidge, Photography by Daniel Kraus

When BMW Motorrad CEO Hendrik von Kuenheim told the jet-lagged moto-journalists gathered outside of Cape Town, South Africa, that the prolific company's latest achievement-"a dynamic super-touring bike"-had exceeded every expectation the design and engineering teams had for it, we were inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

We just didn't realize that, once aboard the K 1600 GT and GTL, we would be completely blown away (the sportier K 1600 GT version is the platform for both).

Despite the fact that the "L" in the new K 1600 GTL's moniker stands for "luxury," BMW engineers flinch if you mention the Honda Gold Wing in the same breath as their new tourer.

But boy-oh-boy is the GTL grand! It's far sportier and lighter than its LT predecessor, and despite what the BMW folks say, GL1800 types are going to be drawn like moths to the flame. Why? Because it's exceedingly comfortable, laden with gadgetry, and lighter and easier to ride than any of the current luxury-tourers on the market. Add in a base price of $23,200 (same as the new Gold Wing) that includes everything from ABS to heated grips, and it's a good deal, too.

The 2011 GT and GTL also offer a world-premiere option for motorcycles: the "Adaptive Headlight" system. In addition to the standard Xenon headlamp (with sensors to provide headlight beam leveling regardless of conditions) the optional "Adaptive Headlight" also compensates for roll and lean angle.

Except for the baboons loitering on the shoulders and that left-side-of-the-road driving business, riding in South Africa isn't much different from the U.S. The pavement is generally smooth, usually predictable, and car drivers are occasionally skillful. Lucky for us, the motorcycle never got in our way. The GT/GTL's manageability at low speeds is a direct result of its low center of gravity. The compact six-cylinder engine uses a dry-sump lubrication system so it sits very low in the chassis. Even more importantly, the engine's torquey nature and the silky E-gas throttle response make it almost impossible not to pilot in a way Keith Code would be proud of.

Electronics on these bikes are comprehensive. In addition to the mode selectors, the Multi-Controller integrates every bell and whistle you could desire on a motorcycle, and then some. The navigation and audio systems are both state-of-the-art, representing BMW's commitment to a new generation of rider. After two days of spinning through the Multi-Controller, sampling everything from the iPod to the variable-temperature heated seat, the system revealed itself to be more intuitive than conventional touring-bike setups. The only thing that's lacking is the bike's onboard speaker system, which could use more volume and clarity.

The constant torque, huge top-end power and the flawless functionality of the fueling are only part of what makes the K 1600 GT so remarkably well balanced. Chassis setup is extremely adaptable via the ESA II system, which allows the rider to select from predetermined suspension settings with the push of a button. Easy-to-reach buttons also let the rider choose between Dynamic Traction Control settings to tune power delivery to road conditions.

The biggest difference between the GT and GTL is chassis and ergo setup. The sliding scale of suspension settings departs from a different basis, slanting the GTL's range toward comfort (it has a lower seat, too).

Extra amenities on the GTL include a standard Bluetooth audio system with Sirius satellite radio and iPod connectivity, sculpted touring saddle, 49-liter, locking top case and a taller, wider windscreen. Aesthetically, the GTL comes with more chrome doo-dads and is available in Royal Blue Metallic and Mineral Silver Metallic.

By Jamie Elvidge
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