Family Feud: BMW K1300GT vs. K1300S

Starship Troopers

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Nick Cedar

We get a virtual truckload of E-mail around here, and lately have noticed a new phenomenon. Instead of readers asking us to help them choose between two different makes and models, more and more are trying to decide between two models from the same manufacturer. Sibling rivalry, as it were. Or as we've dubbed it for this issue: "Family Feud."

One of the most common brands cited was BMW. And two of the most common models were the K1300S and K1300GT. Which should you buy?

On the surface, that seems like a no-brainer. One is a sportbike, the other a sport-tourer. But given that a raft of touring amenities are available for the former, and that the latter shares the same sporty platform, the line blurs.

Look at the two parked nose to nose and the first thing you notice is that these are elegant motorcycles, their rakish styling devoid of tacky decals or graphics. Instead, in a nod worthy of a Bavarian sports car, the BMW roundel is inlaid on each side of the S-model's fairing, and perched atop stylish louvers on the GT.

Look beyond the bodywork, and you'll note that these two machines share the same architecture. Both are built on the same aluminum twin-spar frame with single-shock Duolever front and Paralever rear ends. They're shaft drive, naturally, with a single-sided swingarm on the left and a massive muffler on the right. The main difference is the GT's subframe is more substantial to support the additional weight of its standard luggage-not to mention your passenger.

Motive power comes from the same forward-inclined transverse inline-four (Beemerphiles call it a Slant/4) that debuted on the 1157cc K1200S, bored 1mm and stroked 5.3mm to displace 1293cc. With DOHC, Formula 1-style finger followers and liquid cooling, this is no shadetree mechanic's Boxer twin, but service intervals are fairly reasonable at 18,600 miles. And we've heard reports of some bikes going twice that far without needing their valves adjusted.

Swing a leg over the GT and you're sitting in the lap of luxury. The cockpit features two analog gauges: a 170-mph speedometer on the left and a tachometer that redlines at 10,000 rpm on the right. A central digital display shows everything imaginable, including ambient temperature, engine temp, average speed, miles per gallon and range. That same display includes a fuel gauge and a gear indicator, while on a panel above it warning lights illuminate to tell you when you're in neutral, when the high-beam is on or if the ABS needs to be reset ("Brake Failure," it reads alarmingly). You toggle between these functions with the Info button on the left bar cluster, and reset the dual tripmeters or the clock with the two buttons on the dash itself.

The S-model's dash is only slightly less complex, with the speedo and tach trading places and the LCD slid over to the right. Owing to its sportier state of tune (146.9 horsepower and 89.6 lb.-ft. of torque, compared to the GT's 135.4 bhp and 86.9 lb.-ft.), its speedo reads to 180 mph and its tach redlines at 11,000 rpm.

Both of our testbikes were equipped with what BMW calls its Premium Package. The GT gets a bright Xenon headlight, heated handgrips and seats, Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA II), Automatic Stability Control (ASC), Tire Pressure Monitor (TPM), Cruise Control and an On Board Computer, all of which takes the price from $19,150 to $22,595. The S gets heated grips, an electronic quick-shifter (called Gear Shift Assistant), ESA II, ASC and TPM, which takes the price from $15,550 to $17,800. The accessory expandable side cases (formally Sports Pannier System) on our S-model costs an additional grand.

These options add a few more functions to the dash, notably an ESA display controlled by another button on the left bar cluster. Push the button anytime to choose which damping setting you desire (Normal, Sport or Comfort), or hold it down at a standstill to select which preload setting you desire (indicated by one helmet, one helmet with luggage or two helmets). Add to that the switches for the GT's cruise control and electrically adjustable windscreen and it's no wonder the high beam is incorporated into the Euro-style passing button actuated by your left index finger. The oddest control of all might be the single turnsignal switch; gone are BMW's proprietary separate left- and right-side switches. Likewise the horn is now a regular pushbutton instead of mirroring the turnsignal cancellation button formerly actuated by lifting up your thumb.

With all of these bells and whistles, it's easy to feel overwhelmed at first. But spend a long day in the saddle (or six days, like we did), and it all starts to feel natural. Then you start to think about how these motorcycles actually work.

Off The Record
Paul Catterson, The Editor's Brother
Age: 43
Height: 6'2"'
Weight: 220 lbs.
Inseam: 34 in.

The first thing that surprised me about these two BMWs was the sheer power. The delivery felt less like a curve and more like a ramp: very linear. I spent most of my time between 3000 and 7000 rpm, and because the engine braking was so effective, I only needed to use the brakes in the twistiest twisties. What happens above 9000 rpm is a mystery to me!
The ESA made a huge difference. Setting the K1300GT on Sport and dropping the bars made it sportier than you would expect from a 650-lb. touring rig. Whereas setting the K1300S on Comfort never brought it close enough to a touring bike. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the S. I just don't see myself buying a 1300cc sportbike-and it would never see the racetrack at that price! The GT makes more sense for the enthusiast who wants to emphasize the "sport" in sport-touring.

By Brian Catterson
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