Family Feud: BMW K1300GT vs. K1300S

Starship Troopers

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Nick Cedar

The thing that most impresses is the engine: With 70 lb.-ft. of torque on tap from just over 3000 rpm, both bikes are tugboats down low, pushing their charges along with little effort. At first we thought their clutches were grabby; then we realized you don't have to give them any throttle to get underway-just let out the lever. Gearshift action is a bit clunky, but neither bike cares what gear it's in so you seldom have to shift. Sixth is largely superfluous-maybe fifth, too. Both bikes' power curves define the term "linear," but wind them up to 7000 rpm-plus and they become Galaxy-class Starships, ready to propel you to distant lands at warp speed. The GT is comparable to a Kawasaki Concours 14 or Yamaha FJR1300, while the S is right up there with a Suzuki Hayabusa or Kawasaki ZX-14-honest.

The other thing that impresses is both bikes' balance of stability and agility. With some 600 lbs. spread over a 62-inch wheelbase (the S-model is 76 lbs. lighter but a half-inch longer) and fairly conservative steering geometry (the S has a tad less trail), it's no surprise they're stable at speed, straight up and down or leaned over. But what is surprising is how easily they flick into corners, and especially transition from one to the next. Both are fairly light-steering, and only ever feel heavy at parking-lot speeds.

Comfort is excellent. The GT has a nice, upright riding position which affords a commanding view of the road ahead. The rider's portion of its two-piece seat is two-position adjustable and its bars vary in height via a simple ratcheting mechanism. We slammed ours to the lowest position and it was still plenty comfy. The S has lower bars and a one-piece seat that isn't height-adjustable, though as with the GT an optional lower seat is available at no additional charge. Yet even with its sportier riding position, the S is still plenty comfortable, especially for those accustomed to sportbikes. Longer-legged riders will, however, want to take care that their knees don't smack the fairing when they put their feet down.

Part-Integral ABS (wherein the rear is linked to the front) is standard on both bikes, and works exceptionally well. Ditto the ESA, which we found to have well-chosen spring and damping rates; our only gripe was both ends felt a little harsh over choppy pavement. The ASC is a mixed blessing: While we appreciated it preventing unwanted wheelspin, it sometimes felt a bit intrusive on the S, stopping the party right when it was getting going at corner exits and preventing wheelies over rises. At first we doubted the usefulness of the S-model's racy electronic quick-shifter, but after a few full-throttle, clutchless upshifts, we learned to appreciate it.

Nits? We have a few. First, the GT's electrically adjustable windscreen is flawed in any setting. While it does a fair job of protecting the rider from the elements, it buffets horribly in its lower positions and creates negative pressure that sucks you forward in its higher positions. We tried to find a happy compromise somewhere in between.

Second, and more seriously, both bikes have an excessive amount of engine vibration. We'd like to tell you that it's only at certain rpm, but it's omnipresent, varying only in frequency and intensity. Fortunately it's only really noticeable in the bars. Unfortunately, it becomes increasingly bothersome on a long ride, to the point that your hands fall asleep.

Those criticisms aside, these are two superb motorcycles, both of which are eminently capable of traversing long distances at high speed. The GT is the better equipped sport-tourer, but it also hauls ass on twisty back roads. The S is sportier, and faster, but it's also a nice place to spend a long day.

Which is better for you? It all boils down to this: If you mostly ride by yourself, go with the S. If you bring your significant other along more often than not, choose the GT. The electrically heated passenger seat will more than offset the higher price.

Off The Record
Brian Catterson, Editor-in-Chief
Age: 48
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 215 lbs.
Inseam: 34 in.

Maybe it's because I've spent so much time on hard-core repli-racers, but I actually consider the K1300S comfortable. It's got a great seat, pretty good wind protection (with less buffeting than the GT) and the riding position isn't too stretched out. When my bro' started whining about getting back on it when it was his turn, I gladly pulled double shifts. Granted, he spent a whole day aboard the S while I rode my girlfriend on the back of the GT; but I did two straight days on the S when my buddy Michael flat-out refused to get off the GT. If I were in the market for a two-up sport-tourer, the GT might get my attention. But considering I ride solo most of the time, I'd pick the S here. It's an extra-strength supersport that you can ride all day-or all week.

By Brian Catterson
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