2009 BMW K1300S & GT - Bavaria Mans Up

By John L. Stein, Photography by Jonathan Beck, Kevin Wing

It's been a long, strange trip for BMW. From its once lofty perch as the maker of regal Boxer-twins, the German brand has been forced into a perpetual game of catch-up with the ever-more-sophisticated Japanese manufacturers and the market itself. All while attempting to grow an image individualistic enough to attract motorcycling's equivalent of the Ohio swing voter-a tall order. The Munich company's latest tactic is a refreshed K1300S sportbike and K1300GT sport-tourer, suitably armed with larger and more powerful engines, critical engine and gearbox refinements, and several genuinely useful new features.

If Michael Jackson's crotch grab defined his quirkiness, BMW's signature bit of weirdness has long been its turn-signal actuation, which utilized three separate switches-individual left and right activation buttons, plus a separate cancel button. There's some supporting logic behind this push-left-to-go-left mindset, but the system was something of a Pyrrhic victory; for everyone who appreciated it, there were three or four who were confused and annoyed. And so, with the new K1300s, BMW has finally adopted a J-style single-switch, self-canceling turn-signal setup.

This is just the tip of the proverbial Bavarian iceberg, because for Bay Emm Vay, a substantial list of other K-bike upgrades is akin to the company pleading nolo contendere in traffic court. Additional fixes include nearly 12 percent more displacement (1293cc vs. 1157cc); an easier-shifting gearbox; fuel-injection remapping; smoother driveline operation (thanks to a shock-absorbing two-piece driveshaft); minor suspension geometry tweaks; and a broader range of settings for the ESA II electronically adjustable-suspension system, which now manipulates spring rate as well as preload and damping. Add in a new aluminum frame, revised bodywork and options like traction control and a neat quick-shift feature on the S-model, and it's clear as a chromed cowbell that BMW has woken up and heard the market twitter

We logged a few hundred miles on the $15,250 K1300S at BMW's press launch in Santa Barbara, California. And unlike a lot of sportbikes, the S bike has ergonomics on its side. With a no-cost choice of a standard or low-height saddle, plus a generously sized cockpit, the new bike welcomes both long and short of leg. Thumb the starter and the fuel-injected inline-four growls to life. A longer stroke, stepped intake ports, butterfly exhaust power valve and shorter, catalyst-equipped muffler all broaden the torque spread, and the new bike has a wonderfully useful powerband, peaking with an alleged 103 lb.-ft. of torque at 8250 rpm and 175 bhp at 9250 rpm.

Thanks to the needle-bearing-supported shift shaft and other improvements, the transmission operates with noticeably less effort than before. The optional quick-shifter (which BMW calls HP Gearshift Assistance) works brilliantly, allowing instantaneous full-throttle upshifts with just a nudge of the lever. At 560 pounds full of gas, the K1300S is no Hayabusa, but then it's designed as more of a gentleman's express anyway.

The chassis still utilizes BMW's signature Duolever front suspension in lieu of a telescopic fork, and a Paralever rear setup to tame shaft-drive acceleration lift. Initial turn-in still feels a bit quirky, but the entire system does an outstanding job of controlling lift and dive, and the revised ESA II option provides Comfort, Normal and Sports suspension settings selectable from a pushbutton on the left handlebar. As befitting a sportbike, the Sports setting makes the bike feel like it's on rails in fast corners, and also raises the bike slightly to increase cornering clearance. It's also firm enough to be unpleasant on rough roads. Comfort and Normal are really for general or adverse conditions, and there's now a more noticeable difference between them. Both K-bikes come standard with a linked braking system and ABS, but only the S has available traction control (which BMW refers to as ASC for Anti-Spin Control). We never felt it activate.

Aside from the aforementioned steering issue and a slight hesitation when cracking open the throttle, our only complaint has to do with the front braking system. Utilizing four-piston calipers, its actuation seems heavy with average feel. Probably attributable to the anit-lock brake system, it's not a deal breaker and the ABS just might save your bacon in bad conditions someday. Call it a small concession on an otherwise greatly improved ride.

Electrically adjustable windshield nested against the bodywork, saddlebags hanging in the breeze, rider flat against the tank and throttle pinned in fourth, the speedometer flings itself toward 150 mph. If this is sport-touring, give us more! Able to inhale huge expanses of ground at a satisfying clip while transporting most of your worldly possessions and keeping you and a loved one toasty with heated seats and grips in a cocoon of still air, all while returning nearly 40 mpg-this is the $18,800 K1300GT.

BMW says it spent considerable time in the wind tunnel perfecting the GT's new bodywork. Its retuned engine churns out a claimed 160 bhp at 9000 rpm, with a vibration-free sweet zone right at cruising speed. Besides cruise control and softer, gentler ESA II adjustable suspension, options include a xenon headlight that brings valuable firepower to touring nights filled with black ice, potholes and wandering deer.

By John L. Stein
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