BMW K1600GTL Exclusive | REVIEW

Putt Putt, PASSenger - When Your Significant Other Demands the Very Best

They say: Enjoyment is luxury in motion. We say: That’s a lot of luxury to keep in motion.

Even without a set of controls, there are times when the backseater is really doing the driving. For solo pilots wanting to bring friends, family, or significant others along on this fantastic journey that is two-wheel travel, there’s nothing quite like a super-luxurious, incredibly comfortable passenger perch to overcome objections. Dispense with the usual roadblocks and you might just hear, “Of course I have no problem having you spend $30,000 for a motorcycle…as long as it’s that one.”

BMW seems to understand this concept; the K1600GTL Exclusive is your evidence. While it is mechanically much the same K1600GTL we have come to admire, BMW has created an upscale version by making subtle (and not so subtle) graphical alterations while bolstering—if you'll pardon the pun—the passenger experience. Chrome replaces paint or polish on a great many of the Exclusive's pieces; whether BMW went too far or not far enough is up to you and your Ray-Bans. But there's no doubt the GTL-E looks like the $29,950 motorcycle that it is. A few of us thought BMW's treatment was over the top, but the company itself feels that this is exactly what the customer wants. Okay then.

Backseaters get all the Bavarian love. The rear portion of the one-piece saddle—not height adjustable, incidentally—is larger than on the base GTL, extending an additional 1.2 inches to close the gap to the lower leading edge of the top case. Pivoting armrests emerge from brackets bolted to the rear subframe, not the top box, while the back bolster receives an additional lumbar pad below the larger, heated piece. Of course, the main passenger seat is heated as well, its controls separate from the rider’s. Those armrests are not adjustable, poke out at comically crazy angles when flipped up, and are guaranteed to get kicked by mounting riders pretty often. But overall the seating package seems accurately aimed at making passengers comfortable.

A large portion of their comfort will stem from the rider’s sense of command, which is never really an issue on the K16 (except for the part about muscling an 800-pound motorcycle out of the garage; better to do that in private). With a seat height of just 29.5 inches allied to the benefits of a narrow midsection, the GTL feels far lighter and less threatening to your pride out on the road. Once moving, and through a short period of low-speed awkwardness, the big K16 magically loses about 100 pounds; in fact, the steering response is almost too quick and too light for such a distance-intended machine. BMW wanted to be sure you thought the GTL was livelier than a Gold Wing, and it plainly shows.

Chances are your passenger won’t get too worked up about the BMW’s magical six-cylinder engine, which sounds magnificent and makes spine-tingling power throughout the rev range. A peak of 137 hp doesn’t seem over the top, but the max of 117 pound-feet of torque should tell you what you want to know. It delivers this power with such nonchalance and to such a glorious soundtrack that you can’t help but rev the engine at stoplights and seek out gaps in traffic as an excuse to zing it to the 8,500-rpm redline. (An interesting side note is that the old K1300GT four-cylinder engine made as much torque at peak as the K16 does at, get this, 1,800 rpm. Yikes.)

But your backseater will appreciate the six-cylinder’s creamy smoothness, which means that barely a tickle comes through the bars, pegs, or thick seat cushions. Speaking of which, several of our testers disliked the Exclusive’s slippery seat coverings, which, to be fair, were virtually brand new. Perhaps with some wear they’ll get grippier. No one up front objected to the overall riding position or aerodynamics, though we still prefer the slightly sportier K1600GT for its lower bar, more rearset footpegs, and slightly shorter stock screen.

Because the Exclusive was designed as much for the passenger as the rider, we loaded up our significant others and solicited opinions. Ari Henning took his wife, Loren; Kevin Smith toted his wife, Melissa; our EIC Marc Cook packed some prime Martha; and our art director, Kathleen Conner, talked her hubby into a short trip aboard the Exclusive. What do they think? Read on.

So let’s hear it from the passengers.

Loren Henning

Loren Henning

What a classy bike! It looks like a cruise ship and flows down the road like one too. On the freeway, the passenger seat was great. It’s nice to actually have a place to rest your arms. It was hot when we were riding, so I didn’t use the seat heater, but I’m always a fan of a warm bum. What woman isn’t?

Ari and I just did a three-day road trip on a 2013 BMW R1200RT, so I can’t help but compare the K1600 to that bike. The K1600 is smoother, faster, and has better aerodynamics—my helmet got jostled around less, and our communicators worked better at higher speeds—but I prefer the RT. It’s just proportioned better for someone my size (5-foot-4 and 105 pounds). The K1600’s seat is plush and big, but it’s too big for me. I had 6 inches on either side of me and could have fit another person between Ari and me. That big gap didn’t help my sense of security as a passenger, and I struggled to stay put in the slippery seat through corners and on the brakes. I either had to lean forward to brace myself against Ari or wiggle my arms down around the armrests to grab the handholds. Of course that wasn’t an issue on acceleration. Then I just leaned back and let the backrest do its job.

On the RT there was a lot less space between Ari and me. That made me feel more secure, and it was no less comfortable. I appreciate how much thought BMW gave to the passenger’s comfort, but it just doesn’t work out well for me. I prefer a smaller bike that puts me closer to the rider.

Melissa Smith

Melissa Smith

“Where’s the seatbelt?” That was my first thought on settling into the car-like passenger seat of this big BMW. Once we were underway and heading down the Pacific Coast Highway, it got even better. The ride was terrifically smooth, and I had no issues with handholds in odd places or the bend of my knees—things I’m usually pretty sensitive to. This seating position felt completely natural, with my hands, arms, legs, and feet falling easily into happy places. And can I tell you how much I love heated seats?

I really liked the “stadium seating” that positioned me way up high, looking out over Kevin’s head. It felt exposed at first, but I quickly got over that and enjoyed the wide-screen view. I noticed details along the ride I hadn’t seen before, though we’ve been down that stretch countless times.

If I had to site a concern, it would be the contour and slipperiness of the seat when I tried to lean against the backrest. It made me slide forward and put a bend in the small of my back. I couldn’t really stay there. The seat was very comfortable, but it worked better if I was upright and leaning into Kevin a little. For all the cool accommodations on this bike, maybe there should be an angle adjustment that pitches the passenger seat up a little in the front when you want to lean back, relax, and really take in that passing scenery.

Martha Cook

Martha Cook

Okay, I’m just going to admit it up front: I fell asleep in the passenger’s seat of the K1600GTL, looked up, and realized I had no memory of the past few miles. That was weird.

So what does that say about my passenger experience on this Winnebago of a ride? It’s like sitting in a comfy chair: armrests, substantial footpegs, heated seat, and a heated backrest, too, though I couldn’t feel it through my back protector.

It’s a pleasant and effortless passenger experience (hence the snoring from the back seat) as long as the driver is smooth and the road is in good shape; I found the bumps over broken pavement a bit jarring. (Marc later admitted he had the suspension in Sport mode, which partly explains the ride.) And there’s something about the angle or shape of the seat, or maybe it’s the covering, that made me slide forward when my favorite motorcyclist braked to a stop. I had to do the “knees squeeze” same as I would in the passenger seat of most other bikes.

But I imagine a long ride up the California coast on the K1600 would be dreamy, with the EIC at the helm, a toasty warm bottom, and nothing to do but enjoy the view. I am becoming very sleepy, so sleepy, eyelids so heavy… Zzzz.

Kathleen Conner

Kathleen Conner, MC Art Director

It’s been a while since I’ve been on a bike, but with one look at the BMW K1600GTL, I didn’t hesitate jumping on. This is one fancy-pants ride. I’ve been on every type of motorcycle (pre-babies), and one of my favorite trips was up to Big Sur on a BMW R1200GS. So I was pretty excited to see how these two bikes compared.

It was a little awkward at first. I guess there is a reason why the armrests are movable because it’s much easier to get on with them in the up position. The footpegs were just about perfect; a half-inch higher would be ideal for me. Settling in to the backrest was quite cozy; however, when I was fully reclined I would have liked the front of the seat to be tilted up a bit. I felt like I was sliding down.

Our three-hour trip consisted of city streets, freeways, and twisty mountain roads at a spirited pace. Needless to say I didn’t get to use the back- and armrests too much between lane-splitting and aggressive cornering. My arms were firmly clenched around the pilot’s waist.

What I like best is the elevated seat. It’s much nicer to see the scenery in front rather than the back of your rider’s head. And that is one smooth ride. Bumps shmumps. Adjusting the windscreen was easy, and that makes a huge difference as you’re flying down the highway! I could get used to something this sweet.

PRICE $29,950
ENGINE TYPE l-c inline-six
BORE x STROKE 72.0 x 67.5mm
CLUTCH Wet, multi-plate
FRAME Aluminum twin-spar
FRONT BRAKE Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Brembo two-piston caliper, 320mm disc with ABS
FRONT TIRE 120/70ZR-17 Metzeler Roadtec Z8
REAR TIRE 190/55ZR-17 Metzeler Roadtec Z8
RAKE/TRAIL 27.8°/4.3 in.
WHEELBASE 63.7 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 29.5 in.
MEASURED HORSEPOWER 136.8 hp @ 7800 rpm
MEASURED TORQUE 116.8 lb-ft @ 5100 rpm
COLORS Mineral White Metallic
WARRANTY 36 mo., 36,000 mi.
Kathleen Conner, MC Art Director
Martha Cook
Loren Henning
Melissa Smith