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Never has a motorcycle's model designation been so apt. GTL, as any member of the tifosi will tell you, stands for Gran Turismo Lusso - luxury grand tourer - and that's exactly what BMW's six-cylinder K1600 GTL is: a big, powerful motorcycle that'll take you to the next town or the next time zone at eyebrow-raising average speeds while cosseting you in almost indecent comfort.
But this 1649cc überbahnstormer takes some getting used to, not only due to its 348kg kerb weight (although, to be fair, that's 76kg less than a Gold Wing) but also because all the controls are very remote.
The somewhat oversensitive fly-by-wire throttle has all the feedback of a PlayStation joystick, the steering is surprisingly light, with a noticeable tiller effect from the pull-back bars, the clutch takes up suddenly, without any warning, very close to the grip and there's very little front-end dive under braking - which leads you to underestimate just how fast you're scrubbing off forward momentum.
It took me a week to learn this bike well enough to take off without an embarrassingly unprofessional burst of revs and to feel confident enough to slice through the traffic on the way home from work.
Yes, Cyril, I commuted on the Blue Propeller cruise liner for a week; the panniers are wider than the fairing or 'bars, which is a bit of a liability in traffic, although it's nice to listen to a bit of Vivaldi while you navigate the afternoon freeway fracas. It will hold its line down to about 25km/h, then sheer mass overcomes gyroscopic effect and it tries to fall off its wheels.
UNCLUTTERED BRIDGE DECK
While stuck in traffic, however, I had time to look around the bridge deck; it's surprisingly uncluttered for a bike of this class - which turned out to be a mixed blessing.
For the satnav at the top of the instrument panel I have nothing but praise; it's entirely operated by touchscreen, which it reads accurately no matter how heavy your winter gloves are. The display is clear and legible even in direct sunlight and the sequence of operations intuitive; just follow the instructions and you'll never get lost.
Just below it there's a pair of rather plasticky conventional dials for speed and revs, either side of an LCD screen about the size of an old-fashioned car-radio display that shows everything else - but not at the same time.
You navigate the various menus - engine mapping (three modes), suspension preload and damping (three modes each), sound system tuning and volume, and trip computer display, by means of a collar around the left-hand switchgear; rotate it away from you for up, towards you for down, pull for left and push in for right or 'enter'.
It also controls the temperature (five levels each) of the rider's grips and seat heating although, in a major victory for marital harmony, Herself has a separate control for the pillion seat heating under her left hand.
It's derived from the notorious i-Drive used in BMW cars and, unless you are one of the very few people who like the 'crazy knob', you'll find it just as counterintuitive. In this application, however, it also has a physical disadvantage; unless you take your left hand off the 'bars to indicate, you will change stations every time you turn right!
The cruise control, by contrast, is operated by a very elegant, self-locking, combined slide-and-rocker switch on the top of the left-hand switchgears. Check it out once and you'll be able to use it without looking at it. Brilliant.
Then came a beautiful crisp mid-winter Sunday morning and we took off the panniers (a matter of seconds using the ignition key) and top box, which took a little longer as the saddle had first to be removed to unplug the wiring for the central locking and then the fitted carpet inside the box had to come out to get to the rotary latch in the middle of the floor!
We set the electronic suspension adjustments to “Solo” and “Sport” and took off into the hills to find out what the K1600 was all about as a motorcycle, rather than a tour bus.
That super-smooth engine whirrs and whizzes and whistles and whines - but doesn't sound like a BMW six at all until you give it a handful; then it howls like my neighbour's old M3.
It has huge mid-range torque anywhere from 3000rpm onwards, peaking at 175Nm at 5750rpm. Crack it wide open from a rolling start in first and it will get up to 200km/h in about as much time as it takes to make three hasty gear-shifts - and three deep breaths later it will hit the electronic limiter in fifth.
Sixth is more of a cruising gear as the bike reaches the limiter at only 6800rpm, 1000 revs short of its 118kW power peak and 1700 shy of the redline at eight-five. It's limited to 220km/h; our (well-used) test bike topped out at a true 221 in perfect conditions on a cold, windstill morning, about halfway down our six-kilometre test straight.
Fuel consumption worked out at a creditable 6.6 litres per 100km over the week we had it, including performance testing and some earlier pussyfooting in heavy rain. That gives it a tank range of somewhere close to 400km and I, for one, would have no problems riding it that far without stopping.
Gearbox and final drive are both very clonky, as one would expect from a BMW of this size; the six-speed 'box is, however, very positive in operation and the noisy final drive does nothing worse than startle the occasional pedestrian.
The weight is mostly low down (the cylinders are tilted forward at 55 degrees), making the steering lighter and quicker than you'd expect but the laws of physics are immutable (as the Indiana legislature found out in 1897 when it passed a statute that henceforth the value of pi in the state of Indiana would be exactly 3.2) and you're always conscious that you are riding a very big, very heavy bike.
But it is dead stable right up to top speed - a big relief, after it started weaving at 190km/h earlier in the week with the electronic suspension adjustment on Normal and the luggage in place!
It went through our ride and handling section at 128km/h where 120 is decent for a sports bike, its suspension firm but a little choppy. Then the sheer weight of the bike bludgeoned the bumpy test section into submission but the ride was uncomfortably jerky until I thought 'Wait a minute!”, stopped, reset the suspension to Comfort and wafted through the rest of the section as if I was on a magic carpet.
At the end of the worst section I reset on the fly to Sport and it was 'game on' again.
The handlebars have a pronounced pullback, inducing a distinct 'tiller effect' in slow corners and traffic; they also make the seating position a little too upright for long-term comfort. The seats, however, cannot be faulted; both rider and pillion are cosseted in broad, perfectly shaped and deeply padded comfort.
I got some head-buffeting unless the electrically adjustable screen was seat at its lowest and, no matter where the screen was, the familiar touring-bike vortex slammed the visor of my helmet unceremoniously shut at 90km/h, rendering the brilliant sound system moot.
If I owned a K1600 GTL (or any full-dress tourer, for that matter) I would ditch my full-face in favour of a jet-style helmet.
BMW boasts that the K1600 engine is only 555mm wide at its widest point, very little bigger than the 1300cc four it replaces; it is, however, also 518mm wide at its narrowest point. But that engine is what this bike is all about; it makes the GTL an intimidatingly bulky but surprisingly rideable and incredibly comfortable long-haul express.
Price: R223 450.
Bike from: BMW South Africa.
Engine: 1649cc liquid-cooled transverse six.
Bore x stroke: 72x 67.5mm.
Compression ratio: 12.2:1.
Valvegear: DOHC with four overhead valves per cylinder.
Power: 118.0kW at 7750rpm.
Torque: 175Nm at 5250rpm.
Induction: Bosch BMS-X digital electronic fuel-injection with one 52mm throttle body.
Ignition: Digital electronic.
Clutch: Hydraulically actuated multiplate wet clutch.
Transmission: Six-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by shaft.
Front Suspension: Duolever forks with central hydraulic damper and electronic suspension adjustment.
Rear Suspension: Paralever gas-charged monoshock remotely adjustable for preload, with electronic suspension adjustment.
Front brakes: Dual 320mm disks with Brembo four-pot opposed-piston callipers and ABS.
Rear brake: 320mm disk with double-piston Brembo floating calliper and ABS.
Front tyre: 120/70 - 17 tubeless.
Rear tyre: 190/55 - 17 tubeless.
Seat height: 750mm.
Kerb weight: 348kg.
Fuel tank: 26.5 litres.
Top speed (measured): 221km/h.
Fuel consumption (measured): 6.6 litres per 100km
Price: R223 450.
Bike from: BMW South Africa.