Best Touring Bike: BMW K1600GTL

Words & Photos: Francois Steyn

Early in 2011 BMW introduced the K1600GTL, replacing the K1200LT tourer, to take on Honda’s infamous Goldwing. The 1,649 cc straight six is the narrowest six cylinder used in a motorcycle and has a hollow crankshaft, saving close to a kilogramme.

The engine displaces the same volume as a Mini Cooper, yet delivers 118 kW to dwarf the Mini’s minute 90 kW. Its torque is also not to be scoffed at, reaching 175 Nm at 5,250 r/min. Taking this into account, the 321-kilogramme dry weight does not seem so laborious. In fact, it's got a power-to-weight ratio of 368kW per tonne. That’s nearly 14kW more than a Ferrari Enzo’s!

The GTL may be porky, but it’s still more bike than bus. Different from other sport touring bikes, this Beemer is geared to deliver maximum power at 7,750 r/min. Compare that to most litre-class superbikes that spin close to and beyond 12,000 r/min. This means that the GTL feels more like a quick supercar when you heat up the pace. Incidentally, the Enzo also delivers its peak power at close to 7,800 r/min. And with such an abundance of torque, you can accelerate to the illegal side of 200 km/h from any speed in sixth gear.

The clutch is hydraulic and brakes so sharp that you can screech to a halt with only your right pinky wrapped around the front lever. This is thanks to two 320 mm discs being grabbed by four-pot callipers at the front and one 320 mm with two-pot callipers at the rear. When I say screech I lie, as ABS brakes are standard. So is traction control. The latter can be switched off if you feel like trouble. The GTL’s computer brain has three driver settings, namely: Rain, Normal and Dynamic. Rain mode reduces power output for wet weather riding and Dynamic increases the throttle response.

The chassis handles like a much smaller bike and the suspension is electronically adjustable for Comfort, Normal or Sport. The difference between the combination of driver modes and suspension settings are very noticeable, and both can easily be selected on the fly. I managed an average of 6.5 l/100 km, which means the 26.5-litre fuel tank is good for at least 400 km.

Unlike the Goldwing, there’s no reverse gear, but if you’re of normal length (and I mean that in the nicest possible way) it’s not necessary as the seat is a comfortable 750mm from the ground. The large windscreen is electrically adjustable with your left thumb and will shield your body from light rain. With the screen at it tallest setting, the radio’s speakers are audible at 120 km/h and the volume increases automatically with your speed. To change the sound, suspension, on-board computer and handlebar/seat warmers, an innovative rendition of BMW’s i-Drive is employed. A ring on the left-hand handlebar can be turned to change and tilted sideways to select the different options. It works instinctively and you don’t need to take your eyes off the road to get it right. I used the heated seats and handlebars, with its five levels of settings, more than once and this was especially welcome in the rain. Cruise control is standard and the headlight is reflected on a moving mirror to keep the beam from dipping under acceleration and braking.

The passenger seat is wide and comfy, and there’s a backrest on the rear luggage box. The lockable side panniers can be unlocked via the remote control and there are another two small compartments on the fairing close to your knees. One of these has foam rubber panels to keep your phone safe while charging or playing music via the USB connection. A Garmin GPS, which can be controlled from the ring on the left handlebar, is built into the dashboard. At R233 450 the GTL is almost R15 000 cheaper (or should I say less expensive) than the Goldwing. This is the bike to take on the open road and it’s no wonder that various motorcycle magazines voted it as the top touring bike of 2011.


Engine: 1,649 cc, straight six, four valves per cylinder
Power: 118 kW (7,570 r/min)
Torque: 175 (5,250 r/min)
Dry weight: 321 kg
Fuel tank: 26.5 litre
Fuel consumption: 6.5 l/100 km
Seat height: 750 mm
Price: R223 450