This is the first in a five-part series I’m doing on the K1600B. There’s really no other bike quite like it. The Goldwing, you say? In some ways, yes. But in many other ways, not so much. To my mind, the K1600B is (and I will say this openly) the finest, fastest, and most agile big luxo-tourer on the market.
So let’s go for a ride, shall we?
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Arthur C. Clarke
Following my comprehensive examination of the wonderful R18B (which you can read about HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE), it’s only right and proper I examine the “other” bagger BMW has blessed us with. And yes, I do indeed mean “blessed”, because this 344kg behemoth dances like a much smaller and more agile bike – and you really have to ride it to understand this.
But I think what we need to do first is compare the R18B to the K1600B, because they are two very different takes on the Bagger concept.
The R18B was BMW’s direct assault on the Harley and Indian offerings. The whole two-cylinder vibe, the deep, soulful delivery of grunt, and the stunning level of finish, coupled with better handling, better brakes, and better suspension than the American baggers, showed just how serious BMW was in this assault.
But the K1600B is a very different battle. And it’s aimed at a very different market and competitor. The K1600B really only has one competitor – and that is the legendary Honda Goldwing. And as good as the Goldwing is, and it is very good, the Germans more than have its measure in this iteration of the K1600B.
I understand Goldwing fans will view that statement as heresy. Much like I know there’s a bunch of Harley and Indian riders who want to fight me because I’ve told them how much better the R18B is than what they’re riding. They have to catch me first, I guess. And that’s not gonna happen anytime soon.
But I’ll continue the comparison with the R18B, and I’ll get into why I’d prefer the K1600B to the Goldwing in a later piece.
First up, is the difference in appearance. The R18B is all deep heritage – and while it’s incorrect to state it’s trying to look like a Harley, there is a certain retro-commonality to the styling.
Not so the K1600B. It doesn’t look like any other bike. It looks like it’s been deployed from the belly of some galactic starship, and it’s as modern and sophisticated a weapon as you’d like.
I feel those are the three words that best describe the K1600B – modern, sophisticated, and weapon. Imagine a 7-series BMW car cut in half and turned into a motorcycle. The K1600B is a weaponised, two-wheeled limousine.
In contrast, the R18B is just as modern, though that modernity is hidden by its aesthetics. The R18B is also a very sophisticated bike in terms of electronics and engineering, though once again, its style dictates how much and how overt that sophistication needs to be.
The K1600B’s sophistication is extant in every line, every control, the glorious TFT display…and…well, in the way it buggers off down the road when you command that incredible six-cylinder donk to do so.
And it is indeed a missile. The R18B is not a missile. It’s all cruiser torque and gentle bend-carving governed by its ground-clearance and long wheelbase – the R18 is 1695mm, the K1600 is 1618mm. And yes, this is certainly a big enough difference to have a say in the handling.
What will blow you away on the K1600B is its agility. You look at it and you think: “Heh, she’s a big girl.” And she is. There’s a lot of her. And there’s a lot of her in front of you when you’re perched on the seat – which is not so much a seat as it is an intensely pleasurable coddling of the man-hams. So you sit there and you grip the ’bars and your brain’s telling you that you need to be a touch circumspect with a bike as vast as this.
And then you ride off, and all of that disappears. On the R18, you are never permitted to forget you’re on a big bike. It feels like a big bike and it steers like a big bike. The K1600B, on the other hand, will shame an indifferently-ridden sportsbike. It’s like some insane magic trick in that regard.
I’ll get into the technicalities of it later – but that brilliant telelever front-end and the next-gen electronic suspension make high-speed silliness a lot more effortless than you’d think. Sure, you’re not getting the same feel through the front-end you’d get from a less majestic bike – and never mind the terror you’re inflicting upon yourself when you ask a Harley to deal with a bumpy, decreasing-radius 45er – but it doesn’t take very long for you to trust what’s going on with the K.
Fast changes of direction are super-easy, unlike the R18B, which prefers a more planned approach – but then you won’t be approaching the corner-entry speeds on an R18B that you’ll regularly approach on the K1600B.
And all of this is happening while you’re seated in sublime comfort, and feeling (quite rightly) a little superior about yourself.
The spell the K1600B weaves on you is a very different spell to the one weaved by the R18B. If you prefer your rides on the gentle side, buoyed along on fat waves of torque which you can feel courtesy of the biggest boxer-engined twin ever built – all style as well as substance, then the R18B will speak to your soul.
But if you want to carve vast distances at red-eyed speeds in limo-like comfort, while also being able to stay with (and in some cases pass) all but the very fastest boys on much sportier bikes, the K1600B is where you need to be.
The K1600B is your glass-smooth hypersonic experience. It even makes this sensationally arrogant “HARRUMPH!” noise when you hate-change it down via the brilliant quickshifter. It’s entirely a fabulous magic trick, quite unlike any other.
And yes, I will tell you how that trick is performed in the next piece…
Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.