In mid-August of 2012 I sold my 2010 Harley Davidson Ultra Classic Limited and bought a 2012 BMW K1600GTL. While most people were surprised at this radical change in bikes, it was something that I had been considering for close to a year. While I enjoyed riding the Harley and found it to be an excellent long distance touring bike, I found myself looking at sport-touring bikes more and more.
I had two main reasons for moving away from the Harley – I wanted more power and water cooling.
During my 2012 NY to CA ride, I became frustrated with the lack of power provided by the Harley. There were a number of times where, due to a stiff headwind, I had to downshift to 5th gear keep the bike going 75mph on flat Interstate highways. You would think that a 103ci motor would be able to keep a steady speed when the motor is spinning at 3k rpms. Even in 5th gear, the throttle had to be nearly wide open leading to very poor fuel mileage (29 mpg).
I also wanted a bike with water cooling. Air cooling just doesn’t work well when sitting still in traffic at 90+ degrees. All too often, the 103 motor goes into heat management mode shutting down the rear cylinder when stuck in traffic. This can’t be good for the motor and makes it quite uncomfortable for the rider.
I sat on a couple of different bikes. The Kawasaki Concours and the Yamaha FJR both seemed to have me leaning forward and putting weight on my wrists. I prefer a more upright riding position and felt that leaning forward would be uncomfortable on long rides. I then decided to stop by the BMW dealer to check out some of their bikes.
I liked the looks of the K1600’s and initially thought that the GT version would work out nicely. After taking a 20 minute ride, I found that I was leaning a bit forward and would be putting weight on my wrists. I then took the GTL for a ride and really liked the relaxed and upright riding position. Having my legs underneath me was a bit uncomfortable as I’m used to having my feet out in front of me on the Harley’s.
I was immediately impressed with the power of the GTL. It has very good low-end power and really comes alive at around 5K. Because of the wide power band, you can put it in a gear and just let the 6 cylinder motor pull you along without shifting.
I was also pleasantly surprised at how well the GTL handled corners. It feels like a much lighter bike that the 750 lb weight would suggest. Switching between the various electronic suspension settings (comfort, normal, and sport) lets you tailor the ride to the road without stopping to adjust shock settings.
After a 90 minute ride on the GTL, I was sold. I went ahead and sold my 2010 Limited and then bought the 2012 K1600GTL. My family and friends were surprised and somewhat confused at the switch from the Harley to a BMW. There are very few similarities between the two bikes other than the fact that they both have 2 wheels and are meant for long distance touring.
I’ve had the BMW for about 3 months now and have come to appreciate all that the GTL has to offer. I added engine guards and highway pegs so that I can stretch my legs when needed, added a cup holder, and replaced the odd BMW power outlet with a standard 12 volt outlet.
The 6 cylinder engine is simply incredible. Its smooth, has very good low-end power and outstanding midrange and top end power. As an added bonus, fuel mileage is about 3 mpg better than the Harley on average. Twice the power and better fuel mileage – amazing.
The electronics are equally impressive allowing me to modify various ride qualities of the bike as conditions change. I love being able to change the suspension dampening on the fly. The only issue that I have now is that the seat isn’t all that comfortable so I’ll need to replace it at some point.
Put this all together and it’s an impressive piece of machinery that seems to do just about everything well. Like all bikes, there are certain compromises and the GTL is no exception. It may not be quite as comfortable as the Ultra Classic or as fast and nimble as a sport bike but for me, it’s the perfect combination of performance and comfort. I’m looking forward to putting many miles on it.