Best Touring Motorcycle of 2014

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Touring Motorcycle of the Year Winner: BMW K1600GTL Exclusive

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By Evans Brasfield

BMW’s superb and intoxicating K1600 platform has been a favorite long-distance machine since its introduction three years ago. The GT is the sportier model, while the GTL provides additional luxury to the equation. As a high-zoot tourer, it compares favorably to the class icon, Honda’s Gold Wing, proving to be far sportier and equally comfortable. Well, at least for the pilot. Passengers weren’t coddled quite to the extent as pillions on a Wing.

But the luxo-tourer balance has changed since the introduction of the K1600GTL Exclusive model, which vaults your passenger from business class to first class. The new perch is longer and wider, making it comfy for hours at a time. Getting a litlle chilly? Switch on the heated seats along with the heated upper backrest. The new seat is wider and longer in the passenger section, as well as a heated upper backrest and additional padding in the lumbar area.

The Exclusive includes every option available on the GTL and adds our Best Technology winner Hill Start Control, backlit-illuminated indicator dials and a radio film antenna invisibly embedded in the topcase lid. BMW’s Keyless Ride makes the ignition, fuel-filler cap, steering lock, alarm and luggage locks an automatic affair, rather than one that requires fumbling in your pocket. Exclusivity doesn’t just come in the form of technology. BMW laid on four coats of its most expensive automotive paint, Mineral White Metallic, and added Magnesium Metallic Matte accents

Still, none of these premiums would matter if the K1600GTL weren’t already an astounding performer. The ESA II with its electrically adjustable preload and three levels of damping control (Comfort, Normal, and Sport) allows on-the-fly adaptations to suit variable road conditions, and the GTL has cornering clearance that can fool you into thinking it’s not a big, heavy tourer – and it is more than 100 pounds lighter than its mega-tourer competition. The braking performance from the partially integrated ABS (which links the front to the rear but allows the rider to use the rear brake independently) delivers ample and precise braking power.

Let’s not forget the engine. BMW’s inline-Six is a sexy beast backed up by a top-end howl that will make you want to do wicked things with the throttle. When working at more mundane engine speeds, the sweet Six cranks out 70% of its torque just above idle at 1,500 rpm. Three R-b-W engine modes (Rain, Road, and Dynamic) and traction control let a rider dial in aggression appropriate for various situations.

All of this adds up to the BMW K1600GTL Exclusive earning our Best Tourer award, proving that it really is possible to have it all. In this case, it only takes $29,950. Expensive, yes. but no other motorcycle balances speed, luxury and comfort as nicely as the GTL-E.

Honorable Mention: Triumph Trophy SE

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By John Burns

Well, yeah, we included this one in our Sport-Touring Shootout back in July, and it didn’t win, but some of us grew very fond of it anyway. On the sport-touring continuum, some are sportier and some are tourier. The Trophy is the latter – and the other contestants had us in rabid, high-speed transit mode for the simple fact that it was three against one. But make no mistake, even though it made the least power in that group, 111.7 hp at 9000 rpm is still a lot, and the Triumph is still way sporty. The SE model was also the only bike in the bunch that comes with a trunk (quickly removable) and a host of other cool options including a pretty good sound system, heated seats and cruise control, which really could push it into the Touring category, for one low price: $18,999. That’s considerably less than what you’ll shell out for the very exclusive BMW Exclusive that carried the day.

Mainly, it’s what you don’t get with the Trophy which appeals to some of us, ie, weight. BMW claims a wet weight of 793 pounds for the Exclusive, while the Triumph weighs in at 664. That’s a loss of weight comparable to dropping off your wife at the Greyhound station, but it’s still 60 pounds heavier than the new BMW R1200RT that won Best Sport-Tourer 2014 – leaving the Trophy somewhere in the middle.

No, it doesn’t have the mesmerizing BMW 6-cylinder, but some would argue the 120-degree Triumph Triple is nearly as appealing in its own way. Add in the biggest, calmest still-air pocket of the sport-tourers, the most upright ergonomics, a great seat – and some of us would be just as happy rolling cross-country on the Trophy as on any bigger touring bike. Happier, really. If you’re a fan of less – weight, money, complexity – this one’s definitely worth a test ride.

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  • JMDonald

    Two great choices for this type of bike. I think I would take the Trophy over the BMW. Just my preference.

  • Vrooom

    Personally I think 700 lbs should be the upper limit of the sport touring category. Also for $30K you could get 2 FJR’s or Concours 14s, and nearly 2 Triumphs. Or simply get one bike and ride around the country staying in 4 star hotels every night with new Ohlins front and rear. @ 807 lbs wet (per another publication), the BMW is much more of a tourer than sport tourer. Yeah, I know, low COG, lighter wallet, etc. etc.

    • Kevin

      Agree with your first sentence, however this is the award for the touring category (the R 1200 RT won the sport touring honors) and I’m not sure why the Trophy is being revisited here

    • http://www.mymotorrad.com/ james lagnese

      If a K1600 is your game, there are very lightly used ones going for a lot less. If it were me, I’d find a lightly used K1600GT and use the trunk from my RT as it fits and put a different windscreen on for $10K less than the GTLE. Then again I’d rather get the new RT if I was going BMW again.

  • drkennethnoisewater

    I passed on the Exclusive a few months ago and went with the GTL, largely because:
    * The topcase is AFAIK not removable, or at least not easily so
    * The wireless-everything fob stuff probably needs bugs worked out
    * I prefer black or dark paint

    The non-exclusive GTL is pretty frickin sweet, >2000mi since May, can’t complain since I got lower pegs and Wunderlich bars.. Except maybe that Garmin needs to bring its GPS into the twenty-teens, with an AMOLED screen that thrives on glare at the very least..

    • malcolm

      How could the RT win you cant even buy one ! I would of thought reliability should be the most important attribute of a touring bike, also I test road the RT before they were grounded and the Trophy handles much better none of that vague front end feel you get from the RT and I didn’t notice a weight difference the Trophys weight is a wet weight with 26lt of fuel BMWs wet weight is without fuel

  • scott807

    Did 1,500 miles in 24 hours last weekend on this. Sweet ride.

  • TimU

    Personally, one thing I conciter critical in a “touring bike” is tire ware. No bike that only gets 7K miles on a front tire is a touring bike. Add to that, the dealer network has to be strong.
    My riding friend ran out a got one of these 1600′s and found out just how quickly his front tire went bye-bye. Both of us were riding 1500 Goldwings and with Dunlop E3′s and we could travel 36K+ miles on a set of tires and enjoy the tour. Not so much with the 1600 Beemer. On top of that, it’s next to impossible finding a dealer that will change the tires while your on the road.
    No, this ones not for me.