2012 BMW K1600GT and GTL Six-cylinder Unveiled

We hear it run at Jay Leno's garage!


A six-cylinder motorcycle is a rare thing – the number of bike engines with six cylinders that have entered production can be counted on one hand with fingers to spare.

That’s why we’ve been pleased to provide several glimpses of BMW’s upcoming K1600 series, boasting the first inline-Six seen on a motorcycle since Kawasaki’s KZ1300 bit the dust at the close of the 1980s, some seven years after Honda’s legendary CBX ceased production in 1982.

We were first teased with the six-cylinder theme 11 months ago at the Milan motorcycle show when BMW displayed the Concept 6, a streetfighter prototype with an inline-Six powerplant as its centerpiece. More news broke in July, first with the release of a design sketch and engine details, then a few days later with a report from correspondent Jeff Buchanan who got a chance to hear the ultra-touring bike in person. And then full details and pictures emerged of the production bikes at Intermot last week.

Gearhead extraordinaire Jay Leno hosted the American unveiling of BMW’s K1600GTL at his splendid facility. Legendary actor Harrison Ford rode his BMW F800GS in the rain to check it out.

On the same day the K1600 GT and GTL were shown at Cologne, we were invited to take an in-person look at a pre-production GTL during a special event at noted gearhead and funnyman Jay Leno’s sensational Big Dog Garage. The Tonight Show host opened up his sprawling facility in Burbank, Calif., to host the American unveiling of BMW’s new “top-touring” bike. Leno loves unique engines, so the K16 found an appropriate venue for its U.S. debut.

So, after perusing Leno’s amazing collection, including a rotary-engined Suzuki RE-5, a liquid-cooled parallel-Twin two-stroke Scott from the 1920s, a square-Four two-stroke Suzuki RG500 and a 1980s Honda I-6 CBX, we were given a presentation about BMW’s impressive new Six.

"Leno loves unique engines, so the K16 found an appropriate venue for its U.S. debut."

Putting six cylinders inline across a motorcycle has always resulted in a wide powerplant prone to ground clearance issues, but BMW’s Six uses several technological tricks to keep the 1649cc mill to a width of just 21.9 inches, not much more than large-capacity inline-Fours and narrower than any other I-6 ever produced.

A slightly undersquare bore/stroke ratio, whereby the bore (67.5mm) is less than the stroke (72.0mm), keeps the cylinders narrow, aided by a tiny cylinder spacing of just 5mm, a closeness unachievable in decades past. Because an inline-Six has perfect primary and secondary balance, it doesn’t require a counterbalancer and its associated drive elements.

BMW’s automotive division has had a long history with inline-Six motors, but it’s never produced one as compact as this undersquare 1649cc engine.
Note the inclined angle of the cylinders that allow space behind for the stacked transmission shafts and ancillary components.

At a reasonable 226 lbs, the engine is lighter than the CBX and KZ1300 motors. Its cylinders are canted forward at 55 degrees, the same angle as the existing K1300 I-4 engine, clearing space for a rider’s knees. A dry-sump lubrication system allows the engine to be placed lower in the frame, and tightly stacked transmission shafts keep the engine short. 

BMW claims peak horsepower is a plentiful 160 at 7750 rpm when measured at the crankshaft, but it’s the torque numbers that are most impressive. A gigantic 129 ft-lb is on tap at 5250 rpm, and a mountainous 92 ft-lb is available at just 1500 rpm. 

In comparison, the four-cylinder K1300GT, which will be dropped from BMW’s American market in favor of the K1600GT, has the same peak horsepower but is down 30 ft-lb in torque. And the lightly stressed K16 engine is claimed to be more fuel efficient than K1300’s powerplant. Although its rev ceiling is a rather modest 9000 rpm, it nevertheless has an appealing musical exhaust note when revved.

The GT version of the K1600 is the sporty iteration, featuring what BMW calls a “proactive” seating position that translates into a semi-sporting ergonomic triangle. The GT’s standard features include xenon headlamps, heated grips and (height-adjustable) seat, cruise control and an on-board computer.

The more luxurious GTL iteration is plusher, with wider saddles for both perches, larger electrically adjustable windscreen (with memory function), handlebars 2 inches further back, and footpegs positioned lower and further forward. It also gets a 7.0-gallon fuel tank rather than the GT’s 6.3 gallons, a standard top case, plus a few extra chrome accents. But BMW reps note that the GTL “is a shark, not a whale.”

Several premium materials are used to limit the heft of the K1600s. Magnesium is employed for the engine’s valve and clutch covers and front fairing bracket. Aluminum is used for the bridge-type frame and the subframe. It adds up to 703 lbs for the K1600GT without its saddlebags but full of fuel. The GTL, with its bags and top case, scales in at 767 lbs. In comparison, the 1832cc flat-Six Honda Gold Wing measures around 900 pounds.

The GTL version of the K1600 is the most luxurious, offering greater comfort and convenience accessories at the expense of some of the GT’s sportiness.

Multi-mode engine mapping is part of the “e-gas” ride-by-wire technology, giving a choice between Rain, Road and Dynamic settings depending on riding conditions. Dynamic traction control is an extra-cost option. BMW Motorrad’s Integral ABS system is standard equipment, partially linking the front and rear brakes.

Although not quite the Millennium Falcon, the K1600GTL still impressed Harrison Ford.

Suspension components are as expected from BMW. Its familiar Paralever shaft-drive system controls the rear, while the front is a Duolever fork similar to the K1300 series. An optional upgrade is BMW’s ESA II electronic suspension adjustment that delivers the choice of Sport, Normal and Comfort settings at the touch of a button.

Speaking of hand controls, the K1600s features an innovative new interface in the form of BMW’s Multi Controller. A click wheel is fitted to the left handlebar between the grip and switch housing, and it can be pushed left or right or rotated forward and back, and also includes a push function to select menu choices. It offers positive mechanical feedback so it can be navigated without having to take your eyes off the road.

The various menus are easily read on the 5.7-inch TFT (Thin Film Transistor) color display panel that offers excellent contrast for clear visibility. Two large analog dials supply speed and tachometer information. The audio system (optional on the GT) comes prepped for navigation and a controllable interface for iPod, MP3, USB, Bluetooth and satellite radio.

BMW’s Todd Anderson explains the intricacies of BMW’s Adaptive Headlight.

Also of note is the optional "Adaptive Headlight." This center-bulb arrangement supplements the standard xenon dual headlamps by adjusting in relation to the bike’s pitch and roll. So, if you’re trail-braking into a left-hand corner, the headlight path automatically raises up (to compensate for the bike pitching down while braking) and turns to the left (to shine around the corner) based on gyro sensors. This is the first time this technology has been introduced on a motorcycle.

With standard ABS and optional traction control, Jay can ride the K1600GTL with his eyes closed. Note the bike’s relaxed ergonomics.

BMW supplied some data to prove the touring market has the potential to be quite lucrative. The Touring and Luxury-Touring segments account for a significant 26% of U.S. motorcycle sales (mostly Harley-Davidsons). This compares quite favourably to the Supersport and Sport-Touring categories that add up to only 18% of the market.

The K1600s are scheduled to hit dealers in the late spring of 2011 as 2012 models. Like the S1000, K1600 customers can pre-order the bike now to reserve their place in line. The GT is available in Light Grey metallic or Vermilion Red metallic, while the GTL can be had in Mineral Silver metallic or Royal Blue metallic.

Prices have not yet been set, but we were given the impression that MSRPs won’t be far in excess of their touring competition, similar to how well the S1000RR was priced compared to its Japanese rivals. A Gold Wing starts at $23,000 and goes up to around $27K, so we predict the K1600GT’s base MSRP will be around $24,000, with a fully loaded GTL pushing the $30K mark.

You can be sure this guy will have a K1600 in his mind-blowing garage. Leno impresses not only for his collection, but more notably for his great depth of knowledge about everything he owns.

The K1600 series will up the ante in the high-end touring category, and its exotic engine configuration is sure to draw a spotlight on it. Not everyone is hurting during this recession, and any of those people who desire a luxurious sporting rig will likely see the K1600 as something aspirational.

And for those who might’ve wished that striking engine was destined for a more sporting cycle, let’s not forget about last year’s Concept 6. BMW would be foolish not to amortize the cost of developing that powerplant by including it in another platform, and we’re reasonably sure BMW understands that, too.

Could BMW’s new six-cylinder powerplant find its way into another line of K-bikes? We believe this Concept 6 prototype shown last year says yes.

Related Reading
2010 BMW K1600GT Unveiled
BMW Unveils New 6-Cylinder K1600GT and GTL
BMW K1600GT and K1600GTL Preview
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