2018 BMW K1600B

Editor Score: 93.0%
Engine 19.5/20
Suspension/Handling 14.5/15
Transmission/Clutch 8.5/10
Brakes 9.0/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.5/10
Appearance/Quality 9.0/10
Desirability 9.0/10
Value 9.5/10
Overall Score93/100

What’s a “bagger” anyway? I may not have been aware of the term as it applies to motorcycles until I saw a copy of Baggers on the newsstand, back when we had those (newsstands). They really were the rage there for a while and maybe still are. I mean, what’s better for the average Joe America Motorcyclist than a hot-rod Harley with integrated hard bags to transport your stuff in? A bike with a windshield you can go places on but still be cool, man. Especially if you can crank up a little Molly Hatchet en route. Hot mamas in bikinis will be lining up to pose on your bike for photography.

Baggers were really for people at the the opposite socioeconomic end of the BMW crowd, but any niche that can support its own publications cannot be ignored. Harley-Davidson’s Street Glide isn’t just a bagger, it’s also possibly the biggest selling big bike in America. Hence the K1600B. BMW never uses the word “bagger,” but I think one look is all we need to know what the B stands for here. Roland Sands helped build the Concept 101 a couple years ago to float the idea. Now, we ride the finished product.

The rear end is about 2.8 inches lower than the other Ks, but we only lost 10mm wheel travel, front and rear, compared to the GT and GTL. The new bags hold 37 liters each.

The 101 in Concept 101 is how many cubic inches there are in 1649 cubic centimeters, and it’s that amazing, bodice-ripping inline-Six that makes this Bagger so unique. Not only does an inline-Six offer perfect primary and secondary balance, for ethereal smoothness, that smoothness allows the Six in the BMW to also be remarkably small. BMW says the whole unit, including clutch, gearbox, and alternator, weighs 226 pounds. And very narrow cylinder spacing has the whole thing just 21.9 in. wide, making it the lightest, slimmest Six (of over 1000cc) ever produced for a motorcycle.

You can feel it. With its 7-gallon tank filled up, BMW says the B weighs 741 pounds (5 more than the K1600 GT). In 2014, our official MO scales had the GT at 732 pounds. The B’s closest competitor might be the Boxer-Six-powered Honda F6B, which Honda specs say weighs 844 pounds. Meanwhile, the H-D Street Glide and Indian Chieftain Dark Horse that tied for first in last year’s Baggers Brawl, weigh in at 830 and 831 lbs.

Muffler volume doesn’t appear to be a limiting factor for the Six-zylinder.

For a thing this big, then, the Beemer Bagger is terribly light, which you can feel every time you lift it off the sidestand. And though our dyno tells us BMW’s 160-horsepower claim is a bit exaggerated, the 123.4 hp our last K1600 GT spat out to its rear wheel is more than enough to greatly overpower its Bagger competition. Its 108 pound-feet of torque also stymies those big Twins, even if the BMW’s six-cylinder has to spin to 5000 rpm to achieve it. The engine in the B is supposedly identical to the ones in the K1600 GT and GTL. So even if the Bagger design brief for most manufacturers is relaxed cruising, this bagger can do that, but it can also propel you from corner to corner on tight, twisty backroads, or fast flowing ones, in a way that will leave most baggers sucking its clean, Euro4 emissions as it disappears over the horizon.

Those forward floorboards are optional. I used them now and then on the highway, the regular footpegs most of the time, and the passenger ones too. Funny how an inline-Six has more cornering clearance than any other bagger I’ve ridden.

Electronic Suspension Adjustment, standard on the B, has a Cruise and a Road setting. In Cruise, you’re riding on top of your own dark cloud, soft and pillowy. A touch of the button gives you Road, and immediately girds the ESA for whatever combination of speed and conditions you throw at it. Adjust your Dynamic Traction Control to Rain, Road or Dynamic, and that lean-sensitive system works with the lean-sensitive ABS brakes to ensure nothing could possibly go wrong as you carve up the Great Smoky Mountains in a way you wouldn’t usually associate with “bagger.” Shorter of wheelbase and trail than the H-D and Indian Chieftain, it’s got plenty of cornering clearance, very strong brakes, and an exhaust wail from its big duals that’s more than a little addictive.

Below 4500 rpm or so, she’s a bagger. At about 5000 rpm she becomes a large sportbike, and up around 7000 rpm, you’re riding a snarling vintage race car missing a couple of wheels. The harder you ride, the firmer the ESA adjusts itself, in milliseconds, keeping both ends of the bike perfectly composed. The only thing keeping you from taking pole is an automatic shifter that requires too much pressure to downshift, but that’s optional equipment anyway; I’m happy to give a big blip of the throttle and downshift in the time-honored way. The quickshifter does fire off nice full-throttle upshifts, a nice function all other baggers have probably never even considered.

For just toddling along, the B’s not bad either. Basically, BMW reengineered the subframe to lower the whole rear of the bike about 2.8 inches, and down with it came the seat, to 30.7 inches – low enough for my 30-inch legs to have an easy time flat-footing the bike, high enough that my legs never felt cramped. (There’s a low seat option too.) There’s a new steel handlebar clamped in the triples in just about the right spot, though with a slightly imperfect bend at the grips for my paws. If you don’t like it, the cast bars on the GT and GTL are offered as a no-cost option. At least one guy on our ride complained about the seat being too firm. I thought it was fine, and we put in about 180 miles on the bike on Day One, not quite that much on Day Two. Suspension set to Cruise is like injecting Novocaine into your cheeks. In Road mode, you feel all the bumps, but only the nastiest ones register.

Part of the rear fender pivots up so you can change the rear tire without removing the bags.

Electric-adjustable windscreen? But of course. I raised mine about ¾ of the way up the first morning and barely moved it again except to lower it all the way in the really sporty sections. At ¾, I could see over it, but it diverted enough wind over my head that things were pretty quiet inside my full-face Schuberth even with no earplugs. With them in, you could almost be in a car. Sound system, check. Not as powerful as the one in the Indian, but not bad. And as a BMW guy you’d use the Bluetooth connectivity to your helmet speakers anyway, and not waste your Rachmaninoff on the hoi polloi.

Your GPS display goes in where the plastic 6 is, for a few dollars more. A nice 80-mph cruise has the tachometer indicating a smoooooth 3500 rpm.

We were in North Carolina riding these on the day of the solar eclipse, August 21, under the “zone of totality” in the Great Smoky Mountains. Verily, I have never seen so much adipose tissue in a national park. We got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-40 after the eclipse had eclipsed, a thing that gave us a chance to sample the bike’s heat management. Really good, I would say. My lower body barely got hotter than my upper one crawling along with temps in the 90s. In fact the only time I felt heat coming off the bike, on my right foot, was when I was flogging it, vintage race car style in the mountains, with revs between 5 and 7000 a lot.

It’s gettin’ dark, too dark to see…

Lane splitting is verboten in North Carolina, but we wound up doing a fair bit of it anyway – an interesting social experiment. More than a few people were angry and expressed themselves, but only a handful were really incensed about it. Most cars just ignored us, quite a few moved over a bit and gave us room. Even the angry were usually angry in a pleasant way down there in the Bible belt. One guy really wanted to drop the F-Bomb on me out his Camry window, but the best his upbringing would allow him was, “THAT’S ILLEGAL, FRICK!!”

Before we started being outlaws, though, what I found out was I could just leave the bike in first gear and it would crawl along at idle speed and 8 mph, completely jerk-free, also in second gear at about 13 mph on level ground. Kind of a traffic-jam cruise control. Anyway, a quiet, smooth Beemer felt like an easier place to be stuck in traffic on a hot day than an open-piped Harley, a few of whose riders were more indignant than the car people as we split lanes past them while the kudzu crept closer to their feet…

Downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

It’s culture shock, man. BMW’s not really out to convert the H-D faithful as much as it’s out to possibly woo a few aging sportbikers. This bagger works well enough, I could actually see it.

When they are able to cut a Harley rider from the herd to go for a test ride, though, BMW’s people say that person comes back bowled over by the bike’s power, smoothness and refinement. Other potential customers, they think, will be attracted by the attractive design and price, but they’ll buy based on outstanding performance, handling, comfort, and a superior level of standard equipment, technology and rider friendliness. I haven’t got a good argument against any of it. The B has all that.

Yes, there’s Reverse (but it’s optional). A worm drive off the starter motor backs you out of tough spots when you push the R button on the handlebar.

Big V-Twin riders will play the character card next, but they’d be in for a rude surprise if they were to take this light, fast, nimble, supersmooth thing for a serious ride. If that six-cylinder warbling at 7000 rpm isn’t character, then I don’t want any. Maybe it’s too subdued and quiet for bar-hopping use, but it’s the bagger you’d want if your bars are a few hundred miles apart.

Standard equipment includes a self-leveling xenon headlight (the Adaptive one is optional), ABS Pro, dynamic brake light, Dynamic Traction Control DTC, heated grips and seat, multi-controller, three ride modes, cruise control…

BMW’s USA VP Mike Peyton says even though BMW’s never done a bagger (I think he did use the b-word), they’re investing heavily in the segment. Which only seems smart, since “American-style bikes” are what most Americans buy. If nothing else, Peyton thinks the B will bring lots of curious riders who’ve maybe never been in a BMW dealer before into one. Again, aging sportbikers are another target. Finally, serious BMW owners have more than one BMW. A K1600B would be a fine complement to the R1200GS out there in the carriage house, and the M3 saloon.

Define “aging” please? Come to think of it, I am right on the cusp of being an aging sportbiker, but I’ve never really considered owning anything as big as a full-on touring bike, or even a bagger. Too big, too unwieldy. Too uncool, really. Too old guy. Some baggers come close to ticking my boxes, but none of them can touch the performance level of this BMW, in large part due to its lightness and therefore ease of use. You can ride it in the curves like a maniac, ride it for days on end, ride it to the grocery store for supplies, all good. And look pretty damn swell doing all of it, without the appearance of crying out desperately for attention. I think I’m a big fan. I think BMW just knocked another one out of the park.

Everybody loves Gina, who not only looks fabulous but rides like the wind. Mama mia!

2018 BMW K1600B
+ Highs

  • Perfect primary and secondary balance = smooth
  • 741 pounds is way light for a bagger
  • Goes, stops and turns more big sportbike than bagger
– Sighs

  • A little driveline lash on trailing throttle
  • Auto downshifter needs too much pressure (upshifts are great)
  • 160 horsepower claim isn’t close to what the Dynojet says, but it’s plenty fast anyway

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