2012 BMW K1600GTL vs. 2012 Honda Gold Wing Shootout [Video]

The heavyweight luxo-touring fight of the decade

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2012 BMW K1600GTL

Let’s begin with some elemental differences. The BMW has an electrically adjustable windscreen, the Honda doesn’t. In fact, the Honda’s manually adjustable windscreen has been around since the 2001 redesign of the Gold Wing. The BMW’s electric windscreen allows a rider to adapt on the fly to changing temperatures and comfort preferences. Changing the position of the windscreen does, of course, affect wind flow.

“With the windscreen set to its tallest position a notable vacuum is created in the cockpit that forces the rider forward, which leads the rider to exert some energy on the grips to counteract this sensation of pressure on the back of the helmet,” says Pete. “Thankfully, when the flip-out vents on the upper fairing are opened, they redirect airflow that eliminates most of the negative pressure on the rider’s back and circulates welcome air into the cockpit.”

2012 Luxury-Touring Shootout

The flip-out vents to which Pete’s referring are the manually operated tabs on either side of the front fairing below the rearview mirrors. A seemingly inconsequential addition, when these two flaps are deployed they have an amazing affect on cockpit wind flow.

When it comes to absolute protection, however, the Gold Wing provides a better cocoon by way of more frontal fairing area, wider lower panels and heated foot vents. However, its lack of an electrically adjustable windscreen limits its rider-customization capabilities. Too much protection can be seen as a detriment to the Honda in extreme heat, but BMW will first have to fix the BTUs that heat a rider’s left leg from big toe to shin before I’ll knock the Honda for excessive temperature imbalances (at least the Gold Wing’s foot warming vents can be shut).

2012 Luxury-Touring Shootout

Both bikes share amenities such as cruise control and electronically heated seats and handgrips, but the BMW’s seat is adjustable to two positions; the lowish 29.5-inch seat height can be raised to 30.7 inches so taller riders can enjoy enhanced legroom. 

Unless you consider a corded communications system and a CB radio cutting-edge electronics technology, BMW’s electronic package in the K16 is to Honda’s Gold Wing what Tesla’s AC was to Franklin’s DC.

A rider can adjust rear suspension preload on the Gold Wing via two buttons on the lower right fairing, but that’s as far as the remote options go. Meanwhile, BMW’s optional Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA II) allows remote preload adjustment to suit particular loads plus three remote settings (Comfort, Normal, Sport) which alter damping settings to dramatically alter the suspension’s responses.

“ESA II provides practical and effective changes to ride comfort and handling dynamics,” Pete says. “It’s not just a fancy pushbutton gadget – it works.” Like the Gold Wing, the K16’s preload can’t be altered while in motion.

The K16 also touts three different ride modes (Dynamic, Road, Rain) that change power delivery to suit road conditions or rider preference. Throttle response from the fly-by-wire configuration, says Pete, “is flawless when rolling smoothly.” However, he did note that quickly blipping the throttle reveals an “electronic/digital feel, as the EFI/engine takes a moment to catch up to the throttle position.”

2012 Luxury-Touring Shootout

Our GTL was also graced with BMW’s Xenon adaptive headlight. So effective is this technology I wouldn’t be surprised to see the look-into-the-corner technology become mandatory on all motorcycles in the future. After a late dinner, on the final twisty, black-as-space stretch of road before reaching our cabin high in the Sierras for the night, Pete and I were amazed at its ability to light up a corner so well we were both fooled into believing there was a car coming in the opposite direction. The Xenon bulb is so bright that Pete says he could see the self-leveling lamp clearly in the Wing’s mirror during daylight when the BMW was at least a half-mile behind. Yeah, it’s that good.

On a twisty two-lane road late at night with on-coming traffic when high-beams aren’t an option, the adaptive headlight increases both the visibility of the road as well as the rider because car drivers will know in advance that something is coming around the corner. “Its one flaw becomes apparent only on a tight twisty road,” Editor Duke observes. “When exiting a curve with another turn directly ahead in the opposite direction, the lamp isn’t pointing in the intended path. But overall it’s a huge boon to any night-riding tourers.”

Another electronic advantage the K16 has over the Gold Wing is Bluetooth capability. With my Schuberth C3 with integrated Bluetooth along for the ride, I was easily able to establish a connection with the K16 and listen to bike’s included XM radio. I’m assuming you’d also hear directional changes if the GPS system was installed, but our test unit wasn’t equipped with one so we cannot provide feedback on its operation. It should be noted that the K16’s Bluetooth is not a rider communication system. Rider communication is an aspect of Bluetooth systems installed within the helmets (microphone required) via the aftermarket. And although the Honda comes with a wired communication system, both rider and passenger helmets must be configured to operate with the system. Given the choice between wired and wireless, we’ll take the wireless Bluetooth.

2012 Luxury-Touring Shootout

Controlling these electronic functions and more is the K16’s iDrive-like multi-controller scroll wheel mounted on the left handlebar. Somewhat confusing in its operation at first, the scroll wheel is a godsend compared to the Gold Wing’s menagerie of switches, buttons and dials. The multi-function screen displaying the scroll wheel’s selections, however, doesn’t default to the home screen the way the Honda’s does and, as Pete found, “if you’ve got the stereo cranked and want to lower the volume while in another setting, you cannot adjust the volume until returning to the audio screen.”

We have praise for the Beemer’s excellent brakes, including standard Integral ABS; our Honda didn’t come equipped with its optional antilock system. “A healthy squeeze of the lever translates into a near immediate halt,” says Pete about the GTL’s system. “And while feel at the lever isn’t up to top-shelf sportbike levels, it’s sufficient.”

We believe the BMW’s ABS system is a genuine asset for a touring rig like this. It takes a serious tug to feel ABS intervention from the front lever, but the rear setup has a lower threshold for activation, as at times it didn’t take much effort to feel the system pulse back through the pedal.

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