Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
The K1600B – the B standing for “Bagger” – springs from a striking six-cylinder prototype named Concept 101 that BMW displayed at the annual Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este in Italy in 2015. Developed at BMW’s Designworks studio in California, close to Highway 101 (the name also signifies its engine capacity of 1649cc, roughly 101 cubic inches), it featured lashings of brushed aluminium and polished walnut, and was described by BMW design chief Edgar Heinrich as “the epitome of elegance, power and luxury on two wheels”.
BMW has created the rather more down-to-earth K1600B mainly for the States, where the bagger format of cut-down tourer with stubby screen, low seat and hard panniers is popular. The firm’s six-cylinder line dates back to the 2011 launch of the K1600GT and even more comprehensively equipped GTL. The K1600B is essentially a trimmed and slammed version of the GT, featuring shorter screen, lower rear end and one-piece drag handlebar.
The Bagger’s front end is very similar to the GT’s apart from its shorter screen, which is electronically adjustable. The fairing incorporates hand-adjustable, ear-like wind deflectors; the lower section is cut away, allowing fitment of forward-set footboards. There’s more change at the rear end, where a new subframe holds the panniers plus an ultra-low seat that provides generous real estate for both rider and pillion.
BMW’s mighty DOHC, 24-valve engine appears in unchanged form apart from a new twin-silencer exhaust system that doesn’t affect its power delivery or maximum output of 158bhp. Three riding modes are selectable via a button on the right bar. The Bagger shares the GT’s options of reverse gear (activated by pressing the starter button) and a quick-shifter for the shaft-drive transmission’s six-speed box.
That six-cylinder engine is star of the show, delivering a creamy-smooth wallop of acceleration whether you short-shift through the gearbox or hold the revs to the 8500rpm redline. The straight-six character adds to the entertainment, as does the addictive purr and occasional crackle from the slash-cut silencers. Given that the motor grunts out 70 per cent of its vast peak torque figure from as low as 1500rpm, use of the box is almost optional – but not to be missed because the two-way shifter is generally a joy to use.
The short screen is usefully protective and fairly turbulence-free on its highest setting, but can’t keep the sound system audible at cruising speeds. Handling is excellent for such a big bike, the semi-active Dynamic ESA suspension continually varying damping rates depending on whether the bike is accelerating, slowing or maintaining a steady pace. Rear suspension travel is reduced from the GT’s, but still manages to give decent ride quality plus a respectable amount of cornering clearance.
The production K1600B might lack Concept 101’s aluminium and walnut (Shame!) but even with conventional black paint, it’s a hugely fast and capable distance-muncher that manages to capture some of the California-cool vibe that somehow only a bagger’s low-slung look can generate. It’s well equipped in standard form, incorporating xenon headlights, cruise control, and heated grips and seat.
As usual, though, most buyers will opt for the top-of-the-range K1600B LE, incorporating audio system and reverse gear. And then add options including footboards, crash bars, keyless ignition, central locking and the shifter. The K1600GT remains a better bet for serious distance work, especially with a pillion. But for a blend of touring style, speed and luxury there is arguably nothing on two wheels to match the one and only straight-six bagger.
Cost of our bike: £21,240 (K1600B LE £19,405, plus £195 footboards, £185 crash-bars and £1455 Comfort Plus package.)