That's not Yonah - that's a publicity shot...
The six-cylinder Honda CBX came out in 1978 when I was sixteen. A local rich bloke bought one as soon as they were available and I nearly fainted with excitement when I first saw him riding it through Woking. He went past me a few times as I walked to the train station on my way to college, until eventually it got too much and I started carrying my helmet with me. The next time I saw him I stood in the middle of the road, flagged him down and told him that I had to have a go on the back. It was worth it. Smooth, and for the time blisteringly quick. Sounded pretty good, too, but not as good as the newest six pot on the block. Wind the new BMW 1600GT's motor up to its 8,500rpm red line and it sounds absolutely fantastic. A bit like a 911, in fact.
He's behind the third bush on the right
We first saw this engine on BMW's Concept 6 naked show bike in 2009 and it hasn't taken the company long to slot it into a pukka production machine. The 158bhp 1,649cc motor is a relatively long stroke unit with bore and stroke measurements of 72mm x 67.5mm which is less oversquare than most modern engines, especially those on sports bikes. But then BMW wasn't setting out to build a high revving superbike engine. The S1000RR has got that covered. For a sports touring bike with the emphasis on touring, low-down torque is more important than outright horsepower. A longer stroke is good news for torque but has another advantage, too: it makes for a taller and narrower engine. So the block is kept as narrow as possible. All the six-cylinder engine's ancillaries are placed inboard of the ends of the crankshaft, which also keeps overall width to a minimum. It feels like a big heavy bike, and certainly isn't narrow, but the centre of gravity is nice and low down so once you're moving you don't notice the weight. In town it's an easy bike to manage above walking pace. I've got a temporarily knackered left knee thanks to a skiing misjudgement that has all the strength of warm ice cream but manhandling the K1600 was never a problem.
Two models are available, the more sporty GT and the GTL for serious touring. We're riding the GT and after 250 miles in one day of ripping along the coast from Bournemouth and then back towards Brighton and many miles on blissfully quiet mid-week Sussex roads I wouldn't shirk from a London-Cannes blast in one day. The GTL has a slightly lower seat height, handlebars that are a shorter reach, a top box including pillion back rest, softer suspension and a slightly larger fuel tank. I'd be perfectly happy riding the GT all day long and can't imagine that the GTL would be that much more comfortable. The GTL also has a larger windscreen, which is an option of the GT anyway (I presume ours has it because if the screen were any bigger you could show films on it).
If you love gadgets you're going to love this bike. The standard £14,965 GT comes with a lot of toys but there's plenty more to add from the options list, much of which is fitted to the test bike. Sat nav, which is a brilliant device on a touring bike, BMW's ESA (Electronic Suspension Adjustment), an audio system including a handy cubbyhole for your iPod or 'phone including a socket so that you can play music. We've got the SE version of the GT which costs £15,765 and comes with adaptive headlamp, traction control and tyre pressure control. I didn't ride the bike at night so can't comment on the headlamp system but it's pretty clever. It knows from the GPS where the bike is and when aproaching a crossroads, for example, and shines light either side of the bike onto the side roads.
Standard on all models is a Power Mode button which gives riders the choice between rain, normal and dynamic settings. The K1600GT (and GTL) is the first bike to be fitted by a pure fly-by-wire throttle. Yes, other machines have fly-by-wire, but the K1600 is the first bike to not be fitted with a failsafe cable that closes the throttle. If you're not happy with that concept then I recommend that you never travel in the new A380 Airbus because like the BMW it is entirely fly-by wire.
Fully spec your K and you'll have a lot of things to play with and a lot of buttons to press. With the roads full of car drivers talking on their mobiles, programming sat navs, eating sandwiches and generally not looking out for bikes, it's never been more crucial to keep alert and observant on a bike. Maybe I'm getting old (or simply want to get older) but unless you're riding in rural France or in the middle of nowhere I'd recommend that you set up the systems before riding off. I reckon the fly-by-wire system could do with a software tweak as there's a slight disconnected feel as you wind open throttle which you don't get on the S1000RR. It's most noticeable in the rain mode, which I wouldn't bother with anyway because the power delivery with this engine is so smooth.
Even on Sussex's most bendy roads (you might know the famous biker's A272) I kept the suspension in Comfort mode after I'd automatically switched to Sport assuming that it would be best for these switchback roads. Comfort seems to better suit fast riding because it absorbs small bumps and keeps the bike more stable.
Another difference between GT an GTL is that the latter has a higher all up weight allowance (560kg as opposed to 540kg for the GT) which also means that it has its top speed restricted to 136mph whereas the GT will go on to 155mph. Of course it hardly matters. When the K1600s were on their way there was talk of prices near £20k. At £16,515 the GTL isn't exactly cheap but it's not outrageous for a fully kitted heavyweight tourer. As I said, I'd be happy with the GT. It's got a brilliant balance between sportiness and long legged touring ability. Using the fuel computer I averaged 40mpg between motorway and country roads so the GT's 5.3 gallon tank should give a range of around 210-220 miles which is enough for the UK and Europe. I'd give the audio system a miss, which saves almost £1,500, and choose instead the GTL's large electrically adjustable screen. With a bit of fiddling it's easy to find the right screen height that keeps most of the wind off your torso but that isn't so high that it causes buffeting and instability.
There was a K1600GT at the press bike centre fitted with Akrapovic pipes which must sound fantastic. You don't see many full-on touring bikes equipped with sports or loud exhausts (except Harleys, of course), but then not many tourers have engines as wonderful as the K1600's. There wasn't a whole lot wrong with the four-cylinder K1300 GT and it's tempting to view the new six-potter as nothing more than a marketing gimmick. It's more than that, though, those extra cylinders have turned it into something a bit special.