Monday 10 December 2018

Motorbike review: Special K - bagger-style BMW is bonkers but a great ride

Tested: BMW K1600B

BMW K1600B above Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains
BMW K1600B above Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains
BMW K1600B
BMW K1600B
Finn Gillespie

Finn Gillespie

‘BAGGER’ used to be a byword, in my mind at least, for an unashamedly American style of bike.

It was a low-slung twin that sounded, depending on your preference, like a beautiful, throaty, petrol-rock symphony… or a bag of spanners. The bagger dispensed with the back-box usually fitted to its close relatives, retaining only the sculpted panniers of its siblings. It was also the kind of machine most people under the age of 50 wouldn’t be seen next to or near.

But it’s fair to say most of us have become more open-minded about what kind of machine we’d consider riding. Those dyed-in-the-wool sportsbike fanatics of only a few years ago can now be seen on big trailies. You even see hipsters riding around on modern, retro-style Triumphs and BMWs these days. And the latest conversion, if what the manufacturers are producing is anything to go by, is the bagger.

BMW’s K1600B (for bagger) takes the insanely fast six-cylinder power-plant of the K1600GT, slings the seat and panniers low, shrinks the screen, dispenses with the top-box and adds (optional) footboards. Sound bonkers? It is a bit – but it’s great fun.

The styling is distinctively ‘bagger’ but throw a leg over the beast, fire her up and you’re reminded that you’re on a supremely engineered in-line six with 1,649cc, 160hp of power and 175Nm of torque at your disposal.

I haven’t ridden a K-series bike in a couple of years, so it was a pleasure to reacquaint myself with the power and refinement of this engine. There’s decent grunt from low in the range, and once you get to mid-range and above you can wave bye-bye to that clean licence if you don’t keep an eye on the speedo.

BMW K1600B
BMW K1600B

And while it might look like a bagger, it’s unashamedly sports tourer in nature, and a premium sports tourer at that. With the ESA set on ‘Cruise’, the bike soaks up every bump with ease. Flick it into the first corner and you’ll have a grin from ear to ear coming out the other side. And the same when you reach the next corner. And the next.

The bars have been straightened somewhat to complete the bagger look, and once you’re on the move this helps, with admirably light and responsive steering for such a big bike. You’d never guess that a machine with this much presence and a wet weight of 336kg would handle and turn so well, but it does, even with the legs extended and feet sitting on the optional foot boards fitted on the test bike.

And when it comes to stopping, four-piston calipers on two 320mm discs up front and ABS, which comes as standard, work supremely well.

Also standard on the base model is Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA), which lets you choose between ‘Cruise’ and ‘Road’. Traction control, cruise control, heated seat, an electronically-adjustable seat are thrown in as well.

All this tech – and plenty more besides – is controlled from a toggle set-up on the left-hand bar. I found it a bit intimidating to begin with but you soon get used to it.

The panniers will hold enough for a weekend away, but if you’re thinking of a longer trip or tour you’ll want to consider a soft tail-pack also.

BMW K1600B
BMW K1600B

Speaking of extras, as normal on modern BMWs, there’s a vast array of options and packages available, but I doubt you can spare the 30 minutes it would take to explain them.

The highlights are that the base model will set you back €23,280. It’s no small price but this is a genuinely premium bike, even in standard form.

Go for the ‘Comfort’ package (€1,720) and you also get keyless ignition, a quick-shifter (Gear Assist Pro), an alarm, central locking for the panniers and an LED fog light.

Choose the ‘SE’ edition (€24,480) and you get hill-start assist and a centre stand in addition to the standard kit on the base model.

Shell out €26,560 for the ‘LE’ edition, and you’ll also get an audio system which can pair with your phone via Bluetooth and an electric reverse gear. And if you’re feeling flaithúlach, €28,470 will get you pretty much everything.

TECH SPEC: BMW F850GS

Engine: 1,649cc in-line six

Power, torque: 160hp@7.750, 92Nm@5,250

Frame: Aluminium bridge frame

Final drive: Shaft

Seat height: 780mm

Wet weight: 336kg

Tank: 26.5l

Price: From €23,280

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