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2018 BMW K1600B
BMW’s bagger, kinda sorta
Like café racers and scramblers, baggers are In. What defines the latter, however, is quite a vague set of criteria, which explains why BMW’s attempt at the genre really has almost nothing to do with the world of cruisers. And why there’s nothing wrong with that distance.
There just may not be a more disparate, non-homogenous category than baggers. What started as big-wheeled, bling-ed and slammed Road Kings has now become an «if you say so» class. Honda, whether it was conscious of it or not, was the first manufacturer to completely ignore the unwritten but obvious rule stating that baggers are based on cruisers. It unbolted the trunk off a Gold Wing, cut its windshield, used a B in the name (F6B) and called it a day. No V-Twin —not even close—, no cruiser styling cues and not even forward-mounted pegs. Based on how cruiser lovers normally react, the model should have failed. But it didn’t, quite the contrary in fact. And others noticed. Which brings us to BMW’s new K1600B, the German brand’s first shot at the cruiser genre since the long-gone R1200C.
BMW did say about 10 years ago that if one day it did build cruisers again, it would only do it on its own terms. Combine that promise to the buyer openness proved by the F6B and you’ve got the K1600B. As in the Honda’s case, the beamer has infinitely more in common with tourers than cruisers as it’s very closely based on the K1600GT, itself a slightly less equipped version of the K1600GTL, BMW’s top of the line travel-oriented model. Actually, with the exception of a few styling differences and a lower proprietary rear section, the K1600B is a K1600GT.
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From the unique whirl of the 1649 cc, 160 hp inline-6 to the incredible nimbleness of the long and heavy machine, the GT is instantly recognizable behind the blacked façade of the B. Still, the new K1600B does offer some dynamic distinctions, like a riding position that can be cruiserized: with his/her feet on the (optional) forward-mounted floorboards, his/her bum on the low seat (750 mm) and his/her hands on the slightly pulled-back handlebar, the rider’s somewhat slouched posture is indeed reminiscent of that of touring cruiser like, say, a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide. But put those feet back on the sport-touring-positioned pegs (where the rear brake and shifter are) and sit on the higher seat (780 mm, a no-cost option, recommended for taller riders), and suddenly, any cruiser tie you might have felt has completely disappeared, replaced by a sense of sophistication and efficiency that’s been the K1600GT’s hallmark since its debut.
We rode the K1600B for two days over an unusually long distance for a press launch (about 600 kilometers) and in a variety of conditions ranging from fast highway stints to tight and curvy back roads to hours of crawling in traffic. I even had a gun pointed at my face in Tennessee. Our group was —granted, illegally— splitting lanes when highways became a parking right after the eclipse in August, which wasn’t appreciated by a couple in a pickup, something they expressed by throwing a water bottle my way. I rolled up to the passenger window to let them know it was inappropriate even for inbreeds to do that. The gun pointed at me by the scrawny, expressionless, head-shaved, wife-beater wearing driver convinced me to just leave that zone. Note to self : never forget where you are when traveling.
Which, in the end, really is what the K1600B is good at. It’s undoubtedly equipped to do so : cruise control, audio system with full connectivity, adaptive headlight, reverse assist function, up and down power shifter, hill-start function, heated seats and grips, electrically adjustable windshield, and semi-active suspension are only some of the model’s features (some optional). Of course, part of the package is the exciting, torquey and powerful inline that sings like a Ferrari when pushed to its redline and the remarkably agile and planted chassis we’ve gotten to know and appreciate on the K1600GT.
All that doesn’t come cheap. The base price in Canada is $26,100 and various option packages easily bring the total past 30 grand. That being said, in the world of high-end touring, those kinds of numbers are about the norm.
So it seems, when all is said and done, that this bagger trend actually might have more to do with touring than with cruising. In the case of BMW’s new K1600B, this is unquestionably true, so much so that the B may just as well mean Bad. As in K1600GT with a bad boy attitude, but all the sophisticated stuff very much still there.
- Bertrand Gahel