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Trans Europe Express
Were it not for its distinctive rear lights I’m not sure the two Harley riders knew what just blasted by them…
The K1600 B isn’t like most cruisers; it isn’t even like most BMWs. Among the 35,000 visitors that have descended upon the picturesque town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen for annual BMW Motorrad Days, the black bagger garners plenty of attention as it purrs through the streets.
You have to go back to 2004 to find the last time BMW offered a cruiser motorcycle in its range. Then it was the 1,071cc boxer-engine R 1200 C series, but they weren’t the prettiest of things. It filled a gap in the range, but it never looked like worrying the established players, even with a starring role in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. If BMW was trying to muster something of a bad boy image in designing the 16B, it exceeded the brief by creating the cruiser equivalent of the Death Star. Using many of the main elements from its 1,649cc engined touring bike, its team stayed true to the original concept while packaging enough practical elements to make it a suitable tourer.
The star of the show is the engine, which plays a key role in making the 1600 B like no other cruiser. It’s the narrowest in-line six-cylinder engine currently in production and sits low in the frame, canted forward to keep the centre of gravity down. Only at walking pace and on slow, tighter corners does the weight in the BMW make itself better known.
You’ll struggle to find a bad road around the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area. From ones that flow parallel to glacial blue rivers to switchback roads that snake their way as they climb high into the surrounding mountains. It’s easy to see why BMW chooses this location for its annual bash. You don’t have to own a BMW to come either; it’s an all-encompassing church here.
Aside from the numerous displays including freestyle rider Mattie Griffin, there’s plenty to see and do here, but like other such events, it’s the public bike parking that often provides some of the best sights. Organised rideouts help you to discover some of the surrounding areas and these take in spectacular roads.
The riding position is more akin to a comfortable touring bike than an outright cruiser, though it does feature foot boards positioned further forward that are great for stretching your legs a little on longer rides.
Taking a route home wouldn’t have been complete without including some sections of unrestricted German Autobahn. It provided a chance to explore just what the sublime engine is capable of doing. In sixth gear, even with the higher European motorway speed limits, the engine is barely edging halfway towards the redline. That wasn’t the case in Germany, and what an engine it is!
Traversing France under ferry-induced time pressure called for sticking primarily to the toll roads. Usually, these can become tiresome with the constant stopping and starting through the ticket and toll barriers. But you have to make the most out of these situations, so they quickly became prime opportunities to be reminded just how deceptively fast the BMW accelerates.
A brief detour to the old race circuit at Reims served an ideal break and for those who have never been before it ought to be a must-do on your next trip across France. As you stand there in the near-silence of the surrounding countryside, you can almost hear the echoes of the past and sense the atmosphere.
Its engine is happy to rev and even with the standard exhausts fitted they a glorious howl blended with an induction noise that cold preview the end of days. You can keep the throttle pinned and kick up through the gears with the quickshifter breaking the spark just long enough for the next cog to slot in.
Within a very short space of time, you’re already travelling at something that feels like approaching warp speed. The longer wheelbase does add stability in the fast bends, but ground clearance does remain an issue if you’re feeling more enthusiastic. This issue does lead you to require some self-control and to keep repeating that this is a cruiser, not a sports bike. The electrically adjustable screen does provide just enough wind protection to save your neck muscles over long journeys, too.
BMW employs its ESA (electronic suspension adjustment) system in the K1600 B. It provides a sufficient variety of settings depending on whether you’re riding solo and with a pillion and for ‘Road’ and ‘Cruise’. The latter adds more plushness but can catch you out a little when you come upon some bends, and it’s just a little too ‘floaty’ for faster riding. Switching modes does sharpen things up noticeably.
The rate at which the 16B can devour distance is impressive, and something that many riders will welcome. It isn’t a cruiser in the traditional sense, as those boys on the Harleys experienced, but it’s that blend of performance and pure bad-ass styling that will immediately resonate with many would-be buyers out there. It certainly left a big impression.
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