BMW Motorrad chose to launch four new touring offerings at the classy and elegant Westcliff Hotel in Johannesburg. The old world charm of the Westcliff was the perfect setting in which to introduce four seriously classy and elegant new models. The R 18 B (for Bagger), R 18 Transcontinental, K 1600 B and K 1600 GT.
We rode them out towards Denysville and then did a wide loop around to Parys for lunch, before taking backroads towards Fochville, past Walkerville and past Meyerton, Alberton and back to BMW’s HQ adjacent to Mall of Africa. The combination of highways and secondary roads gave us a fair chance to put the Beemers through their paces.
I chose to start my ride on the brace of R 18 models. First up was the R 18 Bagger. To suit their touring brief, the two R18s have been fitted with larger 24-litre tanks. This not only has the obvious benefit of additional touring range, but also balances the look of the bike. For me, the naked R 18’s 16-litre tank just looks physically too small for the bike. This is rectified with the larger 24-litre unit on the Bagger and Transcontinental. The addition of handlebar fairings to the bikes just sort of looks ‘right’ too. The bikes simply ooze class and have a real presence on the road. I was intrigued to experience them on the open road.
Lifting the Bagger off the side-stand was a bit of a shock. This is a serious heavyweight! (around 427 kg) The extra weight of the fairing and swoopy panniers have helped to temper the torque reaction when the bike fires up. Low-speed manoeuvring is initially quite hair raising until you grow accustomed to the sheer bulk and mass of the bike. Needless to say, it is not at its happiest in town, but then again that is not its reason for being. Get out on the highway and it gets into its stride. All manner of music was being played on the sound systems on the various bikes. I am not a fan of any music other than that emitted from motorcycle exhausts, but it did get me thinking. “Peace Train” by Cat Stevens, would be my ode to the R 18. As the lyrics go… “Now I’ve been smiling lately, thinkin’ of the good things to come, and I believe it could be, something good has begun, glide on the peace train”, and glide it does!
The massive Boxer twin, with its 158 Nm of torque never needs to be revved. Short shift to sixth and settle into a long distance groove. That is where the R 18s are almost locomotive in their stability and exude a ‘hewn from billet’ quality. They are both seriously comfortable. I could smash huge distances on these bikes. The engine feels perfectly suited to punting the huge bike down the road without fuss or bother. The performance is perfectly suited to the overall demeanour of the bike. It builds speed pretty effortlessly and with the cruise control engaged, lopes along at a totally relaxed canter. Vibrations are low amplitude and pleasant, rather than tiring and intrusive. The suspension is a high point. It does much with the 120 mm of travel at each end. Adjusting to road surfaces it is plush and controlled. The Bagger fairing has a low screen which is non-adjustable and worked extremely well for my 6’ 3’’ frame. Stable and smooth, stops would be dictated purely by tank size as, in every respect, this is a seriously comfortable motorcycle. The swoop of the handlebar is perfect too. The pegs, seat and bars work together to put you in a great position for serious distance riding.
Next up was the R 18 Transcontinental. This is the Grand Touring option. I must confess to mixed feelings after my first stint, after really enjoying the Bagger. Two issues had me at sixes and sevens. Firstly the fairing. The screen is such that you have to look through it. The problem is it is non-adjustable, so depending on how tall you are, it can put the top edge of the screen pretty much in your line of vision. I don’t like looking through screens, so this would take some getting used to. Secondly, it has floorboards in place of the wide pegs of the Bagger. This places your feet closer to you and requires a heel-and-toe shift pedal. After the perfect peg placement of the Bagger, this was for me, fixing something that wasn’t broken. I am no fan of heel-and-toe shifters either. Having had my gripe, I soon started to adjust to the differences.
The adaptive cruise control on the Trans is superb. I found that I was chilled at 140 with the bike absolutely rock steady and stable. The manner in which it adjusts your speed according to road traffic is uncanny. I was enjoying the golden wintery landscape in a bubble of smooth air, to the relaxed thrum of the big Boxer mill. Yeah, this could definitely become addictive. The back seat on the Transcontinental, with its built in backrest, would guarantee a happy life, thanks to the happy wife, cosseted in absolute comfort. If your thing is long distance cruising in comfort, then these bikes fit the bill. What you also get is all the mod cons and creature comforts and connectivity that are built into the modern touring platform. Just don’t neglect doing legs in the gym! Getting these bikes off the side-stand remains the biggest challenge of riding them. Oh, and don’t even think of commuting on them. Chasing horizons is their reason for being.
BMW has a reputation for building brilliant straight six engines. This skill extends to their two wheel offerings too. After a scrumptious lunch, I hopped on the K 1600 B. It has waspish good looks. It is big! The use of a Telelever front end, which separates the steering input from the suspension, makes for much lighter low-speed handling than its R 18 family. Having said that, it is also a full 84 kg lighter than its Boxer engined sibling. The soul of this bike is its whispering, silky, six-cylinder engine. Endowed with 118 kW and 180 Nm it is not short of shove. The R 18 has more go in the absolute basement but, when the six starts to rev it is a different story. The whisper becomes a howl and the bike absolutely hauls. The Bagger is the playboy with its rakish good looks and is the six of choice if you like to turn heads and do the bulk of your riding ace up. Not that the rear seat is not accommodating, it is just that the GT is better suited for two up duty.
The GTL, which our group leader was riding, is the ultimate in six cylinder comfort, with the armchair type back seat. Like the R 18s, the bikes come with a stunning array of mod cons and connectivity via TFT displays, including music systems for the rockers amongst you.
Riding behind one of the riders with their music pumping was quite amusing. They were grooving to the music with such gusto, that it looked like the rider had advanced Parkinson’s, or was the person that had taught St. Vitus to dance! Oh well, each to his or her own. The K 1600s have 26,5-litre tanks, so you have a decent range unless you are super enthusiastic with the throttle, in which case the fuel gauge could go into a bit of free fall. Riding at a constant 130 kph on a busy section of freeway, I recorded a constant 5 l/100. Not too shabby, hey Nige? Good luck to you if you want to cruise like this on your Six. That motor loves to rev, and the accompanying soundtrack is particularly addictive. As can be expected, ride and handling is top class. Interestingly, I found the R 18’s suspension slightly more composed over uneven surfaces than the big Six, possibly due to the Six’s more sporting bent.
I am not going to go through each model’s specifications and individual features here. We will do that when we test individual models in future. What I wanted to do was give you a feeling for what these bikes are about. Obviously, these bikes will not appeal to everyone out there, but for those who want to spend hours in the saddle exploring the far reaches of our beautiful land, they are a compelling option. Will yours be a thrumming big Boxer, wrapped in super stylish bodywork, or a singing, sexy Six? Go ride them and decide….