This is an entirely new style for BMW, born out of the praised Concept 101, a design exercise.
ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA – I’m sitting at my desk, working my desk job when my phone rings. On the other end of the line is BMW Canada’s marketing team. “What’s your schedule like in August?” they ask. “Looking relatively clear, why what’s up?” I reply. “Well… I know it isn’t typically the type of bike you ride, but we’re launching the 2017 BMW K1600 Bagger in North Carolina – I think it’s going to surprise you”. He almost sounds like he’s challenging me not to like this thing. I accept his invite, but in the back of my mind I’m stubbornly telling myself that I’ll never be a “bagger” guy.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I’m getting settled into the saddle of the K1600B, which I’m just going to call “The Bagger” from hereon out (it’s easier to say, and type). My immediate thought, and concern is “How am I going to manhandle this 740lb. land-shark around the twisted roads that are on our ride plan, let alone get it off of its kickstand”. Somewhat clumsily, I manage to stand the bike up, start it up (to a somewhat underwhelming hiss of the engine), and begin to follow my ride leader out of the staging area at the front of our hotel. As soon as the bike reaches about 3mph (it’s a US spec), my jaw unhinges and promptly falls onto my lap – The Bagger feels lighter than I ever expected, and I find myself tossing it back and forth as we make our way off of the estate property.
The Bagger is BMW’s first foray into, well, the bagger market. It’s an entirely new style for them, born out of the praised Concept 101, a design exercise between the Bavarians and the folks at Roland Sands Design. As such, it’s evident that they’ve poured a significant resources into making this a successful attempt. The bike’s been equipped with a suite of tech on it, ranging from an electronically adjusted windscreen, to heated seats (driver and passenger), to ride modes and shift assist pro. It’s obviously been given this to eclipse the competitions technical offerings, despite insistence from BMW that it isn’t trying to infringe on Harley’s market share. During our introduction to the bike, the VP of BMW Motorrad North America coyly told us “We’re not trying to tell people to leave their lovers, just that it might be okay to cheat a little”. Touché.
As our group gets out of Asheville, and heads to the highway I maintain my stubbornness, thinking “hopefully they have long merge lanes around here; it’s going to take some time to get up to speed”. I hit the apex of the on-ramp, and hammer the throttle full bore. The Bagger’s dash starts flashing traction control lamps at me, and as the revs climb higher up the tach, the engine finally starts to produce some of the drama and noise I was expecting. I upshift (without clutching) and before I know it I’m practically on the ride leader’s rear tire. “What the #$@! was that?!?!” I’m screaming inside my helmet. My initial stubbornness slowly turns to curiosity.
The inline six-cylinder of the Bagger commands 160 horsepower, and 130ft-lb. of torque – something I scoffed at during the previous evening’s product briefing. It feels almost like it’s got more. The engine has been tried and tested in the KGL and GT variants of the K1600 in the past, so it’s obviously doing something right.
As we settle into cruising speed on the highway, I raise the windscreen and start turning up the satellite radio with the standard multi-controller on the right handlebar. The music starts blaring, and I kick my feet forwards onto the running boards, making myself comfortable as can be. I figure that I may as well enjoy this easy riding until we hit the turns, because despite the low-speed maneuverability, it has to be challenging to throw this bike around the twisties. Enjoy the easy riding I do, because between the forward footrests and the raised passenger seat, The Bagger is damn-well comfortable.
Not much later my ride leader flicks on his right turn signal, and we depart the highway. My stomach is somewhere other than where it’s supposed to be, but the group presses on, and I see the first “squiggly road” sign up ahead. I drop a gear, and feel the comparatively rough engine-braking shed some speed before the corner entry. As I begin to lean into the turn, The Bagger eagerly dives with me, with more enthusiasm than some supersports that I’ve piloted. My curiosity gives way to admiration as my laughter drowns out the music pouring through the bike’s speakers.
Over the next two days, and 400 miles, it seems that I’m surprised more and more by a bike that I initially thought I’d simply tolerate. The Bagger is fast, maneuverable, comfortable, and riddled with tech. Hell, BMW even figured they’d add things like an auxiliary and USB input/charger into one of the saddlebags. This little bit of practicality does end up being a double-edged sword, because as a result of it (and the integrated taillights) the saddlebags cannot be taken off of The Bagger. Another noteworthy mention to the saddlebags is the fact that they don’t latch automatically when you fold the lid inwards, making the closing procedure require two hands – such a demanding bike.
Relative impracticality of the bags aside, I find it hard to fault The Bagger for much else. Honestly, in my stubbornness I really tried to find problems with it. But by the time I felt myself scraping pegs on a steep left turn, I was already won over. Looking back a few weeks I realize that this bike has taught me a few lessons in humility, and open-mindedness. Try new bikes everyone. When it comes to the BMW K1600B you sure as shit won’t regret trying one, and I don’t think many people would regret spending $26,100 (or more, depending on how many gadgets you want) on one either.