American Dream – BMW’s K 1600 Grand America Is Big, Bold & Soft, and Oh, So Smooth
By Russell Evans and Brant Wiwi
The name K 1600 Grand America says it all. This BMW is grand, compared to the company’s R 1250 RT sport tourer (MCN 7/19). With four additional cylinders, plus more expansive seating and storage, there’s more of everything. The Grand America is an Americanized version of the K 1600 GTL (tourer) based on the more recent K 1600 B American-style bagger. The moniker refers to the type of long distance, cross-country, U.S. highway touring for which this bike was designed.
The smaller RT is firm, edgy and tight. Like one of the brand’s sport sedans, it is as adept at cornering as it is barreling down a straight stretch of freeway. The K 1600 is softer and cushier. Absent is any measure of throttle hit or gear shift surge. It is smooth, almost to a fault.
Designed to compete for American sales of big touring bikes, the K 1600 Grand America lines up directly against the Honda Gold Wing, Yamaha Star Venture, Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic and Indian Roadmaster. That’s pretty stiff competition.
There’s plenty of BMW style, but also enough American style, complete with the pizza box top case.
The 1,649cc liquid cooled, four-stroke inline six-cylinder engine features four valves per cylinder, double overhead camshafts and dry sump lubrication.
Despite the presence of four additional cylinders and 400 additional cubic centimeters of displacement, the Grand America registered only two more horsepower on the dyno than the R 1250 RT, with its opposed-twin boxer engine. Fortunately, the GA put out 105 pound-feet of torque—10 more than the RT. Ideal for both pushing the extra weight and for low-rev cruising.
The engine starts with a hearty faux roar, a little out of sync with the twist of the ride-by-wire throttle. The response is quite soft, by design, with perhaps the smoothest pull off the line of any bagger on the market. Not a bad thing when toting a passenger and fully laden.
What wasn’t so smooth was throttle roll-off, either manually or by disengaging cruise control. The sensation is that of suddenly hitting a stiff headwind, which takes a little getting used to.
There is plenty of power available at any engine speed, whether faced with a short, steep hill or a long, steady grade. This engine pulls hard, and with a much different pitch that one might expect from a motorcycle—it’s more like a truck.
Acceleration is as smooth as it is fast: The Grand America reached 60 mph in 3.55 seconds, and turned in a 12.5-second quarter-mile. Oddly enough, this BMW has a top speed limiter, whereas the other K 1600s do not. We hit the governor at a GPS-clocked 103 mph on every quarter-mile run, limiting its performance numbers.
The 7-gallon tank provides a range of about 273 miles.
The six-speed gearbox with helical-cut gears meshes with the driveshaft, for greater strength. Clutch pull was easy, though shifting can be a bit clunky and finding neutral sometimes challenging.
There were a few false neutrals, mostly when winding out the revs a little too far before trying to quick shift without the clutch. In normal use, quick shifting was quite smooth, and would be almost unnoticeable to a rider or passenger.
SUSPENSION & HANDLING
The Grand America’s Dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment (D-ESA) was excellent. When combined with BMW’s 4.5-inch travel Duolever and central spring strut up front and 4.9-inch travel single shock Paralever in the rear, it is the perfect suspension setup for touring.
Whether choosing Dynamic, Road or Rain mode, the ESA adjusts suspension, traction control and power delivery accordingly. There are also graphic icon selections, indicating adjustments for single rider, two-up and loaded baggage.
At lower speeds, handling was excellent, and the bike’s precise balance belied its massive, 804-pound weight. Ironically, such girth did not translate to stability on the road at freeway speeds, where we noticed a bit of unsettling wobble. The R 1250 RT not only turned better, but tracked better in a straight line.
Some high-speed instability may be aerodynamics oriented, which would be surprising on such a heavy mount. Another consideration was that the bike might have been so intensely engineered to turn easily that some straight-line stability was sacrificed. We also pondered the single-sided swingarm’s narrow frame connection as a potential culprit.
Whichever way you slice it, instability is not ideal for a touring bike and explains the choice of fitting a governor, to reduce liability.
BRAKES & WHEELS
ABS is standard on all BMWs, and the Grand America’s provided excellent stopping power. Grinding to zero from 60 mph in 128 feet is quite respectable for such a large, heavy motorcycle.
Fitting Bridgestone Battlax BTO22 tires on the 17-inch cast black wheels was a great choice, and provided a sufficiently smooth ride, overall. However, if owners are experiencing high-speed wobble, we would recommend trying alternate tire choices, in search of more stability.
This is one of the most comfortable motorcycles on which to sit. The leather pilot seat is buttery soft and only 29.5 inches above the ground. It is great for riders with shorter inseams, but those with long legs will need more frequent stops, to stretch constantly bent knees.
The nonadjustable floorboards don’t really help, as they are undersized. They are scarcely large enough to fit a boot on and not positioned far enough forward to allow straightening of the legs.
The passenger perch was not as comfortable, and felt sat upon, even though it is almost 3 inches lower than the GTL. Some competitive models envelop passengers more inside the bike, with the pilot. The Grand America does have sleek passenger grab bars on both sides, which look like part of the bike’s frame, as well as independent seat heating controls.
INSTRUMENTS & CONTROLS
The analog speedometer and tachometer anchor a small digital display, and the aging cluster is nearly identical to that of the RT. The display dispenses a lot of information, and everything adjusts electronically, from suspension and engine mapping to the central locking system. The latter is actuated with a wireless key fob, which is required to start the motorcycle, of course. The onboard computer controls ABS, audio system, multifunction display, ride modes and ESA.
There is a lot to learn about cluster navigation via the left toggle switch, right Mode button and left grip hand-wheel controller. The user interface is cumber some, but the adjustability and customizable features are impressive and under the rider’s full control.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
The horn was the loudest (best) of any motorcycle we have tested, and we used it on those who encroached on our space, to great effect.
Hill Start Assist helps with launches on an incline, especially with a passenger aboard. Squeeze the brake lever, wait for the green ‘H’ to appear on the dash, and the bike won’t roll away until the clutch is engaged and throttle applied.
Reverse Assist is a great premium feature on any heavy bike, particularly when fully loaded. Shift into neutral, press the R button with left thumb, then press the ignition button to start the bike creeping backward. Helpful in getting out of tight, steep or otherwise awkward spaces.
Lighting was excellent with a Xenon headlight and LED turn and tail. Adaptive headlight leveling is another BMW advanced feature. The twin auxiliary driving lights that poked out from under the floorboards were a low-cost extra that should come standard on all premium baggers. The sleek and distinctive tail lights frame the rear nicely and extend up to the top case on the Grand America.
Despite two extra speakers, the audio system could not overcome road noise and the bike’s six-cylinder engine thrum, and was barely audible at highway speeds. Fortunately—and not surprisingly— K 1600 models are Bluetooth ready, for audio entertainment, communication devices and navigation.
Convenience features include cruise control, a tall electric windscreen, heated grips and seats, alarm system, 12V DC and USB ports. The three cases each hold a recommended maximum of 22 pounds. The top case is large enough to store a full-face helmet. Seat removal requires opening the left case to access the release mechanism. Crash bars are included, but a center stand is optional.
At $25,595, the K 1600 Grand America is priced close to the similar six cylinder Honda Gold Wing (MCN 5/18), starting at $27,000. It’s also on par with Yamaha’s Star Venture Transcontinental V-twin (MCN 3/19), starting at $24,999.
There is a lot to like about this bigger, louder and flashier K 1600, which is designed to feel more American. However, the GA might be in more competition with the svelte R 1250 RT, than Harley-Davidson and Indian options.
If German-engineered Americana strikes a chord, it’s worth a look.
The Grand Adventure is one of the most comfortable bikes I’ve ever ridden. It’s a fantastic mount for long-distance riding, with all the bells and whistles one expects from a cross-country touring model.
However, this bike is so smooth, and BMW applied so many rider assists, that I found it dull and boring. Riding it is so easy as to be nearly effortless. This is a double-edged sword. Some riders prefer to forget the bike is under them, and this has some appeal. I prefer a bit more sensorial experience, and found it to be lacking.
My only other gripe was that despite the low seat, the weight was high. The front end of the bike felt especially heavy at slow speeds. As effortless as this bike is in motion, it was the exact opposite when stopped. A conundrum, and not my cup of tea.
Boy, this one belongs in America, all right. It’s a complete departure from most anything else BMW produces. It’s oversized, over-stuffed and over soft. Lots of room to pack all your stuff, push-button everything, and ready for a long haul on the interstate, rather than a romp on the Autobahn.
The power is all there, 1,649cc across a line of six cylinders. The balance is sublime, even a low speeds, when you’re circling around the gas pumps, trying to find an opening.
We never figured out why we felt a little shudder or wiggle, about shoulder height, at highway speeds. That was the one thing that kept this bike down against others long-haul baggers.
Loved the quick shift, and the reverse. The radio was weak at highway speed, with road noise. That’s too bad; we love our American music on the open road.
I’ve never dismounted a BMW feeling limp. Usually, it’s the opposite with the brand’s pioneering dynamic suspensions, unique rider hand wheel and other rider-forward innovations that make its machines a dream to ride.
However, judging from purely motor performance, I’m confused why BMW went with six cylinders. Sure, the torque comes on without lugging at about 1,400 rpm, which is pleasantly early, and the bike’s as smooth as glass; but the BMW R 1250 RT, with Boxer twin, felt like much more bike.
I realize there’s a weight difference, but things didn’t seem to add up to six cylinder, 1,600cc feel, in the motor department.
Despite the size, a soft clutch and great balance made her easy to ride. Still, I’m suspicious of governmental restrictions choking the motor. BMW doesn’t under-engineer anything.
2019 BMW K 1600 GRAND AMERICA
» QUICK HITS
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke inline 6-cylinder, dry sump lubrication
Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
GVWR: 1,235 lbs.
Wet Weight: 804 lbs.
Carry Capacity: 431 lbs.
Seat Height: 29.5 in. (optional 30.7-in., 31.9-in.)
Colors: Black Storm Metallic; Imperial Blue Metallic
Bore & Stroke: 72mm x 67.5mm
Comp. Ratio: 12.2 : 1
Transmission: Constant-mesh, 6-speed gearbox, helical-cut gears
Final Drive: Shaft
Fueling: EFI, ride-by-wire throttle
Tank Capacity: 7.0 gal.
Fuel Grade: 91 octane
Ground Clearance: 5.0 in.
Wheelbase: 65.0 in.
Rake & Trail: 28°, 4.2 in.
Tires: Bridgestone Battlax BTO22, 120/70 ZR17, front; 190/55 ZR17, rear.
Brakes: Dual floating disc brakes, 4-piston fixed calipers, diameter 320 mm, front; Single disc brake, diameter 320mm, dual-piston floating caliper, rear.
Suspension: BMW Duolever, central spring strut, front; BMW Paralever, rear.
Fuel Economy (MPG)
High: 42; Low: 36; Average: 39
Estimated Range: 273 miles
60-0 mph: 128 ft.
0-60 mph: 3.55 sec.
1/4 mile: 12.5 sec. @ 103 mph
Power to Weight: 1:6.4
Speed @ 65 mph indicated: 62
RPM @ 65 mph: 3,000
RPM @ limit: 8,400
» HORSEPOWER & TORQUE
Battery: 12V/19Ah, maintenance free
Instruments: Speedometer, tachometer (analog), odometer, trip 1 & 2, fuel,
engine temp., clock,
Indicators: ABS, DTC, turns, fuel reserve, high beam, anti-theft, aux. lights, gear, general warning, heated seat & grips, ride mode, Hill Start, coolant temp., ESA
($130/hr.) Miles Labor Parts Total
Routine 6000 $210 $114 $324
Valves 18,000 $840* $466 $1306
*If valves adjust needed; otherwise, $200