A great part of classic & modern vehicles, two and four-wheeled varieties, is the opportunity for adventures on the road. Over the years I have driven a number of cars cross country which led to many unforgettable memories and a great time in each odyssey.
I have done the same with motorcycles, usually older ones, but I haven’t made a long motorcycle trip in about 10 years. My longest adventures on a bike were a pair of cross country trips on two different 1986 Harley Davidson 883 Sportsters in 1991 and 2010 but in the ensuing 10-years my longest jaunt, with a vintage or modern model, was around 300 miles.
This June, I had the opportunity to put a new 2022 BMW K1600GTL through its paces and really see how good and capable this bike is as touring machine. My time on the bike was enlightening and I was able to find out just how good this bike is by what I did with it during the test.
This BMW motorcycle odyssey started while I was in the middle of planning for the Greenwich Concours BMW Motorcycle class. The week before the concours Oleg from BMW North America invited me to take part in what they call a “Ride Away” press event for the new K1600 motorcycles. I agreed, thinking it would make for a great review as it was starting in Riverside, California at the historic Mission Inn Hotel. I could not think of a better way to review a touring bike than with a cross country trip.
I looked at my event calendar. I realized that on Saturday of the week of the K1600 event I was supposed to be judging cars at the Cincinnati Concours. The BMW Ride Away was set to leave the Mission Inn around 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday so I had around 3 ½ days to ride the 2022 BMW K1600GTL to Cincinnati in order to arrive at the concours in time for the Hangar Party.
So much for a relaxing motorcycle journey. There is nothing like a deadline to add drama to a trip, but I figured that if the K1600 was as good as BMW said the ride wouldn’t be a piece of cake, but at least doable.
Arrival Day in Riverside:
I arrived at Ontario, CA airport Tuesday morning at 11:30 AM and took a short ride via the car service BMW had provided to the hotel. My driver turned out to be a motorcycle rider and we had a fun and interesting conversation about bikes and the insane ride I had planned. When he dropped me off at the hotel, he wished me good luck and that he thought I was crazy.
Was I crazy? At 55 years old was this simply a terrible idea?
As I mentioned in the beginning of this story I haven’t taken an extended tour on a bike in around 12 years and was a bit out of practice. That trip involved my second 1986 Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster, the one with the solid mounted engine, and I made it from Virginia to Chicago in 3 ½ days. Total distance for that trip was 742 miles and I was planning to ride triple the mileage over the same time period.
I started to think that my driver had been correct with his mental assessment of me and that I had lost my mind. I tried to justify this road trip by thinking that the BMW K1600 GLT was a much better touring bike than the ’86 Sportster and that it would be easy to make the trip in the time I had. I came to the conclusion that I was committed to the journey, as I was already in Riverside, so my only choice was to give it a try and hope to make it on time to Cincinnati.
That night our group of journalists and the BMW Motorrad staff had an excellent dinner at Las Campanas. We talked motorcycles throughout dinner, and it made for a great time before the beginning of my trip in the morning.
Later that night I wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew. Over dinner I had mentioned the itinerary and schedule for my trip to a group of automotive journalists. They thought it was ambitious, especially with a bike I had never ridden. I guess I would find out if my plan had a possibility of succeeding.
Wednesday morning; I had breakfast at the hotel and ended up running into Cheech Marin. After running into half of Cheech & Chong I went out to my specific bike, loaded it up with my gear, paired my phone to its systems and then headed to the product introduction for the K1600.
The new K1600 is not an entirely new model but one that has some upgraded technology and a bit more horsepower. BMW reps went over the new features of the bike and lunch was served afterwards, which my riding partner Harvey Briggs and I skipped. We opted for a cupcake and headed down to our bikes. We did this as we were the only two journalists looking to cover long distances on the K1600 and needed to make tracks.
We ended up on the road at exactly 1:30 p.m. and made our way towards I-40 towards our first night’s hotel destination; the Grand Canyon Grotto hotel on old Route 66.
After dealing with horrible Southern California traffic for around 90 minutes we finally made it to I-40 and were able to start making tracks. We rode on I-40 for about two hours and made our way into the Mojave Desert.
Our first pit stop was at an exit off of 40 where we fueled up, at a price of more than $8.00 a gallon, cooled off with lots of water and discussed what we thought about the bikes. The first thing we both commented on is just how quick the steering was on both of our bikes. The K1600 steering is definitely on the sport side of sport touring with the bike having an almost telepathic ability to read what you want to do. On interstates this requires you to not do anything early, as steering happens immediately, much like you would expect from a top tier sportbike. This took both of us a bit of time to grow accustomed to, but we were slowly learning about the capabilities of our K1600s. We did a quick photo at the station and then headed out to finish our day.
While riding in the Mojave the ambient temperature according to my bike’s display was a scorching 117 degrees so we made sure to stop for fuel and water whenever we started to really feel the heat. The effect of the high temperatures slowed our progress and wasn’t something that I had planned for. It was so hot that the sole on my right riding boot actually came off when the glue melted. It is a good thing I had thought to bring a second pair of boots on the trip. Perhaps my driver to the hotel was right in that I was crazy.
We crossed the state line into Arizona and about an hour or so later got off of I-40 and rode around 60 miles on old RT 66 to our hotel. Total mileage on the first day was just under 400, which was what we wanted for the first day of getting used to our bikes.
One negative aspect was that from the beginning of our side trip on Route 66 to Peach Springs, Arizona I realized that I had zero cell phone coverage. I wanted to check in with my wife when we stopped and stupidly assumed that when we got to the hotel cellphone coverage would be back and I would call her after arriving.
When we arrived, we found a cute Route 66 motel that looked clean and well kept with dinosaurs out front. Looking at my phone I realized that there was still no cell coverage. We asked if they had Wi-Fi and the nice woman assured us that they did, but reception was only good in the courtyard. This might not be good.
Now about the Grand Canyon Grotto Motel. Harvey found it online and it’s located on old Route 66. It seemed to be the perfect stopping point on Day 1 and the website indicated their restaurant was open until 9 p.m.
Throughout the day’s ride Harvey and I had discussed the cowboy steak dinner advertised on the motel’s website. We talked about it at every stop along the way to the motel and looked forward to a nice meal to end the day.
What we found when we arrived was that the restaurant at the motel was not open. Instead of our dream steak dinner we ended up going to the motel’s onsite convenience store and dined on a tiny frozen microwave pizza for Harvey, and a Jimmy Dean microwave pancake and sausage dog on a stick for me. It was not the meal we had planned on and we were both disappointed at the meager fare.
My cell phone was never able to find the Wi-Fi, but I was able to call my wife, Ann, on Harvey’s phone. Which for some reason was able to connect to the Wi-Fi for limited times and I got the chance let her know that we had arrived OK.
All was not bad though, as the rooms at the Grand Canyon Grotto were nice, comfortable and and super clean. Despite the issues with Wi-Fi and no real dinner we both got a good night’s rest.
First day impressions of riding the K1600GTL are that the engine is an amazing mechanism. I’ve never ridden a bike that had a smother engine and one which has both power and torque everywhere. The chassis is also a bit of a miracle. The bike weighs 789 pounds fully fueled and yet somehow handles like a sub-400 pound sport bike. The steering is lightning quick once underway and the lean angles are mind boggling, especially for a fully laden touring bike. In slow parking lot maneuvering the K1600 feels every ounce of its 789 pounds and you have to be very careful when moving slowly, as this would be a hard bike to catch if it starts to go over in a parking lot. Happily, I never dropped it but there were a few close calls in a gravel parking lot.
Another positive was the bike’s brilliant luggage system. Loading and unloading the bike’s bags is the essence of easy, with ample room available and what has to me the nicest top box I’ve used. Another nice feature is the central locking feature on the right side of the handlebars. This makes locking and unlocking the bags as easy as hitting a single button.
The BMW Motorrad Connected software is another story, as the system is somewhat buggy. It takes a long time to connect to your phone and the only way to have onboard navigation is if it is connected. It lost connection a few times during the day and in one case required me to pull over, turn off the bike, restart my phone and then restart the bike in order to relink it.
The on-board phone compartment features its own cooling fan, which is a nice feature but the lack of a wireless charging pad in the compartment required me to connect a cable. This is an oversight in my opinion that needs to be rectified as it makes the process a bit of a pain. While you can connect to the system with your phone in your pocket you will need to charge your phone on longer trips if you are using the navigation system, as it will quickly drain your phone charge in a few hours.