I rode these back to back this week not far from north London, England. I was lucky to have a sunny day and rode the 20 miles or so to the dealer on my trusty 2008 FJR1300A.
First I tried out the GTL. I was surprised by its size. The word Winnebago came to mind even though I am a Brit and we don't use the word. I think it is the top box in particular that gives it the impression of such size. Goldwing users wouldn't bat an eyelid, but for us FJR owners, that is another world. Another initial dislike for me was the large external speakers embedded in the front fairing. I do enjoy music on the move, but do not see the attraction of it blaring out of speakers, battling with engine and wind noise instead of through earphones. The low slung foglights either side of the front fairing were also an odd sight: Motorcycling in the fog is not an attractive proposition and I am not sure that shining more light to reflect off the fog is going to help. Perhaps I am used to sport tourers rather than out and out tourers.
Having asked a passing staff member to help me out with simple mechanics, I opened the topbox with the key (I could have used the central locking plip on the keyring, an optional extra). Like a child trying to put a round peg in a square hole, I struggled to close the top box with my helmet (a Schuberth S1) in it, until a passing fellow customer took pity on me and suggested putting the helmet on its side. That worked and I am pretty sure I could have fitted two in the topbox on their sides. There was no difficulty fitting the helmet into each of the side panniers. I tried the quick releases on both side panniers, which were really easy to use. The top box was not quite so easy, and much more complicated than a Givi. It is clearly not designed for quick release. You have to open the top box, lift the carpet and turn a dial. That releases the top box, but it is still connected with a wire to the bike. In the few minutes I had, I did not identify a plug to separate top box from bike, though it must be there somewhere.
Getting on the bike required a bit more flexibility than my FJR. This is because the pillion seat is quite high. The drivers seat is much lower and the front of the pillion seat forms a backrest, or at least a buttock rest, for the rider. I felt as though I was sitting in the bike rather than on it. In use, this meant that I was less eager to move myself from side to side and tended to take a casual approach to cornering. At speed I used the electronically adjustable windscreen, which is much wider than that on the GT, to balance noise and airflow, rather than moving my buttocks back on the seat and lowering my head. That is because the high pillion seat entirely prevents backwards movement. The slightly feet forward position and swept back handlebars were comfortable and I had a great view. The downside was that I didn't feel fully engaged with the ride.
The bike had the optional electronic suspension adjustment and I asked the dealer to change the setting to normal from comfort before I set off. The throttle response was initially set by the dealer at rain mode. I was able to change to the other modes "road" and "dynamic" without bringing the bike to a stop, just by pressing a button on the right handlebar and holding it for a few seconds. The new mapping kicks in when you next pull in the clutch.
I was wary of manoeuvring the bike at very low speeds, because the wheelbase is long and the bike heavy. Once on the move however it was well balanced and the weight gave a great sense of stability. The engine had an enormous range of usable power. My FJR struggles to run at 30mph in 3rd gear, but the GTL would do it easily in 4th, 3rd or 2nd. The engine was absolutely smooth whether in traffic at 10mph or on the motorway at 95 (or should I say at or around the speed limit). This is a fairly quiet bike. At low speed there is so much torque that there is no reason to rev the engine and at higher speeds, the engine does not really win out over the wind noise, even though the screen is quite effective (and vastly more so than the FJR screen). Putting the screen up to its full height was a funny experience, as I actually felt sucked forwards, I soon found a good compromise position.
Compared to the FJR, the indicator on the GTL did not give a positive feel, so that the only way I could be sure it was on was to look for the green flashing light. This was a minor grievance for a bike that was very competent. I took it on a mixed route of motorway, urban, slow traffic and twisties. It coped well with most things, though the seating position and weight did not encourage me to really want to push it into corners on twisties. The bike exudes a more leisurely air than that. On the other hand, this bike is a licence buster and it is easy to casually end up way over the speed limit on a motorway without seemingly lifting a finger. I didn't try the cruise control on the GTL, but I would definitely use it if I owned one, both for relaxation and to keep the speed down to the limit on motorways.
I had absolutely no problems with the ergonomics and efficiency of the design of the bike, which has clearly been worked on in great detail. The switchgear was well positioned. The footpegs, gear lever and rear brake were just where I needed them and there were no obstructions from the centre stand (Ducati Multistrada owners will know what I mean). The plastics, including the panniers (note again Multistrada) were sturdy, though I couldn't help but notice the paintwork on the panniers was already chipped at the corners. Maybe that is what 3,000 test ride miles does to a bike. The clutch does pulsate if you hold it at low speeds, which is disconcerting, but the easy solution is just to let go. On the other hand, I assume the clutch was servo assisted as it was easy to use and did not wear out my hand in slow traffic, though the low rev torque also meant I had no need to keep slipping the clutch in town. I took note of written reviews that labelled the gears as clunky. I don't doubt that this is the experience of others, but I can only say it did not cross my mind whilst riding the GTL. I found gear changes light and easy with a simple blip of the clutch. The bike seemed a little resistant to clutchless up changes, but I did not experiment further.
I found the power delivery a little disappointing in the mid range. My conclusion was that this was because it takes a lot of grunt to get momentum into a barge of this size. I changed the throttle response to dynamic early on and that improved matters somewhat. At higher revs it was a different story and I had the sense of an inexorable acceleration that would have gone on long after my I lost my licence. Well that was the GTL. My overall sense of the bike is reflected in my decision to take it back earlier than the hour or so I had agreed with the dealer. It was an interesting experience, but not for me an exhilarating one.
Half an hour later, I was ready for the GT. I poked around at the small lockable trays low down on either side of each fairing. Near my left shin a flap opened revealing a tiny space that might be useful for small change. On the same position in the right was a tray with foam to hold maybe a phone and ipod and sockets for a usb stick and an ipod. The only other socket visible on the bike was a single powerlet socket higher up on the right fairing (canbus - so not really suitable for optimate).
The difference in character of these two bikes was amazing considering how much they share. The handlebars are not so swept back on the GT and my feet not so far forward. The windshield has the same protection as the GTL in terms of height, but is not so wide. The rider's seat is higher on the GT (there is a lower seat option) and it was easy to move sideways and backwards on the twisties, so this is a bike that can scratch as well as tour. The rider and pillion seat are not multi storey like the GTL, so I was able to move my bum backwards at speed, tuck in and lower the windshield to give the bike some sort of drag coefficient short of a brick. The engine note, whilst still smooth with those 6 cylinders, was thoroughly enjoyable when pushed. As it is the same engine and tuning, this can only be down to the different silencer configuration between the GT and GTL. On this bike I set the electronic suspension adjustment to sport and the engine to dynamic and had a whale of a time. I found time to check the tyre pressures on the easy to read cockpit display. I used the cruise control to saunter through villages at 30mph (it released easily when I used any other controls) and went into stellar overdrive on the open roads. GT is about the right term for this: Grand Tourer.
On this bike, I had to force myself to call up the dealer's address on the integrated BMW Nav IV to give myself a chance of getting back not too far over my alloted hour. That just about sums up my different attitude to the GT.
The result? I went to test ride and not to buy. I still thought the GTL was a Winnebago, well it felt a bit like a pan European to me, but felt that the GT was a good successor to the FJR. Without going into detail, I thought that if the FJR were being designed today, rather than 10 years ago, the K1600GT might well be the result. My heart began to think about buying one even as my mind wondered where the money would be coming from.
The dealer was not that knowledgeable about options, so that the sales patter was a little glib and with very high price options flying around such as the radio for £1,000. I was offered a very poor trade in price for my FJR at around 90% of its trade in value and 75% of its private sale value, and the dealer wanted an additional 2% if I paid for all or part of a new bike on a credit card. They could only offer me a September build date at the factory, so I would miss the entire summer.
I surfed the web and phoned a dealer who seemed much more helpful. In a way I felt bad, because my business was going to one dealer when another had been kind enough to provide me with test rides and cups of tea. It just goes to show that you need to be good at sales as well as pre-sales if you want to keep the customer happy. After a few general enquiries and getting to know him a bit over perhaps 30 minutes of phone calls and a couple of emails, I told him I was ready to put down my deposit for a July build date for a GT SE. After two weeks of pestering by me and no documentation to confirm the order or build date, I cancelled the order. It was like the moment in Fellowship of the Ring where Bilbo Baggins sees the one ring around Frodo's neck - the dealer suddenly declared that my order was finalised, built and being delivered from the factory - yeah right - see you in court.
Another dealer has the bike in stock due to an cancelled order, so I should have my K1600 GT SE in about a week.
Roll on July.