BMW K1300S Review – Echtes Deutsche Hypertourer
by Andrew GoodmanSimon at BMW North Oxford kindly gave me the keys to a K1300s for a demo this week. I had been after a back to back test with the S1000RR, but having sold their demonstrator, the used S1000RR they had in stock was on fresh tyres which I didn’t fancy on a cold greasy December day, even if it does have traction control.
Being a self employed consultant, I get to most of my assignments by motorcycle, even in the bleak midwinter. In the UK, this means riding on wet, cold and greasy roads. My own K5 GSX-R 1000 could hardly be described as a commuter bike, but with a pair of Dunlop Roadsmarts and a coating of ACF-50, it commutes very easily. A big powerful bike is just the ticket to take the stress out of motorway miles. Furthermore, the Gixxer thou’ is just small enough, and just low enough, to squeeze between the stationary traffic, and importantly below the wing mirrors of most of the various transit vans passed in stationary traffic. The comfort of ABS and traction would be nice, as 160 horsepower through the rear tyre or 200kg through the front, comes close at times to overwhelming the available grip.
Back to BMW North Oxford. I sign the usual forms, and we head out for a briefing. I’m given a quick run through of the controls and buttons, including the ESA (electronic suspension adjustment), and the preload settings for one up, one up with luggage and two up. This big K comes with ABS, ESA, ASC (which I think it a traction control to cut the power if things spin up), heated grips as well as a quick shifter. For most people, ESA is a boon, fiddling around under the seat is not only something you are rarely going to find time to do, and if you do, it’s just as likely to make things worse as make them better if you don’t know what you’re doing. So with ESA, it’s nice to have the settings taken care of. ESA has three settings for damper rates; Normal, Sport and Comfort. Comfort is a soft cosset ting ride, normal is soft, and sport is soft, but with a bit of a harder edge. Coming from a K5 GSX-R1000, all modes felt positively luxurious to me. I played with the modes, but found myself mostly in Sport to try to get the most communication from the road below. The preload can be adjusted for solo, solo with luggage, and two up. The heated grips has two setting too. So many buttons to play with.
The inboard trip computer gives the usual cycled via the “info” button; average speed, average mpg, miles, miles to empty, external temperature, time and some other reading which I assume was tyre pressure. The clocks look cheap and pretty dull for such an expensive bike. When you’re going to spend a lot if time staring at them, isn’t it worth making an effort on the look of the instruments?
My trip took me along the A40 towards Buford, and a bit further down into Gloucestershire, to test the bikes high speed cruising and some cornering and filtering thrown in for good measure. For a big bike, once on the move, it feels easily manageable. The steering is sweet, and the supple suspension communicates what’s happening on the road below. The bike steers easily and confidently at low speeds making filtering an easy proposition, and even though the bike is big and heavy (250kg), it’s a long and slender machine and balances well once moving. On my blast across the Cotswolds to Burford, the winter crosswinds had relatively little effect on the forward course of the bike.
My first impressions are that this feels like a quality machine; the brakes are sensitive, positive and progressive. The throttle is sensitive, but a bit wooden, the gearbox (even without that quick-shifter) is slick and quality feeling and the steering is smooth. The seat is super comfy, the suspension is plush, and the bike spacious and ergonomically geared to put the rider in a forward cant, which suggests this bike offers potent acceleration.
And boy oh boy, accelerate it does. It’s not quite the “being fired out of the cannon” feel you get from a balls-out super bike, the torque is delivered in a more flat manner, but opening the throttle in any gear releases a wave of thrust, of equal quantity, if not quality, to my own bike. The bike feel best in the lower revs, up to around 6k. It will happily pull away from barely tickover in sixth gear. The fuelling is spot on, and from 0-6k the whole bike is lovely and smooth, with a really quality feel. Above 6k things get disappointing as the engine turns into a crude mess of vibration, which is a shame, more of this in a minute.
The brakes are excellent, strong and progressive with lots of feel, hauling the significant weight up in no time. Having never used a quick shifter, I left wondering why all bikes aren’t fitted with one. They’re just brilliant at smooth up shifts. Applying a quick positive ’prod and release’ with the foot, and the progress just builds and builds until you are in easy three figure speeds. Luckily the gearing is quite tall, and the bike will rarely get above 6k revs even at high speed, which is good because of the rough nature. This lack of desire to rev takes away from the bike’s sportiness. I don’t know about you, but I like a sports bike to rev out sweetly, so that I’m inclined to open it up. On the big K, I’d be inclined to short shift unless overtaking rather than revving it out, and where’s the fun in that? It’s like having a million pounds cash and keeping it hidden under the mattress when you could have been spending it.
While were on the subject on the engine, I found the throttle not to my liking. The throttle felt ‘wooden’, feeling as though it needs a bit of lubrication, but this might just be the “sports touring” type controls. If it is, it’s out do sorts with the other controls on the bike which feel sports bike sensitive. It feels like there’s something, a box of electronics perhaps, between my right hand and what happens at the rear tyre. I suppose this might just be the way things are with more sports touring oriented machines, but I found the experience rather disconnected me from the bike and it’s performance. I didn’t discover whether the ESA mode also affected the throttle response, but it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea if it did, as sometimes it’s nice to have a sharper more communicative engine and at other times a more dull, less immediate one. I actually think the throttle response on my GSXR would better suit the K1300S than the one it has, and would not be out of character with the rest of the bike. As customers of fuel injected KTMs have found out to their dissatisfaction, the feel and responsiveness of a throttle can have a huge impact on the enjoyment of a motorcycle. I’m a fan of light sensitive throttles, rather than those requiring a ham-fisted approach, but it would be nice to see variable throttle maps with the ride-by-wire throttles in the future. Considering the importance of feel on the throttle, the K1300s disappoints.
The bike itself is big and long, something I only appreciated one I climbed back on my own motorbike to head home. It I gives the rider the opportunity to stretch out and get behind the screen at speed. I’m 6ft and felt comfortable with the slightly rear set pegs, the bike felt sporty to me, more so than the benchmark CBR600F, which is why the dullened throttle bothered me so much.
Switchgear is good, although not in the immediate and easy to reach layout, the big bike has more space for more buttons and so they seem to be spread further apart. The indicator switch didn’t have much in the way of détèntes, to let you know when you had pressed the indicator left or right or cancelled it, but I suppose this is just a sensitivity issue, and with time you would recalibrate to the new micro-switches. I found myself looking down to try to see whether I was successful in my intentions to indicate; not good when you’re riding a new machine.
As I pulled back into the dealership, what were my conclusions? The K1300s is an Intercontinental Ballistic Cruise Missile. If you want to cover ground rapidly in comfort, and you need to travel fast, then this bike is definitely worth a test ride. I have seen footage of is thing dispatching the Nurburging in a time that such a large machine shouldn’t be capable of, but I can well believe it is a faster bike than most sports bikes over normal roads; as it just gets on effortlessly with the task of going extremely fast. Where a pure sports bike might get skittish over poor road surfaces, the big K just ploughs on through, thrusting forward like a rocket to the rapidly approaching horizon.
What is the natural domain for this machine? This bike sits in the box with the ‘continent eaters’ up in the heady realms of the hyper-bikes; the Suzuki Hayabusa, and Kawasaki ZZR1400 are two such machines. I haven’t ridden either of them, but having ridden the K1300S I would imagine the BMW is more than a match for them at the speeds most riders will use on the roads.
I am still puzzled though by where this bike sits. It is relatively expensive (£12,375 basic), offers more comfort than sport, and yet not quite enough sportiness to satisfy the concessions on comfort. Having toured on a sports bike, I would say that the comfort is something I am willing to forego for the riding experience, if I wanted more comfort, I would go out and buy a proper touring machine with a big screen and stereo which I’m sure would be a fun proposition in itself. This bike sits uncomfortably in the gap between sports and touring, and at this period of my life, I admit that I don’t really get it.
I like a bit more excitement with my speed. And I want my dash to the ton to be wrought with excitement. If I’m going to go fast, I want to be thrilled in the process. Modern cars are all capable of significant speed, but is your modern diesel as exciting to get to those speeds as a finely tuned petrol engine in a Ferrari or Porsche? The K1300S reminds me of a Jag XKR I took for a quick spin. I remembered how the car’s effortless supercharged thrust didn’t feel as exciting as I felt I ought to have; it was too easy, and there was very little drama, noise, or effort involved, I was just wafted along to the national speed limit in a whisper-like hush. I felt like I should have worked harder for my thrills than that. When some people install louder exhausts on their bikes, they experience a similar effect; they’re sure they’ve made them go faster. I’m sure in most cases, they are actually going slower, but the increased noise and drama of the loud exhaust has a visceral impact on their sensation of speed. I believe the K1300s is a similar phenomenon, being too good at doing what it does that the rider feels less rather than more involved than on a more involving bike. This notion of excitement vs clinical precision is where cars like the Subaru BRZ come in, they focus on fun over plain outright speed.
Simon says he’ll contact me in the new year when they have a new S1000RR demonstrator in. Modelled on the very bike I currently own, since its launch the original S1000RR has been developed into the bike to best. With ABS and traction control (and the optional heated grips) it offers more than many rival bikes in the segment. While the Kawasaki offers the same, I’m just not sure about the ZX10R’s styling.
I was really keen to try out the new HP4, and its semi- active suspension which adjusts to the road and riding conditions (I have a hunch it is a great invention from the boys in Bavaria). I was told that they get around 4 HP4’s a year, so a demo ride on one of those is hardly likely. BUT…..wait for it…… the naked version of the S1000RR, the S1000R may lose an “R” over its sportier brother, but I’m told it will be gaining the DDR or semi-active suspension from the HP4, so even though I wouldn’t dream of buying a fire breathing monster bike with no fairing, I might just have a go to try out the suspension. I’ll keep you posted.
Thanks again to North Oxford BMW
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BMW K1300S Review – Echtes Deutsche Hypertourer