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Become a MemberCulture How I Became a Bavarian Bagger Believer

What purpose does a bagger serve, and what are the options? The bagger is a motorcycle cruiser with a large fairing, windscreen and storage bolted on to the rear of the bike (hence the term bagger, bro). Our West Coast contributor Gary J Boulanger was given the keys to a 2023 BMW K 1600 B in early June. Nearly 2,000 miles later, here’s his review.

When discussing luxury vehicles in mixed company where I live in the heart of Silicon Valley, others typically blather on about Porsche, Aston Martin and McLaren, but the point is moot with me. Despite my Mountain View zip code, I can’t afford any of the aforementioned vehicles — running rife on the streets all around me — but that doesn’t mean I don’t prefer a little luxury in my transportation.

My name is Gary Boulanger, and I choose motorcycles over cars to get around the mean streets and byways of one of the wealthiest regions in the world.

And riding is what I do, nearly every day of the week from January to December. It’s what I enjoy; it’s why I eat smart and ride a bicycle to keep the mind and body sharp despite my 56 years of wear and tear and demands of my time to earn a living to afford living where I do. The cycle continues, and I love it.

Origins

This motorcycle experiment began in June 2000, when I became the second owner of a 1975 BMW R90/6 while living in Dayton, Ohio. The Beemer vibe lasted eight years, including a move west to northern California. Sadly, that prized machine took a back seat to my role as an editor in the bicycle industry, and was sold to a new rider from Oakland in June 2008.

I resumed my BMW story in early January 2016, buying a 2003 R1150RT from its original owner in Livermore. With 42,000 miles, it was barely broken in. Six years, hundreds of adventures and 60,000 miles later, it became my go-to commuter and two-up choice. I also tried my hand as an apprentice mechanic for a local classic and vintage BMW restoration and repair shop in late 2017 before a herniated disc forced me to stop just when it was getting interesting.

Earlier this year I rode the BMW R18 B for 520-plus miles in two weeks to get a taste of what the German manufacturer produced to satiate the heritage-minded Beemer aficionado. It was a treat, but wasn’t the go-everywhere-that-Gary-wants-to-go machine I’d plunk down $28K for tomorrow.

Enter the Bagger 

Imagine my chagrin at being asked by BMW North America to fly down to Riverside to learn more about its K 1600 B, then get handed the keys to ride it home 450 miles and enjoy it for an indefinite amount of time.

Oof. A German bagger boasting sixteen hundred and forty-nine cubic centimeters powering a six-cylinder, four-stroke, in-line engine with four valves per cylinder kicking out 160 horsepower at 6,750 revolutions per minute with a maximum speed of 120 miles per hour? That’s a mouthful to say, but it’s all true. 

And I immediately said yes.

What are my qualifications, other than having a nearly 22-year history with various BMW motorcycles? I’ve piled the miles on baggers and touring bikes from Indian and Harley, two American manufacturers best known for producing big bikes for mile munching. As I reached and eclipsed middle age, I started to appreciate machines designed for the long haul, if only to have a legitimate reason to get away from a desk and the mundane office job.

Hell, one of my best riding buddies Brian just sold his lightweight KTM 690 Duke and custom Moto Guzzi V9 to buy a Harley bagger, and he’s loving every minute of it.

Where to Ride?

My riding preferences include mandatory highway slogs to get to the serpentine mountain roads, whether it’s my 60-mile round trip commute to work during the week or eagerly twisting the throttle to keep up with Brian through the Sierras on extended weekend jaunts.

In my experience, there’s this fine line between finding a machine to do it all (on pavement) with regards to comfort, performance, joy and utility. There’s nothing better than a spirited ride down highway 25 south of Hollister, looping north through the Carmel Valley and up CA-1 to Santa Cruz and home over highway 17. It takes a special machine with several proper contact points, performance, ergonomics and handling characteristics to deliver what my mind and body need for that much dedicated saddle time. 

And based on the nearly 2,000 miles I’ve enjoyed with the BMW K 1600 B, it appears I’ve found the holy grail I’ve been seeking.

That Horsepower

If spirited riding is what you seek (and who among doesn’t now and then?) then the K 1600 B’s 160 horsepower at 6,750 revolutions per minute with 132.7 foot pounds of torque at 5,250 rpm should put a smile on your face for a bike weighing 758 pounds fully fueled and ready for action. For comparison, the Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic that I rode across the country four years ago had 200 more cubic centimeters, put out 119 foot pounds of torque at 3,000 rpm and weighed 30 pounds less with half the horsepower of the K 1600 B. Both bikes have foot boards for taking the vibration edge off, something my long legs enjoy.

That Display

While I’m typically not a fan of infotainment displays on motorcycles, BMW’s 10.25” color thin-film-transistor liquid-crystal (TFT) display with 1,920×720 pixels in full HD resolution offers Bluetooth connectivity and integrated map navigation, requiring the rider to download BMW Motorrad’s Connected app. A clever fan-cooled storage compartment below the electronically adjustable windscreen keep your smartphone charged and protected, and a rotational ‘donut’ on the left handlebar allows for toggling through the display to read important information like tire pressure, engine temperature, fuel range, ride modes (Rain, Road or Dynamic), navigation, heated seat and grips, all standard equipment.

That Girth

Some baggers look a bit pregnant to most naked bike owners, and the K 1600 B is especially guilty. It resembles a pregnant whale, with so much teardrop girth coming from the non detachable bags with built-in turn signals. Lane splitting isn’t an issue, and the bags serve a purpose–but aren’t quite big enough for my slender work backpack, and certainly can’t accommodate a helmet or jacket with armor.

Handling

Dynamic traction control (DTC) means no wheelies, but that’s never been my modus operandi when riding. It also keeps things from going random. BMW Motorrad explained its dynamic electronic suspension adjustment (ESA) with automatic load leveling, which has done its darndest to keep my butt planted and arms comfortable over the bumps and rough stuff.

The 17-inch wheels with 120mm/190mm wide front/rear tires provide nimble cornering on hairpin climbs and descents at speed. The San Francisco Bay Area has plenty, and for confident handling for a 758-pound machine this is important for comfort and control. This bike behaves like a much svelter one.

Economics

The 2023 BMW K 1600 B that I’ve been riding starts at $22,545 before a $795 destination fee. The Manhattan Metallic Matte paint adds another $275, with the Bagger package tacking on another $3,400. This includes an audio system with radio and software; a center stand; keyless ride; gear shift assist pro; central locking system; anti-theft alarm system; LED auxiliary lights; engine protection bars and floorboards. 

With another $100 tacked on for the clever floor lighting (which stays on long enough for you to find your footing getting off the bike in the dark), the grand total comes out to $27,115 before tax, title and license fees at your BMW Motorrad dealer.

As a comparison, the latest Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet starts at $118,900, takes up the same space as at least four motorcycles in the garage, and costs a king’s ransom to insure.

I’ll take the BMW K 1600 B, please. It’s my rebel nature, and I dig the danger of being a motorcyclist.

STATS 2023 BMW K 1600 B

  • Engine Capacity 1,649 cc
  • Rated Output 160 hp at 6,750 rpm
  • Max. Torque 132.7 lbs. at 5,250 rpm
  • Clutch Multiple-disc clutch in oil bath
  • Transmission/Gearbox Shaft-drive, 6-speed, helical, gearbox
  • Rim, front 3.50 x 17“ Cast aluminum
  • Rim, rear 6.00 x 17“ Cast aluminum
  • Tire, front 120/70 ZR 17
  • Tire, rear 190/55 ZR 1
  • Brake, front Dual disc brake 320 mm, 4-piston fixed calipers
  • Brake, rear Single disc brake 320 mm, double-piston caliper
  • ABS BMW Motorrad Integral ABS Pro (part-integral, slant-layer-optimized)
  • Seat height 29.5”
  • Length (over side case) 97.2”
  • Wheelbase 63.7”
  • Height (at windshield) 52.7” – 56.7”
  • Width (incl. side cases) 39.4”
  • Unladen weight (road ready, fully fueled) 758.4 pounds
  • MSRP $27,115

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