If the 2009 BMW K1300GT and K1300S have a hallmark over their previous 1200 incarnations, it’s progress. But, trumping the slatherings of electronics, enhanced mechanicals, improved braking, and revised suspension may be… switch gear.
The switchgear might not seem like a big deal, but showing me around the bike one of the dealer’s salesmen is quite proud, “The switch gear has been revised, it’s normal like the signals found on Japanese bikes. That shows BMW listens to customer feedback.”
Err, yes. I can’t help but point out that this particular change has been years in the making, with BMW steadfastly refusing to dump their over-complex layout of a separate left and right button for the respective signals – and an additional third to cancel – over many generations of bikes.
Ironically, the first thing I do pulling out of the lot is honk the horn, automatically thumbing for BMW lefty-lefty and righty-righty signal switches that are no longer there. Years of BMW testing have prepared me for a character point that no longer exists.
The K1300GT (Grand Tourer) and K1300S (Sport) are marvels of shared platform engineering, with similar engines, suspension and electronics, yet offering entirely different ride experiences. It’s not just a matter of sport versus grand tourer packaging either – though that has a lot to do with it.
Right off there’s the engine. Both bikes share a 1293cc inline-four at their heart. The K1300S is tuned for an unhealthy-for-your-license 175hp at 9,250 RPM and 103 ft-lbs of torque at 8,250, while the lower-tuned K1300GT torrents out 160hp and 99 ft-lbs at 8,000.
Quantities fail to tell qualities story though.
Despite being down 15hp, twisting the GT’s throttle is like Prospero loosing the tempest; a gale-force unleashed sweeping you up to speed. The S is an electric rush complete with tingle and vibe though the pegs and bars, which are better insulated on the GT, while the turbine howls from bass to alto in a binge of 94 octane.
The GT makes speed more distant, an abstract representation BMW 3-series sedan dials. This is velocity civilized and repackaged into effortless 600km days.
The S is a more complex experience, smooth and savvy until about 5500 RPM, if you never glanced at the tachometer you’d swear it was time to shift as the vibration kicks in. It’s not, you’ve 4500RPM to go before red-line, and the best lay ahead of you with the engine reaching full fury by 7500RPM, where a brute arm wipes civility off the table.
In common, the power on both bikes is offered without crescendo or exhaustion, just thrust towards the horizon and straight on to red-line.
On the S everything feels urgent and fast, on the GT you are constantly surprised by the clocks when you look down at how fast a pace you’re setting. The only glitch is in a moderate hesitation in pick up after rolling off the throttle and then back on.
Swooping through the loose sweepers of Manning Park on the K1300GT, comfortable and upright thanks to the bar riser, I’m feeling a bit chilly. The snow at the edge at the road might have something to do with that.
I reach for the heated grip button on the right switch gear, but my thumb naturally falls on the seat heater. I’m not complaining about the warmth, but the new smaller buttons are less affirmative with gloves on and that the order is backwards. I use heated grips far more often than a seat. I won’t be turning either down, even as I adjust the electrically actuated windscreen through its range in search of just-right. There is none, neither Kevin at 5’10”, nor I at 6’2” could escape the buffeting.
Admittedly, both the K1300 bikes are blue-suited conservatives. The K1200GT’s slab sides have visually been broken up with a fake-vent and BMW roundel, but that doesn’t change the aerodynamics and the big bike has a tendency to kite about in side winds. Though unimaginative the GT doesn’t put on any airs like it’s sibling.
Clad in stickers the K1300S is trying to impersonate a Suzuki GSX-R, which is as effective as a 60 year-old in a velour tracksuit wearing a sideways baseball cap. The visual differences to the K1200S are subtle, bodywork tweaked for better wind protection, and a smaller muffler assisting with power development and just looking better than the outgoing’s bazooka. Styling contemplation ends as we hit the twists west of Princeton, and the K1300S attempts to elude its bigger sibling.
One complaint from sport riders for the K1200S was that the front end felt too vague. To correct this, the aluminum lower control arm of the BMW Duolever is now a full kilogram (2.2 pounds) lighter, trail is shortened by 2 cm (0.8 inches), and spring rates front and rear are firmer. The result is an increase in feel for the road’s imperfections, but a feeling that the front is rebounding too quickly especially on choppy surfaces, still lacking is a good sense of how much grip the front tire has.
The K1300S shoots through the sweepers at home in its element; the shock is that the GT isn’t far behind.
At 288kg (635lb) fully fueled the GT is a seriously big bike, it sashays though the twists like a dark horse in Dancing with the Stars. The wide bars provide good leverage, while the slightly peaked profile assist with the fall in, though adding a top heavy feel in the process. Once set, the same chassis as found on the sporty K1300S keeps the GT on your chosen line, while the Duolever/Telelever suspension setup suits the dissociated feel of a continent-crosser like the K1300GT. The S isn’t a lightweight either at 254kg with a belly full of 94-octane fire, but the bikes lower center of gravity hides the mass well.
To nominate the single biggest improvement since the K1200S, hands down it’s the transmission. Throws are short, slick, precise and (this being BMW) come with added technology in the form of an optional Gear-Shift Assist.
This quick-shifter allows full throttle upshifts without clutching by momentarily pausing ignition, removing load on the transmission when the rider loads the shifter. It takes a bit training to stop rolling off the gas as you would for normal clutchless upshifting, but the system works very well, allowing you to effortlessly scale though the cogs with only a moment’s delay between changes. Demonstrating its ease of use, photographer Kevin blazes away in a fury of full-power upshifts.
I’m not overly concerned; the GT is deceptively good fun as we head into the next set of curves and hairpins. True, the GT will never be a canyon dancer, but it gives nothing to other bikes in this class like the Yamaha FJR1300 or Kawasaki Concourse 1400.
Speaking to one K1200GT owner, his reason for passing on the Kawasaki was that its option list is downright spartan compared to the GT’s. So, then, is the price point for bikes with remarkably similar characteristics outside the electronic garnish. Though the Kawasaki Intelligent Proximity Activation Start System and slipper clutch do add some appeal.
Switching off, I take command of the K1300S, and again the evolutionary change from its precursor is immediately apparent with the first grab of the brakes.
Previous generations of BMW’s EVO servo assisted braking system offered binary subtlety, wooden and dead feeling at the lever the binders were on, or they were off. The new system offers good feel, good progression, only a little electrical-whine and hauls either bike down from speed with deftly applied force. Even the biggest problem of the systems previous generation, the brakes being too grabby at low speeds seems to have been eased. In short, it’s a transparent technology, working in the background without intruding on or detracting from the ride experience.
Both bikes feature the second generation of BMW’s ESA system which now features spring rate adjustment in addition to the previous generations’ pre-load and damping. So take your pick; solo, solo plus luggage, two-up and luggage all with Comfort, Normal and Sport modes – graph it out and you’ve got suspension tic-tac-toe for hours of riding comfort and fun.
The GT has a base sticker of $21, 825 with ABS, electrically adjustable windscreen and headed grips. Tack on $1,300 for the Equipment Package 2 to get the ESA, onboard computer, and heated seat. But wait, there is more, Equipment Package 3 adds a heated seat, cruise control and Xenon headlights. Honestly, this bike just has one of everything – it’s like a half a 7-series.
The S isn’t much easier on the pocketbook, starting at 16,990 with ABS and heated grips standard, the ESA adds $850.00, the quick-shift $350.00, and the ASC (part of the safety package) rings up another $600.00. So you’ll be passing everything but the local ATM on either.
The important thing is that all these technologies finally, regardless of price tag, deliver the goods. Slaloming through Green Valley Road on the K1300S in BC’s Okanagan, I don’t mean to test the Anti-Spin Control (everyone else calls it traction control), but road fresh from winter offers the opportunity with a cloud of sand and dust. There’s a bit of side step, the engine’s power is cut and the tire holds. If there is a key to this generation of K1300 it is technology that works transparently.
It’s that concept that cinches it for me. Conceptually I love the GT’s take it all with you saddle bags, upright comfort, and more relaxed demeanor, but little details like the windscreen and an over firm seat detract. The K1300S with its good aero-dynamics, comfortable (for a sportbike) ergonomics and raucous nature that drowns out the details is just more winning.
While the K1300’s share an engine, numerous components and options, the ride experience is surprisingly different. The K1300S is a no-holds barred stormer of corners and cruise-missile targeted on a distant horizon. The K1300GT is as civilized a grand tourer as has ever been produced. Each is wrapped in enough electronic complexity to attract the most hardcore gizmo-phile, yet these technologies have transitioned from intrusive gimmicks to enhancements of the rider experience. Yes, we’ve lost quirks like the switch gear, but now that I’ve adapted to being like everyone else I’m not complaining.