Chrissy Rogers and I were toying with the idea of a pre-Christmas blast up the Pacific coast to Hearst Castle for a few days while business was slow, since the weather was an impeccable partly cloudy and 60-ish degrees. That or maybe the Ruta de Vino down Mexico way? Maybe hop in the new-to-me 23-year old Jaguar? Take the train? At the same time, we’re both aware that the two of us in a sealed container works best if the container is at least 1500 square feet, compartmentalized into rooms, and stationary. I tend to get a little worked up driving a car in and out of SoCal when there’s traffic (there’s always traffic), followed by Christine getting worked up at my getting worked up, followed by, why don’t we just hang out here at home and eat and drink and save the money? Because we’re chiselers.
Just then the inbox offered up the news that Ryan Adams was too busy to test the BMW K1600 GT in his garage, and did I want to? Hmmmmm. Interestingly, Rogers has many criticisms of the way I drive automobiles and freely expresses them, but tends to actually approve of my motorcycle riding whenever she climbs off the back of one I’ve been operating. I’m pretty sure I ride the same way I drive, but she’s not buying it.
Maybe she has a point: In the car, you have no choice but to repeatedly work your way around the passing-lane indigents with increasing impatience. On a bike, especially one like the K1600 GT, everything in your path is much less of an obstacle. You’re a big shark in the koi pond. On a white K-bike, lots of people even think you’re a cop coming up behind and GTFO. It’s way more relaxing than being in a car, and that chill vibe probably does radiate to all on board.
Critically, if we’re “testing” the BMW, then MO is picking up the tab. Part of the tab anyway: Brasfield gave the go-ahead for one hotel night and one day’s rations, even if I was thinking more two nights and three days round-trip. Northward, then. San Simeon. Dirt roads in Mexico are really not the place for this motorcycle.
In the print magazine days, I remember being told if we don’t use all our testing budget for this year, we’ll get less next year, so spend away fellas! For a while there at Cycle World in the early ‘90s, I had a company credit card and never saw the bill. A few days on the road definitely made it easier to get into the head of the person who’d be buying a $25,000 BMW like this one, and it was for sure great incentive to ride far and wide. Like we needed one. Today, we’re in the chisel era. Not that I don’t love my employer! I mean, it’s nobody’s fault but the internet’s, where we give away for free what we used to charge for. And we’ve already given you plenty of BMW K1600 content, including this most recent K1600 B review, so forgive this one for being more travelogue than road test. Though it also may wind up being a road test. Who knows?
This K1600 being the GT, there’s no backrest nor trunk, though there is everything else including heated seats, automatic preload adjustment, and two big sidebags. Step one was a 15-minute shakedown run to see if Rogers would be able to hang on for five or six hours and 300 miles back there. The prognosis was good. I would wear my favorite Shoei Neotec 2 because it’s a great helmet and because my Cardo is mounted to it. I also have a new Cardo Packtalk Edge still in the box that I contemplated putting in Chrissy’s HJC. After a short discussion with myself, I decided against it.
Mainly because I’d already been haggling with the BMW’s navigation app for an hour, then going to Best Buy for a USB-C to Lightning adapter cord so I could just use my phone instead. Trying to sync a Packtalk Bold to a Packtalk Edge after that might have put me over the edge. All good excuses for knowing I’d rather listen to the radio and a few podcasts than any possible static from the passenger compartment; complaints could be submitted via a punch in the kidneys like in olden times.
On the Road
There’re about ten different tours of Hearst Castle, each of which takes about an hour. That way, they can get you to schedule a few tours, and chisel you $30 per. We needed to be there, 280 miles up the coast, ready to go by 2:40 pm for the Grand Rooms tour. Amazingly, we were wheels up at 8:30 am as planned: Six hours should be plenty of time, even with a leisurely breakfast burrito stop in the lovely little beach town of Carpinteria.
Natch, the closer we got the more I realized we were behind schedule, and the more speed we dialed up on the GT. On this machine, Grand Touring fits. That 1649cc inline Six isn’t a screamer, it’s a midrange-intensive torquer than does its best work – 117 lb-ft, at just 5200 rpm – where you’ll be going quite a bit faster than the speed limit; 4000 creamy rpm and 90-ish is a nice speed that seems tolerable to everybody. Whatever speed you ring up, the motorcycle just yawns. Set the electric windshield where you want and cruise. It’s also nice that the 7-gallon tank and 39 mpg I averaged on this trip means you barely have to stop.
With a passenger and loaded saddlebags, I appreciated the new automatic preload system on the GT, something I never really noticed riding alone on the K1600 B. An extra 200 pounds on the back doesn’t faze the bike at all, which maintains its pitch at all times, even though Road mode serves up a nearly pillowy ride along the mostly straight, sweeping roads we blasted upon to San Simeon.
We pulled into William Randolph Hearst’s parking lot with six minutes to spare. There’s a visitors center where you get tickets and refrigerator magnets and things, and where you get on the bus that takes you another few miles up the winding mountain road to the castle. The restrooms were closed, though, since all the water from the spring up the mountain is supposedly reserved for the livestock; you peasants help yourself to the porta-potties lined up out front, and if you’re thirsty a plastic bottle of water is $4.69. I’d pay that for a big Perrier maybe, but otherwise I prefer to dehydrate.
The road up there is even fun on a bus thanks to the forever ocean views as you climb to the compound’s 1600-feet elevation. I’d blasted by the place countless times on motorcycles, wondering if I’d really spotted zebras a few of those times (yes) or just drank too much the night before, but I had never taken the time to stop. The state owns the place now, since none of the heirs could swing the upkeep, but the grandkids did manage to hang on to all of the most expensive artwork and 83,000 acres of oceanfront property for the beef operation.
Up top, a docent pointed to a far-off mountaintop about five ridgelines over and asked if we knew what it was? Mt. Whitney? No, it’s the edge of the northern property line. Privacy for the Hearsts was not an issue. Nor money. William Randolph Hearst was the Rupert Murdoch of his era. The castle itself is everything you’d expect from a castle, and so is all the priceless art and ancient fireplaces and ceilings from a time when importing that stuff from the Old World was legal sport. I even found a drinking fountain up there and managed to sneak a few free sips of water.
To sleep, perchance to chisel…
We’ve always stayed at the Bluebird Motel in Cambria, a nice old-fashioned place in the walkable middle of town where you park in front of your room; The Brambles steakhouse around the corner was always good for blowing a good-sized hole in the expense account. It was fun to do Airbnb for a while there, until all the hosts became chiselers: Oh, $98 sounds doable; then clicking on the entry adds another $50 for the cleaning fee and $40 more for “processing.” Yo, process this.
Now, it’s just as cheap and easier to stay in a nice motel you already know. Our room had a coffee maker, but only one packet of cheap decaf. But it was okay, because the lobby was just a few steps away and had good coffee and a nice receptionist. By the time I’d had a few cups (I want MO to get its $190 worth of amenities), we realized our 10 am Upstairs Suites tour was soon to begin and off we blasted, six miles back up Highway 1 to the castle, behind schedule as usual.
Looking forward to more priceless gilded splendor, I first stepped into a slippery-floored porta-pottie to drain my coffee (if there’s a bathroom up top, they’d probably want a quarter). I had steeled myself to purchase a $4.69 bottle of water but was rebuffed by the lady working the snack bar, who wouldn’t open the cash register until the grill opened at 11. I told her I didn’t need my water grilled, then recognized from her gulag demeanor that resistance and humor were both futile. I contained myself, but had to observe they could easily change the name to Thirst Castle.
Looking past all that, if you’re at all interested in history and palaces and rare old art, I can’t believe I’d never been before in 30+ years of swank California living. Well worth it in spite of the chiseling, which continued on the bus ride back down as Alex Trebek encouraged us all to dig deep on an endless beyond-the-grave audio loop, because the castle’s upkeep ain’t cheap. I get it, but my rough estimation tells me that, at like 40 tours a day @ 30 people each @ $25 apiece (kids are $15 instead of $30), they’re bringing in like $30k a day in the off-season. And don’t forget to pick up some Hearst Ranch beef to go with that $4.69 water and refrigerator magnet. I was able to use our limited storage space to talk Christine down from several impulse buys. The Hearst Winery, down by the San Simeon pier siren-called to us but failed – but only because we were riding dammit.
That night, back on our own dime, the Palomar Inn in Shell Beach had rooms for $89 online. At the desk, the best the guy could do was $129 plus taxes and fees… so I stepped outside and made the reservation on my phone. With taxes and fees, it wound up being $129. Victory! Here, there was a Keurig machine, but you needed to bring your own pods. Luckily the Steaming Bean was directly next door. I got a large cuppa and strolled to the beach on a crisp sunny Christmas Eve morning, with storm clouds forming offshore, while Rogers beauty-slept. Bliss, really…
I started to have a micro-frustration when I got back to the room and my key card no longer worked. I knocked gently at first, then a bit harder. Then Rogers stuck her head out of the room next door. I’d been banging on the wrong one. Yo, why are they all painted red?!
The Obstacle is the Way
Highway 101 once you got north of LA used to flow pretty good. Lately, as more people have bailed northward out of the big city, they’ve brought a lot of big-city congestion along with them. On this Christmas Eve morning, there’s an endless line of cars in the southbound left lane able to move only as fast as the slowest member of the herd, which is at least 20 mph slower than the GT’s preferred speed.
Luckily, nature and CalTrans have provided the solution in Highway 166 east, which takes you from Caligestion to the outback in the space of about 20 seconds; just take a left at Santa Maria. Suddenly, it’s just Rogers and me and a few cows and hawks, on a deserted two-lane winding its way through hills and pastures green from recent rain. It’s more miles to get home, but such nice, stress-free fast ones, the time probably works out to about the same.
After reining in the K-bike these last couple of days, I was kind of thinking it might be a bit of overkill for American roads and our low speed limits, and you could be just as happy on, like, an R1250 RS. But 166 reminded me of the error of my thinking: Rolling off and on the throttle in the top two gears, in the thick of that torque curve through those smooth, gradual sweepers might as well have been a two-up trackday at Circuito Catalunya, but way more fun/relaxing. Funaxing.
It’s about 60 swoopy miles on 166 from the 101 to the intersection with 33 south; we did it in an hour and that includes a casual lunch/gas stop in New Cuyama. You only need to slow down when passing the occasional car so you don’t scare the bejeezus out of its occupants. Luckily, the Buckhorn was closed (kinda pricey), so I was able to treat Rog to a 7-inch pizza with everything at the other restaurant in town for like 8 bucks. Free drink refills. The chiseled becomes the chiseler…
On day three, there were still zero complaints from the back seat. I wore an old Moose vest so Chrissy would have something to grab onto as needed (in addition to the bike’s big grabrails), but she did no grabbing on at all. A few of her vertebrae are fused from an old car crash, and back pain is a recurrent issue. In spite of the bike not having a backrest (except my 30-year old Wolfpack tail bag), she felt like supporting herself with her legs and using her abdominal and back muscles for balance made the GT the most comfortable 160-hp exercycle she’s ever ridden.
Highway 33 is just as expeditious as 166, until you get a ways south and have to climb over the coastal range behind Ventura. I’d wanted to stock up at the Pistachio Store in Maricopa for stocking stuffers for the kids, but it was closed dammit. No way I’m paying retail. It’ll be one orange apiece and chocolate Santas from Big Lots.
By then, I was all out of podcasts and music and back to the old-fashioned pleasure of being one with the universe via flying in very low orbit through it. You can get into that zone on any motorcycle, but when it comes to maximum filtration of extraneous discomforts and becoming naught but a flying cerebrum – okay two flying cerebrums, one with a bad back, and neither one exactly spritely anymore – I can’t think of a motorcycle that could do it better, and a motorcycle is the best vehicle for doing it. A Gold Wing is nice too.
I started to feel like all the chiseling I’d been subjected to lately was more than worth it, since we were having the last laugh on the universe zotting around on Starship Chiselprise. After three days on the GT and 700 miles, we both arrived home in late afternoon pain- and recrimination-free. Nothing but great memories these few weeks later is unpresidented. Thank you and happy birthday, Baby Jesus.
Apple CarPlay would be nice, but I have to assume a non-technophobe could get the BMW’s nav system to work almost as well (I did it before on the 1600 B), along with all the other advanced electronics I didn’t use on this quick blast. I think the first new-bike launch I ever attended was for the all-new R1100 RS. That one was the first oilhead boxer, in 1993. This K1600 makes that RS feel like a primitive Mercury space capsule – complete with a chimp at the controls, in my case – but I remember the same kind of expansive bliss riding that bike back to California from the Ozarks. I love this magazine business! What could possibly go wrong!
Chisel schmisel. Certain people were down on William Randolph Hearst for blowing the family fortune on the castle and furnishings. He died before it was even finished, after like 18 years of construction that would’ve taken that many more to complete even if he hadn’t run out of money. But it seems he loved every minute of it, galloping around the place on horseback with his cronies, lots of whom flew into the private airstrip. Smacking the tennis ball with Charlie Chaplin, making movies with Marion Davies. In other words, a man of wealth and taste whatever you may have thought about his politics. If WRH had been a motorcycle guy in a time warp, I assure you he would have had a fleet of these BMWs, and I seriously doubt Citizen Kane would have ended with a stupid sled. Rosebud would’ve been a BMW K1600, not sure if B or GT. Why not one of each?
|2022 BMW K1600 GT Specifications|
|MSRP||$24,690 base; $26,590 as tested|
|Engine Type||1649 cc liquid-cooled inline-Six cylinder, DOHC, four valves per cylinder|
|Bore and Stroke||72 x 67.5mm|
|Rear Wheel Horsepower||135.8 @ 6500 rpm (as tested here, 6/22)|
|Torque||117.4 lb-ft @ 5200 rpm|
|Transmission||6-speed with quickshifter|
|Front Suspension||Duolever, double trailing arm, central spring strut; 4.5 inches wheel travel|
|Rear Suspension||Paralever cast aluminum single-sided swing arm, central spring strut; 5.3 in. wheel travel|
|Front Brake||Dual 320mm discs, BMW Motorrad Partial Integral ABS|
|Rear Brake||320mm disc, BMW Motorrad Partial Integral ABS|
|Rake/Trail||27.8 deg/4.2 in|
|Seat Height||31.9/ 32.7 in. (low seat option)|
|Curb Weight||773 lbs (MO scales)|
|Fuel Capacity||7.0 gal.|
|Fuel mileage||39 mpg (observed)|
|Colors||Mineral White Metallic, Matte Black|
|Warranty||36 months limited warranty; extended coverage available|
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