Caveat- I'm coming from a 2004 Honda VTX 1800N, which is a V-Twin power cruiser, so many of my thoughts will be in comparison to that bike, which is the only bike I've ever owned (my wife had an older Vulcan 500 and now has a 2011 Suzuki Boulevard C50T (VL800)).
I'm looking for a motorcycle for long distance touring. I'm 6'05" and 260 lbs. Unfortunately, not many companies make bikes to fit someone my size. The VTX 1800 is a large motorcycle, but even so, I don't have near the leg room I would like. The N, or Neo Retro, model that I have has floorboards. Unfortunately, they are not adjustable. I did recently buy highway pegs, but haven't quite got them adjusted to the point that I am happy with them. I can ride about a maximum of 400 miles on the VTX before my butt and legs are too painful to enjoy riding any further. I've installed an Ultimate Big Boy seat and added an Airhawk pad on the VTX, but it's still not enough. One of the biggest problems is engine heat under the seat, even through the Airhawk.
So, my search has begun for a touring motorcycle that the wife and I can go cross country on. Hence, here I am... Today I borrowed a 13 GTL from my dealer (same place I bought the VTX new in '04). I ran up to Starved Rock State Park for lunch with the wife (about 210 miles round trip). The following are my observations:
I asked the dealer to put some miles on a K1600 before I commit to buying one, since the riding position is so different from my VTX. My main concern here is long distance comfort, and with my long legs I wasn't sure the sport bike like riding position was going to work for me. BUT, hundreds of thousands of Goldwing owners cannot be wrong, right? The dealer set the stock, low seat to it's highest adjustment. He removed the seat and flipped over a bracket under it that raised the front and left a noticeable gap between the front of the seat and the "tank". The gap was somewhat unsightly, but if I'm comfortable, that's more important.
40 miles into the trip, my knees were cramping. There was simply not enough room. This bike was equipped with aftermarket engine guards and flip out highway pegs. I'm not sure if the pegs were designed this way, but they were not fixed on their pivots. They would fold in with the wind if I didn't have my feet on them, and I had to find them and fold them out every time I wanted to use them. They also rotated perpendicular to their folding direction. The result was I had to look down every time I folded them out to ensure that they were in the correct position. I didn't care for this. They were also positioned far too high and not far enough forward to actually be of much use for comfort for me. Unfortunately, there was little more that they could be adjusted forward on the engine guards and none that they could be lowered. Lowering them might have compromised cornering clearance, I suppose.
The seat: fore-aft I don't have a whole lot of room. I can make some minor adjustments to my position, but would like a little more. Do any aftermarket seats increase this? With the cramped leg position, I feel like my butt is being pushed forward all the time, which puts tension on my pants rather than them just being there. I also feel some engine heat through the seat, though not near as bad as my VTX. Temps today were in the low to mid 80s. Stopping at ~75 miles for just a stand up and stretch or a couple minutes walking around gave me a reset and I was ready to go again.
My upper body was very comfortable throughout the ride. Toward the end I was getting a cramp on the inside of my right shoulder blade. Arching my back several times slowly seemed to relieve this. Of course, I also had a built in massage option today with the wife riding passenger behind me...
Grips: the K1600 grips feel very skinny to me. I'm used to much fatter grips on my VTX and with my big hands, I prefer the fatter grips. Is there a solution to this on the K1600 without losing the grip heat? I quickly got used to the wonder wheel controller, except that several times I hit the side function of the wheel and changed the radio station as I was manipulating the turn signals. I'm sure I would get used to the control layout over time and this would not be an issue.
Clutch: I love that this bike has a hydraulic clutch. My VTX also has a hydraulic clutch. I do not like cable clutches because there is always too much take-up in the lever before any clutch action. That said, I did notice more lever take-up in the K1600 clutch than my VTX has. The VTX has the best clutch action of any bike I've ever ridden. The levers (clutch and brake) on the K1600 are too skinny. Like the grips, I like fat levers, which my VTX has. The clutch on the K1600 is certainly light enough, and in no way tiring to use in stop and go traffic, but a fatter lever would make it more comfortable on your fingers. One concern was a slight vibration felt in the grips when in neutral with the clutch lever out. Pulling the clutch lever in caused this vibration to cease. If I paid close attention, I could feel the same vibration when engaging the clutch with the transmission in a gear. This is a used bike, so I have no idea what kind of abuse it may have been put through or whether this vibration may be completely normal.
Shifter/Transmission: Clunky. There is a loud "clunk" when shifting in the lower gears, and if I ran through the gears quickly, I would get a second clunk as I engaged the clutch after shifting. It was a little disconcerting at times. My VTX clunks too, but this one is more pronounced. Driveline lash was not a problem as this is something I'm used to on the VTX which also has shaft drive.
Brakes: Impressive! I found myself using the front brake alone much more than in combination with the rear brake. On my VTX, I almost always use them both together. The VTX has dual front rotors and a single rear rotor like the K1600. On the VTX, the front calipers are 3 piston each. 2 pistons are actuated by the front brake lever, and the remaining (center) piston is linked and actuated by the rear brake pedal. Using the rear brake on the VTX makes a significant difference in braking power. Using the rear brake on the K1600 also makes a significant difference in braking power, but it feels like it's not needed, unlike the VTX.
Engine: Fantastic! As I have never been on anything like a sport bike before, the dealer suggested I start out in Rain Mode. While I can see how this would be useful in actual rain, I found that it felt like unnatural interference from the computer to throttle inputs. I quickly changed modes to Road. I left it there for the 100 mile trip to Starved Rock. I still felt some delay or adjustment of my intended throttle input. On the way home, I switched to Dynamic. NOW we are talking! This felt like direct throttle actuation comparable to my VTX cable throttle. The VTX has a very sensitive throttle compared to most bikes, so it's not surprising that I liked the more direct Dynamic mode as that is closest to what I am used to. Power in Rain mode is obviously reduced. The K1600 actually felt slower than my VTX, especially at lower RPM from a stop, when in Rain mode. Obviously it would run away from the VTX once it builds RPMs. Road mode felt better, and Dynamic.... let's just say I was grinning!!!
This engine revs RIGHT NOW. It didn't take me long to get used to it, though. The exhaust note was pleasing and unobtrusive at cruising speed. This was a big plus for my wife, who doesn't like all the noise my VTX makes with Jardine Drag pipes (basically straight pipes).
Suspension/Steering: Equally as fantastic as the engine. The bike was set to 2-up riding all day and I changed modes between Comfort, Normal, and Sport. I don't feel nearly the change in the bike switching between the different suspension modes as I did switching between the different engine management modes, but it does change. I rode most of the day in Comfort mode, as my goal was to evaluate whether this bike would work for me for long distance (600+ mile days). Road impacts that would jar my spine, even at the lowest rear suspension preload setting on the VTX, were simply floated over on the K1600. Brilliant! Even rough RR track crossings were handled with little disturbance of the motorcycle. The wife REALLY appreciated this.
The K1600 tips into curves so much easier than my VTX- likely due to the combination of a smaller front tire and Duo-Lever front suspension. The K1600 seems to have a telepathic link to where I want it to go. Merely think about changing lanes, and it's accomplished with little effort. My very first impression of the steering was that the front wheel was actually turning more than I turned the bars, as if the steering input was increased by a gearing system. This felt very strange at first, but I quickly got used to it. I wonder if this is a function of the Duo-Lever front suspension?
What's the lean angle for the K1600GTL- that is, what touches down first? On my VTX, it's the rear of the floor boards, and they fold up so there is no hard landing. On one left hand turn today, I started to drag my toes just a bit. With my leg position, my feet are at about a 45* angle, toes down.
The bike never felt squirrely or uncomposed regardless of throttle or brake inputs. Unfortunately, the front tire on this bike was badly worn. There was plenty of tread left, but the tire was badly cupped and had a flat center section with a sharp transition ridge to the side tread. This translated into annoying and heavy vibration at speeds of 80+ MPH. Is poor tire wear a problem with the K1600? I know it is on the VTX. Honda recommends tire pressures of ~32 PSI, and it always results in both tires that quickly cup and ruin a smooth ride. The solution on the VTX is to always maintain at least 40 PSI front and rear. The K1600 reported 37 PSI front and 40 PSI rear today, varying by only 1 PSI per tire all day. FYI, this particular K1600 had ~13,250 miles when I picked it up.
The wife was very appreciative of the ability of the K1600 to soak up the bumps and comfort of the stock passenger seat. She had plenty of room (she's 5'07") and could have ridden for much longer. We have Sena 20S headsets and she told me on the way home that if she had a headrest, she could go to sleep on the back (when I wasn't testing the engine power by passing other traffic, that is). Despite the pronounced seat height difference, she was not able to see over my head due to our height difference. I left the windshield in the fully extended position all day and looked through rather than over it. Lowering the windshield resulted in too much buffeting for both of us. I tried the air "wings" several times but ended up leaving them retracted. If temps were in the 90's I probably would have wanted them deployed.
Storage: I wish the top case was deeper. I have an Icon Airmada helmet, and the top case is about 1/2" too shallow to allow it to close on this helmet. I was able to get it in the side case (what I call saddle bags, I think you guys call panier?). However, it seemed like there was a lot of wasted space around the helmet in this case that could otherwise be used to carry gear if I could fit my helmet in the top case. My wife's HJC convertible helmet fit in the top case without issue. The central locking and alarm system were nice perks.
GPS: I have a Garmin 665 in a Touratech locking mount on my VTX. I used it in the factory mount for this trip. We started ~9AM heading west, and with the sun to our back I could not see the GPS screen at all. I wish the dash shroud around the GPS was deeper on the K1600, but that wouldn't have helped in this case. The angle of the GPS screen in the factory mount aligned it perfectly, unfortunately, so that glare on the screen tended to wash it out. I wish it was angled down just a few degrees. Likely this cannot be solved for all riders without some kind of adjustment built in, due to different rider heights.
After we returned home, I decided to pull the Airhawk pad off my VTX and put it on the K1600 for the ride back to the dealer. What a difference! Just that little bit more seat height relieved the pressure on my knees, and eliminated the tendency for me to feel pushed forward in the butt. MUCH more comfortable. I wish I had remembered to take the Airhawk along for the entire trip. I think that if I got the extra tall factory seat, combined with the peg lowering option, this could be a very comfortable bike for me. With the low seat and stock pegs and no seat pad, I could not go long distance. I think at this point, I'm going to put my VTX up for sale and if I can get what I want out of it, I'll by buying a GTL-E