If you had to buy just one motorcycle, which one would it be? That's a question that most bikers have to answer; unfortunately, not a lot of us have more than one motorcycle in the garage. Wouldn't it be nice if we could afford to buy a comfy touring bike, a snarling sport beast, and something stylish just to take around town? Those would, of course, be resting beside the sturdy off-road motocross and the chromed-out boulevard cruiser. At least, for some people.
On mo5, David Booth raises the question of how many cylinders does it take to make the most fun sport bike. That's a fair question, but what if you do other types of riding besides diving into the corners at speed? Not only that, but the type of engine isn't the only deciding factor you'd think of when looking for a bike you want to live with - not to mention ride - every day. BMW has taken an all-encompassing view of motorcycling with a long line of sport touring bikes ranging back to the 1970s, in an attempt to combine comfort, touring and dynamic handling in one motorcycle. And in that respect, no other bike in the manufacturer's history has come as close to a perfect package as their latest, the K 1300 S.
This year's model is a continuation from the all-new bike from last year, along with the fabulous 1,293cc inline four cylinder engine. BMW certainly has the "sport" in sport touring down pat, as this mill cranks out an astounding 175hp from just 9,250rpm. The full torque of 140Nm comes on lower at 8,250rpm, but even those numbers are deceiving - from a full stop, there is not a want for power running up through the gearbox. Indeed, it means that riding this beast needs a very even wrist on the throttle, but it also means much less rowing through the gears when you want a burst of speed.
With all this power, I'm glad BMW has included its Automatic Stability Control (ASC) feature. Basically a traction control programme, it limits rear-wheel slip, and it worked seamlessly on the road; it's a feature that I think is necessary with this bike for everyday riding. Along with the ABS, the ASC can be turned off for serious track riders. One bugaboo with the powerplant is that a noticeable vibration can be felt in the footpegs above 6,000rpm. It's not too unsettling, though; in fact, it's a good indicator to the rider that the bike's full power is just about to come on tap. Another problem I faced was the fact that the motor often stalled as I pulled the clutch in at very low speeds, say in first gear coming to a stoplight or creeping through a car park. It's not something I've experienced before, and it was annoying.
But all of that power goes through an excellent six-speed gearbox, with barely a notchy shift. What makes this box even sweeter is BMW's gear-shift assist, which enabled up-shifts without using the clutch or letting off the throttle. Not only were the shifts faster than any rider could possibly do the old-fashioned way, but the sound was like a Formula One car shifting gears. The gearbox then routes all this power to the rear wheel via a shaft drive.
The load-bearing engine and gearbox are mounted in a very comfortable and capable chassis, not to mention handsome. As far as the "touring" aspect is concerned, long rides are not a problem - the layout is such that my 185cm frame was still feeling fine after a ride to Dubai and back. In fact, I could have gone for hours longer. Its generous 2,182mm length (it's a big bike, no doubt) not only lets a rider stretch out but contributes to a more comfortable ride. And though the windscreen seems small, there is excellent wind protection. Braking was more than adequate and featured ABS and BMW's Evo linked-brake system, which also activates the rear brake as the front brake lever is pulled.
At 228kg dry, it's a heavy bike, but you really don't feel the weight, either at slow speeds, where it's easy to balance, or pushing the bike over in a corner. The front Duolever suspension (one shock controlling the front wheel) gives good feeling through the handlebars and settles the front nicely. And though the bike is long, the K 1300 S handles tight, twisty corners surprisingly well. What helps give the bike its ride and handling - and a notch up over the competition - is the company's Electronic Suspension Adjustment. This allows the rider, via a switch on the handlebar, to adjust the suspension between normal, comfort and sport, and it's a noticeable change. Comfort was, indeed, more plush on the road, but made the bike jittery in heavy cornering. The sport mode took care of that, though, tightening everything up and settling everything down. Leaving it in normal mode was more than fine for everyday riding. The system is no gimmick; it really works well.
The BMW sport-tourer seems to do everything with aplomb. Would I buy it? At Dh77,000, it's in a higher price bracket, but considering what you get, I think it's a very good value. Surprisingly, the one thing that would make me think twice about the bike is its stomping power. I know there are those riders who just can't get enough horsepower, but for everyday riding, I sometimes found that I was focusing too much on easing the throttle and not enough on enjoying the ride. Only sometimes, though - and if I need to get used to anything, having too much power would be difficult to complain about.