TESTED: A VERY SPECIAL K 1300 THAT IS
By: Sarah Wilkinson
Many changes combine to make the latest generation Superbike from BMW much, much more than the sum of its new parts.
Words: Tony Carter
Pics: James Wright/ Jason Critchell
WHEN I was 18 years old I rode my first Superbike. It was a friend’s Yamaha FZR1000. It was more powerful than the sun, felt larger than Germany and drew admiring looks from everyone around who could only marvel at the prowess and skill needed to harness the beast.
At least, that’s how it felt to a young chap who had only ridden RD350s, 250s and dirtbikes up until that point.
What I remember about that bike is the feeling of being inside it. Being at the helm of something with lots of latent power on tap and something that was pretty comfortable.
Which is exactly how the new BMW K1300S felt after just a couple of miles of Spanish road on its world launch.
Plush, inviting, comfortable. Hang on a minute, is this really meant to be a superbike? If, when you think of modern Superbikes, you picture the latest GSX-R1000 or R1 and those bikes' cutting-edge performance and harsh ride set-ups then this tweaked BMW could very well be the bike to show you another way.
The more switchback roads, mountain passes and motorways we pounded on the bikes, the more I found myself falling in love with the big Beemer. And time and time again the same thought kept popping into my head; this is the bike most riders should have for riding in the UK instead of what most big bike fans think they need for riding in the UK.
Let’s start with what’s changed for this year then. The new BMW K Superbike has a 1293cc motor, up from the 1200 (1157cc) unit that went before, with the new lump putting out a claimed 175bhp - that’s 8bhp more. Healthy enough in the modern marketplace where real-world competition is key. For the first time since the original K1200 took its first faltering steps in 2004, the engine has been developed by Ricardo which has reshaped the combustion chamber, given it new cam profiles and better gas flow with the new cylinder head. The Ricardo company has done a cracking job.
The bike also gets better aerodynamics, LED lights front and rear and the fairing has been tweaked to improve rider protection and slipperiness through the air. Gone are the old, BMW-only-one-for-each-handlebar indicator switches, replaced by conventional-style indicator triple switch on the left bar only.
Options for the bike, as you would expect from BMW, are plentiful and include the likes of the 2D dash, quick-shifter from the HP2 model and ESA II suspension adjuster.
Outwardly, at first glance, you might not notice much of the 2009 changes, subtle they definitely are, but once on the road they all add up to a breathtakingly good motorcycle. The integrated mirrors and indicators add to the look and the brilliant headlight is recessed enough to not be too bold or garish, despite the reflectors surrounding it.
On the move, the first thing that strikes home is the riding position. I’m average height and the bike fitted my 5ft 10in frame perfectly. You feel very much inside the bike instead of perched on top of it like you can do with a pure-bred racebike for the road. And from that point of view it all feels somewhat retro, like those bikes from the late 1980s or early 90s.
This is most definitely not a bad thing. BMW say that the K1300S should be classed in the same market area as the Suzuki Hayabusa, but I think that’s wrong. The S is a bike with much more poise than the Suzuki bruiser, it’s easier to get along with on a slow, traffic splitting trot and when the road opens up or even turns into a mini-racetrack it takes on completely different characters.
Engine wise, there’s a huge dump of torque when you open the throttle, and all the way up to Warp Factor 9 it all lends itself to just being lazy with the gear changes as you roll into and out of the power. It is as easy to ride, at pace, as a much smaller bike. And there’s not many motorcycles of this size that I would feel saying that about. The motor is brilliant fun.
There is still some unwanted vibration, certainly when the revs are pushing up (past 7000rpm) and the speeds are at a level where your licence would be dust. It was annoying after a prolonged blast along the Spanish motorways, but not enough to stop me getting on an S with a huge smile on my face.
Part of that sheer ability and plushness of the ride is in no small part down the ESA II suspension system. Now, I said this last month when I rode the K1300R and GT models in the BMW range which were also fitted with the add-on, but if you buy this bike do what you have to in order to find the £617 asking price.
It makes such a difference to every ride you’ll go on with the bike. The ESA II system is basically a collar of material (called an Elastogran), which controls rear spring preload at the push of a button.
Optional extras >>
• Heated grips
• Luggage rack (new)
• Low rider’s seat (approx 790mm/31.1", step arch length 1750mm/68.9")
• Anti-theft warning system
• ESA II (Electronic Suspension Adjustment II; new)
• HP Gearshift Assistant (new)
• Multi-colour paintwork
• ASC Anti-Slip Control
• TPC Tyre Pressure Control
• On-board computer including oil level warning
• Luggage rack with installation kit
• Watertight tank rucksack
• Watertight tank bag including fastening elements
• Set of sports cases including case supports
• Sports soft bag, small 19 litres/large 51 litres
• Watertight luggage roll, 53 litres, including fastening belt with tightening lock
• HP Gearshift Assistant (new)
• HP Instrument Cluster (new)
• Main stand
• On-board toolkit – service kit
• Paddock stand including adapter
• 230 V/110 V battery charger including adapter
• Repair kit for tubeless tyres
• Heated grips with switch unit
• Low rider’s seat (approx 790mm/31.1", step arch length 1750mm/68.9")
• Windshield, tinted
• HP rider footrests (new)
• HP passenger footrests (new)
• HP forged wheels, front (3.50 x 17") and rear (6.00 x 17")
• HP carbon seat cover
• HP carbon clutch cover
• HP carbon heat protector for standard muffler (new)
• Akrapovic sports muffler (new)
• HP carbon tank cover (new)
• HP carbon wheel cover, front
• HP carbon air box cover
• Electronic immobiliser with remote control
Activated by a three-position switch on the left handlebar there are three options; Comfort, Normal or Sport. At first you might think that this was just another gimmick, something that perhaps wouldn’t make that much difference when you are out on the bike - and that would be hugely wrong.
A thumb prod at the button, a few seconds later and the bike turns from comfortable motorway cruiser to either confident city bike or edgy cornering machine. It really is that good.
Up front, the brakes are just superb. Loads of feedback through the lever and the bike’s duolever suspension combining with the 320mm discs and four-piston calipers to tell you everything that’s happening with the tyre.
Only hope you don’t buy the bike with the Conti Sport Attack tyres, as some of the bikes on test were fitted with. I can’t be sure if the temperature (9 degrees to around 15) or some other factor came into play, but the tyres were vague and ridiculously slippery on the mountain roads. Other tyres on other 1300S machines felt much better.
But let’s not get hung up on things like that. The bike’s quick-shifter worked well (a neutral throttle or one part opened meant absolutely glitch free upshifts without the clutch) but did seem slightly out of place on the S.
And that’s because the whole poise of the bike lends itself to a more composed and secure ride, certainly not the manic, knife-edge, flick-it-in-and-fire-it-out of any of its track-derived competition. The quick-shifter works well enough, but feels a bit like putting go faster stripes on an Aston Martin. A bit too much.
Adding to the everyday, quality feel of the S is the superb seat. At 820mm I didn’t have any problems with it during the couple of days of riding we did but for those short-legged, or who might want a bit more leverage whilst paddling the 228kg bike around, BMW does a 790mm low-seat version.
Pillions are looked after well on the bike too, the passenger seat and low footrests again reminding me of the bikes from a couple of decades ago, when more bikers probably did take pillions out on rides with them in this class of motorcycle.
Right from the start of my time with the K1300S I felt like I got it. This isn’t some sort of muscle-bound, shirt-ripping superbike that can blast your eyes to the back of your head in a nano-second (although that motor is astoundingly good), nor is it a comfortable, all-day-long, bolt-upright tourer.
This is something of a Grand Tourer in the same way that an Aston is. Yes, there is faster on the market, yes there are huge tourers out there that will cross continents in more luxury. But right now, I am struggling to think of any motorcycle out there that can combine the pair of roles so well.
So is this a Superbike? Maybe not in the most modern, strictest of senses but it is a bike that combines the best of the greats from yesterday with the most modern of today’s touches. And it can do all that while still bringing in around 48mpg too.
Very nice indeed.
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