Another perfect bend snakes through Amalfi olive groves under an impossible August sky, too blue for Monday. Heidi squeezes me with her thighs from the pillion seat and I smile as I recount our cheeky weekend in Paris. The 400 miles since breakfast in Geneva were almost as much fun, but nowhere near as dirty. The bike is comfortable and fast. Terminator in a smoking jacket. Robot rock. I don’t want to stop at Salerno but Naomi is waiting for us on the yacht, and as I bundle up the first of our Louis Vuittons to the deck-hand I’m touched by a moment of indecision. The K1600GT is calling to me from the quayside, begging for more, and I have to weigh up my choices: latest model vs supermodel, thrill seeker vs Sunseeker. It’s a close call, but the deal is clinched by Heidi, up on deck, with a mojito in one hand and Naomi’s bra in the other.
I’m still wearing my riding gear when I wake to the sound of waves, the remains of a small haddock & chips slicking onto my chest. Gather your bearings, collect your thoughts. Salerno becomes Gosport, the yacht morphs into a park bench, the girls are nowhere to be seen. But the bike, the bike’s still there, still shooting me those looks.
I’d picked it up earlier that morning from Vines, and it’s mine for a day until the GS has been serviced and MOTd. Why the GT? Why not. It’s not a style of bike I’d want to own, at least not yet, but those 1600 cee-cees hiding in that straight six make for an enticing package. Throw in cruise control, a decent radio, various suspension and engine profiles, electric screen, central locking luggage with remote, adaptive xenon headlights and a dashboard that’s a cross between a 50s juke box and the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, and you’ve got something the size and price of a Dorset cottage.
It’s not out of place in sleepy Surrey villages either, stable at low speeds, with just enough of a note in the exhaust to make you look forward to hitting the nationals. A bike you could take to meet your parents on the first date. We’re off to the usual, tentative just-met start; over-revved under-clutched gear changes, fumbled signals, nervous elbows, unnecessary lifesavers. I think about slipping the engine into ‘rain’ profile until we clear suburbia to soften things up a bit, but half an hour in and first impressions have been made, no need for d’you-come-here-often niceties now. Friends already.
Instead I set the ESA to ‘sport’ and the engine management to ‘dynamic’ before squirting it into a long, gentle left hander devoid of traffic. The bike feels firmer now, more responsive, but not so drastically different as to intimidate. The legal limit comes as quickly as the next roundabout, and we’re off again, seeking the horizon, rinse and repeat. This may be the upper end of the scale motorcycle touring, aimed at affluent forty-somethings not yet ready to shelve the bug, but it’s not beyond a good hoon. Half an hour passes like ten minutes before Mister Sulu informs me that our fuel consumption has dropped to just 41 mpg. Oh dear – it was 64 just a minute ago when we were trickling through the Surrey Hills. Progress at a price then.
By now we’re well and truly stuck in the traffic, miles upon miles of tweed-clad Henrys in little sports cars topped with wicker baskets. It can only be Goodwood. Luckily the dual carriageway’s quite wide here, and apart from the occasional van hugging the dotted line we make good progress. But this isn’t real filtering. You could drive a bus up the courier lane as easily as the K1600GT and worry less about clipping a mirror. There’s one saving grace to it’s bulk, one ace up it’s sleeve: from the front, to your average sardine, it throws the exact shape of a police bike. Those adaptive xenon headlamps probably help somewhere along the line too, and before long I’m clear of wartime rationing enthusiasts and free to press on.
Only I press a little too hard, and completely miss the exit for Bognor. Oh well, Hayling Island then. Whoosh. Nope. Gosport? Why not. I wasn’t really heading anywhere in particular, just as long as there was sun, sea, and chips involved I’d be happy. I’d forgotten just how far you have to go down the A32 before you find something akin to civilisation, but managed it in the end, parking the bike on the pavement outside a parade of shops in a bout of just-back-from-europe-where-they-do-this-all-the-time nonchalance. Sorted.
The local fish & chip emporium had set out plastic furniture on the pavement outside, and I dumped my jacket and lid in the sun before ordering something my arteries wouldn’t have. Only they couldn’t take my £20 note, as it’s an old one, and the lady from the bank had been in only last week to tell them off. Eh? I use these all the time in London, but instead of making a fuss I plaice my order (tee-hee) and set out to get change while the fish is fried. Only Natwest and Halifax can’t change the note because I haven’t got an account with them. What? Absurd. I spy a McDonald’s, but I’m sold on fish & chips and use my perfectly legal £20 to buy a bottle of water instead. The girl behind the counter doesn’t bat an eyelid, offering “I bet it’s hot in that” while pointing at my jacket. Her Dad rides a bike and is out there right now, making the most of the last few warm weekends. I know just how he feels. Back at the chippie my ability to get change for a £20 is met with disbelief (the lady from the bank was here just the other day) but the fish is almost ready so again I let it slide. Only now they’ve run out of chips, and it’ll be another 5 minutes before they can serve the line of customers that’s stretching out the door. Broken Britain? I’m not sure it ever worked.
Suddenly I’m no longer in the mood for pavement people watching, and retreat to a quiet bench by the water to stare at the bike and imagine what it’s like to own one. It’s pleasantly warm for mid September and the fish is guilty greasy good, making me sleepy.
The bike then. £17k for a tourer that can do everything, as long as you stay on the black stuff? Why not. It’s comfortable, fast, efficient, maybe even brilliant. But it’s not for me. Like Heidi and Naomi, this thing is great to spank for an afternoon, but I wouldn’t want to live with it’s limited ability and expensive habits. Sure, you’ll get from Paris to Cannes in one, comfortable smile, but throw it aggressively round some gravelly mountain roads and all you’ll come back with is an overdraft. Maybe I expect too much from my ride or maybe I’ve been spoiled by the GS, who knows. Right now I like to get somewhere in comfort, go scratching when the itch takes me, and explore random little trails where tarmac is a rumour. Owning a GS lets me do all of this on the same bike, and anything else I’ve ridden since, no matter how brilliant, just doesn’t compete if it can’t tick the same boxes. Maybe the desire for a big, comfy cruiser like the K1600GT will sneak up on me with age, like classical music or corduroy. Maybe not.