The GS got the job done no matter the environment. After schooling all but the KTM off-road, its street manners were also rated consistently high.
The R1200GS, on the other hand, is just as adept on the pavement as off. Its height-adjustable seat (32.3-35.4 inches) was kind to all asses no matter how long the legs of its rider, and T-Rod noted that its taller setting makes it flatter and more comfortable. Its five-position adjustable windshield similarly accommodated riders of all sizes.
The Multistrada S has its wonderfully compliant Ohlins suspension to iron out surface imperfections, and its 90-degree V-Twin purrs happily below. The seat is much improved over the first edition of the bike, though it's still not perfect. However, lots of fore-aft space means a rider can vary butt pressure points with plenty of rearward room where the seat is the broadest. Pegs set furthest rearward cramp long legs.
Buell's Ulysses would be a great highway tourer if it had more wind protection. Its broad seat might be the best of this group, and a passenger is treated with a backrest and side grab handles. Two 12-volt outlets for electrical gear like radar detectors or heated clothing is a nice touch. Some of its plastic pieces seem to be of mediocre quality, and its pointy turnsignal switch feels cheap, but perhaps the most annoying part of the Buell experience is high-pitched fan noise that erupts nearly any time the bike is switched off.
Six bikes await their judgment as we tally up the results from all six of our esteemed testers. Drum roll please...
On the highway, the V-Strom is very much in its element. Our testers scored its ergonomics/riding position ahead of everything but the one-size-fits-all BMW, its fairing offers decent protection, and its punchy motor is always willing to make time.
Eventually, and finally, we made our triumphant return to MCUSA's SoCal facility. Stripping off our helmets revealed the broad yet weary smiles that traversing more than 1500 miles, with nearly 300 of them spent off-road, can bring. We crossed state lines no less than eight times, and the scenery we encountered was no less than awe-inspiring. Now it was time to kick back with a well-deserved cocktail or two and fill out the scorecards.
MCUSA's comparison test scorecards consist of 15 categories; each bike receives a score from our testers out of 10 points except for the Passenger Accommodations which is scored out of five points. Particular to this test is the addition of an Off-Road Capability category that is scored out of 20 points. We then compute the numbers to derive a percentage score. To see the scorecard, click here
Sixth Place: Aprilia EVT1000 Caponord (62.8%)
It wasn't pretty for the Caponord. The $11,999 mount was voted last by every tester and picked up the nickname 'Nard. Nice enough, but...
Although we usually rate Aprilia products highly, our comparo proved the Caponord is the Italian company's weakest offering. It scored reasonably well in just three categories (Ergonomics/Riding Position, Transmission/Clutch, Instruments/Cockpit), and was otherwise consistently ranked at or near the bottom of the pack.
To be fair, the Capo is a competent motorcycle, although that's the best we can say about the $11,999 machine. The 'Nard was a unanimous pick by our six testers for last place, held back significantly by poor scores in the Engine, Appearance and Grin Factor categories-three of the most important in our eyes.
"In my book," says BC, "the Aprilia is an exact clone of the Suzuki, except with less of a motor. You would save a lot of money by buying the Suzuki and changing the decals."
Fifth Place: Suzuki DL1000 V-Strom (72.8%)
The V-Strom fell short in many of the areas that a budget-oriented rider might forgive, with a strong engine and comfortable ergos.
Despite its mediocre rating, the $8999 V-Strom has to be seen as the bargain of a group whose nearest price-point competitor is the $11,495 Ulysses. It scored highly in several critical categories, including Engine, Ergonomics/Riding Position and, of course, Value. But its top-heavy feel and low ratings in Fit & Finish, Grin Factor and Appearance held it back.
"The V-Strom proved to be a very capable bike both on- and off-road-definitely the best choice for riders on a budget," BC notes.
A couple of our testers rated the 'Strom in third place overall, but the rest of us slotted it into fifth. Still, for the money it's hard to beat.
"The fact of the matter is, it will go almost anywhere you want it to go," Kenny summarizes. "Add into the mix that you can nearly buy two V-Stroms for the price of a GS and it definitely becomes the clear bargain of bunch.
Fourth Place: Buell Ulysses (73.3%)
The Ulysses came in fourth, beaten out only by its higher-priced rivals. On the dirt it only fell behind the KTM and GS; on the pavement it lacked the wind protection you would expect from a tourer.
The Ulysses is a conundrum wrapped in a riddle, at least for some of our testers, whose ratings varied the most among this group. On one hand, its seat and riding position were scored highly, and yet its diminutive fairing would seem more appropriate on a streetfighter than a style of bike with "touring" in its name. And although the Buell's powertrain is better than ever, it was still a step below our favorites.
On the other side of the ledger, the Ulysses was praised for its sure-footed yet nimble handling, and its off-road ability was judged to be behind only the Beemer and KTM. Passengers fit best on the Uly, and we all appreciated its (optional) well-designed saddlebags and tail trunk. It's also worth noting that it was outscored only by bikes that are pricier.