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2004 Sport Touring Shootout

Friday, October 15, 2004
Sport-Touring Comparo - The Orient Expresses
Anyone who has traveled on a motorcycle understands the touring conundrum: Fun and nimble motorcycle loaded down with only minimal luggage; or, a truckish touring rig that can dissuade its rider from taking the squiggly lines on a map.

All that's really needed for a sport-touring trip is a tank bag slapped on a sportbike, perhaps augmented by a couple of soft saddlebags for a longer trip. Of course, your contact points with the bike, the seat, handlebars and footpegs, will be subject to the same beating they do on your Sunday morning blasts, only amplified over the hours spent in the saddle.

You kids out there might be surprised to learn that the age of the average motorcyclist is somewhere between 40 and 45. And since there's a bit of a speed freak in nearly every one of them, there exists a market of those who are thrilled with the rush a bike can bring to their lives, all the while coddling its rider as the miles wear on.

Luckily those possessing aging bones and an increasing waistline also usually have an expanded wallet. Speed is still an important factor for old guys, but there's more to sporty touring than just high velocities and excitement.

Bugs in the teeth are no longer as romantic and they once were, so a full coverage fairing is a prerequisite. Chances are, your middle-aged butt has more in common with Fat Elvis than Roustabout-era Elvis, so a cushy seat is welcomed. And to make room for sundry items such as Rogaine, Preparation H and Viagra, lockable hard luggage is appreciated.

Still, let's not forget the speed, or at least the excitement, part.

A jaunt up the coast of California was just what the MCUSA test crew needed to decipher which of this trio is the best sport-touring machine.
A jaunt up the coast of California was just what the MCUSA test crew needed to decipher which of this trio is the best sport-touring machine.
So we've gathered up the biggest sport-tourers offered by the Japanese manufacturers for a Pacific Rim sport-touring face-off. We've previously enjoyed seat time on the cushy Honda ST1300 and we've given you two chances to read about Yamaha's 2003 FJR1300, and a quick ride with Jeff Buchanan on the 2004 ABS-equipped model. Check out these previous tests for some background of this pair to get you up to speed.

Unfortunately, Suzuki doesn't offer a comparable S-T, but Kawasaki launched its ZZR1200R missile in 2002, and this will be our first crack at this descendant of the iconic ZX-11.

We arranged this test to coincide with the World Superbike weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca near Monterey for a swift sport-tour adventure. Our route encompassed nearly every twisty road we could find in between the L.A. Basin and our mid-California coast destination. Well, not every road, but it did take us three hard days of riding that totaled about 40 hours of seat time for a two-way trip that could've taken 10 hours had we simply zoomed up and down I-5. Plus, we did our usual running about and day-tripping around SoCal on either side of our voyage.


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