We sampled five of the best sport-touring machines on the market and rode them 1000 miles up the California coast – the result is our 2008 Super Sport-Touring Shootout.
Shivering and wet, we crouched behind protective windscreens, clutching handlebars for those final, weary miles home. The steady rain had long ago soaked riding boots and it was waterlogged fingers that made constant wipes across visors. Headlights pierced the blackness ahead, illuminating the dark bark of Douglas Firs, a far cry from the palm trees and sunny skies four days and a 1000 miles earlier when we started our 2008 Super Sport-Touring Shootout.
When MotorcycleUSA lined up its ’08 sport-touring comparo this past winter, our entire Oregon office was, to borrow a line from Johnny Cash, “as gone as a wild goose in winter.” Flying down to Southern California with enough gear for a four-day tour, our test riders hopped off a plane and onto five sport-touring motorcycles for a motor migration home. Along the way we’d plod through drizzling rain, blinding fog and chilly temps, but enjoy every minute as we covered 1100 miles of California’s scenic Pacific coastline.
We’ve been looking forward to our 2008 Super Sport-Touring Shootout all year. Our last S-T comparo, back in 2006, pitted the Yamaha FJR1300 against the then all-new BMW K1200GT. In that face-off, the Beemer was victorious by a slim margin over the Yamaha, which was the winner of our first-ever S-T Shootout back in 2004. We knew bringing back the Beemer and Yamaha, along the auto-shifting AE version of the FJR, was a no-brainer, but we had to see how the new kid on the Sport-Touring block, the Kawasaki Concours 14, held up. And if the much-hyped C14 was getting an opportunity to re-order the S-T food chain, it seemed only fair to give the granddaddy of them all, the Honda ST1300, a chance to prove its mettle.
The horsepower dyno chart shows the Kawasaki dominance, with the new C14 besting its nearest rival by 10 ponies at 133.8 hp at the rear wheel.
Although each bike in our test has its own personality and quirks (just like our riders), similarities across the shootout entries are evident. For starters, these are all purpose-built sport-touring platforms, equipped with standard integrated hard luggage and touring-friendly adjustable windshields. All five bikes are also shaft driven, with each manufacturer providing ABS-equipped versions of their mounts.
The blanket similarities end in the engine department. Although the BMW, Kawasaki and Yamahas are pure liquid-cooled Inline-Four muscle, the Honda features a longitudinally-mounted V-Four configuration.
It’s not surprising that the largest displacement machine, the 1342cc Concours 14, churns out the most horsepower on our Dynojet 200i. After all, the C14 takes its monster motor from the mighty 160-hp Ninja ZX-14. The hard numbers at the rear wheel for the new Connie are an impressive 133.8 hp. The hp figure towers 10 ponies more than its nearest competition, the BMW at 123.8 hp, with the Yamahas right there as well – the regular FJR topping out at 123.6 and the auto generating 120.1. The Honda ST1300 maxes out 10 below the Yamahas at 109.3 hp. A distinctive characteristic on the hp chart is how the Beemer and Kawi make their peak horsepower over 1000 revs later in the powerband than the other Fours.
The Kawasaki also comes out on top in torque production, but all the four-cylinder mills churn out lb-ft in the 80s, except the Beemer which is close at 79.7.
The brutal Concours 14 reigns supreme in torque production with 89.2 lb-ft at 7300, but the advantage is a mere 0.4 lb-ft more than the Yamaha, which peaks 600 revs earlier. The AE version of the FJR is next with 85.9, followed by the Honda at 83.6 lb-ft. The high-revving Beemer is the least bounteous torque producer of the Fours, topping out at 79.7 lb-ft at 7800 rpm.
Rolling the bikes off the dyno and onto our Intercomp scales, we gathered weight measurements. The lightest bike is the BMW K1200GT at 630, followed by the Yamahas – 632.4 and 646.4 (auto). The powerful Kawasaki is second-heaviest, subtracting the weight of fuel from its 5.8-gallon tank the C14 tips the scale at 649 lbs. The heaviest of the lot is the oldest, the Honda ST1300, at 684 lbs.
As anyone who has taken part in a group riding experience can attest, it takes time to get an expedition underway. Our 2008 Super Sport-Touring Shootout was no exception, a fact not made any easier by our test riders trying to unlock the riddles of each manufacturer’s luggage system – all in defiance of the owner manuals and at the risk of tipping our brittle sanity over the edge.
Actually, it wasn’t as bad as that. The C14’s bags are idiot-proof, and roomy – the best in the bunch by our estimation. The Yamaha and Honda bags are also straightforward, with the FJR hard cases accompanied by interior soft bags (the only in our test to do so). The BMW saddlebags are peculiar but once you get the knack for their push key removal, they almost match the C14 for ease and may exceed it in storage capacity.
Alright, having been weighed on the scales, poked and prodded on the dyno and packed to the brim by eager touring geeks, it was time to test these machines in their element – a long-distance excursion.
Our intial plans for the 2008 Super Sport-Touring Shootout included the Moto Guzzi Norge, but we discovered the air-cooled Italian Twin was no match for its Inline-Four rivals. Stay tuned for our stand alone test of the Norge.
Our plan was straightforward – fly down and ride home. Spurning the tedious I-5, it was the coast for us, even with promises of rain showers further north. Mirroring the shoreline, our route would follow the idyllic Pacific Coast Highway and US-101. Along the way we took advantage of some spectacular backroads, but US-1 was our route of choice. So, with the Pacific to our left and the continental U.S. to our right, we headed north through Malibu, San Simeon, Big Sur, Golden Gate and the Redwood forest – some of the most beautiful country in the world.
A combined 6500 miles and 166 gallons of Premium later, we were home. With our riding gear drying out, it was time to scratch out our notes and scoresheets. The following is our result, with bikes listed in no particular order. So, just lean back in the office chair and follow along as MotorcycleUSA rides up the Pacific Coast.