Riding hundreds of miles can be fun. Riding hundreds of miles on twisting roads can be sublime, provided those curvy roads are navigated with the proper mount. And in our modern motorcycle kingdom one genus has evolved to best tackle this task – the Sport Tourers.
The hybrid sport-touring niche bridges the gap between the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink touring approach of the Gold Wing crew (you know the guys with the trailers) and the ergonomic masochism of long-distance rides aboard a production supersport. An inherent compromise between performance and comfort, the sport-tourer is a tricky concept to master, and it’s a relatively small segment. Most manufacturers produce only one purpose-built ST bike and some do it better than others. That’s the purpose of our fourth Sport-Touring Shootout, so let’s introduce this year’s contenders.
This year two stalwarts return, along with an all-new motorcycle and an old favorite yet to test its comparison mettle. First, the familiar Yamaha FJR1300. Twice-winner of past MCUSA shootouts, the FJR has proved a personal favorite of many MCUSA testers and enters 2009 the front runner via its 2008 ST comparo victory. Second, the 2009 Kawasaki Concours 14 returns, having fared well in its comparison debut with a second-place result in 2008.
Now for the new. The BMW K series tourer returns, but with a larger, more powerful motor as the K1300GT. The new GT engine powers the same chassis as its 2006 ST shootout-winning K1200GT predecessor, making it a prime contender. Finally, the Triumph Sprint ST, which we’ve evaluated no less than three times on its own, but never against its ST rivals. Absent this year was the Honda ST1300, the ST unchanged from the last-place finisher in our 2008 shootout.
The bulk of our seat time aboard this ST quartet came during a three-day, 800-mile loop from our Medford, Oregon HQ north up the coast to Astoria and back down the freeway. Considering our last ST comparison covered the California coast, from LA to Oregon, scampering up the full Oregon stretch seemed fitting. The tour delivered a variety of roads from twisty highway to boring superslab. Chilly mornings along with a final day of hard rain and wind ensured extra critical evaluation of rider comfort.
Test riders include myself, author of our last ST comparison, and MCUSA Cruiser Editor Bryan Harley, himself a veteran of the 2008 test. Long-time MCUSA photog/test rider Tom Lavine and his riding pal Donald fill the remaining seats. Recent retirees with a hefty dose of high-performance cravings from decades of police work, Tom and Don fit the sport-touring demographic to a T. Both avid riders, they have owned ST bikes in the past and, who knows, we might have sold them on a couple more after our three-day tour.
Motorcycle USA sampled the 2009 crop of sport-touring motorcycles on more than 800 miles of backroads and the Oregon Coast during a three-day motorcycle tour.
Determining our 2009 winner comes via combination of hard data and rider opinion. Objective facts: horsepower, torque, MSRP, weight, MPG and range, are ranked with a respective 10, 8, 6 and 5 format. The subjective opinions of test riders rated on a 10-point scale in various categories like engine performance, brakes, handling, etc.
But before we get to the grizzly task of ranking motorcycles, let’s make our blanket disclaimer… Ask four people their opinions on four different bikes, more often than not you get four different points of view! Ranking becomes a matter of personal taste, sorting out the differences and quirks. That said, group evaluation often points out the weak spots of a design, and the strong spots too. Enough talk. Read on for our opinion.