2011 Luxury Touring Motorcycle Shootout

MotorcycleUSA Staff | September 6, 2011

In the grand scheme of things the luxury touring motorcycle niche is a relatively new category. Sure, motorcycles like Honda’s iconic Gold Wing have been around for decades, but it wasn’t until the last few years that this segment has seen dangerous competition from other brands. Fast forward to today and we’ve got three big name players from distinctly different parts of the globe represented in Motorcycle-USA’S first annual 2011 Luxury  Touring Motorcycle Shootout.

Having invented the class in the mid ‘70s, the Honda Gold Wing is the benchmark when you consider the phrase luxury and touring. Although it certainly didn’t need it, engineers gave it a mild facelift for ’12 which we covered in detail during our 2012 Honda Gold Wing First Look, 2012 Honda Gold Wing Quick Ride and 2012 Honda Gold Wing Adventure Ride articles.

Like before the new G-Wing ($27,099 as tested) continues to make use of a horizontally-opposed and liquid-cooled 1832cc six-cylinder engine that’s powerful enough to power many small cars. The engine is mated to a conventional five-speed manual gearbox that shifts power to the back tire via a shaft drive. The engine is mounted within in a twin-spar aluminum frame that utilizes technology gained from Big Red’s sportbikes including the CBR600RR and CBR1000RR (both two-time Supersport and Superbike Smackdown shootout winners, respectively). Well-calibrated front and rear suspension (with electronic pre-load adjustment) and strong, linked triple disc brakes (with optional ABS) ensure safety, comfort and, of course, performance. Sophisticated gadgetry consisting of an iPod and XM-compatible stereo (with CB and intercom functionality), optional GPS and airbag not to mention heated seats, grips and cruise control are all standard.

Two years ago, Canadian-based powersports brand, Can-Am, released its curious Spyder RT which we test drove in the 2010 Can-Am Spyder RT First Ride. Based off its three-wheel Roadster platform, the RT ($28,099 as tested) was developed for persons looking for a new touring experience beyond what the two or four wheel worlds have to offer.

Powered by a motorcycle-derived V-Twin engine that pumps out 998cc’s of liquid-cooled muscle, the RT utilizes two forward wheels with automobile-style suspension and brakes and one rear drive wheel. Either a manual five-speed transmission (with hand-operated clutch) or optional electronic sequential manual five-speed gearbox is available that puts power to the rear tire via belt final drive. The rider pilots the Spyder with a conventional handlebar. Copious storage capacity and touring-friendly amenities including heated seats/grips, cruise control and an electronically adjustable windshield are also part of the package.

2011 Luxury Touring Motorcycle Shootout
2011 Luxury Touring Motorcycle Shootout torque dyno.2011 Luxury Touring Motorcycle Shootout horsepower dyno.

Though BMW has a far reaching history in the motorcycle touring segment, until this year it lacked a true luxury tourer capable of going head-to-head with the best from Japan and Canada. That changes with the introduction of its all-new K1600 GTL ($26,340 as tested).

Hailed as one of the most advanced touring motorcycles ever built, the K1600 GTL has big shoes to fill before we even threw a leg over it in this comparison. Fortunately for BMW, it seems to be living up to the hype per Editorial Director Ken Hutchison’s dissertation from South Africa in the 2012 BMW K1600GTL First Ride. As stated in 2011 BMW K1600GT First Look and BMW K1600GT Reveal at Jay Leno Garage articles, this new Beemer is powered by a high-tech, liquid-cooled 1649cc Inline-Six with a conventional manual-style six-speed gearbox. That marvelous engine is hung within a fairly lightweight chassis (for its class) that features the German company’s proprietary Duolever front end and Paralever rear suspension that operates through a single-sided swingarm and shaft final drive. A slick, and very forward-thinking user interface allows the rider to control many of the gizmos including the height of the windshield, stereo, cruise control, seat/hand heaters, and suspension and engine power modes via buttons and a flick of the rider’s left wrist courtesy of the multi-function control.

To evaluate the differences between these three machines we mapped a long 750-mile (one way) route from Southern California to this summer’s Red Bull USGP at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. This two-day trek led us through an assortment of different road and weather conditions which made it quite clear where each of these bikes fits in the class. To help authenticate our opinions we ran each bike thorough our standard gamut of performance tests to give readers the most information as possible. Points were then assessed via our tried and true modified Formula One system thus revealing the ultimate luxury touring mount.

MotorcycleUSA Staff