Dearly beloved, the Truth is Out There, but it’s not always easy to decipher what it is in this 20-year old MO shootout – only four years after the world’s first online motorcycle mag made its glorious debut. Well, more tenuous than glorious. It was tough to borrow motorcycles from the manufacturers to test when the interwebs were just getting started, and even tougher to produce real-magazine quality content on a bean burrito budget. Especially when things went wrong. Which they did a lot. And yet, this is the way MO was when we were very poor and very happy. Actually, not much has changed. Amen.

1998 Sport Tourers

The Truth is Out There

So many sport tourers, so little time. Seeing all the choices available for testing this year, we decided to break up the sport touring test into arbitrary categories: twins and not twins. We even contemplated a bagless sport tourer shootout but that would be, well, too arbitrary.That left us with the big boys, the Autobahn burning, 100-mile-an-hour traveling, road-devouring, big-bore beasts such as Honda’s ST1100 (winner of our original sport tourer shootout: Smiles Through the Miles), BMW’s road-eating K1200RS, and Triumph’s Trophy 1200. What, no Trophy 1200s in the Triumph test fleet? Then how about a 900? Okay, no Trophy at all, only a Sprint Executive. Okay, I guess we’ll take it.

So, left with three thinly disguised big-bore sport bikes, we were on the fast track to motorcycle nirvana, right? Well, not quite. Some may remember Greg McClure’s Crashing Hell article a few months back. One Triumph with over-inflated tires can ruin a whole shootout, so with only the BMW and Honda left, the staffers still standing just wanted to get through the shootout in one piece.

We were left with two very different species of sport tourer, both suited to perform the same tasks, but in very different ways. The ST1100 is Honda’s ultimate high-performance compromise, specifically engineered to handle in turns, go fast, and do it over long distances. Until the R1100S debuted earlier this month, the K1200RS was BMW’s all-out sportbike. Still, BMW is true to their sport-touring philosophy and they can’t imagine making a a motorcycle without saddlebags, which was perfect for our test.

Predictably, each motorcycle has its areas of expertise. The ST1100 was competent but very vanilla at just about everything, sticking to its unstated mission statement of being the jack-of-all-trades. The K-bike is harder-edged, with a bigger, more powerful motor and sharper handling. In packing for our journey, we discovered a rare anomaly in the otherwise well-designed Honda: the saddlebags suck. First, the latches are located dangerously close to the pipes.

“In most ways the ST1100 is superior at freeway riding: Better weather protection, cushier suspension, relaxed ergonomics, and a power band that’s all midrange. “

To remove the bags you have to Honda, sometimes criticized for over-engineering, has located the bag removal latches in the worst place possible. insert the key, turn, lift halfway up (the key gets in the way of fully disengaging the clasp), turn the key back, remove it, then lift the latch fully. You then slide the bag towards the back of the bike. This was by far the worst system of the three tested. The Beemer bags simply have two handles — one to unfasten the bags from the bike and one to open the bag. This system is great for over-stuffing, but even without over-filling the bags the BMW held more than the Honda, although not as much as the Triumph. The Sprint Executive had the easiest system to use and stored the most gear. Pity it didn’t last the test.

Every escape from Los Angeles involves a freeway. In most ways the ST1100 is superior at freeway riding: Better weather protection, cushier suspension, relaxed ergonomics, and a power band that’s all midrange. In jurisdictions that allow lane splitting, maneuvering through traffic is easy. Its narrow and low-placed mirrors aren’t at the same height as most car mirrors while the bags tuck in nicely and the fat powerband tugs you past any obstructions. One problem is that the super-quiet exhaust note does not alert cars to your presence. In contrast the K1200RS is a complete pig in traffic.

Its top-end-happy powerband likes to be revved, the steering damper slows low-speed maneuvers and the bags too wide.

Out on the open highway the K is still edged by the ST, because the K’s ergonomics are uncomfortable for many riders. The rear sets are too far forward and the reach to the handlebars is far too long.

The one area where the K12 flat stomps the ST11 in is in high speed passing. Once the K reaches speed, it hauls.

In fact the K1200RS begs you to leave the freeway, and once you do you won’t regret it. You should plan entire trips in the twisties, staying clear of any road with more than four lanes. The K1200RS is that good in the twisties.

Although heavy steering around town, gently lean into a curve and the K12 is right there for you, tracking more predictably than a bike its size has a right to. Although it lacks the outright power of bikes like the ZX-11 and the CBR1100XX, even fully loaded with bags it should give them a run through the canyons.

Until we got into the tight stuff we were enamored with the Honda’s smooth-shifting transmission, but when pounding through the gears in the canyons, the clunky accuracy of the BMW was a plus. The softer-edged Honda had to push to keep up with the BMW K1200RS because in the twisties, the ergonomics that served so well on the open road didn’t allow for same sort of aggressive riding that the K1200RS did. The fact that the ST1100 weighs 80 more pounds didn’t help either.

Across the board, the ST1100’s excellent brakes and traction control out-performed the Beemer’s. Honda’s ABS II is very non-intrusive, slowing you steadily to a complete stop. Even stomping down hard on the rear brake will cause only a controlled stop.

Try doing the same on the Beemer and the ABS will pulse and click but you won’t slow much. The Traction Control System (TCS) on the ST1100, which compensates for wheel slides, is very handy in the rain and is selectable at startup. We rode both in the rain and both handled without any surprises.

If you want to do wheelies (as if ST1100s are purchased as hooligan bikes) you’ll have to turn it off. There is no TCS system on the BMW, but it did seem overly reluctant to lift the front wheel off the ground. This isn’t a bad thing for most riders, particularly the sensible, middle-aged sport-touring demographic both manufacturers are targeting with these bikes. Wheelies aren’t why people buy these bikes.

Basically, it comes down what kind of riding you want to do. If you value character and a more-sporting edge and you aren’t so concerned with price, buy the K1200RS. The Beemer’s a better choice if you plan to sport tour on nothing but twisting roads with gas stations every 150 miles. If your interested in overall utility, a mix of freeway and back road touring capability and price, give the nod to the Honda ST1100, the first bike in MO history to win consecutive shootouts.


1: Billy Bartels, Associate Editor

That’s what this test comes down to. What purpose do you want to put a sport-tourer to? If you want to travel vast highway miles at a serious clip but desire to to scoot down the scenic route with a few extreme leans thrown in, if you are a disciple of function believing after all is said and done that character and soul lose out to utility, then the ST1100 is for you. There are very few motorcycles that do the range of things well that this bike does. Touring, commuting, whatever, motorcycles don’t get much more vanilla than this.

However, if you want a Sport Tourer with killer handling, and a great top-end rush, the Beemer should be your choice. And this on a Touring Bike! The ergonomics are definitely meant more for sport riding than touring, but if you keep it above 70, the wind holds you up. Ergos? Who needs stinking ergos!

2: Mark Hammond, Managing Editor

The ST1100 is absolutely dowdy looking. Like the Pacific Coast, this is a motorcycle that wishes it were a car, perhaps an Accord to the PC800’s Civic. Still, I have to admit that it is one fine dorky-looking motorcycle. It’s comfortable, one of the most comfortable motorcycles I have ever ridden. It has excellent wind protection and great ergonomics. The ST1100 is also smooth and fast, so smooth that it’s easily to wander into triple-digit speeds without really noticing.

“The BMW K1100RS looks fast and it is. Even more so than the ST1100, triple-digit speeds are virtually unnoticed until you see the flashing red lights in your mirrors.”The K1200RS likes to go fast. And, like all BMWs, the K1200RS is a beautifully designed motorcycle. Unfortunately the consumer often pays for BMW’s attention to detail, they are very expensive motorcycles. With bags, the K12 will cost you almost $17,000 before tax, fees and insurance.

Even so, the Beemer might have won if it weren’t so uncomfortable. Basically, to feel comfortable on the K12 you need the legs of Toulouse Lautrec and the arms of an orangutan. I was good for about a half an hour before I had to get off, my legs cramping and my arms and shoulders aching in pain. If I wanted to feel like that I’d mount a Gixxer.

Between the two bikes I’ll have to choose comfort over cool since the cool wasn’t so cool that I’d schedule weekly appointments with a chiropractor. BMW offers a riser and peg kit that helps ease the pain, but after ponying up $17,000, I don’t want to pay another few hundred dollars to make something comfortable that should be so in the first place. If I wanted to spend even more money just to make a motorcycle feel right after forking over 17 grand, I’d buy a Harley. However, I think I’ll hold on the my money and wait for the BMW R1100S, the Ducati ST4 or the Buell S3.

  • Mad4TheCrest

    Nice flashback. Now I wonder what the current descendants of these bikes would be and how they’d compare after nearly 20 years of evolution? Which current models would Honda and BMW put forward as today’s equivalents to the ST100 and K1200RS? Triumph for the Sprint?

    • I’d say BMW still offers the largest selection of ST bikes of those three brands. You can order a stripper K1600GT (good luck actually finding one) with about double the power and torque of the ’98 K1200 for $22,595. Adjust the ’98’s $16,000 MSRP to 2017 dollars and the new bike is $2,000 cheaper.

      Honda doesn’t offer an ST bike in the USA anymore. the last year for the ST1300 – the 1100’s very, very, very good replacement – was 2012 and it was about $18,000. A clean used one would be a nice find. The VFR1200X looks like a capable ST bike, even if it’s really an ADV, but looks like it’s been discontinued for 2018. There’s also the STX1300 if you can look at it without barfing.

      Triumph is also out of the ST and luxury-tour game but has some nice ADV’s to look at.

      • TonyCarlos

        I suppose the K16 serves as the new K12RS, but only due to lack of anything else. As top heavy as the K12 is criticized for being, the K16 is worse. And it’s MASSIVE.
        While one will complain about the K16s power, it’s far from double the K12’s. The older bike made 130 HP.
        Full disclosure: I’ve still got a K12RS. It’s midrange power is one of its best features. The ergos are fixed by adding barbacks, putting the seat in the upper position and the pegs in their lower. It’s great at touringif you aren’t expecting Gold Wing levels of protection. And you can at least pretend it’s a sport bike in the twisties.
        For a tourer fuel mileage sucks (upper 30s), and the left bag is a joke. But they’re cheap and durable. A real bargain as most BMW guys want twins.

        • That ol’ flying brick motor is legendary for its durability. My BMW mechanic told me he NEVER had to adjust a valve on one, ever.

          What do you think of the new R1200RS? I think it looks like a good light ST bike.

          • TonyCarlos

            My experience mirrors your mechanic’s. The old Brick is as close to maintenance free as I’ve see in bike engines. The exception being the rear main seals which dry out with age and are a PITA to access.
            I’ll admit to having owned nearly every version of RS BMW has made of late. I’ve had them in R100, R1100, K100, K1100, and now K1200 flavors. So I guess I’m an RS kinda guy. While the newish R12RS looks like a fun ride, it’s a bit small for my current needs. Much of my riding these days is two-up and I doubt she’d be happy for long on the back of that bike. I’d probably lean towards an RT for my next ride……if ever I could wear out my K12RS.

          • Alaskan18724

            Nice bike, all the way around.

        • Alaskan18724

          I still love the R1200RT.

      • Alaskan18724

        ST1300 is a lovely bike. My mother taught me not to say anything if I couldn’t say something nice, so that STX is an ugly, steaming hot mess.

        I frequently don’t do as my mother taught me. Shame.

    • Patrick Callahan

      Sadly, I don’t think Honda makes the ST1300 any longer, they booted it in favor of the CTX1300. And BMW offers their R1200RT, no doubt one of the best in its class.

      • Alaskan18724

        Agreed. Probably my next bike, at least today.

  • Alaskan18724

    Really liked the ST1100. Something grabbed me about that smooth, longitudinally-mounted V-4. Tuxedo black. If memory serves, Peter Egan owned one. I pay attention to Peter Egan. Liked the BMW, too; but, then as now, I prefer my BMWs with two cylinders. Although for some reason the new K1600B really has my attention. Not really a bagger guy, but I sat on one. Aaaaah.

    • Mad4TheCrest

      That K1600 Bagger looks ‘right’ to me even though I have never had a desire to ride cruisers. It’s sleek, swoopy, and boasts a killer motor for the job. It’s also big and expensive and 80% wasted over the type of riding I typically do. If I wanted a life of frequent medium-range weekend overnight trips, the K bagger would be at or near the top of my choice list.

      • Alaskan18724

        Feels right, too. Just fits….

    • Mark D

      That big K-bike bagger is a HUGE. They somehow stuffed one into the bar at Newcomb’s Ranch, and it looked like a tractor in there.

      That being said, my pillion rider desperately wants one!

      • Alaskan18724

        The GTL really feels huge. The is objectively close to the same size, but the riding position of the B completely changes the dynamic. The first time I climbed on one, I couldn’t believe how natural it felt. A big surprise.

      • Mad4TheCrest

        I was shocked to see that K-bagger inside Newcombs. I would have loved to watch them wrangle that thing into that small space.

  • Jon Jones

    Great wheelie pic of the ST1100! Love my ’91. Will keep it ’til the end.

  • Terry Smith

    I’ve been enjoying a 1990 ST1100 for a happy 18 months since I bought it back from the dead (parked up for 10 years with no pre-storage prep). I’ve modified the front end with a second cartridge replacing the damper rod in the left leg, and then re-valved and re-sprung the fork. With an aftermarket rear shock, the ST is actually a pretty fine handling bike that is immune to road irregularities, and can maintain a decently swift pace as long as rapid steering and acceleration aren’t required. The engine must have a big flywheel because it is pretty casual about accelerating, but holds a steady speed very easily.

  • StripleStrom

    my favorite day with my st1100 was the day I sold it. Never connected with that bike for some reason.

    • Terry Smith

      I was on the point of selling my ST after refurbishing it. I also have a VFR800 and VTR1000 and initially did not gel with the ST. Then I did a full day’s riding on some great twisty roads, and got off feeling like I could do them all over again straight away. At that point I started to understand the strengths of the ST as a low stress comfy way of covering serious miles. Having said that, I always need to recalibrate my expectations when I get back on the ST after riding my other bikes, as it does feel heavy, slow and ponderous initially.

      • Jon Jones

        Good assessment. I remember test riding an ST when I was young and beautiful. Too ponderous and dull for for a dashing young man.

        Then scored a clean used one in my mid-forties. Now it made sense and love blossomed. I own some nice bikes, but the ST is almost always my first pick. It’ll pull off a thousand-mile day with no drama and fine comfort. Pretty impressive for a bike made in ’91. The fuel range is one of the biggest attributes—nothing like 300 worry-free miles to carry you across desolate places.

        • elgar

          Indeed, comfy is an understatement with the Honda. I rented an ST1300 some years ago for a 5 day ride in the hills of Georgia/Tennessee/Kentucky averaging about 450 miles per day. At the end of each day, no aches or pains or numb butt, or fatigue. Kind of porky, but man, the comfort was astonishing. Beautiful part of the world…

          • Jon Jones

            Lovely part of the country, indeed.

            And I’ll acquire a nice ST1300 some fine day.

          • Alaskan18724

            Toss in western North Carolina and the Parkway through Virginia. ST heaven.

      • StripleStrom

        You guys might be on to something. I owned it when my desire for riding at a more spirited pace was peaking, and I found it just too heavy to ride at the pace I desired. As soon as I got on a lighter bike the fun returned to my riding, and I didn’t feel like I was always riding on the edge of what the bike can do.
        However, at 42, I am starting to look harder at a touring bike, and it might very well be that I could appreciate it at this time in life.

        • Alaskan18724

          Right on, brother.

          • Patrick Callahan

            Well, I’m 62 and am still riding a sport bike (CB1000R) albeit with handlebars. In our SoCal canyons, you just need a carving knife.😜

          • Alaskan18724

            I’ve never ridden a full-boat touring barge, but I like the comfort/performance trade-off of a good sport tourer. Peace.

  • Sayyed Bashir

    “One problem is that the super-quiet exhaust note does not alert cars to your presence.” Honda listen: Loud pipes do save lives.

    • TC

      This was in the age of innocence, before texters and road ragers. Loud pipes only pisses people off and triggers their homicidal instinct.

    • TonyCarlos

      One might be inclined to believe that the loud pipes crowd was motivated by safety concerns if it weren’t for the fact that they so frequently compliment their illegal exhausts with black clothing, no added lights or reflectors, and minimal if any head gear.
      We all know their real motivation even if they won’t admit it.

      • Sayyed Bashir

        I am sorry for your generalization. I wear black leathers, don’t have any extra lights or reflectors on my Harley, do wear a helmet, don’t have loud pipes, have ridden 160,000 miles on my bike in 10 years, and have no incidents to report. People notice me and usually get out of my way or move over into the next lane. And Harley riders are not the only ones with loud pipes.

        • TonyCarlos

          And I’m sorry that you have misread my post.
          First off, I never mentioned Harley. Anywhere. Nor was that brand singled out on the posting I was replying to. The only one mentioning Harley is you! Feeling guilty for some reason?
          Secondly, my “generalization “ was about loud piped riders. You claim to not have them so my comments don’t apply to you. Why do defensive?
          And finally, since you are of the belief that loud pipes are a safety benefit, please link us to the scientific studies that support that opinion. ( Hint: there aren’t any).

          • Sayyed Bashir

            Who else did you mean when you wrote “black clothing, no added lights or reflectors, and minimal if any head gear”? Sport bike riders? The article itself states “”One problem is that the super-quiet exhaust note does not alert cars to your presence.” What else do you want?

          • TonyCarlos

            What else do I want? How about facts?
            Again, please link us to the studies on which your loud pipes’ lifesaving claims are based.
            We’ll wait.

  • kenneth_moore

    “over-inflated tires”

    Sure, that’s the ticket. And, I was in a hurry to meet my wife, Morgan Fairchild.

  • I do miss the elegant and gentlemanly style of early MO. I tried to copy it while adding a more conversational tone, and then I just got self-indulgent and jokey.

  • Buzz

    What about the Kawi Concours?

    (I just had to toss that in. Total blast from the past.)

  • TC

    I bought a new 96 Kawasaki GPZ 1100, added some Givi side cases, a tall windshield, handle bar risers,and a Corbin seat. Sport toured for 30,000 miles on that fast, smooth bike and loved it.

    • WPZ

      Hah-hah! TC, I couldn’t agree more.
      I bought my ’96 ZX1100E (as Kawasaki calls it) near-new in ’01; it was a crate bike.
      101,000 miles later, still the most reliable bike I ever owned, and still doing every single thing I could ask of it.
      It “replaced” my ZG1000 Concours, which certainly should have been in this test, even though the writers would have pooh-poohed it despite its vastly superior weather protection, better luggage, and ridiculously low price.
      However, the ZX did nearly the same touring job and goes way faster.

      • TC

        What a coincidence, I also rode a Concours prior to buying the Gpz. Traded it in and got $3500, which I thought was a great deal. The GPZ had a partially rubber mounted motor, and a six speed (I think), was way smoother that the Concours.