Our most recent Sport-Touring test between the BMW S1000XR, KTM Super Duke GT, and MV Agusta Turismo Veloce was a fun one, as Sport-Touring rides usually are. Whenever you combine great roads with great friends and great motorcycles, the story usually writes itself. Sport-Touring is nothing new, of course, and our most recent test got us wondering what the old MO staff thought were great tourers back in the day. A look back through the archives dug up this, the Lightweight Tourers Comparison of 1996 between the Kawasaki Concours, BMW R1100RT, and Honda ST1100. Enjoy this look back at three great motorcycles, made to burn up miles.
Lightweight Tourers Comparison
Jun. 15, 1996
Smiles Through the Miles
Sportbikes are great, but they’ll break your back on a long ride. Full-dress tourers are a pain to hustle around the canyons. What weapon to choose when you want to combine some fun with serious mileage?
Let’s see, we want serious ground clearance, good handling, sticky tires giving good feedback, combined with enough tankage for at least 200 miles between refills, a fairing that gives enough still air to hide in during a rainstorm with enough space to pack that overnight bag and a camera. Oh, and maybe room for a passenger too. And a heater would be nice, too, for those snow-capped mountain passes (think we’re kidding? One of the bikes here has one). The three machines reviewed here, BMW’s R1100RT, Honda’s ST1100 and Kawasaki’s Concours are all long-legged highway mile eaters, aimed squarely at the sport tourer who wants to cover miles and enjoy them too. They share a common mission: To put fun in any day or weekend long ride. Lets call it smileage.
3. Kawasaki Concours
Kawasaki describes the Concours as spirited. The powerful (we dyno’d it at close to 100 bhp) 1000cc engine is certainly not lacking in top end punch — Kawasaki’s liquid-cooled, DOHC four-valve inline-four Ninja motors have a reputation that is second to none in this arena. With the Concours’ tuning biased toward mid- to upper-rpm performance, it’s perfectly suited for the sport side of the equation.
If winding backroads are the mainstay of your tour’s itinerary, then the Kawasaki rules. Its combination of performance-based engine, firm springing and damping rates, Dunlop K700 series Sport Radials, and sporty riding position form an excellent handling platform that eats up both high-speed sweepers and sinewy mountain curves. The semi-floating dual front discs and powerful twin-piston, single action calipers inspire late braking confidence, even with fully loaded saddlebags and passenger. Generous ground clearance allows you to attain impressive lean angles, especially for such a large bike (585 pounds dry). At speed the Concours hides this weight well, feeling light, nimble, and very responsive to rider input at the bars. The smooth-shifting six-speed gearbox is a delight to use, and its ratios help keep the high-revving engine in the powerband. Shaft effect is not too obtrusive, but is noticeable during spirited riding with the bike fully loaded for touring.
Unfortunately for the Concours, though, many tours spend time on the Interstate. And it’s here that the Concours suffers from it’s sport-bike tuning and engine/frame design. The Concours’ Ninja-based motor is buzzy, really buzzy. And the high-tensile steel diamond frame utilizes the engine as a stressed member. As a direct result of this design, way too much of the engine’s vibration passes through to the rider, quickly fatiguing hands and arms. As the revs climb, so does the intensity level of engine buzz, escalating to an annoying point where it can even be felt through the footpegs.
Sporty ergonomics serve to further diminish long-range comfort. The handlebars are too low and too far forward, forcing the rider to support an excessive amount of weight on his wrists. Grips are too small in diameter. Add engine vibration and the result is hands, arms, and shoulders that begin to tingle after just a few short miles, and plain go numb well before the 7.5 gallon fuel supply needs replenishing, which on the Concours will be around the 210 mile mark.
For both rider and passenger the seat is one of the roomiest, most comfortable saddles that we’ve ever had the pleasure of spending hundreds of miles in. Seat-to-peg relationship is good, even for taller riders, and the wide, rubber-covered footpegs provide good support. Windscreen protection is excellent also, although the top lip of it is curved to reduce turbulence, producing a distorted view. Shorter riders may find this distracting. Rearview vision out the mirrors is superb, providing a wide, unobstructed view of traffic behind.
Touring amenities on the Concours include easily removable saddlebags which attach and detach with just a flip of a latch, and are each large enough to hold a full-face helmet. When the saddlebags are removed, special color-matched side panels can be snapped in place to hide the bags’ mounting points. A small parcel rack is found under a removable cover behind the passenger seat and is flanked by two flip-out bungee hooks. Lockable glove compartments are located on the inside of the fairing to either side of the instrument cluster, and the large, flat fuel tank can easily accommodate a tank bag. Fit and finish on the Kawasaki is good, and it received numerous compliments for its clean, integrated styling.
Around town and open highway drive-ability is acceptable; the 32mm Keihins carburate flawlessly from idle to redline with no hiccups or flatspots. Quick to warm-up, you can ride away almost immediately from a cold start on half choke. The big four-cylinder revs freely, but a distinct lack of low-end torque, coupled with the Concours heft, makes low-speed handling a bit cumbersome. The only adjustments available on the 41mm forks are for spring preload, with both spring and four-way rebound damping on the rear Uni-Trak® shock.
For commuters, ample luggage space allows you to carry all those important necessities to work. The powerful engine and strong chassis make quick work of rush hour. And you’ll arrive all smiles on a quick jaunt to that overnight backwoods hideaway if your route allows you to take winding backroads.
Kawasaki’s Concours still defines the word “Sport” in the Sport Touring class. Heavily biased towards high-performance, this bike’s roots are firmly planted in its Ninja heritage. The Concours has changed very little since it first appeared in 1986, spawning COG, the Concours Owners Group, and a healthy aftermarket along the way. Ultimately, its age makes it pale against the likes of newer sport-tourers like the BMW R1100RT and Honda ST1100.
2. BMW R1100RT
BMW’s boxer twins just keep getting bigger. The progression started when the R1100GS outsized its progenitor, the R1100RS. Now the R1100RT is the biggest — and heaviest — boxer yet. Not that weight will stop the BMW aficionados.
Prime mover of the new behemoth is BMW’s 90hp (claimed, we measure a peak power of 78 bhp) 1100cc opposed twin, whose familiar air/oil cooled cylinders stick out from beneath the all enveloping bodywork. Underneath the recyclable plastic bodywork (We didn’t test it by putting it out at the curb on garbage day), the engine acts as the main frame member, and as a mount for the wishbone-type telelever front suspension and one-sided paralever rear suspender. Bosch Motronic electronic fuel injection and a catalytic converter round out the specs. Colors, according to BMW, are Glacier green, Sinus(!) blue and Siena red metallic.
How does it feel on the move? You definitely know there’s a twin cylinder down there. The level of vibration is never bad, just omnipresent at highway speeds. Overtaking power is available in spades, though some bottom end torque has been sacrificed (compared to the GS model) in the quest for highest power output, since the RT has the same engine as the sport-styled RS model. Even so, it takes a high mountain pass, or very high-speed highway (hey, no speed limits in Montana right now) to faze this twin.
Vibration from the twin, while always present, is never intrusive and never gets annoying. Also easy to forget is the telelever front end. It’s different from anything else on the road, but the only time it is noticeable is under braking, when less dive is present than telescopic forks.
Additional cost options include luggage liner bags (a boon for swift packing in motel rooms) and an anti-theft system. However, we have to say that BMWs seem to be one of the least stolen motorcycles around (We can hear the sound of keyboards clicking here, as hundreds of readers immediately respond with tragic tales of absent beemers).
The all-encompassing fairing is multi-functional, providing a lockable hiding place for radio, speakers, handwarming vents, and adjustable windscreen, knockoff mirrors and turn signals and an auxiliary power take-off point. It also encloses the rider information center (oil temp and fuel gauge). Plus, the front of the fairing sticks out far enough to cover the ungainly (but effective) front suspension wishbone. The unconventional suspension is governed by a single shock absorber and spring mounted in front of the engine. The fork tubes themselves are flexibly mounted at the top fork yoke, and serve merely as convenient connections to the handlebars.
The hard saddlebags are easy to mount and dismount, convenient to use, but lack one important thing — enough space to park a large full face helmet (mediums fit). We can’t imagine paying the sizeable price for this huge sport tourer, and then not having anywhere to safely keep our lid when the bike is parked. The luggage lids will oh-so-nearly close when you put a helmet inside, but not quite. Slap on the wrist to BMW.
Three sizable Brembo discs bring the Sinus blue whale to a halt with alacrity (as in completely fuss-free and surprisingly quickly). On loose surfaces, the second-generation ABS takes over with little fuss — sometimes you don’t even know it’s working. And when you don’t want to stop, the 6.6 gallon tank will carry you 300 miles, with care. The seat ceases to be comfortable long before (actually it’s good for a couple of hours).
The electrically adjustable windshield ceases to be a gadget in wintertime then becomes a necessity. You simply can’t, once you’re used to it, remember what you did without it. Press the handlebar-mounted button, and the ‘shield levers itself up from the fairing. As it rises, wind pressure gradually lessens on your chest and as it reaches the top of its arc, the roar of the wind disappears. At the top of its travel, the shield is still low enough for the average rider to see over it, in case of rain.
BMW’s radio isn’t as impressive. Given the total redesign of the RT’s bodywork, it’s surprising that the radio is such a blatant afterthought, stuck into a sideways-facing locker in front of the fairing. It’s inaccessible while the bike is moving because — says BMW — its locked cover must be closed before driving away — although BMW promises bar-mounted radio controls in the future. At anything above town riding speeds, the speakers are all but impossible to hear while wearing a full-face helmet. BMW does offer optional helmet radio hookups, and it’s the only way to go for sound on a motorcycle.
The standard heated handgrips are a real journey extender on short, winter days, and work much better than the heater ducts in the fairing. When the sun goes down, hitting the ‘bar heater switch raises your endurance by another couple of hours.
1. Honda ST1100
Design criteria of the Honda ST1100 was that the bike should be able to transport Herr Tourer and passenger across the Autobahn at over 100 miles per hour for a full tank of gas, and do it with comfort and style. Goals that one would think might be counter to the needs of the American public. But with local speed limits being raised faster than the stakes at a high-dollar poker game, the big red bike begins to make much more sense.
In the time since its release in 1991, there have been only minor changes from year to year — a different color one year, additional moldings the next — and the same holds true
for the 1995 model. The most striking change this year is the color. It’s now the same bright red as the VFR750R. Rider comfort has been improved by adding two small vents in the wider and more rigid windshield to decrease the amount of back pressure — the force that pushes on the back of the rider causing a strain on the neck muscles. The “wings” on the sides of the bike, actually guards to protect the bike in case of a tip-over, have been increased in size. The right wing has been modified to accept a cable-type locking device, for greater security.
When Honda purpose-builds a motor for a specific bike, they mean it. They started with a 90 degree longitudinally mounted V4 motor that uses belt and gear-driven camshafts. A toothed belt driven off the crankshaft drives an idler gear to which one pair of camshafts is geared. The other half of the V has the same arrangement. The combination allows for easier camshaft removal and replacement during the infrequent valve adjustments, thanks to the shim under bucket actuation arrangement.
Final drive is a maintenance-free shaft, long enough that the jacking effect from throttle position changes is kept to a minimum. Good stopping power for a bike of its size is provided by triple disk brakes with four piston calipers up front and a twin-pot unit out back. Honda’s TRAC anti-dive is built into the left fork leg and activated by the left front brake caliper. It works remarkably well, without the harsh feeling we seem to remember on older bikes when braking on rough pavement. Anti-lock brakes — some of the best in the business — and traction control are optional as a different model, the ST1100A. Honda’s removable bags are much nicer and easier to use than those of the aging Kawasaki, but they have a long way to go before they can hope to match the quality of the BMW’s. When the bags are off the bike, hinged trim pieces fold down to hide the bags’ mounting hardware. The locking mechanism that keep strangers from walking off with your bags attaches to a tab behind the passenger footpegs and can be awkward to access. When mounted, the rear of the bags seem to be unsupported and tend to flap around. Watching an ST go by can be either amusing or disconcerting, depending on whether or not he’s carrying any of your luggage in his bags. But that’s the only area we could fault the ST1100, mechanically. If it weren’t for the BMW in this test, we’re sure that we wouldn’t be making such a fuss over the bags. It’s just that the Beemer’s are that much better.
Out on the more or less open roads of Southern California, it is easy to see that the ST would shine on the Autobahn, through the wine countries of France and Italy, or in the Swiss Alps. The smooth torquey motor just loafs along at about 2500 rpm in top gear at 60 miles per hour. It certainly doesn’t complain about such treatment and would be quite happy to go well over 300 miles to the next gas stop that way, but with the low mounted handlebars and the high non-adjustable windshield, there isn’t the windblast necessary to take the weight off the rider’s wrists at those poky speeds. No, this bike would definitely be happier, as would the rider, either zipping along at triple digit speeds or winding up the throttle through some serpentine mountain pass.
And just because it looks like a touring bike doesn’t mean it can’t handle a few curves. The suspension at both ends is both compliant and well damped, and the solidity of the frame and forks adds to the bike’s composure through fast sweepers. There is ample ground clearance and the stock tires offer enough grip for even the most adventurous canyon carver. The bike’s fun factor is let down just a little by its weight. Hard corner charging on a 660-pounds-dry bike — that’s roughly 100 pounds heavier than the BMW — with luggage and seven gallons of gas is going to get the rider a serious dose of adrenaline. It’s capable of going fast, just do it smoothly.
In all, the ST1100 is a good — very good — sport touring bike. The Europeans know what they want in a bike and when Honda set out to build one for them, they did it the only way they know how, with refinement, quality, and for a decent price. In fact it was because of the price that half of Motorcycle Online’s testers chose the ST over the BMW R1100RT.
A bike dubbed as a “Touring” model must be able to provide a level of comfort that will allow the rider to stay in the saddle for the hours and miles required to meet the day’s tour agenda. It must also provide enough luggage capacity to let passenger and rider bring along enough gear to keep comfortable both on and off the bike.
The Kawasaki Concours has the right stuff, but the wrong motor. The Concours’ buzzy 1000cc engine is just too sport oriented for long-range touring comfort. On one short tour we were barely 17 miles from home when the rider’s right hand began to tingle and fall asleep. Not good. While luggage capacity on the Concours is good, comfort is not. Rank it third.
Second on the list is the BMW R1100RT. It’s supremely comfortable, with the best bars-seat-pegs relationship for a taller riders, and it has plenty of on-board gadgets to tinker with on a long ride. But big, twin-cylinder engines do not make good powerplants for touring machines. Low-rpm vibration from the 1100cc boxer will wear on you. And if you’re spending 15,000 dollars on a motorcycle, it damn well better be smooth as silk.
Which brings us to the Honda ST1100. Great looking, beautifully finished, and not overdone like the Beemer, the ST has the right stuff — large, easy to remove saddlebags, logical, well-laid-out gauges and controls, and comfy ergonomics in a well balanced, great handling package. But most important, the Honda’s big V-4 is the perfect touring engine — good low-rpm response and as smooth as can be – for mile after mile after mile. Add in ABS and Traction Control for 3,000 dollars less than the BMW, and the choice is clear. The Honda ST1100 gets the Number One vote.
Specs and Dyno Charts
Model: 1995 Honda ST1100A/ST1100
Price: $13,999 with ABS, $11,599 without ABS
Engine: 1084cc DOHC liquid-cooled, four valve per cylinder, 90 degree V4
Ignition: Solid-State digital
Final Drive: Shaft, Traction Control System
Suspension: 41mm cartridge fork with TRAC Rear suspension single-shock with 5 position spring-preload and rebound-damping adjustability
Front Brakes: Dual-disc with twin-piston calipers, Anti-lock Braking System
Rear Brakes: Disc with twin-piston caliper
Seat Height: 31.5 inches
Wheelbase: 61.2 inches
Dry Weight: 659.2/634.9 pounds
Fuel Capacity: 7.4 gallons
Warranty: 3 years
Model: 1996 BMW R1100RT
Engine: 1,085cc high camshaft air/oil cooled, four valve per cylinder, opposed twin
Ignition: Solid-State digital Bosch Motronic
Final Drive: Shaft
Suspension: BMW Telelever, single shock, no adjustment
Front Brakes: Dual-disc with four-piston calipers, Anti-lock Braking System
Rear Brakes: Single disc with twin-piston caliper
Seat Height: 30.75 to 32.25 inches
Wheelbase: 58.4 inches
Dry Weight: 563 pounds
Fuel Capacity: 6.6 gallons
Warranty: 3 years, unlimited miles
Model: Kawasaki Concours
Engine: 997cc dual overhead camshaft, water cooled, four valve per cylinder, inline-four
Ignition: Transistor controlled breakerless ignition
Final Drive: Shaft
Suspension: Uni-Trak rear suspension with 4-way rebound damping, conventional forks
Front Brakes: Dual-disc with 272mm effective disk diameter
Rear Brakes: Single disc
Seat Height: 31.1 inches
Wheelbase: 61.2 inches
Dry Weight: 595.4 pounds
Fuel Capacity: 7.5 gallons
Warranty: 3 years
1. Andy Saunders, Editor: Four hundred miles before breakfast. Which bike to choose? If the map promised nothing but squiggles, the Concours would be the choice. Any other route wouldn’t be as easy to choose a bike for, except to say it likely wouldn’t be the Concours.
For all its niggling faults — like the crazy fuel gauge, the almost unusable radio and the difficult-to-use turn signals, the BMW is the most user friendly of the bunch. Put a bigger set of bags on it, and it’s the one I’d chose to drive across country or across town. But the most efficient of the pack has got to be the ST1100. It has the character of an Accord, but the country-covering ability of a Peterbilt. And it costs a lot less then the twin, which means that in about five years I’ll be able to afford one.
2. Brent Plummer, Editor-in-Chief: Damn that sensible stuff, it’s the BMW or nothing for me. The ergonomics fit me just right — low foot pegs, high bars, retractable windshield, adjustable seat, and plenty of passenger room for my most significant other. Stock Bridgestone Battlax tires stick incredibly well, and the BMW’s motor feels the torquiest of the bunch since the bike is the lightest in the test, all of which combine to make a very confidence-inspiring ride that left me (for once) in the enviable position of leading our staff of hell-bent-for-speed freaks through the twisty parts of our lightweight tour around Palomar Mountain, California. Then, when the going got straight, I jacked up the windshield, cranked up the radio (it’s easy, just leave the cover open — it never flaps in he wind), turned the heated grips on, and rode off into the night, happy.
3. Mike Franklin, Managing Editor: It was no contest for me: I picked the BMW R1100RT. Sure, each bike had something to offer: The Kawasaki has the best seat of the bunch and felt the most like a sport bike, but the motor is way too buzzy; the Honda was very comfortable, well built, and has a deceptively smooth yet powerful motor; but the BMW — well it just had more where it counted and less where it mattered. More amenities like a radio, heater vents, electric windshield, heated grips and adjustable seat height. Less weight meant that it was a lot easier to throw around a corner, or just back out of the garage. Personally, though, I’d throw a set of bags on a VFR750R, pocket the left over five or six grand and take a month off in Montana. No speed limits and Glacier National Park. Staff tour anyone?
4. Tom Fortune, Contributing Editor: When I go touring I have to travel comfortably. Bikes that are cramped, buzzy and irritating after only a couple hours in the saddle spoil the fun of touring on a motorcycle. So the Concours is out. Performance-wise, they’re all up to the task and can handle anything the open road offers. Only the Honda, though, delivers the level of comfort and engine smoothness I require in my touring mounts. Both the BMW and the ST1100 have great ergonomics and fit me well, but it’s the Honda’s steady, sophisticated V-4 powerplant that provides me the satisfaction to go the distance.