Duke’s Den – Blurry Lines of Sport-Touring

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The definition of “sport-touring” depends on a rider’s individual perspective.

Some believe an S-T requires shaft-drive so chain maintenance is a non-issue while on the road. Others think all that’s needed is a regular sportbike with a tank and/or tail bag. It’s this diversity of lexical semantics about sport-touring that makes comparison testing problematic, as what exactly constitutes a sport-tourer isn’t defined in absolutes.

For example, we just completed a sport-touring shootout featuring motorcycles with common attributes such as shaft final-drives, electrically adjustable windsheilds, hard-shell luggage, cruise control and heated grips, accoutrements that would seem to be obvious for an S-T comparison test. And then you have to ask if your sport-tourer requires an audio system and heated seats? Perhaps these bikes would be better described as luxury-sport-tourers?

2013 Sport-Touring Shootout 1.0 – Video

Some riders believe such rigs are too bloated for sport-touring work. That line of thought has logical merit when the lightest of the four machines in our shootout scales in at more than 600 pounds.

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It is far easier to make a lighter bike to be more touring than it is to make a heavier bike to be more sporting.

One of those believers is our fearless leader, Sean Alexander, who supposes that someone who considers an FJR1300 or Concours 14 might also consider for their S-T mount a chain-driven bike like a Ducati Multistrada S Touring or Aprilia Caponord. Both offer adjustable windshields and hard-shell luggage, showing they are designed for longer distances and, at least, weekend touring. But they are clearly more minimalist than the shaft-driven bikes in our upcoming shootout. I’m not convinced many riders will cross-shop, say, a Triumph Trophy with a Caponord, but either machine can ably tackle touring work, so perhaps they would.

There are the sport-tourers that pretend to be adventure-tourers, such as the Multistrada, Caponord and Suzuki V-Strom 1000 that MO’s Tom Roderick describes as Sport-Adventure-Tourers. With 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels, their off-road capability is limited to only mild dirt terrain, making them distinct from true A-Ts like BMW’s R1200GS, Yamaha’s Super Tenere and KTM’s 1190 Adventure, all with 19-inch front wheels that are better suited to off-roading.

But even the aforementioned “true” A-Ts aren’t pure adventure bikes. The BMW and KTM are fitted with cast-aluminum wheels, 19 inches up front, which can’t handle big rock hits as well as spoked wheels like those found on on the Super Ten. The Euro OEMs require stepping up to the GS Adventure and the Adventure R versions of their A-Ts to get spoked wheels, 21 inches up front, as standard equipment.

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Let’s see, lockable hard luggage, cruise control, electronically adjustable suspension, heated grips and seat, ride modes, shaft drive, nearly 600-pound wet weight. Yep, it’s a sport-tourer. Oh wait, no electrically adjustable windscreen, sorry, disqualified.

So, are the regular 1190 Adventure and R1200GS Adventure-Tourers or Sports-Adventure-Tourers? And if they’re S-A-Ts, can they also be considered Sport-Tourers? Does the KTM’s chain drive force it out of S-T classification?

Clear as mud, right? Back in my formative streetbike years, sport-touring wasn’t more complicated than donning a backpack and strapping on a tank bag to the only motorcycle available to us. Despite the moto market’s newfound focus on the luxurious side of sport-touring, all that’s really needed is a sporty motorcycle and provisions to pack minimal luggage. The experience differs only in the amount of comfort and convenience that comes along on your trip.

This is what sport-touring looked like for me in 1990. My school backpack and a second-hand tank bag carried the supplies needed for a four-day road trip to Glacier National Park, and an inflatable hemorrhoid cushion supplied all-day comfort to the Hurricane’s narrow seat.

This is what sport-touring looked like for me in 1990. My school backpack and a second-hand tank bag carried the supplies needed for a four-day road trip to Glacier National Park, and an inflatable hemorrhoid cushion supplied all-day comfort to the Hurricane’s narrow seat.

What do you believe describes a sport-touring motorcycle? I expect to see a healthy debate in the comments section below.

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  • John B.

    I’ll give it a shot Kevin. Please be forewarned, however, I’m an enthusiast and not an expert.

    Acceleration, top speed, sharp handling, and lithe stature define sport bikes. A Sport Tourer retains a sport bike’s speed characteristics while sacrificing handling and stature to the touring side of the equation. As such, solid acceleration from 60-80 mph in top gear might suffice as a shorthand performance measure for a ST. At any rate, a ST should have a relatively high top speed and impressive acceleration at the top of the rev range.

    As for the touring side, a ST must have features that provide sufficient comfort to enable the average 40 plus rider to enjoy 600 mile days in varied weather conditions. Upright ergos, an electric windshield, heated grips, a comfortable seat, and full fairings are a must.

    Nothing in the terms Sport or Touring connotes off-road riding. As such, although the KTM 1190 and BMW 1200 GS deftly handle sport touring assignments, they are not strictly speaking ST bikes.

    I look forward to your shootout results and exapnded commentary. jjb

    • http://norimek.com/blog Robert C. Barth

      While offroad capability is certainly not a prerequisite for the S-T segment, the R1200GS Adventure pretty much does everything you list, with the added benefit of being able to do it offroad, if one so chooses. Other than the electric screen — the adjustable screen on the bike is manually adjustable via knob. With the giant tank and the opposed twin engine, it has as much or more wind protection as many S-T’s.

      • John B.

        I am not sure we disagree. There are sport bikes, touring bikes, and off-road bikes, among others. For a bike to perform better in one category as opposed to another there must be tradeoffs. For example, the BMW S1000RR is among the best (if not the best) sport bikes, but not as good as the 1200 GS at touring or off-road duties. My point is that the category is Sport-Touring and not Adventure-Sport-Touring. Therefore, tradeoffs to accommodate off-road riding are unnecessary for a bike intended for Sport-Touring duty. As I said above, the BMW 1200 GS handles ST duties “deftly.” Moreover,the GS is a bike people literally take around the world; a great bike, but not a Sport-Tourer.

        • sgray44444

          What does a GS trade off compared to an RT? A small amount of weather protection? It could be argued that the added height of the GS makes it a better touring bike. It is just as capable on a twisty road. I think you’re too hung up on categories and missing the whole point of the article.

          • John B.

            Among other things, the 1200 has a 19 inch front wheel, which benefits off-road riding, but is not ideal for sport riding. I think Duke’s point is that the definition of a ST is imprecise and that many bikes can handle ST duty. Nevertheless, it make no sense to do a ST shootout without defining that term. Duke simply sought our input as to how we (subjectively) define the ST category, and threw out some ideas. If I missed something it would not be the first time.

          • sgray44444

            You make a good point about having to define it before comparisons can be made, however, I think many of the Sport Touring shootouts would benefit from relaxing the definition to include bikes from other categories, like a GS, or maybe a sport bike that is equipped with touring gear. It could serve to better qualify the strengths and weaknesses within the class. For example, if a sport bike was included, it would reset the point of comparison when judging handling. Lets face it: the class is a compromise by definition. No motorcycle can be strong on the sport or touring side without giving something up. Weight reduction is given up for gear and fuel capacity. Peg placement and lean angle are relaxed in the name of comfort. Where a bike falls within that spectrum means it will appeal very differently to each individual rider, based on their use, preferences, and riding style. How can any review be completely objective, given that problem? So, why bother trying to strictly hold to the current definition, when so many bikes are so close, yet not classified as a “true” (whatever that is) sport tourer? By the way, I think the 19″ tire is far less likely to interfere with performance than 100-200 extra pounds.

          • Kevin Duke

            Yep, the category is diverse, and what works well for some will be dissed by others. At its core, sport-touring requires only a sporty bike and provisions to carry stuff. All the rest are just comfort and convenience items.

      • Kevin Duke

        A GSA makes a great touring bike for anyone who isn’t cursed with short inseams.

  • FreeFrog

    Any motorcycle you like to ride long distances and can handle the curves, store a bit of soft or hard luggage, put a grin on your face when you “punch it” mid corder, but hold enough gas to make it between few-and-far-between gas stops is an ST machine to me.

  • Craig Hoffman

    How sporty a bike is depends a lot on the loose nut behind the handlebars. Once rode with a guy who went faster on Gold Wing than many can manage on sport bikes. Watching him pitch that thing into the corners was horrifying. Followed along in his wake, riding hard to keep him in sight. Like any good and unusual show, I could not keep my eyes off it. Man, that guy could ride.

    I would like a slightly lighter weight 3 cylinder FJR with heated grips and ABS. No radio, no cupholders, good handling and midrange torque. Cruise control would be nice. I like the idea of a big triple for ST duty as they have personality, have grunt and yet have the legs to run hard on top when the cops are away :)

  • Steven Holmes

    My 97 Katana600 is classified as a “sport touring” machine. Even as a noob i can see why. Compared to a Gixxer600 my Kat is fat, heavy, and sloooooooooooow. What I’ve got over a Gixxer though, is what i think, makes this a sport touring machine. Stable in a cross wind, comfy for a couple hundred miles, mostly upright ergos, (actually about perfect for my 6′ frame) and GOOD fuel efficiency. All the other crap is just luxury. heated grips n seat, electronically adjustable windshield. Niceties is what they are. I’ve got a cheap pair of BILT saddlebags and a Tourmaster magnetic tank bag. more than that is fluff. nice fluff but, fluff still.

    Gixxers can laugh at my Kat all day long at the track, I get the last laugh on the run to the other side of the state. Mua ha ha.

    • John White

      Not much mention of 55 plus riders and passenger comfort I enjoy riding with my wife 2014 FJR suspension adjustment as well as throttle mapping comfort when she is on sport when she stays home

      • Steven Holmes

        I’ll give you that. 55+ or 2-up wouldn’t be that great on my bike, but a nice FJR, or an ST1100 (1300) would be a LOT more comfy for passenger. I, personally, like the simplicity but, at the same time, completely understand your point.
        I just want to go. Turn key, twist throttle, go.

  • JMDonald

    My ideal ST would encompass the following attributes.
    Less than 600 lbs. fully fueled and ready to go. Preferably 550 lbs or less.
    Shaft drive.
    Fully faired with adjustable vented windscreen.
    Nimble geometry. Somewhere around a 60 inch wheel base.
    Upright slightly forward body position and I do mean slightly.
    ABS, DTC with variable engine mapping.
    Full compliment of luggage. Side cases, top case.
    Heated grips, accessory sockets, heated seat as an option.
    At this point I could care less about dynamic suspension adjustment.
    6 gallon fuel tank or larger.
    Liquid cooled 1 to 1.5 liter displacement. I am fond of twins but a triple or quad is OK. A 6 is too big.
    17 inch wheels with tires wide enough for stability but narrow enough for quicker steering.
    GPS with Bluetooth capability.
    This is my idea of the perfect Sport Tourer. Some bikes come close but I am not aware of one that fits my ideal 100%. I have ridden some touring bikes like the K1600 and the Rt1150. I guess I want a Multistrada with shaft drive.

    • Kevin Duke

      The FJR and F800GT come close to meeting your requirements, but it’s BMW’s new R1200RT that ticks all your boxes.

      • http://norimek.com/blog Robert C. Barth

        Unfortunately, he can’t buy one right now. Ugh. Crappy subcontractors.

        • Kevin Duke

          The RTs without active suspension are not affected by the recall. However, finding one in the USA is akin to finding a sasquatch.

          • http://www.mymotorrad.com/ james lagnese

            Who would want one? ESA is one feature that makes the bike what it is. I could see doing without hill assist or shift assist, but ESA, no. Now, if Robert is willing to wait a couple months, there will be plenty of used ones available. A decent amount of folks are taking the buy back.

    • http://www.mymotorrad.com/ james lagnese

      I ride a 2009 RT and my only complaint is maintenance. I agree with your parameters and I would add I’d like it to be a GTO bike, gas, tires, oil. The problem with some of the bikes mentioned is that they are tighter ergonomically for me and I wouldn’t be comfortable on them, so certain ergos would have to apply as well.

      • JMDonald

        As a dedicated tourer I love the RT. The problem I have with it is the weight. The Multistrada weighs in a hundred lbs. less but has no shaft drive. The VFR 1200 again, is close to 600 lbs. sans luggage. The new Interceptor is nice but it is not a liter bike and has no shaft drive. The Multi without DSS might be the bike I really want. Then again I have read nothing but glowing reviews about the Skyhook Suspension. I could also dress out a R1200R with a tall windscreen and luggage and probably be perfectly happy. As far as weight goes maybe it isn’t that much of a big deal.

        • http://www.mymotorrad.com/ james lagnese

          As someone that does their own maintenance, the Ducati is a nightmare. I am too big and inflexible for the VFR too. Same for the FJR and C14. My RT is 570 with a full tank. Having come from a Kawasaki Nomad, the RT is a light bike. Seems like a lot of folks here come from the opposite direction, but I could never ride those bikes.

  • http://motorcycle.com/ Tom Roderick

    In 1973 Honda’s CB350F was considered a sport-tourer. Times have changed.

  • fastfreddie

    The early VFR’s were probably among the last sport-tourers.The rest falls so often into the category touring-sport.

    Liked that shot of cb600 with that geriatric bag.Illustrates what motorcycling is all about.

  • Rob Halpin

    “…The BMW and KTM are fitted with cast-aluminum wheels, 19 inches up
    front, which can’t handle big rock hits as well as spoked wheels like
    those found on on the Super Ten…”

    I think you’re wrong about the KTM; I don’t believe it’s available with cast aluminium wheels.

    Good read, though. Thanks.

    • Kevin Duke

      Glad you liked the article despite my error! We’ll tweak it and make it right, thanks to your help.

  • sgray44444

    I’m sure I’m in the minority, but I would call all of the current “sport tourers” just plain touring bikes. They are too heavy for real sport riding. They are just touring bikes with sport styling.
    I think the earlier VFR 800 equipped with hard cases, the Triumph Sprint ST, and other such bikes were the real sport tourers. If you can strip the bags off and hang close to an equivalent rider on a supersport down your favorite twisty road, then it is a sport tourer.
    I would say my DL650 Vstrom is more of a true sport-tourer than a pig ST1300 will ever be, even if it is displacement limited. The right rider can surprise many people on far more sporty bikes.
    I’ve owned an ST1100, and it was the worst decision I ever made. I can ride my little 650 twin just as far, and much quicker than I ever could the ST. I think that would be true for other average riders as well.

    • http://www.mymotorrad.com/ james lagnese

      A Goldwing is a touring bike, so is an Electraglide, a Voyager, Vision and Cross Country Tour. Touring bikes have trunks and decent passenger accommodations. While the ST1300 is a heavy sport tourer, a Weestrom isn’t a ST either. To me, the VFR and Sprint are just sport bikes with bags.

  • Simon

    Busa with heated grips, Ventura pack and a double bubble screen. Perfect ST.

  • Oslo Norway

    Kevin? You are right on target with that old Hurricane, or a VFR, or whatever…Throw a tank bag on and fly…Not a Motobago…

  • Tim

    I have the best sport touring bike. A 1996 BMW K1100RS w/ 116,000 miles on it and an Ohlins shock. Damn fast, handles well, stops well, carries lots of stuff, great windprotection for those of us who don’t want to look two pieces of plexi-glass. Just returned two up from the twisties of NC to Omaha on it 7-6-2014. An easy 650 mile day there, did my first 800 mile day (Bryson City to KC) coming home Sunday including two spirited passes thru the dragon. 12 total this trip. Compared to my 01 Sprint ST, the K is more on the tour side of the ST world w/ the Triumph on sporting side. Ok, they don’t make these, but today everything is toooo heavy and expensive. I had an 03 K12GT, hated it, kept my 96. Interesting thread though!

  • Matt Ross

    I cant believe no one here mentioned the ninja 1000. Its like a new VFR, only with alot more power. I agree with most people qualifications except shaft drive. Chain doesn’t bother me and its more efficient. Id consider a multistrada, or an older BMW. But for the money you cant beat the N1k.
    For me, the perfect sport touring bike:
    Can still do a track day without dragging alot of stuff.
    Can handle 500 mile days with only one or two mods. (seat)
    Has some wind protection.
    Doesnt’ weigh over 550 lbs.