2005 Sport Touring Comparo
BMW R1200RT :: Buell Ulysses :: Honda ST 1300 :: Honda Interceptor ABS :: Yamaha FJR1300
Here's a dumb expression: "You can't have your cake and eat it, too." Well, why else would you buy a cake? We don't buy cakes to look at. And to look at the average American, we're eating a lot of cake. And it's the same for motorcycles, at least to the enlightened MO motorcyclist. Our motorcycle is fopartner, and have enough room for a bunch of stuff. Is being able to store your helmet in a locking container at the end of a ride asking too much? r riding, first and foremost. And if we want to ride long distances, the bike should be able to handle twisty pavement, be comfortable enough for the life Welcome to the wonderful world of Sport Touring. Once a category dominated by BMW, the sport-tourer category is now broken into many sub-categories.
Depending on how sporty you like your touring bike, or how touring-oriented you like your sportbike, there is something for every taste these days.
Which is the best? To answer that, we first spent some time hashing out here at MO what a "Sport-tourer" is. Does it mean factory hard bags? Anything lighter than a Goldwing? Better handling than a Suzuki Madura? Since the five of us couldn't really agree, we figure the thousands of you out in MO land wouldn't agree either.
In that spirit, we decided to include some inarguable sport-tourers, as well as some new notions of what may constitute a Sport Tourer. We think a Sport Tourer should be able to carry you, a passenger and your luggage and have enough power and handling to keep you both happy and entertained on whatever pavement you encounter. It also should have enough comfort to keep your marriage -- or whatever sort of relationship you have -- intact through the trip.
With that in mind, allow us to introduce the cast in alphabetical order of this year's Sport Tour!
"Do you think we're idiots?" That's some of the kinder feedback we've gotten regarding the more unorthodox choices we've made in some of our shootouts this year.
No, we don't think you're all idiots. Only some of you. We do, however, like to think a bit outside the box when we choose machines to include in our comparisons.
For instance, we couldn't help but notice when Maximum MOron Sean Alexander rolled a new BMW R1200RT into the MO garage next to more conventional ST bikes like the FJR and the VFR.
"Hey", said Feature Editor Gabe Ets-Hokin, "didn't they have the R1200ST available?" "I didn't want the ST", replied the Great Pink One. "I like the RT better." "But Sean", said Gabe, using a high-pitched tone that is especially grating, "this is a Sport Touring comparo. After the Value Supersports thing, we'll be lynched." With that, he subconsciously touched his neck, as if he could already feel the improvised noose made of tie-down straps around his delicate throat.
"Don't worry about it", said Sean. "I rode both bikes back in March, remember? The RT offers the same power, chassis and brakes as the ST and is only 50 pounds heavier. It is also significantly more comfortable than the ST, not to mention more practical, thanks to its better airflow management, roomier passenger accommodations and capacious standard luggage."
Basically, what we're saying is this: sure, the ST looks more like a Sport Tourer, but the RT gives up nothing in handling or speed and is more comfortable. And although it's big, at just 571 pounds claimed wet, it's still one of the lighter bikes in the test. We could have gotten the sportier looking bike, but we had passengers and plenty of stuff to carry. After much argument and many helpings of fried foods, Gabe saw the light and conceded the RT was the best ST offering BMW had for this test.
"The Ulysses is Buell's idea of a modern sport-tourer."
The next day, Sean rolled the Ulysses in. Gabe passed out. When he was revived, both Photographer Alfonse Palamia and Managing Editor Pete Brissette had to forcibly prevent him from leaving. "How are we going to sell this one? They'll tear us apart like wild animals! We're doomed!"
Sean pulled a Cohiba from his gold "Buell" cigar case and reflectively sliced off the ends with a pearl-handled pen knife. "I was golfing with Erik just the other day and I asked him that same question." Sean paused, motioning for Abdul, his manservant, to light his cigar. "The Ulysses is Buell's idea of a modern sport-tourer. They actually call it an "Adventure Sportbike".
It's fast enough for any street riding situation, has fantastic handling characteristics, and is by far the most comfortable motorcycle Buell has ever made. It has dual 12 volt power outlets and a 4.4 gallon fuel tank. The optional luggage is excellent and it even has an adjustable backrest for the passenger. What more do you need for a Sport Tourer?"
The XB12X was envisioned as a do-anything sportbike, the kind of motorcycle you can ride all day, with a passenger or not, on any kind of road, for almost any distance. Some of you might feel it's a better choice for an Adventure Tourer, but we felt that with the 17" wheels it was not really in a league with bikes like the KTM Adventurer or BMW K1200GS. Hey, Gabe has said he'd tour on an XB9S, so there are worse choices we could have made.
Honda ST 1300 ABS
Ahhhh. Now this is uncontroversial. An inarguable choice. Honda's ST 1300 is clearly a sport-tourer, if a rather large and heavy one. The ST1100 has been with us for years and years, and has accumulated almost as many fans as the legendary Goldwing for its smooth motor and excellent ergonomics. The 2002 redesign made the ST faster, smoother and better handling by adding fuel injection, 200 more CCs of displacement and an aluminum frame. We loved it in our 2004 Sport Touring comparison, and what's not to love?
The ST 1300 is just loaded with features, from an adjustable windscreen (standard on the non-ABS model for 2005) to anti-lock brakes and locking hard luggage. At over $15,000, it's not 99-cent store materiel, but this isn't a budget commuter shootout, now is it? The big red Honda is as solid a choice as Joan Baez at a folk music festival. Luckily, for 2005, the ST 1300 shaves its armpits.
Honda Interceptor ABS
Do I really have to introduce the Honda Interceptor? For those of you either very new to motorcycling, or who have been in prison for more than 20 years, the Interceptor is the latest in a succession of Honda's V-four powered motorcycles. Once the most sporting in the Honda lineup, the 16-valve, liquid-cooled, V-four engined motorcycles were made into sport-tourers starting in 1990, when they were given a larger fairing and stylish single-sided swingarms like the RC-30 Superbike contender.
"Since that model, the Interceptor/VFR series has garnered zillions of "Best-bike" type awards from motorcycle publications all over earth."
The smooth motor, neutral handling and humane ergonomics made it a favorite of those who desired sportbike performance and touring comfort. This latest version is no exception. We've spent a lot of time on it here at MO, with a comparison in 2004 against the Kawasaki Concurs, and a new model launch in of this current V-Tec equipped version.
With 98.5 HP and a claimed dry weight of 595 pounds, it's hard to see what is so exciting about the Interceptor on paper. But VFRs have always been more than just sums of their parts; fans rave about a certain balance that seems almost magical. Would that magic be enough to beat the fancier bikes with all their creature comforts and gadgets?
Yamaha FJR 1300 ABS
"They'd get so freakin' angry" said Gabe, recounting his experiences selling Yamahas. "These middle-aged sport touring guys, who were so used to being able to scoop up discounted motorcycles for pennies on the dollar, when they realized there was no way they could even see an FJR 1300 before they bought one, much less haggle over price. They'd be lucky if they could get away with paying MSRP without a mark-up."
And yet, Yamaha sells out of their FJRs every year. And when a used one hits the market, it commands freakishly high resale values and is sold in hours. Why are they so popular?
Value. For just $13,199, the customer gets a smooth, powerful, 1298cc, liquid-cooled, 16-valve, DOHC, in-line four-cylinder motor that makes 127.8 HP in a rigid aluminum chassis, along with hard bags, and adjustable windscreen, and other features indespensible to Sport Touring. We've loved this bike in the past, and in fact it won last year's Sport-touring comparison. Would the introduction of the new BMW and the wild card Buell overshadow the FJR's overall competence?
Meet the ladies of MO
We'd like to thank the long-suffering wives and friends who sacrificed a perfectly good holiday weekend to come and ride with us to San Francisco.
They endured many long miles of malfunctioning heated seats, high-G turns, fried foods and stories about Sean's boats and tropical fish.
Natalie Alexander is an enthusiastic riding companion who enjoyed riding on the back of the five bikes. This is probably because she can't see over Sean.
Paula Straw is the veteran of thousands of miles riding behind Jack on his venerable BMW R100GS, on paved and dirt roads. Women usually don't like monikers like "ass of steel", so I will refrain from using it. Oops. Cindy P. is a friend of photographer Alfonse and hails from Java. She had a great time on the ST bikes.
Erika B. works as a City planner in Simi Valley when she's not hangin' with our Million-mile man, Managing Editor Pete Brissette. She also seemed to enjoy the experience, although it was her first time riding on motorcycles!
Feature Editor Ets-Hokin was dateless throughout the trip, which meant he spent more time than the rest of us on the VFR. He swears up and down that he's married, although we've never seen his wife. Shades of Waiting for Guffman say we.
Thanks to all of you for sacrificing your vacation and hinies in the name of scientific research. We hope we can count on your patience, good humor and charms next year!