2009 Sport-Touring Shootout

BMW K1300GT vs. Honda ST1300 vs. Kawasaki Concours 14 vs. Yamaha FJR1300A

story by Pete Brissette, Photograph by Alfonse Palaima, Created Aug. 06, 2009
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‘Round early June of this year we started thinking long haul to Laguna for the first stop of MotoGP in the U.S. As far as we’re concerned, one of the best ways to get to the Monterey Peninsula, other than a free limo with a fully stocked bar, is in the saddles of some two wheelers.

The ideal bike for this type of trip should: provide storage capacity for a long weekend, enough wind protection to keep us from getting battered by windblast while bombing down the interstate, and plenty of sporting capability to enjoy the serpentine, circuitous route we love to take on our GP journey from greater L.A. to Monterey.

BMW’s K1300GT, Honda’s ST1300, Kawasaki’s Concours 14 and Yamaha’s FJR1300A were our steeds. As you can see, we could’ve called this a 1300cc sport-touring battle, but the Connie goes one up on the other three with its ZX-14-based inline Four. Is using a mill based on a land rocket like the mighty ZX cheating? You may be surprised how it fared against the new K bike.

Destination: Laguna

What matters to you, the sport-touring rider

We could summarize this lengthy review by just plugging in guest tester Marc Manaigre’s succinct and laser-accurate comment that “there’s no clear loser.”

It’d be easy to just say things about these bikes like we’ve been saying in the past few sportbike comparisons we’ve conducted: “Thin margin between them… just pick a color… buy the one you like, you can’t go wrong.”

Yep, they all be good!

Bringing the best gals to the dance.

All four models have lockable, removable hard side cases as standard, electrically adjustable windscreens, and adjustable suspension to one degree or another. Though some are clearly more powerful than others, they all make ample power for just about anyone interested in this market. They’ll all bomb down the Interstate two-up, bags loaded and not break a sweat.

The BMW and Yamaha have ABS as standard; that feature is optional on the Honda and Connie. The Kawasaki and BMW have 6-speed gearboxes. Interestingly, the FJR and ST are 5-speeds but never seemed to suffer for the lack of an additional gear, so we tip our helmet for good ratio selection and broad powerbands by Yamaha and Honda.

Regardless of the ABS, all have very good if not excellent braking; and in the big picture, all handle quite well for what are rather hefty machines.

Still, in the interest of staying gainfully employed, we’ve tasked ourselves with looking for the little, and not-so-little, things that separate one from the other in the hopes that some of what we discerned may be of significance to you.

Which way did they go? Which way did they go?

Gathering in Ojai (oh-hi), CA, we started our perfect ride route with the wonderfully smooth surface and flowing bends of Hwy 33 carrying us into the Los Padres National Forest. The 33 eventually loses elevation as it exits the national forestland and intersects with Hwy 166. Eastbound 166 gives way to the 33 again until Maricopa where the 33 continues north into Taft.

Seemingly innumerable pumpjacks bobbing up and down like dutiful, mindless drones squeezing every last drop of black gold out of the oil fields in Taft, CA, create a landscape with its own bizarre beauty. But we were interested in landscape made of more contorted pavement to test the sportiness of our tourers. Ed-in-Cheese Duke calls Hwy 58 his most favoritest road in all of California. Known also as Carissa Hwy, the 58 west of the 33 is an incredibly rewarding two-lane road if you make the effort to get there. Much of it is like a rolling, undulating motorcycle rollercoaster, and four-wheeled traffic is often sparse.

The 58 ends at the 101 Fwy, and it was at this point we briefly headed south to our overnight point in San Luis Obispo. The next day we set off on the famous Hwy 1 to enjoy the stunning coastal scenery that starts just north of San Simeon, home of Hearst Castle, and continues to dazzle all the way to the Carmel/Monterey Bay area.

Our route made excellent proving grounds for the capable S-Ts we commissioned for the trip. We enjoyed the route so much, we retraced most of it on the way home!

“Someone said thar’s some curvy roads ‘round these parts… Any place I can get a fake ID to prove I’m old enough to ride this thing?”

Tale of the Tape

Engine

The Big Ninja-derived 1,352cc liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16-valve inline-Four powerhouse in the Concours is tuned for torquey touring. Tech-heads will be impressed with the Connie's variable valve timing, a first in the class. The intake cam is hydraulically advanced or retarded over a 23.8-degree range based on engine RPM and throttle position, with the goal being high torque output across the powerband. Finally, the Concours mill comes equipped with a slipper-clutch, again claiming a first-in-class development when the Concours was unveiled in July 2007.

If you know the ZX-14, then you know the Connie must be a brute. There’s no question some rocket touring fun can be had aboard the Kawi, but Kevin wisely notes that its tall gearing often requires a downshift for maximum thrust. Regardless of a need to twist the grip aggressively at times, the Kawi’s engine was the smoothest and quietest in the quartet. Maybe as important as anything about the Connie’s engine is how it “cruises effortless at 100 mph,” according to Kevin. The Kawi’s ability to blast along like a cruise missile is thanks, in part, to ram-air a la the ZX-14.

We’ve come to love the FJR’s torquey engine over the years.

Yamaha’s FJR1300A is powered by a 1,298cc liquid-cooled, DOHC four-cylinder with 16 valves. No special valve timing or fancy electronics here, just good ol’ inline-Four get up and go! The FJR utilizes stacked transmission shafts to minimize engine length and also employs two gear-driven secondary counterbalancers for reduced vibes. Indeed, the FJ is smooth, and quick, too! Power is plentiful and accessible, with Kevin referring to it as “big-block power.” The Yamahualer revs quickly, and as you can see by the dyno chart has ample torque.

The Honda ST is a little bit of a relic in this crowd. The basic architecture of its 1,261cc liquid-cooled longitudinally mounted (like a Moto Guzzi) 16-valve, 90-degree V-4 hasn’t changed in what seems like a month or two short of an eon but is actually since its 2002 re-do from the ancient ST1100. Yep, this is a long-running engine platform for Honda, originating with the ST1100 that rolled off the assembly lines in 1990. Jeepers, Scooby-doo!

Here’s the deal on the Honda: if it’s been around virtually unchanged for seven model years, it must be a hit … with a lot of folks! Clearly no one is buying the ST for its class-crushing power, but its remarkably smooth V-4 makes a unique purr and whir sound as it digs deep and simply tractors out of slow corners, leaving the more powerful bikes just ahead wondering why they can’t shake the “ol’ man’s bike” in their mirrors.

On occasion the Honda’s 5-speed tranny would pop back into neutral from 2nd when revving the mill to redline. And Kevin dutifully remarked about some minor throttle abruptness during reapplication from closed to open throttle. Otherwise, it’s all systems go for this classic sport-touring engine.

Although the C14 is the displacement leader, it can’t keep up with the new Beemer as the ultimate powerhouse sport-tourer.

The BMW is the only all-new bike for 2009 in this collection, and the first order of business in the ‘09 K bike was increasing displacement in the forward-canted (55-degrees) inline Four from 1,157cc to 1,293cc via a 1mm overbore and 5.3mm increase in stroke. Various other updates and tweaks were made to the K bikes for 2009, so be sure to read the single bike reviews of the K1300S and GT to get the details.

Though it can’t boast as much displacement as the Connie, the BMW proved to be the most powerful of the group. With peak hp of 145, the German was significantly ahead of the next most powerful Connie with 133 hp; and it was no contest with the FJR’s 119 hp and the Honda’s 105 hp.

The big numbers are fine and all, but like cruisers, torque matters. The big Kawi vindicated itself in twisting force. The C-14, for all intents, matched the BMW pound for pound, as both bikes just missed 88 ft-lbs peak torque by a couple tenths. However, the Connie's ultra-tall gearing blunted its twisting force in top-gear roll-ons, allowing the BMW to pull away even when saddled with two riders.

The Yamaha held its ground much better here with 83.7 ft-lbs, and it has sufficient grunt to edge away from the more powerful Connie in top-gear roll-ons. Although the ST1300 was once again notably down the totem pole, we felt the Honda performed like a bike with much more than 78 ft-lbs, as its seamless power and lower gearing makes the most of what it has. It remarkably stayed close to the mighty FJR in roll-on contests.

The Connie fares much better against the BMW for peak torque. The Honda, though the most underpowered in the group, makes great use of the power it has.

But we didn’t really need the dyno to tell us what we were sensing. The Beemer simply feels more powerful in just about any situation, and if you tuck in behind the windscreen you can hear the racy intake note reminiscent of a snorting high-performance V-8. Fueling and throttle response on this K bike was about as trouble-free as it gets, offering immaculate throttle pickup. And its smooth-action 6-speed gearbox is possibly the best in this group. However, Editor Duke felt the K bike offers up some engine vibes not present on the smaller, previous model K motor.

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Chassis/Handling

It didn’t take us long to notice the minimal turn-in effort, and overall brisk handling on the Beemer. Kevin said it was “amazingly quick.”  We were a little surprised of K1300GT’s handling in light of its longest wheelbase of just under 62 inches, 1.1 inches longer than the next longest FJR, and a significantly lazier steering rake of 29.4 degrees —at least 3 degrees more compared to the others. The Beemer’s 4.4 inches of trail is on par with the Kawasaki and Yamaha.

Perhaps one of the more controversial areas of handling on the BMW is in the German’s Duolever front end. This non-traditional set-up virtually eliminates front-end dive under braking, but at the same time has a minor numbing effect on feedback from the road. This isn’t necessarily a problem or news, as many seasoned riders have noted this trait from just about every BMW employing this set-up.

The K bike had the best overall handling, but the mighty FJR seen here tracks through corners like it’s on a magnetic rail.

The push-button suspension on the K1300GT is nothing short of cool. BMW’s second-generation electronically adjustable suspension, ESA II, offers numerous settings for just about any type of road or riding. I rode the BMW during some spirited stints chasing behind friends buzzing around two-up on a late model GSX-R1000. The firmest setting (Sport with Rider/Passenger) all but eliminated any chassis pitch and provided lots of stability during hard braking.

Kevin’s comments that he could “sense chatter from the front and rear on sharp-edged bumps when ESA is set on Sport mode,” and that the “Comfort setting is too soft for any sporting work,” indicates that, though ESA is something of golden egg for touring bikes, it’s not perfect. You’ll have to do a little searching to find the best combo for a specific type of riding situation

The remaining contestants don’t have fancy ESA II, but they all have adjustable suspension of varying degrees.

Front suspension on the Yamaha consists of a fully adjustable 48mm fork with 5.4 inches of travel (1-inch more than the Connie), with the rebound damping adjustment accessed by a finger dial on each fork leg. The Yamaha’s shock offers preload adjustment via a lever located near the left passenger peg bracket area. There are only two settings, Hard or Soft, but Kevin remarked that the shock performed okay for his minimal weight even in the Soft setting. Rebound adjustment happens via a small knurled dial at the bottom of the shock, so be prepared to crawl under the bike to access it.

Much to our surprise, the sporty Concours 14 had the heaviest steering response of the four.

If we had one word to describe the overall sensation on the FJR, it’d be taut. You feel as though you’re riding a muscular pit-bull, yet it has grace and agility closer to a sportbike than touring bike. However, the Yamaha suffers from limited ground clearance.  It was the only one of the four that required vigilance against peg grinding in the curvy bits of the road.

The dependable ST has the least adjustable suspension. There aren’t any tweaks for the 45mm fork, and the linkage-less shock (a design that often can limit progressive feel and feedback) only offers preload via dial behind the rider’s left leg.

After only a day aboard the Honda, I came to the conclusion that numerous police departments around the country choose the ST1300 for a reason: it’s surprisingly light of foot! Its handling is even more impressive when we note that it’s the heaviest bike here with a claimed wet weight of 719 lbs. Looking at the ST’s geometry clues us in a little, as it boasts the shortest wheelbase at 58.7 inches, shares the FJR’s sporty 26.0-degree rake and lays claim to the shortest trail figure at 3.9 inches. It also has the narrowest rear tire.

The BMW claims the lightest weight. Its quick steering and easy transitioning would support that claim, especially in light of the Beemer’s geometry numbers that indicate a slower-handling bike.

Steering is light and nearly as quick as on the BMW. Once the Honda tips into turns, albeit with a bit of falling-into-the-corner sensation courtesy the high CoG from the big V4, steering is very neutral. One of the few niggles was some noticeable shaft jack. The Honda will also drag a peg, but not as early as the FJR has a tendency to.

The powerhouse Connie runs a 43mm inverted fork that offers preload and rebound damping adjustment, the latter via a set of small finger-operated dials atop the fork, just like on the FJR. Very convenient! The shock has adjustments for preload via a remote dial and step-less rebound adjustment.

The big Connie’s chassis geometry falls somewhere in between the zippy-on-paper-Honda and the BMW’s deceptive figures that indicate the German could be a slug. Nevertheless, over the entire trip to Monterey and back, the Kawi routinely disappointed with surprisingly heavy turn-in effort. It also required constant pressure on the inside bar to keep the bike tracking in a smooth arc. We suspect the Kawasaki’s largest-in-group rear tire (190/50-17) was a contributor to what was generally the slowest-handling bike.

Eight buns to go please!
Motorcycle Tire Sizes
BMW K1300GT Metzeler Roadtec Z6 120/70-17 front; 180/55-17 rear
Honda ST1300 Bridgestone Battlax BT020 120/70-18 front; 170/60-17 rear
Kawasaki Concours 14 Bridgestone Battlax BT021 120/70-17 front; 190/50-17 rear
Yamaha FJR1300A Metzeler Roadtec Z6 120/70-17 front; 180/55-17 rear

Brakes

“Which one of these is the Duc?”

The Yamaha tops the heap in the stopping department. Its clampers had the best combination of power and greatest feel. Furthermore, Yamaha seems to have eliminated the nasty pulsing at the lever that earlier generation FJR ABS models exhibited when the anti-lock would activate.

BMW ABS, now standard on the GT, is some of the best in the Sport-Touring segment. The K bike’s dual 4-piston binders crush down mercilessly on the pair of 320mm rotors (same size as the FJR; Honda and Kawi have 310mm rotors). The Beemer’s brakes don’t provide quite as much feedback as the FJR’s binders, and braking over bumps would occasionally cause the ABS to engage as the wheel(s) skipped over the bump, temporarily fooling the BMW brain into thinking the wheel had locked. But in virtually no time a rider can acclimate to the Beemer’s brake feel. Before he or she realizes it, they’re rushing into turns, braking harder than they might’ve ever thought they would on a bike with a claimed weight wet of 635 lbs.

Our Honda test unit’s linked brakes and optional ABS worked quite well, as did the Concours’ radial-mount four-piston Nissin calipers fitted with optional ABS. But both bikes were just a tick off the Yamaha and BMW, and the Kawasaki is the only one of the four that doesn’t have some type of linked brake system.

Ergonomics/Comfort

Despite the tallest seat at 32.3 inches (33.1 in high position), the BMW’s saddle is comparatively narrow at the front, so touching a boot down with a sense of security wasn’t too much trouble. The Beemer also seemed to offer the most legroom.

The C-14 and FJR1300 have the next highest seats at 32.1 and 31.6 inches respectively, yet they’re both wider at the seat/tank junction than the BMW, splaying a rider’s legs more. To some riders this may have the same effect as straddling a seat that’s too tall. Finally, the Honda is the low boy at 31.1 inches, but as a result doesn’t offer much room from peg to seat; taller riders may take issue.

Speaking of seats, it’s interesting to note subjective experiences between riders. Where guest tester Mark found the Yamaha’s saddle too firm, I felt it had near-perfect foam density. Photog Alfonse, and Kevin both said that after some serious miles on the GT they felt the saddle didn’t offer enough support, eventually leading to some uncomfortable fidgeting. None of us had a particular problem with the Honda’s saddle as either too soft or too firm, so Kevin referred to the bike as “The Flying Couch.”

Guest test mule, Caroline, felt the ST1300 offered lots of room for the passenger.

Overall, the rider triangle on each bike fit our 5-foot 8-inch frames (and one 5-foot-10-inch) quite well. But it’s not a stretch of the imagination to think that some of you may be taller, or even (gasp!) shorter. If that’s the case, you might be interested to know that the K bike’s handlebars adjust vertically over roughly a 1-inch range. Using a supplied Torx-style Allen key, it’s only a matter of a couple minutes to loosen two bolts that hold the bar clamp in place.

Though Kevin didn’t sense he had greater steering leverage with the bars in the highest position, as he initially theorized, he did feel the high setting pushed him farther back toward the center of the saddle where greater foam density offered better support (however he still wasn’t keen on the Beemer seat).

Lastly, the Kawasaki is the only unit without some type of height-adjustable saddle. The Honda and BMW are rather straightforward and work in a surprisingly similar manner. And while the Yamaha’s seat is adjustable, it’s the least intuitive and most time consuming to adjust.

Touring amenities, odds and ends

The Honda ST1300 didn’t look as stylish with its saddlebags removed. Be sure to look in the photo gallery of this story for comparative pics of all four bikes with saddlebags removed.

All hard saddlebags may not be created equal, but all of ‘em in this test easily held a full-face helmet. All the bag sets worked well, and each had a feature or quality to like or dislike.

The Honda’s bags were easy to remove and reinstall, and were deceptively roomy despite their narrow appearance. However, they’re so integrated into the bike’s appearance that once removed, the bike just doesn’t look right without them. The other bike’s bags weren’t as integral to the overall looks, so the bikes still look stylish during weekday commuting sans hard bags. The Beemer’s bags took a little more time to figure out the unlocking/opening procedure, but Fonzie noted that they were the only bags that didn’t require use of the key to reinstall.

Additional storage on the BMW, Honda and Yamaha comes in the form of at least one, if not two, rather useful glove boxes inside the front cowling. And at least one glovebox on each machine locks. The Connie’s simple storage compartment with minimal capacity is located on the fuel tank. It can’t be locked, and the limited storage isn’t useful for more than spare keys, a mobile phone and maybe the bike’s proof of registration and insurance. It’s worth noting the Kawi’s ram-air system likely prohibits using glove boxes in the inner cowling.

Windshields are a big deal in this market. All four bikes provide electric adjustment of the screens, but the BMW, Yamaha and Kawasaki’s screens simply don’t have the range of adjustment that the Honda’s screen has. Though the Honda has the tallest screen, putting it all the way up can alter airflow to the point that the rider notices of lot of pressure pushing on his or her back, and as a result creates the sensation of a little extra “weight” on the rider’s hands and wrists. A similar effect is felt with the FJR's screen in its highest position, but it is minimized by lowering it slightly and it’s an improvement over the first-gen FJR.

BMW, Kawasaki, Honda, Yamaha (Be sure to look in the photo gallery to see additional shots of each bike with their windshields in the lowest and highest positions.)

The other bikes have fair to good wind protection, but we decided to install the accessory tall screen on the Kawasaki to get a similar level of protection as the others. The FJR’s screen still returns to lowest position when the ignition is off.

We couldn’t use the word amenities and not mention the K1300GT. Yes, we know you have to pony up extra for everything except the heated grips and ABS. But even though the extras drive the Beemer’s cost through the roof, at least it has numerous available options, and that’s more than Honda, Kawasaki or Yamaha can say. And speaking of options, we are disappointed that cruise control isn't available on the three Japanese bikes, a glaring omission for big-time mileage eaters like these.

Some gremlins aren’t as cute as Gizmo

The new, single turnsignal switch (little white arrows) on some ’09 K bikes doesn’t always work properly. This image is of switchgear on the 2009 K1300S. We do admire the features of ASC, ABS and ESAII integrated into one switch, though only on the S model. ASC and ABS cannot be disabled on the GT.

Perhaps one of the more novel changes on the new K-GT is all new switchgear that brought the move from dual turnsignal indicators, one per side, to a single, more traditional switch on the left bar. There, now we have it, just like all the rest. BMW claims this new signal layout comes after years of ribbing by the media.

Our test bike’s left signal didn’t always activate when we moved the switch to the left. There didn’t seem to be any pattern to the malfunction. According to one of our sources, our test bike wasn’t the only new K1300 to exhibit this problem, as they’ve heard of various dealers receiving customer bikes with the issue. No SoCal BMW dealer that we contacted had yet encountered the problem.

Nevertheless, a published review in the on-line edition of the English news publication Telegraph made note of a faulty switch, and several readers and BMW owners on a couple of the more heavily trafficked internet forums dedicated to BMW bikes have also reported the same switch troubles.

Whatever you do, don’t blame us if you purchase a K1300GT (or S) and you get a bum turnsignal switch! BMW loyalists who appreciated the ol’ two-switch system will wonder why it's gone.

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And now, a few words from our passenger!

Every one of these motorcycles makes plenty of accommodations for a passenger, yet we rarely find someone crazy enough to sit on the back. We’re happy to report this time was different!

Caroline Giardinelli, and her husband Glenn, tagged along for the majority of the trip. Glenn is an experienced and skilled sportbike pilot, and Caroline is his seasoned passenger, so we knew she’d be the perfect candidate to sample the pillion perch on our four S-Ts.

Here’s a succinct view from Caroline’s perspective on each bike’s passenger experience.

Caroline either really likes motorcycles, or is waaaay too trusting of us. Though she picked the K1300GT as her fave, she would rather go two-up on the back of her husband’s Gixxer Thou. She’s gutsier than most dudes we know.

Notes from our passenger
On the BMW (Caroline's fave!)
• Pegs are well-positioned “if you have to bear down and brace yourself on the pegs”
• Hand rails placed just right
• Most comfortable seat
On the Honda
• Much lower footpegs, which results in less foot room for the pilot's feet
• Grab rail is well-positioned
• Though plush, the passenger seat's edge cuts into the inner thigh, but perhaps a bigger passenger wouldn't have an issue
• More fore/aft room than the others
On the Kawasaki
• Seat not overly cushy for her taste
• Liked the grab rails
• Would've liked a seat strap for an additional hand hold
• Bags didn't get in her way
On the Yamaha
• It feels sportier than the others, something she prefers based upon her GSX-R seat time
• Seat feels similar to the C-14
• Pegs are higher, which made her “feel more engaged with the bike”

We hope Caroline’s input from her volunteer work with us helps smooth out the decision-making process for all you readers out there with someone other than your lonesome selves to think of…

2009 BMW K1300GTMSRP $18,800 ($22,245 as tested in Premium Package trim) Observed MPG: 38.3; Fuel capacity – 6.3 gal; Base model claimed wet weight: 635 lbs; Warranty – N/A; SPECS

More tidbits on the Beemer:
• LCD panel gauges could be brighter
• Stable in crosswinds
• Excellent ground clearance
• Rubber-mount bars allow flex
• Excellent two-up, without as much chassis pitching as the others
• Precise gearbox
• Good view and limited distortion from windshield
• Some protest from clutch during hard launches or when slipping the clutch

2009 Honda ST1300MSRP $15,999 ($17,199 as tested with ABS) Observed MPG: 37.7; Fuel capacity 7.7 gal; Base model claimed wet weight: 719 lbs; Warranty – 36 months; SPECS

Extra nits and notes on the ST:
• Even with a passenger, it remains quite agile
• LCD display is dull in bright sunlight
• Engine is coarse at higher revs
• Low first gear makes slow-speed maneuvers easier (one reason the Po-po like it!)
• Can feel heat from the engine
• Pegs furthest forward of this group
• Handlebars seen in mirrors
• 7.7 gal fuel capacity and observed 37 mpg could mean a range of nearly 290 miles
• Overall, the ST is well engineered and highly refined

2009 Kawasaki Concours 14MSRP $13,499 ($14,299 as tested with ABS) Observed MPG: 33.5; Fuel capacity 5.8 gal; Base model claimed wet weight: 670 lbs; Warranty – 36 months; SPECS

Other things to know about the Concours 14:
• Observed mileage for a particular tank was 40 mpg while the onboard computer indicated 45 mpg
• Tire pressure monitor as standard – nice!
• Sticky gearbox when downshifting
• Heaviest clutch pull
• Accessory Kawi windshield provides good protection
• Only bike with LED tail light
• 6th gear too tall for strong roll-on performance
• Excellent shaft-drive system with no perceived jacking
• Heat from engine could be better managed
• Only bike with a convenient oil sight-glass window

2009 Yamaha FJR1300AMSRP $14,490; Observed MPG: 36.5; Fuel capacity 6.6 gal; Claimed wet weight: 641 lbs; Warranty – 12 months; SPECS

Stuff we thought you’d like to know about the FJR:
• Smaller luggage rack than C-14
• Precise shifting, but sometimes reluctant to engage 1st gear from neutral
• Clutch engages near end of clutch lever travel
• Adjustable brake and clutch lever
• May be the best commuter, as it feels physically smaller than the others
• Second lightest bike (only 6 lbs more than the BMW)
• Wide seat is good for long hauls
• Exposed oil filter may not be attractive, but is easy to access for DIYers
• An off-idle stumble annoyed us, but it can be alleviated by turning up the idle speed via a remote adjuster.

Each of these capable sport-tourers offers up desirable characteristics. The best choice depends on what you desire for your S-T duties.

Additional notes and observations:
• The Honda is the only bike without a 12v power port; the BMW also has a comm port.
• The S-Ts from Japan all have vertical adjustments for the headlamps, with the Honda and FJR using a separate adjuster for each light.
• The Concours 14 and ST1300 have wide mirrors built into the bodywork; the FJR and K bike have stem-mounted mirrors.
• Why no instrument scroll switches on the handlebars?
• BMW makes cruise control an available option. Why not the others?
• No ambient air temp reading on the Connie’s display.
• All bikes have trip computers that offer current and average MPG.
• Honda has 3-position seat; BMW and FJR only have two positions.
• Kawasaki dash offers best layout.
• All bikes offer adjustable brake levers, with Japanese models employing an easy-to-use numbered dial; BMW uses simpler but effective adjustable pin-style. Honda is the only bike w/o adjustable clutch lever.
• All bikes were supplied with a centerstand. The Honda’s folding handle used to aid in deploying the centerstand is a nice bonus, but taller riders my find the handle’s a bit low.
• Engines that produce loads of power like these necessarily create lots of heat. The FJR and ST are much improved over the early editions, and the BMW best shelters a rider from heat.

Sport-Touring Epilogue

No matter the category, bike manufacturers today offer something to suit just about everyone. The sport-touring category is no different. The four bikes examined here are the most prominent in their segment, and from our view each offers something that might make it the top choice for the right person.

“Let’s see… If I start swimming now I can make it back just in time for the Winnipeg Regional Curling Championships.”

The Concours 14, though surprisingly outclassed in terms of backroad prowess, still cranks out at least 133 hp and 88 ft-lbs. Do you really need more? It also has a great shaft final-drive, the advanced features of variable valve timing and a back-torque-limiting clutch and seemed like the quietest and maybe smoothest mill in the pack. The saddle, though in some opinions is a bit too soft, the overall ride is remarkably plush. Our biggest gripe was the C-14's awkward steering manners, which might be improved by a different tire choice. Finally, if you can live without ABS the Kawi offers an undeniable value, as it’s almost a thousand dollars cheaper than the next least expensive FJR.

Fonzie and I summed up the ST1300 as being like an old friend. Unless you’re intent on having the most ponies, there’s little left to complain about when it comes to the Honda. The highest-rising windshield and large frontal area give the best overall wind protection. Its engine is smooth at anything below 90 mph; clutch action is very light, as is its feathery handling. However, the ABS model is only $1,600 less than the base model K1300GT. When recounting all the qualities from the Beemer, not to mention ABS and heated grips as standard and a huge 145 hp, it’s hard not to take a second look at the BMW if you’re considering the Honda.

The Latin name for this creature is keyboardus hateus maximus. They’re prone to extreme bouts of sarcasm if let loose during the night, and can become highly unpredictable during daytime hours. If you’ve seen this particular specimen, do not attempt to approach unless carrying at least one bottle of 12-year-old scotch! Contact Gabe Ets-Hokin at CityBike.com for further handling instructions.

Perhaps no other S-T is a better choice than the FJR for the aging and wise who’ve parked their sportbike for the last time. Essentially, the Yamaha defines the sport side of the S-T equation, yet it’s very livable in everyday situations thanks to a low seat height and narrow feel. We’d like to see Yamaha fix the auto-retracting windscreen one of these years, and a little more ground clearance could only make the FJR even more stunning in the canyons. And as the second least expensive bike overall, and least expensive with ABS as standard, we can see how the FJR1300A is a no-brainer for many.

Objectively the BMW is the clear winner to us. It makes markedly more power than the others despite not having the biggest engine. Our experiences aboard all four left no question the big K bike is the quickest steering and provides excellent braking performance. It offers very good wind protection, great ergos, an adjustable seat and handlebars, possibly the best passenger perch and very good saddlebags, to name only a few high points.

So then, this brings us to something of a revelation or epiphany when it comes to what has always been the priciest player.

With available toys like heated seats (for both parties), HID-type headlight, cruise control, traction control, robust electronic suspension adjustment and a few others, cost becomes relative if you really want some of those features on a bike that performs as well as the 2009 BMW K1300GT. For some folks the BMW is worth every penny.

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