2009 Sport-Touring Shootout

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


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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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