2009 Sport-Touring Shootout

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

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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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