2009 Sport-Touring Shootout

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

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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.

Related Reading
2008 Middleweight Sport-Touring Shootout
Sport-Tour 2006
2004 Sport-Touring Shootout
All Sport-Touring on Motorcycle.com
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2007 Air-Cooled Twins Naked Comparo
All Things BMW on Motorcycle.com
All Things Honda on Motorcycle.com
All Things Kawasaki on Motorcycle.com
All Things Yamaha on Motorcycle.com

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