2013 Sport-Touring Shootout 1.0 - Video

Yamaha FJR1300 vs. Honda ST1300 vs. Kawasaki Concours 14

story by Tom Roderick , Photograph by Mike Maez, Created Jan. 22, 2013
BACK TO THE ARTICLE PRINT
It was a gross underestimation of time and distance on my behalf that got us into Death Valley so late, but riding through a moonlit desert in frigid temperatures at triple-digit speeds is an appropriate mission for a sport-touring bike. This environment also lends to emphasize the advantages and deficiencies among the competing participants.

When the ambient temperature of 39° F glowed through the darkness from the ST1300’s instrument cluster when crossing the Panamint Range, I was left with only the Honda’s windscreen to deflect the frigid effect of an approximate wind-chill temperature of 21° F. Chief Editor, Kevin Duke, on the FJR, and guest tester, Kaming Ko, on the Concours also had their windscreens in the high position. They, however, enjoyed the warmth emanating from their bikes’ heated grips, while my hands depended solely on the warmth supplied by the gloves I was wearing and the deflection from the Honda’s smartly placed mirrors.

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When it comes to cold temperatures, the Honda’s saving grace is its barn door of a windscreen. The electrically adjustable component boasts the greatest range of motion of the three, elevating from a resting position with a rider’s helmet in the wind to its highest position diverting all wind above a rider’s helmet. There’s a small amount of buffeting backdraft when the screen is in its highest position, but it’s preferable to a freezing, 80-mph frontal blast. The Honda’s windscreen is also stable in all circumstances whereas both the Yamaha’s and Kawasaki’s plastic screens tend to vibrate, then vibrate more the higher you raise them.

“At one stage of our ride, I was cruising along at 110 mph on the Honda with my faceshield open,” relates Duke. “It was a surprisingly sedate and pleasant experience that can be delivered by only a few motorcycles.”

2013 Sport-Touring Shootout Group

A new U.S. model in 2003 and unchanged since, the ST is comparatively ancient to the introduced-in-2007 Concours 14 and revamped-for-2013 FJR. Presuming this stalwart of the sport-touring community fails miserably against these two younger, lighter, more powerful models is a foolish assumption.

However, this is certainly no fantasy shootout where the underdog snatches victory from its better-equipped competitors. No, the Honda loses this bout, but it fought a noble battle. And with no U.S. model ST scheduled for 2013, prophesying a revamped ST for 2014 is a tasty fantasy for sport-touring enthusiasts. 

Fuel Economy and Range
  Tank Capacity Amerage MPG Range
ST1300 7.7 gal 40.32 310 miles
FJR1300 6.6 gal 38.35 253 miles
Concours 14 5.8 gal 35.38 205 miles

2012 Honda ST1300 Action Cornering

“I dubbed the ST ‘the couch’ in our 2009 Sport-Touring shootout, and that characterization holds true in this battle,” says Duke. “Its plush suspension, comfy seat and expansive wind protection give it a long-haul edge on its rivals.”

On our sport-touring ScoreCard the Honda garnered 90% of the overall score in the Comfort-Ergonomics portion with the FJR a close 84% and the Concours trailing at 77%.

Another ScoreCard category the Honda dominated was Handling. “For what is easily the heaviest bike of this trio, the ST proves to be remarkably nimble, largely due to having the narrowest rear tire. If you had to do an MSF cone course on one of these, the Honda is your best bet,” says Duke.

2012 Honda ST1300 Instruments

Even our sportbike-centric guest tester, Ko, deservedly gave props to the Honda’s handling. “The ST1300’s handling hides its weight while its longitudinal V4 certainly helps when dropping the big bike into a corner,” he says.

2012 Honda ST1300 Pannier

Notice that each praiseful quote of the Honda’s handling was delivered with a caveat: the ST’s got a weight problem. Even compensating for its extra gallon of fuel capacity the ST comes in 85 pounds heavier than the lithe FJR.

A Weighty Matter
Wet Weights Weight With Fuel Weight of Fuel
(6.2 lbs/gal)
Weight Without Fuel
FJR1300 639 lbs 41 lbs 598 lbs
Concours 14 688 lbs 36 lbs 652 lbs
ST1300 730 lbs 48 lbs 682 lbs

In addition to its excessive poundage the ST’s other Achilles’s heel is its price. At $18,230 the Honda is $2000 more expensive than the Concours ($16,199) and $2300 more than the updated FJR ($15,890), leading Duke to quip, “The ST13 may be a two-wheel Acura, but if you’re gonna charge me an extra two grand, at least throw in some heated grips!”

2012 Honda ST1300 Action Front Left

 Highs:     Sighs:
  • Magically agile
  • Best mileage and range
  • Extraordinary wind protection/comfort
  • Heavier than the FJR by nearly 100 lbs
  • Lacks modern technology
  • Expensive

Next Page...2013 Kawasaki Concours 14

 

Kawasaki Concours 14

Based on the world’s fastest production motorcycle and our choice for 2012’s bike of the year (ZX-14R), the Kawi Concours 14 emphasizes the sport of its sport-touring designation. Powered by a 1352cc inline-Four with variable valve timing, the Connie posts the biggest dyno figures of the group and accelerates to a top speed in excess of 150 mph with its saddlebags full.

2013 Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS Action

What the Connie fails to do is deliver its power in a user-friendly, sport-touring kind of way. At the low end the Kawasaki is outgunned by the FJR (and for a little while the Honda) and while the Connie’s motor spins up quickly like an inline-Four sportbike engine, its power is peaky compared to the others here.

2013 Sport-Touring Shootout Dyno

“Its revvy engine responds as if it has the lightest flywheel effect of this group,” says Duke. “This contributes to its less-tractable nature compared to the always-ready-to-rock Yamaha.”

2013 Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS Rear

The Kawi is the sole motorcycle of the group to boast a sixth gear — a true overdrive cog that brings engine revs down significantly — and this certainly affects its performance against the Honda and Yamaha. The Connie got smoked by the FJR in top-gear roll-ons, and even the mild ST13 pulled a small gap until speeds got supra-legal. Dropping down to fifth gear, the Kawasaki performed like the bike with the most power should, being in the meat of its powerband to edge the Yamaha and dust the Honda.

Suspension
  Front Rear
Concours 14 43mm inverted fork; adjustable rebound damping and spring preload, 4.4 inches of travel Tetra-Lever shock with stepless rebound damping adjustment and remote spring preload adjuster, 5.4 in. of travel
FJR1300 48mm traditional fork; fully adjustable, 5.3 inches of travel Single shock; adjustable preload and rebound damping, 4.9 inches of travel
ST1300 45mm cartridge fork; non-adjustable, 4.6 inches of travel Single shock with five-position spring-preload adjustability, 4.8 inches travel

Although the Kawi came second in overall scoring on our ScoreCard, garnering a 79.6% score, there were two shortcomings that lowered the Kawi’s results. The first category was Handling, as it feels mass-uncentralized when ridden aggressively.

“Part of the blame for the C-14’s clumsy handling can be pinned on its 190/50-17 rear tire,” Duke says. “I once rode two C-14s back to back, with one fitted with a 190/55 tire. Its taller profile dramatically improved its cornering responses, being easier to turn at low speeds and more linear when bent into a corner. If you own a Connie, you definitely should buy 55-series meat when it’s time for a replacement.”

2013 Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS Left Side

The other issue, the Connie’s terribly calibrated linked brakes, earned Team Green a grade of just 50% in the Braking category on the ScoreCard.

2013 Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS Front Wheel

Applying even small amounts of rear brake pressure, the Kawasaki Advanced Coactive-braking Technology (K-ACT) directs way too much braking influence to the front calipers. The effect is abrupt and unsettling, especially when riding dirty, tight switchbacks. And it can’t be blamed on a general failure of linked braking as the Honda’s linked brakes function without any detrimental effects. “It’s the Connie’s worst feature,” laments Duke.

The C-14’s best feature, where it scored a perfect 100%, is in the Transmission/Clutch category. All testers applauded the Kawi’s slick-shifting capabilities while its slipper clutch is a technology the other bikes lack.

 Highs:     Sighs:
  • Excellent transmission
  • High-speed ability
  • Most powerful
  • K-ACT
  • Worst mileage/range
  • Feels heavy and awkward

Next Page...2013 Yamaha FJR1300

 

Yamaha FJR1300

Corner-carver, Kaming Ko, owner of a Desmo, Panigale, RSV4 and various other exotic two-wheel weaponry, came to this shootout with a Kawi Concours bias. The trackday veteran tore up Highway 33 on the C-14 while Duke and I held pace on the FJR and ST. After calling me grandpa and making fun of the FJR’s cruise control, we swapped bikes and hit the freeway en route to the next set of twisties on the east side of Bakersfield.

2013 Yamaha FJR1300 Action Left

Over the course of the next few days — including all the scenarios in the sport-touring manuscript (twisties, night riding, long freeway stretches, cold and hot temperatures, etc.) — the Chinaman (His term. –Ed) came to the same conclusion as Duke and I: The FJR is incontrovertibly the best sport-tourer in this group.

“The FJR handles well in the twisties,” says Kaming. “Its engine lends to hard acceleration when exiting sweepers, making it feel more like a sportbike than a sport-tourer.”

And what was that about calling me grandpa? “Once I got the windscreen to my liking, the cruise control set and the heated grips on, I was in total comfort,” says old man Ko.

The FJR’s engine delivers a deep, powerful exhaust note that, according to Duke, “makes the Honda’s seem like a giant appliance in comparison.” It pounds out plentiful grunt from just above idle, which together with a strong and easy-to-modulate clutch, makes pulling away from stops a cinch. And once underway, the burly engine is ready to significant thrust no matter the rpm.

2013 Yamaha FJR1300 Left Switchgear

“Kudos to Yamaha engineers for providing two useful ride modes,” says Duke. “Sport is my preferred setting, providing sharp throttle response. But the Tour’s softer response is preferable for two-up riding or traveling through snarled traffic. Neither is a throwaway mode, like so many other similar arrangements.”

The last time we had an FJR in a comparison test, our 2009 Sport-Touring Shootout, we complained about its ground-clearance issues when ridden aggressively. But the 2013 edition, with updated spring and damping rates in the suspension, has improved the amount of available lean angle before pegs begin to touch and feels nicely buttoned down.

The upgraded-for-2013 FJR (detailed in Troy’s initial review) includes the best technological package (RbW, Cruise Control, TC (switchable), ABS, Ride Modes (2), heated grips, an adjustable windscreen, seat and handlebars in a sweet handling chassis weighing substantially less than the other two bikes with a price tag under $16k. There’s seriously not much competition here and the ScoreCard reflects that fact.

Of the 13 categories in which the bikes are scored, the FJR lost only four and placed second when it did lose. The Honda came out on top three times (Handling, Fit & Finish, Ergonomics/Comfort) while the Kawi won only the Transmission/Clutch category.

2013 Yamaha FJR1300 Action Cornering

 Highs:     Sighs:
  • Cruise control
  • Least expensive
  • Best engine
  • Least wind protection
  • Vibration
  • Imperfect handling

The FJR’s styling updates give a sharper, contemporary appearance that we think is easily the best in its class. Its twin mufflers are smaller in size and judged to be more fashionable than the C-14’s giant canister.

2013 Yamaha FJR1300 Action Right Side

Complaints about the FJR are few and minor. Testers reported some vibration felt through the FJR’s handlebars. The revamp to the 2013 FJR included some engine updates but not an entirely new powerplant. When Yamaha decides to build a new engine, we bet it’ll include a sixth gear.

And, picking a small nit, Duke didn’t appreciate the engine’s gear whine at certain gears and speeds. “It’s screeching at 60 mph in third gear,” he says. Otherwise the Yamaha is hard to fault.

So the FJR is the indisputable sport-touring champ among these three. However, the debut of Triumph’s Trophy SE brings a new challenger to the class. We’re anxious to find out if the Yamaha can enjoy a repeat performance.

Final Scores
  Duke Tom Kaming Overall
FJR1300 92.9% 91.6% 90.4% 91.2%
Concours 14 78.2% 77.5% 83.2% 79.6%
ST1300 73.2% 78.1% 75.0% 75.5%

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2013 Yamaha FJR1300 Review
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