Motorcycle.com

Just as there are a million ways to skin a cat, there are a million ways to go sport-touring, too. Some folks prefer the full-on Gold Wing style of touring, while others sway the other direction, slapping on a backpack filled only with the bare essentials as they dart off aboard their sportbike. Throw in muscle cruisers and adventure bikes with integrated or aftermarket luggage, and the options for burning miles and scraping peg feelers are very wide.

For this test, we’re shooting for the happy medium, with three motorcycles that all approach sport-touring slightly differently. The players include the BMW S1000XR, KTM 1290 Super Duke GT, and the MV Agusta Turismo Veloce. Astute moto-heads will notice the distinctive aspect that separates all three: their engines. With a 999cc inline-Four in the Beemer, 1301cc V-Twin in the KTM, and 798cc inline-Triple inside the MV, the quest here is to see how each variety of engine adapts to the demands of touring.

This test turned out to be an examination of philosophies as much as a typical test. With the BMW, you have the Teutonic, calculated, and polished method of touring. The S1000XR could be considered more along the lines of your traditional sport-tourer. It’s big and very comfortable, with luggage that’s both spacious and easy to use. With the KTM, you have the brash, in-your-face method of S-T riding from neighboring Austria. Everything centers around its big engine, with a personality veering clearly towards the sport side of the sport-touring equation – KTM’s mantra is Ready To Race, after all. Then there’s the Italian MV Agusta, which sneaks in here relying on its svelte and pretty looks to make up for its relative lack of muscles. More than just a looker, however, the MV strikes a middle ground between the BMW and KTM – More sporty than the German, but far less brash than the Austrian.

We had originally intended to feature the up-spec Turismo Veloce Lusso in this test, but MV couldn’t provide us one in time. Had it been included, the $19,298 Lusso would come standard with saddlebags, centerstand, heated grips, a Bluetooth app and semi-active suspension. The bags ($1446), stand ($275), and grips ($384) are options on the standard T-V, though our tester was delivered without the latter.

We wanted the Lusso version of the Turismo Veloce, but the standard model was what we got instead. No matter; we fitted bags and a centerstand to make it a competent Sport-Tourer. Still, we would have loved to sample the semi-active suspension of the Lusso.

Where Else To Start?

On the topic of muscles, the MotoGP Werks dyno chart tells a revealing story; with a 153 hp peak rating, the KTM’s V-Twin is only a couple ponies ahead of the BMW’s 151 hp Four. But look closer at the chart. The KTM’s 300cc advantage over the BMW means its V-Twin’s hp curve towers over the S1000XR throughout the rev range. Add in the KTM’s 94.5 lb-ft of torque compared to the BMW’s 79.8 and, without a doubt, the big, booming engine is the crowning jewel of the Super Duke GT.

“What a kick-ass engine!” exclaims Evans. “The sound of its beefy exhaust note makes me want to do very bad things. I don’t think I had a single moment where I wanted to be mellow on the KTM. With the other bikes, I was content to cruise at times. Not so with the Super Duke GT. I just wanted to crank on the throttle until the next corner so I’d have to slow down and do the whole process again. And again…”

When you look at the top of the graph, the BMW and KTM reach similar peaks. However, the middle of the graph is more telling. Not only does the KTM make more power compared to the BMW, it does so throughout its rev range. Of course, with a 300cc advantage, it should. As for the MV Agusta, we knew it would be outgunned, but we like how smooth its trace is. There’s hardly any dips in its curve.

We mainly kept the GT in its Street power mode setting, preferring its tamer, smoother, throttle response to the ultra-aggressive Sport setting. More annoying, especially for Tom, was the “ridiculously powerful” engine braking you get in Sport mode. “I’d prefer to modulate stopping power using Brembo’s awesome M50 calipers affixed to the Super Duke GT’s front end,” he observes.

Thankfully, switching between modes is a simple operation performed on the left bar, but again there’s a catch. While traction control and ABS can be disengaged, they are otherwise linked to their respective ride modes. “For $20k, I think KTM should allow the rider to select his or her own settings in regards to engine braking, TC and ABS intervention, throttle sensitivity, etc.,” says Tom. Rowing through the gears is dead simple on the KTM, its quickshifter providing crisp clutchless upshifts whenever asked. Strangely, however, it’s the only bike of the three without a quick downshift function. It’s a demerit, though not much of one thanks to its light clutch pull and slipper function making manual down-changes pretty simple.

The torque department is ruled by engine displacement numbers, with the 1301cc SD-GT also killing its rivals. No surprise, really, but it’s interesting that both the BMW and KTM have dips in their midrange while the MV Triple is smooth and consistent from start to finish. That’s a sign of great fueling – something we’re not used to saying about MV Agustas.

The BMW, meanwhile, is far from a slouch. “While the dyno chart may say that the BMW is down on power compared to the KTM, I’ll be damned if I can tell,” says Evans. In fact, during our impromptu – and highly un-scientific – sixth-gear roll-on tests, the BMW and KTM were neck and neck, with the KTM only able to put a nose ahead of the BMW. Once speeds reached well into the territory we shouldn’t mention publicly, the XR actually clawed back some ground on the Duke. All that is to say the 999cc Four in the BMW really moves if you ask it to, and the intake honk it produces is one of the best in the biz.

However, one of the big complaints we’ve had about the XR in the past is its excessive vibration from the engine bay, which proved annoying to some and downright maddening to others (we’re looking at you, Roderick…). For 2017, the S1000XR has dramatically reduced buzz through the bars thanks to revised rubber mounts. That said, the vibes haven’t gone away completely, and at certain rpm its presence still makes itself known. That presence is largely relegated to the background, but when it strikes it’s still very annoying. So much so that Tom couldn’t take it. “At the as-tested price of $22k, or even for its base $16k MSRP, this annoyance is a deal breaker for me. Sorry, BMW.” Evans and I were more forgiving of the BMW, our pain receptors apparently tougher than Tom’s.

Absolute power corrupts, absolutely. Such is the case with KTM’s 1301cc V-Twin. No matter what application KTM puts this LC8 engine into, it hits a homerun.

With the slickest quickshifter in this bunch, the BMW rider’s left hand is basically only used at a stop. Upshifts are slick no matter the engine speed, and rev-matched downshifts are equally as sweet. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that the S1000XR unanimously topped our editor scores in the Transmission category of the MO Scorecard.

And that leaves the MV Agusta. On paper, its 800cc Triple pumps out a relatively paltry 93.6 hp and 51 lb-ft. We figured the MV would be outmatched in the engine department – like bringing a knife to a gunfight.

The S1000XR 999cc Four is still a buzzy little thing, but new and improved rubber mounts for the bars absorb much of that buzz. Get over that, and the four-banger really moves. And it sounds great, too.

Oh, how wrong we were. In actuality, that “little” Triple punches way above its weight. Get it spinning and those three cylinders give the Turismo Veloce a surprising amount of gusto. Sure the T-V gets demolished in a drag race with the bigger German and Austrian, but calling it slow is plainly and simply wrong.

Both its intake honk and exhaust wail are music to any gearhead’s ears, and fueling feels nicely metered, giving the rider precise control of just how much power to pour on. It’s a fun engine to play with, providing a nice contrast between the brutish Super Duke and superbike-inspired XR. The least expensive model here, at $16k ($17k and change as tested), we’re impressed it has a quickshifter in both directions standard, though its ignition cut times seem better suited for track riding than the street duty the T-V is intended for.

Don’t let its displacement deficit fool you, the 798cc Triple in the MV is loads of fun. You really have to get it spinning to stay with the bigger boys, but the Turismo Veloce thrives at full song – and it sounds spectacular while doing it.

Putting the Sport in Sport-Touring

The contrast between the three bikes is apparent when the roads get curvy. Both the $20k models (BMW and KTM, in case you haven’t been paying attention) come with their own versions of electronic suspension, allowing their respective rides to adjust to road conditions or rider preference at the push of a button. This (and the closer pricing) is why we wanted to include MV’s Lusso version of the T-V, which also comes equipped with semi-active Sachs suspension at both ends.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the KTM thrives on backroads. With its rider placed in a slightly forward position, the KTM clearly prefers the twisty stuff. It changes direction quickly (for a Sport-Tourer) and feels planted leaned over. For its part, the WP semi-active suspension really firms up when set to Sport mode (not to be confused with the Sport ride mode controlling engine power). But given the poor road conditions in much of California, Sport mode was actually too stiff for our liking, bouncing over small road imperfections instead of soaking them up. Instead, we preferred Street mode, which softens the suspenders just enough to soak up bumps while still providing a sporty and compliant ride.

If you’re in the canyons and you see this figure in your mirrors, it’s best to pull aside. The Super Duke GT with a competent rider on board can more than keep up with the local fast dudes in the twisties. All while carrying a weekend’s worth of clothes!

The BMW goes about handling bumps slightly differently. With the Dynamic ESA as equipped on our test bike, suspension compliance is determined by the ride mode. Put it in Road and the XR is almost Cadillac-like. When the roads turned fun, we opted for the Dynamic mode, which firms everything up. Combine the firmer suspension with the BMW’s wide bars (in fact, a little too wide for my taste…) and the XR can carve up a twisty road almost as easily as the KTM. This despite being the heaviest bike here (549 lbs. vs. the KTM’s 525 lbs. and MV’s 516 lbs.)

If you opt to save yourself $4k and a few hundred cubic centimeters, the base Turismo Veloce will greet you with analog fork and shock, courtesy of Marzocchi and Sachs, respectively. Both ends are fully adjustable, but turning knobs is so much more work than simply pushing a button! Call us spoiled, but when it comes to touring, road conditions are bound to change, and having a bike that can adapt to those changes is something you don’t appreciate until you try it. And since we didn’t have it, we found ourselves lusting for the Lusso.

The S1000XR channels some of its S1000RR superbike cousin when the road gets twisty. Wide bars allow the rider to leverage the 546-pound tourer into bends nearly as quickly as the KTM.

Nonetheless, our T-V test bike suspension took several attempts at adjustment to get it to handle well, which only served to highlight the convenience of semi-active suspenders. Once set up, the MV rewards a smooth riding style, in which inputs aren’t made forcefully. The other two bikes didn’t seem to care how they were hustled through a corner.

Trailing brakes into a bend, sharpening the rake angle, then gently releasing the binders as you get on the gas is an effective method for riding curvy roads quickly. Trying to ride the MV fast through tight, poorly kept roads proved taxing, both physically and mentally, especially compared to the BMW and KTM.

Compare this picture of the Turismo Veloce and the picture above of the S1000XR, and one can get a glimpse of the differences in dimensions between the two. For reference, 5-foot-8-inch Trizzle is shown in both pictures.

All of this is to say the Turismo Veloce can flat rail, but road conditions must play to its strengths to do so. In the end, the handling contest was no question, really. This is where the KTM shines, and all testers said as much in their notes and this is reflected in the scorecard. The runner-up rankings are a mixed bag, as both Tom and Evans scored the MV last behind the BMW. Meanwhile, I found the MV’s nuances, once mastered, to be rewarding. Couple that with the Italian’s lightest curb weight and I gave it the nod for second best in the handling department, with the BMW third due to its heft.

The Long Haul

Of course, without a couple of straight lines thrown in, Sport-Touring would simply be, uh, Sport. Finding a balance between the two is no easy task for OEMs, and in case you haven’t noticed a theme in this comparison, it’s that all three manufacturers have gone about the challenge of Sport-Touring in very different ways.

As we’ve noted before, the KTM sides firmly on the sport side of the Sport-Touring equation; it’s the most aggressive here, with its snarling engine and sportbike-like handling. Calling it the least comfortable of the three might be true, but even then it sounds a bit harsh in the overall scheme of things. The SD-GT’s touring accoutrements include an adjustable windscreen, relatively upright ergos, a relaxed knee bend, and cruise control.

There’s a lot to like about the Super Duke GT, but perhaps the feature we liked the least was its seat. Flat and broad, it doesn’t offer as much support or padding compared to the MV or BMW.

While we definitely appreciate the KTM for its touring ability, there are some obvious sore spots. “The GT’s seat is very flat and stiff,” Roderick notes. “I’d prefer a little more suppleness for making long-distances more bearable.” Evans says the “GT rider sits on top of the bike where the BMW places the pilot slightly inside of the cockpit and the MV drops the rider the furthest into the cockpit of the trio.”

An adjustable windscreen is something all three bikes have, but for my 5-foot-8-inch frame, the KTM routes the air toward my helmet in its highest position, making the ride louder than necessary. Evans and Tom, being taller lads than I, said the wind blast actually helped support them and didn’t create undue noise.

In direct contrast lies the BMW. “The riding position is my favorite of the bunch,” says Evans. “It is upright without being too relaxed, like the MV Agusta, and sporty without being too canted forward for the long haul, like the KTM.”

Again, rider size plays a role here, as I felt the BMW’s bars were a smidge too wide for my tastes (and I’m a guy who typically likes wide bars), and the XR overall felt big. It’s definitely oriented more toward the touring side of the Sport-Touring equation. Evans continues, “While I can see how Troy might think the bar is a tad wide, it falls in just about the perfect position for me for any of the tasks I might toss at the XR. Only during lane splitting do I feel like the grips are too far apart, but since the bags are just a smidge wider, it’s nice to have two points of reference.”

All three bikes have saddlebags capable of eating up a full-face helmet (if it’s a size medium, at least), but the XR’s bags are slightly bigger than the other two and are extremely simple to operate.

If the KTM veers toward sport, the BMW towards touring, then the MV falls, again, somewhere in the middle when talking about ergos. The MV is the smallest bike here not just in terms of weight, but in physical dimensions, too. This is instantly noticeable once you sit on it. Its seating position is upright, but in relation to the other two, the MV simply feels more compact. The bars are close to the MV rider, as are the gauges and the windscreen.

Personally, this was my favorite of the three bikes ergonomically, as it suited my stubby stature. This despite having the tallest seat height of the three at 33.5 inches. The KTM features the lowest seat at 32.9 inches, while the BMW’s saddle sits 33.1 inches from the ground (accessory low and high seats are available at 31.1 inches and 33.7 inches, respectively). Evans and Tom didn’t mind the MV’s layout but preferred the BMW more. Thankfully, MV graced the T-V with a well-padded seat, “but its sloping nature pushes you up against the fuel tank, especially when riding aggressively,” says Tom.

When it comes to slogging through miles and miles of boring, straight roads to get to the curvy ones, we’d prefer to either straddle the BMW or MV, thanks to their comfy cockpits. But no matter which you’re on, the ride is made a little easier with cruise control. Here, the BMW system is best, by far. Flick it on via a switch on the left bar, and adjust speed with a toggle.

The KTM is next, and similarly simple, though its controls “must be sourced from Costco,” says Tom. “Its handlebar-mounted units are industrial in size and shape.” Once cruise control is activated, adjusting speed is as easy as pushing an up or down button. But, Tom continues, “Where BMW’s switchgear is refined, almost to the point of being delicate, the KTM’s units are huge blocky devices that make reaching the cruise control buttons almost impossible while maintaining a steady throttle.”

Aesthetically speaking, the MV’s bags look stylish and are functional, too. Peek towards the lower attachment point just behind the passenger peg and you’ll see the tethered dzus fastener which helps secure the bag firmly in place.

Meanwhile, the MV’s cruise control operation is more complex. Activation is easy enough, with a button press on the right bar (also a slight reach for the right thumb). Adjusting speed is where the grief begins; First comes pressing the cruise button again, after which a display will appear on the screen allowing you to select your desired speed in 1 mph increments. Actually choosing a speed is the job of the toggle switch on the left bar. This means both hands are required to adjust cruise control. I suppose we should just be happy cruise control is included at all, but c’mon!

Luggage is the other key component to a good Sport-Touring bike, and here again, the BMW takes the cake. Not just because it has a slight edge in cargo volume (31 liters versus 30 liters on the KTM and MV), but as Evans explains, “The bags were the best thought out of the group. The easy-to-distinguish levers for opening or removing the bags make it hard to accidentally drop the bag off the bike when you just want to open it. Also, the internal shelf made it easier to pack more stuff than is typical of a side-opening saddlebag.”

A sportbike hiding in a tourer’s clothes, the Super Duke GT manages to incorporate KTM’s “Ready to Race” mantra into a Sport-Tourer.

It’s not all sunshine and victory for the Beemer’s bags, however. Evans, with his big noggin, did find a sour spot to complain about: it couldn’t fit his size XL Shoei. Meanwhile, my medium Shoei fit fine in all three bikes.

From there, the KTM’s bags also earned high praise. Its operation is simple (though not quite BMW simple), they don’t degrade the GT’s appearance when installed (KTM designed the GT and its saddlebags together), and they mount solidly to the bike. However, Tom noticed the KTM’s bags don’t appear to seal as tightly as the other two, evidenced by a visible gap if they weren’t closed carefully.

There’s a lot going on with the Turismo Veloce’s gauge display, with nearly all of the bike’s functions on display at once, including some that our particular bike isn’t equipped with (heated grips, semi-active suspension, Bluetooth). It’s a little overwhelming at first, but eventually, you learn to look where you need to.

In the grand scheme of things, the MV’s bags are well thought out and also easy to use. Not only is there ample space within each bag for a generous weekend trip, but the bike looks equally as stunning with the bags on or off. However, it loses points compared to the German and Austrian because a second latch, about 10 inches separated from the main latch, has to be flipped to open and close the bag securely. Moreover, the removal procedure is also more complicated. After the keyed lock is turned and the handle is raised to unlock it from its mount, a tethered dzus fastener through the bottom mount needs to be pulled, after which you can nudge the bag and remove it. Overall it’s not a big deal, and the bag nicely mounts securely to the bike, but as you can see in the video, it’s the most tedious of the three.

Three Ways To Tour, But Only One Winner

The truth is, when it comes to Sport-Touring, all three of these bikes are excellent for the job. Relative comfort and great sporting chops are combined with generous cargo space and a bevy of useful electronic doo-dads. For such big bikes, all three returned fairly decent mpg figures, too: 34.2 mpg for the S1000XR, 37.7 mpg for the MV Agusta, and 38.1 mpg for the KTM – impressive, considering how heavy our right wrists are during our group rides and photo shoots. The BMW has the smallest tank at 5.2 gallons, while the MV’s is 5.7 gallons. Again, the KTM wins out, able to hold 6.1 gallons of petrol.

According to the MO Scorecard, the lowest ranked bike in this test, the MV Agusta Turismo Veloce, still scored an 85.8% – that’s still a very respectable score, and we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it if the MV is the Sport-Tourer that stirs your soul.

When it comes to passenger accommodations, the BMW treats the pillion just as well as it does the pilot. Though we didn’t spend too much time back there, the back seat on the BMW is where a passenger would want to be. The seat is broad and well padded, just like it is in the front. The KTM comes next, though its seat is slightly more narrow and the passenger grab handle can be a little difficult to reach. Passengers on the MV, however, should be relegated to those who register as, uh, petite. The seat is the narrowest, though Tom noted the Turismo Veloce gets points for having a couple of conveniently placed accessory outlets for both the rider and passenger; perfect for plugging in heated clothing.

As for us, you’d be angry if we called them all winners, so let’s go on and rank them with the MO scorecard. At the end of the day, motorcycling is about having fun, and none of us needed a stinkin’ scorecard to tell us which bike gave us the biggest thrills. The KTM Super Duke GT’s riding position may be the most aggressive here, “but not oppressively so,” says Evans. “I could easily manage extended freeway stints without issue.” It’s comfortable enough, has cruise control, and the WP suspension, when switched to comfort mode, is downright plush! Of course, in the event you’re still bored, banging a couple downshifts to third and pulling power wheelies all day long is an instant cure for whatever ails you. Not that we condone such behavior…

The KTM Super Duke GT is simply an outstanding motorcycle if you can only have one bike to do it all – and you have 20-grand burning a hole in your wallet.

Of course, once the road looks more like spaghetti than a ruler, the Super Duke GT simply can’t be touched. Just ask Evans. “Get my body in that slight forward cant with my mitts in an aggressive position, stir in that nasty exhaust note, and you’ve got a recipe for hooliganism.” It may be a $20,000 motorcycle, but if we had the cash and Sport-Touring is the mission, this would be the bike we put in our garage.

The fight for second place is a little more complicated. Being the bigger fellas they are, Tom and Evans gravitated towards the BMW. They both preferred its bigger stature, greater comfort (in their opinions), more powerful engine, and predictable handling. And while the BMW is, by all accounts, a perfectly capable motorcycle, it feels too big for my taste. I preferred the smaller dimensions, greater agility, and exotic exhaust note of the MV Agusta.

In the end, the scorecard will say KTM first, BMW second, and MV Agusta third, but that decision was by no means unanimous.

Except for the KTM. That bike rules.

2017 BMW S1000XR
+ Highs
  • Best weather protection
  • Reduced vibration
  • Ideal for bigger/taller riders
– Sighs
  • Pricey once fitted with options
  • Annoying vibration still creeps in at certain rpm
  • Smaller riders could be put off by its heft
2017 KTM Super Duke GT
+ Highs
  • Killer engine!
  • Killer handling!
  • And still returned the best fuel mileage!
– Sighs
  • Least comfortable seat
  • Least weather protection
  • Somebody want to give us 20-large?
2017 MV Agusta Turismo Veloce
+ Highs
  • Looks great with or without bags
  • The 800cc Triple punches well above its weight
  • Dimensions suited for smaller riders
– Sighs
  • Sensitive to suspension tuning
  • Quickshifter has a bit too much lag at street speeds
  • Dash display is convoluted

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