Lightweight Tourers Comparison

1. Honda ST1100

 Design criteria of the Honda ST1100 was that the bike should be able to transport Herr Tourer and passenger across the Autobahn at over 100 miles per hour for a full tank of gas, and do it with comfort and style. Goals that one would think might be counter to the needs of the American public. But with local speed limits being raised faster than the stakes at a high-dollar poker game, the big red bike begins to make much more sense.

In the time since its release in 1991, there have been only minor changes from year to year -- a different color one year, additional moldings the next -- and the same holds true for the 1995 model. The most striking change this year is the color. It's now the same bright red as the VFR750R. Rider comfort has been improved by adding two small vents in the wider and more rigid windshield to decrease the amount of back pressure -- the force that pushes on the back of the rider causing a strain on the neck muscles. The "wings" on the sides of the bike, actually guards to protect the bike in case of a tip-over, have been increased in size. The right wing has been modified to accept a cable-type locking device, for greater security.

When Honda purpose-builds a motor for a specific bike, they mean it. They started with a 90 degree longitudinally mounted V4 motor that uses belt and gear-driven camshafts. A toothed belt driven off the crankshaft drives an idler gear to which one pair of camshafts is geared. The other half of the V has the same arrangement. The combination allows for easier camshaft removal and replacement during the infrequent valve adjustments, thanks to the shim under bucket actuation arrangement.

 Final drive is a maintenance-free shaft, long enough that the jacking effect from throttle position changes is kept to a minimum. Good stopping power for a bike of its size is provided by triple disk brakes with four piston calipers up front and a twin-pot unit out back. Honda's TRAC anti-dive is built into the left fork leg and activated by the left front brake caliper. It works remarkably well, without the harsh feeling we seem to remember on older bikes when braking on rough pavement. Anti-lock brakes -- some of the best in the business -- and traction control are optional as a different model, the ST1100A. Honda's removable bags are much nicer and easier to use than those of the aging Kawasaki, but they have a long way to go before they can hope to match the quality of the BMW's. When the bags are off the bike, hinged trim pieces fold down to hide the bags' mounting hardware. The locking mechanism that keep strangers from walking off with your bags attaches to a tab behind the passenger footpegs and can be awkward to access. When mounted, the rear of the bags seem to be unsupported and tend to flap around. Watching an ST go by can be either amusing or disconcerting, depending on whether or not he's carrying any of your luggage in his bags. But that's the only area we could fault the ST1100, mechanically. If it weren't for the BMW in this test, we're sure that we wouldn't be making such a fuss over the bags. It's just that the Beemer's are that much better.

Out on the more or less open roads of Southern California, it is easy to see that the ST would shine on the Autobahn, through the wine countries of France and Italy, or in the Swiss Alps. The smooth torquey motor just loafs along at about 2500 rpm in top gear at 60 miles per hour. It certainly doesn't complain about such treatment and would be quite happy to go well over 300 miles to the next gas stop that way, but with the low mounted handlebars and the high non-adjustable windshield, there isn't the windblast necessary to take the weight off the rider's wrists at those poky speeds. No, this bike would definitely be happier, as would the rider, either zipping along at triple digit speeds or winding up the throttle through some serpentine mountain pass.

And just because it looks like a touring bike doesn't mean it can't handle a few curves. The suspension at both ends is both compliant and well damped, and the solidity of the frame and forks adds to the bike's composure through fast sweepers. There is ample ground clearance and the stock tires offer enough grip for even the most adventurous canyon carver. The bike's fun factor is let down just a little by its weight. Hard corner charging on a 660-pounds-dry bike -- that's roughly 100 pounds heavier than the BMW -- with luggage and seven gallons of gas is going to get the rider a serious dose of adrenaline. It's capable of going fast, just do it smoothly.

In all, the ST1100 is a good -- very good -- sport touring bike. The Europeans know what they want in a bike and when Honda set out to build one for them, they did it the only way they know how, with refinement, quality, and for a decent price. In fact it was because of the price that half of Motorcycle Online's testers chose the ST over the BMW R1100RT.


A bike dubbed as a "Touring" model must be able to provide a level of comfort that will allow the rider to stay in the saddle for the hours and miles required to meet the day's tour agenda. It must also provide enough luggage capacity to let passenger and rider bring along enough gear to keep comfortable both on and off the bike.

The Kawasaki Concours has the right stuff, but the wrong motor. The Concours' buzzy 1000cc engine is just too sport oriented for long-range touring comfort. On one short tour we were barely 17 miles from home when the rider's right hand began to tingle and fall asleep. Not good. While luggage capacity on the Concours is good, comfort is not. Rank it third.

Second on the list is the BMW R1100RT. It's supremely comfortable, with the best bars-seat-pegs relationship for a taller riders, and it has plenty of on-board gadgets to tinker with on a long ride. But big, twin-cylinder engines do not make good powerplants for touring machines. Low-rpm vibration from the 1100cc boxer will wear on you. And if you're spending 15,000 dollars on a motorcycle, it damn well better be smooth as silk.

Which brings us to the Honda ST1100. Great looking, beautifully finished, and not overdone like the Beemer, the ST has the right stuff -- large, easy to remove saddlebags, logical, well-laid-out gauges and controls, and comfy ergonomics in a well balanced, great handling package. But most important, the Honda's big V-4 is the perfect touring engine -- good low-rpm response and as smooth as can be - for mile after mile after mile. Add in ABS and Traction Control for 3,000 dollars less than the BMW, and the choice is clear. The Honda ST1100 gets the Number One vote.

Specs and Dyno Charts








Model:  1995 Honda ST1100A/ST1100
Price:  $13,999 with ABS, $11,599 without ABS
Engine:  1084cc DOHC liquid-cooled, four valve per cylinder,
  90 degree V4
Ignition: Solid-State digital
Transmission: Five-speed
Final Drive: Shaft, Traction Control System
Suspension:  41mm cartridge fork with TRAC Rear suspension single-shock 
                with 5 position spring-preload and rebound-damping adjustability
Front Brakes: Dual-disc with twin-piston calipers, Anti-lock 
  Braking System
Rear Brakes: Disc with twin-piston caliper
Seat Height: 31.5 inches
Wheelbase: 61.2 inches
Dry Weight: 659.2/634.9 pounds
Fuel Capacity: 7.4 gallons
Warranty: 3 years

Model:  1996 BMW R1100RT
Price:   $15,990
Engine:  1,085cc high camshaft air/oil cooled, four 
  valve per cylinder, opposed twin
Ignition: Solid-State digital Bosch Motronic
Transmission: Five-speed
Final Drive: Shaft
Suspension:  BMW Telelever, single shock, no adjustment
Front Brakes: Dual-disc with four-piston calipers, Anti-lock
  Braking System
Rear Brakes: Single disc with twin-piston caliper
Seat Height: 30.75 to 32.25 inches
Wheelbase: 58.4 inches
Dry Weight: 563 pounds
Fuel Capacity: 6.6 gallons
Warranty: 3 years, unlimited miles

Model:  Kawasaki Concours
Price:   $9,099
Engine:  997cc dual overhead camshaft, water cooled, 
  four valve per cylinder, inline-four
Ignition: Transistor controlled breakerless ignition
Transmission: Six-speed
Final Drive: Shaft
Suspension:  Uni-Trak© rear suspension with 4-way rebound
  damping, conventional forks
Front Brakes: Dual-disc with 272mm effective disk diameter
Rear Brakes: Single disc
Seat Height: 31.1 inches
Wheelbase: 61.2 inches
Dry Weight: 595.4 pounds
Fuel Capacity: 7.5 gallons
Warranty: 3 years


 1. Andy Saunders, Editor   Four hundred miles before breakfast. Which bike to choose? If the map promised nothing but squiggles, the Concours would be the choice. Any other route wouldn't be as easy to choose a bike for, except to say it likely wouldn't be the Concours.

For all its niggling faults -- like the crazy fuel gauge, the almost unusable radio and the difficult-to-use turn signals, the BMW is the most user friendly of the bunch. Put a bigger set of bags on it, and it's the one I'd chose to drive across country or across town. But the most efficient of the pack has got to be the ST1100. It has the character of an Accord, but the country-covering ability of a Peterbilt. And it costs a lot less then the twin, which means that in about five years I'll be able to afford one.

2. Brent Plummer, Editor-in-Chief   Damn that sensible stuff, it's the BMW or nothing for me. The ergonomics fit me just right -- low foot pegs, high bars, retractable windshield, adjustable seat, and plenty of passenger room for my most significant other. Stock Bridgestone Battlax tires stick incredibly well, and the BMW's motor feels the torquiest of the bunch since the bike is the lightest in the test, all of which combine to make a very confidence-inspiring ride that left me (for once) in the enviable position of leading our staff of hell-bent-for-speed freaks through the twisty parts of our lightweight tour around Palomar Mountain, California. Then, when the going got straight, I jacked up the windshield, cranked up the radio (it's easy, just leave the cover open -- it never flaps in he wind), turned the heated grips on, and rode off into the night, happy.  

3. Mike Franklin, Managing Editor
  It was no contest for me: I picked the BMW R1100RT. Sure, each bike had something to offer: The Kawasaki has the best seat of the bunch and felt the most like a sport bike, but the motor is way too buzzy; the Honda was very comfortable, well built, and has a deceptively smooth yet powerful motor; but the BMW -- well it just had more where it counted and less where it mattered. More amenities like a radio, heater vents, electric windshield, heated grips and adjustable seat height. Less weight meant that it was a lot easier to throw around a corner, or just back out of the garage. Personally, though, I'd throw a set of bags on a VFR750R, pocket the left over five or six grand and take a month off in Montana. No speed limits and Glacier National Park. Staff tour anyone? 4. Tom Fortune, Contributing Editor When I go touring I have to travel comfortably. Bikes that are cramped, buzzy and irritating after only a couple hours in the saddle spoil the fun of touring on a motorcycle. So the Concours is out. Performance-wise, they're all up to the task and can handle anything the open road offers. Only the Honda, though, delivers the level of comfort and engine smoothness I require in my touring mounts. Both the BMW and the ST1100 have great ergonomics and fit me well, but it's the Honda's steady, sophisticated V-4 powerplant that provides me the satisfaction to go the distance.

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