Exporting Democracy and Goodwill Toward Motorcycles

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

It saddens me to admit that the closest thing we get to a vacation here at MO is the occasional "sport-tourer shootout," like this one. Forget your troubles for a couple of days and get away from it all? Not likely. More like a change of venue, really. Ever been to the Salton Sea? Sort of a less temperate hell--but at least we missed the annual carp die-off. Mecca, California, is right on the north shore. Why visit the third world when you can import it? Joshua Tree National Monument? What's it a monument to? All that is overblown? Must've been the U2 album that did it: "camping" there (not that we would) is what it would be like if everybody on my street decided to all throw up tents in the front yard one night, though there'd be much more space between the tents on my street and more parking.

The Ducati keeps trying to sneak off with our cameras and watches.

There aren't any Joshua trees or cholla cactuses on my street, but we do have telephone poles full of rusty nails and I can bust a couple beer bottles in the street to simulate the friendly nature of the cholla if you'd like. Joshua Tree is like Disneyland but without the rides, shows, food outlets, bar to escape to by taking the tram, running water, moving water, standing water, or cute mommies to ogle. You want bitter? I got your bitter. Right, there's no SV650 in this comparison either, sorry (though the new SV650 is in the works). And there also are a lot of other bikes missing that I'm sure you'll tell us we're idiots for leaving out: ST1300 Honda?

Eighty pounds heavier and 17 horses fewer than the FJR1300 last time we checked.

We weren't interested in having to pan it all over again (not that Honda would probably be interested in giving us one to pan all over again). Kawasaki ZZ-R1200? We thought about it, but that bike's more GT than ST--not quite the right fit in this group--and the VFR800 Honda is even moreso.

And it probably was inexcusable of us not to bring a BMW, but we were less than bowled over by the new K1200GT. We should've taken an R1150RT along maybe, but then it's a little more TOURY than the others, though it's a fantastic motorcycle. You know what? We brought the dang bikes we like the best and if you've got a problem with that we're sorry.

Let this lesson be carried forward: When a bike gets left out of a comparison, it's usually a simple case of us being cruel to be kind. It's also because group rides of more than four or five bikes rapidly devolve into no fun, as MO test riders tend be as group-oriented as a bag of cats.

"Bottom line is we brought these four bikes because they are winners, faves, really nice, versatile broadband motorcycles of our very favorite ilk--those which can dog frontline sportbikes all day on the way to greener pastures with two bags full of stuff."

The Yamaha was already very nice; this year it's better thanks to a little-bit taller (electric- adjust) windscreen, slightly stiffer suspension, bigger brakes -- and optional ABS that raises the price exactly $1K -- to $12,599. If you like your sport-tourers sportier than tourier, you can't overlook the Ducati -- especially in light of the fact that the ST4S ABS you see here is that company's first-ever foray into anti-lock braking. The Triumph Sprint ST has always been a very Nice motorcycle. While we weren't looking, Triumph slipped us a mickey in the form of a Daytona-derived triple which makes it a very Nice Fast motorcycle. The Aprilia Futura was an overnight critical success upon its arrival two years ago. How's it stacking up?


Cheap Mexican food fuels the MORons on our Mission.

More than any other bunch of motorcycles, picking the best one of these is a highly subjective matter depending on how big you are, where you ride, for how long and with whoooom? Horsepower is always good, and light weight usually is too--but not so much with these bikes. In the desert sciroccoes we encountered on this ride, for instance, the heavier and therefore less easily blown off course Yamaha wasn't a bad place to be. It was also the right seat to be in when the snow started falling, though the optional heated grips would've made it better still. There's a continuum at work here--from the sportiest of the bunch Ducati to the touringest Yamaha at the other end. I will fight no more forever with my MO brethren. Why don't we let each man march to his own dang drummer, as measured and far away from me as possible, and we'll rank them and pick a winner? Deal?

Johnny B.
5'7" :: 155 lbs :: 43 yrs old :: bitter

Fourth Place:

With the bags off, the exhaust cans can be raised a bit for increased clearance.

Just shows to go you how good a group this is that I must rank the Ducati last.

If the roads we ride were all curvy all the time, things would be different indeed, but since sport-touring also involves lots of straightline droning along, the Ducati must finish last in my book largely due to its seat. Said saddle is the best of the bunch when cheek-shifting side-to-side Pierfrancesco Chili-style, but it wants to treat my butt as a log-splitter wants to treat a fat hickory splif when the time comes to sit bolt upright for an hour or two.

The tasty Ohlins shock, complete with remote preload adjuster, does what it can to alleviate the lightly crowned saddle's assault, but it's not enough.

"I'm all over this Ducati." Corbin saddle? I've never been a fan--but our friend Jimbo does like the Sargent seat on his 996SP. Perhaps the solution is that simple, but a better one for me would be forthcoming from Bologna as original equipment, considering the cashetary outlay.

Speaking of cash, I've probably beaten Ducati over the head enough with the fact that 6000 miles between valve adjustments is a bit much for a sport-touring bike.

Other than that, I'm all over this Ducati. Five-point-five gallon fuel capacity, a lithe chassis with stupendous suspenders and fine brakes now with Bosch/Brembo ABS. Skip the rest of the paragraph if you've already been exposed to my ABS rant.

I don't care how good a braker you are, when you're cruising merrily along and ditzing Mathilda suddenly pulls the Pontiac into your path, you forget everything you know and slam on the brakes panic-style.

If that ever happens to you--and it's happened to me a couple times which is how I know--you'll be glad you spent the money. Especially if the street's the least bit damp. ABS is a potential life-saver, and big Italian Kudos rancheros to Ducati for jumping in there with a very good, practically transparent system.

Third place:

Footpegs could go lower; scuff on fairing lower is from Sean's track day...

Not exactly outstanding in any area, the Triumph finishes a very close third by being an extremely competent doer of everything.

Not as light as the Ducati or Aprilia but not as big as the Yamaha, more powerful than the twins but again, not as fast as the big four-cylinder.

More comfy than the Ducati, slightly less so than the other two to me. Etcetera, etcetera. For being as large as it is, the Sprint exhibits exemplary sporting manners along with more ground clearance than you really need.

Suspension adjustment is limited to spring preload at both ends, and rebound damping at the rear (rear preload's easily twiddled with an 8mm socket stuck through a hole in the frame)--but those dampers exit the factory right in the middle of an excellent range for everybody who hops on--firm enough for hard charging, supple enough for cosseting the coccyx coast-to-coast. Being on the shorter side, my only ergonomic gripe would be that the seat's a tad narrow where it meets the tank, and so prods my prostate somewhat perfunctorily.

"More comfy than the Ducati..."

A couple of riders feel the injection's less than perfect, but what do they know? There's a little whiffle just off idle, and after that you're motoring off on on one of my favorite motors, and one perfectly suited to grand touring: Slightly heavier of crank and tallish-geared, the big triple reminds me of the silky six found in England's vintage Jag-yew-ars... and that jowly growl down low builds to a spine-tingly, 111-horsepowah howl up top. The whole thing actually feels kind of wood-panelled solid, cigar-smoking exclusive.

The looks are on the bland side, but those of you in your golden years and/or on the lam like that.

An hydraulic clutch, or different lever, would suit my left paw better, and bags with one latch instead of two, which didn't let the rain in, would be nice too. (The Yamaha is the only contestant whose bags use the same key as the ignition.) On the other hand, a glance at the tote board will reveal that, at $11,199, the Triumph is the low-priced spread.

I'm sorely tempted to move it up a peg or even two... and yet the competition is just too fierce. I cannot. It's third.

Second Spot:

Afraid that leaves the Aprilia in second. Man, what a nice motorcycle. The thing is nearly ergonomically perfect for everybody who rides it--with a narrow cross-section between the knees, a super-comfortable saddle, and just the right angle of attack.

This particular bike, we must admit, is a cheater--with an aftermarket Ohlins shock among other things--and has the most beauteous ride, I think, of any bike I've ridden that still can go around corners like a full-on sportbike. Come to think of it, we took the last Futura we borrowed to a Streets of Willow track day and had an excellent time.

"Sporty enough, the Futura's dual-counterbalanced twin has been optimized for S-T duty with the addition of a bigger generator, among other things, and like the Triumph, has that unstoppable juggernaut feel as it augurs through the air, pushing a hole second in size only to the Yamaha's."

Though its Stealth looks remain controversial, Aprilia gets full props for designing an underseat exhaust to leave room for excellent luggage as well as your passenger's legs, and there are no ugly brackets to look at when you leave the bags behind. Cool LCD instruments glow a comforting blue after dark, and the Futura's headlight is one of the best. There's nothing not to like.

View all VideosPHOTOS & VIDEOS

Get in your Inbox

Subscribe to our email newsletter and automatically be entered to win.