MO SPORT-TOUR 2003

Exporting Democracy and Goodwill Toward Motorcycles

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And Yet...

The Yamaha FJR1300 makes 127 horsepower and 96 fruit-loops of torque for God's sake. And it comes with shaft drive, that cool electric windscreen which is a hit with kids at intersections everywhere--and even with the ABS it's cheaper than the Aprilia. The kids are, of course, whining that it doesn't handle quite as sharp as the others in the tight stuff.

Frankly, they are pansies, and really it's true that the rest of the MO test crew hasn't had as much experience as yours truly on big touring rigs like the FJR. Not that it's a big touring rig. It's just bigger than the other bikes here. Here's my technique: gas it and quit whining that the pegs drag now and then, and steer with those handlebar things. See? It's easy. With the rear preload set to Hard (you get two choices: Soft and Hard, and a lever to flip), I have no complaints--the new stiffer suspension is indeed a step forward--and I'll gladly exchange peg feelers that drag now and then for a seat that's a little lower, which is another thing I like about the FJR.

Actually there's not a damn thing I don't like about this bike, though for some reason--maybe not enough break-in yet?--the twin-counterbalanced engine in this one doesn't feel quite as smoooooth as last year's bike.

No vibration, but just a coarse feeling through the grips here and there... more just an Observation than a Problem, though.

Meanwhile, when you get to Texas none of the other bikes here can hold a candle to this one, though it's still curious why the FJR isn't geared a bit taller or given a sixth gear. It could pull it, oh yes.

Can we get cruise control next year? Around town, the downside is that the FJR encourages road rage, a thing for which I need no encouragement. Whose funeral is everybody driving to today? All that torque just inhales other road users, and unfortunately it's against the law to shoot them except in Texas, where the law is vague.

Here's the stupid part. If you want an FJR, you have to order it by April 30. Maybe it's not that stupid. Our man Brad at Yamaha says it's a thing Yamaha has done with snowmobiles for years.

Unlike with some classes of bikes, guys wanting a high-cost low-volume item like the FJR tend to have done their research and know what they want. They get it, dealers don't get left with bikes which must be later sold at discount, and those who paid full price don't get left with a bad taste.

E. Bass
5'9" :: 180 lbs :: 36 yrs old :: wildly optimistic

JB hit the nail on the head. While these bikes all have the commonality of twin luggage mounted to a sportbike style design, the differences between them make each one a potential "winner" depending upon your particular riding habits. Having rotated through the entire foursome a number of times under a wide variety of conditions over the course of an extended ride-a-thon, we got a real good sense of the personality traits of each bike: over mountains, across deserts, cities, highways, hairpin twisties, gentle winders, and even some straight shots. Through rainstorms, windstorms, snowstorms, sandstorms . . . we did in fact encounter all of the above along our odyssey. Felt sort of like we were being put through a really scenic car-wash.

Favorite memories include trailing Admiral Burns as he bravely led the charge down an invisible road that had disappeared into the whipping sands, blindly putting my faith in our fearless leader that he was indeed pointing us towards "Joshua Tree" the town and not "joshua tree", the tree.

Then there was the surreal image from the back of the pack as the threesome ahead hauled straight down the highway, leaned over a good 20 degrees off perpendicular into the howling crosswind. And who could forget our hobbits' passage through the Mountain of Despair as we emerged from harrowing gusts of wind prodding us towards the guard rails, into a snow flurry obscuring our vision, which warmed to a freezing rainstorm slicking our traction, all while navigating blind two-lane curves.

I suppose it could have been a mere coincidence of our pre-determined alphabetical rotation order, but it did seem odd that JB called for a switcheroo just a mile or two before the weather turned foul. I must confess to muttering "thank you Burns may I have another!" inside my helmet as he cruised along, impervious to the elements, pleasantly ensconced behind the Yamaha's substantial windscreen, as the rest of us hugged and kissed our gas tanks in an attempt to minimize the trauma of our beatings. I suppose rank does have it's privileges Burns, you arrogant, conniving, tin-pot dictator . . . um, err, I mean Sir.

But enough waxing nostalgic about the joys and perils of our trip. On to the bikes!

4. Triumph Sprint ST
Best "Compromise" Sport Tourer

If forced to rank these bikes from 1 to 4, I could easily see making a case for virtually any order as long as it had the Triumph in the middle (which explains why it's #4 on Ebass's list. Whatever.--Ed.).

It was neither the best nor worst out of any criterion that I could think of. Whether this makes it champ or chump is up to you the reader.

3. Yamaha FJR1300 Best "Touring" Sport Tourer

Hands down the bike you want for interstate trips. The power windscreen is a Godsend when you are sitting upright or in heavy weather, and provides acceptable aerodynamics when collapsed. A darn good looking bike too.

Substantially bulkier, and not in a class with the Duc and Aprilia around curves, but I was green with envy as I gazed longingly at the FJR1300 from my perch aboard the ST4S when the rain set in.

2. Ducati ST4S
Most "Charismatic" Sport Tourer

It looks like a Duc, rides like a Duc, sounds like a Duc, and if you can deal with the fact that it also feels like a Duc and aren't planning to log too many straight-shot hours at a stretch, or spend much time with a partner on the pillion, then this might be your baby. Not my choice for a cross country expedition, but if it's a solo overnight trip with more curves than straights, the ST4S is the sexiest pack mule you'll ever mount.

1. Aprilia Futura
Best "Sport" Sport Tourer

The Aprilia is built to be light on its feet and was pretty much neck and neck with the Duc for this title. I have to give the nod to the Futura though, as it features equivalent handling with superior ergos.

Far and away the most comfortable tuck out of the bunch, due to its excellent seat (and pillion) and forgiving peg position. The better compromised of the two high performance bikes.

Little Jimmy Hatch
6'3" :: 235 lbs :: Ambiguous

Aprilia, I have always been partial to sport bikes and the way they feel so my ranking reflects that bias. The Aprilia did everything right and had plenty of power to lift the front wheel on cue. Saddlebags took some time to learn the drill but are adequate. Handling and ergos were superb and instilled the confidence needed to pick up the pace and ride at will though any and all mountain roads.

Ducati: I am a Ducati freak so to put her second means the Aprilia must be special. The Ducati felt soft and sort of vague in the handling department at first until you learn the red ways. The lack of redline and sudden rev-limit party ender was a bit unnerving. The squealing clutch was also unique among the four, and not one of its better characteristics. The Ergos were nice and I felt at home despite my man- size body. I did expect a bit more poo out of the four-valve motor though. Overall this is a very sporty touring machine and with some tweaking could serve as a do-all canyon carving country crossing mount.

Triumph. The Triumph and I became very close during the freak snow storm we encountered in the mountains. The Triumph felt the most planted of all the bikes, but the cramped ergos took points off in my book; my knees were hurting after a while. The throttle felt very vague, seemed to turn forever, and felt weak in returning. Otherwise, a great motor that pulls well though the entire range. Overall a great bike and could be near perfect with some fiddling around.

"It felt like I was merely observing someone ride from a favorite chair and not actually doing the deed myself--this bike can mesmerize you."

Yamaha: It is not really fair ranking the bikes in order since in my book the Yamaha is in a different class than the others. This is THE bike for long hauls no doubt. I have never felt a more precise machine in nearly every function. When I mounted this bike for the first time it felt like I was merely observing someone ride from a favorite chair and not actually doing the deed myself--this bike can mesmerize you. It feels big and cautious in the twisties, though, so I would need a sport bike as well to satisfy the sport bike jones...

Sean A.
6'2" :: 195 lbs :: 34 yrs old :: Not so fat anymore, but still a Dirty Bastard

What a terrible assignment this was. Let me tell ya, traipsing these four bikes over hill and down dale, through the slings and arrows of outrageous weather, on a multi-hundred mile trek, accompanied by the likes of EBass, Hatch, and JB isn't for the faint of heart. Now that the afterglow is fading and the photos which didn't get published are being electronicly burned, on the grounds that we might incriminate ourselves, I'm left with this: Riding in California Rocks!

John and Eric have related the surreal details of the ride elsewhere in this article, I'll simply add that words don't do the sensory experience justice. In my ignoble style, I'm now going to tell you what I think of the bikes:

I've long hypothesisized that the Ducati ST-4s is probably the best all around package for going fast over long distances.

It isn't.

Ducati put all the right ingredients into the 4s, but it lags in comfort, is geared too tall, and suffers from a racebike like set of steering stops.

FJR Instruments: Functional, usefull, tastefull.

The restricted steering lock can cause scrambling feet, as you try to make a U-turn, in anything less than 7,432 feet. The gearing is easily fixed by swapping the stock sprocked with one endowed with two to three more teeth, and the relative lack of comfort seems easy enough to address, as it is caused by a wedge shaped seat that splits your glutes and then packs down causing pressure points to develop. Ring...Ring.... "Hello aftermarket, please rectify that which ails my ST-4s" Should I have to make that call on a $16,195 bike? Should I have to hassle with separate keys for ignition and luggage? Don't get me wrong, I have much respect for Ducati and its products and aside from the issues listed above, the ST-4s is a hell of a bike.

"It makes good power, accompanied by that wonderful Ducati intake honk and once you set the preload on the rear shock, it turns well for a bike with such a long wheelbase."

In recent Ducati fashion, the Brembo brakes have great feel and power. I feel that the styling, though somewhat conservative, is handsome and won't end up looking "dated" in five years. Another plus for the ST-4s is that it is extremely narrow waisted, allowing you to securely tuck your legs in, away from wind, rain, sand and snow. All in all, it's a fantastic motorcycle, but in THIS group of bikes it looks like fourth place for the Duc.

The Triumph's siren song, is it's siren song. As with most engine configurations which contain a multiple of 3, the Sprint ST's inline-3 powerplant has a distinctly exotic howl. I love the sound of this bike! (you will too, after you download the videos) A true jack of all trades, the Sprint masters none, but does well enough to satisfy just about any on-road motorcycling desire you might possess. Before this shootout, I took the Sprint up to Buttonwillow raceway for a track day and was surprised at how competent it was in that environment.

"There's no hiding the Mille that lurks inside the Aprilia Futura. This is without a doubt the raciest bike of the bunch. Surprisingly, it's also the second most comfortable"

Even with its bag-clearing low muffler position, I was able to drag my right knee, confident in the knoweledge that the Sprint would touch peg feeler, before anything hard or expensive started to grind. These aren't track-day bikes, but it is nice to know that they are capable, if the need arises. Like the Ducati, the Triumph could benefit from a few changes. As with many modern Triumphs, the Sprint ST suffers from fuel injection surging and an imprecise feeling throttle. This was particularly bothersome, under hard acceleration off of corners. Another gripe is that the saddle bags are clumsy to close, due to sloppy hinges that cause you to have to manually line-up the two case halves and wrestle with the latches.

As with the Ducati, the cases use a separate key from the rest of the bike. This is no big deal, but both the Triumph and the Aprilia use plastic gas tank covers, which mean that magnetic tank bags won't stick, and you have to use a strap-on to achieve additional carrying capacity. All gripes aside, the Triumph is comfortable, very fast, decent looking and fun to ride.

You can take the name off of the motorcycle, but there's no hiding the Mille that lurks inside the Aprilia Futura. This is without a doubt the raciest bike of the bunch.

Surprisingly, it's also the second most comfortable, with a broad supportive seat and humane ergos that don't end up feeling cramped after an hour or two in the saddle. Unlike the Ducati, the Aprilia's stealth fighter styling will probably start to look dated in a couple years and that plastic gas tank is a pain if you love your magnetic tank bag. If it weren't for the Yamaha's mountain motor and luxury liner comfort, the Aprilia would have swept this test hands down.

Did someone say "Mountain Motor"? At the risk of over-using an analogy, the FJR 1300's engine posses an electric-motor-like power delivery with the throttle (rheostat?) delivering killer torque in a seamless rush that will blur the scenery with the greatest of ease. Riding the FJR is like having access to a magic carpet. It is large and a bit cumbersome when trying to hustle through the tightest twisties, but in the other 95% of riding situations, the FJR has no equal. Unlike the Ducati, the Yamaha is endowed with a very wide range of steering lock, allowing you to make parking lot U-Turns that would put a 600 Supersport to shame. According to Hatch, riding the FJR is like watching a video of someone else riding the motorcycle. That is partly true, but a video doesn't give you the rush that this charging 630lb bull does. If you want to cover vast distances, while maintaining a sporting pretense, there is no other bike on earth that will run with the FJR.

The Conclusion!

Back in the clubhouse, it's time to tally the scores, golf-style. Let's see. Three thirds and a fourth for the Triumph. Sorry. It really is a nice bike. Pair of fourths and a pair of seconds for the Ducati puts it in third place. Little too uncompromisingly sporty, perhaps. Two firsts, a third, and one last place for the Yamaha gives it second. And so, with two firsts and two seconds, the Aprilia appears to be the winner.

On the other hand, that Ohlins shock is cheatin', and I didn't care for Ebass' "tin-pot dictator" crack much either. Who promotes pure democracy more strenuously than moi? Out with Ebass' results!

"Aprilia still beats the Yamaha."

Dang, the Aprilia still beats the Yamaha by a single stroke. Hold on a minute. Who is this Hatch person anyway, and who let him in the palace compound? I think you want the Yamaha, the one with ABS and 127 horsepower. If you know what's good for you.

Just the Facts, Man

APRILIA RST FUTURA       $12,999

Seat height: 32"
Measured weight, full fuel load: 540 lb
Horsepower: 107.1 @ 9,100rpm / Torque: 67.8LbFt @ 7,000rpm
Fuel mileage: 44 mpg


DUCATI ST4s ABS       $16,195

Seat height: 32 3/4"
Measured weight, full fuel load: 533 lb
Horsepower: 111.8 @ 8,850rpm / Torque 68.8LbFt @ 6,900rpm
Fuel mileage: 47 mpg


TRIUMPH SPRINT ST       $11,199

Seat height: 32 1/4"
Measured weight, full fuel load: 550 lb
Horsepower: 111.5 @ 9,800rpm / Torque: 68.8LbFt @ 7,400rpm
Fuel mileage: 44 mpg


YAMAHA FJR1300 ABS       $12,599

Seat height: 30 3/4"
Measured weight, full fuel load: 631 lb
Horsepower: 129.3 @ 7,750rpm / Torque: 93.6LbFt @ 6,500rpm
Fuel mileage: 42 mpg

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