That cryptic message, accompanied by a goofy drawing of a little guy with a big nose peeking over a wall, has been spotted in every corner of the planet. But what does it mean and where does it come from? There are those who say an anonymous GI scrawled it on the bulkhead of a troopship bound for North Africa in 1942. Others say it was actually invented by an unknown Australian or Kiwi soldier in WWI. Still another version of events is that Kilroy was a supervisor in a Connecticut shipyard who approved his riveter's work by chalking the missive on finished bulkheads. Which is true? At this point, it's impossible to know, so pick your favorite.
So the same can be said of the ideal parameters of a sport-touring motorcycle. It can vary from something just short of a Honda Goldwing all the way to a single-cylinder MuZ Traveler. There are a few elements we can safely agree on, though. First, it must be comfortable, or at least more comfortable than your average racer replica. Second, it must have good wind protection, enough to keep you comfortable at triple-digit speeds. Third, it must be able to handle twisting roads with better-than-average competence. Finally, it should have locking hard luggage and humane passenger accommodations.
We here at MO realize that many non-ST bikes can be modified to meet the above criteria. Luckily, many manufacturers do it for you already, so you don't have to. Otherwise, you would all buy Honda Nighthawk 750s and modify them however you require, and the MO staff would have to get real jobs. Fortunately for everyone concerned, you have lots of choices.
We know there are bikes that lean towards the very sporty end of the spectrum, and there are bikes that are so big, squooshy and comfortable you might as well get a full-dress touring rig. What we're concerned with is the bikes that we think have the best balance of performance and comfort for us and how we ride. For this test we took three that we hadn't tested and had an impromptu tour de California to see how they stacked up.
The bikes we chose have the most modern of everything, and are loaded with electronic, mechanical and styling innovations. From BMW, fresh from Managing Editor Pete Brissette's intro report is the K1200GT. The Triumph is the Sprint ST, and the heavily revised and revamped FJR1300AE with anti-lock brakes and electric shifting represents Yamaha's sport-touring ideal.
Bikes in hand, we needed an extra rider. Friend-of-MO Jack Straw is always available to drop everything, call in sick and spend a couple of days on the road with the regular crew of MOrons.
The destination was San Luis Obispo, heart of California's Central Coast and more importantly, the center of hundreds of miles of twisty roads. It also has what must be the highest number of brew pubs per capita of any city in the USA. What more do you need? After hundreds of miles of riding, evaluating and trying to get phone numbers from co-eds, we had enough data to speak semi-intelligently about this trio of sport tourers. How do they measure up? Read on.
Meet the MOrons
Jack Straw is MO's local whipping boy. He lives a stone's throw from the office, and he likes to throw stones. In order to fit in with the rest of the world and its demands that one have a "real" job, Jack dons the hat of a veteran tool and die maker. We don't know if he has ever come close to dying while making tools, but he does make one helluva cool helmet lock extension out of titanium.
Jack is also a veteran of the road. He's been riding, buying, fixing and selling motorcycles for about a millennium. And he's been on a 1988 BMW R100GS for most of that time; he loves to travel by bike. Whether it be commuting or taking his wife on a trip, he'd rather do it on a motorcycle if at all possible.
When he's not carving government-spec bits out of hunks of metal, he's adding hunks of metal to his collection. Jack is a card-carrying anything-related-to-motorcycles pack rat, and damn proud of it!
His home garage and various storage spaces vary between full and slightly less-than-full. If he spots a rusty spoke from a 1973 Hodaka Ace lying in someone's backyard he'll find a way to get it, make use of it, re-sell it or store it for a future project with odds of completion rivaling the odds of winning a Nigerian lottery. Oh, we almost forgot. Jack also has the best working knowledge of California Speedway racing of anyone MO has ever known. Sounds like we should hire him...
Pete Brissette, Managing Editor
With a heart of gold and fillings to match, a day with Pete is like a day without sunshine.
Working harder then Michael "Brownie" Brown and Don Rumsfeld combined, Pete's been with MO for so long he's practically a fixture.
He has mad knowledge of all things street and touring-related and spends much more time riding motorcycles than crashing them.
Alfonse Palaima, Executive Editor
Alfonse will soon be starting his fifth year at MO, but don't let that fool you; he's actually a very skilled and capable...something.
It's not every day you meet a guy who can take beautiful photographs, ride with more-than-marginal competence and do all that computer stuff necessary to make our site look pretty in that charming mid-1990s way.
Gabe Ets-Hokin, Senior Editor
What do we gotta do to get rid of this guy?
Thanks to the miracles of the modern pharmaceutical industry and a prescription pad a forgetful oral surgeon left on the bus, Gabe has made it through another year of shootouts, press intros and one-on-one basketball games.
Although he talks big, we're suspicious of his claims of vast motorcycling knowledge and are looking to outsource his job to India.
Triumph Sprint ST
$10,899, $11,699 with ABS (2007 MSRP)
For those of you who desire a more sporty sport tourer, Triumph presents their Sprint ST. It was completely revamped for 2005, but this is the first time MO has had one for an extended test.
Triumph has decided to focus on three-cylinder motors for their entire sporting lineup, but that's a good thing. They do three cylinders as well as anybody, and are known for smooth, torquey, reliable powerplants that combine the good characteristics of two-cylinder and four-cylinder engines.
This is the latest iteration of Triumph's three-cylinder powerplant. The 12-valve cylinder head tops a block with 79mm bores and a 71.4mm stroke. Compression is 12.0:1, and mixture is ushered in there with multiport, sequential electronic fuel injection. A six-speed gearbox and X-ring chain final drive get those horses to the pavement. Our last ST we tested in 2004 gave us 109.65hp and 67 foot-pounds of torque, and judging by Triumph's claimed crankshaft figures of 125hp and 77 lb-ft of torque, we expect this bike to make about the same (we're sorry to say we didn't have a chance to dyno any of these bikes).
The chassis has been revamped as well. The twin-spar aluminum-alloy frame is different from the Speed Triple's, looking simpler but no less rigid. It puts 57.4 inches between tires, using an attractive single-sided swingarm (for easy on-the-road tire changes and chain adjustments, plus it looks nice) to hold the rear 180/55-17 radial-equipped rear alloy wheel. A monoshock with a nice remote preload adjuster holds things up out back, and a conventional, preload-adjustable 43mm cartridge fork holds the front wheel. Dual 320mm discs grabbed by four-piston calipers handle stopping duties, and a 255mm disc and two-piston caliper work in the back.
"It's all wrapped up in curvaceous bodywork that definitely moves away from the safer, blander shapes of past Triumphs."
ABS is optional and adds seven pounds to the Sprint's 462-pound (claimed) dry weight. However, although Pete called the ST the "looker of the bunch", he didn't like the cut-out in the side of the bike that exposes the welds on the subframe. Jack was surprised, too; "fit and finish weren't quite what I thought a bike in this price range -- even the least expensive -- should have."
Gabe also noticed loose-fitting and thin plastic panels. We also found the chrome-paint piece in the center of the cut-out kind of tacky. "Sometimes simple is beautiful" is Pete's advice to Triumph's stylists.
The 5.2-gallon tank is plastic, which is no good for magnetic tank bags. The seat is broad and wide, with a roomy passenger platform (for 2007 the seat is narrower and lower in front and more thickly padded in the back of the rider portion) and a tall grab rail. A cool three-outlet exhaust peeks out from under the tail section, making plenty of room for luggage.
"Instrumentation and other amenities include a cool multi-function display similar to the unit on the Daytona 675 that lets you know fuel economy, range to empty, top speed (which is luckily easy to erase), time, and other bits of pertinent information."
The screen on the 2006 is sportbike-low; the 2007 is fitted standard with Triumph's taller accessory screen. A centerstand makes chain-adjusting -- not to mention loading and washing the bike -- more enjoyable. Getting on board the big burgundy Brit, we first noted a bike that was both small-feeling for a sport tourer and comfortable. Gabe thought the bars too low for sport touring, but Pete thought that "for being the sportiest of the sport tourers, the ST is surprisingly comfortable to be on for many miles." The seat is pretty high, but it does narrow up front to help short people get their little feet on the ground. Pete found the saddle's shape to be "excellent", with "spot-on" firmness and a good shape. Jack thought it was "comfortable enough to ride for long distances...I tend to like a more sport-oriented seating position anyway."
Once up to speed, the windscreen keeps your lower chest wind free, but warp speed is a noisy undertaking. The higher screen will help a lot with this. The passenger seat probably doesn't offer the kind of comfort the BMW and Yamaha's seats do, judging by size and thickness of foam. Although the Triumph is the least comfortable bike here, it's better than most sportbikes -- including the all-mighty Honda Interceptor -- and isn't that all you need?
OK, you probably want a rip-snorting motor as well. The Triumph has that, although in this company it doesn't feel as powerful. However, the fuelling seems dialed-in, and the character-laden three-cylinder mill pulls with great vigor from idle to its five-digit redline, all the way entertaining the rider with wonderful music. "The exhaust note sounds as good as the triple-outlet tail pipe makes you think it will" says Pete, and we all agreed. What the powerplant lacks in dyno numbers it almost makes up for in versatility, offering up torque like a twin and top-end punch like an inline four, even if it's a welterweight's punch.
But these aren't dragster-tourers, are they? Sport touring is about stringing together winding bits of road, and the Triumph is great to ride on two-lane tarmac. "I love Triumphs because the guys at Triumph design the bikes to perform on bumpy, twisty pavement" said Triumph-owning Gabe. Bias aside, the other testers seemed to agree; although the bike's zaftig size and stubby bars meant Pete found the steering heavy, he thought the handling was "superb" overall, with it never becoming "unsettled during mid-turn line changes or mid-turn braking." It does seem to favor high-speed sweepers with its long wheelbase and soft suspension, but "the ST will certainly hang with most sportbikes whilst doing it in comfort."
While the Triumph handled well, it still didn't stand out. Steering, stability and response from the suspension and chassis is about what you'd expect from a big sport-oriented motorcycle. It's stable but not the most stable, light but not the lightest, quick-steering but not the most rapier-like bike you can buy. We all liked it, but it's not the kind of bike that you'll remember riding for the rest of your life, or even the rest of the day if you ride a lot of different bikes like we do. We all liked it, but it's not the kind of bike that you'll remember riding for the rest of your life...
Overall the Sprint didn't have the refined, expensive feel the other two bikes possess. The front forks are adjustable for preload only, and while the ABS brakes worked just fine, Pete complained of a mushy feel; working the brake lever reminded him of "squeezing an over-ripe tomato." The build quality also took away from the bike's appeal, and overall the ST didn't quite have the balanced, sport-tourer feel that the other two have. Honestly, it's exactly what it looks like; a big sportbike with good ergonomics, a comfy seat and luggage. This may be all you need, especially if you only have $11,000 to spend on your traveling companion.
If it isn't, then the Sprint ST isn't for you, and it seems like this crew wants more tour than sport in their sport-tourers. Gabe said "after all, isn't every sportbike or standard just a few modifications away from being a competent sport tourer?" The Triumph was a stellar-handling bike and fun to ride, but the lack of amenities, less-than-perfect build quality and bland feel overwhelmed the bargain price and put the Triumph in last place.
$15,299 ($15,599 for the 2007 model)
Tired of shifting? Carpal tunnel got ya down? Don't worry bucky, Yamaha thinks they have the answer. Meet YCC-S, Yamaha's chip-controlled shifting.
As Gabe reported when he first rode the 2006 FJR1300AE, Yamaha devised YCC-S not as an automatic transmission for newbies, but as a way to make riding in low-speed situations easier on the rider. There's no CVT or torque converter here; just an electric shifter that can be controlled from the handlebar or from the adjustable foot lever and a small device that engages and disengages the clutch in concert with the shifter.
We decided to test the YCC-S-equipped machine to see how practical such a device was in actual touring and commuting work; we told our testers to regard it as an option, and not judge the entire bike on the functionality of one feature.
In any case, there were other changes for 2006 designed to make the FJR more exciting to ride and easier to live with. They started with the motor. It's an aluminum-block, liquid-cooled, 16-valve inline-four that uses some R1-derived tricks like stacked transmission shafts to achieve a very compact package. That's quite a feat, considering its ceramic-coated 79mm bore and 66.2mm stroke give it 1,298 healthy cee cees. Fuel injection is quite electronic, and two gear-driven counterbalancers keep things smooth enough to rigidly mount the engine. Widely-spaced gearing permits a five-speed gearbox, and the taller-geared for 2006 final drive is a clean, quiet shaft. The radiator, fans and ductwork are redesigned to cut down on hot air reaching the rider, in hopes it will reduce hot air coming from FJR internet message boards.
The chassis seems mostly the same as 2005; there's not much wrong there. It's a big twin-spar aluminum item, but the rear subframe has been made stronger and narrower (to reduce the width with bags mounted) and given a lift handle to help put the 593-pound (claimed 2007 model dry weight) creature onto its centerstand. The swingarm has been lengthened by 1.3 inches to improve handling, giving us a 60.6-inch wheelbase.
"Suspension and brakes are what's expected of a flagship machine."
In the back is a linkage-equipped monoshock adjustable for preload and rebound damping with 4.8 inches of travel. It's got a two-position adjustment lever for quick preload adjustments. The front forks are conventional (and fat!) 48mm jobs with 5.4 inches of travel, adjustable for preload, as well as for rebound and compression damping.
Brakes are similar to the Triumph's -- dual four-piston calipers and 320mm discs in front with a 282mm disc in the rear -- except that they are linked (the front brake lever works the rear caliper and vice-versa), and ABS is standard on both the top-of-the-line AE as well as the more basic FJR1300A. Deluxe.
If those aren't enough features from the engine and chassis, Yamaha's product-planning people piled plenty more on top of it all. The fairing is all-new, with sharper styling and better venting, and includes adjustable side and windscreen ducting. The windscreen is now larger and still electrically-adjustable (although it still returns to the low position automatically when you take the key out), and for 2006, the seat has two positions as well. A small glove box in the fairing can be opened with the key in the bike, and there's a 12-volt outlet in there to run your toaster oven (note: toasting snacks while riding can lead to loss of control and possible injury or death from hot melted cheese burns. Please refer to Joy of Cooking for more cooking safety tips) or other gadgets. Passenger footpegs have been moved down and forwards for comfort, and the instrument panel is all new as well, featuring an instant fuel economy gauge as well as air temperature and gear position. Nice. Locking, detachable hard luggage is, of course, standard.
Rock the FJR off its centerstand and swing a leg over. You'll find a bike that is low (with the adjustable seat set to the low position, even stumpy-legged Gabe can happily flat-foot the bike), with a broad, comfortable seat and a nice reach to the bars. "The additional leg room for the rider is a nice improvement over last year," said a happy Pete. The bike is heavy, but has a low center of gravity that makes it manageable. The passenger seat is as wide, roomy and well sculpted as the rider's.
Switch the key on so you can appreciate all the gadgets and amenities. The instrument display is nicely laid out and features all kinds of information. The grip warmers use a rheostat, which means you have more options than the three-position `freeze, burn or cook' that the BMW's controls offer, although Al thought it would be better positioned six inches further back. The storage compartment in the faring with the 12v outlet is supremely useful, especially when Gabe is moving his satellite radio from bike to bike, or when Pete needs to charge his much-used Razr. Why doesn't every bike have a standardized power outlet, we wonder?
Firing the big motor fills the air with the sound of that great big inline four, which warms quickly and responds precisely. Too precisely, we'd say; at low RPM the abrupt throttle response and shaft drive conspire to overwhelm the modulating powers of the computer-controlled clutch, making starts and low-speed trolling lurchey. As the motor warms up, the rider doesn't; Yamaha's redesign of the fairing, with extra attention to heat management really works. There's no more of the heat that once roasted the rider's inner thighs.
"With plenty of torque and all that horsepower, you hardly need a gearbox at all"
On the freeway, the FJR is as comfortable as a sport tourer should be. Pete noted his "knees rarely felt stiff and cramped as they did on the '05 model", and Jack declared the Japanese machine provided a "very cozy riding environment" for him. Wind protection is also good, especially with the adjustable screen all the way up in the highest position, but Pete thought it could be better, given the extra material and redesign. He was expecting a greater improvement over the 2005 model, or at least a screen that stayed in position after the key is turned off.
The electronically-controlled clutch is a strange thing, and hard to get used to, but there's no problem with the gearbox. It's as slick-shifting as we've come to expect from a Japanese machine, and the gear ratios are well spaced enough so none of us complained about the lack of a sixth gear. With plenty of torque and all that horsepower, you hardly need a gearbox at all, although the solidly-mounted engine's buzz is noticeable at higher RPM. But at highway speeds, the FJR's rider and passenger are sitting on comfy seats, protected by a good windscreen and enjoying a smooth motor that's ready to make a quick pass at a moment's notice without downshifting, and "quick" turns into meteoric when you do click down a cog.
Once out on a two-lane, twisty road, the FJR gets the job done competently enough. With that big frame and good suspension, the bike feels well-equipped to handle most cornering situations. However, it does "suffer ground-clearance problems when it's time to wind the bike through the canyons at a spirited pace" according to Pete. Jack also found it a bit lacking; "It seems kind of long and lanky in the tight corners...not as enjoyable to ride in the tighter stuff." Without the Sprint's light weight and the Beemer's technological tricks, the FJR's bulk, driveshaft and long wheelbase let you know that it's no Supermoto, even though it's a lot more confident and nimble than you might think. The brakes are also good, with sufficient power and feel, and no hint of the ABS system until you try to skid the tires.
The big Yammie is a very good product, with a competent, all-around feel that understandably endears it to its owners. Jack said that "in general I really like this motorcycle", and Al decided to adopt this big silver bike, riding it daily until Yamaha politely asked for it back the week before Christmas. It has a great (if a little buzzy) motor, is comfortable, durable and (see sidebar) cheap to own. So what's the problem?
Here's the thing about the FJR: the price tag for near perfection is a bland feel, and we think that's what kept most of the testers from making the Yamaha their first choice. It handles well, has great build quality and exceeds Jack's "need for speed", with a mile-wide powerband and a responsive motor. But the soft suspension and user-friendly features take the edge off the bike. Is it the ultimate all-around machine that will satisfy any kind of touring itch you might have? Apparently, not quite.
2007 BMW K1200GT
$19,025 ($20,665 as tested)
If money were no object...
Don't you wish? If cost were truly not a factor, what would your ultimate ST bike be? It would have as powerful an engine as possible, right? And a massive, rigid aluminum frame? Comfy accommodations for two? A fairing that could shield you from a force-10 hurricane?
If that's what you want -- and you have $20,000 in large, sequential bills in one of those fancy aluminum briefcases -- have your driver take you to the nearest BMW dealer. There you will find the K1200GT, which might be the ultimate sport-tourer, at least until the new Kawasaki Concours14 hits the road.
To fulfill everyone's notion of the ultimate ST machine, BMW's engineers started out with the much-revised powerplant from the K1200S. It's a departure for BMW, an actual transverse-mounted inline four that slants the cylinderbank forwards for a low center of gravity. This is not your grandfather's K-bike: the last K1200S we tested made 144hp and 85 foot-pounds of torque at the rear wheel on the MO Dynojet Dynomometer. To make all that thrust, it uses a fairly conventional design, with very oversquare 79mm by 59mm bore and stroke figures, a four-valve cylinder head, dual overhead cams and extra-spicy 13.0:1 compression. A counterbalancer smooths things enough for the engine to be solidly-mounted in the frame. Power is sent to the wheel via a six-speed gearbox and Paralever -- which uses a clever double-jointed design to minimize the up-and-down shaft-jacking effect -- driveshaft.
"You will find the K1200GT might be the ultimate sport-tourer"
The motor is bolted into something BMW rediscovered not too long ago; a frame. The composite-aluminum item is beefy but not too heavy; the entire machine weighs in at 622 pounds full of gas (claimed). The driveshaft unit is suspended by a linkage-less conventional shock (the on-the-fly adjustable ESA unit on our bike can be added on for a mere $800) with 5.3 inches of travel. In front, the wheel is held by a Hossack-style fork that BMW calls "Duolever"; it works similar to the Telelever system on the R-series bikes, isolating braking forces from the suspension action, which means steering geometry stays about the same under braking or when going around a bumpy corner. Wheelbase is 61.8 inches between the 120/70-17 front radial tire and 180/55-17 rear. Braking duties are attended to by four-piston calipers with 320mm floating discs in front, and a two-piston caliper with a 295mm disc in back, with BMW's integrated anti-lock system standard equipment.
But that's mostly the same as the K1200R roadster and K1200S mega-sportbike we've already tested. This GT is different by offering all the touring amenities without adding too much weight. Huge fairing with adjustable windscreen? Oh yes. Immense color-matched sidecases? Of course. Integral anti-lock brakes with servo-assist? Mmm-hmm. Big passenger seat and luggage rack? Hey, this is a sport tourer, right? An info-packed instrument display is included as well, which tells you all kinds of things, like time, temperature, gear position, engine temperature, fuel remaining, mileage and brake-pad wear. If that's not enough, the handlebars are adjustable by loosening a couple of screws, and a lower seat is available at no charge, although they probably make you give the higher seat back.
"The options list for this machine boggles the mind."
The factory offers a navigation system, electronic suspension adjustment, traction control (not available until next year sometime), heated seats and grips (with the passenger seat getting its own on-off switch, proving BMW engineers are married), xenon headlamps, cruise control, tire pressure monitoring, and an alarm, among other things.
Our test unit came equipped with ESA, heated seats and grips, cruise, and an accessory tank bag big enough to hold Pete and Gabe with room left over for Jack's huge head.
The K-bike's styling may not be sexy, but it is imposing, bold and distinctive. That slab-sided fairing makes the bike seem larger than it is, making little guys like Gabe a little scared when pulling the bike off its centerstand. Once on two wheels, the bike feels lighter, but be careful rolling it around; those brakes barely work with the motor off.
Swing a leg over and it feels like you've settled onto a piece of very expensive and comfortable European furniture. Gabe thought the seating was "more cramped" than he expected, but the bars were adjusted all the way up when we got the bike. After figuring out how to get at the tool kit -- which consisted of two star-bit wrenches and a reversible screwdriver -- we loosened the clamp bolts on the handlebar and dropped them down to a comfortably low, sporty position. Pete liked that a lot, calling it the "simplest and yet most functional feature on the GT". Like adjustable clutch levers, we think more bikes should offer this adjustment.
The key goes on, and after the electronic start-up dance from the instruments, we can fire the K up. It does so easily, with that characteristic, yet quiet, inline-four whine that wouldn't sound out of place coming from a Japanese supersport. Vibration, which seemed more intrusive on the K1200R and K1200S, is very mild, especially compared to the FJR when the tach goes over 5,000rpm. The clutch action is "flawless", according to Pete, but still requires greater-than-average effort to work, "making it harder to finesse". However, the transmission is very good, although those used to Japanese gearboxes will find it a little more tactile, with plenty of clunking and feedback.
"Moving out onto the road, the BMW impresses the rider with its smooth, quiet operation."
"I kind of like to hear a little bit of engine noise to let me know I'm riding a motorcycle. Is that really a problem, though?" asked Jack, used to his ancient and not-so-smooth R100GS. Low-speed operation is easy and pleasant; Gabe found the big grey bike to be "a real pussycat until you twist its tail".
When you do, the front end lurches upwards and incredibly high velocities are easy to achieve. There's a perceptible soft spot around 6,000rpm, but once the tach needle passes the number eight, "the power comes on strong and hard", says Pete, reminding the rider he is mounted on the most powerful motorcycle engine BMW has built to date.
At high velocities, the motor remains pretty smooth, but you'll still get a buzz -- or at least feel one through the bars and pegs -- when you see close to five digits on the tach.
Luckily, comfort is very good, so vibration is not really an issue. The bar-seat-peg relationship is as good as it gets for spending long days in the saddle for either rider or passenger, and wind protection is excellent indeed. The adjustable seats, in addition to being perfectly shaped and padded are also electrically heated, with individual controls for front and back.
They're clearly intended for a very cool climate; Jack complained they needed more adjustability beyond high or low: "even the low-heat setting became just too warm... the ambient heat from the grips and saddle might melt the polar cap." There's no pleasing some people. At least the windscreen stays in the position you select for it after you remove the key. It also delivers excellent wind protection over a broad range, although Pete discovered a weird airflow when the screen was in the lowest position that would snap his head to the side if he turned it against the flow of air.
It surprised him, as the smooth aerodynamics offer no hint of such sneakiness when the rider looks straight ahead. Comfort is important on a sport tourer, as the ostensible purpose of such a bike is to make the boring parts of a trip bearable until the road starts to bend. But when you do get to the bends, you are in for a treat; the BMW is an excellent-handling motorcycle with a motor to match. The Hassock-type front end is the same as its brother K-bikes, and although low-speed steering is vague and heavy, once the pace is upped the front suspension works brilliantly, ironing out bumps and staying rock-steady on all kinds of roads, allowing a rider to hustle the bike around like it's a much lighter machine. Gabe thought it "felt top heavy", but the other testers loved it, declaring it had the best blend of steering ease, stability and response, especially in high-speed corners.
The ESA suspension adjustment is as useful as it is luxurious. Let's face it: we've all left our suspension misadjusted because we were too lazy or busy to get out the tool kit, measure static sag and do all the other things we know we should do. And we've also all had an "Oh Crap!" moment caused by an overladen bike dragging hard parts or wallowing uncomfortably in a turn. Well, if you can pony up the extra $800 -- and we highly recommend you do -- suspension adjustment is as easy as calling your personal shopper. Preload can only be adjusted when the bike is stationary, but the damping can be set for `sport', `comfort' or `normal' riding with just a touch of the ESA button while you're rolling. Once dialed in, the different settings actually do what they say, delivering a soft, cushy ride on the freeway, a firm, controlled ride when you're getting on it, and a nice balance when you're commuting or running around town.
"If money is no object and you need the very best motorcycle in its genre, the K1200GT may be it."
We wish the technology used in the brakes was as transparently useful as the ESA. Like all the servo-assisted brakes on BMW motorcycles, these need to have the engine running to get the full effect, not unlike a car with power brakes, so be careful rolling this bike around when the motor is off; you'd be amazed how much momentum even a slowly-rolling 600-pound motorcycle has. It goes without saying that motor-off downhill `slow races' should be avoided with this bike, although it might improve your chances of victory (or an ambulance ride). With the motor running, Pete said the "brakes are incredibly powerful but lack feel...if they could engineer some sensitivity back into these rotor-crushing binders, they would be some of the best on the planet." Gabe also noted the slower response as the servo kicks in.
However, just like the heavy-feeling suspension, a good rider can brake confidently and quickly, no matter how heavily-laden the bike or how hot the brakes get. We'll concede that subtle brake feel is worth sacrificing on the altar of safety, although we think the next-generation assisted brakes from BMW will let you have power, sensitivity and instant response. The ABS shows little sign of itself unless it's working, which is as it should be. The EVO system -- which activates the rear caliper when the front brake is used, but only the rear caliper when the back brake is utilized , governed by computer-controlled proportioning valves -- is also seamless. None of our testers even noticed the linked system.
Although it doesn't offer the nimble athleticism of the Triumph, or the friendly nature of the FJR, the Beemer is still a great sport tourer, able to hustle along a winding road like a mountain goat, soar at triple-digit speeds all day long on the Interstate, or be light and manageable enough to make a friendly commuter. It's the kind of bike that stuns onlookers with its bold appearance and warps the minds of its riders and passengers by being faster, smoother and better handling than you'd expect. Is it cheap? No way. Is it a hard-core sport bike? Keep looking. But if money is no object and you need the very best motorcycle in its genre, the K1200GT may be it. Did our testers agree?
Living with the Beasts
So you're leveraged to the hilt to buy your fancy new sport-tour rig, but don't put that wallet away yet, bucky: the money-draining fun has only just begun. Sport touring means racking up big miles, so maybe we should examine the cost of ownership of these bikes over the long term, huh?
An email to MO subscriber Jim Thurber (jthurber80) -- who teaches middle-school science but moonlights at Cal BMW/Triumph in Mountain View, CA -- garnered the following information about the BMW and Triumph. This is what one shop said, and we haven't double-checked with the service manuals, so take this info with a grain o' salt. Call your local dealer -- that's who is going to charge you.
Both of the European bikes have a basic 6,000-mile service schedule. We know, we know, Grandpa changed his oil every 1,800 miles and his '56 Buick lasted for 30 years (why doesn't anybody ask why you would want to drive a '56 Buick for 30 years?). But had Grandpa used modern synthetic oil and only changed it every 10,000 miles, it would have gone just as long. It's twice as expensive but resists breakdown for a far-longer time. Hey, if the engineers say 6,000 miles, who are we to argue? They're engineers, after all.
The BMW gets about two hours of therapy and about $50 worth of parts from a technician every 6,000 miles, until the 24,000-mile service, when it gets four hours, new plugs ($10 each) and an air filter.
At each service, the electronic diagnostic equipment they use can determine if a valve inspection is needed, in which case CalBMW will hit you up for $250, and an extra $150 if it needs an adjustment.
K-bikes are known for often not needing valve adjustments, ever; the service manager wasn't sure if he'd heard of any dealer ever doing a valve adjustment on the new K motor.
The Triumph has similar intervals, with the factory politely asking you to use its Mobil1 Racing synthetic oil at $12 a quart. The service takes about two hours of a technician's time. The big whammy is the 12,000 mile service, where the shop service manager takes you out back and beats you with a rubber truncheon. Or it will feel that way when you see the bottom line on the work order, which could run up to 8.5 hours, as a valve check is required, along with coolant, suspension oil and brake fluid. With a $360 parts bill, you could be looking at close to $1,000 for the pleasure of riding that initial 12,000 miles. Ouch. Gabe has experienced similar service sticker shock with his 2003 Triumph Speed 4, but he has found that you can save a lot of money doing simple tasks yourself or buying non-Triumph parts like brake pads and high-quality, but cheaper, synthetic oil. It seems bad, until you realize that the long service intervals mean you actually save money in the long run.
A call to Hattar Motorsports, where Editor Gabe once slaved away under the ruthless fist of MO reader and sales manager Bill Dansky ("Call me itchface") got us a quick idea of what the FJR would cost to service. The first service is at 600 miles, and should run under $200. Subsequent services are at 4,000 mile intervals, and are all under $200 until the big service at 16,000 miles, which will run you about $750, with six hours of service and about $140 in parts. The valves don't need an inspection until 26,600 miles; expect about four hours to get that done. Mike McDonald at Hattar says that "many folks choose to have this service performed at the same time as a 24,000 or 28,000-mile "minor" service in order to avoid the extra time and inconvenience of multiple trips within a relatively short time period."
The bottom line is that after 30,000 miles, the Triumph will run you $2,750, the FJR costs you $2,550 (subtract about $400 if it doesn't need a valve adjust, which it very well might, considering Yamaha's bullet-proof valve trains) and the BMW will soak up $1,900 of your hard-earned, figuring for one valve check and adjustment in that time.
|"For Our Money" Table|
We scored the bikes 4 pts. for 1st, 2 for 2nd and 1 for 3rd.
|Jack "Straw Man" Straw||Fonzie "Al" Palaima||Pete "Baby Daddy" Brissette||Gabe "Electric Chafing Dish" Ets-Hokin||Totals|
|2006 BMW K1200GT||1st||2nd||1st||2nd||12|
|2006 Triumph Sprint 1050||3rd||3rd||3rd||1st||7|
|2006 Yamaha FJR1300AE||2nd||1st||2nd||3rd||9|
We've tested three different bikes that take a different path to achieve the same thing. Which did we think was the best way to achieve sport-touring bliss?
The Triumph has great handling and is a lot of fun to ride. We loved its great motor, good suspension and slick, 21st-Century styling. However, it lacked refinement, comfort and that expensive, exclusive feel a flagship sportbike should have. However, those of you who desire a sporty, elemental and solo touring experience would be very happy with the Triumph, and it's bargain priced, with standard luggage and other improvements for 2007.
The FJR didn't win, but not because of the electric-shifting mechanism. We told our testers to treat the electric shift as an option, and not condemn the entire package if they didn't like it. Aside from that -- and we liked it more than we thought we would, with the exception of Luddite Jack Straw and hard-to-please Pete -- the FJR is a great bike. It's comfortable, handles well enough, looks terrific and has tons of easy-to-use power. However, compared to the BMW, it also lacks that special feel, although it definitely and impressively shows Yamaha's engineering and manufacturing prowess.
"At high speeds, heavily loaded, with seat and grip warmers cranked up, the GT is in its element, feeling impervious to wind, weather, or road conditions."
And so we come to the silent grey machine. The K1200GT isn't perfect -- and what bike is? -- but it really can do some amazing things. It handles like a much smaller bike, has comfortable, roomy accommodations for rider and passenger, and is really fast. Too fast, we think, for the crowded, bumpy, twisty and cop-infested roads where we did our test, although we did enjoy some top-speed runs on a particularly empty and blasted section of mid-California heath. At high speeds, heavily loaded, with seat and grip warmers cranked up, the GT is in its element, feeling impervious to wind, weather, or road conditions.
If a sport tourer is intended to be some kind of futuristic wonder machine, a motorcycle that can tackle any kind of street riding with the handling acuity and power of a sportbike while still offering the comfort, weather protection and cargo capacity of a tourer, the K1200GT might be the benchmark in this class, one of the best ever. For $20,000, it should be. But if you spend a lot of time riding -- and BMW owners do seem to have a disproportionate share of 100,000-mile riders -- that money might seem more like an investment in the best possible equipment.
Just check inside that big fairing panel for graffiti. Somebody's always been there first...
|Nits and Notes|
Average Fuel Economy:
Best Observed Fuel Economy:
What I'd Buy
The price of the BMW is pretty out of the ballpark for my budget, but I really, really like this bike. I would re-finance the house, sell off some of my collectables and even make the wife take a second job. It would be hard for to make the stretch to afford this bike, but it's worth it. Also, Beemers tend to just go and go and go. The truth is, all the goodies it has are complicated and probably costly to have on a bike for any bike maker(and the disparity between the Euro and the US Dollar doesn't help - Ed.).
If the shifting on the Yamaha were more refined or intuitive it might have taken first choice for me because everything else about it is great, and it's much more affordable. But until they do that I won't be buying the electronic-shift FJR. The Triumph was a great bike too, but I have my wife to consider and there's just no way she'd be interested in spending much time at all on the back of such a sport-oriented bike. In my opinion, there just isn't enough room for two.
Ultimately, I would just have to bite the bullet and cough up the dough for the K1200GT.
As my lifestyle evolves I'm finding that my choice of motorcycle(s) becomes less about me, me, me and more about my mate and me. She has come full circle from never wanting to get near a two-wheeled vehicle after a terrible scooter accident years ago, to looking forward to riding with me. And the fact that she's a long-time BMW car owner, makes choosing one of these machines much easier, at least in terms of her feeling like she's part of the decision. But even if it were totally my choice I'd still choose the K1200GT.
The Triumph is amazingly cozy to be on for long stretches, and it can reveal its sportbike nature in the span of one turn. But the funny feeling the ABS has and the relative lack of wind protection keeps it out of the top spot for me. If it were merely a matter of cost, the ST would be the winner hands down. But the class is a two-parter combo: sport and touring. I like touring and I like getting to where I'm going feeling rested and able to enjoy my destination even more. I like having more room and comfort than I think I may need.
"The FJR is one of those bikes that will always have a cult following..."
On the surface -- save for the YCC-S -- the FJR doesn't seem all that different from previous model years. But the subtle changes Yamaha made are noticeable and appreciated, like the increase in rider leg room or the noticeable lack of hot air blasting on the rider's inner thighs. The FJR has been -- and probably will be for some time to come -- a favorite in the motorcycle community. It's such a practical and fun bike that it could easily fit the bill of commuter and long-range tourer. Yet the lack of ground clearance and the defiant windscreen -- it still goes back to ground zero after the bike is shut down -- seem to bug me a little too much. When Yamaha was revamping the FJR, would it have cost them so much more to keep the screen where the rider leaves it and increase ground clearance by an inch or two? I'm not an engineer so I don't have any idea as to how difficult or easy it would be to make those changes, but I still have to ask. Regardless, the FJR is one of those bikes that will always have a cult following, no matter how much it frees itself from rider error.
The BMW K1200GT, like its four-wheeled cousins, comes with a multitude of available options. In this case, I would be willing to figure out how to pinch every penny in my budget to afford this expensive motorcycle. Yes, it is pretty darned pricey. But the optional ESA, on-board computer, heated seats/handlebars, cruise control, etc., etc., are worth the extra scratch. Until you have the chance to adjust already good suspension on the fly to make it even better for a given situation, you don't know what you're missing. Factor in the relatively simplistic -- but very functional -- adjustable handlebar, easy-on-and-off hard bags, legendary handling, spacious ergos and rotor-crushing ABS, no matter how pricey -- okay, not too pricey -- the Beemer, it's welcome in my garage any day. Parked next to my girl's Bimmer, of course.
Sport Touring, how do I love thee?
Let me count the ways. Well, there's highway 198, and then there's good `ol 58, and we can't forget 166, and if you've never seen that Blue Ridge Parkway you are truly missing something. You have your own list, which I am sure you will reveal on our feedback page. The problem with all these lovely bits of tarmac is that they are separated by hundreds -- thousands -- of miles of boring, straight, hot, blah.
How do you keep yourself (and all your stuff, and maybe even a masochistic partner) comfortable and happy on the straight roads that connect the good ones? It's all about your personal comfort level. One of my fondest memories in the last two years is riding down California's Highway One on a Buell XB9SX; 490 miles in a day, and other than melting my Aerostich on the freakin' exhaust header, I wasn't too badly damaged at the end of the nine-hour day. I like plenty of "Sport" in my sport-tour, and the gadgetry is fun, but you can add the stuff you really need later, right?
The BMW is nice, but heavy. Heavy on the wallet, heavy on the eyes with that hanger door of a fairing, and just plain ol' heavy with gadgets and too much power. The FJR is marvelously competent, and I even like the electric shifting and clutch, but it's still a little too big and soft for me.
"For solo touring that sticks to the skinny lines on the map, the Triumph is unbeatable in my book."
This leaves the Triumph, and I only had two issues with it: lack of wind protection and an only-OK seat. Lucky for me (or rather, for you; I couldn't afford to buy much more than a Triumph coffee mug right now) the 2007 gets -- you guessed it -- a higher windscreen, more thickly-padded (and lower in front) seat, and slightly-higher touring bars from the accessory catalog fitted as standard for a bonus. Throw in an off-road exhaust (so I can sing along to that glorious exhaust note when my MP3 player cuts out) and I'm happy to ride as many miles as possible. For solo touring that sticks to the skinny lines on the map, the Triumph is unbeatable in my book. Factor in the terrific price and it's an even better deal.