Sport-Tour 2006

BMW K1200GT :: Triumph Sprint ST :: Yamaha FJR1300AE

Page 3

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.

$100 an hour?!?

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
How the testers would spend their own money.
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

Conclusions

Which Wuz Best?

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
  • Side winds weren't noticeable on any of these bikes, despite the BMW's slab-sided fairings. We rode on some pretty windy -- and winding -- roads, too.
  • The Triumph did not come with the Triumph hard luggage for 2006. The 2007 model comes with "colour"-matched panniers for $10,899 ($11,699 for ABS). There's also a rear rack and top box available as well. You can also get heated grips.
  • Pete griped a lot about the FJR's windscreen resetting itself when you remove the key. Is it really such a big deal? It's so easy to adjust, Pete....
  • If you don't want the electric shift-model, the FJR is significantly cheaper; $13,799 for the 2007 model, which is available in the luscious Black Cherry paint scheme. ABS is standard, although you don't get grip heaters.
  • The Electric Shift system has a button that allows you to shift with either your thumb or your toe. The toe shift uses a non-standard shift pattern, with neutral at bottom and five gears up. This caused Gabe great consternation and embarrassment when he sat at a green light for 30 seconds clicking down and still being in idle. He would like to now publicly thank the people in the car behind him who waited with amazing patience. They must have been tourists.
  • Cheek out this very informative page from Yamaha explaining everything you want to know about YCC-S. Be sure to watch the animation.
  • Had your eye on that sweet soft luggage on the three bikes? Oh, yes you have. It's very nice stuff from the saint-like folks at RKA Motorcycle Luggage. Look for an upcoming full review.

Average Fuel Economy:

FJR: 39.61
BMW: 38.15
Triumph: 37.73

Best Observed Fuel Economy:

FJR: 43.6
BMW: 40.14
Triumph: 41.66


What I'd Buy

Jack Straw
Guest Tester

Yeah, we're pretty hard-core moto-journalists, you know, it's a livin'...

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.

Pete Brissette
Managing Editor

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.

Delicious has a new name and it is Mi Casita at 416 Center Street in Taft, CA.

"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.

Gabe likes a nice big pair of jugs.

Gabe Ets-Hokin
Senior Editor

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.

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