Ever since man bolted a motor to a bicycle, touring has been one of the true joys of motorcycling. Sure, bouncing around town from errand to errand is easy, and commuting to work is practical – but travel by motorcycle expands the mind, relaxes the spirit and enriches the soul. There’s nothing quite like it.
Experiencing a place you’ve never been by breathing its air deeply and engaging its characters freely is a sensation you just don’t get in a car. But if you’re reading this, you likely already knew that.
Submitted for your approval: The Top 10 Touring Motorcycles.
#10 – Triumph Trophy
Kicking off our list is the latest contender in the class. In our September 2012 review of the Trophy, Content Editor Tom Roderick didn’t pull a punch. Instead of shying away from comparing the newest Triumph to its rivals, T-Rod declared the Trophy a “serious luxury-performance tourer” that had “leapfrogged the majority of its competition.”
Bold proclamations to be sure, but Roderick credited the Trophy’s eager 1215cc Triple (the same mill found in the Explorer 1200) and its standard–issue “serious arsenal of electronics,” including ESA, traction control, and non-linked ABS as well as touring-ready accoutrements such as cruise control, multiple 12v power outlets, and electric windshield and headlight adjustment – typically pricey options on other touring machines. Next time we put together this list, expect the Trophy to be closer to the top.
#9 – Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager
Of all the full-dress touring machines that are sure to land on a list such as this, you could do far worse than Kawasaki’s $18,249 Voyager. Big Duke reviewed the Big Kawi back in 2010, and the former racer came away impressed. Kevin praised the “regal” Voyager’s wind protection and comfortable ergonomics, also noting the Kawi 1700 V-Twin “outmuscles the Harley Twin Cam 96 by nearly 10 percent.”
Duke also noted the standard powerful stereo and cruise control as well as the bike’s storage capacity, mentioning its “attractive saddlebags” and pointing out its topcase is big enough for two full-face helmets. Clearly, his better half, Carolyn liked the ride, too.
#8 – Can-Am Spyder RT Limited
For the motorcyclist who has everything – except, of course the desire or (god forbid) ability to push around a touring motorcycle – the Can-Am Spyder RT Limited is a machine of another mother altogether. When he reviewed the RT LTD back in January 2011, Roderick had an admittedly hard time coming to grips with its handling and otherworldly form, but was charmed by its technology, performance and comfort. He was also blown away by its storage; in fact, Tom referred to the RT LTD as “capaciousness enough to make a Wing Dinger jealous.”
As for the ride, Roderick summed it thusly: “If it’s legal to enter [the Spyder RT Limited] in an Iron Butt rally it would be cheating … I’d say it’s the most comfortable motorcycle I’ve ridden, but that statement would be inappropriate.”
Told you he had a hard time dealing.
#7 – Yamaha FJR1300
The Trophy might be the up-and-comer, but until we have a chance to run our Sport-Touring Shootout 2.0 (it’s coming, we promise) the Yamaha FJR still rules the roost. “Incontrovertibly the best sport-tourer in this group,” our reviewers proclaimed.
EiC Duke noted that two of the three pre-programmed ride modes were useable, unlike the “throwaways” apparent on so many other models; guest rider Kaming Ko said the FJR feels “more like a sportbike than a sport-tourer”; and CE Roderick lauded its dominance of the Motorcycle.com ScoreCard, saying the FJR “undeniably balances the sport-touring equation better than the Honda [ST1300] or Kawasaki [Concours 14]. Add in the most technology and lowest price of the group and the result is a no-brainer.” Until something proves superior, the FJR1300 is the undisputed champ of its class.
#6 – Star Motorcycles V Star 1300 Deluxe
No, conspiracy-theorists, I didn’t include Star’s mid-size bagger here just because I wrote the reviews. Rather, the inclusion of the V-D indicates how fully fledged a touring machine this is, and how much it delineates itself from the competition – what there is of it. In our March review, I noted the 1300 Deluxe sits alone in its midsize class, swiping visual cues from larger baggers while maintaining a more manageable price point and curb weight.
In our Light-Heavyweight Mid-Size Touring Cruiser Shootout, the bike didn’t lose a single category; Star’s little bagger blew away the traditional touring-bike contenders by virtue of being rock-solid up and down the Motorcycle.com ScoreCard. The fairing-mounted audio system and Garmin zumo GPS (with XM satellite radio) give the little bagger a further leg up over its contemporaries. Both are standard. Miles and smiles are up to you.
#5 – Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Touring
The touring Multistrada is the best-seller of the Multis, indicating the clamor among adventure-tourers for an option to BMW’s venerable R1200GS. In our Best of 2010 Awards, we said the Multistrada featured “the best combination of sport, touring and commuting that we’ve ever experienced” – and as Duke noted in his October 2012 review, that statement rings even truer with the S Touring model.
Revised in 2013 to further augment its long-distance capabilities (Duke gushed over the pinch-adjustable windscreen), the Multistrada S is still four bikes in one, with its various ride modes adding dimensions to touring only dreamed about with other bikes, and its semi-active suspension self-adjusting for conditions on the fly. With standard traction control and ABS, it’s got all the high-tech gadgetry touring aficionados could want, while holding onto Duc’s hooligan heritage by co-opting tuning and components of the popular Panigale.
#4 – Victory Cross Country Tour
From the get-go, Victory’s Cross Country has been one of our favorite bikes. In our aforementioned Best of 2010 Awards, the CC was named Best Cruiser, and when the Tour version was unleashed a couple of years later our Pete Brissette was still smitten, calling it a “winning combination” in his August 2011 review by lauding its “generous” suspension, impressive power and “voluminous” luggage capacity.
Nothing’s changed – except Victory’s status in the motorcycle marketplace. Because of the success of the Cross Country (and Cross Roads), Victory is now considered an established player, pumping out quality products on par with any other American V-Twin motorcycle manufacturer. Take that, Indian.
#3 – Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited
You can’t talk about motorcycle “acclaim and devotion” without putting Harley-Davidson at the forefront of the conversation, and you can’t have a conversation about touring bikes without including Harley’s top-of-the-line full dresser. Big Duke also reviewed the big Harley back in 2011, and freely tossed around terms such as “pampered,” “opulence” and “luxury.”
In the same breath, though, he called the tourer “effortless” and “mellow,” noting its “perfect harmony at around 65 mph.” Sure, it’s the priciest bike in a pricey lineup – but with an upgraded TourPak, chrome wheels, driving lights and so, so much more, H-D’s EGUL is an ideal touring motorcycle.
#2 – Honda Gold Wing
Old Goldie is an icon among touring motorcycles, boasting a superlative balance of luxury and performance that has proven appeal across several generations. The Wing is a comfort king, and with the balance and bottomless power of its flat-Six engine, has a surprising amount of performance. The GL1800 got even better with its revamped and refined 2012 Gold Wing, causing Duke to proclaim the Wing as “unrivaled” and “revitalized.”
He noted its passenger accommodations, with its wide seat and low floorboards, were superior to that of the BMW’s K1600GTL technological tour de force. The GL1800 isn’t the fastest, most technologically advanced, or quote-unquote coolest of touring machines, but it is among the most dependable and revered, and that’s enough for it to edge the Harley.
#1 – BMW K1600 GTL/GT
Since its debut a few years ago, BMW’s flagship six-cylinder touring motorcycle has drawn innumerous and inevitable comparisons to the Honda Gold Wing. Our own Kevin Duke illustrated many of the similarities and differences in his March 2011 review. We concluded while “the Gold Wing still holds a clear superiority in passenger accommodations and a slight advantage in ultra-low-speed handling … the K1600 GTL otherwise significantly advances the super-touring category in every other way possible,” noting the bike’s technology, power and weight advantages.
BMW’s engineering might has advanced the state of the art of touring bikes, causing us to anoint the K1600GTL as the supreme luxury-sport motorcycle and claim the number-one spot on our list of the Top 10 Touring Bikes.