Duke's Den - Blurry Lines of Sport-Touring

Kevin Duke
by Kevin Duke

The definition of “sport-touring” depends on a rider’s individual perspective.

Some believe an S-T requires shaft-drive so chain maintenance is a non-issue while on the road. Others think all that’s needed is a regular sportbike with a tank and/or tail bag. It’s this diversity of lexical semantics about sport-touring that makes comparison testing problematic, as what exactly constitutes a sport-tourer isn’t defined in absolutes.

For example, we just completed a sport-touring shootout featuring motorcycles with common attributes such as shaft final-drives, electrically adjustable windsheilds, hard-shell luggage, cruise control and heated grips, accoutrements that would seem to be obvious for an S-T comparison test. And then you have to ask if your sport-tourer requires an audio system and heated seats? Perhaps these bikes would be better described as luxury-sport-tourers?

2013 Sport-Touring Shootout 1.0 – Video

Some riders believe such rigs are too bloated for sport-touring work. That line of thought has logical merit when the lightest of the four machines in our shootout scales in at more than 600 pounds.

It is far easier to make a lighter bike to be more touring than it is to make a heavier bike to be more sporting.

One of those believers is our fearless leader, Sean Alexander, who supposes that someone who considers an FJR1300 or Concours 14 might also consider for their S-T mount a chain-driven bike like a Ducati Multistrada S Touring or Aprilia Caponord. Both offer adjustable windshields and hard-shell luggage, showing they are designed for longer distances and, at least, weekend touring. But they are clearly more minimalist than the shaft-driven bikes in our upcoming shootout. I’m not convinced many riders will cross-shop, say, a Triumph Trophy with a Caponord, but either machine can ably tackle touring work, so perhaps they would.

There are the sport-tourers that pretend to be adventure-tourers, such as the Multistrada, Caponord and Suzuki V-Strom 1000 that MO’s Tom Roderick describes as Sport-Adventure-Tourers. With 17-inch cast-aluminum wheels, their off-road capability is limited to only mild dirt terrain, making them distinct from true A-Ts like BMW’s R1200GS, Yamaha’s Super Tenere and KTM’s 1190 Adventure, all with 19-inch front wheels that are better suited to off-roading.

But even the aforementioned “true” A-Ts aren’t pure adventure bikes. The BMW and KTM are fitted with cast-aluminum wheels, 19 inches up front, which can’t handle big rock hits as well as spoked wheels like those found on on the Super Ten. The Euro OEMs require stepping up to the GS Adventure and the Adventure R versions of their A-Ts to get spoked wheels, 21 inches up front, as standard equipment.

Let’s see, lockable hard luggage, cruise control, electronically adjustable suspension, heated grips and seat, ride modes, shaft drive, nearly 600-pound wet weight. Yep, it’s a sport-tourer. Oh wait, no electrically adjustable windscreen, sorry, disqualified.

So, are the regular 1190 Adventure and R1200GS Adventure-Tourers or Sports-Adventure-Tourers? And if they’re S-A-Ts, can they also be considered Sport-Tourers? Does the KTM’s chain drive force it out of S-T classification?

Clear as mud, right? Back in my formative streetbike years, sport-touring wasn’t more complicated than donning a backpack and strapping on a tank bag to the only motorcycle available to us. Despite the moto market’s newfound focus on the luxurious side of sport-touring, all that’s really needed is a sporty motorcycle and provisions to pack minimal luggage. The experience differs only in the amount of comfort and convenience that comes along on your trip.

This is what sport-touring looked like for me in 1990. My school backpack and a second-hand tank bag carried the supplies needed for a four-day road trip to Glacier National Park, and an inflatable hemorrhoid cushion supplied all-day comfort to the Hurricane’s narrow seat.

What do you believe describes a sport-touring motorcycle? I expect to see a healthy debate in the comments section below.

Kevin Duke
Kevin Duke

More by Kevin Duke

Join the conversation
3 of 28 comments
  • Matt Ross Matt Ross on Jul 28, 2014

    I cant believe no one here mentioned the ninja 1000. Its like a new VFR, only with alot more power. I agree with most people qualifications except shaft drive. Chain doesn't bother me and its more efficient. Id consider a multistrada, or an older BMW. But for the money you cant beat the N1k.
    For me, the perfect sport touring bike:
    Can still do a track day without dragging alot of stuff.
    Can handle 500 mile days with only one or two mods. (seat)
    Has some wind protection.
    Doesnt' weigh over 550 lbs.

  • Kevin Kevin on Sep 25, 2014

    The answer is probably as difficult to arrive at as the answer to what is touring, is it a weekend getaway on a scenic route or is your halfway point on the opposite coast of the continent? To answer the latter question probably goes a long way to answering the first: