Best Sport-Touring Motorcycle of 2018: Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE

This was a pretty easy pick. The newly domesticated version of the mighty supercharged Kawasaki makes enough power in stock form – 171 on our dyno – to provide even the sickest speedfreak a full dose, but it does so in a sneaky, gentlemanly way: That air-cooled supercharger means the 998 cc Four only needs 10,000 rpm to produce all that power, and it’s making 89 lb-ft. of torque at only 8600 rpm. Suddenly the world is flying into your faceshield at an alarming rate, with no vibratory or auditory warning. Holy Kawasaki! That’s what we call efficiency, of which another byproduct is the SE’s ability to squeeze 40+ mpg from a gallon of gas, which gives it 200-mile range.

On this bike, you could go that far in about an hour-and-a-half, but since it’s also got the best suspension on any Kawasaki ever, along with great ergos and creature comforts, you can sit there much longer. The first electronic cruise control on a Kawasaki “sportbike” ever also makes it a sport-tourer, this inline Four is uncannily smooth, you’ve got saddlebags, centerstand, etc.

The SE goes a step further by including cornering lights, a quickshifter, heated grips, all the latest buzz acronyms including TFT, IMU, and lean-sensitive ABS.

Kawasaki H2 SX SE Review

Then there’s the fact that the SE is gorgeous in spite of its being green. They don’t put the Rivermark logo on just any Kawi, and this bike was meant to show the world what Kawasaki can do. The trellis frame doesn’t just look cool, it allows more airflow which helps keep the engine cool. The single-sided swingarm is swell, the level of fit and finish wherever you look is a notch or two above what you expected, and the beauty you can’t see is that this one, at 576 pounds wet, comes in about 100 lbs lighter than the old Concours 14.

$22,000 for the SX SE is a steal, but you can pick up a base model for just $19k if you just like to practice abstemiousness.


Best Sport-Touring Motorcycle of 2018 Runner-Up: Yamaha Tracer 900 GT

Less really can be more, especially if we’re talking less weight – the Tracer 900 GT tipped our scales at under 500 pounds – in a motorcycle that still contains all the minimum daily requirements for proper sport-touring: decent and adjustable wind protection, plenty of power from the soulful 847cc Triple, 45-mpg fuel efficiency, all-day comfort, cruise control, standard hard luggage…

For $12,999, you might not expect also a TFT instrument panel, heated grips, a 12v outlet up front, or a standard centerstand for the chain-lube obsessed.

The basic building block is the FJ-09 (another Yamaha we liked a lot), but Yamaha listened to exactly what those owners wanted in delivering this new, reskinned model. Plusher seating for rider and passenger spread out over an expansive cockpit, sleeker bag mounts, and adjustable suspension with a remote preload adjuster knob.

We’ve always been fans of this Yamaha Triple, and in the Tracer GT, it seems to have found an excellent home; throttle response is smooth and spot-on, and the engine’s torquey nature and linear delivery are perfect for long-distance touring. So much so that yours truly did a 1048-mile day riding the Tracer back from its launch in Portland a couple months ago, feeling no ill effects afterward at all.

2019 Yamaha Tracer 900 GT Review

You can obviously spend a lot more money on a sport-tourer with more power (and fuel consumption and weight), or a more prestigious country of origin, but downsizing and downpowering don’t feel like compromises at all in this case. In fact, they seem like a step in the right direction when you reach a certain experience level, harumph.

Check your shoe size before you get too excited, though: Some riders with dogs on the larger size complain their heels bang into the passenger peg mounts, which you need because they’re also part of the bag mounts. If the Tracer fits, though, it’s a hard bike not to love.