Touring bikes


Many are called…touring bikes but few are chosen to be mega-tourers!

There are many bikes that can be considered tourers. Just about any bike will serve if you really want it to. If you’d like to compare them all, we suggest you get hold of a copy of the ARR 2011 Bike Guide from your newsagent. This story is partly based on the guide. For inclusion here, though, I’ve just taken the bikes that are actually built not only as tourers but as the epitome of touring machines.

You will note that we have left out both dual-purpose and cruiser-style tourers. That’s not because we are prejudiced against them. We’ve covered many of the dual-purpose bikes in recent and upcoming comparisons and our companion magazine, Cruiser+Trike, will be looking at the cruisers at some stage. We just had to draw the line somewhere.

That has also meant the substantial number of smaller dedicated touring bikes hasn’t made it into this selection. We are planning a comparison test of those fairly soon.

For now, sit back and relax and be taken into a world that only the really serious luxury touring riders will ever experience, as well as us reptiles of the press who get test bikes, of course. Not that we want to make you feel jealous, here, you understand. Whatever we do, we do it for you. We certainly wouldn’t do it for the pathetic money.

New summit?

Is there really only room for one at the top? If there is, then BMW has finally managed to produce a genuine contender. Oh, there have been contenders before but there has never been an engine to match Honda’s powerful, compliant GoldWing flat six. That, I suggest has now changed. A definitive top dog in the luxury touring market can’t be announced until we’ve ridden the BMW GT, or more properly the GTL, alongside the GoldWing. But the Bavarians are breaking out the special celebration beer and not without cause.

It has an engine weighing only 102.6kg and draws on BMW’s legendary six-cylinder car engines. The transverse engine offers instant acceleration, even at low revs, with 70 per cent of its maximum torque available from as little as 1,500rpm. A magnesium fairing frame and aluminium rear sub-frame reduce weight. Optional dynamic traction control adjusts engine torque to level of grip and angle of lean, reducing the risk of rear wheel spin. And the optional electronic suspension adjustment system allows rebound damping, spring rate and preload to be adjusted at the touch of a button. An optional adaptive headlight senses lean angle around corners and ensures the beam is always directed at the road ahead.
Most importantly, all of this comes together to produce in the GT a bike that can be hustled around quite tight corners with the sort of enthusiasm you’d usually reserve for an out and out sports tourer. I rode both the GT and the GTL on the South African launch and I came away seriously impressed.

The GTL has all the technical and practical innovations of the GT but is also fully loaded for the trans-continental power cruise. Despite all the similarities, it is very definitely its own bike. With a surprisingly low weight and low seat, the GTL is even easier to ride than the GT.
Please note that both BMW’s GTs come fully optioned for the Australian market. Yep, the full burger with all the trimmings, which makes the prices even more impressive. The only factory option for the GT is the lower seat (as low as 750mm), while the GTL’s is the higher seat (up to 830mm).
So is it a matter of read it and weep for Honda? Not entirely. You need to keep in mind that the GoldWing is not just another bike; it is the culmination of 3½ decades of development. Just as the Darwinian process of natural selection has led to the pinnacle of life on Earth in us, the human race [err, wait, is this the best possible comparison? – the sub], so the same process has produced the GoldWing as it evolved to fit its niche nearly perfectly. 

It was a revelation when it was launched years ago, with its then four cylinder, 1000cc engine making it the fastest production bike on the road. More recently the now six cylinder Honda Luxury GoldWing notched up another first with an airbag that has famously already saved at least one rider’s life. Naturally it offers ABS, combined braking, trip computer with cruise control, heated handlebar grips and seat, a heater using redirected engine cooling air, an audio system with front and rear speakers and CD stacker, GPS, push-button adjustable preload suspension, reverse gear, 147l of storage in panniers and top box with branded inner bags and outstandingly comfortable seats. The 1832cc flat six is still a potent weapon and the ’Wing handles remarkably well for such a big machine.

I have coaxed performances out of the current and previous models of the GL that the Japanese (or more probably American) engineers who worked on the many manifestations of the GoldWing would not have predicted. I have felt quite safe as I rode one of these bikes at 200km/h on gravel (under controlled conditions, of course), although the fuel consumption went from high to “slurp”. Both I and Mrs Bear have enjoyed the comfort and convenience of all of those features listed above.

In other words, I would not write the GoldWing off. But in my opinion, the onus of proof has been reversed. It is now Honda that will need to accelerate the introduction of the next model if it wants to have a credible contender as king of the luxury touring hill.

BMW K 1600 GT ABS (K 1600 GTL ABS) $34,990/$36,990
Engine: Liquid-cooled, four-stroke, in-line six-cylinder engine, tilted forward by 55 degrees. Four valves per cylinder, two overhead camshafts, dry sump lubrication and EFI.
Displacement/compression: 1.649ccm/12.2:1
Power/torque: 118kW at 7750rpm/175Nm at 5250rpm
Transmission: Multiple-disc wet clutch. Constant mesh six-speed gearbox with shaft final drive
Tyres: Front 120/70 ZR 17. Rear 190/55 ZR 17
Seat height:  810/830mm, low seat 780/800mm (750mm, high seat 780mm)
Kerb weight with 90% fuel: 319kg (348kg)
Fuel capacity: 24l (26.5l)
Warranty/service interval: Two-years unlimited km/10,000km or 12 months

Honda GL1800 GoldWing/GoldWing Luxury ABS $37,990/$43,990
Engine: Six-cylinder liquid-cooled horizontally opposed SOHC, 12-valve flat six
Displacement/compression: 1832cc/9.8:1
Power/torque: 87kW at 5500rpm/167Nm at 4000rpm
Transmission: Five-speed, including overdrive, plus electric reverse and shaft final drive
Tyres: 130/70 18 front; 180/60 16 rear
Warranty/service interval: 24 months unlimited distance/6000km
Seat height: 739mm Dry weight: 373kg (depends on options) Fuel capacity: 25l

Down but not out

BMW’s new sixes have put some of the brand’s other bikes in the shade a little but that doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve consideration.
It might have just been deposed as top of BMW’s sports-tourer range but the GT still offers an attractive blend of performance, comfort and practicality. Naturally it has electronic cruise control, an electric windscreen and heated seats — and can get up and boogie when required.
There is also a new 2011 Exclusive Edition (at a price premium) that has been extensively upgraded. Extras include heated grips, seat, xenon headlight. The onboard computer calculates range, outside temperature and average fuel consumption. Electronic cruise control helps on highways. The chassis gets electronic suspension adjustment II, automatic stability control and tyre pressure monitor. As well as panniers, it has a 49l top box.

The problem is availability; they were pretty much sold out as I compiled this story. I doubt that there will be more but never say never – this has happened to BMW before and it built more bikes.

Like the 1300, the K 1200 LT had a recent overhaul. Reworked front suspension and a narrower seat top the list of changes. An electro-hydraulic centre stand makes getting on and off the bike easier, too. And you thought nobody was considering the “mature rider”. The bad news is that even as I write, BMW says there aren’t any of these left either. Your dealer may still have one, or you could look for a low mileage second hand model.

BMW learnt the lesson well when it attempted to phase out the boxer engines and loyal owners rebelled. There wasn’t exactly rioting in Munich but it became clear that horizontally opposed engines would continue to be part of the brand’s future. The R 1200 RT received a comprehensive update in 2010 with more power and technology, specifically DOHC and larger, higher lift valves. Torque was increased 4 per cent but power stayed the same. It also inherited ESA II electronic suspension adjustment, partially integrated ABS. It offers an aerodynamic fairing with electrically adjustable windscreen, providing generous protection from the elements, heated grips and seat and new audio system.

And we’ve just seen the first spy drawings of the all-new liquid cooled 1250cc boxer engine – initially for the GS, we understand but no doubt eventually destined for this bike as well.

BMW K 1300 GT $30,150 (Exclusive Edition $33,500)
Engine: Liquid-cooled, transverse four, DOHC, four valves per cylinder
Displacement/compression: 1293cc/13:1
Power/torque: 118kW at 9250rpm/135Nm at 8250rpm
Transmission: Six-speed gearbox, wet multi-plate clutch, shaft final drive
Tyres: 120/70 ZR17 front; 180/55 ZR17 rear
Seat height: 820/840mm (800/820mm no-cost option) Dry weight: 255kg Fuel capacity: 24l
Warranty/service interval: 24 months, unlimited distance/10,000km and/or annual inspection

BMW K 1200 LT $36,250

Engine: Liquid-cooled transverse 4, DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
Displacement/compression: 1171cc/10.8:1
Power/torque: 85kW at 8000rpm/120Nm at 5250rpm
Transmission: Five-speed gearbox, wet multi-plate clutch, shaft final drive, additional reversing aid
Tyres: Front 120/70 ZR17. Rear 160/70 ZR17
Warranty/service interval: 24 months, unlimited distance/10,000km and/or annual inspection
Seat height: 820/840mm (800/820mm no-cost option) Dry weight: 353.5kg Fuel capacity: 24l

BMW R 1200 RT ABS $30,900
Engine: Air/oil-cooled flat twin (Boxer) four-stroke, DOHC and four valves per cylinder, central balancer shaft
Displacement/compression: 1170cc/12.0:1
Power/torque: 81kW (110 hp) at 7750rpm/120Nm at 6000rpm
Transmission: Constant mesh six-speed gearbox with helical gear teeth/single dry plate clutch, hydraulically operated with shaft final drive
Tyres: Front 120/70 ZR 17. Rear 180/55 ZR 17
Seat height: STD 820/840mm (low seat 780/800mm lowered suspension 750mm)
Dry weight: 229kg
Fuel capacity: 25l
Warranty/service interval: Two-year unlimited km/10,000km or 12 months

Sportin’ Life
It’s difficult to separate tourers and sports tourers these days when pretty much all the bikes in either category will get up and boogie most convincingly. This lot, though, seems to me to combine particular emphasis on power along with outstanding touring capability. In other words, they go and they will continue to go for a long way, over a long time, while keeping rider and pillion in reasonable comfort.

In many ways, these are the perfect compromises. They will literally do anything and everything you want them to – remove the panniers and they’ll even work as commuters but you can ride them across the country just as easily.

The Honda ST1300 is a slick, comfortable, fast bike with some smart features. It is now fitted with anti-lock brakes, the rider’s seat can be moved both horizontally and vertically and the electric windscreen is a welcome feature. So are the body protectors, tidy bumpers that stop the fairing from hitting the ground in a fall.

We have written quite a lot about Honda’s VFR1200F. It has technology from the RC211V MotoGP bike, a SOHC from the CRF motocrosser, redesigned piston layout for overall engine slimness, SCPC phase-shift crankshaft, redesigned shaft drive, fly-by-wire throttle, slipper clutch, ABS as standard. The VRF1200FD-DCT has a dual-clutch automatic transmission providing manual and automatic modes with a paddle-type shifter. If this is what automatics are going to be like, bring them on.

The 1400GTR is powered by the ZX-14’s engine and equipped with Kawasaki’s second-generation ABS; heated grips; traction control; and economy riding indicator and fuel economy assistance mode for increase fuel range. This is a seriously fast bike; the late and much missed “Davo” Jones rode the first model across Australia and back for us and demonstrated its capabilities.

Moto Guzzi’s new Norge has had a comprehensive makeover and now boasts a reinforced frame, new ABS, a re-styled fairing and a stepped saddle to match the eight-valve engine with its integrated electronic ignition and fuel injection. Better throttle response, more mid-range and lower fuel consumption are all on offer.

Power and torque are up slightly on Triumph’s new Sprint GT and the power delivery remains very linear. It has a great mid-range and is perfect at touring speeds. Revised fork internals and a longer swing arm make for more comfortable touring. It also offers many detail improvements, including new, bigger panniers, lighter clutch, direct gear change, new centre stand, new instruments, including average fuel consumption, and the biggest surprise is the new low price.

When it was first released, the FJR’s main claim to fame was that it got from zero to 100km/h faster than most sports bikes. But it’s also a terrific tourer. The AS model offers electric-shift handlebar gear-changing using an auto clutch, better described as a semi-automatic system. Rider comfort is outstanding with the adjustable electric screen and heated grips. An extra large fuel tank gives you plenty of distance between stops.

Finding it hard to choose between that lot? Join the club. This is obviously another set of bikes that’s crying out for a comparison. Let’s see, when are we free?

Honda ST1300 ABS $24,690

Engine: Liquid-cooled, 90-degree V4, DOHC, four valves per cylinder
Displacement/compression: 1261cc/10.8:1
Power/torque: 87kW at 8000/117Nm at 6500rpm
Transmission: Five-speed gearbox, shaft final drive
Tyres: 120/70 ZR18/170/60 ZR17
Seat height: 790mm (adjustable)
Dry weight: 289kg
Fuel capacity: 29l
Warranty/service interval: 24 months unlimited distance/6000km

Honda VFR1200F ABS/VFR1200FD-DCTAUTOMATIC $24,990/$25,990
Engine: Liquid-cooled 76-degree V4, DOHC, four valves per cylinder
Displacement/compression: 1237cc/11.6:1
Power/torque: 127kW @ 10,000rpm/129Nm @ 8750rpm
Transmission: Six-speed gearbox with DCT, shaft final drive
Tyres: Front 120/70 ZR17. Rear 180/55 ZR17
Seat height: 815mm
Dry weight: 267kg
Fuel capacity: 18.5l
Warranty/service interval: 24 months unlimited distance/6000km

Kawasaki 1400 GTR ABS $24,999

Engine: Liquid-cooled transverse four, DOHC, four valves per cylinder with EFI
Displacement/compression: 1352cc/10.7:1
Power/torque: 115kW at 8800rpm/139Nm at 6200rpm
Transmission: Six-speed gearbox, shaft final drive
Tyres: Front 120/70 ZR17. Rear 190/50 ZR17
Seat height: 815mm
Weight: 304kg (panniers not fitted) also (with full tank)
Fuel capacity: 22l
Warranty/service interval: 24 months, unlimited distance/6000km, major service every 12,000km

Moto Guzzi Norge GT 8V ABS $23,990
Engine: Air-cooled, four valves per cylinder, 90 degree V-twin, four-stroke with EFI
Displacement/compression: 1151cc/n/a
Power/torque: 75kW at 7000rpm/104Nm at 5500rpm
Transmission: Six-speed, shaft final drive
Tyres: Front 120/70 ZR17. Rear 180/55 ZR17
Seat height: 810mm, lower seat option
Weight: 257kg (dry)
Fuel capacity: 23l
Warranty/service interval: Two years, unlimited distance/n/a

Triumph Sprint GT 1050 ABS $15,990

Engine: Liquid-cooled, four valves per cylinder, DOHC, in-line three cylinder, four stroke with EFI
Displacement/compression: 1050cc/12.0:1
Power/torque: 95.62kW at 9200rpm/108Nm at 6300rpm
Transmission: Six-speed, wet multi-plate clutch
Seat height 815mm,
Weight 268kg (wet)
Fuel capacity: 20l
Warranty/service interval: Two years, unlimited distance/6,000km

Yamaha FJR1300A/FJR1300AS semi-automatic, ABS $24,099/$26,199

Engine: Liquid-cooled transverse four, DOHC, four valves per cylinder
Displacement/compression: 1298cc/10.8:1
Power/torque: 108.2kW at 8000rpm/134Nm at 7000rpm
Transmission: Five-speed gearbox, shaft drive (AS model has electric shift)
Tyres: 120/70 ZR17 front; 180/55 ZR17 rear
Seat height: 800mm
Dry weight: 291kg with full tank (AS: 295kg)
Fuel capacity: 25l
Warranty/service interval: 24 months/n/a

There you have it, the bikes that we consider are the mega-tourers. We can’t wait for your mail accusing us of favouritism, willful lack of consideration for other bikes, secret knock-back payments from manufacturers. No, seriously, do drop us a line and tell us what you think of this choice and whether it helped you to make your own decision about your next touring bike.


The tourer’s natural habitat – and no, we don’t know where it is!
I just wanted to keep going on the BMW K 1600 GT.
The BMW GTL is even more plush and even easier to ride.
Don’t write off the GoldWing, it’s still a wonderful choice.
Somewhat overshadowed by the 1600s, the RT remains popular.
Two up and on the open road – Honda’s ST1300 is right at home.
The Honda VFR1200F comes in two flavours – manual and auto.
Power plus is on offer from Kawasaki’s 1400 GTR.
New and very shiny is Moto Guzzi’s revised Norge, now with eight valves.
Triumph’s Sprint GT is both a near-perfect sports tourer and affordable.
Also available as manual or auto, the Yamaha FJR1300 is still popular.