It seems traditional sport tourers are becoming almost as rare as a Republican with moral integrity – not too long ago we spotted that both the Honda VFR1200F and Triumph Trophy have been unceremoniously dropped from their manufacturers’ line-ups – so it occurs to us that it might be useful to look at which bikes are left.
It also occurs us that the previous paragraph is just a single run-on sentence. Additionally, why are we referring to ourselves in the plural when TMO is a one-man band? Let’s leave those issues to the side for a moment and focus instead on the once-beloved genre of bike that sought to combine the speed and agility of sportbikes with the long-distance chops of a tourer.
We thought it would be a good idea to put together a round-up of all the sport-touring motorcycles presently available to buy new. To do this, however, we first had to define what we mean by “sport tourer.” To keep things from getting unwieldy, we’re going to limit our selections to bikes that maintain the traditional sportbike aesthetic. That means full fairing, which – unfortunately – means leaving out great bikes like the Yamaha Tracer 900 GT, Triumph Tiger Sport, and KTM 1290 Super Duke GT.
As we say, to include them would have led to things becoming unwieldy. Is a Ducati Multistrada 1260 a sport tourer? Is a V-Strom 1000? The questions never end if you head down that road. Traditionally, a sport tourer looks like a sportbike, so let’s just stick with that. Meanwhile, for the sake of being different I’ve chosen not to split bikes into middleweights and heavyweights, but instead list them according to (claimed) horsepower, starting with the smallest and working our way up.
Price: £3,599 (Not available in USA)
Engine: 649cc parallel twin
About: The China-made 650TR has long been a source of fascination for me (Just look at that price tag, after all!), but I’ve still never had a chance to actually ride one. Powered by a copycat Ninja 650 engine, styling has a Pan-European quality, which is probably a bad call considering how long in the tooth that bike is. The 650TRs I’ve seen seem to be of reasonable build quality when displayed at motorcycle shows (never seen one on the road), but the jury is still out on whether they’re a good investment – questions about Chinese quality abound.
Would I Buy One? No. I recognize that Chinese companies are perfectly capable of making quality products, but I can’t seem to find much reliable info on this particular Chinese company. Equally, if the copycat Ninja engine is anything like the actual Ninja engine it will be too buzzy for my liking.
Kawasaki Ninja 650
Price: £6,449 (US $7,799 w/ABS)
Engine: 649cc parallel twin
About: Look, I’m only including the Ninja 650 out of a sense of fairness, because I sing the praises of the Honda CBR650F below. Like that bike, this sporty all-rounder can be transformed into a sport tourer with the addition of panniers and other aftermarket bits. However, unlike the Honda, it is insanely buzzy at high speed and its ergonomics are uncomfortable for a 6-foot-1 rider.
Would I Buy One? No. Buzzy engine is buzzy. I have come to realize that parallel-twin buzziness is the worst kind because it causes a headache that seems to induce high levels of anger. The Ninja 650 is fun in small doses, but traveling any further than 30 miles would result in my arriving in a psychotic rage.
Price: £7,469 (US $8,749)
Engine: 649cc inline four
About: The CBR650F is the quintessential Honda: slightly more expensive and less flashy than competitors it still manages to win out thanks to superior usefulness and reliability. This bike has become something of a measuring stick for me, a bike by which all others are judged. I fell in love with it a few summers ago when I rode one to Scotland to tour the North Coast 500 route, finding it to be fun, nimble, fuel-efficient, and reasonably comfortable for long hauls. At first glance you might see the CBR650F as a sporty all-rounder, rather than sport tourer, and certainly that’s how Honda pitches it. But upon returning from my Scottish fling I did some research and found that a number of aftermarket companies offer panniers for the CBR650F, including Givi and Shad, the latter of which is the company that makes official accessories for Honda. Add heated grips, an accessory touring screen, then strap a Kriega US-30 to the seat and you’ve got a vehicle ready to cross continents at very low cost.
Would I Buy One? Yes. Lately there has been a fair bit of belt-tightening in the Cope household as a result of my bone-headed decision to walk away from RideApart, and I’ve thought a lot about getting myself out from under the monthly payments required for my Tiger Explorer. Zero-percent financing it may be, it’s still a monthly payment. I reckon I could trade in the Triumph and have all or most of the money required for a CBR650F. It would be quite a step down, and I’d have to go back to maintaining a chain, but it’s still a not-unappetizing option.
READ MORE: 2016 Honda CBR650F – Ride Review
BMW F 800 GT
Price: £8,500 (US $12,095)
Engine: 708cc parallel twin
About: Arguably, the F 800 GT is one of the last true sport tourers, though many of the folks who own one rely on it for commuting. Somewhat slated by the motorcycle press, the F 800 GT is a fun little machine that can really hustle if you’re willing to keep revs high. At low RPM it can be dull, which may be partially to blame for its poor reputation. My friend, Cam, owns one and is somewhat indifferent about the experience. For him, the engine is overly buzzy and too much work needs to be put in to getting the fun out. That said, he certainly can hustle with it.
Would I Buy One? Probably not. During a trip to Scotland last November I spent a little time riding Cam’s bike while he had a go on the Triumph Tiger 800 XRT I had borrowed for the trip. He was giggling at the Triumph’s delightful triple, while I was confirming that I’m not a very big fan of parallel-twin engines. They are just too buzzy for me.
Honda VFR800F Interceptor
Price: £11,229 (US $10,799)
Engine: 782cc V4
About: I feel it could be argued that the VFR was one of the machines that led to the rise of popularity of sport tourers. Back in the early 90s, one of the guys that inspired me to want to get my license zipped around on an old VFR750F. The bike’s name graduated to 800 in the late 90s and has always had a hardcore – if not necessarily huge – following. This latest iteration, introduced at the 2013 EICMA show, has somehow managed to divide opinion with some folks describing it as too sporty, and others as not sporty enough. To that end, it’s probably correct to say it is another true sport tourer and your feelings about it will depend on how comfortable you feel sportbikes can be.
Would I Buy One? No. In my opinion the VFR800F isn’t as attractive as the recently departed VFR12000F, lacking some of its premium-quality fit and finish. I’ve only ever sat on a VFR800F, so I can’t say for sure, but I’m inclined to believe I would fall into the “too sporty” crowd. Additionally, for a bike that lacks bells and whistles like cruise control, cornering ABS, and riding modes (there is, however, a traction control system), I feel the price is too high. I can’t help but think that whatever joy the VFR800F might bring could be delivered more affordably and comfortably via the CBR650F.
Price: £11,795 (US $12,995)
Engine: 937cc V-twin (Ducati calls it an L-twin)
About: Yeah, I know. Seems a hell of a lot like a sportbike to me, but Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali looked me right in the eye at EICMA 2016 and claimed the bike would be good for touring. Ducati will sell you a more comfortable seat and semi-rigid panniers to support that claim, so, uhm, yeah, let’s take Claudio at his word. Certainly you wouldn’t mind being seen zipping across continents on this thing – it is insanely gorgeous.
Would I Buy One? Uhm… no. Can I be honest with you? I still don’t trust Italian bikes. I know that’s bad – holding an old opinion like that. I mean, if I still judged Harley by what it was 20 years ago I wouldn’t know the joy of the modern Milwaukee Eight, so why am I unwilling to let go of my bias against Italian motorbikes? Well, partly because some old perceptions remain true; Ducatis are fussy, they do experience a large number of warranty issues. Secondly, on a more personal level, most Ducatis don’t click with me. Whereas other moto-journalists have to change their pants after talking about Ducati bikes, I look at the line-up and think: “Yeah, pretty. But uncomfortable and high-maintenance.”
Honda ST1300 Pan European
Price: £14,999 (US $18,230)
Engine: 1261 V4
About: Old-ass bike is old. In a 2008 review of the “Pan,” Bike magazine described it as “big cash for what looks and feels old.” That was a decade ago and the bike has not changed. First introduced in 1989 as the ST1100, the Pan was boosted to a 1300 in 2002, but aesthetically changed very little. Since then, almost nothing has been done, save the addition of ABS. So, what you’re dealing with in the modern era is a machine that looks and feels almost 30 years old. No traction control, no riding modes, no cruise control, no ride by wire, no electronic suspension, etc. – none of the things one might expect from a bike so pricey. Hell, you even have to pay extra for heated grips. You do, however, get a proven durability that has earned the bike cult status amongst Honda fans. I know of several Pan owners who are pushing close to 200,000 miles on the odometer.
Would I Buy One? Nope. Look at that starting price tag. Now look at the starting price tag of the BMW R 1200 RT, Kawasaki 1400GTR, and Yamaha FJR1300 below. Who in their right mind would buy one of these new? I understand they are reliable as heck, but, no. Additionally, there continue to be concerns about high-speed wobble. Some riders experience it, some don’t, and no one can figure out why. It seems to be entirely down to luck of the draw; I wouldn’t want to risk getting the unlucky bike.
BMW R 1200 RS
Price: £11,440 (US $15,245)
Engine: 1170cc twin-cylinder boxer
About: Golly, is this a true sport tourer? I mean, is that really full fairing? I feel I may be cheating in asserting that the massive cylinders of the bike’s iconic boxer engine serve some of the same purpose as fairing on a sportbike – keeping weather off a rider. Either way, I’ve long had a spot in my heart for the RS. I may be the only one, however. I’ve never seen one out in the wild – perhaps that’s because it exists in the tiny grey space between the RT and the GS, and most people decide to just choose one of those bikes.
Would I Buy One? Maybe. As much as I like the idea and look of the RS, though, I’d probably still put my dinero on a the comfier and even more weather-defeating R 1200 RT.
BMW R 1200 RT
Price: £13,950 (US $18,395)
Engine: 1170 twin-cylinder boxer
About: Bulkier, more tech-laden and more tour-focused than the RS, the RT certainly puts greater emphasis on the touring part of “sport touring.” Famously comfy and tractable, the bike has earned some pretty hardcore fans over the years – a number of police services among them.
Would I Buy One? Definitely. Roughly a year ago, when I set out to buy a Triumph Trophy SE , I was prompted to do so partially by the fact I had been put off by poor service at my local BMW dealership when visiting to investigate the RT. Had the sales people been on the ball that quiet December afternoon, it’s possible I would now be riding and RT. Well, no. I might now be riding a R 1200 GS. Because, like the Trophy SE, a R 1200 RT wouldn’t have fit through my garden gate. But until I had measured its fairing I would have wanted to buy an RT.
Honda Gold Wing GL1800B
Price: US $23,500 (Not available in the UK)
Engine: 1833cc flat-six
About: Is a Gold Wing a sport tourer? I’m pretty unsure about this one, but certainly everything I’ve heard about the recently overhauled icon is that it is now much sportier than it used to be. On Common Tread, Lemmy described it as a bike capable of gathering speed “with alarming haste” that will likely displease the big-bellied touring Wing owners of old. So, sure, let’s say that’s a sport tourer. Big, heavy, and laden with bells and whistles, it is the pinnacle of two-wheeled travel. Note: I’ve only included the top-boxless Gold Wing here, not the Gold Wing Tour. Strangely, only the latter is available in the UK.
Would I Buy One? Sure. Well, I don’t know – maybe. Honda asks a lot of money for this bike (in the UK, the Gold Wing Tour is priced at an eye-watering £29,699) so I have to pretend in order to answer the question of whether I’d buy one: I have to pretend that I would ever have so much money to spend on a motorcycle. Problem is, once I’m in the Land of Make-Believe my rules change and I’m inclined to instead spend such ridiculous sums on a bike that speaks to me emotionally. So, I’d go with an Indian Roadmaster instead, which, it should be noted, costs £5,400 LESS than a Gold Wing Tour – that’s a savings that puts me almost all the way to CBR650F ownership.
Kawasaki Z1000SX (Ninja 1000)
Price: £9,999 (US $12,199)
Engine: 998cc inline four
About: Consistently ranked as the best-selling sport tourer in the United Kingdom, the speedy, nimble, and affordable Z1000SX has built up a pretty strong fanbase over the years. Known as the Ninja 1000 in the United States, the bike comes standard with a number of bells and whistles, including cornering traction control and multiple ride modes. Priced below the less powerful Honda VFR800F it can be forgiven for a lack of cruise control and its somewhat poky passenger accommodation .
Would I Buy One? Perhaps. It wouldn’t be my first choice, because I feel that the fit and finish of other similarly priced bikes is better, and there is often something rather “last decade” to Kawasaki bits and bobs. For example, the dash: it would have been cool in 2008, but now… I’m not so sure. Nonetheless, I have on multiple occasions found myself lustfully walking toward a Z1000SX in a showroom. There’s a lot to like, especially considering the price.
Engine: 1298cc inline four
About: A stalwart of the sport-touring genre, the FJR received a noteworthy refresh not too long ago, with one of the key changes being the addition of a sixth gear. Its looks, however, have remained more or less the same since being introduced in 2001. In light of its age, the FJR’s price tag seems a little inappropriate (though, not as outrageous as that of the Pan European), but, in fairness, you do get a lot for your money. Traction control, assist and slipper clutch, LED headlights, heated grips, and cruise control are all among the list of goodies that come standard. Pay a little more and you can also get automatic suspension.
Would I Buy One? Yes. I really like the FJR1300 and have frequently wondered whether it would, in fact, be a better choice of do-all-the-things vehicle than my trusty Tiger Explorer. No, it doesn’t go off road, but neither do I. However, if I understand correctly, the subframe isn’t designed to handle the weight of both the factory accessory panniers and the factory accessory top box – you have to choose one or the other. That’s a little annoying, but probably something you could learn to live with by simply strapping a massive dry bag to the passenger seat.
Price: £10,299 (US $11,299)
Engine: 999cc inline four
About: Introduced for 2015 with as much hoopla as beleaguered Suzuki could manage, the GSX-S1000F was supposed to be a bigger deal than it turned out to be. Moto-journalists were happy with the performance of its hand-me-down engine (the powerplant is a retuned version of the one found in 2010’s GSX-R1000 K5) and an electronics package that had been refined slightly from the one introduced on the V-Strom 1000 a year before. Ultimately, however, it became yet another Suzuki that is “well-made, but not particularly inspiring,” to quote MCN. Part of the reason for this comes from questions over what the GSX-S1000F is supposed to be. Its ergonomics mean it’s not a true sportbike, but the weakness of its subframe means it arguably shouldn’t even be on this list. If you want panniers, your only options are aftermarket semi-rigid items.
Would I Buy One? No. I look forward to having my opinion changed some day, but for the time being I have given up on Suzukis.
Kawasaki 1400GTR (Concours14)
Price: £13,699 (US $15,599)
About: Yet another sport tourer that’s showing its age, the 1400GTR still manages to win hearts and minds – including my own – despite having changed very little since 2007. I rode the (rather heavy) beast to Italy in the winter of 2016 and came away with mostly positive impressions. The bike certainly had hustle on the autobahn; I have encountered few bikes that are so relaxed at 120 mph. And I felt kind of cool riding around on the thing. On the wall of my office I have a picture of myself riding across the bleakness of Dartmoor on the 1400GTR – it’s one of my favorite pictures.
Would I Buy One? No. I want to say yes, but there are a lot of fit and finish issues with the 1400GTR that make me question its ability to hold up as long as equivalent bikes – a too-small side stand, cheap pannier locks, poorly placed 12v plugs, fairing plastic that can be knocked loose by a clumsily swung boot, and so on. My primary issue, however, was buzziness. After a few hours in the saddle I suffered pretty intense numbness/ache. On my route from Cardiff to Milan and back, I found I was arriving at end-of-day stops far more sore and exhausted than I had when covering larger daily distances the year before on a Victory Vision.
READ MORE: 2017 Kawasaki 1400GTR – Ride Review
BMW K 1600 GT
Price: £17,245 (US $22,595)
Engine: 1649cc inline six-cylinder
About: A delightful, whooshing beast with power and agility that belies its girth, the K 1600 GT is one of the finest sport-touring experiences available. Many will see it more as a straightforward touring machine – a label that can most certainly be applied to the speed-limited K 1600 Grand America – but with more ponies than most of the other bikes on this list it’s hardly a machine that should be confined to lazy Sunday afternoons.
Would I Buy It? Yes. If I had the £19,265 being asked as the starting price on the K 1600 GT Sport model, I’d certainly give it serious consideration. I’d want the all-singing-all-dancing version of the bike because, hey, if you’re going to ride a bike renown for bells and whistles, you want all the bells and all the whistles, right? I was a big fan of the K 1600 B when I rode it a while ago, with my only complaint about the B being that it was effectively a sport tourer rather than a bagger. The GT owns what it is.
READ MORE: 2018 BMW K 1600 B – First Ride
Price: £11,599 (US $14,699)
Engine: 1340cc inline four
About: If you don’t know about the Busa you don’t know about bikes, son. Its inclusion on a list of sport tourers might seem an odd one, but reportedly that is what Suzuki was thinking when it introduced the at-the-time most powerful production bike available back in 1999. A quick check of Revzilla doesn’t turn up any hard panniers but I have definitely seen them on bikes in the wild. Indeed, one of the selling points of the Busa is the fact that, thanks to a particularly fervent fanbase, there are probably more aftermarkets bits and bobs for this bike than any of the others on the list. The bike’s price tag is so low (less than a Ducati SuperSport) that you can go crazy for customization; head to Daytona Bike Week for inspiration. Meanwhile, Suzuki reliability means it will run forever.
Would I Buy One? No, not with my own money. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Busa because I love ridiculous things, but you’d have to put together a pretty good argument to convince me to spend my dough on an insanely powerful motorcycle with no rider aids (save ABS). Also, although I know Bike magazine rode a Busa across the United States not too long ago, I’m not convinced I’d actually find it to be all that comfortable, regardless of the aftermarket bling available.
Kawasaki ZZR1400 (Ninja ZX14R)
Price: £12,199 (US $15,499)
Engine: 1441cc inline four
About: I would not have classed the mighty ZZR1400 as a sport tourer until reader Glen Yeomans suggested as much in the comments of a recent article. Taking a look at the bike’s seat suggests he may be right. Or, the bike may just be long in the tooth, having been introduced more than a decade ago and given no styling updates since then.
Would I Buy One? No. The ZZR1400 is still a sportbike in my mind. Also, it is effectively driven by the same engine that powers the more comfortable, more touring-focused 1400GTR, and that latter bike is too buzzy for me. Despite the additional cubic centimeters of engine capacity, I can’t see how this higher-spinning machine would be better. Additionally, a cursory search for panniers for the ZZR1400 only turns up a set of throw-over soft bags, rather than the hard cases I would want and expect for this genre.
Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX
Engine: 998cc inline four with supercharger
About: First unveiled at EICMA 2017, the Ninja H2 SX has captured the imaginations of riders by being as powerful as larger bikes (eg, ZZR1400) without carrying as much weight. As you would expect, the sportbike-favoring moto-journalism corps is gaga for the thing, singing the praises of its engine, its engine, its engine, its engine, and its relative affordability.
Would I Buy One? Highly unlikely. I am clearly the wrong target for the Ninja H2 SX. I personally see it as a roaring means of cock swinging for those with little actual cock to dangle. Look, I tend to be suspicious when the press ride for a bike that is supposed to exhibit practicality is held at a race track (Ducati did the same thing with its SuperSport, by the way). Sure, it’s lovely to know that the Ninja H2 SX can clock 180 mph on the straight at Estoril, but what’s it like on an all-day trek? How does it handle the 450-mile motorway slog between Cardiff and Glasgow? And for actual riding on actual roads, how is it any better than the considerably more affordable Z1000SX? But, of course, I say all this as a person who has not actually ridden the bike. Maybe some seat time would transform my opinion and I, too, would be sitting here babbling about the bike’s engine, its engine, and what a great engine it has.