I enjoyed putting together the sport tourer round-up that TMO published last month, in which I listed all the sport tourers that are still on the new bike market (ie, still listed on their manufacturers’ websites). But as I alluded to in the introduction of that piece, the article had a major flaw: it was leaving out a number of really great bikes.
READ MORE: Sport Tourer Round-Up: What’s Out There?
The reason for that was due to the way I chose to define a sport tourer. For the sake of orderliness, I decided a sport tourer is primarily demarcated by the fact it looks like a sportbike – in other words, it has full fairing. That, of course, was a major part of the sport-tourer genre during the height of its popularity; more often than not, sport tourers were just sportbikes that had been retuned somewhat and given more comfortable ergonomics.
In the modern era, however, sport tourers are being redefined, with the bikes’ inspirations coming not from the sport world, but from the über-popular ADV side of things. The new sport tourer is upright, somewhat tall (sorry, short guys), and usually distinguished from its ADV brethren by the presence of a revvy, powerful engine.
It is a land of grey area, though. So much so that no one can really agree upon what to call these bikes. Some manufacturers use the term “sport tourer,” others opt for “adventure tourer,” others for “adventure sport.” I’ve gone with the latter term solely because it’s what Triumph uses, and, hey, I like Triumphs. Nonetheless, I make no claims as to the accuracy or comprehensiveness of this list.
If you feel I’ve left something out (or should have left something out), let me know in the comments. Please be kind about it, though.
Once again, we’ll organize things according to horsepower, starting with the fewest ponies and working our way up.
Benelli TRK 502
Stats: 499cc parallel twin / 42 hp
About: If the universe is infinite that means all possibilities exist, which means that somewhere out there – on this Earth or another one – someone has thought to him- or herself: “Golly, I sure wish I could have a Multistrada, but one that’s less powerful, less high-quality, and made in China.” For that person, there is the TRK 502. Benelli is an Italian brand but like seemingly all Italian names its history is littered with multiple owners; these days, that means China’s Qiangjiang Group. First introduced at EICMA 2016, the TRK 502 looks more robust than other 500cc offerings, which is to say it is large – though durability questions abound. The 17-inch front wheel is primarily what earns it a spot on this list, though the engine was recently described by Bike’s Mike Armitage as “grunty.”
Would I Buy One? No. Ignoring my natural distrust of Italian bikes and my skepticism regarding the quality of Chinese bikes, this particular Chinese-Italian machine hasn’t won very high praise. MCN’s two-star review bluntly states that “it fails to live up to the hype.” At 235 kg wet, the bike’s middling power gets muted by its weight, and although it reportedly performs agreeably on motorways its budget suspension and outdated-feeling brakes make it inadequate for enthusiastic riding.
Stats: 471cc parallel twin / 47 hp
About: The folks over at Rally Raid famously offer a kit that can transform the CB500X into the all-terrain world-crossing machine of your dreams, but straight out of the can the CB500X is purely for on-road use. Some folks would argue that this adventure-styled machine is far more of a commuter, like its NC750X sibling (which I haven’t included because it’s just not very adventurey or sporty), but you can get a good amount of fun out of its cheerful twin. Enough, I feel, that the bike deserves a slot on this list.
Would I Buy One? Yes. For about £750 more than the aforementioned Benelli you get a bike that is so much more in terms of rideability and reliability. Plus, the aftermarket is heaving with bits and bobs that will allow you to dramatically improve the CB500X as budget allows.
Kawasaki Versys 650
Stats: 649cc parallel twin / 68 hp
About: A stalwart favorite of economy-minded riders for many years, the Versys 650 is arguably a trendsetter, having been one of the first of the adventure-styled machines to abandon any pretense of off-road ability. Whereas a handful of the bikes on this list cling to 19-inch wheels like a middle-aged man clutching his high school football trophies, the Versys was always a road bike. Powered by the same parallel twin engine found in the Ninja 650, the Versys 650 offers its fun in a more comfortable package.
Would I Buy One? No. Buzzy Kawasaki twin is buzzy. It’s a taste thing. I know folks who LOVE the Versys 650 but the bike’s engine rubs me the wrong way. Additionally, I feel the fit and finish makes it look… ah… particularly affordable, and unlike most of the moto press, I actually preferred its original stacked-headlight look.
Yamaha Tracer 700
Stats: 689cc twin engine / 73 hp
About: Take one of my all-time favorite bikes and turn it into something that’s both practical and fun. Yes, please. The star of the show, of course, is the bike’s twin engine. It’s just sooo right. The price tag is reflected in the bike’s bits and bobs, however. Like its larger brother, it runs a little close to looking/feeling cheap in certain aspects. And I’m not a fan of the shard-like windscreen. But, of course, this bike is cheap, and you get a lot of moto for your money.
Would I Buy One? Yes. Some long-term tests I’ve seen have raised some legitimate questions about the Tracer 700’s ability to handle the slings and arrows of winter road salt, but for all the bike you get here it’s probably worth the investment in GT-85 to keep it rust/fuzz-free.
Suzuki GSF1250S Bandit
Price: US $9,899 (Not available in UK)
Stats: 1255cc inline four / 97 hp
About: Discontinued in 2012, the Bandit 1250S was resurrected in 2014 because Suzuki had absolutely no ideas. Brilliantly, Suzuki made no changes to the bike that had been around since 2007 (aesthetically the bike has not changed since 1996), but for the addition of ABS. The shocking result of that move was that no one wanted to pay new-bike money for the exact same bike they could get for less on the used market. In the UK, it was discontinued again in 2016. It still lives on in the US market, however, which seems to be the market where Suzukis never die. You can still buy a fucking Boulevard S40 new in the United States – a bike that remains completely unchanged since its introduction in 1986.
Would I Buy One? No. Regular TMO commenter Jason Macierowski loves his Bandit 1250, and with good reason – it’s a fun, torque-rich, unstoppable beast. But it is really long in the tooth, and it’s a Suzuki, which means you’ll always feel like you’ve settled for second-best. Like the Honda CBF1000F below, however, I would consider buying a particularly cheap used one for the sake of being able to teach myself certain maintenance and repair techniques.
Suzuki V-Strom 1000
Stats: 1037cc V-twin / 100 hp
About: You may know I owned a V-Strom 1000 for roughly two years, riding it as far afield as Tuscany and doing an Iron Butt challenge with it. To that end, I can assure you it is a stalwart machine – reliable but for one easily fixed recall issue that came about because Suzuki hadn’t expected British riders to actually use their bikes (the wiring loom was susceptible to water). Comfortable, decently powered, and well-balanced, it still wears a 19-inch front tire as a kind of homage to the BMW R 1200 GS that inspired the modern adventure movement, but it is purely a road machine. It is a decent one at that. The engine is more fun than some moto-journalists would have you believe and it offers plenty of room for rider and passenger to stretch out over very long hauls.
Would I Buy One? Probably not again. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, they say. So, with time, I’ve come to dislike the V-Strom 1000 less than when I first exchanged it for a Triumph Tiger Explorer. However, memories of its overall lackluster spirit remain. It is a good bike, but not an amazing one. That became even more true last year when Suzuki “refreshed” the Strom line-up with cheaper parts and lower price tags. Also, the official Suzuki panniers are just short of useless.
Stats: 998cc inline four / 105 hp
About: Hahahahahaha. I only put this bike on the list as a joke. For reasons inexplicable Honda still lists the CBF1000F on its official website. The big-boy version of the CBF600 I once owned, this bike remains virtually unchanged from its release 12 years ago (though, it did receive some stylish new clocks in a 2010 refresh). In its 600 guise the CBF was a reliable (albeit heavy and slow) machine that served its purpose of getting me back into motorcycling safely. I eventually got tired of it, though, and an additional 30 hp was not the thing that would have made me hold on to it.
Would I Buy One? No. Not unless it was incredibly cheap. By accident, I happen to have a copy of the Haynes Manual for the CBF1000F, so I have once or twice entertained the idea of getting a super cheap one and using it as a guinea pig for me to learn how to do certain things.
RELATED: 2005 Honda CBF600 – Long-Term Review
MV Agusta Turismo Veloce 800
Stats: 798cc inline triple / 110 hp
About: Easily taking the prize for best looking bike on this list, the Turismo Veloce 800 was introduced in 2015 as something of a half-hearted attempt by MV Agusta to shake off its reputation as a maker of pointless and wonderfully decadent bikes. To that end it made a wonderfully decadent bike that, in theory, is practical. In theory. The bike is packed with electronics that allow you to control just about every aspect of the bike’s performance, including engine braking.
Would I Buy One? No. MV Agusta is a classic Italian bike company – tumultuous finances, incredible aesthetics, romanticization of speed, spotty dealership network, and expensive bikes that have a reputation for not actually functioning in the real world. That said, I have seen one of these being ridden in Brecon Beacons National Park, which is a good 80 miles from the nearest MV Agusta dealership. So (unless it was trucked in), we can assume the Turismo Veloce 800 can hold up for at least that long. That’s something, I guess.
Ducati Multistrada 950
Stats: 937cc L-twin / 113 hp
About: As far as I’m aware, the 950 shares the same chassis as the 1260, which shares the same chassis as the outgoing 1200. Indeed, the bikes are so similar that if you look on Ducati’s official website, it’s accidentally placed a picture of a Multistrada 1200 in the section for the Multistrada 950. What this all means is you don’t have to put up with a “little” bike for the sake of a lower price tag. The Multistrada 950’s starting price is hardly money found in the couch cushions, though. But you get lots of technowhizzbangery and the right to wear Ducati-branded clothing with pride. Meanwhile, the 937cc Testastretta engine that powers this Multistrada is effectively the same engine that drives the SuperSport. In the latter application it is somewhat disappointing but would be perfect for a Multistrada.
Would I Buy One? Yes. Let’s pretend I don’t have serious doubts about the reliability of Italian bikes and imagine that, in fact, they are totally reliable and won’t break in weird and perpetually irreparable ways. I don’t actually believe that to be true, but if it were, the Multistrada 950 would be deserving of its price tag. Lots of spiffy tech, comfy riding position, a fun and grunting twin, and it looks good (so much so that you’ll find it’s “inspired” a number of bikes – from Benelli’s blatant rip-off, to Triumph’s adopting its headlight style for the new Tiger 1200).
Yamaha Tracer 900GT
Stats: 847cc three-cylinder / 115 hp
About: The Tracer 900GT is really just a Tracer 900 that’s been hit – quite hard, admittedly – with an accessories catalog. Arguably, the standout addition is a fancy TFT screen. All the good bits from the Tracer 900 remain the same, thankfully, with the bike’s three-cylinder engine feeling more assertive – “sporty,” if you will – than the sublime triple found in a Triumph Tiger Sport (see below), despite being less powerful. Mi amigo, Lemmy, over at Common Tread, feels the Tracer 900GT could be a game changer in this segment.
Would I Buy One? No. The Tracer 900GT carries a not outrageous mark-up of £1,400 over the Tracer 900. With that you get a hell of a lot of goodies, so ostensibly you’re getting a fantastic deal. However, I’m concerned the extra stuff will have the same quality/feel as the existing stuff, and that’s not good. The Tracer 900 is a whole lot of fun to ride but it just looks and feels soooo cheap. You may have seen me bitch at Triumph in the past for the fact a piece of wind deflector on my Tiger Explorer snapped when hit by a bumblebee (at 100 mph, to be fair). There’s not a single bit on the Tracer 900 that I feel could withstand attack from a similarly kamikaze honey-gatherer.
Stats: 847cc three-cylinder / 115 hp
About: Powered by the same assertive triple as the Tracer 900GT, the leaning three-wheeled Niken has managed to divide opinion before anyone’s even had a chance to throw a leg over it. I don’t know when it will actually be released to the public, but I’ll bet invites to its press event will be more coveted than… uhm… something that people really covet. Equipped with traction control, quickshifter, different riding modes, and cruise control, it certainly scores points in the bells and whistles department. Throw on some panniers and you’ve got a machine that will travel far in even the worst of weather. The jury’s still out as to whether it will be fun once you get to your destination, though.
Would I Buy One? Yes. In theory, at least. There are a lot of unknowns here – how much the thing costs being toward the top of my list. But I’m also eager to find out what handling is like. Personally, I enjoyed spending time on the Can-Am Spyder F3-T a while ago, so I’m relatively confident I would enjoy being on a three-wheeler like this, which (reportedly) more accurately replicates the motorcycling experience. Time will tell.
Kawasaki Versys 1000
Stats: 1043cc inline four / 119 hp
About: Almost twice as powerful and somewhat better equipped than its 650 sibling, the Versys 1000 draws its go from the same much-loved inline four that powers the Z1000SX – one of the UK’s most popular models in the (dwindling) sport-touring segment. Finally available with a center stand (not available for many years and a source of great annoyance amongst riders), the bike also boasts an assist-and-slipper clutch, traction control, power modes, adjustable preload, adjustable windscreen, and integrated pannier mounts. Also, its gear indicator is no longer just some cheap aftermarket add-on.
Would I Buy One? Maybe. Kawasaki’s love of buzzy engines can be an issue for me, so I’d want to spend a fair amount of time in the saddle before putting my money down. Too bad dealerships don’t let you take test rides to the Alps. On paper, though, it’s a solid machine and the fit and finish has improved considerably in the last year or so – a major step up from when it was introduced. Compare it against the Tracer 900GT above and it’s a definite win.
Triumph Tiger Sport
Stats: 1050cc inline triple / 125 hp
About: This bike is the whole reason I decided to create this list – because its lack of full fairing meant it didn’t fit in my (old-school) sport tourer round-up but I still wanted to big it up because it is awesome. For me, the Tiger Sport is the distillation of everything Triumph does well outside the Modern Classics realm: perfect inline triple performance, fantastic handling, and lots of electronic tidbits to aid riding. On that latter point, the Tiger Sport tends to be the last in line for updates, so it hasn’t got the fancy TFT screen found on the Tiger 1200, Tiger 800, Speed Triple, and Street Triple, but if Triumph chooses to hold on to the model (which I very much hope it will, rather than letting it go the way of the Trophy SE), I would be not at all surprised to see a refreshed Tiger Sport at Intermot or EICMA this year. At present, the Tiger Sport is not available in the United States – Triumph’s largest single market – but some folks are hoping that success for the aforementioned Yamaha Tracer 900GT could inspire Triumph to put more effort into pushing the Tiger Sport.
Would I Buy One? Yes. There are three very tiny reasons I don’t presently own a Tiger Sport instead of a Tiger Explorer, each of which is pretty trifling. But on that particular day I was at the dealership they were enough to push me to the larger, heavier machine: 1) I don’t like the Tiger Sport color schemes; 2) I don’t like having to do chain maintenance; 3) On the day I showed up at Bevan Triumph they were offering free luggage for the Tiger Explorer. I absolutely love my Tiger Explorer, and it’s been a superb machine for someone like me who travels the country often and doesn’t have a car, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve quietly wished I had gone with the Tiger Sport. It is such a fantastic machine.
READ MORE: 2017 Triumph Tiger Sport – Ride Review
BMW R 1200 RS
Stats: 1170cc twin-cylinder boxer / 125 hp
About: The lovechild of a R 1200 GS and an S 1000 RR, the R 1200 RS bends the rules so much that I included it in the previous sport tourer round-up. For its part, BMW classes the RS as a sportbike, but its one-piece handlebar, upright riding position, and 125hp peak somewhat belie that claim. Nonetheless, it has a solid reputation among the small population of folks who want a boxer-driven machine but don’t want it in R, RT, or GS form.
Would I Buy One? Yes. I go off and on the idea of the RS, consistently wondering whether I wouldn’t just prefer a GS or an RT instead. At the moment, though, I’m “on” because last week I met an RS owner in the Heathrow airport parking area (parking for bikes is free) who rated his bike quite highly. Throw on panniers and you’ve got a continent-crossing machine that carries (marginally) less weight than an RT and takes more road-focused tires than the GS.
Stats: 1237cc V4 / 127 hp
About: Effectively the adventure-styled version of the recently departed VFR1200F (RIP), the VFR1200X Crosstourer’s engine has been notably detuned from its more traditional sport-touring application (the VFR1200F claimed 152 hp) and given a far less envy-inducing fit and finish. Over the years the VFR1200X has slightly confused folks, who can’t quite figure out what the bike is trying to be. One gets the sense that Honda is confused about it, too. One major selling point, however, is that the bike is available with Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission system, which we really like.
Would I Buy One? You know what? I almost did. Or, well, I thought about it, at least. A few years ago, I scheduled a test ride of a Crosstourer because the bike was available at 0-percent finance with free luggage and GPS. But, of course, there was a reason the dealership was offering such a good deal: it’s a hard bike to love. In person, there is very little about it that raises the blood pressure; it’s designed by committee. And not a very good committee. This is the sort of thing you would get if you asked the Welsh Assembly Government to design a motorcycle. Standing in front of it, I couldn’t muster any interest in paying for it and decided to cancel the test ride.
READ MORE: Has Honda Given Up on the Sport Tourer?
Triumph Tiger 1200 XR
Stats: 1215cc inline triple / 139 hp
About: Triumph pulled an interesting little trick when it updated the Tiger 1200 for this year: it turned the previously mid-level Tiger Explorer XRx into the base model Tiger 1200 XR. Back in March 2017, when I strolled into Bevan Triumph and discovered they were offering free luggage on Tiger Explorers I chose the XRx model because it came with cruise control, heated grips, and a center stand as standard. Guess what now comes standard on the Tiger 1200 XR. Yup. But somehow the new XR costs roughly £1,000 less than last year’s XRx. Headlights and screen on the new XR are of the previous generation but I’ve had no complaints. Indeed, I’ve had very few complaints about the bike in general. It is incredibly heavy – something that doesn’t change despite the fact Triumph shaved 2 kg off the XR’s weight from the previous generation – but that feeling goes away once moving. The engine has the magical ability to be both insanely fun and all-day dull, depending on your needs – so you can travel hundreds of miles to get somewhere and enjoy the hell out of it once there. The bike is incredibly comfortable for rider and passenger, and it carries A LOT of stuff.
Would I Buy One? Yes. This is the Tiger Explorer XRx that I own and love, but with (slightly) less weight, a (slightly) more responsive engine, and a lower price tag. Bargain. You don’t get the fancy TFT screen of more expensive models, but, to be honest, I wasn’t terribly bowled over by that aspect of the Tiger 1200 XRT and XCA I rode last month.
READ MORE: 2018 Triumph Tiger 1200 – Ride Review
Ducati Multistrada 1260
Stats: 1262cc Testastretta DVT L-twin / 158 hp
About: I don’t remember anyone ever describing the old Multistrada 1200 as underpowered, Indeed, I seem to remember Motorcycle.com’s Sean Alexander saying it had too much oomph in some cases. Nonetheless, Ducati decided to make its ADV machine even bigger and meaner for 2018. The bike is dripping with electronic aids
Would I Buy One? Nah. I’ll admit to being intrigued by the Multistrada 1260. I have a moto-journalist friend who will be spending some time with one in April and I’m half inclined to try to start up a Kickstarter for the sake of being able to buy a story about it: “Let’s Pay Rich to Tell Us About the Multistrada 1260.” But ultimately I find it hard to believe I would want the Ducati over the equally tech-laden, more powerful, and less expensive BMW S 1000 XR below.
BMW S 1000 XR
Stats: 999cc inline four / 165 hp
About: You know how some twins aren’t identical? That’s what’s happened with the S 1000 XR. Seemingly the product of the same dirty weekend that produced the R 1200 RS, this screaming beast offers far more kick than its steadier big-bellied bro. An absolute hoot to ride, the bike was famously let down by excessive handlebar buzzing when ridden at motorway cruising speed. BMW says it has fixed the problem, but I’ve yet to hear independent confirmation of this from actual riders.
Would I Buy One? No. I really, really hate to say that, because the bike is such a joy when ridden hard. At 228 kg wet it’s a bit heavy but you really don’t notice, and throwing it into corners produces a helmet full of giggles. It is hilariously fun to ride. But it’s not – in my opinion – a terribly attractive bike and I don’t trust that the buzzing issue has been resolved. I’m afraid I’m not willing to pay that much money for a bike that doesn’t serve its purpose effectively.
Price: US $30,975 (Not available in Europe)
Stats: 1650cc V4 / 165 hp
About: I’ve only included this bike so people won’t tell me I’ve forgotten to put it on the list.
Would I Buy One? No. Look, I realize that Motus have managed to give everyone at Bonnier a massive hard-on (it seems like Cycle World or Motorcyclist run some fawning piece of prose on Motus every issue), and I like the idea of an American company doing well – especially a company in the South – and I definitely like the idea of a 165hp powerplant that sounds like that engine. But, come on y’all – this just isn’t a legitimate contender*. It’s not so much the price that irks me. It’s the fact the bike has that price whilst looking like a 1990s Suzuki test mule with tech of the same era. The segment in which this bike exists is partially defined by tech. But when you look at rider aids, the MST can’t even hold a candle to the cheapest bike on this list. It isn’t allowed to be sold in Europe because it can’t offer basic safety requirements met by Chinese scooters. For the same money as the MST, you can buy the unholy KTM 1290 Super Duke GT below, with all the accessories thrown on, and still have dough left over for an Alpine riding trip.
KTM 1290 Super Duke GT
Stats: 1301cc liquid-cooled V-twin / 173 hp
About: Just saying the name of this machine inspires the sound of an angelic choir in my head. This is the beast to conquer all beasts; indeed, that is KTM’s nickname for it – The Beast. I’ll admit I’ve not had a chance to ride one of these but every part of me is desperate to do so, based on the praise the bike’s received from friends. Heaving with bells and whistles, the 1290 Super Duke GT claims to offer all the eyeball-ripping madness of a 1290 Super Duke in a package capable of long hauls. Our pal Rich Taylor, of GQ, got a chance to ride one from Austria to the UK last summer and had very few complaints. His summary of the bike was simply that it is “the best sports-touring bike on the planet.”
Would I Buy One? Yes. Wouldn’t you? I mean, yeah, it’s hella expensive. And adding luggage and various accoutrements will throw in excess of £1,000 more on the price tag. And there are still questions about the reliability of KTM electronics. And KTM dealers are kinda far away. And I’d probably actually be happier on a 1290 Super Adventure S (I mean, I’d probably manage to get by on just 160 hp). But if I were to still manage to end up with a 1290 Super Duke GT in the garage, I don’t reckon I’d be upset about it.
*You know what’s going to happen, right? One of these days, I will somehow get to ride across the United States on a Motus MST and will lose my mind for it, thereafter forced to forever eat my words.