One of the big developments of the Christmas/New Year period was that my wife and I decided to move house, leaving the
chavy suburban confines of Barry, Wales, to return to our former stomping grounds of Penarth.
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We’re doing this for a number of reasons, not the least of which being the fact it is cooler to live in a town with a name that literally translates to “Bear’s Head” in Welsh* rather than one sharing a moniker with the sort of bloke you’d call to sort out your radiators. We’ll also be saving money and once again be within walking distance of our favorite pubs and blah blah blah. Anyhoo, point is: we’ll be moving back to our old flat, and that’s creating some interesting challenges.
Longtime TMO readers may remember that one of the questions I ask myself at the end of every bike review – “Does it suit my current lifestyle?” – evolved from the more practical and specific question of: “Does it fit through my garden gate?”
I will soon be asking this question once again, and unfortunately the answer is “No” where my Triumph Tiger Explorer XRX is concerned. In other words, our upcoming move demands that I get a new motorcycle. Darn.
It’s a hard life, but I’m taking to this task of turning lemons into lemonade in earnest, and have come up with a list of bikes that might work. The basic criteria is:
- I want a bike that is no more than 83 cm wide.
- I want a bike that is no more than 211 cm long.
- I want a bike that offers weather protection.
- I want a bike that I can tour on.
The brick wall gap into my garden is 83 cm wide, and the space between it and the actual road is 211 cm. Some readers may remember that to get my bike into its space I often had to walk it down the pavement (“sidewalk” in Americanese) and spin it on its sidestand to line it up with the gap, then ride it in up a 6-inch-high step. It’s not easy.
These are not necessarily hard numbers – the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 I used to move in and out of said space was 93 cm wide and 228 cm long (I was able to wiggle the wide ‘bars through the wall gap by leaning the bike from side to side [the actual body of the bike was 65 cm wide], and I often lucked out in terms of cars parking in such a way that I could ride directly into place from the road) – but the bigger the bike the greater the faff. Since I ride to work it’s faff I will have to deal with at least twice a day (ie, leaving and returning).
The most obvious solution here is to get a naked bike like the Ducati Monster 1200 but see the above desire for weather protection and touring ability. Also, more broadly, I’d like to keep my costs below £11,000 – the closer to £10,000 the better.
I started out with a very, very long list of candidates (remember that I tend to be in love with every bike) and have whittled things down to the list below: bikes that I’m legitimately considering. I’m hoping you can help me make the final decision. Feel free to suggest stuff that isn’t on the list, but odds are I’ve considered it and ruled it out for this or that reason.
BMW R nineT Pure
Powered by a sublimely wonderful 1170cc air/oil-cooled Boxer twin promising a maximum 110 horsepower, the R nineT is one of the most enjoyable bikes I’ve ever ridden. First introduced in 2014, the R nineT is one of the best examples of the modern classic movement and has spawned numerous variants, including the more affordable “Pure” version, which starts at £10,215. It is 90 cm wide and 210.5 cm long.
The R nineT manages to defeat my naked bike concerns with absolute joyful awesomeness. In addition, the aftermarket for the R nineT is incredibly robust – to the extent that transforming it into something more appropriate to my needs is entirely possible and within my skill level. Wunderlich offers the Daytona fairing and touring screen, which look large enough to keep a fair amount of weather off. The bike is shaft driven and seems poised to be the sort of thing I could keep (and continually tweak) for a very long time.
KEEP READING: 2018 BMW R nineT – First Ride
It’s a teency bit wide. Building the R nineT that I actually want will cost a lot of money; add heated grips, ASC (traction control) and Wunderlich fairing and you’ve pushed the price to £11,375. If I want any luggage other than my existing Kriega system, prices go even higher. In addition, there is no longer a BMW dealership in Cardiff, the nearest being in Bristol – more than an hour’s ride away. And service costs for BMWs are notably higher than with most other bikes.
Sporty but comfortable enough to tour Scotland on, the Honda CBR650F was introduced in 2014, updated in 2017 and is being replaced in 2019 by the more sport-focused CBR650R. But there are still plenty to be found at dealerships. Driven by a 649cc inline four that produces a claimed 85 hp, it is priced at £7,489, making it the most affordable bike on this list. It is 75.5 cm wide and 210 cm long.
This thing can filter like a motherhugger. I have never moved through traffic more quickly than when screaming down the A1, finding acres of space between almost-parked cars. There is presently a decent aftermarket for this bike, which would allow me to add a better screen and luggage; and even with such investment the cost of the bike comes in at less than the starting price of the R nineT above. Also, the fact the model is being discontinued should mean finding an even lower-priced model won’t be too hard.
RELATED: Touring Sport: Scotland on a CBR650F
No riding modes, no traction control, etc. It is small for my 6-foot-1 frame, and the bike’s affordability shows a little too much in its overall fit and finish; the dash is basic and looks cheap, and the graphics are just stickers rather than paint. The fact the bike was updated then scrapped within the space of two years tells you it’s struggled to win the hearts and minds, and that means aftermarket items will probably disappear quickly. The fact that it’s being discontinued also inherently damages its resale value.
Indian FTR 1200 S
Unveiled at Intermot back in October, the flat-track-inspired Indian FTR 1200 S is set to arrive in dealerships in spring or thereabouts. Powered by a 1203cc liquid-cooled V-twin producing 120 hp, the naked/standard is loaded with tech of the sort that was previously unheard of from an American motorcycle manufacturer. With a starting price of £12,999 it is 85 cm wide and 228.7 cm long.
Have you read The Motorcycle Obsession? You know how I feel about the Indian brand, right? You know how I feel about the FTR 1200, right? You know that I love both from the depth of my soul, right? Visiting Europe’s two biggest moto shows this year – Intermot and EICMA – I probably spent a collective hour and a half just sitting on the FTR 1200, getting a feel for the thing, familiarizing myself with the placement of its switches, and imagining myself out on the road. I love the bike in principal, and based on my experiences riding every other Indian model – the Scout, Scout Sixty, and Scout Bobber being the most relevant ones in this case – I feel certain I will love it in reality. Also based on response to the Scout platform, it’s reasonable to assume the FTR 1200 will have strong aftermarket support, which means it’s likely I’d be able to give it the R nineT treatment.
It may be likely I’ll be able to give the FTR 1200 the R nineT treatment, but I don’t know that for certain. And who knows how long it will take for said accessories to become available? The FTR 1200 is longer and wider than I’d like, and notably more expensive, costing more than every other bike on this list. Also its tank only holds 13 liters (!!!).
The best-selling sport tourer in the United Kingdom, the Kawasaki Z1000SX has been around since 2010, having been most recently updated in 2017. Chock full of technowhizzbangery (riding modes, lean-sensitive traction control, lean-sensitive ABS, assist and slipper clutch, LED lighting, etc), the bike is driven by a 1043cc inline four-cylinder engine that promises a stunning 140 hp. With a starting price of £10,299, it is 79 cm wide and 210 cm long.
The Z1000SX is presently the bike I’m considering most seriously, though that is very much subject to a test ride (I plan on doing that soon). From having sat on the bike in a showroom, I know it is comfortable and well balanced. I like its looks, massive power output, weather protection, and overall bang for buck; you get a hell of a lot for your money here. I’d likely want to get a larger screen and heated grips from the aftermarket but otherwise I don’t foresee sinking too much additional dough into building the bike I want.
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Kawasaki bikes are buzzy; that’s a character thing. Some people really enjoy the high-frequency tingle of a Team Green inline four; I will never be one of those people. Truthfully, spending too long on any inline four sends exponential pain up my arm and into my shoulders. But my experience of riding the GTR1400 to Milan two years ago suggests I am capable of at least tolerating it for reasonable stretches of time. Additionally, I wonder if a set of Grip Puppies might improve things. Other concerns are the puny sidestand – I will need to balance my future bike on its sidestand to spin it into place – and the fact that neither a center stand nor cruise control are available even as options
Triumph Tiger Sport
One of my all-time favorite bikes, the Tiger Sport has been around in some form or another since 1993, having been updated most recently for 2016. Powered by a delightful 1050cc inline triple that promises 123 hp, it is reportedly the most popular model amongst Triumph employees. It is 84 cm wide and 211 cm long and has a starting price of £10,900.
I frequently lament the fact I bought a Tiger Explorer XRX when what I very clearly wanted was a Triumph Tiger Sport. I got suckered into the Tiger Explorer by free luggage from my dealer and the ease of shaft drive. Smooth, quick, and comfortable the Tiger Sport can accelerate with a ferocity that will give you chills, or it can putter along a motorway all day. Its cruise control is spot on, it gets great gas mileage, and it sounds fantastic when throttled. In many ways it is my perfect bike.
I’m not in love with the 2000-and-late graphics, the bike is long in the tooth, and the fact it has not been updated to receive the power figures and tech of the overhauled Speed Triple makes me think it may be dropped from the line-up soon, following the Trophy SE and Sprint GT into sport-touring obscurity. The aftermarket doesn’t appear to have been enthusiastic about the Tiger Sport, so finding a replacement to its subpar screen would be a challenge. In light of the above, it costs too damned much – especially since Triumph expects you to pay even more for heated grips and a center stand.
Yamaha Tracer 900 GT
Built on the ultra-successful MT-09 platform, the Yamaha Tracer 900 was introduced in 2015 and has proved to be incredibly popular in Europe. Basically a more affordable, better-spec Tiger Sport, this sport tourer for tall guys was updated in 2018, with Yamaha seeking to respond to criticism of the bike looking and feeling a little too affordable. Suspension and ergonomics were improved and a host of tidbits were added, especially on the all-bells-and-whistles GT version. Powered by an 847cc inline triple, the Tracer GT claims some 114 hp. With a starting price of £10,649, it is 85 cm wide and 216 cm long.
If I’m honest with myself, this is really the bike I should be going for. I spent a day on a Tracer 900 last year and absolutely adored the engine, as well as the commanding riding position. In my review of the bike, I described it as “one of the best bikes you’ll ever ride.” It’s even more value for money than the Z1000SX, and comes equipped with a quickshifter, cruise control, a center stand, heated grips and (rather small) panniers – stuff that either isn’t available (the first three) on the Z1000SX or costs extra (the latter two). That’s in addition to riding modes, traction control, and ABS. It also weighs 20 kg less than the Z1000SX. Owners report incredibly good fuel economy.
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The fit and finish of the Tracer/Tracer GT has improved since the first generation but it still looks cheap to me and I question its ability to hold up to year-round all-weather duty. There is evidence to suggest I’m worrying unnecessarily, though, so I’ll admit I’m just not that keen on the bike’s aesthetic. The bike’s pisspoor screen is a well known Achilles heel, however, and I haven’t read of any aftermarket alternatives that really manage to fix the problem.
So, What Should I Do?
My plan at this exact moment is to go into my local Triumph dealership and offer to pay base price for a Tiger Sport equipped with heated grips, center stand, and luggage. Yeah, it’s a bit long in the tooth and the resale value will be poor once the model gets dumped from Triumph’s line-up in a year or so, but I really do love the bike.
If they say no, as I suspect they will, that leaves the Kawasaki and the Yamaha as frontrunners. But I could be easily swayed to choose any of the others. What’s your advice?
* This is true, by the way. The town’s crest features three bears (and a dragon and a ship).