You’ve bought all of the riding gear, got the maps, worked out a route and you now want to ride as far and as long as you can. So which type of motorcycle should you take touring?
There’s a huge selection to choose from. Big tourers, mid-size sport tourers, cruiser/tourers, but here’s five bikes that are RideApart’s choice for doing distance. All five of these will all eat up the miles, plus get you, a passenger and your luggage to wherever you’re going quickly and in a fair degree of comfort.
Back in August, we reviewed BMW’s fully-faired, long distance tourer, the K 1600 GTL (and its sibling the K 1600 GT) and gave them both a thumbs up with the GTL getting a 9/10 rating as we felt it redefined what a big modern touring bike should be. Very fast, extremely comfortable and very capable. Although it’s a big motorcycle at 703 lbs, it just doesn’t ride like a big, heavy bike. We felt the K 1600 GTL represents everything that BMW knows about making great motorcycles.
As a cross-country tourer the GTL comes fully loaded but, despite all of the kit, we were hard-pressed to categorize this BMW as, out on the road, it’s almost as involving as a superbike. So instead we opted for the new term “Supertourer.”
Not only can you ride it for miles and miles, you can get off it feeling you’ve just ridden around the block. This is in part down to its powerful 1,649cc engine and its claimed 160 hp and 129 lb.-ft. of torque. Being an inline-six, it’s super smooth and it delivers that torque at very low revs.
The GTL shares quite a lot (frame, engine, brakes etc) with its slightly less expensive sibling, the K 1600 GT ($21,500), but the seating position on the GTL is different (you sit more in the GTL rather than on the bike like the GT), the foot pegs are lower and further forward and the bars are higher and closer to the rider.
At $23,950 (including ABS as standard) it’s not cheap. But the GTL comes with an impressive standard equipment list that includes hard bags and a sophisticated media system that allows you to pair sat nav, phones and MP3 players. If you want to ride great distances, with a passenger and in great comfort look no further than BMW’s K 1600 GTL.
You may remember in March we sent RideApart staffer, Sean McDonald off on a long distance trip to test out Honda’s F6B Gold Wing from his home in SoCal to Seattle and back. He racked up over 2500 miles during 10 days of riding on various roads and in varying weather conditions along the way.
Sean liked what he found on the F6B and describes it as “a bike that is many things.” Even Honda calls the F6B part boulevard and part tourer.
It shares the same 1,832cc flat-six engine, frame and transmission — minus electric reverse gear — of the regular Gold Wing but, to put it simply, it just has less equipment. Major visual differences are a lower screen and the deleted top box. All that knocks 60 lbs off the all-up weight.
Sometimes compromises aren’t good, but in the case of the F6B (Flat Six Bagger) we think that Honda had got this motorcycle bang on. It can be ridden hard like a sport bike, yet when you want to cruise or tour you can settle back and enjoy one of the most comfortable motorcycles out there.
Part of that is due to the F6B’s seating position, which we think is better than the regular Gold Wing because it offers more space for the rider to move about, particularly if you’re covering a lot of miles. The lower screen, too, drops out of the rider's field of vision while still managing to direct wind blast over their shoulders. However, F6B passengers may not be that impressed as even with the optional back rest, it’s not as good back there as the plusher, more expensive Gold Wing.
At 842 lbs (wet), the F6B is somewhat portly and, for low speed maneuvering and lane-splitting you really need to keep a careful eye out. On the move though it’s an engaging bike to ride and, with it’s blacked-out fairing and aluminum frame, this version of the Gold Wing looks terrific.
At $19,999, the F6B is also $3,391 cheaper than the regular Gold Wing. That price difference means that on the F6B you miss out on cruise control, electric reverse, full screen, heated grips, seat and foot warmers and a Premium Package audio system. If you can live without all of that, then we would say go for the F6B. It works as a long-distance tourer or an around town cruiser. You won’t be disappointed.
To big fanfare, Harley-Davidson pulled the wraps off its Project Rushmore 2014 touring bikes in August, which included the Street Glide, Electra Glide Ultra Classic and the Ultra Limited. On first glance, you’d think nothing had changed but in fact there were a whole host of subtle and important developments that has brought "Milwaukee’s Finest" back into the big tourer sector, perhaps in better shape than it has been for a long time.
H-D’s Ultra Limited is probably the pick of the bunch as it now comes equipped as standard with what H-D calls a “Twin-Cooled High Output Twin Cam 103.” It’s fancy terminology for what regular folks call "a water-cooled V-twin." The regular 103ci motor is good enough air-cooled, but this new Twin-Cooled version ups the game for H-D.
Because it now has radiators (which Harley-Davidson has done a decent job integrating onto the bike) it can run a higher compression ratio of 10.1:1 and, consequently, produces 105.5 ft.-lb. of torque around, 10.7 percent more than the standard 103 engine.
It’s the attention to detail that Harley-Davidson gets full marks from us for 2014. There’s a new airflow vent on the front fairing that reduces helmet buffeting to the rider. Simple, but it works.
ABS is now available across the entire 2014 H-D range – but is standard on the big tourers like the Ultra Limited. As too is the Reflex Linked Brake system that’s operated by the front brake lever and determines how much pressure is applied to either brakes over 25 mph.
The biggest change is the huge technological leap forward on the H-D tourers that the company says was customer led. On the Ultra Limited you get a “6.5 Boom!” infotainment system that has voice recognition technology, color touch screen (motorcycle glove friendly) for music, GPS and cell phone. Bluetooth connectivity is standard for your MP3 player and phone, plus text to speech technology, rider to passenger intercom and CB communication. All of this is included in one module. It sounds super complicated on paper, but in reality it’s all a doddle to use and operate via thumb controls on the bike’s handlebars.
For all tourers, hard bags have been re-designed with clever, one-touch locking latches and, for the Ultra, a redesigned, larger “Tour-Pak.”
There’s some suspension and larger fork tweaks as well, that have improved handling and steering response, plus bigger and better seats, too.
Starting at $25,899 the Ultra Limited is definitely on the upper edge of being pretty expensive. But considering the effort that has gone into the recent changes both in technology and engineering, this touring version means that H-D is back on its game and the Ultra Limited is worthy of consideration if you’re planning that cross-country ride.
For more than $10,000 less than the big Harley, there is Suzuki’s perennial Hayabusa. Or, to give its correct title, the Suzuki GSX1300-R. At $14,399 it’s a lot of bike for the money. You can splash out a further $200 and get the all-yellow Limited Edition version, but we wouldn’t bother.
Here in America, we tend to think drag racing and boulevard posing when we think of the bike, but in actual fact, the ‘Busa is intended to be sort of the (ugly) Aston Martin of motorcycles. It’s made to cross continents (like Europe) at high speeds, not accessorize denim shorts and white tube socks.
The Hayabusa has been around since 1999 and remained relatively unchanged until 2008 when it got a series of limited updates. For 2013 it finally got ABS as standard along with better Brembo brake calipers (but no radial master cylinder).
This, though, is a bike that has become something of a legend. In terms of looks there is no sitting on the fence with the Hayabusa, you either love it or hate it.
But, what you get for your money is astonishing performance from a 194 bhp, 1,340cc, liquid-cooled, four-cylinder engine. A bike that handles far better than you would expect for something that is nigh on 15 years old. Trust us, the Hayabusa can still cut it with the big boys.
It’s well laid out and has a good sport rider position and the ergonomics are roomy enough and the ride smooth enough (thanks to plush, high quality suspension) the Hayabusa can work really well for what we would call a long-distance sports grand tourer. You’ll get wherever you’re going very quickly, have a lot of fun riding there and arrive in good shape, too.
For the last in our line up, we’re back to BMW and its R 1200 GS. With its roots in the famous Paris-Dakar races, the GS badge is now 30-years-old. It may have made its name in the deserts of Africa, but these days it’s better to think of it as a very capable long distance road tourer, with a dash of dirt-road ability.
At this point you could opt for the more hardcore R 1200 GS Adventure ($18,350), but although you get a more robust bike you also have the older air/oil-cooled boxer twin. This GS will eat the miles, has great ride quality and you can fiddle around with two off-road modes that alter the amount of traction control to the back wheel.
But our choice would be the 2013 BMW R 1200 GS ($16,100). It’s a little cheaper, perhaps a little less rugged than the Adventure, but has the new, water-cooled, 1,170cc boxer twin that puts out 125 bhp (15 hp more than the Adventure, which is based on the last-gen GS). This engine update was the biggest makeover to the GS in 10 years.
You also now get electronically adjustable suspension, integrated controls for SatNav and riding modes. As an off road bike it’s limited. As a long distance tourer, with that 33.5-inch seat height and the subsequent leg room that delivers, it’s terrific. It handles brilliantly and is a blast to ride over short or long distances while putting its rider in comfortable control with tall, wide handlebars and an upright seating position. Passenger accommodation is excellent, too, thanks to a large, flat seat. Fit the optional top box if you want to give that passenger something to lean against.
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