BMW K1300S vs. Honda VFR1200F vs. Kawasaki Concours 14 vs. Triumph Sprint GT

Long distance calling

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Kevin Wing

HONDA VFR1200F

Whether the Honda makes the most sense or the least depends on how you look at it. ST1300 devotees think it’s not enough: not enough range, not enough wind protection and not nearly enough room in those little saddlebags. More sporting sport-tourists figure it’s too much. There’s too much gratuitous complexity, which adds up to too much mass for serious chicanery. And optioned up with a centerstand ($249.95), heated hand grips ($349.95) and those color-matched saddlebags ($1399) to approximate the equipage of our other combatants pushes the price of admission to $17,999—pricier than anything but the BMW.

Honda is a motor company. The 1237cc V-4 should be brilliant, and it is. The two rear cylinders are closer together to keep things narrow. A 28-degree crankpin offset harmonizes with the 76-degree V-angle to squelch primary vibration. Asymmetrical exhaust headers help the V-4 deliver 90 percent of its torque at 4000 rpm. Even at idle, there’s a jagged, metallic edge to the exhaust note that separates the VFR from anything and everything else. Nobody will mistake the rest of the bike for anything else, either.

Though skewed toward the sporting side of this quartet, the Honda always manages to feel a little more intuitive than anything else here regardless of the speed, road surface or other circumstances. Despite spotting the BMW 25 lbs. and 5 bhp, it’s also the quickest, covering the quarter-mile in 10.23 seconds at 136.8 mph.

The magic V-4 is as gracious in a Caltrans construction zone as it is at the dragstrip. Skillful weight management makes the 594-lb. Honda feel more like a middleweight compared to its less nimble peers. Aside from an audible clunk that punctuates every shift, the VFR gearbox is equally obliging, but there’s way too much slack downstream in the shaft. The fly-by-wire throttle responds abruptly every time you pick things up from idle, sending an embarrassing clunk through the driveline. A smooth right hand can minimize the effect around town and elsewhere. But the harder you ride, the more annoying it gets, regardless of the riding environment. The rest of the bike deserves better.

After an hour or three chasing the horizon on four wide, arrow-straight lanes, it’s hard to fault the Honda’s performance. It’s dead smooth at 70 mph. Mirrors stay crystal clear, making it easy to spot stealthy Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptors skulking up from behind. Considering its sporting dimensions, the fairing does a decent job; on par with the BMW’s. There are no electronic distractions to scroll through on those LCDs flanking the big, central tachometer: just speed, fuel supply, trip distance, ambient air temperature and a clock. The artfully sculpted seat may not look comfortable, but it is—for a few hours. Spend much longer there and you’ll find yourself sliding forward onto the thinly padded forward edge. After 100 miles or so, the fuel gauge usually reads half full, which implies another 100 or so to go given the same pace and terrain. Except the second half goes in about half that distance. Putting more than 160 miles between fill-ups gets a bit dicey for those of us who aren’t all that keen on staring at the low-fuel light or pushing something this big and heavy down the shoulder.

The VFR snaps through tricky corners with maximum speed and minimal effort. The rear spring is soft for a 200-lb. rider with packed luggage. Otherwise, you’re looking at the best medium-distance strike fighter in this squadron. At 4000 rpm, you still have another 6000 of instant-on thrust. Nothing else comes close. There’s a blind, off-camber left coming up twice as fast as the yellow sign says it should. The BMW makes you commit. The Kawasaki makes you pray. The Triumph makes you sleepy. Just keep the slack out of that sloppy driveline and the Honda will make you smile. Its linked brakes are powerful enough to haul things down in a hurry without ever making you think twice about which end is doing what. The standard Bridgestone tires do an admirable job, but steering precision diminishes rapidly. Feed in an appropriate handful of throttle and the VFR pulls like a candy-red projectile from Godzilla’s rubber-band gun. Your right wrist is the traction-control system on this one, and 81.4 lb.-ft. of torque can spin that rear ’Stone enthusiastically enough to leave black marks on the pavement and brown ones in your tighty-whities.

So? If shorter sporting sorties are more important than long hauls, the Honda is squarely in the hunt. That goes double for those who put elegant technology ahead of a tight driveline and are willing to pay the price. Everybody else will try another showroom or wait and hope the VFR1200T materializes sometime soon.

To be or DCT?

Replacing the VFR’s clutch lever and shifter with Honda’s computer-controlled Dual Clutch Transmission sounds brilliant. Why waste time doing something the computer does better? Because with a good rider on board, it doesn’t.

The DCT VFR does get from one gear to the next quicker, but quicker shifts make the loud gearbox and sloppy driveline louder and more annoying. Left to its own devices, the computer shifts up and down well enough. But gear changes come sooner or later than most testers would like in Drive or Sport mode. A pair of paddles on the left bar lets you time shifts for yourself, but adapting burns more mental energy than doing it the old-fashioned way. And when DCT adds 41 lbs. and $1500 to the price of the standard VFR, we’ll pass.

The technology is clever, but it works better on cars.

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carewser
Why the Yamaha FJR1300 was left out of the competition I can't imagine. Triumph? Over Yamaha? Really?
spokexx
I test rode the Triumph Sprint GT this past weekend. Damn I loved it. Now I'm contemplating a purchase but I really don't have to. I just want to. I would say that it is a touring sport bike where as the BMW is a sporty touring bike. The Honda seems to fall into a the former catagory also and the Kawi falls into a class with the beemer. I also test rode an older K1200 ...r? gt? whatever. And Im just not a fan of shaft drive.
mfrito
Didn't you forget the FJR1300?  Just a few years ago it came in second to the Concours.
JETSKI88
Dave,

The BMW's sure are intriguing but all I ever hear is high maintenance costs and expensive repairs.  That has kept me on Kawasakis for 17 years.  Bikes and jetskis.  Reliable and powerful.  Best machines out there!
BMWDave2007K1200S
My lemon
Almost 4 years ago I bought my dream bike a 2007 BMW K1200S from Cliff's BMW in Danbury CT. After about 100 miles the bike started to lurch and jerk under 3000 RPM (tough to make right turns without pulling in the clutch and ride at low speed in 1st gear) Well the dealer did not have a fix so I did not have a problem... After repeated attempts to get it fixed finally after the start of my 3rd season they re-mapped it and it has been fine. They even did not charge me...(how nice was that after all that time to find out it was not me and the way I was riding the bike) 3 years ago I went in because my clutch chattered, slipped and would not let me take off fast. Needless to say my 0-60 MPH in 2.8 seconds bike was not. This is not my first bike and I have driven manual transmission cars for 33 years. Clutches last a very long time. I would bring my bike in and Dave the service manager, Brianna a service writer (at the time, now service manager) and Cliff the owner all said "this is normal" I don't think I have it in writing because they did not want it in the records. I went in many times and was told it is normal. The new owner also "said it was normal" at my last oil change  So no help here... so only about 50 miles later I go to trade the bike because I don't think it is normal. What a surprise that I was told I need a new clutch. It will cost me around $1000.00 for the clutch and the housing. Cliff's should have bought my lemon back and gave me a new bike. between the surging and the clutch my bike was a big disappointment and not what I paid for. With a 19K list price and I paid $17500.00 and I still have around 14 payments left. Thanks for listening and I will tell this story to whoever will let me. Needless to say don't do business with Cliff he has an insurance company now and I am sure won't have anyones interest but his at heart.
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