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

Long distance calling

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Kevin Wing

What is sport-touring anyway? Riding a little too fast and a little too far on roads you haven’t ridden in way too long. It’s too much bruschetta and gnocchi con pesto at Caffe Lucio. Laughing way too loud over pints of Moretti draft afterward, staying up too late debating Vale vs. Casey and Latigo Canyon vs. Ice Cream Grade. Waking up light-years from the corporate pressure-cooker in a motel bed, washing down a breakfast-buffet waffle with industrial-grade coffee and rolling out into the brittle, early-morning chill to do it all over again.

What’s the best sport-tourer? Once the sun has disappeared into the Pacific, your friends are long gone and you’re thinking about those last two hours of freeway between cold mountain road and warm garage, which one makes you take the long way home? Which one feels like a friend, no matter what, playing up strengths and ignoring weaknesses? And when one of the usual suspects suggests doing it again, which one sends you searching for another weekend’s worth of twisty lines on Google Maps instead of a good chiropractor? There’s only one way to find out: El Segundo to Santa Cruz and back, via as much twisty, underpatrolled two-lane as we can find.

Our candidates for the abovementioned title represent four factories and three countries. All have at least three cylinders and 1050cc, along with enough aerodynamic plastic and electronic amenities to take the edge off rough roads and worse weather. Despite the fact that all four skew toward the sporting side of any sport-touring continuum, they all roll out with hard saddlebags. Any one of them will inhale vast stretches of pavement in very little time with relative ease. Beyond that, they represent sport-touring ideologies that are further apart than Triumph’s UK headquarters sits from Kawasaki’s in Japan.

BMW K1300S

BMW’s latest K-spec über-four delivers everything you’d expect from the architects of modern mach schnell touring. It’s stinky fast, mildly quirky, dizzyingly complicated, more stable than the German banking system ... and pricey enough to empty the average American savings account. And 15 minutes south of Big Sur on California’s fabled Highway 1, you’ll cough up whatever they’re asking with a smile.

Despite the sportiest silhouette of the bunch, the big K is all BMW, as in one unrepentant 147-horse sporty tourer aimed directly at open-class Japanese hypersports that don’t offer optional saddlebags. Throw a leg over and you’re sitting in the S more than on it. Legroom is something less than first-class, but taller types will still be happier here than shorter ones, who’ll find the bars a long way off. Vibration is minimal in sixth gear within 15 mph of any posted freeway limit. Scrolling through the trip computer to keep tabs on tire pressure, average mpg, projected fuel range, ambient air temperature and such is amusing, but the optimistic data provides only a vague idea of what’s actually going on. Held to an unwavering 70 mph, the S is capable of putting 200 miles between fill-ups if you don’t mind the stress of rolling into a gas station on fumes. For the most part, it makes an eminently civilized traveling companion whether you’re on the road for three hours or three days. BMW’s second-generation electronically adjustable suspension goes from plush to firm to genuinely taut on the fly with a touch of the button on the left bar. Another on the right toggles the two-position heated hand grips. Wind protection is luxurious by supersport standards, but noticeably skimpy compared to the Kawasaki Concours 14’s adjustable screen.

Cue up 20 miles of smooth, flowing coastal corners and the K1300S arcs through one 70-mph apex after another like a terrain-following missile. Contrary to sporting folklore, the Duolever front end does tell you what’s going on at the front contact patch once you learn to stop worrying and trust it. Ease into the throttle below 4000 rpm and the 1300 reels in the next straight with a steady stream of reassuringly linear thrust. Loaf along in second or third if you like, secure in the knowledge that nearly 70 percent of the engine’s peak torque is available at just 3000 rpm. It doesn’t gain revs as enthusiastically as the Honda’s V4. Full afterburner mode kicks in just beyond 6000 rpm, and by 8000 it’s pulling hard. Enough to provoke involuntary contractions in that ring of smooth muscle tissue you’re sitting on, reel off mid-10-second quarter-miles at 130-plus mph and reel in that next apex quicker than you can say Semi-Integral ABS II. That eyeball-flattening immediacy makes it feel like the quickest of the bunch, even though it isn’t ... quite.

Meanwhile, a firm squeeze on the lever cues all three discs, hauling things down immediately with more power than feel, but no drama. The foot pedal controls only the rear brake, taking the pucker out of occasional decreasing-radius moments more readily than systems that insist on factoring in some degree of front brake as well. Still, the Duolever/Paralever combination maintains equilibrium between front and rear. Cornering clearance abounds, as does the reassuringly tenacious grip from those Metzeler radials. Not much to complain about. Not yet anyway...

When the corners come closer together and the pavement starts to unravel, so does most of the big K-bike’s otherwise unflappable Germanic composure. Automatic Stability Control (read: traction control) keeps you from writing a check with the throttle that the 180/55-17 rear tire can’t cash. Even so, once you’ve arrived in the land of blind rises and lumpy 15-mph corners, pulling the trigger near 9000 rpm feels like hunting ground squirrels with that terrain-following missile. Despite the diligent efforts of two balance shafts, it’s buzzy up there as well. Gear shifts are clunky, too. We didn’t recall that being an issue until we remembered that the last K1300S we tested had the optional electronic quick-shifter ($450).

A longish wheelbase and lazy steering geometry make quick progress feel uncomfortably close to alligator wrestling. Full-sized riders with superior upper-body strength have an easier time persuading the beast than Dani Pedrosa impersonators. ESA electronics order up too much compression damping in Sport mode. Pick up the pace on a stretch of rough pavement and the ride gets harsh enough to make slowing down the better part of valor. Thumb the suspenders down to Normal or Comfort and the big boy wallows around too much for us. The system is great if it works for your chosen pace, payload and road. Otherwise, it comes down to a choice between either slowing down and shutting up or just hanging on.

You can trigger a migraine trying to decide whether the K1300S is an electronically enhanced Hayabusa killer or the consummate long-distance European surface-to-surface missile. At least until you realize it’s both. And as with most advanced multi-role weapon systems, it’s imperfect and expensive. For those willing to play to its strengths, live with a few weaknesses and lay down just shy of $20,000 for the privilege, the K1300S is hard to resist. After two or three sessions of Doktor K’s 9000-rpm adrenaline therapy, resistance is futile.

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.

Kawasaki Concours 14

Can electronics defy gravity, along with various other key physical laws? Do VVT, KTRC, K-ACT, KIPASS, ABS and a host of other technologies with less catchy acronyms add up to sport-touring nirvana? That, boys and girls, is Kawasaki’s $15,599 question ($14,599 if you can live without ABS and traction control). The answer, as you might expect from a motorcycle with enough onboard electronics to embarrass a desktop computer, is more complicated.

Introduced to an admiring sporty-touring public in 2007 as heir to a rapid-transit dynasty that began in 1986 with the Concours 1000, the Concours 14 was good enough to win our last long-distance comparison. But it wasn’t perfect. It was huge, and radiated enough engine heat to roast a chicken in hot weather. The adjustable windscreen invited excess turbulence into the cockpit, and fuel mileage was deplorable. Kawasaki’s engineers took copious notes, addressing all that in a strategically revised 2010 version with new bodywork, a taller electrically adjustable windscreen, heated hand grips, a faster, more compact K-ACT ABS system, switchable KTRC traction control, plus ECO Mode fuel mapping you can switch on when miles per gallon are more important than miles per hour. Then they firmed up the fork with extra oil and levered on new Bridgestone BT021U radials to sharpen the handling. Aside from a fresh coat of aptly named Atomic Silver paint and $300 added to the asking price, our 2011 model is unchanged from last year.

Getting those acronyms on the road starts with Kawasaki’s Intelligent Proximity Activation System, a.k.a. The FOB: bane of neo-luddites, technophobes and various unnamed Motorcyclist staffers. With said FOB in your pocket, just push the ignition switch, hit the starter and you’re off. In the FSS position (fuel, seat and saddlebags), it slips out to reveal an actual key that unlocks everything else. It’s simple until somebody rides off on another bike with the FOB in his pocket, or tries to store it in the self-locking fairing compartment. Then it’s "What about FOB?/Where’s FOB?/FOB’s yer uncle" for the next 200 miles.

Lucky for us, most of the bike’s other innovations are more intuitive. Once the FOB’s presence is confirmed, the 14’s size dominates most second impressions. Topped off with 5.8 gallons of 90-octane unleaded, you’re straddling a 690-lb. vessel that measures 7.5 feet from stem to stern and more than 3 feet across her beam. Broad bars and a roomy, upright riding position make navigating city traffic easier, but she’s a bit of a handful until you adjust to those dimensions.

Everything comes together by the second or third stoplight. Kawasaki’s VVT arrangement uses oil pressure to shift intake timing, boosting power across the bottom half of the tach. The payoff is a 1352cc torque pump that’s open for business at 1100 rpm. The first 4000 rpm serve up more than enough punch around town, or anywhere else unless you’re late for something. The second 4000 produce enough to handle just about anything else, leaving the 10,500-rpm redline for occasional weekend visits. The second-generation fairing dispenses with excess engine heat before it can roast anybody. With that sort of broadband propulsion on call, the shift lever doesn’t see a lot of action once you’re up to speed.

Inhale 150 miles of California’s 101 freeway in a couple of hours and you won’t surrender the FOB any time soon. Vibration is blissfully absent below 5000 rpm. Thumb the windscreen up and down until it’s punching a comfortable hole in the oncoming 37-degree air. That’s what the dash display says anyway. Rear-view mirrors frame a clear picture of where you’ve been while steering that air around your hands. Bump up the heated grips another notch and cue up fuel range without taking a hand off the bars. Holding down the mode-select button shifts the EFI system to ECO mode: a leaner fuel map that just turned 36 mpg into 42 as long as you’re under 6000 rpm and 30 percent throttle. It’s like carrying 20 percent more fuel without the extra weight.

Extra weight is something the C14 can live without. Pack those bags with 40 lbs. of gear and it should behave like a 1972 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser in the twisty bits: badly. But fear not: Correct suspension adjustment becomes more critical, and even when it’s dialed-in the ride gets harsh on rough roads. Reined in to double-digit speeds, the Concours acquits itself remarkably well. That upright riding position feels more natural on the freeway, but broad bars keep steering acceptably light and precise. The dual-mode linked brakes are harder to master. At a moderate pace, a two-finger squeeze on the lever slows things down and settles the suspension with a whiff of rear brake. When that’s not enough, a toe on the pedal factors in too much front brake too quickly, even with K-ACT in the less invasive Low Combined mode.

That’s the only real annoyance, and there are more important things after 10 hours on the road. Like a motorcycle that’s good enough at everything to make you pocket the FOB and do it again the next day.

Triumph Sprint GT

Never mind for a moment that gratifying three-cylinder wail it leaves behind at 7000 rpm. We’ll be getting to those excellent hard saddlebags, the comfy riding position and genial road manners a little later in the program. Right now, the sexiest part of a new Sprint GT is its $13,200 sticker price. You can’t touch a comparable sport-tourer in anyone else’s showroom for that kind of coin. On the flip side, it requires acquiescing to a little honest input from the sensible side of your brain. Are you willing to live without amenities like shaft drive, heated grips and electronically adjustable anything to save something between $2400 and $7800?

Recast for 2011 to reflect a cleaner, more workmanlike, sport-touring image, the Sprint sits a little lower than its more expensive traveling companions, feeling pleasantly narrow with 5.3 gallons of super unleaded between your knees. Its predecessor’s underseat muffler was lost in the translation from ST to GT in favor of a less adventurous one under the right saddlebag. That opened up more room for a passenger as well as some storage space under the one-piece seat. Speaking of storage, the Triumph’s bags offer more useable space than the others. Taking them off is easy, even under bad lights in a hotel parking garage, and they go back on just as easily in the morning. Critical eyes will notice the cheap-looking adjustable control levers and ignition switch. The mirrors and turn signals obviously didn’t come out of a Honda parts bin, nor did the straight-blade preload adjusters on the forks, which scream Suzuki Katana. Toggling through trip-computer data means poking around the center of the dash and trying to remember which one of those three button does what. A bar-mounted button would be better, but you’re lucky to have a trip computer at this price.

The Sprint looks harmless outside a seemingly nontoxic Central California burger joint. Do you care? Give the chain a quick check, then explain to the curious that Triumph still makes motorcycles, and they don’t leak oil like Uncle Woody’s ’59 Bonneville. Yes, we did come all the way up from Los Angeles. No, we’ve never met Paris Hilton, and we have heard Santa Cruz is full of hippies, now that you mention it. What’s a hippie?

Wind on a handful of throttle on the way out of town and Triumph’s ubiquitous 1050cc triple comes up to freeway speeds easily despite its long gearing, leaving a hint of that gratifying wail hanging in the air to mark its passing. Our Sprint’s transmission felt sticky through the first three gears right out of the crate, but shifting improved once all the cogs got better acquainted. The smallest engine of the bunch feels relatively weak right off the bottom. It works a little harder to keep up at times. Convincing acceleration lives above 5000 rpm. Make that 7000 if you’re really in a rush. Throttle back to a steady 75 mph in sixth and the Britbike feels calm, with just enough mechanical presence to let you know what you’re riding. The cockpit gets a bit breezy if you’re taller than 6-foot-nothing, and long legs inevitably tire of being bent between the low seat and high pegs. Assuming your inseam measurement is something less than 35 inches, racy ergonomics feel natural enough after 100 miles to encourage 100 more.

The Triumph feels sportier than the average sport-tourer. Inveterate sportbike junkies will feel right at home whistling through a few hundred corners at speeds that don’t illicit expensive roadside interludes with local law enforcement. Steering is reasonably light and reassuringly neutral, but lazier than Honda’s VFR through the twistiest bits. No hard parts grind on the pavement. All is well. But when proceedings escalate beyond 8.5 on the Motorcyclist Adjusted Aggression Scale, the Sprint’s reasonably priced suspension and brakes are well beyond their comfort zone. The GT’s relatively simple Showa fork and shock are firmer than their counterparts on the old Sprint ST, but both wilt quickly at this pace, letting Captain Sensible wallow and pitch enough to make most of us uncomfortable. While the Triumph’s engine is ready and willing to hammer along at 9000 rpm all day long, its brakes aren’t.

Back it down around 5000 rpm or so and the Triumph can coax 200-plus miles out of a tankful chasing S.R. 25 up the San Andreas Fault toward Paicines, Tres Pinos and Hollister. It gives you time to think about things. Like how nice a pair of heated grips might feel right now. Judging by that pasture, maybe one 1000-lb. cow really does drop 20,000 lbs. of cow pies every year. Or whether one BMW K1300S in the garage beats owning a Sprint GT and a Honda CRF450X for the same money. There’s nothing wrong with wanting more, but if scaling sport-touring back to the essentials is sounding pretty good right now, this Triumph is all you need.

And the Winner Is...

Add up all the numbers. Think long and hard. The best sport-tourer still depends entirely on what sort of sport-touring you have in mind. Fast? Leisurely? Transcontinental hauls? Day trips? The winner should handle all that comfortably, two-up or solo, for a rational amount of money. Day or night, spring, summer, fall or winter.

If going long and fast trumps everything else, including the price tag, BMW’s biggest sporting four will go longer and faster than anything here. In exchange for unflinching physical and financial commitment, the K1300S delivers unwavering stability, precise handling and the sort of top-end rush usually reserved for pilots of Hayabusas and F-22 Raptors.

Devotees of clever engineering in search of a motorcycle that looks, feels and acts like no other will get one taste of that intoxicating V-4 and go with the Honda. It’s expensive for what you get. Stopping for fuel every 140 miles gets tiresome, and there’s that sloppy driveline to contend with. Carve the heart out of a tight second-gear corner, ease the horizon back to horizontal and pull the trigger at 6500 rpm. The VFR will give you 142 reasons to forget everything else.

The Triumph makes a simpler case, showing up with everything you need for a price more people can afford and never mind the rest. No electronic accoutrements. No electrically adjustable creature comforts. Just a comfortable, cooperative traveling companion for any stretch of pavement. Spend the money you save to amend a shortcoming or two, or on gasoline and cheap motels. Your choice. Therein lies the Sprint GT’s real beauty.

Then there’s the winner. Other bikes can run quicker here or feel more capable over there, but only one is very, very good at all the things that makes a big, fast sport- touring bike truly great. All hail the winner: Kawasaki’s Concours 14.

Off the Record

Ari Henning
Age: 26
Height: 5’10
Weight: 175 lbs.
Inseam: 33 in.

I’m the type of person who is inconsolably ashamed if I don’t wear out the shoulders of my tires before the centers, so my interpretation of sport-touring focuses almost entirely on the sporting side of the equation. I’ve logged some long days on sportbikes—including a 720-miler on a Kawasaki ZX-6R—and I’ve never once wished for a larger, more comfortable machine.

That said, if the halfway point of my trip were on the other side of the country, I’d pocket the Kawasaki’s key fob immediately. The Concours 14’s comfortable accommodations, huge fuel tank, powerful engine and capacious luggage are perfect for a cross-country trip, and it handles curves pretty well, too. By definition a sport-touring bike is a compromise, and while the Sprint is the sportiest of this bunch, it’s still too heavy to hustle down a twisty road the way I want to. For trips under 1500 miles, I’d leave all these behemoths in the garage, throw a set of soft luggage over a 600 and have a hell of a ride!

Aaron Frank
Age: 36
Height: 5’7
Weight: 150 lbs.
Inseam: 31 in.

I liked our original long-term Concours 14 testbike so much, I bought it. Actually, I convinced my dad to buy it, so it’s still in the family and available anytime I need to knock out a quick, comfortable 750-mile day. This newly revised, KTRC-equipped Connie is safer than dad’s old ’08, doesn’t roast your thighs as badly, yet still delivers the same blend of thermonuclear thrust and unbeatable comfort that makes this my first choice for killing miles.

Sport-touring is subject to interpretation. When my bias favors the front half of that hyphenate, any modern literbike slung with soft luggage slays the plus-sized sportbikes compared here. But in terms of touring aptitude, it’s no contest: The Concours’ extra inches and pounds translate to real advantages over the aforementioned literbikes—and the other three competitors here—with legitimate passenger accommodation, generous weather protection, info-rich electronics and enough vestigial Ninja performance to still satisfy. Nothing balances the sport-touring equation as well.

Tim Carrithers
Age: 52
Height: 6’3’’
Weight: 220 lbs.
Inseam: 34 in.

In some parallel, pre-meltdown economic universe, I’d shoulder those easy monthly payments for BMW’s K1300S, just to revel in its eccentric, Teutonic splendor on fast, sweeping pavement. I’d really rather climb aboard a new R1200GS, set the GPS for Porto Alegre or Pelotas or Montevideo and never look back, but that’s another story for another day. I’ve developed a firmer grip on reality since the bottom fell out of our global economic playpen back in ’07. It keeps me from dropping what I have to grab more than I need. In this company, that means anything more than Triumph’s eminently capable Sprint GT.

After 1000 miles, I don’t really miss all those little electronic extravagances. Especially since none of that stuff makes any of the others a perfect fit for me anyway. Here’s the difference: Spending some of the cash I’d save by buying the Triumph on better suspension and brakes would make it a perfect fit. That’s enough for me.

Brian Catterson
Age: 49
Height: 6’1
Weight: 215 lbs.
Inseam: 34 in.

Two Septembers ago, my brother Paul and I rode two BMW sport-tourers, a K1300GT and a K1300S, from Los Angeles to Seattle and back. In doing so, we rode the full length of Highway 1. Paul, being a private airplane pilot, preferred the GT with its many creature comforts and information-rich instrumentation. While I, being a racer at heart, preferred the sportier S, and wrote as much in our March 2010 "Family Feud" issue.

This latest trip again found me aboard a K1300S on Highway 1, and the results are no different. If I did most of my riding two-up, I might choose the comfier Kawasaki Concours. But for the sort of sporty sport-touring I enjoy, the Beemer remains my weapon of choice. Performance-wise, it’s like bringing an ICBM to a knife fight. And its sophisticated-yet-sexy looks make it the only one of these supersport-tourers I would truly be proud to be seen on, at the local Bike Night or on Racer Road.

2011 BMW K1300S | Price $19,974 (As Tested)

Dyno
Despite carrying its most convincing muscle toward the top of the curve, the K-bike is quite cooperative down low. What you can’t see is its perplexing inability to build revs in any particular hurry, regardless of where it’s spinning.

Tech Spec

Engine type: l-c inline-four >

Valve train: DOHC, 16v

Displacement: 1293cc

Bore x stroke: 80.0 x 64.2mm

Compression: 13.0:1

Fuel system: EFI

Clutch: Wet, multi-plate

Transmission: 6-speed

Frame: Aluminum twin-spar with single-sided swingarm

Front suspension: Duolever with ESA II

Rear suspension: Paralever with ESA II

Front brake: Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with part-integral ABS

Rear brake: Brembo two-piston caliper, 265mm disc with part-integral ABS

Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Metzeler Sportec M3

Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Metzeler Sportec M3

Rake/trail: 29.6/4.1 in.

Seat height: 32.3 in.

Wheelbase: 62.4 in.

Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal.

Weight (tank full/empty): 569/539 lbs.

Measured horsepower: 146.9 bhp @ 9250 rpm

Measured torque: 89.6 lb.-ft. @ 8000 rpm

Corrected -mile: 10.62 sec. @ 133.03 mph

Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 2.71 sec.

Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 43/35/39 mpg

Colors: Blue/white/black, red/black

Availability: Now

Warranty: 36 mo., 36,000 mi.

Contact:
BMW of North America
P.O. Box 1227
Westwood, NJ 07575
800.831.1117
www.bmwmotorcycles.com

Ergos
Bolting its handlebar further away from the saddle makes the BMW harder to manage for short people. Pegs are a full inch farther away from the seat than on the VFR, making long-legged riders very happy.

2011 Honda VFR1200F | Price $17,999 (As Tested)

Dyno
The magic V-4 puts power and torque right where you want them from the bottom all the way up to 10,000 rpm, though it never feels as fast as it is until shortly after those curves cross at 5250.

Tech Spec

Engine type: l-c 76-deg. V-4

Valve train: SOHC, 16v

Displacement: 1237cc

Bore x stroke: 81.0 x 60.0mm

Compression: 12.0:1

Fuel system: EFI

Clutch: Wet, multi-plate slipper

Transmission: 6-speed

Frame: Aluminum twin-spar

Front suspension: 43mm Showa fork with adjustable spring preload

Rear suspension: Showa shock with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping

Front brake: Dual Nissin six-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS/CBS

Rear brake: Nissin two-piston caliper, 267mm disc with ABS/CBS

Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Roadsmart

Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Roadsmart

Rake/trail: 25.5/4.0 in.

Seat height: 32.1 in.

Wheelbase: 60.8 in.

Fuel capacity: 4.9 gal.

Weight (tank full/empty): 594/565 lbs.

Measured horsepower: 142.1 bhp @ 10,000 rpm

Measured torque: 81.4 lb.-ft. @ 8750 rpm

Corrected -mile: 10.23 sec. @ 136.82 mph

Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 3.14 sec.

Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 47/31/40 mpg

Colors: Red

Availability: Now

Warranty: 12 mo., unlimited mi.

Contact:
American Honda Motor Co., Inc.
P.O. Box 2200
Torrance, CA 90509
866.784.1870
www.powersports.honda.com

Ergos
The VFR offers nearly 3 inches less legroom in its comfortably sporty ergonomic equation than Honda’s iconic ST1300 sport-tourer. Otherwise, the more conventionally positioned V-4 makes it roomier than its 727-lb. distant cousin.

2011 Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS | Price $15,599

Dyno
Variable valve timing fortifies the ZX-14-derived four’s delivery across the bottom of the rev range with relatively little in the way of a downside above that. Still, it tapers off early compared to the more powerful BMW and Honda.

Tech Spec

Engine type: l-c inline-four

Valve train: DOHC, 16v

Displacement: 1352cc

Bore x stroke: 84.0 x 61.0mm

Compression: 10.7:1

Fuel system: EFI

Clutch: Wet, multi-plate

Transmission: 6-speed

Frame: Aluminum monocoque

Front suspension: 43mm Kayaba inverted fork with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping

Rear suspension: Single Kayaba shock with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping

Front brake: Dual Nissin four-piston calipers, 310mm discs with ABS

Rear brake: Nissin two-piston caliper, 270mm disc with ABS

Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax BT021U

Rear tire: 190/50ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax BT021U

Rake/trail: 26.1/4.4 in.

Seat height: 32.1 in.

Wheelbase: 59.8 in.

Fuel capacity: 5.8 gal.

Weight (tank full/empty): 690/655 lbs.

Measured horsepower: 130.4 bhp @ 9000 rpm

Measured torque: 87.9 lb.-ft. @ 7250 rpm

Corrected -mile: 10.84 sec. @ 127.7 mph

Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 4.2 sec.

Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 45/27/35 mpg

Colors: Blue, black

Availability: Now

Warranty: 36 mo., unlimited miles

Contact:
Kawasaki Motor Corp.
9950 Jeronimo Road
Irvine, CA 92618
949.770.0400
www.kawasaki.com

Ergos
Though roomier and more comfortable for long hauls, tall bars push you up and back. That’s great for covering long distances in a straight line, but it can feel a bit awkward when you’re pushing hard through the twisties.

2011 Triumph Sprint GT | Price $13,199

Dyno
Though smaller than the others in terms of size and sheer muscle, Triumph’s 1050cc triple makes the most of those 118.6 horses, laying them down in steady succession. That dip at 3000 rpm is much less noticeable on the road.

Tech Spec

Engine type: l-c inline-triple

Valve train: DOHC, 12v

Displacement: 1050cc

Bore x stroke: 79.0 x 71.4mm

Compression: 12.0:1

Fuel system: EFI

Clutch: Wet, multi-plate

Transmission: 6-speed

Frame: Aluminum twin-spar with single-sided swingarm

Front suspension: Showa 43mm fork with adjustable spring preload

Rear suspension: Showa shock with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping

Front brake: Dual Nissin four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS

Rear brake: Nissin two-piston caliper, 255mm disc with ABS

Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax BT021

Rear tire: 120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax BT021

Rake/trail: 23.5/3.3 in.

Seat height: 32.1 in.

Wheelbase: 60.5 in.

Fuel capacity: 5.3 gal.

Weight (tank full/empty): 589/557 lbs.

Measured horsepower: 118.6 bhp @ 9000 rpm

Measured torque: 73.0 lb.-ft. @ 7500 rpm

Corrected -mile: 11.24 sec. @ 122.5 sec.

Top-gear roll-on 60-80 mph: 4.1 sec.

Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 48/33/41 mpg.

Colors: Blue, silver

Availability: Now

Warranty: 24 mo., unlimited mi.

Contact:
Triumph Motorcycles of America, Ltd.
385 Walt Sanders Memorial Dr. #100
Newnan, GA 30265
678.854.2010
www.triumphmotorcycles.com

Ergos
A nicely tapered seat makes the GT accessible to the vertically challenged, though getting from there to the oddly angled bars can be a stretch for some. The net effect offers perhaps the best balance of sporting comfort and control.

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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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