The Great Continental Divide sounds like it should be halfway across the country, the natural demarcation of east to west. Nope. This feature, a topological high point that separates natural runoff that drains into the Pacific Ocean from that which drains into the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico, actually snakes its way north from the Mexican border through New Mexico not far from the western edge of the state. We crossed it twice in two days on the best sport-touring motorcycles made, facing snowy mountain passes, rain, and soul-eating stretches of desert Interstate. It was, in a word, brilliant!
Planning a multi-state tour anywhere in the U.S. in mid December is a crapshoot--anything can happen with the weather. Almost arbitrarily, we chose Albuquerque as the end point. The city of half a million is surrounded by stunning terrain and served by roads that take you through scores of small towns and present amazing vistas. With luck, we would be able to skirt the Tonto and Apache National Forests in Arizona and the Gila National Forest in New Mexico before the worst of the winter weather set in, and in so doing keep us off as much of Interstate 8 and I-10 as possible. In short, just the kind of test these serious sport-touring rigs are made to ace. Not some wimpy 500-mile out-and-back, thank you very much.
For the timing of the trip, we blame Triumph. But in a nice way. We were waiting for Triumph's just-launched Trophy SE to arrive stateside, which it did just before Christmas. With an all-new triple based on the Tiger Explorer's, the Trophy sports a 1215cc mill seasoned with character but tamed with ride-by-wire electronics, a shaft final drive, and a fresh chassis. Rather than compete with the more basic Japanese STs, the Trophy moves up to the luxury-touring category thanks to the standard entertainment system--radio with Bluetooth, XM capability, and a USB connection to your music player of choice. The Trophy is fully featured, including ABS, traction control, cruise control, and standard hard saddlebags, which explains the $18,999 base price; all you need is $249.99 to add heated grips.
Triumph is, for a limited time, bringing in Launch Pack versions of the Trophy with a bundle of accessories for $20,499; the accessories include heated handgrips, a color-matched top box with mounts, heated rider and passenger seats, and an accessory windscreen that's an inch taller and 1.5 in. wider than stock. (To be fair, we left our testbikes top box behind, though we weighed and performance-tested the bike with the mount and other accessories in place; a pure base-model SE will be a tad lighter.)
Wide and wiggly, the Triumph’s suspended bags at least allow you to leave them unlocked fo
Nice analog gauges bracket an LCD multifunction panel with logical controls and clear menu
My, what a big one you have. Triumph went all out for weather protection with the Trophy’s
Determining where the Triumph lies on the sport/touring spectrum would dictate its competition here. In the May 11 issue, we compared four STs a bit closer to the sport side: The BMW K1300S, Honda VFR1200F, Kawasaki Concours 14, and Triumph Sprint GT. (The Connie won.) This time, acknowledging the Trophy's size and intended mission, we moved a tick or three toward the touring end, which solved all our matchup problems but one: Which BMW?
The $17,350 R1200RT is closer in price to the Trophy and the expected Japanese contenders--the Concours and Yamaha's refreshed FJR1300--but bringing the $21,200 (base) K1600GT to the fight would give us a better benchmark for the luxury end. Perhaps it's a bit unfair to the Triumph to pit it against the mighty K16, but it would be equally unfair to bring the R1200RT--now a lame duck of sorts with the liquid-cooled boxer engine coming to the GS now and likely to the RT in a year or two--into this battle. Those of you who followed our exploits on social media also asked why we didn't include the Honda ST1300. Mainly it's because the ST has been unchanged since it arrived here in 2003 and, in fact, there's technically not a 2013 model. When Honda refreshes or replaces the ST, we'll do it all again. Promise.
Plan the ride, ride the plan, but be flexible. We chose our route well before the trip, but changed it several times for weather and road conditions.