BMW K1600GT vs. Kawasaki Concours 14 vs. Triumph Trophy SE vs. Yamaha FJR1300 | Conquering The Divide

Four STs, Twice Over the Prow of America

By Marc Cook, Photography by Kevin Wing

Third fastest in the quarter mile only because the ride by wire and lightswitch clutch kill the launch, the BMW ruled in the 60-80 roll-on test at 3.37 seconds. The Yamaha was next, at 3.66 seconds, but everyone pointed out that running the test in fifth gear is like cheating. (Maybe Yamaha had this in mind all along.) Although the dyno traces have the Connie and the FJR running neck-to-neck until the last 2500 rpm of the Kawi's powerband, that's not how it feels. The C14 has speed to burn; its broad torque curve leads to a surprisingly heady top-end rush that you never tire of exploring. (Could explain the mileage.) And then we have the Triumph. With the smallest engine, second-greatest weight, and least power and torque, the Trophy doesn't stand a chance in this company. By itself the triple feels great, with very good low-rpm power and near-flawless fueling--no multiple drive modes needed here, the only one is the right one--but any time spent in the upper end of the powerband reveals more growl and charisma than true thrust.

We crossed the Continental Divide again on US60 before stopping for gas in Dahil, wind blowing snow across the road and making us wonder if the ambient-temperature gauges were correct. (Turns out the Kawasaki's consistently read 2-3 degrees low.) We turned southwest on NM12, tiptoed through runoff with the gauges showing 32 degrees, and eventually followed the terrain downhill, away from the fallen snow and toward warmer temperatures. The brutal beauty of New Mexico never ceased to amaze. We followed roads on the sere valley floor, into terrain that's at first pretty barren, then pine covered, and then barren again before long. After I ran over something on the road--Thomas says chicken crate, I think Javelina, Zack maintains Chupacabara--shearing the Connie's left lower fairing off, the bike never flinched. But I did, so we stopped short for the night in Safford.

Our final day on the road concluded with photos in the scenic Tortilla Flat section of the Apache Trail northeast of Phoenix. Thanks to photographer Kevin Wings desire to shoot at nearly last light, we found ourselves eating an 8 o' clock dinner just a few miles west of Phoenix. Great, 370 miles to go, its dark out, and were already cold. Thanks, Kevin.

Every tour has this phase: the need to put down the miles to get home, beat weather, make a schedule. Right here, ultimate comfort becomes the primary criterion. Each of these bikes scores highly, though there are clearly two echelons. The Japanese contestants feature more aggressive riding positions, grips located a couple inches closer to the ground and a longer reach to them--but they're still really comfortable by sporting standards, and each of us would be happy to spend all day on any of them. (In fact, we already have.) For weather protection, the Connie beats the FJR by just a bit, though an aftermarket screen might help the Yamaha. Our shorter riders had trouble finding a good position on the Kawasaki's screen that provided protection without turbulence.

Where the Kawasaki and Yamaha offer impressive comfort and coverage, they're still not in the luxo-league of the BMW and Triumph. Both of the Euros offer better wind and weather protection, with the amazingly wide Triumph fairing getting the road-cocoon award. But the BMW is just a millimeter behind in terms of coverage and may well have slicker aerodynamics--each of us found an effective, turbulence-free windshield position on the K16. Plus the BMW has the added bonus of swing-out air deflectors that can make the cockpit more tolerable in warm weather. We worry that the snug Trophy could be claustrophobic in 100-degree heat.

From an ergonomics standpoint, the BMW and Triumph are more like traditional touring bikes--high bars and upright seating positions. We all liked the GT's arrangement, which splits the difference from sport to tour very well. Conversely, we all thought the Triumph's setup was a tad cramped.

Comfort, convenience, power, capabilities, and panache--these modern STs seem to have it all. But there has to be a winner, right? Because these four really split into two groups--the upscale Euro speedsters and the trimmer Japanese pair--it's a hard one to call.

For second place, anyway. And that's because the BMW simply dominates. It is dynamically superior--faster in the real world away from the dragstrip and overflowing with charisma--but also packs a host of well-considered features designed by people who clearly ride these things for a living. It's crazy fast for an ST yet gives up nothing in comfort.

Triumph openly positions the Trophy in a price and performance slot below the K1600GT and above the R1200RT--and there it fits like a key in a lock. It has handsome styling and excellent build quality, enough to put it on par with the K16 yet it's less expensive, giving you access to more of the Trophy's accessories list. With competitive power, the Triumph might have seriously troubled the BMW and scored an upset victory in this comparison. Ultimately, it didn't overcome the K16's six-cylinder appeal, but we have no doubt that the Triumph would put the hurt on the R1200RT, and that for a rider biased toward the touring end of the ST spectrum it will be an excellent choice.

Going into the comparison we wondered if Yamaha's remake of the FJR1300 would be enough to unseat the Connie, a machine with season tickets to our affections. The answer: Not quite. But it was closer than we assumed it would be, with the Yamaha's newfound refinement and softer suspension making it a much better pure-highway trawler than the tautly sprung, growly Connie. It comes down to personality. The FJR1300 is plush--slightly too plush, actually--and smooth, seldom calling attention to itself. Kawasaki gave the Connie the heart of a lion, sure, but it wants to roar even when you need it to purr. To sum up the Japanese pair, then: The Yamaha's polished and the Concours really just wants to rip.

The BMW does both, spanning more of the sport/touring spectrum than anything else you can buy. The only compromise is cost.

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jbutrus
I ride a 2012 Concours and agree with your assessments pro and con. Given the competition, I expect  Kawasaki to update the Concours reasonably soon. Updated instrumentation, improved integrated braking, electronic cruise control, and a slightly larger windshield would address most of the issues you raised and put the Concours well ahead of the Yamaha FJR-1300.  To put the price differential between the BMW K1600GT and the Concours in perspective, one could purchase a new Connie AND a one year old ZX-6 for the cost of the Beemer. Of course, if money were no object the 1600GT and a 1000RR for track days is a Sport Touring/Sport combination no manufacturer can touch. Great article!
jbutrus
I ride a 2012 Concours and agree with your assessments pro and con. Given the competition, I expect  Kawasaki to update the Concours reasonably soon. Updated instrumentation, improved integrated braking, electronic cruise control, and a slightly larger windshield would address most of the issues you raised and put the Concours well ahead of the Yamaha FJR-1300.  To put the price differential between the BMW K1600GT and the Concours in perspective, one could purchase a new Connie AND a one year old ZX-6 for the cost of the Beemer. Of course, if money were no object the 1600GT and a 1000RR for track days is a Sport Touring/Sport combination no manufacturer can touch. Great article!
Africord
I don't have a problem with your analysis.  But a shorter rider may come up with a different analysis.  One look at the specs flips the choice for luxo ST to the Triumph for this inseam challenged rider.  I also expect that my shorter arms (32" sleeve length) would not feel cramped at all. Different horses for different riders.
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