2011 Harley-Davidson Street Glide
A BMW flat-twin enduro rolling with a 103ci (1688cc) V-twin Harley Street Glide? Seven-point-nine inches of travel versus a mere two? Well, why the hell not? The Street Glide might not get you across the Kalahari, but it will get you just about anywhere else as long as there's pavement involved, and you'll get there in style. As you probably know, the H-D crowd racks up very respectable mileage on the touring rigs, and they do it traveling all around the world, not just in the good ol' US of A. True, the tough-guy Street Glide might not be as comparable as, say, the Ultra Classic Electra Glide in this crowd, but we're examining the essence, remember? Inside every Ultra is a Street Glide just waiting to get out.
This particular Glide was wielding a PowerPak upgrade, which bundles the Twin Cam 103 with ABS and H-D's Smart Security System. It's a special-order, factory-installed option for some 2011 touring models, while it comes standard on the Road Glide Ultra and Electra Glide Limited. The Street Glide utilizes Harley's redesigned touring frame, which is a night/day experience from the twitchy chassis of yore.
2011 Honda Gold Wing ABS/XM/NAV
Honda Gold Wing. Check. What would any touring comparison be without the poster bike for touring comfort and efficiency? Originally released in 1975 as the GL1000, the Gold Wing line has thrived, thanks in part to Honda's slow hand with improvements. However, despite its cult-like following, the Wing's uncannily smooth flat-six mill, and upgrades of options such as ABS, Navigation and even Air Bags, the current version of Honda's two-wheeled luxury liner is feeling a little long in the tooth; it's been streaking around in this configuration since 2001. As with the BMW GS in the enduro market, the famed Gold Wing stands unchallenged in the arena of opulence. At least for the time being. In the next year or so we'll see a bold, new BMW LT, followed by an even more futuristic Gold Wing.
2011 Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS
To round it all out, we invited the big, sexy Concours 14 ABS to the party. Built on Kawasaki's powerhouse ZX14 sportbike chassis and drivetrain, the C14 is screaming fast compared to the rest of the bikes we are riding, with all kinds of technical accoutrements to stylize your experience. There's K-ACT ABS choices to make, KTRC traction control to consider engaging... even a KIPASS card-type key, which you have to remember to keep on your person at all times in order to fire the keyless ignition. That's a lot of K-smart for any bike, giving the Concours 14 the allure of a librarian with a thong-line. And she rocks it, especially on smooth, fast, flowing back roads with no troopers in sight.
These bikes may seem all apples to açaí berries on the surface, but when you think about it, they all share the same intention. They exist to get you there. Not to the burger shack, not to the racetrack, not to the job on Monday morning. These bikes were created to get you there. It's not the place you arrive, but rather the place you are while you're on your way.
If you're a motorcycle traveler, you know what I'm talking about.
"I need a much bigger belly to find myself comfortable on the Wing."
Of course this particular BMW, this Harley, this Honda and this Kawasaki will each get you there in a totally different way. I liken it to eating. Touring riders are foodies. What we really enjoy is being hungrynot being full. So, each of these bikes offers its own flavor and texture. The visceral experience we enjoyor don'ton the way to being full. Is one heartier? More succulent? More satisfying? Darned if we aren't going to find out. That is, as soon as Cook's Advil kicks in and we can get him aboard and moving toward our lunch stop so I can stop using food metaphors.
Best Plans = No Plans
The only thing we'd decided in our planning for this trip was that we wouldn't plan. We'd left Los Angeles, and we needed to be back in four days.