Four for the Road

In which we answer a most obvious question: Do you really need a true sport-touring motorcycle to go sport touring?

Photography by Kevin Wing

Not too many years ago, sport touring was more a concept than a market segment. If you were inclined to travel by secondary and tertiary roads at velocities high enough to keep your interest, you probably did so on whatever motorcycle was in your possession. As few as 15 years ago, a motorcycle tagged as a sport-tourer was likely to be a BMW or some large Japanese sportbike whose sporting capabilities had been called into question by the ultrafocused racetrack refugees just emerging. Likely as not, a bike widely considered an ST was an otherwise standard model fitted with a small fairing and luggage. The day of models carefully dissecting the strengths of a sport model and splicing them into a semitouring fold were well in the future.

That future has arrived, and you can count quite a few dedicated ST mounts: BMW continues to dominate with models like the K1200RS, R1100RS, R1100RT, R1100S and even--if you're nutty enough--the R1150GS. Buell posts the S3T as an ST, while Ducati's in the frame with the ST2 and ST4. Honda has the ST1100 and the VFR800F, and Kawasaki continues to sell the Concours. Triumph has the Sprint ST (and RS). We mark Suzuki's Bandits and Katanas as STs, although they're really segment-straddlers.

That's all great if freedom-of-choice is what you want. But it's really not so clear-cut. Preternaturally attuned to our own surroundings, we began to notice that the bikes routinely departing the fumy emap usa parking garage on so-called sport-touring missions were hardly limited to STs. In fact, you'll see riders in the extended Motorcyclist family heading out on everything from CBR929RRs to Electra Glides. Which in turn lit a Bic lighter-sized flame under this kernel of an idea: What is a sport-touring bike, really? Or, do you need a dedicated ST to do the miles in reasonable comfort and speed?

To help answer the questions, we rounded up four motorcycles that represent the breadth of the sport-touring spectrum. On the touring end is the BMW R1100RT, a fully faired, Oilhead boxer that's been one of BMW's true sales successes. It stands in for similar bikes such as the Concours and ST1100. An ST sampler without the 800 Interceptor would be woefully incomplete, so there it is; the Honda fills in for models like the Buell S3T, Ducati ST2/4 and Sprint ST.

Finally, two wild cards. The newly reworked Bandit 1200S, a half-faired lovable hunk of a motorcycle with semisporting pretensions that's really just a modern iteration of the Universal Japanese Motorcycle (UJM) of the beloved (or decried) 1970s and 1980s. Its spot could be taken by the Kawasaki ZRX1100 (or 1200R). And then you've got the Yamaha YZF600R, a terrific little motorcycle that's soundly (and unfortunately) overshadowed by the newer and more potent YZF-R6; it's standing in for the sportbikes just one notch removed from being too race-focused for this sort of work. For the YZF you might substitute the Honda CBR600F4 or the Kawasaki ZX-6R.

What are the most important attributes of a good sport-tourer? Glad you asked. We prioritize them this way: First, you need a comfortable ergonomic package (not necessarily Gold Wing-like) and a cushy seat as well as good (but not necessarily total) weather protection. Second, you'll want a motorcycle with decent range (fill-ups every 100 miles really get in the way) and an engine smooth enough to allow use of that range without pain killers. Third, we think you'll want a bike that can carry your overnight kit without bowing at the knees, which in turn means that it needs to accommodate soft luggage. Factory hard luggage is even better, but only the BMW comes so fitted.

By the end of two days' riding, countless passes for the photographers and more seat switching than Formula 1 in silly season, we had a pretty good handle on this whole sport-touring thing.


BMW R1100RT
The Teutonic Hammock
We'll fess up right away--we chose the wrong BMW for this comparison. The firm's lighter, sportier R1100RS or R1100S models would have been better choices for the predominantly narrow, snaky roads encountered on our tour. Still, we found it interesting to see how this touring-slanted ST would perform in the midst of more hard-edged and sport-focused models.

Not too bad, actually. First of all, consider the Beemer's strengths. It has by far the best weather protection of the four bikes here, providing a veritable biodome of protection for rider and passenger, all without resorting to a garage-door-like fairing. An electrically adjustable windshield provides the flexibility to make riders (tall or short) happy behind the 'plex. It's the only one of this group with hard luggage available, and it's standard along with ABS, shaft drive and a height-adjustable seat. BMW has a firm notion of what a sport-touring bike ought to be, and the RT's execution shows the firm's clarity of thought. (You might not agree with the angle, but you can't fault BMW for following its instincts.)

On the parts of our tour that stuck to the interstates, the BMW proved to be well within its element. Suspension rates ideally calibrated for highway work allow the RT to glide over expansion joints and broken pavement, while the rider bemusedly watches the Suzuki and Yamaha buck and squirm. And even though the RT's steering is uncommonly light for a 643-pound motorcycle, it has an excellent sense of straight ahead.

Even as you begin to turn up the pace, the RT acts the willing partner. Those tall polished-aluminum handlebars exert tremendous leverage on BMW's trademark Telelever front suspension and cause the bike to heel over with just a whiff of grip effort. Better yet, the bike has neutral steering response; once leaned it tends to hold the lean angle without trying to stand up or fall in. (The Honda ST1100 that Kevin Smith brought along had a much greater tendency to fall into turns. See his account of our ordeal on page 41.) Given that the RT is quite tall, particularly so in this company, the view over the windshield is eyebrow-raising, with this mass of plastic plunging left and right with an alacrity completely out of place for its bulk.

About the time you're overrun with confidence and smugly suggesting to yourself that those tinny little sportbikes ain't got nothin' on this big rig, the road tightens and the others rip off into the distance. Blame it on physics. The RT wears touring-oriented Bridgestone BT-54s, not appreciably larger than the skins on the 172-pound-lighter Yamaha. As you approach the RT's modest cornering clearance limits, the tires have long since begun telling you to cool your jets. Also, the low-effort steering has at this juncture lost much of its feedback, and the ABS-equipped Brembo brakes have become a tad difficult to modulate at the limit. The BMW's suspension tricks--antidive geometry up front and antijacking linkages out back--can't do anything for midcorner bumps, over which the RT sags, wallows and sends sparks flying.

Although the 1085cc boxer makes 82.2 rear-wheel horsepower at 7250 rpm, you don't often zing the engine hard enough to get those numbers, thanks to obtrusive vibration and a quickly petering torque curve. What's more, the Beemer's five-speed gearbox leaves big gaps in the lower gears, so making time on the really tight portions of our trip (that would be most of it) was harder work than you'd think. So it's not a sportbike...did we expect otherwise? (Well, you can dream.)

Just as we suspected, then, the most touring-oriented bike of the lot is best at, ahem, touring. That's not to say the RT won't handle any tightly knotted piece of tarmac you throw at it, just that it won't wriggle along at an elevated pace without continually hinting that maybe it's time for a coffee break. Bikes with the emphasis on the second part of the sport-tour title are wonderful if you don't expect them to be sportbikes.


Yamaha YZF600R
The Rational Sportbike
In the cutthroat world of middleweight sportbikes, the state of the art remains stationary only for minutes, not years. A victim of this unstoppable march is Yamaha's current YZF600R, introduced in 1997 as the firm's top-line sporting middleweight only to be sent to the remainders bin by the hotter YZF-R6 in 1999. As have the other Big Four players, Yamaha has kept the YZF around essentially unchanged through 2001 as a B-level bike, a cost-conscious alternative to the R6 and the other front-row scratchers. At $6999, the Yamaha is the least expensive bike here by a scant $400, but it's less than half the cost of the BMW. What makes the YZF worthy of inclusion here is its real-world ergonomic package, smooth and torquey engine and class-leading weather protection.

Even as a budget middleweight, the YZF is a helluva performer. Thanks to its steel Deltabox frame, it's heavier than most leading 600s. At 471 pounds wet, the YZF is 46 pounds heavier than the R6 and 37 pounds heftier than the ZX-6R. But the Yamaha is the lightest of this ST quartet--by 54 pounds over the VFR--and feels it. Similarly, the Yamaha's liquid-cooled inline-four puts out 85.7 rear-wheel horsepower, which is well down from the star 600s; the R6 puts out 96.4 horses. But take a moment to overlay the YZF's horsepower and torque traces on the combatants in our 600 shootout last August and you'll see that the older Yamaha is as--or slightly more--powerful through 10,000 rpm, at which point the newer models pull ahead. Translation: In the real world of blind corners and sub-racetrack pace, the Yamaha's torque-laden engine is the treat, producing useful doses of urge without the need to hammer on the poor little beast.

Yamaha has mated this heartwarming engine to a chassis well conjured for the rapid sporty tour. Steering response is light but predictable and perfectly linear. Although the bike feels slightly bulky by current 600 standards, it's the featherweight of this group and as such seems remarkably nimble in this company. (Funny how these supposedly inferior sportbikes feel really good in isolation.) Fully adjustable suspension (the only bike here to have it, despite being the cheapest) allows you lots of latitude for set up, although we didn't stray far from the standard settings to get a ride that's reasonably plush on the highway yet well enough controlled that you can push the limits of the Bridgestone BT-57s' grip without drama.

All the things we love about 600s--that feeling of invincibility and sheer maneuverability--combine in the Yamaha with a roomy seating position, flat (if slightly soft) seat and low vibration levels for a truly comfortable package. The ergonomic setup is very close to that of the CBR-F4 and ZX-6R, and only marginally more cramped than the VFR's. You'll notice a bit of tingling at the footpegs, but otherwise the engine's tremors are well controlled.

You'd think, then, that the smallest, lightest bike here would be ill-suited to hitting the open road. Hardly. Although riders more than six feet tall may discover a kink in the knee or knot in the shoulder after a long day, the Yamaha proved amazingly comfortable for the rest of us. That chiseled fairing provides a useful pocket of still air, with just enough spilling over the windshield to take some weight off the wrists. Save for having the least amount of legroom of these four, the YZF proved it could do the distance thing without pretzelizing its rider.

We were pleased to observe that the Yamaha's sporting bias didn't detract from its sport-touring skills. Our only complaints, and they're small ones, are that the engine needs to be revved harder than any of the others in the group so that by the end of the day the "rpm buzz" is clearly felt, and that the high-ish exhaust pipe limits the size of saddlebags you can carry. Comfortable sportbikes are the bee's knees, giving you the chance to wring your adrenaline gland dry without bruising the rest of you.


Honda VFR800F Interceptor
Directed Energies
Honda has a recipe for sport touring (several, actually, but this is the most sporting of them), and the VFR800F is that very specific vision made in metal. Evolved from the company's first true V-four sportbike, today's Interceptor has been lauded as the ultimate fast-boy's ST, the perfect compromise between a true sportbike and something more amenable to long distances.

Every time we reacquaint ourselves with the VFR we're amazed by its overall capabilities and incredible levels of sophistication. Compared with earlier versions, the fuel-injected 800 is more rakish and extroverted, with a bit more low-frequency vibration coming through the pegs and some camminess evident. Original Honda V-fours were often likened to an electric motor, in both power delivery and persona. Well, maybe the new bike is like your washer hooked directly to the 220 tap; there's a lot more going on and you're the first to notice it.

The Honda's engaging engine, though not quite as midrange-powerful as the earlier offerings, is nonetheless one of the best ST mills going. There's sufficient low-end urge to get the bike underway with no fuss, and the flat-lined midrange will allow you to surf along secondary roads looking at the scenery more than the tach. But it's not until you wind the engine up that it really starts to motivate the 525-pound package.

You get the sense, as the miles wear on, that Honda has labored with great diligence to keep the VFR from being too much the archetypal sportbike. (Part of the vision, or strategic wedging between it and the CBR series?) The suspension is plush almost to the point of distraction. Heavier and faster riders come away wanting slightly firmer springs and more aggressive damping to match. (Unfortunately, taking the opportunity to trim costs, Honda has chosen lower-rung suspension components, with the shock's rebound settings the only external damping adjustment.) Unless you're overly smooth, the VFR will bob and pitch during really fast riding, particularly on very tight roads where the bike feels as though it hesitates between direction changes as the suspension settles down. Honda's efforts to ensure a sublime freeway ride may have gone a bit too far.

Honda also has a notion that it could and should make motorcycles safer for the masses, hence the linked braking system. You've heard plenty about this setup before: The hand lever activates four of the six front pucks and one of the three rears while the pedal pins the remaining pistons. In between are gizmos like delay and proportioning valves that would seem in place on Apollo 11. Down here on Earth, the system works surprisingly well, although several of our riders complained of non-linear activation. Still, the bottom line when you grab the lever and stomp the pedal is quick and sure stopping power--and right now.

The VFR's accommodations are first-rate. A semisporting riding position that actually tapes out closer to the YZF than the standard-format Bandit is at the heart of the VFR's old-blue-jeans fit. You stretch slightly to the fixed clip-ons and find the pegs a comfortable distance from your glutes, which are in turn positively coddled by the broad saddle. Staring back from the pebble-grained dash are crisp instruments, a clock, fuel gauge and outside-air temperature monitor. Look into the mirrors and (imagine this!) there's the world behind you.

While it's difficult to justify calling a 100-horsepower cush missile dull, that's just the title some of our riders applied to the VFR. For those of us with poorly calibrated Sophist-O-Meters, the Interceptor's silken demeanor, its very butlerlike, how-can-I-help-you? attitude can be a mite off-putting. For others--and you know who you are--the Honda VFR's indifference to showing effort is exactly what makes the bike so enticing. Honda's vision of the ultimate sport-tourer may not be your vision, but it's a bout of suspension improvement away from clasping in its maw the taillights of full-strength sportbikes.


Suzuki Bandit 1200S
The Rekindled UJM
Park these four bikes side-by-side and it's the Suzuki Bandit that stands out. Which one of these is not like the others? Well, that would be the big silver lug with the bug-eyed fairing and all that exposed stuff in the middle that kinda looks like an engine. Even the big-and-tall BMW seems as a type with the Honda and Yamaha in having the right pieces to nudge aside the atmosphere at highway speeds and glide effortlessly along our nation's less-traveled roads. The Bandit is the Boston lawyer in the singles bar, thrusting forward on conviction and chutzpah. Outta my way, weenies.

Like the guy in the black suit with big shoulder pads, the Bandit looks big. Actually, it may be wearing lifts, because it's a measly 18 pounds heavier than the VFR. (Should Honda feel shame for stuffing its aluminum-framed wonderbike with too many gadgets, or should Suzuki be prideful in making a steel-framed, previous-generation-engined brute so svelte?) On that note, the Suzuki's wheelbase is actually shorter than the Honda's by 0.4 inches and just 0.6 inches longer than the Yamaha's, while the Bandit's steering geometry is marginally racier than the VFR's, albeit with notably more trail. From the saddle, the Bandit feels significantly heavier and less wieldy than the Honda, although the Suzuki is a paragon of stability even on rain grooves and uneven pavement. Frankly, we're amazed that Suzuki can put together a package this good for just $7399. The brakes are fine--softer pads up front would take away some of the wood at the lever--and the suspension works especially well. Overall, the Bandit is not as compliant as the Honda, but deals with big-whoop surprises better than the Yamaha.

An ergonomic package right from the UJM playbook gives you every opportunity to compensate for the suspension's occasionally rough-edged behavior on ragged pavement. As you'll see in Ergonomics Explained, the Bandit has the greatest legroom next to the BMW and a modest reach to a tubular handlebar that has nearly three inches more effective rise than the Honda's bars. Posture watchers will notice that the Suzuki offers a slightly more upright position than the Honda, but still gives you the opportunity to lean forward into the slight breeze that gets around the controversially styled half-fairing.

Going on about the Suzuki's chassis comportment is like rating Madonna on her scrambled eggs. The message from Suzuki is torque, laid out by an engine whose roots don't go far into the soil to find the original GSX-R1100, circa 1986. By now, the air- and oil-cooled engine is technologically old hat, too much weight and bulk, not enough design headroom...you name it. Somebody forgot to tell the Bandit. This engine delivers everything you want and need from a big-bore four. Ease away from stoplights with the slightest of clutch slips and no more throttle movement than you need to take the slack out of the wire. The Bandit oozes ahead. Snap the upshift at 3000 rpm and before you know it you're in fourth or fifth; you could stay there all day.

Dare we suggest that a low-blood-sugar engine is the better deal for an ST? Indeed we do. At the end of the day, the less time you have to worry about the engine--Is that gear right, can I make this set of corners without a downshift?--the more your concentration can go into scanning the road, reading the surface and checking the map to see how badly you're lost. With more than 100 horses on call (and more than 72 foot-pounds of torque at all of 4250 rpm) you can still leave darkies at the exit and loft the front wheel contemptuously over logs in the road, rogue beavers, what have you.

It's just the Suzuki's split personality (hooliganistic when you want, otherwise perfectly mellow) mated to an ergonomic and convenience package to shame much more expensive and supposedly superior bikes that sustained our scratch fights for the Bandit's keys. In the hour of continuing specialization, the outsized Suzuki's casual competence at flying down unfamiliar backroads or snoozing along a patch of this country's finest highway is a huge and thrilling surprise.

What's more, it returns us to the idea that traveling comfortably on a motorcycle in no way requires specialized tools. If do-everything motorcycles like the Bandit continue to be so competent (and such a good value), we might find that the day of models carefully dissecting the strengths of a sport model and splicing them into a semitouring fold has come and gone.


MC tested: You Can Take It With You
BMW System
BMW follows tradition with hefty System Cases for the R1100RT. (They're standard on the RT and optional on the GS, R, RS and S models.) The hard-plastic cases are water-tight, as long as the shells aren't closed on some of your wares, and come off the bike with an easy tug. Our main complaint is that they make the bike really wide; an issue mainly in town, of course. You can buy the shallower City lids (shown here) that sacrifice capacity for slenderness. Pricey...you bet, but all factory luggage should be this good.
PRICE: $690
RATING: HHHHH
VERDICT: Fine-fitting but expensive; the must-have BMW option
BMW: www.bmwonline.com

RKA
RKA's SuperSport magnetic tank bag was used on our tour, accompanied by a set of SuperSport 33-liter saddlebags. Installation was straightforward utilizing nylon straps and hook-and-loop closures to secure the bags. They fit the big-boned Bandit well, clearing the bodywork and pipe with ease and perching upon the slightly humped tank without a hitch. The tank bag expands from six liters to 16, and it's not too tippy when loaded. The saddlebags have a zipper/ hook-and-loop closure and fleecelike material on the backsides to protect bodywork. For light-packers, the RKA pieces provided enough room for a multiday trip.
PRICE: $130 (tank bag), $185 (saddlebags)
RATING: HHHHH
VERDICT: Tidy and strong; a good choice for the light-packer
RKA LUGGAGE: (800) 349-1-RKA, www.rka-luggage.com

B Bags Speed Pack
Imported from Germany by Chase Harper, the Speed Pack is a large combination saddlebag/tail pack intended for sportbikes. The bags (which have lots of clearance for upswept pipes) are accessible from the side and flat on top. The tail pack mounts securely to the side bags, and wide straps with metal buckles hold everything to the bike. The tail pack boasts loads of room--expandable even from what is shown here--without being obtrusive, and we were impressed with the solidity of the mounting system. Our only complaint stems from the smallish size of the bags--which are even more cramped when the internal waterproof sacks are used--and their awkward access flaps.
PRICE: $339.95
RATING: HHHHH
VERDICT: Sturdy and large bags great for a solo long trip
CHASE HARPER: (877) 965-7977, www.chaseharper.com

Wolfman Millennium
Wolfman's Millennium tankbags and saddlebags are noteworthy for their heavy ballistic-nylon construction and obvious care of manufacture. The 16-liter (expanded) Wolf Mag tank bag shows lots of clever features, including a mesh inner pocket, a small change pocket at the rear, and a thin upper pocket beneath the removable map case that's accessible from outside the bag. This is perfect for keeping your credit cards away from the powerful magnets that secure the bag. A tough rubberlike pad on the bottom helps prevent scratching. The diminutive Hi-Pipe saddlebags (just 11 liters each) handle a decent load without distortion, perfect for a weekender.
PRICE: $109.99 (tank bag), $129.99 (saddlebags)
RATING: HHHHH
VERDICT: Compact and beautifully made; the sport tourer's pick
WOLFMAN: (800) 535-8131, www.wolfmanluggage.com


Ergonomics Explained
BMW R1100RT
Sit up and beg...goood boy! BMW believes in a particular kind of upright posture, and the RT delivers it undiluted. The tall bars have an effective rise of 12.6 inches, among the highest we've measured, which also helps create a short reach to the grips. Although the pegs provide a decent amount of legroom, as you can see by the 93.2-degree included angle, they're quite far forward. As a result, you sit with nearly all your weight on your tailsection. If it were ours, we'd drop the bars a couple of inches and slide the pegs back a smidgen. But that's just us.

Honda VFR800F Interceptor
On the road, the Interceptor feels usefully roomier than the Yamaha, and the numbers tell you why. With 0.5-inch additional legroom and a more open seating angle (partly created by the 0.2-inch-taller bar rise) over the YZF, the Honda has just enough additional squirm room to make the long-of-limb welcome. We think this is the ideal sport-touring configuration because your weight is distributed evenly among wrists, feet and butt, yet the bike allows room to tuck down behind the windscreen or hang off without restriction.

Suzuki Bandit 1200S
What do you get when you cross the RT's touring ergos with the Honda's more compact dimensions? Would you believe a Bandit 1200S? (Maybe it all went the other way, diverging from the UJM.) The Bandit's nine-inch effective bar rise puts most riders in a semi-upright position, with more weight being carried by the backside than on the Honda or the Yamaha. The relatively short reach to the bars is disguised by the large fairing poking out well ahead of the bike; from the saddle, the Bandit feels bigger and longer than it is.

Yamaha YZF600R
As you would expect, the Yamaha's ergonomics are right in there among most of the sporting middleweights, with a slightly longer reach to the bars compensated for with a greater handlebar rise. Next to, say, the Honda CBR-F4, the YZF has more rise (by 0.7 in.) with a 0.7-inch-longer reach. (Makes sense. If the distance from the seat to the steering stem is held constant, the bike with the taller bars will show a greater distance from the seat to the bars.) Next to the others in this group, the Yamaha has 0.5-inch less legroom and the tightest seating angle, an indication that the pegs are more tucked up under you than on the other bikes.


The All-Reason ST
Maybe it's a life-stage thing. Or perhaps I just had a run of riding duties that played to its strengths. But Honda's unglamorous ST1100 has won a new fan. Nothing else offers its degree of long-range luxury while still swinging through switchbacks like motorcycles are supposed to. And isn't that the very essence of a sport-tourer? It has to be responsive and agile in the turns, and not feel like a two-wheeled Buick, and yet be so accommodating and relaxing in cruise mode that you never want to stop. In fact, the ST is more than just a sport-tourer. Look past its 700-pound weight, its decade-old technology and its passionless styling to see a perfect bike to choose when you want to enjoy motorcycling, and you have nothing to prove by your specific choice of motorcycle. --Kevin Smith


Specifications
 BMW R1100RTHonda VFR800 InterceptorSuzuki Bandit 1200SYamaha YZF600R
MSRP$15,990$9499$7399$6999
Engine
Typeair-cooled opposed-twin liquid-cooled V-fourair/oil-cooled inline-four liquid-cooled inline-four
Valve arrangementsihc, 8vdohc,16vdohc, 16vdohc, 16v
Bore x stroke99.0 x 70.5mm72.0 x 48.0mm79.0 x 59.0mm62.0 x 49.6mm
Displacement1085cc781cc1157cc599cc
Compression ratio10.7:111.6:19.5:112.0:1
Transmission5-speed6-speed5-speed6-speed
Final driveshaft#525 chain#530 chain#520 chain
Chassis
Weight643 lb. (wet), 603 lb. (tank empty)525 lb. (wet), 492 lb. (tank empty)543 lb. (wet), 511 lb. (tank empty)471 lb. (wet), 441 lb. (tank empty)
Fuel capacity6.6 gal. (25L)5.5 gal. (21L)5.3 gal. (20L)5.0 gal. (19L)
Rake/trail27.2 deg./4.8 in. (122mm) 25.5 deg./3.7 in. (95mm)25.3 deg./4.1 in. (104mm)25.0 deg./3.8 in. (97mm)
Wheelbase58.5 in. (1485mm)56.7 in. (1440mm)56.3 in. (1430mm)55.7 in. (1415mm)
Seat height30.7-32.2 in. (780-820mm)31.7 in. (805mm)31.1 in. (790mm)31.7 in. (805mm)
Suspension
Frontsingle shock preload 46mm cartridge fork adjustable for spring43mm fork adjustable for spring preload41mm cartridge fork adjustable for spring preload, compression
Rearsingle shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound dampingsingle shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound dampingsingle shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound dampingsingle shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Tire, front120/70ZR17 Bridgestone BT54120/70ZR Dunlop D204<120/70ZR17 Michelin Macadam 90X120/60ZR17 Bridgestone BT57
Tire, rear160/60ZR18 Bridgestone BT54180/55ZR17 Dunlop D204180/55ZR17 Michelin Macadam 90X160/60ZR17 Bridgestone BT57
Performance
Corrected 1/4-mile*12.70 sec. @ 105.8 mph11.14 sec. @ 122.2 mph11.15 sec. @ 121.79 mph11.31 sec. @ 118.9 mph
0-60 mphn/an/a2.97 sec.n/a
0-100 mphn/an/a7.46 sec.n/a
Top-gear roll-on, 60-80 mph n/a5.23 sec.4.02 sec.4.86 sec.
Fuel mileage (low/high/average) 40/55/4537/46/4134/49/4242/49/45
Cruising range (excluding reserve) 252192181191
*Performance with test-session weather conditions corrected to sea-level standard conditions (59 degrees F, 29.92 in. of mercury)


Bike/Score
 BMWHondaSuzukiYamahaVerdict
Engine69108RT's too cobbly, Bandit's understressed GSX-R engine is an easy-going brute. The Honda is nearly seamless
Drivetrain6998You'd expect a better BMW gearbox for $16,000, Honda has just the right balance of slickness and feedback
Handling7989Honda's package is the best compromise, the Yamaha's noticeably sportier, while the Bandit fails to feel old
Braking88710The YZF takes unanimous top honors, BMW's standard ABS deserves mention for the all-weather traveler
Ride9979VFR's is controlled cush, while the Yamaha provides excellent control at more sporting calibration
Ergonomics79108Can't hardly beat the standard for all-day comfort. Honda and Yamaha acquit themselves very well
Features9987BMW and VFR are rife with them, while the Suzuki's new instruments help close the gap
Refinement51098The Honda, hands down. It's smooth, silky and sophisticated. If you want an attitude, take the Bandit
Value58109Suzuki's so inexpensive it hurts, while the YZF is also a good deal. The RT is for wealthier Beemerphiles
Fun factor5898Two churches: Believe in high character (Bandit) or utter sophistication (VFR)...it's your choice
Overall*6998Bandit does so much so well we're tired of saying it, but the VFR and YZF can please the sporting type, too


Off the Record
Kai
Age: 30
Height: 5 ft. 4 in.
Weight: 145 lb.
Inseam: 28 in.
Longest Tour: One lap of Oahu
I've got to admit, long-distance riding has never appealed to me much. The thought of traveling for long stretches--even on twisty roads--seems like a lot of work. (I'm from Hawaii, after all.) But after spending a few days on this quartet of sporty tourers, I think I understand the whole sport-touring thing a little better now. You BMW vets know this, but the RT is a very different kind of animal. The engine rocks left-to-right, the windshield moves up and down (kinda cool, actually), and the turn-signal switches... well, they're pretty funky. Cook said I looked like a dog with peanut butter stuck to the roof of its mouth after getting off the thing and I felt like it! I guess BMWs must be an acquired taste. --Garrett Kai

Trevitt
Age: 35
Height: 5 ft. 9 in.
Weight: 140 lb.
Inseam: 32 in.
Longest Tour: Quebec to B.C. via snowmobile
I was pleasantly surprised during this test to find just how wide the sport-touring spectrum can be. At the sport end, the YZF600 is still comfortable enough to ride all day; opposite that, the BMW R1100 is much more nimble than I had anticipated. If I had to pick one of these four, it would be the VFR800--almost sporty enough for my tastes, yet a bit roomier and more powerful than the YZF for those times the wife comes along. Ideally though, I'd want a big-bore non-current sportbike--comfy and strong enough for two people and luggage, but fun enough for those solo overnighters. --Andrew Trevitt

Boehm
Age: 38
Height: 6 ft.
Weight: 225 lb.
Inseam: 32 in.
Longest Tour: Chicago to L.A. on Route 66
I hate to ramble on about something I've beaten like a gong in these very pages, but the Interceptor is simply the best all-around sporty bike on the planet. The thing's got a can-do list as long as a compilation of Al Gore "exaggerations," and that's saying something. The throbby feel and sound of its V-four injects loads of character into what's gotta be the most seamless machine around, and the bike remains unique aesthetically despite the "trying too hard" yellow color Honda gave it for 2000. The surprise of the group? Yamaha's YZF600R. I'd forgotten how damn good it is: way comfortable, every bit as powerful as the top-shelf 600s up to 10,000 revs, a capable handler, and a bargain to boot. Good stuff. --Mitch Boehm

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