BMW, Honda, Yamaha | Sport Touring Motorcycle Comparison

Velocity. Luxury. Gadgetry.

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Kevin Wing

BMW K1200GT
Aside from its name and Corporate Origin, BMW's latest K1200GT shares nothing with the last one. Out with the old 1171cc flopped four. In with a long-haul version of the sporty K1200S, complete with A tricky Hossack-derived Duolever front end and the latest single-sided Paralever in the rear. In keeping with its latest mission, Grand Turisimo tuning pushes power and torque a bit to the left. Everything has been tuned to the touring end of the sport-touring band.

Saddle up and the BMW feels huge. It doesn't feel like the lightweight of this bunch in urban traffic. The GT fairing is more expansive than the others, though the adjustable windscreen never extends as high as the Honda's. The seat is the tallest as well, though it narrows toward the front to give short legs a straighter shot at the pavement.

Some things, however, haven't changed. The K-spec six-speed moves between first and second with the same unnerving "clack" as the K1200S, and off-idle throttle response is more abrupt than ever. Factor in heavy slow-speed steering and you have a motorcycle that's happier outside the city limits.

Reeling in desert two-lane with the cruise-control holding an effortless 80 mph, everything begins to make sense. Welcome to the First Class cabin. Gadget nirvana. With the screen deployed to maximum height, wind protection is exemplary, though tall riders will drop the adjustable seat a notch and give up a little legroom to duck the turbulence. Vibration is essentially nil except for a tingle through the passenger pegs. Set BMW's electronically adjustable suspension (ESA for short) to "Comfort" and that's exactly what you get.

According to the cockpit data display, it's 98 degrees out there-no word from the black ice warning system-and we're currently getting 47 mpg against a 40 mpg average, with 157 miles to burn, though this computer's mileage estimates are consistently optimistic. Engine oil: check. No news is good news from the sensors that track brake pad wear, and average speed is 67 mph. At that rate, the GT's 6.3 gallons of super unleaded will last an easy 260 miles, though tall testers are starting to fidget on the tapered seat by then.

It takes a persuasive shove to change trajectory in a hurry, but armed with the most cornering clearance and top-shelf Metzeler radials, the BMW manages nicely in the twisty bits. The long, tall chassis is happier on smooth, fast pavement than tight, rough stuff. The Duolever front end is less communicative than a good telescopic fork, but no less trustworthy. Set the ESA to Normal and let the suspension fidget over the occasional bump. The Honda and the Yamaha carve better up to 80 mph or so, but BMW owns the triple digits. The engine isn't as strong or as lively as we'd like below 6000 rpm, but above that it will flat dust the other two.

BMW's all-or-nothing power-assisted EVO brakes are the only serious chink in GT's technological armor. The Yamaha or the Honda generate nearly as much pure stopping power and a lot more feel. Beyond that, fit and finish are exemplary, the hard bags are the easiest to deal with after 16 hours on the road, and 100 percent waterproof. Our bike came with heated grips and a heated seat, complete with a separate switch for the passenger. Like all the others, that's a detail you appreciate a lot more halfway through 500 miles' worth of Wyoming than on a Saturday morning trip to Starbucks. But there's a catch: BMW's unconventional engineering and optional accouterments push the price of our GT to $20,785. Well-upholstered wallets won't flinch at those digits, but if your bottom line is the bottom line, there's a simpler alternative.

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