Honda ST1300 ABS
The best sport-tourer, as it turns out, is also the simplest. The ST1300 isn't the strongest bike here. There's no ground-breaking technology or gadgetry here, and it's not exactly sexy, either. So how does the Honda come out on top? Very simply, it covers more ground in less time, with no excess effort, annoyance or discomfort to distract you from the ride. Unlike our other two contestants, the Honda feels familiar after one trip around the block. The roomy, cab-forward riding position makes it feel impossibly compact for a 731-pound motorcycle, while the clich-smooth clutch and gearbox make penetrating the inevitable urban/suburban congestion highly simple. Thus the star of this show is Honda's big V-four. Fundamentally unchanged since its major makeover in 2003, the ST generates a flat exhaust note that alternatively impersonates the Jetsons' family sedan and the outboard-motor-from-hell. It also generates a stream of ruthlessly efficient thrust from roughly 1300 rpm above idle to the relatively conservative 8500-rpm redline.
Witness the world's best behaved 731-pound motorcycle. The ST carries its heavy bits low a
An abundant supply of torque below 6000 rpm puts the Honda out front when the road ties itself in decreasing-radius knots. Just leave it in third and dial up the 1261cc rheostat. You can't exactly flick this much motorcycle into a corner once it's wound up and rolling. Still, the Honda inhales twisty pavement just as rapidly as the others, flowing through just about any sort of corner on the proverbial rails. Just about. A minor overdose of compression damping at both ends makes bad pavement feel worse, and BMW's GT feels more planted at felonious speeds. BMW riders can afford better lawyers. A bit less bite puts the ST brakes a half step behind the FJR's, but Honda's ABS and linked brakes keep the chassis more stable, creating a better all-weather, all-surface stopping system.
Complaints? Engine heat slow roasts your right leg around town. There's not enough fresh airflow in the cockpit on hot days. The cockpit can be noisy until you dial the seat and windscreen in to create your personal happy place. Still, negative pressure pulls you forward with the windscreen fully unfurled. Though we haven't tried 'em, Honda offers accessory deflectors that aim to refine the aero envelope. If you miss the heated grips that come on the other two bikes, you can find them there as well. Otherwise, the ST just flat works. Instruments transmit everything you really need to know, though the LED data display makes it tough to discern fuel, mileage and temperature data from behind a dark shield on a sunny day. Adjust the seat and windscreen to taste and 7.7 gallons of fuel will put an easy 320 miles between stops if you've got the bladder for it. The wide, flat seat is comfy enough to sit through a couple of tankfuls in one day. Beyond that, we're looking for a king-size bed.
Saddlebags aren't quite as convenient as what you'll find on the Beemer, but they don't bulge into the wind as much, either. The ST doesn't pop up onto its centerstand quite as readily, either, but that neat folding handle helps. Those bumpers protruding from the fairing lowers are low on sex appeal, but they'll save you some serious cash if the ST tips over in some hotel parking lot at 3:00 a.m. At the end of a day like that, we'd rather be rolling in on the Honda than anything else. None of the others generate as much of what this sport-touring business is all about with less effort. No apologies. No concessions. No problem.
At $15,099, this ABS version isn't cheap, but the fact that it sets you back $200 less than the Yamaha-and almost $5700 less than the BMW-inks the deal for us. Sometimes the best tool for the job isn't the flashiest or the most expensive. Sometimes it's simple.