Rapid Transit Authority

Four Ways To Play Fast And Loose With The Space/Time Continuum

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Kevin Wing

Aside from swallowing more gear than the others, the BMW's 32-liter bags are genuinely waterproof and mercifully intuitive when you're obsessed with cold beer and a hot shower in yon Motel 6. Anteing up for a Navigator III GPS system ($1399) means never having to say, "Sorry, we're lost." But it also brings us to what in our book is the RT's biggest flaw: the $17,900 bottom line. Even without the optional Electronic Suspension Adjustment ($800), that's $2401 more expensive than the Honda, and fully $4101 pricier than the Kawasaki and the Yamaha. And while how much it costs is relative to how much you've got, in this group, most of us would spend the difference on those hot showers and that cold beer.

Second Place
Yamaha FJR1300

R1 heart, Jack Kerouac soul

Finishing third in a field of three last year, the FJR1300 AE was clearly a good motorcycle saddled with an awkward, computer-controlled clutch. With that good old analog lever back on the bar, the standard version could reverse that order. And you know what? It nearly did, even against Kawasaki's bigger, stronger, more sophisticated Concours 14. Handling the clutch yourself saves a cool $1800. Better still, it transforms the FJR from compromise to contender.

The most compact, athletic package of our foursome contends best in the twisty bits, but with its seat in the tall slot, the FJR serves up more than enough room to carry 6-footers through a three-hour freeway stint. Everyone liked the seat. Testers with an extra-firm mattress at home liked it better than the BMW's. Drop the saddle a notch and all but the most vertically challenged pilots are happily grounded. Ergonomics enforce the sort of upright posture that would make your fourth-grade teacher smile.

There's less calm air behind the Yamaha's adjustable windscreen than you'll find on the BMW or the Honda, but there's no vexing turbulence, either-just a little wind roar. No complaints about engine heat. Yamaha did the best job with routing cool air in and hot air around the rider, with adjustable vents on the fairing's flanks that let you fine-tune the flow. Pathological travelers moan about the 6.6-gallon fuel tank that runs low about 50 miles sooner than the Honda or BMW, but our only undisputed long-haul grievance is a twinge of the intrinsic four-cylinder buzz just north of 80 mph in fifth.

Before Kawasaki's new Concours 14, the FJR was the quickest thing in saddlebags. And though midrange thrust is no match for Honda's nuclear V-4, and shifting is a bit stiffer than on the 14-it gets smoother with mileage, but not quite smooth enough-the 1298cc Yamaha still inhales real estate quickly enough to dust everything but the Kawasaki if you spin it above 5000 rpm. That same scenario plays out when the road starts doubling back on itself every half-mile or so, but only the Yamaha's brakes and chassis are good enough to keep the 14 in range.

An intuitive sporting demeanor-more posh superbike than Spartan tourer-makes it easier to go fast without calibrating your style to its 676-pound mass. It executes orders from the bridge quickly and accurately, and always lets you know what's happening at the rubber/road interface. Steering is light and precise, though ham fists will think the brakes are touchy. Not so: A relatively gentle squeeze on the lever generates big stopping power, while Yamaha's Unified Braking System keeps the chassis balanced whether you cue the pedal or not. Stiffer suspension came online in '04, to keep the chassis under control at speed and the pegs (mostly) off the deck. The ride is decidedly sporty but nicely compliant, aside from some harshness over vicious hits.

Total all the columns and second place is pretty good for a design that's nearly four years old going up against more power and fresh technology. If Yamaha had spent the cash that went into the auto-clutch on a few engine and chassis refinements, we'd be looking at the winner here. Maybe next year?

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