Last Man Standing | COOK’S CORNER

They killed the lightweight sport-touring machine!

A funny thing happened on the way to adventure-touring bikes dominating the landscape. They killed the lightweight sport-touring machine. It didn’t occur overnight, but, save for the revised Honda Interceptor and one or two others, the class is basically extinct. Aprilia Futura? In the past. Ducati ST series? Mòrto! Triumph Sprint ST/GT? Rest in peace, darlings.

You might just ask: Who cares? Even following the Great Specialization of the 1980s there have been motorcycles explicitly or accidentally aimed at riders who want both sporting performance and long-distance capabilities in one tidy machine. Because so many of these consumers came up through lightweight sportbikes, they are predisposed to models with broadened capabilities only without all the bulk of a touring rig. For them, 600 pounds of plastic and steel is just too much. An FJR might as well be a Buick.

A few of us built our own. For several years, my 2005 GSX-R750 ran a Spiegler upper triple clamp and conventional handlebar. I loved touring on the Suzuki, wishing only for more range and mirrors that showed something other than my sleeves. While my FJR- or RT-riding friends were drier or less creaky at the end of the day, I’d had more fun. Much more.

There was a time when the low-calorie ST category was vibrant. And I think we can thank Honda for that, simply because the introduction of the CBR900RR allowed Big Red to concentrate its pure-sport efforts there and allow the VFR to evolve into a capable, sporty-looking all-rounder. Which it did marvelously, gracefully morphing from the first VFR750 in 1986, through the VFR750s of the ’90s, and to the first VFR800 in 1998. We all mourned the passing of the gear-driven cams with the VTEC model of 2002, but sales continued at a modest pace. Once one of Honda’s biggest sellers—not just as the 750 but also as part of a 500/750/1000 family in the 1980s—the VFR’s sales declined as supersports dominated the charts.

Now Honda’s given the smaller VFR—I’m too lazy to call it Interceptor every time—a mild refresh, a kind of botox treatment for an aging star. It arrives to compete with Kawasaki’s Ninja 1000 ABS on one side and BMW’s lighter, cheaper F800GT on the other. It’s sold alongside, and partially counterbalances, the heavy, high-tech VFR1200.

In the same way SUVs replaced station wagons two decades ago, the ADV bikes have grabbed sales out of the weak grip of lightweight STs. A decade ago, I might have bemoaned this fact—railing at the atrocity—but not now. I’m an ADV convert. If I had to choose between the current Interceptor and an adventure-styled bike, I wouldn’t be in on the VFR.

The hardware did it. Today’s ADV machines, even at the lower-cost end of the scale, are excellent performers. Suspension and brake technology is at a point where ADV bikes work fantastically well on the street. Modern tires in common ADV sizes have more than enough grip to keep me smiling—plus they last and have wet grip. And I like the more open riding position common in the class.

Plus, the landscape is not just the quirky BMW GS, which is actually more mainstream than ever; it’s bikes from the very ST-like Aprilia Caponord to the 1198-superbike-with-a-dirt-bike-bar Ducati Multistrada. You have variety and capability in the category, which is one reason I think ADVs have grown beyond the mere appearance of off-road utility.

I’m sure Honda will continue to develop the smaller VFR for the tiny but fervent audience that supports it. But if Big Red wants to really move some metal, bring in a modern Transalp. Please.

Ducati’s defunct ST4 followed a line from the original Paso that extends through the current Multistrada. It competed at a time when mid-weight STs were hot stuff.