More than ever, motorcycles are made for fairly specific purposes. Sportbikes are designed to shine on the track, for example, while adventure machines have ergos and accessories perfect for rides off the beaten path. But when it comes to a more general purpose like traveling, any bike in the cosmos could work. If you can get the things you need on the machine and bear the ride position, a CBR1000RR will take you across continents.
So when we sat down to think about the best motorcycles for traveling, we came up against this truth and couldn’t escape it. There’s no objective best motorcycle for traveling…but there is the best motorcycle for traveling within the scope of your travel plans. So we decided to zero in on some broader categories of bikes that have exemplary examples of travel-friendly motorcycles, picking a few models as paragons of the category to showcase features you’d be likely to find on many bikes in the segment. Ultimately it comes down to where you’re going to ride, your style, your budget, and your needs.
For comfort and convenience, luxury touring motorcycles are hard to beat. We’re thinking of models like the Honda Gold Wing, the Yamaha Star Venture, or the BMW K1600GTL. These are big and well-equipped motorcycles, packed with creature comforts like heated seats and grips, infotainment systems, electronically adjustable windscreens and lowers, cruise control, built-in luggage, and much more. Most will comfortably accommodate a passenger too, if you’re wanting to travel with a partner. Ride position is neutral and upright, allowing riders to easily log hundreds of miles a day without pain.
There are some downsides though. First off, most are pretty darn heavy. The 2019 Honda Gold Wing Tour Airbag DCT, for example, tips the scales at 842 pounds. The weight is carried low and is well balanced while you’re rolling, but can be cumbersome at low speeds or in parking lots. That same bike also costs north of $30,000 too, and most in this category will set you back a pretty penny. This type of luxury ain’t cheap, in other words. Of course, you can find a used model that will still provide a cozy ride at a much more palatable cost if this is the style you need to have.
This category includes a lot of bikes, but the main appeal of models in this segment is the blend of sportbike performance and superior travel ability. We’re thinking of models like the Kawasaki Concours 14 or Ninja H2 SX, the Yamaha FJR1300ES or Tracer 900 GT, the Suzuki GSX-S1000F, Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 Factory, or KTM 1290 Super Duke GT. These models carry performance engines of different configurations, often derived from a brand’s sportbike line, but have more relaxed ergonomics and in some cases even come with built-in luggage, wind protection, and other amenities beneficial to travelers.
These bikes are much more capable of ripping on a mountain road than a luxury tourer or adventure motorcycle. Some drawbacks are reduced passenger comfort and fewer high-level perks than would be found on a luxury tourer, but you’ll also likely save some serious money going for a sport-touring rig. A brand-new Tracer 900 GT, for example, is less than half the cost of a new Honda Gold Wing Tour Airbag DCT. Granted, these are vastly different models, but if you’re open to any possibility for your next travel bike, this disparity in cost may prove to be an important factor.
This category is near and dear to my heart, so excuse the obvious bias. Adventure bikes are made to do just about anything. The BMW R1250GS is a superb machine for on-road and even off-road use, and other bikes like the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 or V-Strom 650, the Honda Africa Twin, the Yamaha Super Ténéré ES, and Kawasaki KLR650 are highly capable, versatile machines.
In terms of travel, ADV motorcycles provide upright ergos and neutral rider triangles, well-sorted suspension and deep catalogs of factory and aftermarket accessories and upgrades. Levels of sophistication vary widely, with a new R1250GS packed with electronic rider aids and creature comforts and the KLR650 stripped down to just the bare essentials. As such, price varies widely too, so riders of all budget levels can find something approachable in this segment. There are also plenty of options, like the Africa Twin or forthcoming Ténéré 700, that are designed to better handle off-road duty than more road-focused options. You sacrifice the level of comfort you’d find with a luxury tourer and the performance scope of a sport-tourer, but you gain access to an entire world of off-road opportunity in some cases.
Cruisers have long been a favorite travel companion of riders. A Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra could easily fit in the luxury tourer category, for example, but even more modest rides like the H-D Sport Glide or Indian Scout can be outfitted with the elements you’d need to be comfortable on a long trip. These days, there are loads of cruisers that go big in terms of providing travel amenities, so blur the lines between cruiser and luxury tourer, but the rumbling V-twin engine and aesthetics keep even the high-dollar mounts firmly in this category.
American iron isn’t the only option either, as most major manufacturers have some cruiser option. The Kawasaki Vulcan 900, Honda Interstate, or Yamaha Star Bolt are prime examples. What’s nice about a cruiser for travel is the relaxed ride position and carrying capacity. If luggage isn’t already built in, there’s plenty of aftermarket luggage out there designed specifically for your bike. You give up some handling ability, so will need to keep the pace a bit slower than with a sport-touring bike, and you definitely want to keep your off-roading to almost nil with a cruiser. But you get a style of machine that has taken countless riders across states and continents throughout the decades.
All that being said, standards, sportbikes, scooters, and dual-sports are all capable of traveling, and doing it well. The categories above are some of the most popular for riders looking to travel, but sometimes the best stories come out of a long trip on a machine you wouldn’t expect to log lots of miles on. What matters is assessing your needs before the trip and getting the bike that best fits your travel plans.