SPORTSTOURERS - COMPARISON UP-DATE
At the time of writing this, in mid 2010, it’s been three years since I did my comparison of sportstourers. So it’s time I did an up-date; because in that time things have changed. A bit. Although, with this comparison, there is a strong sense of “The more things change the more they stay the same.” That’s not to say the outcome is the same, necessarily; you’ll have to keep reading to find that out! Sportstourers are a very popular category of bike; and with good reason, they do what the name says – they play sporty and they tour. So keeping this comparison up-to-date is well worth doing. Now, the first thing you should do, of course, is to read the original article; if you haven’t already read it. (Just click the link above). What I write here will assume that you are familiar with what I wrote in the first one. It’s an up-date, rather than a full separate comparison. To begin with though, I should still explain the basics of the comparison, and why I chose the bikes I did. As I mentioned in the original article, the bikes I tested in that comparison comprised a fairly short, and probably subjective, list. My choice was based on personal preference, and on what I was able to get a test-ride on. It was based on what I would buy myself, rather than being a full comparison of everything available. The other thing worth mentioning is that, like all my road-tests, the comments are based on what I think of the bikes. As an old bloke, I tend to look at things a bit differently to the usual bike journos. To me, and I suspect to a lot of people reading this, things like the comfort of the riding-position and the quality of the ride are more important than how fast it is around a race-track – or a piece of road that is being treated like a race-track! So this comparison of sportstourers won’t necessarily decide which bike is the best sportstourer as such – it’ll decide which one I like best; which one I think is best for someone coming from my point-of-view. Although I do try to be a bit more objective and broaden the guide-lines of my decision. Another factor was affordability; anything over $20,000 would certainly be too expensive for me, and I'd reckon for many people reading this. So for the purposes of this comparison I only looked at bikes that are under $20,000. Now, I said it was an up-date of the original comparison, and it is; but there’s more! More bikes I mean. I’ve included a couple of bikes that weren’t in the original comparison. I’ll get to those in a minute, but first, let’s look at the bikes that were in the original comparison.
THE ORIGINAL CONTENDERS – OUT OF THE RING
There were a couple of bikes that probably shouldn’t have been in the original comparison. So I’ve eliminated them this time. Plus one other has dropped out too. Here’s why.
This shouldn’t have been in the original comparison because it’s in a different category to the other bikes. Why was it in there then? Well, Yamaha, strangely, do not make a sportstourer in the same sort of mould as the Triumph Sprint, Honda VFR etc. That’s why, when I went into the Yamaha dealer for the first comparison, I was given the FZ6S to try. It’s a great bike – if you’re looking for a mid-size bike and like to rev the engine to get the performance. I wasn’t looking for a mid-size bike, and that’s not my preferred style of riding, so I didn’t really like it. It’s also about to be phased out (or should that be “Fazed” out? Sorry, bad pun!); making way for the bigger-engined FZ8. Speaking of the FZ8, it hasn’t been released at the time of writing, but on paper it looks like it could be a very worthy competitor. Although from what I’ve seen, the seat looks a bit hard, and the bike seems like it’s following in the wheel-tracks of the FZ1; more “sports” than “sportstourer”. Proper comparisons will have to wait till I ride one of course, and indeed it might impress, but somehow I don’t think it’d rank with the top-choices here.
I suppose this shouldn’t have been in the original comparison either, because, like the FZ6, it’s really in a different category too. It was included because I was looking for something from the Yamaha stable that fitted the sportstourer description and didn’t cost over $20,000. Yamaha describe the TDM as a sportstourer for all roads. It’s comfortable, it’s easy to ride, and it goes well. It should be ideal; but it isn’t. Surprisingly perhaps, for what is essentially a dual-sports type bike, the ride came in for some criticism. It wasn't just me, I’d read other comments about the ride not being up to what you’d expect. Then a later test-ride had me complaining about the low-speed fuelling. As I said in my Review at the bottom of the report, it’s a good bike, and deserves to be more popular than it is; but it just doesn’t make the grade for what I’m looking for here. And it really isn’t a sportstourer anyway!
This one is out of the running now too because, sadly, it isn’t made any more. Despite my reservations about its low-speed handling (and ride), the big Duke was a great sportstourer! Why would they kill off such a great bike? Okay, in my process of elimination I gave it the flick before the Suzuki Bandit, but, especially if high-speed sports-touring was your thing, the ST3 was brilliant! The top-three bikes in that comparison were, as I rode them, better as all-round sportstourers, which was why they got the nod from me over the Duke, but the ST3 was still a good bike. You might think the Multistrada 1100 could get a run here. But, like the TDM900, it really isn’t a sportstourer is it. And even if you think bikes like this should be included, (because they do the job I’m wanting sportstourers to do), this would be ruled out pretty quickly. Because I reckon it’s not much good! And, as I also mentioned in the test, it’s a bit expensive; being over $5,000 more than the Yamaha TDM900, and almost $3,000 more than the Triumph Tiger. And, for my money, it’s not as good as either of those.
THE ORIGINAL CONTENDERS – BACK FOR THE FIGHT
At the time of writing, the FA model has just been released. This comes with a full fairing. Underneath the new outer clothing it’s the same as the bikini-faired one; but I reckon it really lifts the appearance of the bike. It looks good! And the fairing would make it an even better sportstourer than it already is. The Bandit is a great bike, in either form. Actually you can get it in three different forms; naked, with bikini-fairing, and now with full fairing. The only difference – apart from looks – is how much wind you get while riding. In my original test I described the Bandit as “a joy to ride”; and they made it better after that! The bike I originally rode for the comparison was the "in-between model" – it had the new styling but still had the old mechanicals, which included an 1157cc air / oil cooled engine with carbies, and a 5-speed gearbox. For the next model Suzuki up-dated it, taking the engine out to 1255cc and giving it fuel-injection, liquid cooling and a 6-speed gearbox. That removed one of the criticisms I had of the older model – technologically it was lagging behind the other bikes. Now it’s right up there with them. The engine is a beauty! It pulls like a train from low revs; as I said in the test, around town you never have to worry about being in the wrong gear, just twist the throttle and go. Even from 1500rpm it doesn’t protest. But get it on the open road, give it a handful of throttle and it really flies! There are bikes here that are more powerful, but you can ignore that – this really has all the power you need in a sportstourer. The handling continues the good news. Easy to ride and always stable, it just goes exactly where you want it to. It feels like it’s on rails. Okay, if I was one of those bike-mag journos punting these things around a race-track I’d probably say that there are other bikes here that are lighter, more nimble, and handle better. But I’m not one of those guys. I’m an old bloke, riding them around town and out on the open road; and I reckon this is as good as you’ll ever want, especially from this type of bike. The riding-position is good too; especially for older folk who don’t enjoy the racer’s crouch any more. It’s an up-right position with what I reckon is just about the perfect lean-forward to the bars. The ideal sportstourer! Sounding good so far? Yep, it’s a great bike! In fact, I was seriously considering buying one myself for a while. The reason I didn’t was that I was less impressed with the seat, and the ride. As I said in the 2008 test, the suspension can take credit for the handling, but it doesn’t score so well on ride. I had mentioned in the original test that I felt that the ride was just a bit firmer than I’d like, and the next model was a bit more so. There is adjustment there, so you can improve it; but it’s basic adjustment (preload only at the front, preload and rebound at the rear). The seat continues the same trend of being harder with each successive model. Go back to the pre-2006 model and the Bandit had a big comfy seat. By 2008 it had got to the stage where it turned me off buying the bike. But it’s still a great bike! And as always with Suzuki, it is incredibly good value! If you buy one and, like me, you’re a bit sensitive in the nether-regions, budget in an AirHawk.
The VFR is unchanged from the one I rode in 2007; apart from the colour. (Well if there are any other changes I haven’t heard of them, and they’d only be very minor). But that’s okay; it was a great bike then, and it still is! The great thing about the VFR is that it has the performance and handling to do a pretty good job as a sports-bike, while still being remarkably comfortable. The seat is comfortable, and even the ride is good. I described the suspension as being reasonably soft, by sports-bike standards anyway, and that adds further to its practicalities as a good all-round sportstourer. The engine has a little party-trick of variable valve-timing. This is supposed to give it a kind of dual-personality; allowing it to be tractable at low revs, while giving it plenty of power up high in the revs. Well, it certainly has power when you get the revs up a bit. Give the throttle a twist and, as I said in the 2007 test that it takes off like the proverbial scalded cat! But it’s not quite as good off the bottom end. In fact I managed to stall it a couple of times early in the ride. Probably more my fault than the bike’s though. I said in the test that it doesn’t tolerate fools. Get a bit light on the throttle when you take off and, well, that’s when I stalled it. Get a bit sloppy on changing down and you’ll chirp the back tyre. I also found it to be a bit snatchy at low revs around town. So it’s a little less forgiving if you aren’t riding it with full attention. But ride it properly and it's fine! Adding to the around-town blues is the heat that gets trapped by the full fairing. True, it was a hot day when I rode it, but in traffic I was just about melting. It’s a problem suffered by most fully-faired bikes, of course; but some suffer a bit more than others. The handling is excellent. No, it’s not a Fireblade, but for a sportstourer it’s brilliant; and it quickly inspires confidence. I had good fun punting it along a narrow winding mountain road; even, as I described in the test, one road that I always feel a bit tentative on. Like the Bandit, it goes exactly where you point it, and feels like it’s on rails. (Except it’s probably better, and definitely more sporty). Riding-position is more sports-orientated than most of the other bikes here. (Although you can get risers for the bars to reduce the lean a little). Again, it’s not a full-on sportsbike crouch like the Fireblade, for example, but you lean forward more on this than on most of the others here. In the original test I concluded by saying, "If this isn't the ideal sportstourer, then it would be very, very close." And it is - very close I mean. For many years (if not still now) it was the standard by which other sportstourers were judged. So yes, it's good! And yes, it did get beaten in my final assessment in that comparison, because there was at least one bike that I thought was a better all-round bike. But it's still a good bike!
TRIUMPH SPRINT ST
This is the bike that won that first comparison. It was then, and still is, a great bike! It remains the only bike I’ve really “fallen-in-love-with” on the test. (Although the extended test of the Yamaha XJR had me wanting to take that home). The Brit is just so good at everything! The big triple gives heaps of power that is useable from idle right through to red-line. And there’s lots of torque to keep it pulling as the needle swings around the dial. And swing around it does! In the original test I described accelerating to 100kph in 2nd almost before I had a chance to look down at the speedo. And there were still 4 gears to go! With more power than any of the others here, and similar weight, you can guess that the performance is going to be pretty much top-of-the-tree; and I reckon it is. (Although the Honda counters with slightly lower gearing, which probably brings it pretty close). One of the really impressive things about the Triumph, is that it is so easy to ride; and that applies whether you’re riding around town or out on the open road. Unlike the Honda, it is very forgiving. There’s no snatching at low revs, and if you’re a bit sloppy on down-changes it doesn’t complain. Easy! Handling continues the easy-to-ride nature. When I tested the 2009 model, it was straight after riding the Street Triple. The smaller bike’s handling was light, nimble and quick; almost (but not quite) to the point of being flighty. By comparison the Sprint was slower-steering and more stable. Yet, on the same twisting mountain road, I was cornering it at the same speed as the little ‘un. Yes, in the original test I did say that I was “feeling-my-way with it” a bit on open-road sweepers, but that’s just a matter of getting used to it. (I felt immediately confident with it when I did the 2009 test). The ride is excellent. It’s a strange thing, but if you read the tests in the magazines, the Sprint’s suspension is sometimes criticised. I reckon it’s great! Maybe the criticisms come from a point of how it behaves in fast sports-type riding. The suspension is reasonably soft, and very compliant. Maybe those testers were looking for firm, sports-type suspension. I’m not. I want a bike to handle well, but I also want it to ride well. And the Sprint does. In the original test I took it along some typical back-roads, at one point cruising it at 140kph over dips and humps, and it remained comfortable and perfectly stable. In the second test the ride impressed me again. It also occurred to me how the suspension and seat sort of complemented each other. The suspension absorbed bumps very well, but then what road-shocks did get through were subsequently absorbed by the seat. Maybe if you’re doing laps of Phillip Island the suspension might not be all you’d want; but I’ve always found it brilliant! On both tests I didn’t get a chance to really try out its touring capabilities – there weren’t any major highways to cruise down. But you know it’s going to really be in its element there! In fact, one of my most memorable “road-test” moments was on a 2nd-hand 955 model Sprint, cruising down the Hume Highway at 120kph in pouring rain, passing trucks, with water streaming back from the screen, and the bike feeling totally stable and like it could just go on doing this until the next state. It’s when we come to riding-position that we start to meet potential problems. I say “potential” because it really comes down to personal preference. The Triumph is more lean-forward-sporty than some of the others here. And it’s where I reckon the current model has changed from the model I tested in 2007. There were a few minor up-dates between 2007 and 2009. They don’t say anything about the riding-position, but I reckon the bars are lower and more angled-down than on the ’07 model. It was enough to make me start to feel a bit uncomfortable from the forward lean and the weight on the wrists by the end of the ride. Yes, it could be the effects of me being a couple of years older, and perhaps a changing personal preference in riding-position, but I don’t think so; I reckon it’s different! Back in 2007 I said that a sportstourer had to be a real “jack-of-all-trades”, and that this was just what Triumph had achieved with the Sprint ST. In the 2009 test I said that it’s a sportstourer with the emphasis a little more on the “sports” side of the equation. Both conclusions are still true. And to sweeten the deal even more, it’s also good value! At the time of writing (mid 2010) there’s a new version about to be released. Called the GT, it’s set up a little more for touring. There are detail changes to suspension, including a longer swing-arm to lengthen the wheel-base. The engine gets a slight boost in power, and a smidgeon more torque, both produced at lower revs. The seat has been re-shaped to make it more comfortable for pillions, and the standard panniers have grown to 31 litres compared to the ST’s 22-litres. They don’t say the bars are higher, but from the photos I've seen they look as if they might be. Another change is to the exhaust, which has moved from under the seat to a more traditional position running along the side. That gives more under-seat storage and also cures the problem of heat transfer through the seat. (I never liked under-seat exhausts). At this stage I don’t have exact pricing, but it’s expected to retail for around $16,000. ABS, which is optional on the ST, will be standard. I reckon it’ll be a good thing; and just a bit more “touring” than the ST. Okay, they were the original contenders. Now we have a couple of additions.
NEW CONTENDERS STEPPING INTO THE RING
You might think that the Tiger falls into the same dual-purpose type category as the Yamaha TDM. Well, it used to, but not any more. A couple of years ago Triumph changed it. Wheels went to cast alloys and are 17”, just like a road-bike. Other changes moved it in the same direction. Triumph are now pitching it as an “all-rounder” rather than an “all-roader”. Here’s what they say about it. “The perfect all-rounder, we think. The Tiger is equally at home in the urban jungle as it is prowling on the open road. The tall riding position gives a commanding view, making overtaking and filtering easy through rush hour traffic." They continue, "Hit the highway and you will revel in the muscular 1050cc triple which, combined with powerful brakes and a high-specification sporty chassis, make carving through the twisties a real pleasure." Nope, no mention about dirt-roads there! So it’s an “all-rounder” but is it really a sportstourer? Well Triumph go on to say this: “And for the long haul the ergonomically designed seat with screen and fairing ensures a comfortable ride regardless of distance.” Sounds like they intend it for touring too. So yep, it’s a sportstourer now. Of course it’s a different type of sportstourer. It’s still quite tall, and has a very up-right riding position. In my test I said the tallness made it a stretch to the ground, even for my lanky old legs. And it also makes the bike feel a bit top-heavy. But it makes it roomy to sit on. You don’t feel cramped, as you do on some sportstourers. The upright riding-position also makes it a good choice for the “more mature” rider who isn’t comfortable leaning forward in sports-bike style. You won’t get sore wrists and back-aches after riding this one! You’ll go a fair way before you get a sore bum too, because the seat is comfortable. And if you really want to sit there for long distances, you can get an optional “touring-seat”. Oh, and on the subject of comfort, the ride is very good; it feels very compliant and absorbs bumps well. The slight top-heavy nature does effect handling a bit, and it doesn’t feel as sporty as the Sprint of course. But despite this I thought it handled well. It steered accurately, and always felt stable and well-planted on the road. Just not exactly sporty. The engine is the same unit as in the Sprint, although re-tuned a bit to make it better suit the different style of bike. There's a bit less power, and a touch less torque, with the torque coming in at lower revs. I don’t think they needed to do anything, because the standard Sprint engine is beautifully tractable, but apparently they saw reason to change it. In any case, it goes well! As I said in the test, it’ll go from “toddling along” to “lose your license” in very quick time! It cruises easily and comfortably, and that big screen works well, keeping most of the wind off. I reckon it’d make a good touring bike! Yes, I had a few little niggles; mainly about the positioning of the foot levers (if I owned one I think I’d change those), and the top-heavy feeling would take a bit of getting used to I suppose. But nothing major. I didn’t find it an especially exciting bike to ride. I said there was nothing outstanding about it, but it did everything very well. So well in fact, that I decided that it had become my new favourite Triumph!
This is one I haven’t actually ridden. But I have ridden it’s naked brother; the F800R. There are differences between the two, apart from just the lack of clothes, but the differences aren’t anything too major, and are designed to make the ST more suitable for its sports-touring role. In my test I said that I thought the naked version would make an excellent sportstourer, so I think I can confidently apply my impressions to the ST. The F series has a lot to recommend it. It’s a good size bike; big enough to provide big-bike performance, but light enough to be easy to manage and deliver nimble handling, both in town and out on the open road. It’s also pretty comfortable. The seat is comfy, and the riding-position reasonably up-right. My only complaint was that I felt the pegs were a little high; for my lanky legs anyway. It provides a comfortable ride, and felt very compliant over some bumpy sections of road. Yes, that was the naked version, and the ST apparently has longer-travel suspension, so I’d expect it to be even better. Handling is good too. The bike feels light and easy to ride, and inspires confidence very quickly. Riding up a narrow twisty mountain road the steering was easy and accurate and it held its line well through corners. The engine, strangled as all bikes are by anti-noise legislation, sounds small. In the test I said it sounded more like a 250 than an 800. It might have equal size to the VFR, but it lags behind the Honda in outright power. It’s a noticeable difference. It pulls away easily from low revs, but is happiest (and provides its best performance) once the tacho gets to around 4,000rpm. It's very smooth as it revs though. As I said in the test, the power is plenty good enough to let you have fun and enjoy it as intended. If there’s one thing that BMW knows a lot about, it’s making touring bikes. Some of the best touring bikes made have had the spinning-propeller badge on the side; so you’d expect it to be good at the touring thing. I rode the naked, which is altered from the ST version to make it better fit the naked-bike role, but as I said, lack of clothes apart, I reckoned this bike would be a good tourer. The ST gains slightly higher gearing, belt drive, slightly different bars, and the afore-mentioned longer-travel suspension; all things that would make it even better suited to touring duties. So I reckon it’d be great!
So, you want me to pick a winner, do you? Well, I’m not going to! Not an absolute outright winner anyway. I’m also not going to eliminate them in order so you get a 2nd place, 3rd place etc. These are all very good bikes, and I don’t think it would be fair to pick an outright winner that relegates all the others to “also-rans”. That’s because the bike I’d buy out of this lot might be different to the bike you’d buy. The “winner” would probably be different for each of us, depending on our personal preferences. Hopefully my comments about each of the bikes here, as well as in the separate tests, will help you decide which one is best for you. If you’re still undecided, well maybe the choices I do make below will bring things into focus a bit better – even if still from my perspective! Okay, if we’re talking in absolute sportstourer terms, then I reckon the Triumph Sprint ST still comes out on top. It goes like a rocket (no Triumph-pun intended!), it’s comfortable, it rides extremely well and handles great; it’s just a great sportstourer! It’s also easy to ride, with a very forgiving nature. As I said in the original comparison, as a sports-touring package (in this price-range anyway) the Triumph is brilliant! Although it should also be said that it is more sports-orientated than some of the others here. If your intentions are a bit more touring than sporting, check out the new Sprint GT, because it sounds like it’d suit that role even better. The original comparison was titled “My Choice” and I have to say that if it came to a personal choice, the Sprint ST is now not the one I’d buy. For me, the ST has been knocked of its perch by another bike from the same stable. I’ve already said that the Tiger has become my favourite Triumph; so if I was buying a Brit I’d buy the Tiger. I reckon it’d be a great bike to own and ride! But wait, as they say in those annoying ads, there's more! The BMW F800ST deserves serious consideration. In a way, it fits between the Sprint and the Tiger. It’s not as sporty in its riding-position as the Sprint, and not as tall and top-heavy as the Tiger. Being smaller and lighter means it is also a bit more practical than the bigger bikes. It’s easier to manouvre at slow speeds and easier to fling around out on the open road. Even the Honda, which has the same size engine, is considerably heavier. It’s around the same price as the others too – surprising really, considering the name-badge! Although I have to say that there is a slight question-mark over reliability and build-quality. The other two? Well, there are no losers here; I like them both! The Honda is a good alternative for the person who would otherwise buy a Sprint ST. True, the Brit has more power, but the Honda is certainly no slouch – as my riding friend proved when he whistled past me at 200kph! (See test). I prefer the Sprint, but it’s still a great bike! The Suzuki is a real favourite, and as a sportstourer, the FA model would just make a good thing even better! Buy it if you prefer a less aggressive riding-position than the Sprint or Honda, but don’t like the “I used to be a dual-sport” nature of the Tiger. It’s a real bargain, and with the money you’d save over the others, you could have the suspension set up to suit you (if it doesn’t suit you already), and also have the seat re-done. With those items attended to, it’d be very tempting; very tempting indeed! In fact if these items could be set up to suit my preferences, this just might be the one I’d buy! So there it is! Sportstourer shoot-out for 2010. I still reckon a sportstourer is probably the best all-round type of bike; and I reckon these are the pick of the popular ones under $20,000.
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Bandit VFR800 Sprint ST Tiger F800ST Engine: cylinder, cc. 4 / 1255cc 4 / 782cc 3 / 1050cc 3 / 1050cc 2 / 798cc Power: 73kW 80kW 93kW 83kW 63kW
Torque: 108Nm 80Nm 105Nm 98Nm 86Nm
Gearbox: speed. 6 6 6 6 6
Final-drive: Chain Chain Chain Chain Chain
Fuel capacity: litres. 19 22 20 20 16
Weight: 225kg 213kg 210kg 198kg 187kg
Seat height: mm. 785mm 805mm 805mm 835mm 790mm
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 120 / 17 120 / 17 120 / 17 120 / 17 120 / 17
" "Rear: 180 / 17 180 / 17 180 / 17 180 / 17 180 / 17
Brakes: 3 disc 3 disc 3 disc 3 disc 3 disc
ABS Yes (FA) No Option Option Yes
Luggage Option Option Yes Option Option
Price: $12,290 (S) $15,990 $14,990 $16,590 $15,900
Note: ABS is optional on other models of the Bandit, but standard on the FA. The FA is $13,990. Cost of ABS for other models is $500. Triumphs cost about $1500 for the ABS option.
Panniers are standard on the Sprint ST, while panniers and / or top-box is optional on the others.