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Five Fast Fellows: 2013 Sport-Touring Shootout

Even in the dark cold of winter, it’s well worth it to get up early for sunrise over California’s majestic Sierra Nevada range.

Even in the dark cold of winter, it’s well worth it to get up early for sunrise over California’s majestic Sierra Nevada range. (Kawasaki Concours 14, Yamaha FJR1300, BMW K 1600 GT, Triumph Trophy SE, BMW R 1200 RT)

Photo Credit: Rich Cox

Greg Drevenstedt
May 6, 2013
Filed under BMW Motorcycle Road Tests: Reviews on BMW Motorcycles, Kawasaki Motorcycle Road Tests: Reviews on Kawasaki Motorcycles & Sportbikes, Sport + Sport Touring Motorcycle Reviews, Triumph Motorcycle Reviews, Yamaha Motorcycle Reviews

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Sport touring, a hybrid category that blends the performance of sportbikes with the comfort of touring bikes, takes many forms. Some add a taller windscreen, bar risers and soft luggage to their GSX-R, while others bevel the pegs and scrape the belly pan on their Gold Wing. Between these two extremes are dedicated sport-touring motorcycles. In recent years, the space between “sport” and “touring” has been compressed, with horsepower rising higher and higher and lists of standard features growing longer and longer.

With 60-70 liters of lockable luggage capacity, electric windshields and other touring amenities, all five bikes are ready to hit the road for days on end.

With 60-70 liters of lockable luggage capacity, electric windshields and other touring amenities, all five bikes are ready to hit the road for days on end.

As the landscape of motorcycling changes, so does the composition of our comparison tests. This is our fourth sport-touring shootout in the past 10 years, and only one bike (Yamaha FJR1300) has made an appearance each time. The Kawasaki Concours 14 has competed three times, winning our November 2010 comparison (against the FJR, Honda VFR1200F DCT and Triumph Sprint GT). In addition to two Japanese sport tourers—the Honda ST1300 was dropped for 2013, rendering it ineligible—we’ve got three from Europe: the mighty BMW K 1600 GT (which beat the Concours in a two-bike comparison in December 2011), the legendary BMW R 1200 RT and the all-new Triumph Trophy SE. Among these five bikes are three past winners of Rider’s Motorcycle of the Year award.

Our test riders—two motojournalists, a photographer, an architect and a retiree who used to teach at Reg Pridmore’s CLASS school, with ages ranging from 40-65 and riding experience totaling 174 years—spent three days riding and swapping bikes. In the pages that follow, we describe how the five bikes stack up against each other. One-page sidebars, detailed specs and dyno charts provide the nitty-gritty on each model. Ultimately, one bike stood out from the rest, but the others put up a heck of a fight.

The Kawasaki Concours 14 (left) has a sportier riding position than the Triumph Trophy (right).

The Kawasaki Concours 14 (left) has a sportier riding position than the Triumph Trophy (right).

FIRE IN THE BELLY
When it comes to engine performance, there really is no contest. The BMW K 1600 GT, with its 1,649cc in-line six shooter, outguns every other bike here. The Kawasaki’s 1,352cc in-line four makes more peak horsepower (144.2 vs. 139.8), but only above 8,000 rpm. Between 3,000 and 7,000 rpm, the K 1600 makes 13-48 more horsepower and 10-46 more lb-ft of torque than the others, as measured on Jett Tuning’s dyno. No other bike exceeds 100 lb-ft of torque, but the K 1600 does so from 2,800 rpm until 7,100 rpm, with a 115.8 lb-ft peak at 5,200 rpm. When asked what they like best about the K 1600 GT, all five test riders listed “engine” or “power.” With perfect primary and secondary balance, the K 1600 is remarkably smooth, generating satisfying thrust and an addictive exhaust note. Testers also praised the GT for its light clutch pull and slick-shifting transmission. Complaints focused on throttle-by-wire glitches at low rpm and clunky shifting in lower gears.

With the most horsepower and the second-highest torque, the Concours 14 earned high marks for its smooth, powerful engine, fluid clutch action and effortless transmission. But it got dinged for not having cruise control (the only bike here without it) and poor fuel economy—it has the smallest fuel tank (5.8 gallons vs. 6.6-7.0) and averaged just 35.2 mpg on premium fuel. Ranked third in terms of horsepower and torque, the Yamaha FJR1300 drew praise for the smoothness of its 1,298cc in-line four, the user-friendliness of its clutch and transmission, and the fact that it runs on regular fuel. But some said the engine is “uninspiring” and “lacks character,” and the lack of a sixth gear is perplexing. The BMW R 1200 RT, with its 1,170cc boxer twin, and the Triumph Trophy SE, with its 1,215cc in-line triple, have the smallest, least-powerful engines. Testers enjoyed the BMW’s distinctive throb and tractability, but complained of its low-rpm vibration, high-effort throttle and clunky gearbox. The Triumph’s in-line triple is seductive, with character-rich sound and feel. But engine noise—especially at low speeds—is excessive and seems to be amplified by the enclosed fairing and large windshield. What was a minor annoyance for some was unacceptable for others.

Even though the BMW K 1600 GT outweighs the others by 68-131 pounds, its prodigious horsepower and torque and effortless handling melt away those excess pounds.

Even though the BMW K 1600 GT outweighs the others by 68-131 pounds, its prodigious horsepower and torque and effortless handling melt away those excess pounds.

Good handling can make up for deficiencies in power, but power offers few advantages for a bike that doesn’t like to go around a corner. Two of the best-handling motorcycles in this test—the R 1200 RT and the Trophy—make the least power, while the most powerful motorcycle—the Concours—has the poorest handling. Handling is one of several areas where a sizable rift emerged between the European and Japanese bikes. The Kawasaki and Yamaha have the sportiest riding positions, requiring the rider to lean forward more and hold grips that are closer together. With less leverage, riders must work harder to steer, especially on the Concours. Both BMWs and the Triumph have more upright seating positions, with wider, more pulled-back handlebars. The K 1600 GT, which has the longest wheelbase and, at 757 pounds, is 68-131 pounds heavier than the others, has remarkably light steering—almost too light. The R 1200 RT and Trophy—brothers from different mothers—occupy the sweet spot in between, with the right balance between agility and stability.

The BMW R 1200 RT sets the standard in terms of wind protection, which the Triumph Trophy has tried to emulate.

The BMW R 1200 RT sets the standard
in terms of wind protection, which the Triumph Trophy has tried to emulate.

Another distinction between the European and Japanese bikes is electronically adjustable suspension: BMW and Triumph offer it, Kawasaki and Yamaha do not. We pushed buttons and navigated menus to adjust damping and preload on the Euro bikes, and we used tools and elbow grease to do the same on the Japanese bikes, finding satisfactory compromises on each. Four bikes have traction control—the R 1200 RT did not, but it’s available for $400—and all have triple disc brakes with linked ABS. All five bikes offer good suspension compliance and strong brakes, with no clear winners or losers.

TAKE A LOAD OFF
Riding comfortably all day long at a brisk pace is what sport touring is all about. At a minimum that means a supportive seat, agreeable ergonomics, good wind protection and decent luggage capacity. The Kawasaki and Yamaha have the sportiest riding positions; the Yamaha, like the European bikes, has a height-adjustable seat, but the Kawasaki does not. Also, the Kawasaki and Yamaha, despite having electrically adjustable windshields like the others, offer the least amount of wind protection. The BMW R 1200 RT and Triumph, having similarly large fairings with integrated mirrors, offer the best wind protection, with the BMW K 1600 GT not far behind.

As sport tourers have added more and more features, their curb weights have steadily increased—ranging from 626 pounds on the BMW R 1200 RT to 757 pounds on the BMW K 1600 GT. Though they feel lighter on the go, pushing them around on uneven surfaces—such as this pullout on Caliente-Bodfish Road—requires muscle.

As sport tourers have added more and more features, their curb weights have steadily increased—ranging from 626 pounds on the BMW R 1200 RT to 757 pounds on the BMW K 1600 GT. Though they feel lighter on the go, pushing them around on uneven surfaces—such as this pullout on Caliente-Bodfish Road—requires muscle.

In terms of what test riders like best about the R 1200 RT, four out of five wrote “comfort” thanks to its plush seat and just-right riding position. The K 1600 GT is marginally less comfortable than the RT, with a longer reach to the bars and a hard-edged seat that dug into riders’ thighs. The Triumph’s dished seat locks the rider into place, and most complained that its footpegs are too high and too far forward.

Locking hard saddlebags are standard on all five bikes, and total capacity ranges from 60 liters on the Yamaha to 70 liters on the Kawasaki, with the European bikes in the middle. Except for fiddly locks and latches on the Yamaha, there were no complaints about the luggage.

LEADER OF THE PACK
At the end of the third day, we tallied up the results. When asked to choose only one bike, four out of five picked the BMW K 1600 GT, eliciting comments such as “the best sport-touring experience” and “does everything well all day long.” The K 1600 GT steals the show in terms of engine performance, and it is among the best in terms of handling, comfort and wind protection. When you add in riding modes, Dynamic Traction Control, Electronic Suspension Adjustment, the Adaptive Headlight and other features, the result is a truly exceptional motorcycle…as well as the heaviest and most expensive (757 pounds and $24,895, as tested). When asked to choose one bike and spend their own money, two picked the R 1200 RT, two picked the FJR1300 and one picked the Trophy.

For part of our handling evaluation, we did successive up-and-down laps on tight, twisty Tuttle Creek Road in the Alabama Hills. The three European bikes outmaneuvered the two from Japan.

For part of our handling evaluation, we did successive up-and-down laps on tight, twisty Tuttle Creek Road in the Alabama Hills. The three European bikes outmaneuvered the two from Japan.

Each test rider also ranked the five bikes in order, providing an overall pecking order. The K 1600 GT came out on top, followed by the R 1200 RT, the Trophy and—tied for fourth place—the Concours 14 and the FJR1300. The R 1200 RT is the most comfortable and shares the lead with the Trophy in terms of wind protection and handling; both are down on power in this group. As the only all-new bike in this comparison, the Trophy is a respectable first effort but its excessive engine noise, awkward seating position and me-too styling hold it below the BMWs. At the bottom of the rankings are the high-revving Concours and FJR1300. Their sporty riding positions and limited wind protection fall well below the European bikes in terms of comfort—a quality deemed as important as performance among our five test riders. Furthermore, the Concours has the more sluggish handling and the FJR1300 generally feels bland compared to the others. But, with sticker prices around $16,000, the Japanese bikes offer the best value.

Read More

This article was published as part of a Sport-Touring Shootout in the May 2013 issue of Rider magazine. Click on the links below to read the other parts of the series.

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Comments

17 Responses to “Five Fast Fellows: 2013 Sport-Touring Shootout”

  1. 2013 BMW K 1600 GT Review | Rider Magazine on May 6th, 2013 2:48 pm

    [...] Five Fast Fellows: Sport Touring Shootout [...]

  2. 2013 BMW R 1200 RT Review | Rider Magazine on May 6th, 2013 2:49 pm

    [...] Five Fast Fellows: Sport Touring Shootout [...]

  3. 2013 Kawasaki Concours 14 Review | Rider Magazine on May 6th, 2013 2:51 pm

    [...] Five Fast Fellows: Sport Touring Shootout [...]

  4. 2013 Triumph Trophy SE Review | Rider Magazine on May 6th, 2013 2:52 pm

    [...] Five Fast Fellows: Sport Touring Shootout [...]

  5. 2013 Yamaha FJR1300 Review | Rider Magazine on May 6th, 2013 2:52 pm

    [...] Five Fast Fellows: Sport Touring Shootout [...]

  6. FoesFlyDennis on May 7th, 2013 8:42 pm

    Seems this article is very biased towards the ‘Touring’ (comfort) side of these Sport Touring bikes and of course that’s fair so please don’t take my comments that follow as argument. I simply hope readers who find this page who might have a similar goal as mine will benefit from my humble contribtion. I just finished considering every one of these fine machines for the purchase of a third bike in my garage. I already have a big V-Twin Touring machine along with a Big V-Twin Cruiser so what I wanted this time around was a Sport Bike with the added (and removable) conveniences added by the ST platform. BTW, I also seriously considered the Ducati Diavel which is of course a completely different beast but it helps indicate I was more focused on streatable performance and exceptional handling in a bike my 50 year old bones can sit comfortably on for more than 30 minutes. For my money the Kawasaki Concours offered exhilarating acceleration, good looks, Japanese reliability/low maintenance costs, great insurance rates and very intuitive sporty handling. It won’t run a road coarse against a Ducati Monster or the KZ14R from which it was derived but of course that’s not really what this genre of scooter is about. What the author is saying about poor/heavy handling in the Concours, I can’t figure. My personal take on the Concours is that it handles like an absolute dream at all speeds, much better than anything else I rode from a purely sport/fun perspective. Considering the tremendous price difference between the BMW and the Concours besides the associated maintenance and repair costs (and insurance), the Connie will deliver way more smiles per dollar– and I can (barely) afford to ride anything I want. Just wanting to share some praise for a machine I am very excited to own and to ride. It’s not a poser; it’s not a name to throw around the snooty crowd to impress. It’s all about the ride– and having an absolute blast while you’re at it!

    [Reply]

    Dmitry Reply:

    What about mileage? I’m thinking about ditching my BMW K1600GT and getting the burgundy 2012 Concours…

    [Reply]

  7. Michael on May 14th, 2013 4:41 am

    I’m with FoesFlyDennis on the connie, it’s all about the ride, stunning mile-eating performance. The best bike I’ve owned.

    [Reply]

  8. George Schaub on July 18th, 2013 2:21 pm

    Might want to check the results of the recent Iron Butt Rally…

    [Reply]

  9. Dmitry on August 27th, 2013 10:38 pm

    As someone who owns a BMW K1600GT I can tell you this: yes, it has a very nice ride and feature set. But it’s the most unreliable bike I have ever owned! Once you reach about 10-15 thousand miles on it – things will start to break. BMW service is absolutely horrendous! They dealership has very little freedom when it comes to warranty repairs – they have to communicate and get approvals for everything from BMW itself. Via email. One email per day. So my bike has been out of commission for over 2 months combined over the 1.5 years I’ve had it (and I currently have nearly 35000 miles on it).

    And the part availability is also lacking: sometimes parts aren’t even available from the manufacturer directly!

    Anyway, here are the issues I’ve had with it:

    Heated handgrips – replaced.
    GPS cradle – replaced.
    Fuel pump – replaced (took nearly 3 months to get it diagnosed and done, of which 1 month bike was in the service shop)
    Overheating: replaced thermostat – didn’t help. Replaced fan – didn’t help. After about 4 months they’ve decided to also replace the radiator and the water pump – still waiting on that. First time reported the issue in June of this year.
    Second ignition coil died – no replacement available anywhere in the world, including from the factory. I’m second owner at my dealership to have this issue. The guy who had this issue before me is still waiting for the new coil – about a month.

    So while the bike is awesome when it works, when it stops working – and it will – you’re screwed.

    [Reply]

  10. CF on September 11th, 2013 9:27 am

    I just returned from a 7,397 mile, 15 day, 18 state ride across the United States on my 2012 Concours 14.

    I have bar risers, a taller windscreen, and a Sargent saddle on it. I also have Pirelli Angel GT tyres, which made a world of a difference in terms of handling. (The OEM Bridgestones are absolute rubbish.)

    In terms of comfort, I averaged, over 15 days, 698 miles per day. I can think of no other motorcycle that I would want to do this trip on, one more time or a hundred times more. This is the best, and I’ve ridden all the bikes in this test, for my purposes.

    The K1600 series is a fantastic engineering achievement, but let’s face facts: this is an incredibly expensive “toy” for someone who has the means to buy it. Your average middle-class dude in his late 20′s doesn’t have $25k to buy a K bike. The Trophy is nice, but also way too expensive.

    The R bikes are nice, but as the test suggests, down on power, and also hideously expensive to buy and maintain (sorry, but when that electronic rear shock fails, do you really want to pay $2200 to replace it?)

    Having put a fair amount of miles on all of these bikes myself, my ranking is somewhat different:

    1. Concours 14
    2. FJR1300
    3. R1200RT
    4. Trophy
    5. K1600

    The Concours is the absolute best value for the money here. It will do 800, 900, 1000+ mile days without a single complaint. And as for your assertion about the gas mileage, I don’t know if your test riders were banging the rev limiter on every gear change, or maybe you just got a bum bike, but I’ve never gotten anything less than 39mpg riding hard. I averaged 46.4mpg over almost 7,400 miles. Quite a lot better than what you lot were getting, it seems.

    Just my 2¢

    [Reply]

  11. Eric on December 9th, 2013 5:13 am

    THANK YOU CF!
    Felt so disillusioned as I read through Rider’s review, Thanks for restoring my faith and confidence, as I continue to look forward to the purchase of my Concours. Can’t wait till then and to give my review that I’m sure will confirm yours and assure other Kaw fans their on the best thing going.

    [Reply]

  12. Jim on December 20th, 2013 11:09 pm

    I have ridden all of these bikes and am 40 yrs old. the Kaw and FJR should not have the word “touring” included in the description. I can’t afford a K1600 and the 1200 and Triumph are underpowered. In my opinion long distance comfort, handling, and miles per tank of fuel are the most important qualities. (I am 6’2″) the Triumph was the clear winner to me. It’s not as much fun as the jap bikes but as a sport TOURING (reasonably priced) bike. It fits the title most accurately.
    Just mho

    [Reply]

  13. Rosco Tinderstein on January 6th, 2014 9:19 pm

    Having obtained a 2013 FJR1300 in December for $12999, no freight and prep, I’ll keep it’s track proven reliability and say keep your pretentious BMWs,their absurd dealer shop prices and their lousy reliability.

    Been there, done that…There is a lot I can do with the other 8 to 12 grand I saved. I mean seriously, that’s a hell of a lot of money for a bigger windshield, handlebar risers and a custom seat.

    The Concours is not to my personal taste appearance wise, but I would definitely consider one over a lifeless RT. I mean seriously… My garden tractor makes better horsespower than an RT, and it shakes a hell of a lot less when idling.

    Oh wait, I just got a glimpse of the test riders in the pictures… That pretty much explains everything. I mean I’m old, but I ain;t THAT old!

    [Reply]

  14. Fred on June 29th, 2014 2:56 am

    I found this article when I was comparing an FJR1300 to a Concours 14. I have to say and agree with everyone else’s comments here. I think it is a grave mistake when doing these comparisons to not heavily weigh reliability, cost of ownership, and purchase cost.

    You can purchase a New Concours and FJR1300 for $12-$13K how can you even put a $24K bike in the same comparison.

    I had a 2009 Concours and loved it. Put 15K on it before selling it to buy a Super Tenere because I thought I could talk my wife into exploring Southern Utah Adventure style. Well that didn’t work out since her new bike is a 2013 ZX10R. So I really want to get a newer 2010+ Concours but I am curious about the FJR1300. I am thinking I would miss the power of the Concours.

    By the way. In the 15K miles on the Concours all I did was change the oil, filter and rear diff every 3,000 miles. Oh and tires and flushed new Brake fluid and Clutch fluid through. I have had about 20 bikes in the last 3 years and the Concours was probably the best all around. Based on looking at the picture I agree with Rosco regarding the age of the testers.

    [Reply]

  15. BOB on July 18th, 2014 1:49 pm

    I own both the RT and The FJR. The RT is indeed pleasant, comfortable and a joy to ride, but not so much fun when it goes to the shop for things that fail which is far too frequent. The FJR is an entirely different it feels big and heavy, but well composed with gobs of power. It has two natures, one, its as sedate as a wing and gobbles miles or two, you put her in third, let the tag swing a bit and slice up a mountain as quick as most sport bikes you are likely to encounter. To dis it over wind protection when 8 differnt aftermarket screen companies want your $200 really is not relevant. We need to look at the capabilities and ridability of these bikes as well as the true cost of ownership to make a fair judgement. BMW needs to examine its roots, its great reliability purchased at greater cost that gave them the great reputation. Since the Triumph is somewhat unproven lets set it to the side. Both the Kawi and the Yamaha are proven extremly reliable and both the BMWs while nice bikes are seriously more expensive and are very likely to have an occa$ional issue, which should not be the case.

    [Reply]

  16. Jonestown on August 26th, 2014 11:56 am

    Ridden all of these. BMW is crazy expensive. Connie is cramped for my 6′ 7″ frame. FJR even more so. Trophy was the best mix of goodies and comfort for my money.

    [Reply]

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