Sport and Sport Touring Motorcycles

By Chuck Hawks

Whether they are considered pure sport bikes or sport touring bikes, they offer the highest overall level of performance of all street bikes. The main difference between the two classifications is that the sport touring models usually come with a taller windscreen, more comfortable seats and somewhat higher handlebars for a more relaxed seating position, and are available with optional luggage.

The majority of the e-mail I get from Motorcycles and Riding Online readers involves questions about what new bike in a certain class or of a certain brand I would recommend. This is the sport bike article in a series that will be updated annually and is intended to answer some of those questions before they are asked. If I were in the market for a new sport-touring bike, it would be one of the models included below.

There can be no question that BMW bikes are not ordinary in terms of styling or engineering. Some models even border on the bizarre. But the K1200S is a serious street machine. It's a big, heavy, sport touring bike that comes standard with BMW's unusual but functional telelever front and paralever rear suspension, sport tires, anti-lock triple disc brakes, and a fairing. The 1171cc four cylinder, inline, DOHC, engine delivers enough power to allow it to run with much lighter bikes. The seating position is what I might call "moderate sport bike." The BMW accessory catalog has the goodies to make the 1200S into anything from a very fast touring bike (taller windshield, saddlebags, heated grips, and all), to a potent sport machine in the heavy weight class.

The radical XB9R Firebolt is the top of the line model from this American manufacturer. The Firebolt pioneered Buell's new fuel injected 984cc V-Twin engine, frame, swing arm, centrally located gas tank, rim mounted front disc, and other improvements. Buell's most aggressive sport bike offers pinpoint handling and plenty of horsepower, of course, but it also offers serious doses of wrist wrenching torque that make it a real world rocket. And, for sure, it will not be mistaken for a Japan, Inc. sport bike.

Strange as it might sound, if price is no object and neither are maintenance costs or the lack of a large dealer network, the Ducati ST4 series of liter class sport touring bikes have garnered a reputation as being among the best of the breed. The ST4s model even comes with anti-lock brakes. Naturally, components are first class and handling and braking are second to none. A fairing with useful protection and color matched detachable saddlebags are included in the package. Most riders won't mind the attention the Ducati gets at biker gatherings, either.

Big Red's immensely successful CBR600F4i has been superceded by the newer CBR600RR, probably the all-around best of the hot 600 class sport bikes. Honda's attention to detail shows in the CBR600RR and the bikes performance is unquestioned; CBR 600 series bikes have won more racing championships than any other 600's.

The big ZRX1200R Eddie Lawson racer replica is a naked sport bike, or a muscle bike, or something like that. However it is classified, it is a big, brutal, street bike with the power, suspension, and brakes to back up its image. The superbike graphics, bridged aluminum swingarm, and 4 into 1 exhaust system scream "performance," and the four cylinder, 1164cc Ninja ZX 11-based engine with K-TRIC throttle response ignition control makes good on the promise.

Moto Guzzi
The Le Mans Rosso Corse comes with a fairing and suspension upgrades compared to the previous V-11 Sport. It gives one relatively painless dose of Italian sport bike in the sense that its 1064cc air-cooled engine is reliable and the final drive is by long lasting and relatively maintenance free shaft. Superior suspension and brakes are standard equipment. Moto Guzzi bikes have always had a good reputation for reliability, and the Le Mans is genuinely good looking. The narrow clip on bars, rearset footpegs and controls and small hard seat will give the rider a good excuse to stop frequently for coffee and conversation.

The GSX-R750 has dominated its class for years, both on the track and in the street. While it is not the best looking or most polished sport bike, Suzuki's 750cc class leader may well be the all-around performance champion, regardless of displacement. The GSX-R750 is tricked out with all the sport bike goodies, including an aluminum frame, fully adjustable suspension with inverted forks, magnesium covers, aerodynamic fairing, triple disc brakes with lightweight 4-piston calipers in front, and class leading power from its 749cc four cylinder engine. The price, if you can find a GSX-R750 to buy, is reasonable.

The Triumph Sprint ST remains one of the best looking and best performing sport-touring bikes on the street. Precise handling, excellent suspension and brakes, good protection and more than adequate power from its 955cc three cylinder DOHC engine combine to make the Sprint RT both exciting and practical. Its fit, finish, and overall craftsmanship serve to set it apart from the cookie cutter similarity of its Japanese competition. If I were in the market for a sport or sport-touring bike, the Sprint ST would be the bike for me. For more sport-oriented riders the similar but stripped down Sprint RS, with its more aggressive riding position, would be the way to go.

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Copyright 2003, 2007 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.