Touring Motorcycles

By Chuck Hawks

Touring bikes are the long distance runners among motorcycles. Of necessity, they must offer a plush ride and the most comfortable passenger accomodations, suitable for long days in the saddle even when ridden double. Most of those seeking a touring bike are safe and experienced riders with a lot of mileage under their wheels.

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 touring 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 touring bike, I would take a close look at the models below.

The huge and bulbous K1200LT is BMW's flagship heavyweight touring bike, but the neatest and best performing of the Beemer touring models is the new K1200GT, a lighter, slimmer and much prettier package. The K1200GT is powered by the same 130 HP, 1171cc liquid-cooled, 16 valve, inline 4 cylinder engine that powers the K1200RT sport touring bike. Shaft drive and linked ABS brakes are standard. This new model has a roomier frame-mounted fairing that gives better protection, a more upright riding position, an electric windshield, electrically heated grips, cruise control, color matched saddlebags, and a touring seat. An electrically heated seat, luggage rack, and soft tail pack are among the options.

The FLTR-I Road Glide sports a fuel-injected 1450cc engine, belt final drive, full cockpit instrumentation, and an aerodynamic frame-mounted fairing. A stereo, color matched saddlebags, air adjustable rear shocks, and cruise control are included in the package. The paint and chrome are the best in the industry. The options list is one of the most extensive in motorcycling, allowing the owner to personalize the bike however he or she so desires. H-D's best and least ostentatious touring bike is one of the last heavyweights that still looks and feels like a motorcycle. A big, comfortable motorcycle to be sure, but still a motorcycle. It is one of the few motorcycles in its class that is enjoyable on two lane roads as well as the interstate. I have little personal need for a heavyweight touring bike, but if I did, this would be the one.

The big liquid-cooled, 1832cc, flat 6 powered, shaft driven Gold Wing ABS may sometimes be referred to, with some justification, as "half of a car" (it needs, and comes with, an electric reverse gear). It is one of the biggest, heaviest motorcycles ever made. Part of that weight is because the Gold Wing ABS comes with what is probably the most complete touring package in the industry. A frame-mounted fairing, anti-dive front forks, electronically adjustable rear suspension, full color matched luggage, a stereo, king and queen touring seat, cruise control, and on and on. Plus there are lots of accessories. There can be little question that the GL1800 is the best choice for day in and day out rides on the superslab. If you want to get across the state or across the nation with minimum fuss and in maximum comfort with your significant other behind you, the big Gold Wing is the top choice on two wheels.

The Trophy 1200 is one of the most sporting true touring bikes on the market. The Trophy is powered by a 107 horsepower liquid-cooled, four cylinder, DOHC, 1180cc engine. It offers an excellent adustable suspension, a frame-mounted fairing and color matched saddlebags, remote adjustable headlights, plus many of the nice touches typical of modern touring bikes. The Trophy looks great, rides great, handles great, and is beautifully finished. And it is very moderate in weight (512 pounds wet) for a modern touring bike.

The shaft driven, liquid cooled, DOHC, V-4, 1294cc Royal Star Venture is Yamaha's entry in the heavyweight touring bike sweepstakes. A fork-mounted fairing with frame-mounted lowers, color matched saddlebags and tail trunk, air adjustable front and rear suspension, dual touring saddle with wraparound passenger backrest, CB, stereo with standard rear speakers, intercom, remote headlamp adjustment, cruise control, and the usual heavyweight touring amenities are included in the basic package. Clearly inspired by the success of Harley-Davidson's Electra Glide models, the Venture is somewhat retro in appearance, but not in function. It is a good looking, modern, and fully capable heavyweight touring bike worthy of serious consideration.

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Copyright 2003, 2004 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.