2009 Sport Touring Shootout

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Motorcycle.Com has just released this year’s comparo of the top sport touring motorcycles.  This year, they pit the BMW K1300GT, Yamaha FJR1300A, Kawasaki Concours14, and the venerable Honda ST1300 against each other.

They declare the top bike to be…

Objectively the BMW is the clear winner to us. It makes markedly more power than the others despite not having the biggest engine. Our experiences aboard all four left no question the big K bike is the quickest steering and provides excellent braking performance. It offers very good wind protection, great ergos, an adjustable seat and handlebars, possibly the best passenger perch and very good saddlebags, to name only a few high points.

I’ve never been aboard the St1300 or the C14, but after tiding a K13GT and owning an FJR, I’d pick the FJR any day.  I didn’t like the GT at all.

The RT, on the other hand, was a dream.


Decisions, Decisions…

With the money from my insurance settlement coming, I really am trying to figure out what to do.  I know I’ll pay off my FJR, but beyond that, I’m not sure which direction to go.

I rode the R1200RT, and absolutely loved it.  But I’d have to trade in my FJR to buy it outright.  I’m also really interested in a Buell 1125r, and I can get an ’09 white/blue one for a pretty good deal.  Good enough so that I can keep the FJR, and buy an 1125r outright.  I have a test ride scheduled for next Saturday on the 1125r.

Assuming I like the power and handling of the 1125r, I’m really in a quandary about which way to jump.  The Buell is the only sportbike that has ergos comfy enough for me to ride regularly, but, on the other hand, the BMW has all those cool amenities like cruise control, ASC, ESA, etc. that I miss on the FJR.

This may be my only chance to get a new bike with someone else’s money, and it’s a very hard decision to make.

Motorcyclist’s 2009 Picks of the Year

The mavens at Motorcyclist magazine have announced the winner of the award for 2009 Motorcycle of the Year, as well as their other picks.

Motorcyclist's Motorcycle of the Year: 2009 Yamaha YZF-R1
Motorcyclist's Motorcycle of the Year: 2009 Yamaha YZF-R1

The bike picking up the top award this year is the Yamaha YZF-R1.

Modern sportbikes are engineered so close to the edge of the performance envelope that we’re conditioned to expect incremental changes: a shaved pound here, an added pony there. It’s almost unimaginable that any sportbike could surprise us with a novel riding experience that realigns our understanding of what a liter-class sportbike is, and what one can do. The 2009 Yamaha YZF-R1 is exactly that sort of bike-which is why it’s our Motorcycle of the Year.

Other notable picks include:

Ben Spies as the Motorcyclist of the year.

The Kawasaki ZX-6R as the best sportbike of the year, closely followed by the Ducati 1198.

The Ducati Streetfighter as the Best Naked Bike, followed by the Harley Davidson XR1200 Sportster.

The Kawasaki Concours14 as the year’s Best Touring Bike, followed by the Harley Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide.

Best Adventure Bike honors go to two BMWs, with the F800GS in the top position, and the R1200GS Adventure in second place.

The Best Dreambike is the Aprilia RSV4, with the BMW S1000RR as the follow-on.

Best Bang For The Buck goes to Kawasaki, with the ER-6n as the winner, and KLX250SF as the second-place finisher.

For Best Cruiser, Motorcyclist goes strictly for muscle this year, with the Star (Yamaha) V-MAX ruling the roost, and the Harley Davidson V-Rod Muscle in the supporting position.

Best Dirtbike is the Husaberg FE450; second best is the Honda CRF450R.

Best New Technology is the Honda Combined ABS system, followed by the Ducati Traction Control.

And, finally, the Best New Product honors go to the Gopro Motorsports Hero Wide Camera, with the Bazzaz Performance Z-FI Traction Control taking the runner-up position.

The Exploding RT, and Boxer Rumors

A reader from South Africa–isn’t the web just amazing!–has sent in an interesting story about his horrific run of bad luck with the R1200RT, and he also asks me an interesting question.  I thought I would address him in a new post instead of the comments.

Hi Dale,

I am a 54 year old bike rider now and in October/November 2006 I purchased my first R1200RT, strickly ran in the bike as recommended, at about 5000 somthing km while running flat out (230km/hr)up a long hill, at sea level, the engine blew up, right hand cylinder it later turned out. BMW Motorrad led me to belive that it was my fault to an extent, they offered me their demmo RT with 355km on the clock at nost cost although this was a 07 model. I completed the running in procedure to 1000km and proceded to enjoy the bike. Planning on doing a long trip with the ODO at just less than 10,000km I had it serviced for its 10K. 3 days after this service and still not on 10K, running the same hill also flat taps as previous the engine blew, again the RH cylinder with identical damage as the first. After a big fight and quite a lot of money I got a new 09 RT full house, ran it in as previous, blew this motor at less than 3000km, only difference I was on a different hill. Yes, the same cylinder with identical damage as the previous 2 bikes. Completely dishartened as I truely love this machine, I had it repaired kept it for a month after which I traded it in on 1200GS. The GS is a different beast, also good but nothing like the RT. Anyway in this time I found out that BMW are bringing out a new RT,to be released in Germany Nov/Dec this year, it’s apparently top secret, I’ve tried searching the web for any bit of info without any success, I’m waiting in anticipation for it as I know I will have it. Perhaps you know what BMW are doing and could advise me!

Also please advise if you know about other RT owners blowing their motors, especially the R/H cylinders.

Regards
Deryck Siddons
South Africa

Your story is horrific, Deryck.  Actually, it sounds outlandish, because I’ve never heard of the RT, or any other of the boxers, having a problem with the cylinders blowing.  Now, if you’d told me that your final final drive started spewing lubricant and bursting into flame, I’d have nodded my head and said, “Yeah, that seems to be going around.”  There’s been a lot of controversy over BMW’s final drive in the 2005 and 2006 models, and whether there was a fundamental design flaw that BMW refused to acknowledge, but quietly fixed.  But I’ve never heard of any sort of problem with the boxer engine, which is, after all, going on its ninth decade as BMW’s banner power plant.

Indeed, here in the states, we have something called the Iron Butt Association (IBA), where motorcycle riders take their bikes on a ridiculously long trips in a ridiculously short time.  The three big IBA events are the SaddleSore 1000 (1,000 miles/1,600 km in 24 hours), BunBurner 1500 (1500 miles/2400 km in 24 or 36 hours), and the 50cc Quest (coast-to-coast in 50 hours).  In the last Iron Butt Rally (11,000 miles/17,600 km in 11 days) in 2007, 5 of the 72 participants who completed the Rally were riding R1200RTs.

So, you seem particularly unlucky.  I suggest that you not take up piloting helicopters.  Or skydiving.

I’m just saying.

The New BMW R1300RT?
The New BMW R1300RT?

As for rumors of a new R-Bike from BMW…well, I wasn’t going to actually write anything about this, but I actually have heard something about a new R1300RT.  As far as I know, the only place where this has been reported is at a French motorcycle news web site called MotoStation.  Back in February, they reported that BMW was working on a new R1300RT for release in June 2010.

They even have a photoshop of the new bike…and you can believe as much of that picture as you please.

Interestingly, they also say that the R1300RT will switch over to the same type of boxer motor as that which powers the current HP2 Sport, with its two camshafts, instead of the current single camshaft.  That should up the horsepower to around 130HP, with…oh, let’s call it 95-100 lb-ft (13.1-13.8Kgm) of torque.  More or less.

Whether all this is real or not, I really can’t say.  You know how some of the motorcycle web sites are.  In the UK, MCN has been predicting a new model of the Honda Interceptor (VFR) every year for five years.  They’ve become a joke because of it, at least on that issue.

So, yes, there’s rumored to be a new 1300cc boxer for the RT in the works at BMW for next year, which is to say the 2011 model year.  Whether those rumors are true, I really can’t say.  MotoStation is the only place that’s reporting this, and they haven’t made mention of it again since February.  If it’s true, then they’re doing a good job of keeping this hush-hush in Bayern.

I am, however, deliriously proud of myself for converting the English measurements to the heathen  metric system for you.

Yakima PD Dumps Harley

Harley-Davidson has seen a lot of competition for the police bike market over the last few years, most notably from BMW, starting with the R1100RT-P to R1200RT-P.  Honda has been making inroads on Harley’s market share, too.

Yakima, Washington is now is the latest police agency to dump the Harley bikes they’ve been riding, to switch to the Honda ST1300-P.

The California Highway Patrol’s dismissal of the HD bikes in favor of the R1100RT-P back in 1997 was the first major blow to harley’s dominance of this market in the US–although Kawasaki had made some inroads with the CHP with the Kawasaki 1000 Police Bike.  And once the CHP made the switch, most other agencies went along with it too, either wholly or in part.  And, since California tends to be a trendsetter in police operations, as in popular culture, that gave BMW a big and continuing boost with agencies all across the country.

It’s difficult to see how the MoCo reverses this trend with their current lineup of bikes.  Police bikes generally have to do things that civilian bikes usually don’t. As Yakima PD spokesman Sgt. Gary Jones puts it:

“We have to be able to go over the curb, sidewalk ditches and [the] low ground clearance on Harley got hung up on breaking the stand kicks,” said Sgt. Jones.

Apparently, reliability was an issue to, as the (poorly written) story notes:

Riding more than 50,000 miles [per year], officers say, the Harley Davidson’s only lasted a few years and maintenance was costly. Agility is a top priority for the way police use motorcycles.

The trouble with Harley’s touring bikes, which are the generally used models for police purposes, is that they reflect design trends of 60 years ago.  Now that’s something about which HD is proud, and it’s also a key selling point for their rider community.  But that very design makes them, in the modern world, less suitable for police use when more up-to-date bikes are available, with their shorter wheelbases, higher ground clearance, lighter weight (not that the ST1300 is a lightweight bike by any means), and significantly better handling and performance.

The Buell division does make the Ulysess available in a police model, and that seems like a fine choice, especially for rural agencies, where dual-sport capability might be a positive point.  But it’s not particularly well suited for a daily urban environment, sine the bike’s tall height is somewhat inconvenient for constant stop and go riding.

What HD does have going for it the tendency among some government agencies to buy American, but that’s solely a political, not technical decision. Having been a Harley owner, and having ridden the Sportster, Road King, and ElectraGlide, I’d take the R1200RT over those bikes any day if performance and handling ability are a major criterion.

It’s hard to see how the MoCo stays competitive in this market over the long term–except, of course, for the politics of “Buy American”.

Germany Attacks Japan!

Ever since BMW announced it would begin producing a liter-class sportbike to compete with the Japanese, people have been waiting for the BMW S1000RR.  The one question was what the price would be, as BMWs tend to be a bit more…extravagantly priced than their competitors.  Those questions are now answered.  And the price is competitive.  So is everything else.

We’re very pleased to announce the pricing on the 2010 BMW S 1000 RR: MSRP*: $13,800.00

Options:

  • Race ABS (excluding DTC): $1,000.00
  • Race ABS and Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) Combined: $1,480.00
  • Gear Shift Assistant: $ 450.00
  • Anti Theft Alarm: $ 395.00
  • Motorsports Paint Scheme: $ 750.00

The options include either standalone new 4-stage Race ABS or Race ABS combined with multi-stage Dynamic Traction Control. Other must have options include the truly awesome Gear Shift Assistant that allows clutchless upshifts during acceleration, Anti Theft Alarm and the WSBK-inspired Motorsports Paint Scheme. This new Superbike from BMW weighing only 404 lbs, and putting out a massive 193 hp, is one of the most potent, sophisticated and lightest sport bikes ever unleashed on the planet. The new S 1000 RR is the most powerful production 1000cc sport bike in the world.

So, let me see if I for this right.  BMW is going to put out a 404 lb. bike with 193HP, and they are going to charge just $800 more than Honda’s 178-horsepower  CBR1000RR?  That’s pretty aggressive pricing.

The styling is pretty aggressive, too.  It’s not bad looking, either, if you don’t mind that the headlights look like a pirate with a squinty eye.

All in all, it looks like another German act of aggression.  And, at 193HP, I think that it needs a suitable nickname.  I propose the name “Kalmarmörder”.*

____________________

*Squid killer.

BMW R1200RT Second Thoughts

So, now that a day or two has gone by, I find myself having some second thoughts about the R1200RT test ride I took.  But, not second thoughts in the way you might expect.  What I keep remembering about the K1300GT is that when I went back into the dealership after my test ride, my first word to the salesman was, “Ick.”

Pure Bavarian Pleasure
Pure Bavarian Pleasure...in black.

I really can’t get over how much I didn’t like that bike compared to the RT.  I came back from the RT test ride with a huge grin on my face.

And, keep in mind, I was the first person to take that bike on a ride.  It had 7 miles on the odometer, and brand new tires.  BMW hadn’t even given the clearance for that bike to be used as a test bike, though the dealer had submitted the paperwork.  The sales guy had to call the owner to get permission for me to take it out, which he graciously granted.

So, I didn’t really get to wind the bike up to see what it would do.  I kept the RPMs down below 5k (though my understanding is that is where the bike really takes off)m and I had to keep it very restrained in the twisty segment I took it on, because of the new tires.

And I still came back with this big, old, stupid grin on my face.

So, my second thoughts have really been on the order of:

1. I don’t need the crappy 30-watt BMW stereo for $2,000.  For $400-$500, I can get an audio shop to stick in some marine speakers, a hefty amp, and hookups for my portable XM unit and iPod.

2. The dyno results for the stock RTs I’ve seen show that they have about 102HP at the rear wheel, and about 80 lb/ft of torque.  So, let’s say I put a high capacity K&N filter and a Remus or Staintune full exhaust.  What will that get me?  Maybe 107HP and 83 lb/ft of torque?  Is it worth the 1300 bucks?  I dunno.

3.  What would the bike feel like if I could ride out with my regular FJR style?  Would it feel wimpy in comparison?  Again, I dunno, but I’d like to find out.

Still, even with the relatively sedate paces I put it through, I really liked it far better than the GT.

I’m thinking black would be the best color…

Test Rides: BMW K1300GT and R1200RT (Updated)

I spent the afternoon test riding both the K1300GT and the R1200RT.  I rode the same route I take to work, which, as I’ve mentioned before, is 1/3 city streets, 1/3 highway, and 1/3 twisty country roads.

Here are my impressions.

Both bikes have far superior handling to the FJR.  It’s not a matter of “hey, this is pretty nice”.  It more a matter of “Holy SH!t!  So this is how a motorcycle is supposed to handle!”  The FJR is a nimble bike for its size, but the handling of the BMWs made the FJR seem like riding a…uh…thing that doesn’t handle as well.

Sorry, the simile well ran dry, there.

The RT handles far better than the GT.  The GT handles really nice, but on the RT, going through the twisties, it was like the bike knew where it was supposed to go without me doing anything.  It runs like its on rails.  It falls right into the precise line you want, just when you want it to.  The GT was as obedient to steering input as you could ask for, but unlike the RT, it didn’t seem to anticipate.  The RT handled like it was reading your mind, not just obeying your inputs.  I think I could ride the RT or the GT equally fast in the twisties, because the RT is a step better in handling.  I just wonder where in the RT BMW installs the demon that reads the road ahead of you and prepares the bike to turn.

The GT has a superbly smooth engine.  It responds instantly to throttle input with no hesitation.  Twist, zoom, “oh, look, we’re doing 110 miles per hour.”  The RT responds much slower, and the Boxer engine has far more vibration.  It also has tons of torque in every gear.  If you’re stopped at a light, leaning on one leg, and you blip the RT’s throttle, the bike stands up straight as the torque hits.  It’s really noticeable.  Still, with the RT, you can sneak up on 110MPH without really trying either.  Just not as fast as the GT or FJR.  The RT engine growls, the GT engine screams.

But I now understand what the RT guys are talking about when the speak of the “character” of the boxer twin.  It growls and vibrates at low RPM, and burbles happily at freeway speeds.  Kick it down to fifth on the highway, twist the throttle, and it passes smoothly.  Shift back up into 6th, and it’ll just cruise along at 90MPH without a complaint.

The GT has a really touchy throttle.  Touch it, and you’re at 6000 RPM instantly.  That’s a bit unnerving at first, and really makes you pay attention to clutch control.  The GT accelerates faster than than the FJR, but there’s something…boring about it in comparison.  It’s as if the GT is saying, “Yes, I can go from 0 to 100MPH in 5 seconds.  Big deal.  It’s what I do.”  There’s all this acceleration, and…it just doesn’t impress you like the FJR does.  I can’t really describe it, other than to say the GT was more boring than I thought it would be, speed notwithstanding.  That was the biggest surprise of the day.  The FJR is just a more fun bike than the GT.  I wouldn’t have thought that would be true, but there you go.

The GT sucks in the comfort department.  The narrow seat just jams itself up your crotch.  It’s every bit as comfortable as sitting on a split-rail fence.  Well, that’s probably not a totally fair comparison.  The GT doesn’t leave splinters.  But other than that, it’s the same.  The pegs are also too high for real comfort.  It’s not different enough from the RT to notice it just sitting in the showroom, but after 45 minutes on each, the seat and higher pegs begin to irk you noticeably.  The FJR is a far more comfortable bike to ride than the GT, but the RT edges out the FJR in comfort.  The RT is Cadillac comfortable.  With the GT, you sit perched on top of the bike, like a canary riding the shoulder of an insane pirate.  With the RT, you feel like you’re inside bike, luxuriously cosseted in a comfy, smooth saddle that gently massages your bum.

Other than sheer acceleration, the RT struck me as a superior motorcycle to the FJR in almost every other way.

Except the rear-view mirrors.  Great mirrors on the GT; in the perfect position.  The RT, on the other hand, has the mirrors set low, giving you a perfect view of the ends of the handlebars.  Perhaps the BMW engineers wanted to be sure you could check your gloves frequently, so you would notice if a bug hit your knuckle armor, causing an unsightly soil on the leather.  Or perhaps to check and see if a flying stone struck your bar ends, leaving behind a nasty scratch on the perfect black enamel.  Because other than that, the rear-view mirrors on the RT are essentially useless.

But, frankly, that’s a fairly minor quibble.

I went into the test rides today, firmly convinced that I wanted a K1300GT.  I rode the RT mainly as a favor to the sales guy who said I really owed it to myself to compare the two bikes.  I came back from the RT test ride with a huge grin on my face, utterly surprised to like everything about the bike.  I came back from the GT test ride thinking I’d rather have my FJR.  I am still a little bit amazed at how much I like the RT, and how underwhelming the GT actually was to ride.

UPDATE: I took another test ride of the R1200RT the following week, and added more detailed impressions of the RT here.