Think conventional sports-tourers – bikes that blend sporting excitement with a degree of long distance comfort and versatility – are no more? Mature, sophisticated all-rounders such as Honda’s lamented VFR750F V4, Suzuki’s RF900 and Yamaha’s FJ1200 were the backbone on British motorcycling in the 1990s but have largely fallen by the wayside. While, to a large degree, the surging popularity of adventure bikes such as BMW’s R1200GS, which mix distance ability with decent equipment and day-to-day ability have filled the void.
In truth, though, the traditional sports-tourer has recently been making something of a quiet comeback. Honda’s VFR resurfaced as the revamped VFR800F in 2014, Suzuki introduced its half-faired GSX-S1000F the following year with BMW re-introducing a new version of its classic R1200RS boxer the same year. An all-new Ducati (SS) came last year while Kawasaki’s best-selling Z1000SX was also updated again and there’s many more, too.
What we haven’t included here, though, are bargain all-rounders such as Honda’s CBR650F or Kawasaki’s Ninja 650 which put budget price before brilliance, nor hyperbikes such as Suzuki’s enduring or Kawasaki’s ZZR1400 which motorway speed over true versatility. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of choice – so much in fact that we decided to help out by picking – in ascending price order – our 10 of the best.
BMW F800GT, £8500
Although at the bottom end of this price band and, with BMW also offering the R1200GS, the GT also represents the German marque’s more budget option, the F800GT earns its pace simply because it is a BMW. The Bavarian manufacturer knows probably more than anyone when it comes to making brilliant touring machines and also offer a luxury customer experience and options list second to none. And while the GT may ‘only’ be a 90bhp parallel twin it’s truly a brilliant sports-tourer. Nimble and unintimidating thanks to being a full 46kg lighter than the RS it’s also comfortable, flexible and long-distance comfortable. And, being a BMW, if you spec it up with ESA electronic suspension, heated grips, luggage and more, it’s pretty luxurious, too.
Kawasaki Z1000SX, £9999
A UK best-seller due to its combination of versatility, fun and impressive value ever since original introduction into the UK in 2010, the SX, on face value, is ‘only’ a Z1000 super naked with the addition of a fairing. In reality though, and partly due to two significant updates since (in 2014 and 2017), it’s so much more than that. The base, four-cylinder, 140bhp rolling chassis is lively and fun; comfort and practicality due to the fairing and slightly more upright riding position is good, and, at still under £10K, it remains brilliant value. What’s more, the updates since (2014 brought revised ergonomics, suspension and brakes plus added traction control, power modes and new bespoke luggage, while 2017 saw further updated electronics, tweaked styling and Euro4 compliance) have kept it on top without sacrificing any of that value. A Touring spec version (with panniers, GPS bracket and tank pad, costs just £10,699 while a Performance variant (with can, pillion pad cover and tank pad), is just £10,999.
Suzuki GSX-S1000F, £10,299
A bit of a latecomer to the class having only been introduced in 2015 and because of that often over-looked. But in following Kawasaki’s Z1000SX template in being a faired sports-tourer version of a naked (in this case the GSX-S100S) in turn derived from a sports bike (the old GSX-R1000K5), the Suzuki has a lot going for it. The GSX-R bit means it’s 150bhp fast yet still a decent handler with fully-adjustable suspension; the upright riding position and almost full fairing makes it long distance comfortable; it’s decently equipped with full LCD dash, 3-way traction control and more and is well-priced as well. All it lacks, in fact, is the Z1000SX’s heritage and refinement. (An FT version with tank and tail bag plus heated grips costs £10,699 while the blacked-out FZ is £10,499.)
Yamaha Tracer 900GT, £10,649
One of our bikes of the year. New models don’t come with much better pedigrees than the new-for-2018 Tracer 900GT. It dates back to the Yamaha-redefining, all-new MT-09 three-cylinder roadster of 2013. That bike was such a success for its purity, fun and value that it spawned the more roomy, half-faired MT-09 Tracer sports-tourer in 2015 which immediately became a Europe-wide best seller for the comfort and versatility it added to the base package. only for a slightly basic spec and over-soft front forks, those have now been remedied with this fully revamped Tracer 900GT. Apart from the fully-adjustable suspension, TFT screen, heated grips, quick-shifter, cruise control and pannier set that defines the GT, the new Tracer also has improved bodywork and seat of the base version (which costs £9249) yet all still with the same sweet handling, lively yet unintimidating 115bhp triple and decent value. In short, the GT has it all. In fact the only things it conceivably lacks are the kudos and stature of some larger, more expensive machines…
Honda VFR800F, £11,229
For many of a certain age, the original, final VFR750F of 1994-1998 remains one of the best bikes ever built due to its mix of incomparably refined and versatile V4 powertrain, smooth chassis and peerless class. Sadly, its fuel-injected, 800cc successors weren’t quite as dominant and the final V-TEC version was quietly dropped in 2010. In 2014, however, it made an eagerly anticipated comeback with new styling, lighter chassis and much of the originals allure. In truth, it proved to be not quite the step up many hoped it would be and lacks the electronic riding modes and some of the luxury we’ve now become accustomed to – with just 104bhp it’s nowhere near as sophisticated (or fast) as Kawasaki’s Z1000SX, for example. That said, the VFR’s still an able, quietly classy Sports-tourer that reminds of the old with a swish dash and classy styling and build.
BMW R1200RS, £11,440
Legions of BMW boxer fans had been yearning for a capable, new RS (BM’s sports-tourer designation, highlighted by the original R100RS of 1976-1989) for years, especially since the preceding R1100/1150RS (1993), R1200ST (2005) and R1200S (2006) all failed to quite hit the mark. Finally, in 2015, and based around the German marque’s latest, liquid-cooled, 125bhp twin, they delivered. Basically a R1200R roadster with a half-fairing and tweaked ergonomics, the RS succeeds by going back to basics yet also being much more than just the sum of its parts: the R was already fine-handling (thanks partly to the switch back from to conventional telescopic forks) with a punchy, brisk powertrain; the RS adds to that with comfort and class at a good price – not to mention BM’s usual and alluring options list. The result is classic sports-tourer – easy, smooth, engaging and versatile – with the bonus of a BMW badge and as many luxury extras such as luggage as you fancy. What’s not to like?
Ducati S, £12,995
When its all-new SuperSport was introduced in 2017 it’d been a long time since Ducati had offered a street-style ( not adventure-orientated ) sports-tourer. The underrated ST series (ST2, ST4 and ST3) was quietly dropped in 2007 while the last, previous street sports, the SS series in 600, 750, 800, 900 and 1000cc forms, met a similar fat a year earlier. But boy is it back. Now based around a retuned, 113bhp version of the 939cc / 950 liquid-cooled V-twin and with a slightly less full-on chassis and ergonomics (although still with styling), in truth its more ‘street sports’ than true, long-distance, sports-tourer, but with luggage options, sophisticated electronics and that name on the tank, for many it will be close enough. The S is the sportier version with Ohlins suspension, quick shifter but the base version is almost as alluring at a more affordable £11,795.
Yamaha FJR1300A, £14,299
The big FJR13 has got to be one of the longest-living new bikes currently available and is arguably the only survivor of the class of big Japanese sports-tourers that were so popular in the late ‘90s/early Noughties – but don’t let that put you off. First launched as an all-new successor to the much-loved FJ1200 in 2001 it had – along with slightly dubious styling – all the requisites of a classic, heavyweight, do-it-all bike. Namely: and 143bhp fast transverse four motor; big 15-litre tank; shaft drive; reasonable chassis; plenty of comfort and weather protection plus all the usual distance options of luggage, heated grips etc. All that’s still true today. Thankfully, though, it’s been significantly updated twice since, too, with styling updates and plenty of refinement. There’s even a version with electrically adjustable suspension (the FJR1300AE at £16,599) and even a unique, gearshift (the FJR1300AS for £17,0990). The base bike, though, although heavy and imposing, still has it all – no wonder it remains so popular with the police and emergency services.
Kawasaki H2 SX, £15,099
From one slightly bland, uninspiring (but capable) sports-tourer (the FJR) to one that’s excitement made metal that has completely grabbed the consciousness of the motorcycling public – the astonishing, supercharged H2 SX. Born out of Kawasaki’s bonkers 300bhp, H2R project but tempered with common sense and practicality, the H2 SX is effectively the offspring of the H2 and its Z1000SX. The unique, 999cc, supercharged four is a detuned, 200bhp version of the original and while the tubular chassis and single-sided swing arm also remind of that bike, they’ve been redesigned with practicality and two-up comfort in mind. The result is actually quite sensible: a traditional, comfy sports-tourer of the old school with decent sports handling yet brought bang up to date with modern electronics, cycle parts and tech and yet one also with a 200bhp devil on its shoulder – when the supercharger chimes in, although detuned, there are few bigger thrills in street motorcycling. And wind the throttle off and it chirps like nothing else. A hoot. One downside: although the base version is a tempting £15K, you really need the full kudos of the £18K SE with TFT screen, LED lights and more…
KTM 1290 Super Duke GT, £16,299
Like the Kawasaki Z1000SX (and even Suzuki’s GSX-S1000F), the Super Duke GT is really a sports-tourer created out of bolting a fairing onto a super naked – in this case KTM’s completely nutty Super Duke. Being a KTM, however, things aren’t so simple, with the hooligan Austrian firm effectively throwing everything bar the kitchen sink at it in terms of spec, boosting the power to 173bhp and producing, as a result, the lariest, most high tech, hooliganistic sports-tourer around – and also the most expensive. So, the GT ahs only a small fairing/screen and room for small-ish panniers, but it also has the most performance in the category, WP semi-active suspension, class-leading rider aids, rider modes, cornering ABS and more. It might lack the quiet class of some sports-tourers, but if you want to travel in the most dynamic, thrill-laden way possible, this is the one.