Of all the categories of different motorcycles available none is more misunderstood than that of the ‘touring’ bike.
But while the old adage that ‘you can tour on any type of machine’ is undoubtedly true it’s also undeniable that bikes which prioritize long distance comfort, effortless mile-eating ability and have some provision for luggage and pillion carrying require fewer compromises and sacrifices from their riders and potentially make for a more comfortable, enjoyable holiday experience.
It’s also true that many modern touring bikes have come a long way from the wobbly, overweight leviathans of yore. The days of tall, overladen tourers yawing and weaving through the bends are long gone while even the latest ‘full-dressers’, such as Honda’s latest Goldwing and Harley’s new Glides, although still cumbersome, now handle well enough to surprise many a sports bike owners.
And it’s also true that, after a few years of neglect by the major manufacturers, there’s now a wider choice of fully-kitted touring machines, either in standard trim or by optioning touring luggage accessory ‘packs’ than ever before. These can range from affordable lightweights such as Yamaha’s newly-updated, best-selling Tracer 700, to established sports-tourers such as Kawasaki’s also-updated-for-2020 1000SX, right the way up to the latest purpose-built tourers from Yamaha and BMW.
But which is the best? Ultimately, that depends on your specific needs and budget. But to help you choose, here’s BikeSocial’s current pick of 10 of the best for 2020, covering all types and styles, and in price ascending order…
The longer, roomier, bigger-tanked and faired version of Yamaha’s brilliantly punchy and affordable MT-07 roadster twin has been a brilliant bike ever since the launch of the original in 2016, so much so it’s proved a best-seller with over 40,000 sold across Europe. Its combination of novice-friendly proportions, flexible, lively 74bhp performance, a nimble chassis yet also roomy, versatile ergonomics at a little over £7K proved largely irresistible, even though slightly soft suspension, a too low screen and slightly budget build quality meant it wasn’t perfect, either. A ‘GT’ version, with soft panniers and taller screen added to its touring credentials while for 2020 it’s been thoroughly updated to meet Euro5 (without any loss in performance) and also gains a new, one-hand adjustable screen, updated styling, new clocks and, possibly best of all, improved, multi-adjustable suspension making it all feel far less budget than before. While another plus for touring types is Yamaha’s offer of four different accessory ‘packs’, comprising: Sport (chain guard, rad cover, tank pads etc); Urban (top case and mount, USB socket etc), Weekend (soft panniers, high screen, USB and tank pad) and, best of all, Travel (hard panniers, high screen, USB etc), although all, obviously, cost extra.
Triumph’s already brilliant Tiger 800 triple has also received a total makeover for 2020 elevating an adventure-style machine, which was already a great road all-rounder, especially in XR trim, into a brilliant one. And if you get it in the new, road-orientated GT trim with slick TFT dash and cruise and the Pro’s electrically-adjustable suspension with quick shifter and add some Triumph luggage, it’s probably the best 900cc tourer out there, too. Elsewhere, the 900 gets a boosted, enlarged version of the classy, characterful Hinckley triple, revised chassis including new Brembo brakes, smarter bodywork with adjustable screen and big 20-litre tank, plus more comfortable ergonomics and LED lights. Not cheap in top spec form (the base 900 is just £9500) but enough to make you wonder why anyone needs anything bigger.
If you like your tourer with a healthy dose of ‘sports’ there’s few better, and certainly not at the price, than Kawasaki’s 1000SX, which has also just been updated for 2020. First launched in 2010 as the Z1000SX, a faired, more practical derivation of the Z1000 super naked it was an immediate hit for its blend of all-day practicality and comfort, decent sporting ability and sub-£10K value. Impressively updated twice since, in 2014 and 2017, gaining refinement, improved electronics and equipment including uprated brakes, suspension and neatly integrated panniers along the way. While for 2020 it’s been updated again, gaining slightly sharper steering, an improved seat, new TFT colour dash and a new name in-keeping with the rest of Kawasaki’s range (Ninjas being its faired bikes, Zeds its nakeds). The basics, however, have remained unchanged: a grunty but smooth 140bhp four (albeit now into a 4:1 not 4:2 exhaust); natural ergonomics; engaging handling without compromising its all-day comfort and great spec and value. The base version, at £10,299, is still a bargain but go for the Tourer, complete with tall screen, heated grips, tank pad, GPS bracket and colour-matched, integrated panniers and you’ve got one of the best value sports-tourers around. Period.
BMW’s RS sports-tourer may be one of the most iconic boxers of all, the original R100RS stunning the world with its striking aerodynamic fairing when first launched in 1976 but over the years since its successors have had a far more chequered history. Revived again in 2015 as basically the commendable R1200R roadster with a half fairing it morphed into the significantly updated R1250RS, using the new 136bhp ‘ShiftCam’ boxer twin, in 2019. And it’s a brilliantly classy, comfortable and versatile all-rounder, too, arguably, in fact, the best sports-tourer you can buy. The uprated engine, brilliantly flexible and easy yet brisk though it is, is only half the story. There’s improved roomy and comfortable (for two) ergonomics, new bodywork including an easily adjustable (and effective) screen, BMW’s slick new TFT dash and as many luxuries and toys, ranging from heated grips and ESA to slick luggage combos, as your accessories budget will stretch to. But best of all is the slick, refined way it combines sporting fun with BMW’s traditional long-distance class into a completely natural, homogenous and refined package. The base bike starts at just over £12K, but go for the top spec TE and you’ll get a true classy GT among bikes.
If the revived RS model has returned BMW to the top of the sports-tourer class (see above) it’s sister bike, the similarly boxer-powered RT has never been away when it comes to full-blown tourers. Since first being introduced in the late 1970s, the RT has maintained the German marque’s peerless touring tradition, defined by their cossetting tall screen fairings, sumptuous comfort, quality luggage options and durable build including shaft drive, and the latest 1250 ‘ShiftCam’ boxer RT, introduced last year, easily maintains its dominance. Although only the engine differs from the latest R1200RT, which came in in 2014, that bike, with its monster fairing, lavish comfort and equipment and yet easy manner and decent handling, was so far ahead of the rest extra power was all it needed. For all day comfort and class for two, without the imposing bulk and weight of a multi-cylinder full-dresser such as BMW’s own K1600 or Honda’s GoldWing, nothing comes close. And, as with all BMs, if you tick all the options boxes or go for the top-of-the-range models, complete with heated seats and grips, electronic suspension and quality luggage, you’ll quite literally be wanting for nothing.
You might expect a company with such a strong touring tradition as BMW to have more than one credible offering in the sector and they’ve certainly delivered just that. So, in addition to the sports-tourer RS and pure touring RT, BMW’s class-leading, boxer-powered adventure, the R1250GSA, which has more touring ability than many pure tourers, is more than worth a mention here. While the standard R1250GS is already a good enough all-rounder to remain a British best-seller, the adventure version with its extra distance appeal thanks to its larger fairing and fuel tank, not to mention more off-road ability, too, gives those who prefer the adventure bike style a virtually peerless touring machine into the bargain. Yes, it’s tall, thanks to that overlong suspension – and something of a handful at low speed, too, especially when fully laden. But the same, flexible ‘ShiftCam’ boxer and shaft drive, impressive road manners and comfort, great long distance ability (try 300-miles+ to a tankful) and more luggage options than you can shake a very large stick at, it’s also, still, one of the best touring machines you can buy – especially if you want to venture off the beaten track once in a while.
Another update for 2020 – albeit a fairly minor one. Yamaha’s big, four-cylinder FJR may be something of a dinosaur, dating all the way back to 2000, but as a heavyweight touring machine it remains one of the best. With shaft drive, a big, adjustable screen, coordinated panniers and, in AS form, even a clever, clutchless gearshift system, the FJR ticks a lot of touring boxes and has also been significantly refined over the years, most latterly in 2016 when it gained an overdue sixth gear, LED and cornering lights and other refinements. For 2020, however, Yamaha acknowledge that it’s reaching the end of the line so have come up with this ‘Ultimate Edition’, complete with lots of extras and this unique, JPS-reminiscent black and gold colour scheme. The FJR may now be something of an ‘oldie’, but with a grunty 143bhp, solid, secure handling, all the touring features you need plus, still, a pretty decent price, it’s still a ‘goodie’, too.
Another new addition to the touring bike ranks for 2020, albeit one that’s really only a new variant of an existing model. Ducati’s take on the adventure bike debuted in 2010 and broke the mould with its blend of 150bhp superbike performance and revolutionary switchable integrated riding modes and adjustable suspension. The ‘Transformer bike’ was born. Since then it’s been successively, and successfully, updated to include, in ‘S’ trim, semi-active ‘Skyhook’ suspension, improved electronics, increased capacity and power and extra refinement. The stock version remains a brilliantly potent all-rounder – and, with the provision of optional luggage, a decent tourer, too. But for 2020, Ducati has also introduced this new ‘Grand Tourer’ version, which is essentially the stock 1260 S but with all the touring extras already bolted on. So, it gets: a special comfort seat; panniers; centre stand; heated grips; riding lights; keyless filler and tyre pressure monitor as standard along with a unique, touring-style paintjob. Who said Ducati didn’t build tourers?
And who also said giant US retro specialist Harley-Davidson didn’t do new bikes? The Milwaukee-based firm’s latest for 2020 is this, arguably its grandest tourer yet. Less celebrated than the iconic ElectraGlide, the basic RoadGlide shares all the basics of that bike, namely retro ‘full dresser’, three box touring style, Harley’s latest 114 cubic inch ‘Milwaukee Eight’ V-twin, but with a bigger, frame-mounted touring fairing instead of the Electra’s iconic forks-mounted ‘Batwing’ fairing. As such it offers, arguably, even more touring weather protection and comfort and with lighter steering, too. But the new ‘Limited’ version for 2020 goes even further with Harley’s latest ‘Boombox’ infotainment system, larger front wheel and mini ape-hanger bars, uprated Brembo brakes, heated grips and new paint finishes. The result is Harley’s most lavish, best performing but also most sophisticated touring machine yet. Don’t be swayed by those old school looks, the latest RoadGlide tourer has as much sophistication and comfort as any, but still with the characterful American V-twin rumble that sets it apart.
An update to the old 1800 Gold Wing, which first came out in 2001, had been a long time coming but when it arrived in 2018 it proved it was more than worth the wait. Although the characteristic ‘flat six’ engine layout remained, the creamy smooth motor and everything else was all new. Performance was boosted from 116 to 125bhp (although the Wing is more about creamy, effortless torque) and now came with the option of Honda’s brilliant, semi-automatic ‘DCT’ transmission. The chassis, featuring a twin spar aluminium frame with novel ‘Hossack-style’ front end in place of forks, was all-new, too, helped reduce weight considerably and delivers size-defying handling. While, best of all, the level of luxury, sophistication and pampered comfort takes full-dress tourers up another level entirely. The large screen is now fully adjustable; there’s electronics and rider modes aplenty, a dash that wouldn’t look out of place in a luxury limo, masses of luggage space, armchair-like comfort – you name it, the new Wing has got it. Sure, it’s not cheap either (a more basic, top box-less version is available for nearer £20K, but when you’re talking about the touring bike with the most, who’s counting?