There was a time, 15-20 years ago before the rise in popularity of super-versatile adventure bikes, when sport tourers such as Honda’s old VFR750F, were, along with ubiquitous supersports 600s like the CBR600F, the most popular bikes of all.
Machines like the VFR along with Suzuki’s RF900F, Triumph’s Sprint, Kawasaki’s ZX-9R along with BMW’s K1100RS were among the most popular bikes around due to their mix of credible sporting ability, real world versatility and comfort and impressive specification.
During the last decade, however, the breed seems to have fallen into decline; the ‘sensible’ image seeming of bikes like Triumph’s last Sprint GT a little dowdy in-between full-on superbikes or gizmo-laden adventures.
But now, with the arrival of Ducati’s new Supersport, BMW’s revived R1200RS and more, the breed is making something of a comeback – and it’s not difficult to see why. With the latest superbikes sometimes too extreme for the road and more and more adventures now being 150bhp+ goliaths with the price tags to match the appeal of real world, affordable yet invigorating sport tourers has been rekindled and there’s now more to choose from than in years. To help you choose, here’s our current pick of the best – in ascending price order…
If the CBR-F designation sounds familiar, that’s entirely deliberate. Honda first revived the CBR600F in 2011 as a fully-faired, real-world sportster based on the then 600 Hornet roadster, in an attempt to recreate a bike with the all-rounder appeal of the original ‘90s CBR – and it almost worked. With its then CBR600RR an uncompromising, full-on sportster there was now room for a more affordable, simple and versatile middleweight sports-tourer with an equally more affordable price tag. That bike, though useful, was a little bland and budget. A 2014 update into 650 form brought more style and performance while a further update last year, boosting power to 90bhp and sharpening its look made it better still. The result is a brilliant middleweight that’s both a fun, affordable, first big bike and a no fuss all-rounder that can be a city commuter, fun Sunday scratcher or even half-decent two-up tourer. It’s still a little budget-looking, but at under £7500 it’s also a brilliant buy.
On the one hand, BM’s parallel-twin sports-tourer is about as sensible as bikes get, not to mention a little bland as well. But on the other, it’s very easy to make the case that the affordable, versatile GT is all the bike most people need – and with the added bonus of a BMW badge, to boot. First launched in 2013 based on BM’s by then proven F800 parallel twin platform, the GT produces 90bhp, has great ergonomics and comfort thanks to its decent screen, tons of luggage and luxury options are available and it even handles sweetly and is reasonably engaging, too. In short: What’s not to like? The flip side of that is that the GT is hardly a bike to send you a-quiver or that you’d lust after, either – it’s far too sensible for that. But if your head rules your heart, for the money, there’s little better.
One of the UK’s sales success stories of the past decade and it’s easy to see why thanks to its mix of 140bhp, four-cylinder performance, real world comfort and practicality and great sub-£10K price. All of which makes its somewhat half-hearted arrival in 2010 all the more surprising. The SX was originally launched as a half-faired version of Kawasaki’s ZX-9R-powered super naked roadster, the Z1000 and, because of that lineage, with more-than decent performance, OK looks, tons of practicaliy and, more than anything, all at a great price, it proved an immediate hit. Best of all, Kawasaki have successively updated and improved it ever since without losing any of that original appeal. In 2014 it gained improved brakes, suspension, ergonomics and new power modes, while a new touring version came with bespoke panniers. While, in 2017 there came subtle revisions, sharpened looks, more sophisticated electronic rider aids and more – and all still for the same brilliant price. For the money, you simply don’t get more for the money.
It’s be easy to suggest Suzuki’s GSX-S double-act (the GSX-S1000 naked is based on the old GSX-R1000K5 powertrain, while the F is the half-faired sport tourer variant) is the result of Suzuki effectively copying Kawasaki’s Z1000/Z1000SX formula – but considering the popularity of the Zeds we can’t blame them. In most respects they’ve done a good job, too. The K5-derived long-stroke engine is grunty yet still 145bhp fast; with decent, fully-adjustable suspension, handling is precise an impressively cultured; there’s a full-LCD dash, cormfort and practicality is good and, like the Kawasaki, it’s good value, too. That said, though a good bike, we’d still plump for the Kawa due to its combination of extra refinement and (slightly) higher spec, proven mechanicals and, for our money, slightly more appealing looks – it’s close, though.
Another big sales success story in recent years has been that of Yamaha’s Tracer. Produced in both 700 twin and 900 triple forms, the first, called the MT-09 Tracer, came in 2015 and was an instant, Europe-wide, sales hit. That bike was essentially the budget but 115bhp lively and fun MT-09 roadster with a half-fairing and revised ergonomics. The result was affordable, fun, practical and an instant success. That bikes was first renamed simply the Tracer 900 then, for 2018, got suspension and ergonomic updates, 60mm longer swingarm and adjustable screen and seat while it’s also been joined by this higher spec GT version which is differentiated by its uprated, fully adjustable suspension (so solving one of the few criticisms of the stock Tracer), fancy TFT colour dash, heated grips, quickshifter, cruise control and colour-matched panniers, all for £1400 more than the stocker. It all makes it a brilliant sports-tourer but also puts it into Z1000SX territory, price-wise, the difference, essentially being between a lighter, more manageable,115bhp triple or a full-bore, 140bhp, heavyweight four. You pays your money…
The news, in 2014, that Honda was reviving its classic VFR800, V4 sport tourer after nearly 10 years was greeted with more than a little excitement. The reality, though, was a little underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, the new VFR isn’t a bad bike – far from it. But in being little more than a face lifted and mildly updated version of the old, nor is it what most were hoping for. Put those prejudices to one side, however, and the VFR remains classy, classic Honda V4 all-rounder. The updated looks are as subtle, handsome and classy as ever; the annoying old underseat pipes are gone; it’s a full 7kg lighter and better handling and it retains its peerless sense of class thanks to its slick build and purring 105bhp. On the downside it lacks the electronic rider aids and sheer performance of more modern rivals and isn’t as cheap as some of those, either. Yes, it’s a nice, versatile sport-tourer that’ll please VFR fans and revive memories of the classic, old 1990s 750s, but it’s not as up to date and competitive as it could and probably should have been, either.
There are few more evocative and revered names in motorcycling than that of BMW’s original RS – the 1976 R100RS. That bike, thanks mostly to its striking, angular, aerodynamic fairing, pretty much introduced the concept of a classy sport tourer by virtue of its blend of striking looks, alluring comfort and superbike performance – enough to make it one of the poster bikes of the mid-1970s. All of which means tis latest reincarnation has a lot to live up to and, although not intended as a flagship model in quite the same way and with more subtle, budget overtones, for the most part, as a classy all-rounder, it succeeds. It’s basically a half-faired version of BM’s latest R1200R roadster, complete with the latest, 125bhp, liquid-cooled version of BMW’s classic boxer twin. But with lively performance and handling, great comfort and decent looks of the BMW R1200RS and it all adds up to something more. Admittedly in this base form, it is fairly basic. But if you can stretch to the Sport SE version (at £14,065) which comes with Dynamic ESA, centrestand, heated grips, quick shifter and more, plus add-on some luggage, and the RS becomes a truly brilliant (and classy) all-rounder.
The Italian firm single-handedly rekindled a wave of interest in the sport tourer class when it introduced its all-new (and confusingly named) SuperSport in 2017. Intended to reinterpret the road-sports style and versatility of its old 900 and 750SS SuperSports, Ducati’s newcomer may, at a glance, have Panigale superbike style looks, but they mask it’s more modest 113bhp performance (power comes from the Hypermotard-sourced 937cc V-twin; more relaxed posture and ergonomics and significantly more affordable price. It’s still a Ducati, of course, so handles and entertains as well as any full-bloodied Italian, but it’s also less demanding and extreme and capable more capable of two-up trips and touring. It even has an adjustable screen. The standard version costs under £12K but if you want your ‘real world’ Ducati slightly more exotic, the S version, at £12,995, gets fully-adjustable Ohlins suspension front and rear and a quick shifter/blipper. One of the sportiest of sport tourers, true, but then we wouldn’t expect anything less from Ducati, now would we?
No bike reflects the modern journey of Austrian firm KTM from hooligan off-road specialists to ultra-sophisticated, performance packed mainstream manufacturer, than that of the latest Super Duke GT. I’ll explain: KTM first moved into the litre-class road bike mainstream with its first V-twin-powered 950 Adventure in 2003. The first roadster variant, the 990 Super Duke, a hooligan riot of power, skids and wheelies, followed soon after. Then, in 2013, KTM stepped up a gear with its 1190 Adventure and new Super Duke 1290 R the following year, both introducing unforeseen performance and slick rider electronics to their respective classes. The Super Duke GT came in 2016 and, like the 990 SM-T, is effectively a more practical, half-faired version of the Super Duke. In that sense it’s a bit like Kawasaki’s Z1000SX in being a more subtle, more practical version of a nutty naked. The difference here is that the GT is a riotous, 173bhp V-twin, following an update it’s electronics and spec are pretty much as good as they get and, at over £16K, it has the price to match, too. It’s not the slickest, most comfortable or most sensible of sport tourers, but the GT is certainly ‘The Most’ in other ways…
Kawasaki set out to make a statement when it introduced its astonishing, supercharged, H2 (road/200bhp) and H2R (track/300bhp) double act in 2015 and boy did they achieve just that. But for most, it’s 2018’s H2 SX sport tourer version, with a slightly softer version of the 999cc supercharged four, that’s the most compelling offering. It works, too: on and off full gas the blower spins up (or chirps down) with simply addictive dynamism; the handling is competent and precise, the looks just as radical and the comfort and practicality as good as any big all-rounder. It’s the thrill of the blower, though, that makes it unique. The base model is temptingly affordable (well, as much as any £15K bike can be) but it’s the higher spec SE version, at just over £18, complete with full-colour TFT dash, cornering lights, quick shifter and more, which is the one that stands out most. A true king among sport tourers, with the expensive tastes to match…