How can four motorcycles competing in the same category be so different? Take a look at the engines of our sport-touring combatants: a boxer twin, a V-twin, a V-4 and an in-line triple. Check out their frames: two of the bikes have aluminum-beam frames with single-sided swingarms, one has a steel trellis frame and conventional swingarm and one utilizes a combination steel and aluminum deal with an alternative front fork. Now consider their origins: Germany, Italy, Japan and England.
The sport-touring class, by virtue of not being as performance-driven as the all-out sportbike category, is a haven for things...well, different. Hard numbers aren't as important as concepts such as comfort and cruising distance--although it's difficult for us to not look at these bikes from a distinctly sporting view--and this puts more manufacturers on an even keel with regard to design and execution.
So what do these bikes have in common that might define them as sport-tourers? Well, they all have centerstands (for you hard-core types, a centerstand is similar to a racestand but it's attached to the bike), and each one has some form of fuel injection. Three of the four are available with optional hard bags and all are intended to gobble up miles of twisties with ease.
Nuts and Bolts
A look at the specification sheets for our four sport-tourers--BMW R1100S, Ducati ST4, Honda VFR800FI and Triumph Sprint ST--shows just how deep the differences among them go.
The BMW is powered by the latest version of the R-model boxer twin. More compression, a new exhaust system (with a catalytic converter) and revised fuel injection give the S-model some more ponies. (What's that you ask? Why did we choose the S over the sport-touring RS model? Because we're sportbike freaks, that's why...and the S-model comes with bags and a centerstand, and that is good enough for us.) BMW's Telelever alternative to the fork handles front suspension duties, and a lone linkless shock works the single-sided swingarm, which incorporates the shaft drive to boot. A combination of die-cast aluminum and steel pipe structures makes up the frame and the engine is utilized as a stressed member. Our test unit was fitted with the optional ABS (Antilock Brake System), and a touring package which consisted of a taller windshield, a higher bar and hard saddlebags.
Ducati's ST4 is essentially an ST2 with the more-powerful 916 mill. A steel trellis frame connects the steering head to the V-twin desmo engine, and the swingarm pivots in the rear of the crankcase, leaving the engine as a stressed member. The Ducati has the most up-to-date suspension of our bunch, with the Marzocchi inverted fork and rear shock fully adjustable. Our test unit came equipped with the optional hard bags, which will be made standard equipment for year-2000 ST4s.
The Honda VFR800FI, based on a sportbike from many moons ago, could be considered the sportiest of the group. Its RC45-derived, gear-driven-cam, V-4 engine resides in a pivotless aluminum-beam frame with a single-sided swingarm. Suspension consists of a preload and rebound adjustable shock in the rear, and a preload-adjustable-only fork up front. The Interceptor is graced with Honda's LBS (Linked Braking System), which activates both front and rear brakes with application of either the front lever or the rear pedal. Hard bags are not available as an option for the Honda.
Triumph's Sprint ST features the 955cc transverse-triple motor of the Daytona 955i with different camshafts and exhaust, revised fuel injection and cast pistons working in steel liners (as opposed to forged pistons and coated aluminum liners for the 955i). The engine is housed in an all-new aluminum-beam frame with a single-sided swingarm. The fork is adjustable for preload only, and the rear shock has a remote preload adjuster to go with its rebound-damping clicker.