Truth be told, any one of these pups will make do on the first day of an extended-weekend romp: your adrenaline is up, confidence is high, nobody's crashed (yet), etc; for the first few hundred miles, there's enough "sport" here to plaster a speed-induced grin on anyone's face. But the second part of a sport-tour is the "tour," after all, and come day two, I found myself looking for bikes to stay off, rather than which bike to get on.
The BMW's cramped footpegs--completely at odds with the excellent touring-spec clip-ons and windscreen--make the bike nearly unrideable if you're the least bit stiff and sore (which I was, but that's another story). The ST4, on the other hand, has both comfy ergos and an excellent engine, but its heavy steering and flaccid front brake are wont to become tiresome--and I'd have a hard time living with its bloated, cyclopean face.
But it's easy to whine when you're not riding the Sprint ST or the VFR. And yet, even when I'm on the Triumph--enjoying its fine, throaty triple, quality saddlebags and roomy confines--I'm thinking about the Honda. Great, growly, V-4 engine? Yes. Nice brakes? Yes. Flickable? Yes. All-day comfort? Yes. Utterly complete, sensible dashboard and controls? Yes.
Did I want to pick something else, because it seems like Motorcyclist always loves the VFR? Yes. Is that reason enough for me to spend $1700 more on a too softly sprung British bike with hard bags? No. --Greg McQuide.
Something bothered me about this test right from the start. Sure I was looking forward to it. I'd ridden only two of the bikes before, and even then only briefly. I wanted so much to like the Beemer and the Duke; the BMW because it looks so sweet and the Ducati because it sounds like a 916. And sure enough, they're great bikes--awesome even. After having heard so many good things about the VFR800FI, I was anxious to throw a leg over it. And it too, is a great scoot. Ditto the Sprint ST. So what was bugging me?
I liked them all, and it came down to the details. The BMW's shaking is way too much for my carpal-tunnel-syndrome-sensitized hands, and I'd be a bit leery of the Ducati's reliability. Too many times I've wanted to ride it and couldn't because it was in the shop. And, both the BMW and the Ducati are way out of my price range, especially if I wanted the Beemer with ABS (which I would).
So that left me with the Honda and the Triumph, and this was my dilemma: The VFR is sporty; the Triumph is toury--pick one. I couldn't figure it out until the very end of the test. But the fact is I wouldn't buy the VFR, I'd buy a VTR or an F4 instead. You'd get even more sportiness and close to the same touring capabilities. And one last ride on the Triumph in the twisties (after I already knew it was a great tourer) showed me how deceptively quick it is and finally convinced me it was the one. Yeah, baby!.
The VFR is perfectly balanced between a hard-core and standard machine, and also holds a significant weight advantage. But I have issues with the fact that Honda doesn't offer factory-authorized hard luggage with the Interceptor. This being the case, I'm forced to DQ the 800, turning the shootout into an all-Euro affair.
The Ducati offers excellent chassis feedback and a proven powerplant. Unfortunately, the ST4 fails to reach its potential due to a number of problems, some minor and some significant. Most notably, however, the Duck lacks the imaginative styling that has been the signature of this Italian manufacturer. BMWs have always impressed me with how well they carry their relatively substantial weight in all types of riding conditions. The R1100S is more than competent, but our test unit was fitted with high bars that didn't work well with the footpeg position, making it the least comfortable of the bunch. My only other gripe is its "corn-soup" yellow motif.
That leaves the handsome Sprint ST as my choice for best in show. It offers light steering and is comfortable with or without a passenger. And the Triumph's three-cylinder powerplant is possibly the smoothest four-stroke I've had the pleasure to flog. Basically, the Trumpet does it all, and at a competitive price..
My first thought when the idea to do this comparison came up was "why not just throw some soft luggage on a CBR1100XX or Hayabusa and call it a day?" But after blasting through more than 600 miles of twisty tarmac in two days, I came to appreciate not just the overall comfort of these machines, or their surprising agility in tight, gnarled canyon roads. No, what I found most appealing after a long day in the saddle was...their factory hard bags. There's nothing like being able to store your belongings in a lockable (and portable) trunk.
Unfortunately this singles out the Honda. While some say the VFR doesn't really belong in this category, I would beg to differ, as it carries many of the same amenities. And when it comes to the "sport" side of sport-touring, the VFR800 has everyone covered. It just bums me that Honda didn't see fit to include hard bags, even as an option.
Choosing between the other three was tough, however. I was drawn to the Beemer's supremely balanced nimbleness on some of the paved goat trails we traversed. And the Duck's righteous exhaust note (and power characteristics) couldn't be overlooked. The Triumph's incredibly torquey motor was highly impressive and it was the most comfortable of the bunch.
In the end, the Sprint ST won out by a hair. The suspension may be a little soft for my taste, but that can be easily remedied. And should you bring along a significant other, the Triumph pillion is best. There's just a little too much to like about the bike and that puts it on top in my book.
This article was originally published in the February 2000 issue of Sport Rider.