This is what the touring part of sport-touring is all about--racking up miles in comfort and with ease. The BMW's seat, while wide and having the right density, has a distinct forward tilt that forces your butt up against the gas tank, splaying your knees around the bulbous bodywork. And while the taller bar on our test bike was great, the seat/bar/peg relationship gets all screwy because you end up sitting so far forward. Wind protection on our taller-screen-equipped R1100S was the best of the bunch; the windblast was felt only at neck level and above. The boxer twin vibrates the most of the four bikes, especially under acceleration. And our test unit had a peculiar surging vibration between two and three thousand rpm, noticeable mostly around town. But on the highway this rev band--which translates to between 60 and 70 miles per hour in top gear was uncannily smooth.
The Ducati has the narrowest cockpit of the quartet, as you'd expect with a slim V-twin. Our testers noted that it's a fair reach to the ST4's bar, with a bit of weight placed on your wrists. And while the ergos are definitely the raciest of the four bikes, it's still plenty comfortable for a long haul. The Ducati's fairing offers decent wind protection, with gusts being felt only on our rider's shoulders and higher. The 916 mill provides perfect primary balance characteristics and is nice and smooth, provided you avoid lugging the engine in the upper gears. Attempting to roll the throttle on at less than 4000 rpm will get the whole show shaking like thrasher McQuide's knees must have been after he crashed the ST4 in a gravel-strewn corner.
The ergonomics of the Honda are similar to that of the ST4, with the VFR's seat having marginally better support and being a bit roomier. One tester noted the VFR is "ergonomically correct," with the seat/bar/peg relationship falling into place naturally. Wind protection on the Honda is slightly less than the Ducati's, with the windblast hitting the rider in the upper chest area. The VFR800FI offers exceptional smoothness from the V-4 mill, although it has a tendency similar to--although not nearly as bad as--that of the Ducati. Lug the motor in the higher gears and it gets the shakes.
Triumph's Sprint is definitely a bike you sit in rather than on. The wide seat combines with a fairly long reach to the bar and high pegs to give a semi-racy but roomy and comfortable feel. Riders measuring more than six feet tall will feel a bit cramped; the fairing sides extend back far enough to interfere with a taller person's knees. The low windscreen offers wind protection similar to the VFR but the extra width of the Sprint's screen provides a bit more coverage of your torso. And the Sprint ST is vibration-free aside from a slight tingling in the bar felt at excessive highway speeds. Our thrashers noted more than once that they hit the triple's rev-limiter without realizing the motor was spinning so high.
Gauges and control layouts of our foursome vary as wildly as the countries the bikes originate from. The BMW's simple gauges consist of just a tachometer and speedo (in addition to the usual lights and odometers), with a large LCD clock just below. Since it's the sporty Beemer, we'll overlook the absence of a fuel gauge, although each bike in the remaining trio has one. The Ducati offers a small LCD panel just below the dial gauges which incorporates a clock, a bar-type fuel gauge and a temperature gauge. The setup is a bit low on the dash and requires that you look away from the road quite a bit to see what's what. Similarly, the Honda's gauge package has an LCD panel off to the side of the dials, and in addition to a bar-type fuel gauge and clock, the VFR's temperature gauge toggles between engine and ambient temps. The Triumph gauges are more old-school, with dials for fuel and engine temperature. The fuel gauge on our unit read pathetically low all the time (showing a half tank shortly after we had filled up), but this is not typical of other Triumphs we've tested. The Sprint's LCD clock is recessed too far into the dash to see in the daylight and it's a bit small to read quickly.
And finally, who will have to stop for gas first? Surprise! The BMW, with its smallish tank and mediocre mileage figures, will be dry in approximately 185 miles. The VFR will last slightly longer with a range of 209 miles, while the Ducati and Sprint riders can log about 240 miles each before a fuel stop (the Ducati due to its extra large tank and the Sprint by virtue of slightly better mileage figures).