Are we there yet?
By the time we had reached our lunch stop on the first day of our ride my verdict was in: BMW would not be winning this test. The numbness and lack of feel from the K12GT was something I couldn't get over. Combine that with the abrupt braking, and I immediately turned my attention to the other two. With the might of the ZX-14 engine at my disposal the Concours was great fun when the miles needed to be shed quickly. Unfortunately the extremely high effort to turn the bike really put a sour taste in my mouth-so much so that it prevented the Concours from taking top honors in my mind. I was never able to get along with the transmission, either. Shifts always felt vague to me and required long throws. Sure, the ergos were great, the brakes were amazing and the motor ripped, but the Yamaha was right there with it-and was an absolute blast when the roads started to bend. Writing this test was a bit of a challenge considering I was the one who went against the majority vote and picked the FJR as my winner, but to me that bike did everything just as well as the Kawi. And it turns, too.
Harsh words from an otherwise mellow manWith each model having electric windscreens, hard bags and tall handlebars I'm left wondering where the "sport" in sport-tourer has gone. Call me old-fashioned, but these are marginal sport-tourers. In fact I don't think the BMW has any place in a sport-touring test. It has a heated seat, for cryin' out loud! Yes, a heated seat. It's also big, has zero front-end feel and the brakes are initially mushy. Where is the "sport" in that? Sorry to offend, but the BMW is a touring bike. The Yamaha FJR was better, but its slow steering tells me it has gained some weight over the past few years. The brakes were strong and the front end had good feel, so it's at least sporty. As long as the revs were high the engine was strong, too. This leaves me thinking the Kawasaki is the sportiest of these sport-tourers and thus my choice. It certainly looks the sportiest. The engine has more power than the other two, and I could access that power no matter where I was in the rev range. The brakes were strong, and other than the front-end gremlin, the suspension and chassis were quite good. The windscreen on the Concours is the best of the three, and the ergonomics are both sporty and all-day comfy. Are each of these bikes good for touring? Yes. But sport-tourers? My toasty-warm butt tells me "maybe."
Do not question the Teutonic engineering!
While these big-bore sport-tour machines unquestionably lean a bit more toward the "tour" part of the market segment, they can still hustle through the twisty bits with surprising speed-all while coddling you with comfort features you can't find on lesser machines. And I'm not just talking about options like heated grips and seats; I'm referring to fairings that keep a lot more fatigue-causing airflow off your body during daylong stints, along with friendly ergos and big fuel tanks that also encourage more mileage per ride.
The BMW has the potential to be a front-runner in this category, but it feels and handles in a relatively ponderous manner compared with the others, its windscreen is poorly designed, and its handlebar switchgear is incredibly crowded. The Yamaha and Kawasaki hit the nail on the head for this category. Although the FJR doesn't suffer from the weird steering habits of the Concours 14, the Kawasaki's superior windscreen/fairing aerodynamics and superb engine make up for a minor issue I'm sure can be cured with a little tire and suspension fiddling. If some serious mileage on a trip were involved, I'd reach for the Concours key fob (after initial skepticism I've grown accustomed to the KIPASS) every time.