They say the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and while that may be true, what they fail to mention is that a straight line has to be the most boring path between two points. Clearly the mathematicians who came up with this theory never rode a motorcycle. But motorcyclists are a different breed. We choose to take the longest path to our destinations-usually with plenty of twists and turns along the way. And while we here at Sport Rider love to go fast around a racetrack on the latest and greatest sportbikes (as witnessed by the cover story this month), there is a soft spot in our hearts for a bit of sport-touring. Every so often we get the urge to pack our things, hit the streets and take off for a weekend-adding a bit of adventure to our speed fix. And with the sport-touring segment getting a bit of revitalization as of late, we thought we'd give the latest offerings a try. This time around our journey would take us from our Los Angeles headquarters to the quaint little town of Cambria, located on California's beautiful central coast. Our steeds for this trip? The '08 BMW K1200GT, Kawasaki Concours 14 and Yamaha FJR1300A. On the surface there isn't much separating these machines-all three have more than 1,000cc of four-cylinder thrust to pull them along, shaft drive, ABS, upright seating positions, bags and adjustable windscreens, but there's more to each of these bikes than meets the eye.
The Unanimous Decision
Hop on the BMW K1200GT, and its 32.2-inch seat height actually feels low to the ground. This is largely due to the seat's narrow frontal area. It's nifty feature-along with its heated rider and passenger seats-but during long stints in the saddle that narrow seat becomes uncomfortable. Engine size is 1157cc, the smallest of this bunch, and slanted at a steep 55-degree angle that is partially responsible for its 61.8-inch wheelbase. Despite its small size the K12 engine actually makes more peak horsepower than the Yamaha, though the FJR has it beat at everything under 7500 rpm. Still, from a seat-of-the-pants reaction the BMW engine feels like the least powerful of the bunch and thus scored last on our testers' sheets. With engines this big, twisting the throttle should push the rider back in the seat, and on the BMW it simply doesn't.The BMW has decent grunt down low, but you have to really twist the throttle before the bike responds. Power delivery is smooth and linear, but its lack of torque sets it back when compared with the other two bikes.
On the suspension side the K12GT utilizes the Duolever front-end design, which didn't score favorably with any of the testers. While we applaud BMW for its innovation in suspension technology, the Duolever design transmits zero feedback, leaving the rider to blindly trust that the front contact patch will travel the intended course. Playing with the Electronic Suspension Adjustments didn't yield much better results, and we actually kept the bike in Normal mode for most of our trip. In the words of Kunitsugu, "It's like BMW wants to isolate the rider from the road and have the bike worry about everything." For those used to having a dialogue with the front end this is very unnerving, to say the least. To its credit, the BMW does steer quickly and accurately.
Bringing the K12 to a stop are a pair of 320mm rotors clamped by twin four-piston Brembo calipers. Linked ABS comes standard. When braking on the BMW you feel like the bike is playing a mean joke on you each time. Initial pulling on the lever results in zero stopping power, then out of nowhere the pads clamp on the disks with one big bang with no modulation or linearity-it's either on or off. It's downright spooky at best, potentially dangerous if trying to feed some brakes as the bike is leaned over.
Wind protection is another tender subject. For our testers, who all hover around 5 feet 8 inches, the windscreen wasn't much help. In order to find the sweet spot it had to be lifted to its highest position, requiring the rider to peek through the top of the screen-where vision was most distorted.
Kawasaki Concours 14
All three bikes feature adjustable windscreens that move up or down with the push of a button. The screen on the BMW feels almost too close to the rider, as if you might smack your head into it during a panic stop. Also, we couldn't find a comfortable position for the screen until it was in its highest position-at which point we'd have to look through the top where optical clarity was most distorted. Even at its lowest position the Kawasaki's screen deflected practically all the wind away from the chest. At its highest position one could still see over the screen, but buffeting to the helmet was virtually nil. Also note the low position of the mirrors compared with the other two bikes. The Yamaha screen does a decent job of deflecting air away from the chest and hands, but buffeting to the helmet is never truly eliminated with the screen at its highest. Note: Upon shutdown the screen automatically reverts back to the lowest position.
OK, maybe it seems like we're being a bit harsh on the BMW. The K12 does benefit by having a host of options. Heated grips have become a BMW mainstay by now, and as mentioned earlier the bike even has heated seats for both pilot and co-pilot. The bars are six-way adjustable via the Torx bit included as one of two tools underneath the seat (the other a multipurpose screwdriver), and the saddlebags can easily gobble up a helmet per side and then some. The bike even comes with cruise control for those long hauls. Niceties aside, the K1200GT failed to wow us in the areas where it counts and scored a resounding last place in the process.
Too Close To Call
From here on out things get a little more heated. During our ride the Yamaha and the Kawasaki were like two heavyweight contenders fighting for the belt, each trading blows until the final bell. And while both went the distance, it would be up to the judges' scorecards to decide the victor. In the case of the FJR1300A you have a motorcycle that embodies the essence of sport-touring: a strong engine, good suspension, strong brakes and saddlebags, all wrapped up in a nice and tidy design. All three testers agreed that the FJR felt the most compact of the bunch. At its heart is a 1298cc dual-overhead-cam engine with four valves per cylinder that pumps out 120.8 horsepower and 86.4 ft-lb of torque. Interestingly, Yamaha chose to stick with five forward gears instead of six on the other bikes, resulting in widely spaced gearing and a tall fifth gear, which spins the engine to around 4000 rpm when cruising at 80 mph. Also of note is that some testers felt the gearbox to be clunky in the bottom gears. Despite this the FJR still got the highest average fuel mileage of the trio at 39.1 mpg, besting second-place Kawasaki at 38.2 and the BMW at 37.5.
Kawasaki Concours 14
As you can see, all three bikes come with hard saddlebags that can easily store a medium-size helmet. The bags are all removable, and the locks share the same key as the ignition. In the case of the Yamaha a soft carrying bag with handles and straps is included should you want to take your things with you once you reach your destination.
Previous-generation FJRs have been plagued with stiff throttles that behaved more like on/off switches-making it near impossible to gradually feed in power. Thankfully Yamaha finally solved that problem with a revised throttle pulley in the '08 version. Though throttle action is still stiff, it's now possible to slowly get on the gas-say for corner exits or to make line corrections. That little improvement coupled with the FJR's eagerness to carve a corner gave it high marks on our testers' scorecards. Of the three the Yamaha had the most neutral handling, holding its line with just the initial input on the bars. Keeping the rubber on the road is a fully adjustable 48mm front fork that provides excellent feedback. A single shock, adjustable for preload and rebound damping, takes care of things out back.
Just like the BMW, the FJR relies on twin four-piston calipers to squeeze 320mm rotors with linked ABS. Initial bite is strong, and using just the front is enough for most endeavors, but to fully experience maximum braking both levers must be used.
All testers were unanimous in that the saddle was slightly too wide-in direct contrast to the BMW. Wind protection left something to be desired, as no matter where we put it the adjustable windscreen never formed that comfortable bubble. These were really the only qualms the Yamaha faced. Creature comforts include multiposition heated grips (unlike the two-position on the BMW), adjustable seat height and bars, roomy saddlebags, functional mirrors in the perfect location and a glove compartment with built-in power outlet-great for charging cell phones or powering GPS units while on the go.
No one would argue that the FJR is a good sport-touring motorcycle, but there has to be a winner in these contests, and by the narrowest of margins the judges' scorecards give the Kawasaki Concours 14 the nod with a 2-1 decision. Why the Concours? Basically because where the Yamaha was good, the Concours was just that little bit better. Straight away we noticed that the seating position struck a perfect balance between the narrow BMW and the wide Yamaha. Reach to the bars felt natural, and the overall aerodynamics shielded us best from the wind. The Concours' 1352cc engine, plucked straight from the ZX-14, had us smitten with glee each time the throttle was turned. The 136.4-horsepower mill turned out 91.3 ft-lb of torque, and the fuel injection was silky smooth. That power gets to the ground via six forward gears that most of our testers found to be crisp and the best of the bunch, even with a slightly tall first gear.
Unfortunately another trait the Connie inherited from its ZX-14 cousin is unusually high steering effort, once past initial turn-in. From vertical it takes but a flicker to initiate a turn. But to lean the bike any farther requires a great deal of bar input for it to maintain a line and remain on its side. Thinking this might have been a ride-height issue, front preload was adjusted to near maximum. This helped, but the problem still remained. Oddly, this phenomenon was at its worst when braking for a corner, as the bike would start to stand up. Entering a turn under neutral throttle helped, but blasting through a turn on the gas was the only way to make the problem virtually disappear. It's possible further fiddling with the suspension could cure the issue, but as it stands the Connie's handling received demerit points from all three testers. Unfortunate, because besides that the suspension was actually the most sporty of the bunch with its firm yet compliant damping.
The Concours did win top honors for its brakes. The 310mm petal-type rotors, the smallest in this group, are mated to four-piston Nissin calipers. Like the others, our bike came with ABS. Unlike the others, the brakes are not linked. Initial bite is excellent and power is linear.
As mentioned earlier the Concours ergos were the most comfortable, and the bodywork aerodynamics provided the best pocket for the rider. It also has the most informative and user-friendly gauge cluster of the trio-the instruments are easy to read, and the trip computer even has a tire-pressure monitor.
Kawasaki Concours 14
The instruments on all three bikes are big and well lit. When adjusting different settings on the BMW like the ESA, weird symbols such as helmets and suitcases signify what position it's in. That takes some getting used to. The Yamaha's speedometer takes center stage, and the LCD display to the right is clear and concise. Kawasaki's on-board computer is also easy to read and displays a clock, a fuel gauge, an odometer, two tripmeters, gear position and even a tire-pressure monitor.
It's surprising Kawasaki hasn't equipped the Concours with heated grips-something buyers have come to expect from this segment. A few other niggles we noticed: Seat height and bars aren't adjustable, the mirrors are placed too low for the rider's line of sight and the view is partially blocked by the large saddlebag. Also, we noticed a slight engine heat stemming from the right side of the bike. Minor details, really.
Looking at the big picture, there are no losers in this test. Learn to trust the BMW and it won't let you down. If handling is more important than power, then Yamaha has just what you're looking for. In fact the FJR put up an excellent fight, giving the Concours a run for its money and even winning over one tester. But sometimes size does matter. In this case the monster engine of the Kawasaki coupled with its smooth fuel injection, perfect ergonomics and almost perfect handling seals the deal for Team Green. But only just.
60-80 MPH, 80-100 MPH
BMW: 3.10 sec., 3.28 sec.
Kawasaki: 4.28 sec., 4.74 sec.
Yamaha: 3.73 sec., 4.36 sec.
BMW: 152.3 mph
Kawasaki: 150.2 mph
Yamaha: 146.2 mph
BMW: 10.69 sec. @ 130.5 mph Kawasaki: 10.52 sec. @ 130.5 mph Yamaha: 10.93 sec. @ 124.7 mph
|SR RATINGS ||BMW KAWASAKI YAMAHA |
K1200GT CONCOURS FJR1300
|Fun to ride ||7.3 ||8.3 ||8.3 |
|Quality ||8.3 ||8.3 ||8.3 |
|Instruments & controls ||8.3 ||8.8 ||9.0 |
|Ergonomics ||7.5 ||8.8 ||8.2 |
|Chassis & handling ||7.7 ||7.8 ||8.8 |
|Suspension ||7.7 ||8.8 ||8.7 |
|Brakes ||7.2 ||8.7 ||8.3 |
|Transmission ||7.8 ||8.2 ||8.2 |
|Engine power ||8.0 ||9.0 ||8.5 |
|Engine power delivery ||7.7 ||9.0 ||8.3 |
|RATINGS TOTAL ||77.5 ||85.7 ||84.6 |
'08 BMW K1200GT ...
|'08 BMW K1200GT |
|TEST NOTES |
|+ ||Heated everything |
|+ ||Quick steering |
|+ ||Smooth power delivery |
|- ||No feedback at all |
|- ||Abrupt activation of the brakes |
|- ||Almost $6000 more than the other two |
| ||Lightest bike here, but somehow it feels |
heavier than the rest. And what’s up with
that huge slab of a side fairing?
'08 KAWASAKI CONCOURS 14 ...
|'08 KAWASAKI CONCOURS 14 |
|TEST NOTES |
|+ ||Good engine |
|+ ||Good brakes |
|+ ||Good seating position |
|- ||Excessive bar inputs required for max lean |
|- ||No heated grips |
|- ||No adjustable seat/bars |
| ||If Kawasaki fixes the front-end issue, they won't |
have to change the bike for another 20 years.
'08 YAMAHA FJR1300A ...
|'08 YAMAHA FJR1300A |
|TEST NOTES |
|+ ||Great handling, very agile |
|+ ||Strong engine |
|+ ||Useful mirrors! |
|- ||Stiff throttle tires the wrist after long stints |
|- ||Clunky transmission |
|- ||Engine runs out of steam up top |
| ||Who really needs six gears, anyway? |
The BMW makes more peak horsepower...
The BMW makes more peak horsepower compared with the Yamaha, but in the usable rpm range the FJR1300 is on par and even slightly ahead at some points. And thanks to its greater displacement the FJR has the BMW beat in the torque department as well. Of course the Kawasaki takes top honors in both categories by a country mile, and it's evident when twisting the throttle.
| ||BMW K1200GT ||KAWASAKI CONCOURS 14 ||YAMAHA FJR1300A |
|MSRP ||$18,620 ||$12,899–$13,799 ||$13,899 |
|Type ||Liquid-cooled, transverse, 4-stroke four ||Liquid-cooled, transverse, 4-stroke four ||Liquid-cooled, transverse, 4-stroke four |
|Displacement ||1,157cc ||1,352cc ||1,298cc |
|Bore x stroke ||79.0 x 59.0mm ||84.0 x 61.0mm ||79.0 x 66.2mm |
|Induction ||BMS-K, 46mm throttle bodies ||DFI with subthrottle valves and 1 injector/cyl., 44mm throttle bodies ||EFI with TPS, 1 injector/cyl., 42mm throttle bodies |
|Front suspension ||BMW Duolever, 4.5 in. travel ||43mm inverted cartridge fork, 4.4 in. travel ||48mm cartridge fork, 5.4 in. travel |
|Rear suspension ||BMW EVO Paralever, 5.3 in. travel ||Single shock absorber, 5.4 in. travel ||Single shock absorber, 4.8 in. travel |
|Front tire ||120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax BT-020 ||120/70ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax BT-021 ||120/70ZR-17 Metzeler Roadtec Z6 |
|Rear tire ||180/55ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax BT-020 ||190/50ZR-17 Bridgestone Battlax BT-021 ||180/55ZR-17 Metzeler Roadtec Z6 |
|Rake/trail ||29.0 deg./4.5 in. (114mm) ||26.1 deg./4.4 in. (111mm) ||26 deg./4.3 in. (109mm) |
|Wheelbase ||61.8 in. (1570mm) ||59.8 in. (1519mm) ||60.6 in. (1539mm) |
|Weight ||666 lb. (302 kg) wet; 549 lb. (249kg) dry ||689 lb. (313kg) wet; 654 lb. (297kg) dry ||673 lb. (305kg) wet; 633 lb. (287kg) dry |
|Fuel consumption ||22 mpg low, 43 mpg high, 38 mpg avg. ||33 mpg low, 43 mpg high, 38 mpg avg. ||35 mpg low, 42 mpg high, 39 mpg avg. |
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.