The Flexible Five: Aprilia...
The Flexible Five: Aprilia RST1000 Futura, BMW R1150RS, Ducati ST4s ABS, Honda VFR800 ABS, Triumph Sprint ST
It's a tricky gig, building a sport-touring bike. On the one hand you've got to design in enough "sport" to keep the fun factor high. But on the other hand, the bike needs comfort and amenities to satisfy the "tour" part of the equation. We gathered five sport-tourers and went for a two-day, 600-mile flog--and then some--to find which bike best combined the two halves into a perfect whole.
This eclectic mix of bikes runs the gamut from an almost-new Japanese liquid-cooled V4 to an old German air/oil-cooled twin, with practically everything in between. The Aprilia RST1000 Futura, one of the Italian company's successful Mille 60-degree V-twin spinoffs, has been unchanged for several years and was the focus of our insane staff tour in 2001 ("Four States, Three Days," December '01). BMW's R1150RS was the first boxer to receive the updated R259 oilhead engine 10 years ago, and has been steadily tweaked since then with bigger jugs, lighter wheels and brakes, and improved ABS and servo-assisted linked brakes.
The ST4s gets its 996cc motor from the sporty side of Ducati's lineup, and has steadily evolved since its 1999 introduction as the 916cc ST4. New this year are an improved seat, new electronics and instruments and a reshaped fairing. Honda's VFR800 Interceptor moved definitively into this category with its '02 redesign ("Red Techno-Buff," April '02). And the Triumph Sprint ST triple--upgraded in '02 with the die-cast engine common to the Speed Triple and 955i--was the winner of our last sport-touring test, way back in '00 ("The Centerstand Quartet," Feb. '00). All these stories, as well as a few extra tidbits, are online at www.sportrider.com/0502.
It's time for the tour po...
It's time for the tour portion!
Nothing better than getting the tour portion of the test out of the way as quickly as possible, so the opening part of our journey took place on California's Interstate 5--hot and hilly as it winds its way over the Grapevine north of Los Angeles. Marc Cook, quick to complain at the best of times, found the Futura a comfortable ride for this portion, citing decent wind protection with only a bit of turbulence, great ergos and a nicely shaped saddle (er...the bike's, not his own) as pluses. While you'd think the dual-counterbalanced engine would be silky smooth, it's one of the busiest-feeling of the five on the freeway.
We all thought Kunitsugu drew the short straw being "saddled" with the BMW for the beginning leg of the trip, but Kento said otherwise at the first stop. The R1150's upright riding position and wide, flat seat are plenty comfortable for a long spell on the road. As long as you keep the revs low--easy to do with the tall sixth gear--the engine is smooth enough; venture above 70 mph, though, and the buzzing in the bar and pegs begins. With the RS's adjustable windscreen you can dial in a comfortable amount of wind protection for your torso and helmet, but the screen's narrowness leaves your shoulders out in the breeze.
Aprilia RST1000 Futura
Ducati ST4s ABS
Honda VFR800 ABS
Triumph Sprint ST
While the BMW is maxing out at 80 mph, the ST4s is just getting started. Its insanely tall gearing has the engine loafing along at freeway speeds, and sixth gear is only good for blatantly illegal speeds--probably why Steve Mikolas (back in the fold after being ostracized for a short period) didn't even mention the gearing at the first stop. The mild thrumming of the 90-degree twin seems sewing-machine smooth after the BMW, and this year's new seat is comfortable for about an hour. Much more than that, however, and the seat's crowned shape, combined with stiff suspension and ergos at the sporty end of this group, will have you squirming.
The Aprilia's bags are a bit...
The Aprilia's bags are a bit finicky to mount and remove, but the narrow underseat exhaust lets the bags tuck in close for a narrow overall width.
The R1150's bags are ultra...
The R1150's bags are ultra wide (narrow lids available) & it's the only bike here that uses the same key for both the ignition and bags.
The Ducati's saddlebags have...
The Ducati's saddlebags have easy-to-operate, practical latches.
The Interceptor has probably...
The Interceptor has probably the nicest luggage, with easy-to-use latching and mounting mechanisms and nice carrying handles.
On the Triumph, clasp-type...
On the Triumph, clasp-type latches and separate carrying handles work well.
Ad-guy Marc Santarpio from Boston thought the VFR's engine was plenty smooth for his highway jaunt, but felt the riding position was a bit cramped--as you'd expect for a big guy on the sportiest bike here. Wind protection is good, and the seat--while not as plank-hard as recent CBR examples--is the least plush of the five.
As keeper of the map and organizer of the trip, yours truly ended up on the most comfortable bike for a longish haul--the Sprint ST. The combination of almost perfect ergos for touring, a nicely shaped seat, softly sprung suspension and that velvet-smooth 955cc engine make the Triumph capable of daylong trips with ease. The reach to the bars is a bit far for shorter riders, which can force you to the harder front portion of the seat at times, and freeway expansion joints are felt more than on the other bikes courtesy of the damping-rod fork. Otherwise, there's not much to complain about on the highway.