Why We Choose The Ultimate Behemoths: Touring Bikes ?

Another category of specialized motorcycle to appear over the last several decades is the purpose-built touring bike, a bike equipped for longer rides on the road.

Harley started this trend by offering a fairing and luggage as optional equipment on its Electra Glide back in the 1960s, but other companies were slow to pick up on the trend.

Touring Bikes - Honda Gold wing

In the late 1970s, BMW introduced its first factory dresser (the preferred name for a touring bike), the R100RT, a bike that met with market success. Honda had been producing a bike specifically for touring: the Gold Wing. In time, Honda began offering fairings and luggage as accessories, but these were still add-on parts, equipment for which the machines hadn’t been specifically designed.

" A touring bike is a bike equipped for longer rides with fairings and lockable saddle bags. While early bikers looked on motorcycles equipped for touring with scorn, calling them garbage wagons, over time they began to see their appeal. They began to refer to garbage wagons as baggers and finally dressers, the term many Harley riders use today. "

Other companies offered touring packages for their standard bikes, too, but there’s a problem with this approach: Accessories affect the handling of a machine, often adversely. Large fairings and luggage can really make a bike get squirrelly.

Yamaha decided to make its mark on the touringbike market and in 1983 introduced the Venture, Japan’s first bike designed from the ground up to have an integrated fairing and luggage. The approach of designing a machine from the ground up with this much bodywork produced a seamless motorcycle and sent Honda back to the drawing board.

Honda did not like being sent back to the drawing board, and when it returned, it did so with a vengeance. The 1984 Gold Wing 1200 set new standards in functionality and comfort. The Gold Wing 1500, a six-cylinder behemoth introduced for the 1988 model year, blew away even its predecessor. The Gold Wing proved to be such a perfect touring machine that the other Japanese manufacturers simply gave up trying to compete in that market segment.

The success of the Gold Wing meant the ultimate behemoth class of touring bikes saw relatively little change for over a decade, but eventually things began moving on the touring front again. All it took was a little competition, this time from BMW. In 1999 BMW introduced its K1200LT, and for the first time in more than ten years, Honda’s mighty six-cylinder Gold Wing began losing magazine comparison tests against its heavy-touring market competition. Honda responded by introducing the GL1800 Gold Wing, a bike that was much better in every way than its predecessor.

Sport Tourer - Yamaha FJR 1300
Sport Tourer - Yamaha FJR 1300

All segments of the touring market didn’t go into suspended animation while the Gold Wing waited patiently for a challenger to its throne. There were some exciting developments in other types of touring motorcycles, like the sport-touring segment of the market. Sport tourers combine the comfort and carrying capacity of a touring bike with the handling and excitement of a sportbike. You can think of these machines as sportbikes with larger fairings and hard, lockable luggage. This class existed for a long time without having a proper name; in fact, almost every BMW built in the last quarter of the century falls into this group.

" Sport tourers are motorcycles that combine the comfort and carrying capacity of a touring bike with the handling and power of a sportbike with larger fairings and hard, lockable luggage. "

Kawasaki produced the first purpose-built Japanese sport tourer with its Concours, introduced in 1986. Honda followed suit, bringing out its ST1100 in 1991. Over on the other side of the world, manufacturers like Aprilia, Ducati and Triumph also offer BMW competition in the sport-touring arena.

These bikes represent a compromise, giving up a bit of sporting capability to the smaller, more agile sportbikes while sacrificing some luggage-carrying capability when compared to the ultimate behemoths. It seems a compromise many riders are willing to make. If you like to crank up the throttle in corners and cover huge expanses of geography in a single sitting, but you don’t need to carry everything you own with you on a trip, these bikes may be a good compromise for you, too.

Lately, the touring cruiser, another subcategory of touring bike, has also been developed. The touring-cruiser bikes combine the looks of cruisers with the functionality of touring bikes. With their windshields and hard luggage, they are more comfortable and convenient than cruisers, yet they retain the American look that makes cruisers so popular. Yamaha’s Royal Star Venture and Honda’s Valkyrie Interstate are two of the latest and largest entries in this class. A bit down the food chain in overall bulk (but not overall capability) is Kawasaki’s Vulcan Norads. And of course, Harley has many entries in this category, since it invented the category.