Following last years tour in the US we discovered we love this mode of travel and a touring bike is likely to be parked in our garage at sometime in the near future (hopefully). But which bike.?!
While neither of us liked the Harley Davidson Electra Glide from last year’s trip (see my comments on the bike here), it did clarify what we want in a touring bike:
- it must be fun to ride,
- be able to handle the windy stuff more like a sports bike,
- have great power and torque characteristics,
- be comfortable for multiple longer days, and
- able to carry luggage sufficient for two people for an extended trip.
So what bikes does that leave us? Essentially, the more touring orientated sports tourers or possibly a Honda Goldwing.
We tested a new Goldwing which was great but out of our price range. So we need to take an older model for a decent ride to test. My initial thought was that if the old Goldwing is suitable it would be a good two-up tourer and I could keep the ZX14R.
Some basic numbers between the main contenders –
|Bike||Kawasaki ZX14R||Kawasaki 1400GTR||Yamaha FJR1300||BMW K1600GT||Goldwing (old)|
|Engine||1,440cc inline 4||1,352cc inline 4||1,298cc inline 4||1,649cc inline 6||1,883cc – boxer 6|
|Power||210hp (10,000rpm)||155hp (8,800rpm)||141hp (8,000rpm)||160hp (7,500rpm)||125hp (5,500rpm)|
|Torque||158nm (7,500rpm)||136nm (6,200rpm)||134nm (7,000rpm)||175nm (5,250rpm)||171nm (4,500rpm)|
|Standard Equipment||Panniers, Grip heater||Panniers, Grip heater, Cruise||Panniers, Grip heater, Seat heater, Cruise||Panniers, Topbox, Grip heater, seat heater, Cruise.|
But there is always more to bikes than their numbers and you really need to ride each of them to understand how they ride, their ergonomics, and how they make you feel.
For this year’s motorcycle tour in Switzerland we had the option of hiring one of the bigger BMW touring bikes which would be a great opportunity to road test one of the contenders. But which one … R1250RT, K1600GT, or K1600GTL.
I’ve ridden the R models a couple of times and they really don’t do it for me. I’m not sure what it is but I just find them a bit boring. So I was more interested in one of the big 6’s, either the more sports orientated GT or luxury touring orientated GTL.
Prior to deciding I took a friend’s K1600GTL for a spin and I was really impressed with the power and feel of the six, and it handled surprisingly well for a big heavy bike. However I found the GTL’s riding position cramped with its low seat and close bars. And after sitting on a GT and GTL at a dealer confirmed that the GT has much better ergonomics for me so I went with the slightly sportier GT version.
Thoughts on the K1600GT after a week’s riding In Switzerland
This was a glorious bike to ride, and although the K1600GT (GT) is quite a bit heavier than my bike, the weight seemed to vanish. I think this is largely to do with how far the motor is leant forward in the frame effectively keeping the weight as low as possible. And speaking of motor, my ZX14R has huge amounts of power and torque, but the GT has noticeably more torque on tap lower down in the rev range … it pulled like a tractor.
Motor – the motor on this bike is an absolute gem with a big fat power and torque curve which means you have a nice amount of power on tap when you need it. It was immediately apparent that this motor was special as it just pulls from nothing. Seamlessly. Astonishingly. Riding the uphill hairpins of Stelvio two-up, fully loaded could be done in second effortlessly, and I often did. The only reason I would shift to first was on the really tight turns as I was worried about hitting neutral mid corner if I had to change back when meeting a car mid corner.
In terms of feel it doesn’t feel as urgent or as angry as my bike but it still does the business. The six sounded great and going through cuttings/tunnels it was hard not to give it a twist. This bike really needs a set of pipes to let that 6 really howl.!
The GT has three power modes, Rain, Road, and Dynamic. I didn’t try the rain mode – I’ve never tried the lower power mode on the ZX14R (I have a right wrist to limit power). I did play with the Road and Dynamic modes though – they tell me that the only difference is a ‘softer’ throttle response on ‘Road’ but no difference in overall power or torque. The dynamic mode certainly felt like your brain was directly wired to the motor but was a bit too responsive when riding two-up. The road mode just smoothed out throttle response and proved perfect for the type of riding we were doing.
Ride position – I hadn’t ridden the GT before (I’ve only sat on one) and initially the guy at the shop put the seat in the lower position which made it great for touching the ground. And it felt pretty good but I decided to try the higher position on the second day as my shoulder was a bit sore (old shoulder injury so the bar position is important), and the higher seat position was perfect. My arms just fell straight on the bars, they were at the perfect angle and perfect reach.
This based on my height of 175cm (5’9″).
Overall I found the GT just fitted me and everything felt comfortable. I always found when riding the Kawasaki 1400GTR that I was neither leaning or sitting up. Always in that middle ground and never really comfortable with the weight on the shoulders causing pain. The GT didn’t do that even after all the passes we rode in the week.
Seat – the seat has two height settings and the adjustment is as easy as flipping a bracket over … No tools required. It only takes 30 seconds.
However, the seat was horrible. We both found it uncomfortable, and after only an hour I was sore. I’m not sure whether it’s the shape or the foam. Either way if this was my bike the seat would be taken off and given to a motorcycle seat specialist to fix.
Not an insurmountable problem but something we would need to address.
Screen – screens are a funny thing. Until you’ve ridden with a screen that really works you don’t know what you’re missing. I hate looking through screens and like the wind moving over the helmet but not when the screen creates turbulence and you are constantly fighting to keep your helmet steady. Or when the turbulence over the screen creates excessive noise.
And many people forget the effect that a screen has on the pillion. When we rode the GTL earlier this year we found the screen didn’t work for us. We just couldn’t find a screen position that worked for both of us.
In contrast the GT has quite a different shaped screen, with a distinct “v” shaped cut-out. I assume that this is to cater for the more sportier focus of the bike. And largely for us it worked. In the tight windy roads I’d have it right down and out of the way, and on the open roads put it up just below eye-line which proved a good compromise for both rider and pillion.
If this was my bike I couldn’t help myself but would try other screens. Or have different screens for different purposes.
Pillion Comfort – for me pillion comfort is more than just a cushy seat and includes confidence/security – not in me the rider but how does the pillion feel on the bike? And a good measure of how relaxed Deb is feeling on the back is whether she is using the camera.
On this trip Deb took a loads of photos and even a number of short video clips for the blog – and not just on open roads but on the twisty mountain passes. So she was pretty chilled back there.!
In regards to actual comfort on the back of the GT Deb made the following comments during the trip.
- The seat was uncomfortable.
- The pegs were a little high. Comparing the GT and GTL side-by-side it looks like the GTL pegs (front and back may have been slightly lower) On my bike I have lowered the pillion pegs to aid in Deb’s comfort.
- Its a bit tight in between the rider and top box.
Handling – this is a big bike so it’s never going to handle like a sports bike. It’s big and tubby. But it carries it’s weight very low which certainly makes it easier to throw this bike around.
For two-up work it was great. And the tight narrow roads of the many passes we rode could have been an absolute handful two-up fully loaded, instead it was easy to manoeuvre the bike on the really tight hairpins or just flow through the open sweeping corners following the contours of the mountains. I never had no occasion where I felt nervous, even when creeping along behind slow traffic creeping up steep passes. A huge contrast to last year’s Electra Glide which was just unwieldy and ungainly. I could not imagine doing these roads on that bike!
On the open road it was just a pleasure to ride (although we really didn’t see much of that) and I can only imagine how effortlessly this bike would be to ride on our roads in Australia. This bike will just eat up the miles and ask for more!
So the big question … will it be my next bike…?
The GT is a great bike which I loved riding, but it just doesn’t have the character of my ZX14R. The 14 is angry – like a dog in the corner snarling at you ready to bite, it’s rebellious – whispering ideas leading you astray. The traction control is only there to make everything appear normal, but you grin to yourself as all it’s doing is keeping the front wheel just inches from the ground – nothing to see here folks…
Such a stark contrast to the GT which is nice. Yes it has a lot of power and torque but it just does it in a very gentlemanly un-fussed kind of way. Excuse me, pardon me.
I have to admit though… coming home from our trip I started searching for a second hand GT’s as it really was a great tourer. The tension – if I purchase a sports tourer there isn’t any logic in keeping both the ZX14R and a bike that is similar (ish) … and parting with it will be really hard. Then I looked at what my bike would be worth with over 75,000km on it… not much and certainly not a good trade in either!
Since when does logic play a part in this … … ?
So would I own a GT? Absolutely. But it would be an additional bike set aside for touring duties as it seems I haven’t grown out of my ZX14R phase…
Maybe when I grow up….
And lastly, a huge shout out to Thun Moto Centre they were fantastic to deal with and I would highley recommend them if you are heading to Switzerland and want to hire a motorcycle.