Say you want to cover some ground, and you want to do it fast. You want a motorcycle that handles well, has plenty of room in the cockpit, and can haul a respectable amount of luggage. What do you buy?
These days, more and more buyers are opting for adventure bikes to fill that role, but not that long ago, this was the domain of the sport tourer. Thanks to the wannabe Ewan-and-Charlie types, the sport tourer segment has now been in decline for a few years, with fewer proper options available now, but these are still some fine bikes that do their job well.
Although these bikes fill the same role, they’re very different, and that’s immediately obvious when you look at the engines. The BMW has an 1170 cc liquid-cooled boxer twin, while the KTM has a liquid-cooled 1301 cc 75-degree V-twin. Both the Concours 14 and FJR are liquid-cooled inline fours, 1352 cc and 1298 cc respectively. All these engines have liquid-cooling, DOHC, and four-valve heads.
These engines are all evolutions of long-standing models, many of them originating with air-cooled engines decades ago. The Concours 14 can trace its roots to the GPZ900 of the mid-80s, the R1200 RT has its roots way back in the RT models of the 1970s and the FJR is a direct descendant of the 1984 FJ1100. The KTM is a relative newcomer, as it’s the first sport tourer based around the LC8 engine, but even that engine has been around in some form since the late ’90s.
Depending who you ask, the Super Duke GT makes around 170 hp, easily making it the most powerful bike here; the Concours 14, at 153 hp, is the next-closest, and that’s a huge difference in muscle. The FJR1300 is rated at 143 hp. The R1200 RT, despite having the latest-gen Beemer flat twin, only makes 123 hp.
The story on torque? The GT makes 106 lb-ft of torque, allegedly, with the FJR right behind at 102 lb-ft, and the Concourse is pretty close as well, at 100 lb-ft. The RT is rated for just over 92 lb-ft of torque.
All these bikes have a six-speed gearbox.
The GT is clearly the winner on horsepower, but when it comes to load-hauling torque, the spread isn’t quite so impressive, and even the Beemer would suffice for the sensible motorcyclist.
There’s a vast weight difference between these bikes, partly because they’re aimed at different buyers. The KTM is the lightest, at 228 kg wet; the Kawasaki is the heaviest, at 305 kg wet. The FJR is 288 kg wet, and the BMW is 274 kg wet.
Why the differences? The Concours 14 is a fully-faired road warrior, same as the FJR, and the R1200 RT packs a fair bit of bodywork too. The Super Duke GT is really a naked bike with a little extra bodywork and saddlebags. The Concours 14 is for riders headed two-up cross-country, and on the other end, the Super Duke GT is a machine you ride solo for weekend jaunts.
Also remember that any weight differences between any of these machines can change quickly once you start packing the saddlebags. It’s also possible some machines may be weighed with their luggage installed, others without.
The FJR and RT both have adjustable seats, from 805 mm to 825 mm. The Concours 14 seat height is 815 mm. The Super Duke GT has a lofty 835 mm seat height, and can be a bit of a climb before you get used to it.
When it comes to luggage capacity, it’s hard to get a straight answer from many OEMs; owner’s manuals typically have weight ratings for saddlebags (which owners promptly ignore, usually) instead of volume ratings. Having said that, a little Interwebz digging seems to indicate the Concours 14 and FJR panniers have about 35 litres of volume apiece, while the Super Duke GT and R1200 RT have about 30 litres of volume per pannier. That’s not enough capacity to make a difference for localish touring, but it would be significant on longer trips.
Topcases are available for all these bikes through the aftermarket and/or the manufacturer, but they might change your handling. You might find your bike has a warning sticker telling you to limit your top speed with the topbox installed.
Fuel capacity is highest on the FJR1300, at 25 litres, then 23 litres for the Super Duke GT, 22 litres for the Concours 14 and 25 litres for the R1200 RT.
Bodywork is also important on a touring bike, as the fairing and windscreen combine to keep windblast off the rider, reducing fatigue. The Concours 14, R1200 RT and FJR all have proper full-coverage fairings and electronically-adjustable windscreens. The Super Duke GT has a manual-adjustable windscreen, with less bodywork. That means it’s lighter, but if you’re riding in bad weather, you might end up a bit more cold or wet.
Passenger-seat capacity, while not something that can necessarily be measured empirically, definitely looks more spacious and comfortable on the Yamaha, BMW and Kawasaki models, while the KTM is more aimed at the solo rider.
The KTM also has a chain drive, not shaft drive, so will require more maintenance, and lacks a centrestand.
Heated grips are standard on all these bikes.
The KTM comes with semi-active electronic suspension as stock. The R1200 RT has optional semi-active electronic suspension adjustment. The Concours 14 has 43 mm inverted forks, with manual rebound and preload adjustability. The FJR1300 has manual fully-adjustable suspension front and rear. Drop more money on the FJR1300ES model, and you’ll also get semi-active electronic suspension front and rear.
In stock form, the Super Duke GT is the most technologically advanced, but the BMW is basically on par with it, if you spring for the options.
All these bikes have ABS, but only the KTM comes with leaning ABS as a stock feature. The Super Duke GT also includes wheelie control, cruise control and traction control.
The R1200 RT has ABS Pro (BMW-speak for leaning ABS) as an option, along with traction control, adaptive headlights, hill start assist, cruise control.
As for the Concours 14, it has traction control and ABS (as mentioned above), but that’s it.
The base model FJR1300 has cruise control and traction control. The ES model has active cornering lights. Neither the base model or ES model has leaning ABS available.
The KTM 1290 Super Duke GT is the most expensive machine here, at $22,499. The BMW R1200 RT is $21,750. The Yamaha FR1300 and Kawasaki Concours 14 are priced in direct competition with each other at $18,499 and $18,599 respectively.
There’s no question that the GT is a lot of dosh. However, to get the RT to the same level of electronic trickery, you’d spend the same, maybe more, and the current model will never have the horsepower of the GT. And even if you wanted leaning ABS on the Concours 14 or FJR1300, you can’t get it (not even on the FJR1300ES). They’re priced lower because they’re not as technologically advanced.
So which one to buy? If you’re loaded with cash and you want the best bike for shorter trips, the KTM is most likely the way to go, as it’s the most powerful, most technologically advanced, and has more than enough luggage capacity for weekend work.
Otherwise, maybe take a look at the final standings for the 2017 Iron Butt Rally. The IBR riders are truly the world’s toughest big-mileage masters, and you see they have a few specific machines they like: GS-series adventure bikes, Gold Wings, there’s the odd BMW street bike, and a lot of FJRs. It seems long-distance enthusiasts like BMW if they’re buying adventure bikes, Honda if they’re buying fully-dressed tourers, and Yamaha if they’re buying sport tourers. Does that make a difference in what you buy? It’s your money, and your call.