Comparo – BMW R1200ST vs Honda ST1300A vs Triumph Sprint ST

Words: Rob Harris Photos: Richard Seck

It seemed like a bit of a dumb idea of Mr. Seck’s – get all the ST-labeled bikes together and test them against each other. The manufacturer’s interpretation of just what defines a Sport-Touring motorcycle varies wildly, and so the idea of being able to compare them just didn’t make sense. I mean why compare bikes that might not be made to do the same thing? Feck Seck, that’s just stupid.

But then, it all suddenly did make sense. In fact it was brilliant. Instead of just testing a bunch of bikes against each other, we’d actually be trying define the meaning and interpretation of Sport-Touring. Wow, well done Mr. ‘arris, good idea. Pass the hookah then …


There’s currently four STs out there; The Ducati ST3, the BMW R1200ST, the Honda ST1300 and the Triumph Sprint ST (1050). We aimed for getting all four but ended up with a very usable three – the Ducati having to wait for another day.

Hmhh, this is actually a pretty good set-up, as each bike represents a different slot in the ST spectrum. With a twin, triple and four – all in various cylinder arrangements – it looks like we’ve stumbled upon an interesting test. Now all we needed was to gather some suitable testers and come up with the perfect route.

The best testers beer can buy.

The test riders were the usual CMG suspects (Messrs. Seck, Lewis and myself) with our regular touring expert, Ed White coming along to help pick out the route and throw in his two cents about the bikes.

Specifications for the testers is as follows:

Mr. White, weighing in at 180 lbs and 5’ 10” tall.
Mr. Seck, weighing in at 230 lbs and 6’ 2” tall.
Mr Lewis, weighing in at 168 lbs and 5’ 9” tall.
And myself, Editor ‘arris, weighing in at 230 lbs and standing 6’ 4” tall.

The route took a long loop west out of Toronto, south and east through Pennsylvania, then north though New York and then back to the big smoke from the east. Good roads, good company and the chance to just see how three different manufacturers interpret the meaning of Sport Touring. What a clever bunch we are.

BMW’s new R1200ST was new to the CMG gang too.

But hang on! There’s only three bikes and four riders. Too true. To fill the gap the 2005 long-term scooter (Yamaha’s 400 Majesty) was pressed into action, also giving us a chance to see just how it coped on the long haul. Happy now?


BMW – The 1200ST replaced the old 1150RS and although it’s managed to somehow beat the old RS’s ugly-factor, everything else has been changed – with a sizable power boost and a 30kg drop in weight. Fancy stuff includes partially integrated braking, optional ABS (included on our tester), as well as height adjustable bars, seat and screen.

For reasons likely related to an unfortunate incident involving an R1200GS and deep water, CMG failed to get included on the R1200ST launch invitation list, and so had yet to actually ride it. As a result, the jury’s out as to how well it’ll do, but the typical engine characteristics of the boxer twin motor would likely err it toward more back-road and sweepers than a hard slog on the super-slab.

The 1300ST is the biggest and heaviest.

HONDA – We’ve already tested the big ST1300 when it was revealed back in 2002, doing a similar shoot-out test against Yamaha’s FJR 1300 and the now defunct Kawasaki ZZR1200. The Honda impressed us all and scored big in all classes, only dropping a grade when it came to the tighter stuff, at which point the far sportier FJR and ZZR would leave it in the dust.

In the last four years it hasn’t changed much, if at all. The 1300’s V-four motor provides a very smooth and linear power output, but the whole package is on the heavy side. It comes with 35 litre detachable bags as standard and boasts an electrically adjustable screen, manually adjustable seat height and linked brakes. There’s also optional ABS (the ST1300A model), which is the one that we were supplied with for this test.

The Honda’s biggest issue is going to be coping with all the extra weight it carries, making it a bit of a handful in the twisties. Its biggest asset will likely be the plush ride, relaxed ergonomics and torque-oozing motor.

Triumph’s Sprint ST has already impressed.

TRIUMPH – I had my first ride on the latest generation Sprint back ‘ome in England last year. The new Sprint impressed me and its sporty-leaning meant that it was most at home on the tighter roads, but could handle the super slab without too much discomfort.

The new Sprint replaced the old 955, incorporating a new 1050 motor, resulting in a minor increase in power, but a stronger and wider torque curve thanks to a longer stroke (rather than a bigger bore). Styling got a revamp too, with a sharper look and underseat pipes. Although the ST is on the conservative side when it comes to do-dads, it does come with optional ABS (which ours was supplied with) and bags (we didn’t get these).

The Sprint is going to be happiest in the twisties and will likely be much closer to the Beemer than the more luxurious – almost Gold Wing-like – Honda.

Okay, let’s cut the crap and get to the big fight …


Our ST contenders.

Layyyydies andd gentlemun … in the blue corner, we have the newest contender for the ST heavyweight crown. Weighing in at a feathery 205kg, the R1200ST from Bee Emm Duubbleuwe has a punchy 110 hp from its horizontally opposed boxer twin – and represents the latest incarnation in the 1200 boxer line from the land of lederhosen.

In the red corner, from the land of the rising sun, weighing in at a portly 289 kg we have the sumo-wrestler of sport tourers, the Honda ST1300A. Although by far the oldest of the contenders, the Honda houses some serious v-four power. There’s a claimed 125 ponies in there and it comes with a strong reputation of eating up highway miles with ease.


And last, but by no means least, in the, er, other red corner is the ST from Blighty. Weighing in at a respectable 213 kg, the Sprint is a triple-cylindered hitter that arrived on the scene with a splash in 2005. Although one cylinder and 200+cc down on the Honda, the Sprint hits almost as hard, with 123 hp on tap, and boasts a reputation of being on the sportier side of the ST world.

With over 2000 km of varying types of roadway ahead, from highway slab to glorious gnarly back-roads, which ST will come out on top in the CMG heavyweight challenge …?

Okay, sound the bell, time to bring it on …



The fairly new 1200 boxer engine.

BMW’s new 1200 twin first saw the light of day in their GS model, and in ST-guise it gets a bit of a power and torque boost thanks to a higher compression ratio. More power is generally good, and indeed you can stick it into fourth gear and stay there almost all day – such is the spread of torque.

A high compression twin also means massive engine braking – allowing the rider to control their speed in most instances on throttle alone. To some, this may not sound like an asset, but once you’ve got the hang of easing off the throttle in the right amounts, you develop a greater feeling of oneness with the machine. A perfect motor in the twisties!

However, there’s also some vibes that were not noticeable on the R1200GS (probably due to it’s lower state of tune). They make themselves known from 5,000 rpm to the 8,000 rpm redline. Thankfully you don’t find yourself in this zone unless you’re getting sporty, in which case your focus is more on the road ahead and perception of the vibes seems to magically subside. In fact, in sixth, you’d have to be going over 150 km/h to get into these vibes, so even on the highway you’re unlikely to find yourself stuck on a 1200cc vibrator.

One side of the ST1300 V-four cylinders.

The Honda is about as much a contrast to the Beemer as you can find. The big v-four winds up fast and smooth (well, until it gets into the upper revs where it does buzz a tad) and gives the rider a smooth but slightly remote ride. In fact it’s almost removed of character altogether, with no real engine braking – requiring the rider to use the (thankfully very good) brakes whenever approaching a corner.

In the end it’s usable, but some work, in the twistier stuff. Slap it on a boring four-laner though and it’ll chew through the miles like a fat kid on an extra big Christmas Toblerone.

The Triumph has the most sportbike-like characteristics with a motor that spins up quickly and climbs to the highest redline of the bunch (10,000 rpm). Being a triple, it also has loads of character – with usable power from 2,000 rpm, although the main kick comes in past 5,000 rpm and makes it horribly easy to see double the posted speed limit if you’re not paying attention.

Triumph’s 1050 triple motor is well hidden.

Some vibes are present, but they seem to only add to the overall mechanical feel of the mill, and give the rider an instinctive feel of where the motor’s at. The perfect combination of induction and exhaust howl didn’t hurt either.

The only issue we had with the Sprint was on cold mornings when the motor would whirr away for what seemed like minutes before catching. It almost didn’t make it one morning when the whirr started to slowwww doowwwnnnn and then finally caught – just before we reached for the CAA card.

It’s hard to give a winner in this round as each motor’s characteristics seemed to perfectly match that of the bike. The day, rider mood and the road ahead on the day meant that each motor had its time to shine.


Shaft drive is a nice addition for touring duties.

The BMW, though acceptable, always required a firm toe punt to get it to change and it had a very tall first gear that meant is was easy to stall when setting off. Clunky clutch action took some getting used to as well. The shaft drive meant that there was no need to get out the chain lube and the adjustment tools half way through the tour.

As far as the gearboxes went, the Honda took top honours for smoothness and slick operation. It only has five speeds, but it never had you searching for a sixth. Nice shaft too.

Finally, the Triumph’s six-speed box is very good but is slightly notchy (especially at low speed), with a heavy clutch. You do get used to it pretty quickly though and fail to notice it after an hour or so on board. It’s also the only chain-drive of the bunch, which is fine, but did require some maintenance over the week’s ride.

Round 2 goes to Honda, with Triumph in second and the BMW trailing in third.


Triumph (left), BMW (right).

The Beemer is, well, a BMW and anyone who’s ridden a BMW will know that it takes a short while to get used to the way it handles. With stock settings, the rear is a tad underdamped, and as a result it would bounce a bit over bumps. Cranking it up to the max brought it back into line, although I had to wonder if there was enough there to cope with a passenger as well

Still, once sorted it gave a super solid ride – feeling like it’s on rails in the corners. Very nice.

The Honda is quite a different beast and the combination of weight and the feeling of sitting on top of it, instead of in it, translates to the sense that you are not part of it. Although never scary, it never quite instilled enough confidence to keep it up to the Beemer and Triumph when the road bunched up.

The Triumph is a team player. You sit it in and it becomes part of you. You feel your way through the corners, just like a sportbike. And just like a sportbike, it’s the most flickable of the bunch, scoring big in the grin factor. The suspension is a little on the soft side in standard form, but some extra preload and a smidge of damping cured all ills.

Round 3 goes to BMW (post suspension adjustments), with Triumph coming a close second and the portly Honda a not too distant third.


We’ve got another four rounds to go before we can declare a winner and the way these STs are switching around who knows which one will come out on top? Actually, I do, ’cause I’ve already written it, but I ain’t saying nutting ’til next week.





$19,250.00 $19,299.00 $16,599.00
Beemer and Honda are neck and neck. Triumph saves almost three grand but comes with fewer bells and whistles.


1,170 cc 1,261 cc 1,050 cc
Not too far off one another.

Engine type

Horizontally-opposed sohc twin, air-cooled V-four dohc, liquid-cooled Inline dohc triple, liquid-cooled
Three very different configurations.


Fuel Injection Fuel Injection Fuel Injection
What can I say?

Final drive

6 speed, shaft drive 5 speed, shaft drive 6 speed, chain drive
Honda has the torque for only five gears. Triumph is the only one with chain drive.

Tires, front

120/70 ZR17 120/70 ZR18 120/70 ZR17
Beemer and Triumph go for the more sporty tire size options, whereas Honda go more tour orientation. The tires say it all …

Tires, rear

180/55 ZR17 170/60 ZR17 180/55 ZR17

Brakes, front

Dual 320 mm discs with 4 piston calipers Dual 310 mm discs with 3 piston calipers Dual 320 mm discs with 4 piston calipers
Considering the smaller disc sizing at the front, and fewer piston’d calipers, the Honda makes them work remarkably well. Must be something to do with the lined braking system they employ.

Brakes, rear

Single 265 mm disc with 2 piston caliper Single 316 mm disc with 3 piston caliper Single 255 mm disc with 2 piston caliper

Seat height

810 – 830 mm (31.9″ – 32.7″) 775 – 805 mm (30.5″ – 31.7″) 805 mm (31.7″)
Triumph isn’t adjustable (which is a shame). Honda best suited for shorties.


1502 mm (59.1″) 1491 mm (58.7″) 1457 mm (57.4″)
Honda feels like it has the longest wheelbase, so this is a surprise. No surprise that the Triumph is the shortest though.

Dry weight

205 Kg (452 lbs) 286 Kg (630 lbs) 213 Kg (470 lbs)
The Honda carries almost 80 kg more than the BMW!!!! Although it carries it well, you always feel it sitting there.


Lots. For 2006, Black. Red, Blue, Silver.
BMW offers Blue Metallic with Light Magnesium Metallic or Dark Graphite Metallic, Red Metallic with Light Magnesium Metallic or Dark Graphite Metallic or Granite Grey Metallic with Light Magnesium Metallic or Dark Graphite Metallic.



(crank – claimed)

110 bhp @ 7,500 rpm
125 hp @ 8,000 rpm
123 hp @ 9,100 rpm
BMW go for torque over absolute power (which works well). Honda has the cubes and so gets both, while the Triumph does the sporty thing and opts for power and higher revs.


85 ftlb @ 6,000 rpm
85 ftlb @ 6,000 rpm
77 ftlb @ 7,500 rpm
Fuel economy

17.9 km/l
5.59L/100 km

15.0 km/l
6.69L/100 km

16.2 km/l
6.19L/100 km

The Beemer gets top award for fuel efficiency, consistently showing the best economy under all conditions. It seemed to like the sweepers the best and the tight secondaries the worst.
The Triumph comes in second with exactly the same likes and dislikes as the Beemer. With the smallest tank it also gets a rather shitty range.
The Honda likes to suck gas! Its preference is rolling secondaries (not tight), with a dire return on the open highway (where it dipped down to 13.8 km/l)! However, it’s huge tank helps it achieve the best range.
Tank capacity
21 litres
29 litres
20 litres
Fuel range
375 km
434 km
323 km
Options BMW

Adj screen

Std (manual)
Std (electric)
Honda is fancy.
Adj/diff seat
A low seat option ( 780 – 800 mm) is available F.O.C on factory ordered R1200STs .


BMW ABS option isn’t cheap.


Triumph bags were tested in the UK and were a bit crap. Honda bags are designed into the rest of the bike and so have to be a standard item really.Note – R1200ST topcase and rack are a $955.00 (+ tax) option.
Heated grips
Shouldn’t all sport-tourers have heated grips as standard? BMW seem to agree.
Well done. Carry on then.


(with options)
Interesting. The basic Triumph creeps up in price when you start adding some of the options that the Honda has as standard equipment. Likewise the costly ABS option for the BMW puts it a chunk up on the Honda, which is starting to look like a pretty good deal now.

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