After years of stagnancy in the segment, touring enthusiasts have many new bikes to pick from this year. There was an exciting new sport tourer (Kawasaki Ninja H2SX), several baggers from Harley-Davidson and other manufacturers, but most importantly, a handful of new fully-dressed touring bikes.
For 2018, we’ve got three new big-bike touring options: the updated Honda Gold Wing Tour Edition, the BMW K1600GA, and the Yamaha Star Venture TC. All three bikes have a complete touring package, including rear trunk and full-size fairing. But which of these bikes would work best for you? We’ll take a look at the spec sheets below.
Both the Honda and BMW have liquid-cooled six-cylinder engines, and the Yamaha has an air/oil-cooled V-twin. All these engines are refinements of previously existing engines; none are all-new designs.
No question, the BMW K1600GA is the winner on claimed horsepower, with 160 hp from its inline-six engine. The Honda Gold Wing makes 125 hp and the Yamaha Star Venture makes … well, we’re not sure what the Star Venture makes for horsepower, as Yamaha won’t tell us. The previous version of the air-cooled 1,854 cc air-cooled Yamaha V-twin made around 100 hp, so we’d guess it’s still in this ballpark.
But a big touring bike needs more than horsepower; if you’re hauling around a massive mega-tourer with a passenger and luggage, you need torque, and the Yamaha quickly catches up in that respect. The Star Venture puts out 126 lbs-ft of torque; the BMW makes 126 lbs-ft of torque, and the Gold Wing makes 125 lbs-ft of torque. Although everyone’s in the same ballpark here, the Yamaha produces peak torque at only 2,500 rpm, while the BMW needs 5,250 rpm to hit peak torque, and the Honda sees peak torque at 4,500 rpm.
Obviously, these engines are aimed at very different riding styles. But despite the BMW’s horsepower advantage, some marketing copy said top speed is limited to 162 km/h (which is 100 mph), to suit “The American Way of Riding.” Can other markets de-regulate the top speed, to suit “The Canadian Way of Riding,” or “The British Way of Riding,” or … ? No word on that yet!
The Honda and the Beemer both have more upright seating positions, although the BMW has feet-forward floorboards to allow you to stretch your legs out should you want (these will certainly be available as an accessory for the Gold Wing). The Star Venture features a more classic cruiser riding position, with feet positioned further forward; it’s not intended for sportier riding, like the Gold Wing and the K1600GA.
The Star Venture’s weight also works against it in the twisties. The Yamaha has a 437 kg curb weight, compared to 364 kg for the BMW and 380 kg for the Honda Gold Wing Tour.
One of the most important ergonomic considerations on a motorcycle is the seat, and of course, that’s highly subjective. You’ll have to sit on one yourself to determine if the seat works for you.
Here’s where things get weird, as the Honda has a Hossack-style front end — an odd feature that is atypical for Big Red, but Costa says it works really well in CMG’s First Ride of the new bike. The BMW eschews traditional suspension as well, with a Duolever front end and Paralever rear end. The Yamaha features a much more conventional set of 46 mm KYB forks with 130 mm of travel, and monoshock in back with 110 mm of travel.
The K1600 Grand America has semi-active Dynamic ESA, a.k.a. “smart suspension,” that can tune your ride settings to match your road. The Gold Wing Tour also has electronically-controlled front suspension (not semi-active, sadly). The Star Venture has remote preload adjustability for the rear shock, but no electronic suspension management system.
To a certain extent, whether a suspension is good depends on the user, and what they like; the bike’s weight, the bike’s speed and the road surface also dictate what suspension works best. However, from a technical standpoint, the BMW’s suspension is probably superior here, with the Honda close behind. Although we’d have to ride it to say for sure, it appears the Yamaha suspension is generations behind the other two, although probably closely in line with ‘Murican V-twins.
All three bikes have hard saddlebags and a trunk; the Honda has 110 litres of total capacity, the BMW has 119 litres, and the Yamaha has 140 litres. Not only does the Star Venture have the most luggage capacity, it also has top-opening saddlebags, instead of clamshell saddlebags, which is a superior design — there’s less surface area to leak, and less chance of you spilling your luggage when you open the pannier while it’s attached to the bike. Advantage Yamaha!
All three bikes have some similar features, but they’re all slightly different in what they offer, or how they offer it.
For example, all three machines come with an onboard entertainment system. Both the Yamaha and the Honda have a 7-inch infotainment system screen, with GPS and music playback options, as well as in-flight information. The BMW also has an entertainment system, but GPS is not included as standard equipment.
All three bikes have some sort of reverse gear to make parking-lot manhandling less difficult, but otherwise, the transmissions are very different (the Yamaha’s Sure-Park also includes a “walking speed” feature as standard). The Honda is also available as an auto transmission, with DCT (the Honda gets a “walking speed” option as well). Clutch-free shifting is available on the BMW if you get the optional quickshifter. No quickshifter is available for the Honda or Yamaha.
All bikes have some sort of traction control as standard, and ride-by-wire throttles for a variety of engine maps that allow for things like detuned modes for rainy day rides.
If you’re picky about what you want in your electronic safety package, you can pick them apart through the various manufacturers’ websites, but we don’t have time or space to get into the minutiae here. Or the inclination, to be honest. Suffice to say, they’re all at the same baseline when it comes to safety electronics as well as the entertainment features, but the fine details differ between each machine.
As of January, 2018, the Honda Gold Wing Tour will retail for $30,799 in Canada. The equivalent Yamaha Star Venture has an MSRP of $31,999. The equivalent BMW K1600 Grand America has an MSRP of $30,375 (all these bikes are available in more stripped-down versions – the Gold Wing, the Star Eluder and the K1600B – for less money).
Frankly, the Beemer kills it on pricing, considering it’s arguably more technically advanced than the Honda, although that price likely evens out once you add in the GPS purchase. The Yamaha, on the other hand, has seen its pricing panned since its release. It’s in the same pricing territory as Harley-Davidson’s more upscale models. Considering Yamaha’s V-Star 1300 Deluxe was long considered a bargain in the world of touring cruisers, it’s surprising to see this model swing so far in the other direction.
Let’s face it: The Gold Wing is probably going to be the top seller among these three units, mainly because it has a 40-year history of taking riders across North America at top speeds, and is arguably the only Japanese motorcycle to consistently gain the respect of cruiser enthusiasts. That’s not a knock on the K1600 Grand America at all; the BMW is probably superior to both the Honda and the Yamaha if you were to look at the hard numbers. But BMW dealers are a little harder to find, and a lot of Canadian riders are going to want to stick with what they know, and that means riding a Honda.
The wild card is the Yamaha. The Star Venture is heavy, expensive, and down on horsepower, but that doesn’t matter to riders who prefer a traditional V-twin cruiser-styled bike. Will the Yamaha’s extensive selection of accessories and electronic safety systems be enough to win the doubtful over? We’ll find out once these models hit the showroom floors this season.