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 …
THE ST CROP
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 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:
White, weighing in at 180 lbs and 5’ 10” 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.
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.
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 – 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 …
THE CMG ST HEAVYWEIGHT CHALLENGE
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 …
CLASH OF THE TITANS
ROUND 1 – MOTORS
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.
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.
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.
ROUND 2 – GEARBOXE(R)S
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.
ROUND 3 – HANDLING
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.
IN PART 2
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.