Modern sportsbikes are good for nothing but riding on track, so we’re told. What utter cobblers. They can do almost anything, for example…
We’re getting pretty fed up of hearing over and over again about how a modern sportsbike is too much of a compromise for either everyday use or long distance travel.
Race replica machines are not limited in their scope at all, people are. The only thing with any merit you could possibly throw at a sportsbike is that it’s pretty useless off-road. And you could probably have guessed that...
However, not even one per cent of adventure bikes with supposed offroad capabilities are ever taken there. They also live on the road, first and foremost. And it is ultimately they, not the sportsbike, that is compromised – and for a variety of reasons.
The thing that’s thrown in a race rep’s direction is usually the comfort argument; that they lack it compared to more upright machines. Unless you have an active back complaint, this is also utter nonsense. Any motorcycle, or anything that moves and has a seat will eventually become uncomfortable if you spend enough time on, or in, it.
So what better way to prove this than to undertake a big journey? In an effort to disprove the theory that sport touring on a sport bike is all about pain, we chose to ride down to Portimao in Portugal.
The bikes we chose were BMW’s S 1000 RR, Kawasaki’s ZX-10R and Yamaha’s YXF-R1M. And to throw in a wildcard, we invited Fast Bikes reader Dan to join us on his special Ducati Panigale 899. You know, that well regarded Italian touring machine…
Whenever I’ve been away on long journeys recently, it’s always been on sportsbikes and with not a single major quibble. I’ve done 3500 miles on an R1 in a week, 3000 miles on a Ducati 999 in five days and 2500 miles on a Triumph 675R in four days. That’s big mileage, and apart from one little brief hiccup (which I’ll get to later), it was fabulous every time.
Next up, for our 1500 mile journey to Portimao, I needed some willing accomplices. I ended up with three touring virgins. Our regular snapper, Jonny, was coerced into the voyage. He had barely ridden a bike in years. Then there was Gary from Bridgestone, who likewise had never undertaken a long biking jaunt either. Finally, reader Dan was brought onto the team. The plan itself was simple – dive over to France with Brittany Ferries, blast down to the Pyrenees for some mountain fun, then scorch through Spain to Jerez and finally on to Portimao.
The route and then some
The initial part of our journey would be zipping down through southern England to Poole, so lots of hugely entertaining A and B roads for starters. Then it would be a bit of a slog, in that we wanted to blast through France to get to the fun zone – the mountains – so roughly 560 miles on French Autoroutes. In the Pyrenees we had no specific plan other than to enter near Pau. We’d see where the wiggly roads took us. We’d follow that by gunning it on Spanish motorways to Jerez, and toward Portugal via some amazing roads in a national park near the border. So, bright and early myself and Yamaha-mounted Gary met up with Dan and Jonny and jumped onto one of Brittany Ferries’ finest for the short journey to Cherbourg. Just a few hours later we rolled off the ferry and headed vaguely in the right direction and began the long haul.
The BMW S 1000 RR is one hell of a motorcycle – and one fantastic road bike. However, I’ve always found that when it comes to riding sportsbikes a long distance that everything’s fine for the first hour or so, and then comfort descends rapidly. Do not be alarmed, this is usual fare; the ‘hiccup’. After the second or third fuel stop the discomfort eases off, and your body adjusts as it realises that it’s actually quite used to riding in this racier position. It’s just the static nature of motorway travel that creates the initial aches and pains. But a couple of hundred miles in and all is well with my six-foot plus frame – and the BMW so at ease and so controllable that I feel no need to engage the cruise-control at all.
The only problems is with Dan’s bike, which is so loud he is soon relegated to the back of the group, and that we’re not covering as many miles as quickly as I’d like.
Jonny’s stubbornness to rigidly adhere to the limit, even on quiet stretches, means that he often vanishes from my mirrors. Regardless of this, we still make good enough time to reach Bordeaux by dinner time, 160 miles north of the mountains. Not quite there, but good enough.
Within a hundred yards of leaving the hotel in the morning, we lose Jonny and Dan. I am following the sat-nav out of Bordeaux, Jonny doesn’t see us take a right and thinks he knows where we’re going so heads off with Dan in tow. We wait, and wait, and wait before retracing our steps. By the time we contact them, they are on a motorway somewhere far ahead of us. Great.
Four hours later we finally manage to meet up, and my severely sour mood is lifted hugely by a bang tidy lunch in Eaux-Bonnes. Not long after, we are heading up into seriously twisty territory along the D918 and D126. With a run to the top of the epic D934/A-136 ahead of us, the day is only going to get better.
With the sun going down, empty multi-lane, sinuous highways generate 100mph-plus knee-down action; bend after bend for tens of miles. Briefly glancing in my mirror I see Gary doing the same. This is amazing, it’s the kind of thing you can only dream of doing on nothing but a sportsbike. This is what biking is all about.
Later, sat at the bar of our flea-bitten Spanish motorway hotel, we reflect on the day. In parts it was wonderful, mostly due to the bikes we were on.
Up at the crack of dawn the following morn, I take an executive decision to miss Jerez. The delays have left us too far behind schedule, so after a quick look at a 20-year-old map I formulate a new plan. Smash down past Madrid, into Portugal and then turn off the motorways and do the last couple of hundred miles in the twisties.
From the first few miles rolled, it is one of the best days I’ve ever had on a bike. With the sun rising and no traffic at all to contend with, it is a genuine pleasure blasting through Spain. Bodies are now fully acclimatised to our bikes with not a single ache or pain interrupting the flow. My new trick is to see how fast I can get the BMW’s cruise-control active, and then enjoy riding past everyone with my arms folded or dangling in the breeze. It may be something you mainly find on touring bikes, but cruise-control is an absolute revelation on a sportsbike. It’s that last missing part that makes them just as good as anything else at pounding out the mileage.
As the day wears on we swap bikes for a bit, with me firstly having a go on the R1. Now, it’s a little cramped for me, but again it was just a case of a few miles to get used to it. I didn’t enjoy losing every top gear roll-on race mind you, even to Dan’s 899!
After the R1 I take Jonny’s Kawasaki for a while, which I had initially thought may be the best at this touring lark. It’s big, wide, very comfortable and has such a broad and usable spread of power. And I find I was correct – aside from the fact that I’d have liked the pegs a few millimetres lower. But then that may be because I’d got used to the Beemer which was, without doubt, an absolutely epic tool for this jaunt.
It’s long (ish) with a great seating position for many different shapes and heights for a start, sporting excellent ergonomics and fitting me perfectly. This means your body has an easy time of things. All the buttons are to thumb and finger without having to stretch either to reach anything important.
Once down pat, the controls and electronic aids are also intuitive and easy to use. The engine is completely usable, even in ‘slick’ mode, which is the full fat mode. This bike made 188bhp on the JHS dyno, and in full-beans mode and cruising very near three figure speeds I still see 130 miles to the fuel light, and considerably more going a bit slower.
The BMW ruled the motorways, now it was lording over the turns and we were knee down everywhere. Had I been on anything but a sportsbike over the last few hours, I would have been well and truly devastated.
Not long after we reach our destination of the Circuit de Algarve, and are all pretty chuffed with an incredible day.
The fact remains that even the three touring novices ended up loving their trip, their aches and pains vanished with time and they adored their respective rides. It’s true that some have no choice but to abandon sportsbikes, usually down to physical complaints. In that case, fair enough, keep on biking however you can.
But had we been on naked bikes or adventure machines we would never have made the time up that we’d lost, instead we would have been late. We would never have enjoyed the mountain roads as much either, nor the stunning race track-esque corners in the hills of Portugal. And we would have been sat in pit-lane watching people thrash around the circuit, rather than having the time of our lives on bikes that had just done some serious cruising.
With all that in mind, which type of bike is the more compromised would you say; the naked or adventure bunch, or the sportsbike? You don’t need a calculator to do the maths on this one…
“The fact remains that even the three touring novices ended up loving their trip, their aches and pains vanished with time...”