Sporty Tour­ing

Mod­ern sports­bikes are good for noth­ing but rid­ing on track, so we’re told. What ut­ter cob­blers. They can do al­most any­thing, for ex­am­ple…

Motorcycle Monthly - - Fast Riding - Words: Ben­jamin J Kubas Cronin Pic­tures: Jonny Gawler

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 ma­chines...

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...”

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