Tour­ing at scale

When it comes to tour­ing, is a big­bud­get colos­sus al­ways best? We take three scales of tourer on a road trip to find out...

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - By Si­mon Har­g­reaves ROAD TESTER

Mod­ern so­ci­ety says that size mat­ters – it’s drilled into us all the time that big­ger is bet­ter, more is, er, more-er. But is that re­ally true in the tour­ing seg­ment? We take three scales of com­fort with Yamaha’s new Tracer 700, the Kawasaki Ver­sys 1000 GT, and BMW’S class-defin­ing R1200RT SE, and head to Scot­land in search of the truth.

‘You’ve brought how many pairs of socks?” We’re gear­ing up for a night away, kick­ing off with a 250-mile ride to Carter Bar and the bor­der be­tween Scot­land and Eng­land, and our three dif­fer­ent lev­els of tour­ing prow­ess are parked out­side the MCN of­fices in Peter­bor­ough with pan­niers wide open, ready to ac­cept un­der­wear. Ex­tra socks shouldn’t pose a prob­lem for any of the three bikes. But, even so, why so many socks for so few days? “Well, you never know,” says Jimmy, the guilty party.

In terms of qual­ity footwear lin­ing, the 20-litre semi-hard pan­niers on Yamaha’s new Tracer 700 would fill up first. The ba­sic Tracer 7 is the pop­u­lar MT-07 with a half fair­ing and bet­ter sus­pen­sion. The ex­tras on this bike come from Yamaha’s cat­a­logue, but you add them to the base bike too. Even so, with heated grips, semi-hard pan­niers, tank bag, crash bungs, tour­ing screen and a cou­ple of other bits, to­tal pack­age price is still a rea­son­able £7503.

Mean­while, the Kawasaki is ef­fec­tively the same thing – it’s an ex­ist­ing Ver­sys 1000 with added hard pan­niers and top­box, plus spot lights, crash bungs, 12v socket and hand guards – but it’s avail­able as a sep­a­rate model, the Grand Tourer, for £11,349.

And fi­nally, BMW’S R1200RT SE is long es­tab­lished at the top of the tour­ing tree, sport­ing a list of ex­tras in­clud­ing au­to­blip and quick­shift gearchanges, semi-ac­tive sus­pen­sion, key­less ig­ni­tion, ra­dio and, of course, mul­ti­ple en­gine modes and trac­tion con­trol.

Right, cloth­ing se­cure in the boxes, it’s wheels up to Scot­land...

Tracer 700

Yamaha’s new light-tourer “Is this the world’s most adorable tourer?” asks James, who has fallen unashamedly in love with the Tracer 700. We all have. It’s start­ing from a good place; the MT-07 on which it’s based (same 74bhp, 689cc par­al­lel twin, sim­i­lar chas­sis) has the sun­ni­est dis­po­si­tion in mod­ern motorcycling; it’s light, ag­ile and the mo­tor is so burst­ing with en­ergy it’s as if Yamaha put too many E-num­bers in its packed lunch. By adding a half fair­ing, twin lights and a screen to boost long-dis­tance com­fort – which they do – it fol­lows that the Tracer 700 will be just as much fun, only for longer.

And it is. As we trickle out to­wards the A1 head­ing north, the Yamaha dis­patches early morn­ing round­abouts and snooz­ing driv­ers with dis­dain, skirt­ing one and leapfrog­ging the other with short, sharp gearshifts through its funky midrange. In­nately cheer­ful, you can’t help smil­ing along with it.

The Tracer 7’s rid­ing po­si­tion is com­pact, which is great for con­trol on bumpy B-roads. It’s a small bike; a hint taller than the MT-07 with higher bars and a higher seat, but on the mo­tor­way I find I’m wedged into po­si­tion and the grips are a bit too near, arms a bit too bent. But James and Jimmy have no such is­sues; “I think it’s the best rid­ing po­si­tion of the three,” says James. “I feel plugged into it; I think it’s just as comfy as the BMW or the Kawasaki.”

That’s high praise for the Yamaha, but there’s no doubt­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of its mas­sive, ad­justable tour­ing screen – whether the flared sides (which make it look in­side out) help is moot, but the over­all ef­fect is a qui­eter, less dis­turbed ride at speed when it’s fully up, with only a light ruf­fling of the shoul­ders in­stead of the head­buf­fet­ing of some other tall screens. Clearly, some­one over 6ft has tested it in devel­op­ment and it’s sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ter than the stock screen (al­though maybe not to look at).

Yamaha’s test rider for­got to sug­gest en­larg­ing the tank by quite enough though: at 17 litres it’s three more than the MT-07 but, de­spite the Tracer record­ing the best av­er­age fuel econ­omy of the test on mo­tor­ways and back roads (53.8mpg), it only man­ages 130 miles be­fore hit­ting one bar para­noia on the LCD fuel dis­play. That’s not a bril­liant range for a tourer, and es­pe­cially no­tice­able when the com­pany it’s keep­ing will go over 200 miles – the RT still shows over half full and the Ver­sys has only dropped by a cou­ple of bars. “It missed a trick there,” say Jimmy. “Twenty litres would’ve made it so much more of a tourer.”

The Yamaha’s zip-up pan­niers hold the least on the test, but are about right for a week­end away. They’re made from soft ABS, come with wa­ter­proof in­ners, aren’t in­di­vid­u­ally lock­able, but lock to the bike via a mount­ing kit. There’s also a fairly mas­sive rack for a top box, but Yamaha, in keep­ing with other mod­els, de­cline to of­fi­cially fit one along­side pan­niers lest it com­pro­mise sta­bil­ity. Need­less to say, the Tracer’s pan­niers are so neat and com­pact they don’t af­fect han­dling in any way. Even when they’re full of socks.

And the Tracer’s chas­sis is draw­ing ful­some praise. “The MT-07 is a great bike but it’s let down by its sus­pen­sion,” says Jimmy. “The fork is soft and bouncy and feels bud­get. The Tracer is com­pletely dif­fer­ent; the sus­pen­sion is ex­cel­lent, ride qual­ity on the mo­tor­way is su­perb, it doesn’t dive too much on the brakes and it’s com­pletely sorted in corners.” That’ll be stiffer springs and re­vised damp­ing rates, then.

The Tracer re­ally does han­dle well, and not just for its price. It’s light enough for steer­ing not to be kicked about on bumpy corners, and in a straight line it’s not choppy or harsh. “And it’s on Miche­lin Pi­lot Road 4s,” points out Jimmy. “They flat­ter any sus­pen­sion.” But, again, mass counts when it comes to re­laxed cruis­ing, and the Tracer is the most ac­tive bike on long stretches. “You burn more calo­ries on the Yamaha,” ob­serves Jimmy.

As we push north, the Tracer’s mo­tor is no­tice­ably the least po­tent when it comes to over­tak­ing. But it’s not lack­ing; 80mph pops up at 5500rpm in top, which means the Yam needs a cou­ple of down­shifts to get it fly­ing and feels, if any­thing, overgeared. A few ex­tra teeth on the rear sprocket would pep it up even more with­out sac­ri­fic­ing fuel econ­omy or gen­er­at­ing too many vibes at cruis­ing speed. Of which there are few any­way – the 275° crank, de­signed to em­u­late a V-twin, of­fers a few pleas­ing pulses at low revs, but smoothes out as it spins faster.

A tankbag is also in­cluded on the fully ac­ces­sorised Tracer, lock­ing to a ring on top of the filler cap and, along with a 12v socket, means we can use a phone as a sat­nav in the tankbag’s top com­part­ment. Which is handy, be­cause years of re­liance on elec­tron­ics have left us un­able to follow a route us­ing con­ven­tional signs. We get lost nav­i­gat­ing a fuel stop in Ponteland near New­cas­tle, and end up pay­ing a fly­ing visit to the air­port.

So it looks like we have a win­ner al­ready. Has the Tracer any other fi­nal faults as a tourer, I ask the other two as we fill up with fuel to the sound of twin-props. “The mir­rors are blur­ri­est,” says James. “But the heated grips are nice,” grins Jimmy, who’s tried them out de­spite claims the week­end will be the hottest of the year. Beat that, Kawasaki.

‘It’s the best rid­ing po­si­tion of the three. I feel plugged into it’

Ver­sys 1000

Kawasaki’s ‘Grand Tourer’ Oddly, heated grips are not part of the Ver­sys’ meta­mor­pho­sis from low-spec ad­ven­ture bike to Grand Tourer. Nei­ther is a tall screen. Both are avail­able as ex­tra ex­tras – but you get plenty of other use­ful items, such as a mas­sive 47-litre top­box, 27-litre pan­niers, spot lamps, a 12v socket, crash bungs, hand­guards and, on this bike, an Akrapovic end can (not in­cluded as part of the pack­age but it sounds nice). You also get a bright red dig­i­tal gear in­di­ca­tor, which ought to be stan­dard, and dimmable; it’s too bright at night.

Maybe that’s why there’s some­thing slightly bolt-on-spe­cial about the Ver­sys – it feels like a heav­ily ac­ces­sorised stan­dard model, while the Tracer 700’s ac­ces­sories have a more in­te­grated vibe, as if that’s how the bike is sup­posed to be (it ac­tu­ally makes the stock Yamaha look a bit, well, stock).

So Jimmy, what do you think of the Kawasaki?

“It’s much bet­ter than the pre­vi­ous Ver­sys. I think it might be my favourite.”

Whoa, hang on. Re­ally? Last year’s re­vamp was com­pre­hen­sive – a styling over­haul with sus­pen­sion, en­gine and er­gonomic tweaks – but that’s a big claim, and not very fash­ion­able.

“Se­ri­ously. It’s big, comfy, se­ri­ously fast, han­dles well, like a half­way com­bi­na­tion of the light­weight fun of the Tracer and laid-back lux­ury of the BMW. The en­gine is just mas­sive and the only weak point is its soft fork – a lot of ini­tial dive on the brakes, but you can slow that a bit by ad­just­ing fork damp­ing – and the gear in­di­ca­tor gets con­fused some­times. But it’s got a great all-round bal­ance of tour­ing and sporty char­ac­ter.”

He’s right. It’s not the sex­i­est bike in the world, but the Ver­sys is a solid all­rounder and one of bik­ing’s best kept se­crets. Or, at least, it’s un­der­rated and over­looked, prob­a­bly be­cause it’s usu­ally com­pared to spec’d-up flag­ships like BMW’S R1200GS. But in this com­pany, on a sneaky week­end trip, it’s got a lot go­ing for it.

“It’s an un­der­stated bike,” says Jimmy. “It looks av­er­age; pla­s­ticky and an­gu­lar. But it also feels chunky and durable. Plus the top­box is so mas­sive it’s got week­end space to spare. You could fit a rea­son­ably sized pet in that top­box. The pan­niers aren’t as they look from the out­side, though.”

Size mat­ters with the Ver­sys: first im­pres­sion is it’s a big old beast, with a strong sense of mass, pur­pose and height. “The Ver­sys is ob­vi­ously larger in every di­men­sion than the Tracer 700,” says James. “It’s not hard to man­age, but you can tell it’s top heavy when you’re turn­ing round or get­ting a move on over bumps; the chas­sis lets you know there’s more to it. On most roads, it’s smoother and less ac­tive than the Yamaha.”

It’s also a much broader rid­ing po­si­tion. The bars are wide, pegs deckscrap­ingly low, and you sit deep in the bike on an equally spa­cious seat, steer­ing the bike from the shoul­ders. The Ver­sys’ shorty screen is ad­justable, but it’s just as ef­fec­tive up or down. Wind blast is neg­li­gi­ble, as you mostly sit be­hind a 21-litre tank – which gives the Kawasaki over 200 miles the­o­ret­i­cal range. But, be­cause we’re stop­ping to fill the Tracer 7 every 120 miles or so, the Kawasaki never drops be­low half­way on its gauge. It’s got plenty of legs in the tank.

It’s got plenty of legs in the mo­tor, too. The 1043cc lump is a 120bhp de­tuned ver­sion of the 140bhp in­line four from the Z1000 and Z1000SX. But in this com­pany it doesn’t feel di­min­ished at all – power surges from en­gine to trans­mis­sion to back wheel, spi­ralling for­ward mo­men­tum in ex­po­nen­tial ur­gency through the rev range with a typ­i­cal Kawasaki tur­bine-whine. You can trace a line back across gen­er­a­tions of big K su­per­bikes, through ZZ-R1100S back to air­cooled Gpzs – they’ve all got the same ir­re­press­ible, ir­re­sistible power de­liv­ery.

And, im­por­tantly for an in­line four, the Ver­sys is al­ways dream­ily smooth. At 5000rpm, pulling 80mph in top, it’s like skim­ming across a millpond. Open the taps fully and it stam­pedes into Scot­land like a snort­ing hag­gis head­ing for home.

The Kawasaki’s wide mir­rors are en­tirely blur-free, which is just as well given the astro­nom­i­cal ve­loc­ity the bike is ca­pa­ble of, al­legedly. Above 110mph, I’m told, the Ver­sys starts to get a gen­tle weave on as the aero­dy­nam­ics and weight bal­ance of that vast top­box come into play. But at sen­si­ble speeds, ev­ery­thing is

‘Open the taps and it stam­pedes into Scot­land like a snort­ing hag­gis’

ul­tra sta­ble. Over­takes hap­pen in the blink of a synapse, with su­per­bike-ease, and corners are straight­ened into sweeps of neu­tral steer­ing. For the over-en­thu­si­as­tic, the Ver­sys comes with Kawasaki’s three-stage trac­tion con­trol and ABS to keep its wheels in line.

The weather fore­cast pre­dicted the hottest day of the year, but the sun has gone to hide be­hind filthy black clouds loom­ing men­ac­ingly over the hills. Which, as it hap­pens, is where we head, to­wards Mof­fat in Dum­fries and Gal­loway, and the biker-friendly Buc­cleuch Arms Ho­tel.

R1200RT SE

BMW’S bench­mark tourer Af­ter the funky, tid­dly Tracer and big, bal­lis­tic Ver­sys, jump­ing on the RT is the big­gest cul­ture shock of the lot. The vast, sweep­ing panorama of the Yarrow Val­ley has noth­ing on the vast, sweep­ing panorama of the BMW’S dash, with its multi-lay­ered menus con­trol­ling heated seats, grips, ra­dio, trac­tion con­trol, en­gine modes, dy­namic ESA sus­pen­sion, tyre pres­sures and var­i­ous trips. And that’s be­fore you get to the bars, with but­tons for cruise con­trol, screen ad­just­ment, and a big one in the mid­dle for switch­ing the bike on with key­less ig­ni­tion. Which, af­ter a com­fort break, nearly spoils the day when Jimmy rides off with the re­mote fob rest­ing on the pil­lion seat and doesn’t re­alise un­til we stop again miles down the road and he can’t find it in his pock­ets. It is, for­tu­itously, wedged be­tween the seat and a pan­nier. All that tech­nol­ogy al­most un­done by hu­man er­ror, then.

So a grand tourer that wins just about every tour­ing test it en­ters must surely be so far ahead against the Ver­sys thou and Tracer 700 it’s barely a speck on the hori­zon? Not quite. Ear­lier, on the A1 head­ing north, a five-mile a tail­back at Don­caster (prob­a­bly caused by some­one brak­ing un­ex­pect­edly in New­cas­tle) show­cased the BMW’S anti-fil­ter­ing width. It’s a large bike and al­though the pres­ence of those cir­cu­lar LED owl eyes loom

ing in the mir­ror is enough to make most mo­torists swerve to one side, it doesn’t al­ways work with van driv­ers.

“But it’s hard to pick any other faults with the BMW,” says Jimmy. “It’s al­most bor­ingly awe­some. It’s so sta­ble, no fuss, noth­ing fazes the chas­sis, whether it’s the bump­i­est B-road or an dead straight mo­tor­way – the han­dling is so un­ex­pect­edly good not just com­pared to the size of the bike, but against any mea­sure. And the en­gine has plenty of go in it – it runs out of revs quickly but it’s got tons of midrange and gets up to high speed ridicu­lously quickly.”

In al­most every re­spect, the BMW is peer­less on any road with three lanes or more. In fact it’s hard to beat on any tar­mac. The rid­ing po­si­tion is er­gonomic per­fec­tion, sit­ting the rider flat and plac­ing the bars seem­ingly just above waist height – so it feels like you’re steer­ing the thing from the hips.

‘It’s al­most bor­ingly awe­some. It’s so sta­ble, noth­ing fazes the chas­sis’

Press the starter and the 125bhp, 1171cc flat twin thrums into life with a char­ac­ter­is­tic chuckle, no longer rock­ing to the right – be­cause the crank spin, re­versed to run clock­wise with the wa­ter­cooled up­date in 2014, is bal­anced by a counter-ro­tat­ing clutch. Click into first, feel the Telelever sus- pen­sion sit up as you feed power from the fly-by-wire throt­tle through the shaft to the rear, and pre­pare to be swept away on a tide of tech­nol­ogy. The full-bore quick­shifter blats its way up the gear­box, and clutch­less au­to­blip­per down­shifts are a naughty ad­di­tion to a full-spec tourer; “You think, ‘That’s just overkill’, but it’s good fun,” says James.

Pi­lot­ing the RT is like fly­ing a space­ship, re­lax­ing at the con­trols while the faintest of touches on the tiller eases the hurtling bulk along what­ever path you choose. It’s never pos­si­ble to en­tirely dis­re­gard the BMW’S mass – you know you’re in con­trol of con­sid­er­able heft – but the brakes and sus­pen­sion are so good it’s im­pos­si­ble to lose the plot.

But is it too iso­lat­ing? Jimmy, im­pressed with the way the RT shooms along the A708 to Mof­fat at in­de­cent pace, thinks the same in­su­la­tion on long rides makes it al­most too easy.

“On a trans-con­ti­nen­tal blast, where com­fort re­ally mat­ters, sure. If you asked which bike I’d ride back from the south of France, I’d take the Beemer. But for a week­end, over a few hun­dred miles, the RT feels a bit un­nec­es­sary. You can ride it hard, have fun and be comfy, but the other two are much more en­gag­ing, in the short term. They feel like mo­tor­bikes; the RT feels like a float­ing palace.”

“And you could buy two Tracer 700s with change for a an­other bike, or a Ver­sys 1000 Grand Tourer and a Tracer 700 to­gether for the price of one RT,” points out James, as we switch to clear vi­sors for the last run to the ho­tel.

‘In al­most every re­spect, the BMW is peer­less on any road with three lanes or more’

The Tracer’s light­ness is a ben­e­fit on twistier roads

For a put-to­gether bud­get tourer, the Tracer 700 is se­ri­ously im­pres­sive The chaps take a break to com­pare notes (and to let Jimmy change his socks again)

Jimmy’s ex­cited be­cause that road sign looks a bit like a sock The GT han­dles well for such a big mo­tor­cy­cle

Rid­ing the RT is like pi­lot­ing a space­ship. In a good way

Two mo­tor­cy­cles and a float­ing palace

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