SPORTS TOURERS IN YORKSHIRE
Exploring the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales with three very different sports tourers
THE GLORIOUS ROLLING landscapes of the Yorkshire Dales – from its tight lanes laced with dry stone walls to its vast, verdant vistas – are an endlessly enticing motorcycling playground. Doubly so when you’re dreaming of them from the decidedly drab Midlands industrial estate RIDE calls home. But any road trip from here to the Dales becomes a ride of three distinct characters: there are narrow, rollercoaster backroads that reward bikes with accuracy and agility; faster runs through open wilderness that call on plenty of overtaking punch; and the inescapable motorway slog there and back.
You’d likely think a do-it-all sports tourer would be the perfect choice for such a ride. Well, there’s a catch: there aren’t actually that many being made any more. Ridiculously, riders don’t appear to want them. Ten years ago, British bikers bought more than 11,000 brand-new sports tourers; last year it had plummeted below 4000. This catastrophic collapse is utterly baffling to anyone who worships multipurpose motorcycling – the ability to go fast and far; to enjoy cornering and comfort; to want precision and practicality. Doesn’t everyone want a bike that does everything?
Well, RIDE certainly does. So to see what’s right and wrong with today’s sports tourers, we’re taking three of them on just such a run up to, and right through, Yorkshire. There’s the latest version of Kawasaki’s Z1000SX, consistently Britain’s biggest-selling sports tourer. There’s the BMW S1000XR, a superbike on stilts. And there’s the new Tourer Edition of Yamaha’s MT-10, a hyperactive supernaked that’s found a sensible streak. All are new or updated for 2017, all have four-cylinder litre-class engines and all offer a pair of panniers for us to pack our pants in. Last one to Hawes is a Yorkshire pudding…
“You’d think a do-it-all sports tourer would be the perfect choice”
PETERBOROUGH TO BEDALE
After an hour of fleeing flat, packed Peterborough on the northbound A1, three things about the S1000XR are clear. The first is that it’s a comfy, spacious place to be sat. I’ve spent the past six months riding an R1200GS and this high-chair stance feels almost identical — wide handlebars, towering height, acres of room between seat and pegs. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the XR’S designers simply took a brass rubbing of the GS’S ergonomic triangle.
The second is that it’s well-equipped, furnished with everything a long-range tourist could want to while away the motorway miles. The seat is comfy and supportive, the cruise control gives your brain a break from speedo obsessing and the accurate, trustworthy range countdown helps you squeeze every last mile you can from the 20-litre tank. The screen, pulled up into the higher of its two positions, is pleasantly protective as well.
Unfortunately, the third discovery is that the XR still suffers from irritating, tingly, high-frequency cruising-speed engine vibrations. It was an issue on the original 2015 bike, but BMW had promised it had solved it with new “optimised vibrationdecoupled handlebars”. Sorry chaps, you haven’t. Keen for a second opinion, we pull over to swap bikes somewhere north of Newark. “I noticed the vibration after less than 25 miles,” Jimmy Doherty confirms after his first ride on the ‘improved’ XR. “And it’s not just your hands — you can feel the buzziness through your feet too.” It’s not just me then.
I take over the Kawasaki Z1000SX as we sail past Doncaster and on towards Leeds. It feels radically different from the XR – far more compact, set lower and tilted forward more, feet tucked up closer to your bum. The bars are lower, closer, narrower and set at a slightly inward angle too. The SX isn’t as open or upright as a naked roadster, but it’s more relaxed than a Honda VFR800. “It’s a bit of a weird riding position,” reckons Simon Hargreaves. “The angle of the bars twists your wrists — I want to spread the bars out, to straighten them. But when you notice the extreme cut-outs in the screen and the tank, you realise why the bar position is a compromise.”
The sharply sculpted screen adjusts to three angles but even set to its highest, it still doesn’t offer the wind protection of the XR. “The first thing I noticed on the Kawasaki was the wind; it hits you on your chest,” says Jimmy. “It makes it feel colder than the other two bikes.”
The Yamaha’s fuel light pings on with perfect timing as we pull in to Wetherby Services. “Well, there’s nothing wrong with the MT-10,” declares Simon. I’m scanning his words for sarcasm but coming up empty. He actually means it. I’m surprised, given that this much-vaunted ‘Tourer Edition’ is simply a regular MT-10 with a dealer-fitted kit of bolt-on bits. Can it really turn a raging R1-based streetfighter into a proper all-rounder?
Five miles further up the road and I’ve got to concede: he’s right. The MT isn’t as luxurious as the XR, obviously, but it’s so much better than I’d expected – in fact, it’s nicer on motorways than the Kawasaki. The flyscreen’s wind protection is superior to the SX, the Yamaha has cruise control (which the Kawasaki doesn’t), its legroom is no worse (if anything, maybe a whisker more generous), the comfort seat deserving of its name and the crossplane-
“We gleefully soak up the welcome curves of the A684”
crank engine superbly smooth at steady speeds. Over distance, the MT-10’S only obvious shortcoming is a pretty paltry tank range — a consequence of having both the worst fuel economy and the smallest tank of the three bikes.
BEDALE TO HAWES
Our turning off the A1 can’t come soon enough. Picking up signs for Bedale, the three of us revel in the end of the multilane monotony and gleefully soak up the welcome, gentle curves of the A684. A blue road-sign warning of “Tank drivers under instruction” is too tempting to ignore, so we hook a sharp right, hoping to stumble across a battalion of badly-driven Shermans, Chieftans and Challengers that, disappointingly, never appears.
The BMW doesn’t feel like a tank but after the Yamaha, it is substantially more, well, substantial. It’s not just the XR’S extra height that makes the difference but also its width and length. “After the other two bikes it feels like you sit in the BMW, not just on top of it,” reckons Jimmy. “It’s
like you climb inside it – you look ahead and see all this mass in front of you. But everything’s easy on it, it’s so poised and it disguises its weight so well. The only problem is that I don’t feel quite as connected to the road as on the other two.”
That’s down to the XR’S ‘adventure’-style longer-travel suspension, which muffles the tarmac-to-palm feedback. It’s noticeable, but it doesn’t hold the BMW back at all as we fire over the top of the scenic Barden Moor and drop down between the trip’s first dry stone walls. We cut across to the B6270, which tracks the River Swale through stunning quiet countryside. A few miles past Reeth, Simon waves, indicates and leads us off the main road, turning almost 180° back on ourselves to pick up a sharply climbing single-track road that seems to be heading into the middle of nowhere.
Signs of life melt away, the skinny strip of road wobbling unsteadily uphill into a wilderness of vibrant purple heather. We pass over an old stone bridge, then drop downhill to splash through a stream flowing across slippy cobblestones. Suddenly that adventure-style suspension doesn’t seem such a bad idea…
The road carries on and climbs back up through a pair of tight, switchback hairpins. It’s the kind of tortuous, twisty terrain that doesn’t normally flatter the Z1000SX’S infamously wayward low-speed steering — but today is an exception. “This is definitely one of the best-steering SXS I’ve ridden,” says Simon, who happens to have ridden quite a lot of them.
“It rolls about a lot better than I remember,” agrees Jimmy. The reason is simple: this SX is RIDE’S long-term test bike, which is no longer on its original
“Our curiosity takes us a few more miles”
tyres. Replacing the Bridgestone S20 rubber it left the factory on with anything else (we’ve chosen Avons) makes a big improvement, killing off the strange tipping-in belligerence that blights the bike in showroom trim. What it leaves behind is the Z1000SX’S true handling. It doesn’t magically dance about like a grand prix machine – it’s still slightly heavy-steering (the SX actually weighs more than the XR) and there’s a strong sense that it carries more weight through its back wheel than the front. But it’s no longer an armwrestling match with the handlebars tipping into walking-pace turns.
Our curiosity takes us on for a few more miles, before heading back towards Thwaite and picking up the legendary Buttertubs Pass to our overnight stop in Hawes. With steep climbs, sharp crests, sudden direction changes, dizzying drops and dramatic views out across the myriad mounds of the Dales, this is one wild road.
But not nearly as wild as the MT-10. With its stumpy wheelbase and instant motor, the Yamaha’s hooligan spirit shines through. “It feels like it has helium in the front tyre!” exclaims Jimmy. “It’s so prone to putting its front wheel in the air, but I don’t think it’s lairy — it’s playful, like a bouncy puppy.”
“I’ve never ridden a bike with as much propensity to wheelie as that,” agrees
KAWASAKI Z1000SX TOURER Britain’s best-selling sports tourer was overhauled for 2017 BMW S1000XR Tall all-rounder that rides like a jacked-up sportsbike
YAMAHA MT-10 TOURER EDITION Lairy supernaked with an official kit of long-range extras Down to the business of assessing motorcycles in the traditional manner
Three go mild in Yorkshire
The Kawasaki’s engine is the more flexible and easiest to ride of the trio
Kawasaki clocks are acceptable but could be better. See why on P107 Stunning vistas and engaging riding roads 28-litre panniers take a full-face lid with ease
The MT-10’S lively engine means accidental hooligan behaviour is a possibility
Modern-looking LCD display on the MT-10 is clear and easy to read at speed Yamaha’s panniers are the smallest here – no way that zip will do up
Short wheelbase and lively engine mean the MT-10 can be a handful
As ever, care needed on wet cobblestones
Can’t beat a nice water-splash