SPORTS TOURERS IN YORK­SHIRE

RiDE (UK) - - Welcome - Words Martin Fitz-gib­bons Pic­tures Gareth Har­ford

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

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