The Yorkshire Dales National Park covers 841 square miles, with amazing riding to be found throughout. The way we went – an anticlockwise loop away from and back to the A1 – is not intended to be the definitive greatest single route within it. Instead it’s a mix of roads we chose to test our sports tourers in a variety of scenarios – from bumpy to smooth, from wide to narrow, and from desolate to busy. It starts off from Bedale, heading across to Reeth and then Thwaite on a run of pretty, easy-going and generally quiet backroads. We took a scenic diversion on the road from Feetham to Langthwaite (turn right at the Punch Bowl Inn) – recommended so long as you’re happy on tight, single-track carriageways. The road from Thwaite to Hawes – the Buttertubs Pass – is a belter but can be quite touristy. Things get quieter as you leave Hawes, skirting the Ribblehead Viaduct to head for Skipton, before traffic builds up again on the eastbound A-roads. Biker-friendly eateries include the Pennygarth Café in Hawes and the Route 59 Café a few miles outside Skipton on the A59.
Simon, though he’s not so enthusiastic about the MT’S hyperactive behaviour. “For me, it’s almost too eager to leap about, on the verge of being wayward. It forces you to read a road in three dimensions — up and down, as well as what direction it’s going — especially over some of those crests.”
HAWES TO HARROGATE
58 miles After filling up in Hawes (this time the Yamaha’s fuel light pinging on before its trip has reached 100 miles), the next morning we head south-west on the B6255. It’s a smoother, calmer, more flowing road than yesterday’s frantic Buttertubs action, though by any normal measure still an incredible place to ride: quiet, fast, free and challenging enough to keep you on your toes. The sense of empty space and sprawling views in all directions means, at times, it even gives the slightest subtle sense of flying — though one that’s quickly put in perspective when we find ourselves being buzzed by an RAF Tucano.
It’s a great chance to get to compare the bikes’ engines. The BMW’S 999cc straight four is instantly impressive, not just because it’s outrageously fast — the most powerful and the most torquey of the three bikes — but because it’s also faultlessly flexible and controllable with it. “The fuelling is amazing,” confirms Jimmy. Even set to Dynamic (the most aggressive of the XR’S various riding modes) it’s impossible to get it to hiccup from a shut throttle. The two-way quickshifter is equally slick, seamlessly swapping gears without needing you to touch the clutch.
There’s a slight coarseness to the combustion — not the same thing as the motorway tingles, which you barely notice out here when the motor’s moving up and down through the rev range — but the power delivery is perfectly, permanently obedient. “The BMW’S motor isn’t as interesting or charismatic as the Yamaha, but it’s more controllable,” says Simon.
“It’s a great chance to get to compare the bikes’ engines”
“The Kawasaki has a flexible engine too,” adds James. “You can just stick it in sixth gear and ride the midrange.” The Z1000 has the only motor here that isn’t descended from a superbike but instead, has been developed purely for its purpose as a roadster – with the smallest pistons, the longest stroke and the biggest capacity of the three bikes here, its peak figures need the fewest revs. It offers up a huge amount of easy, effortless, linear drive, but does so without a scorching, aggressive, explosive character. Tellingly, none of us feel the need to try its Low Power mode.
“The Z1000 has a sort of carby feel, like it’s saying, ‘I’m going to add speed in my own time,’” explains Simon. “And in some ways, I prefer that to the MT-10, especially on bumpy backroads. I feel like I can move the throttle a fraction and it’s not suddenly going to leap about everywhere.”
Ah yes, the MT-10. Its engine response is rabid — it’s like there’s no flywheel weight to temper things, so the slightest tweak of the throttle instantly sends the motor off through the revs. Shutting the twistgrip similarly results in sudden, sharp engine braking and so frequently transitioning between a closed and slightly open throttle feels… well, how would you describe it, Si?
“When I started riding the MT-10 on backroads, or in traffic, I couldn’t think of a suitable curse,” he scowls, shaking his head. “I just wanted to get off and throw it in a ditch. I literally couldn’t control it.”
“Getting back on the throttle does feel a little crude,” reasons Jimmy. “It’s a flaw, but it doesn’t annoy me. The Standard engine mode is the smoothest, which helps at low speed or when you’re in low gears.”
Turning left at the remarkable Ribblehead Viaduct on to the B6479, we skirt through Settle and pick up the busier, calmer A65 and A59 back to the motorway. Picking taller gears (a good excuse to use the standard quickshifter) does help tame the Yamaha’s excess enthusiasm, letting us appreciate the engine’s other traits — like its gorgeous, growling, gargling offbeat exhaust note, courtesy of its crossplanecrank’s firing interval.
Single-track blacktop winding through the hills... perfect
“I say, I say, I say... My dog has no nose...”
Whoever is having the beans goes at the back...