Comfort, Carrying Capacity, Torque, Sound, Safety Equipment
Between The USA, Europe and Japan, Who Has The Best Motorcycle To Travel On?
They say that travel is the best way to learn. And it’s quite true. However, with age , we start to have nothing against a little comfort and equipment. The latest touring motorcycles offer a level of comfort and equipment worthy of a limousine, with, among other things, high quality audio systems (especially on American bikes, in fact), very complete dashboards, Bluetooth connectivity to listen to your smartphone playlists, touch screen GPS, cruise control, heated seats and grips, and keyless ignition; some of them also have engine mapping and controlled suspensions. And at Honda, we have an optional dual-clutch automatic transmission! In short, it’s like a Mercedes S-Class, but on two wheels!
The American vision of touring
In the great American duel, the oldest of the American manufacturers Indian had taken a technological lead, until Harley responded with its 2017 vintage (presented in the fall of 2016), with a new platform, new chassis and new generation engine blocks, the Milwaukee-Eight with 8 valves and mixed air / water cooling. As a result, it’s a bit of a draw… but it’s true that Indian is evolving its bikes in 2018 with the Thunder Stroke 111 engine, which promises more power, more torque and a deeper sound, all while meeting environmental standards. As a result, in both cases, we have more than 15 m/kg of torque and a power that approaches the real 90 horses, more than enough to swallow tons of kilometers without ever running out of breath.
In both cases, if you choose the flagships of the respective ranges, the Indian Roadmaster and Harley-Davidson Limited, you will find a level of performance that is really close: flexible and torquey engines at the same time, which have become powerful and even lively under acceleration (than those who remained on an old conception of the big American V-Twin go for a test ride, a Harley 114 or a big Indian a little liberated, it is a real pleasure), the type of engine to which you get attached over time. In both cases, you have to take into account a dry weight that exceeds 400 kilos and that can be a bit intimidating during maneuvers. At this point, the Indian Roadmaster is easier to handle on a daily basis, even – and especially – for smaller riders.
The joys of the 6 cylinder
Another monument of mechanical pleasure: the six-cylinder. There are two schools of thought here: the Germanic vision, because of the brand’s tradition, is focused on performance with an engine that revs up to 8,500 rpm, literally roars in the revs with a bewitching sound and delivers no less than 160 horsepower, which we sometimes wonder if they are not a bit too much for touring use. The BMW has developed a cooler but still efficient version of its flagship: the K 1600 Grand America, which is distinguished by the shape of its rear lights integrated into the suitcases and its footrest platforms for a relaxed driving position.
On the other hand, Honda has completely redesigned its GoldWing for 2018, while staying true to the flat-six architecture. Here, power was not the main objective: it is rather the flexibility, roundness and smoothness of this incomparable mechanics that was sought. In fact, the flat six develops 124 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 170 Nm of torque at 4500 rpm. Unique on the market and not without interest: Honda offers a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission on this engine, unfortunately only on the most expensive of the three versions offered in the catalog.
How to choose between these two machines? The mechanical architecture is comparable, but the driving experience is different, and it’s easy to imagine that the GoldWing will be difficult to match for pure touring use, even if the driving position on this K 1600 is more relaxed than on the other K 1600 GT and K 1600 GTL, and just like on the K 1600 Bagger, a suspension adjustment mode called “cruise” brings a little more flexibility to the whole. In spite of its 160 horsepower, BMW has limited the top speed of the Grand America to 162 km/h, which is surprising to say the least, but good. In fact, we will take advantage of the engine’s power on the intermediate speeds.
In both cases, the equipment level is very high: the K 1600 Grand America can receive a shifter (to be recommended, because the transmission’s pleasure is perfectible), an e-Call system for emergency and automatic call to the rescue in case of an accident; of course, there are three engine maps, piloted suspensions, a clever knob for navigating the settings and changing the radio, cruise control, xenon lights, reverse assistance, electric bubble, seat and heated handles. It is not really the level of equipment that will allow to separate them, because Honda goes just as far: keyless start, electric bubble, LED lights, Apple CarPlay compatibility, in short, they forgot nothing…
And if the K1600 is too expensive starting with its $23,600 (without options), the BMW R1200RT has what it takes to take you very far, while being easier in everyday life in the city, with the 125 horsepower of its Boxer for $6,000 less (from $18,600).
The Italian concept
Here, we are not exactly on the same register, but this is what Italy does best and the Italians do not make motorcycles like the others: the Moto Guzzi California continues the prestigious lineage, born in 1970, of these Italian roadsters with a strong identity and high level road performances. This machine, by the way, is not quite the success it deserves, because the 1400 engine is really nice (with its “small” 96 horsepower at 6500 rpm compared to the 160 horsepower of the BMW), smooth and powerful in the revs. The bike, under its classic appearance and its nice finish (look at the LED lights integrated in the rear fender), is however modern: by-wire throttle, three engine maps, traction control and cruise control.
If the protection is not as good as on its American rivals, the engine protects the legs a bit and the bubble does its job. The California makes up for it in terms of road holding, with a much more dynamic performance than its rivals and a price that is also lighter with its “only” 18,549 euros.
The Star Venture
Finally, it is impossible to go around the issue without mentioning the case of a machine. The Star Venture is indeed the archetype of the American cruiser, but with a nice modernity in its lines while carrying 168 liters of luggage. The wide fairing protects well and the big 1854 cc V2 should offer just the right amount of torque and extension (it only revs to 2750 rpm at 120 km/h in last gear), in a zone where its 142 Nm of torque can be freely expressed.
Well equipped (electric bubble, reverse gear, cruise control, heated seat, 17 cm diagonal touch screen), the Star would have a place everywhere.
We have talked about GT bikes to travel far and in comfort. But the trail bike has always been the symbol of travel, because of its ability to go off-road and to leave the usual roads. Here, the offer is varied, multiple, wide among all the manufacturers and in almost all the displacements, since the trails are now declined in version medium size (800 cm3) or super size (1200 cm3).
But this will be the subject of a separate comparison between Aprilia 1200 Caponord, BMW R 1200 GS, Ducati 1200 Multistrada, Honda VFR 1200 X Crosstourer, Kawasaki Versys 1000, KTM 1290 Adventure, Triumph Tiger 1200, Suzuki VSTrom 1000, Yamaha TDM 900 or Yamaha XT 1200 ZE Super Ténéré.
Whatever the motorcycle size, it is possible to go far away and have fun, solo or in duo. Enjoy your journey!
Read more about: