Photo of Alan Dowds

Alan Dowds

Professional Motorcycle Expert

Best Touring Motorcycles & Touring Motorbikes

For many riders, touring is what motorcycles were made for. Making the most of the freedom and mobility of a big, powerful bike, heading out for the horizon with your life in the panniers. Rather than being cooped up inside a sterile car, you become a part of the new world you’re travelling through, breathing the air and feeling the sun on your back.

Ultimately, you can go touring on any bike that’s street legal. Even the most extreme current sportsbikes can be made into a tourer with nothing more than a rucksack and some determination. But if you want to cover large mileages in comfort, with your spouse on the back (while avoiding a forcible divorce), you’re best advised to look for a specific touring model.

There are various levels of touring weaponry: at the top of the tree are the mega-tourers – massive, 700lb behemoths like Honda’s Gold Wing, which are built solely with comfort in mind. They incorporate huge, sofa-like seats for rider and pillion, massive, built-in hard luggage and a host of gadgets, from sound systems to sat-nav and reverse gears. Next are the big tourers like Honda’s Pan European or BMW’s K1200GT. These keep the comfortable seats and hard luggage, but in a smaller, less luxurious package that’s much more recognisably a motorcycle. Finally, there are the sport-tourers, like Triumph’s Sprint ST, which make small concessions to comfort, and can have hard luggage fitted optionally, but are essentially, softer versions of "proper" sportsbikes.

Feel the freedom with the best touring motorcycles for making the long haul across the country. These powerful touring motorbikes feature massive motorcycles that have spots for all sorts of gadgets in the built-in luggage.

Best Touring Bikes by Alan Dowds

The Best You Can Get

  • BMW K1200GT

    Alan says: BMW has long been considered as the ultimate touring bike manufacturer, and over the years, the Bavarian firm has refined its touring machinery to an incredibly high level. But since 2003, BMW has also worked hard on its performance machines, producing some super-sporty bikes. The K1200GT is the apotheosis of these two development strands – bringing together the firm’s excellent touring technologies with its newly-developed performance abilities.

    The GT is based on the superb K1200S engine and chassis, with a 152bhp inline-four engine mounted in a twin-spar aluminium frame with radical front and rear monoshock suspension technologies. It’s supremely fast, with handling and braking to match.

    Built onto this high-performance engine and chassis package is a touring environment that’s a match for any other big tourer. Slab-sided bodywork panels give great weather protection, while an adjustable windscreen, seat and handlebars allow a perfect fit for most riders. The tank range is impressive – over 250 miles is easily attained – and an onboard trip computer keeps track of fuel consumption, range remaining, tyre pressure monitoring and other diagnostics.

    BMW offers a host of optional accessories for the GT – including GPS sat-nav, heated seats and grips, electronically-adjusted suspension, alarm, taller screen, and loads more. Fully loaded with all the options, BMW’s K1200GT is truly a machine to ride to the ends of the earth.

    • 1,157cc inline-four DOHC, 16-valve liquid-cooled engine
    • BMS-K fuel injection
    • 152bhp
    • 549lb dry mass
    • 150mph top speed
  • Kawasaki GTR1400 Concours

    Alan says: Unveiled in 2007, Kawasaki claimed that the new GTR1400 (dubbed the Concours 14 in the US) was a new type of tourer – a supersport tourer. Utilising high-performance technologies from the firm’s Ninja range of supersports bikes, in a touring package, the GTR claimed to offer new levels of sporty riding, with the comfort and practicality of a long-distance tourer.

    The heart of the GTR is certainly a strong performer. Taken from the firm’s 200bhp ZZR1400 hypersports bike, the inline-four engine has been revamped with new top-end components, including a hydraulically-operated variable-valve-timing setup that alters the inlet cam timing to give a broader spread of power, as well as reducing fuel consumption and emissions. Kawasaki also fitted the 155bhp engine with a new shaft final drive to reduce the maintenance requirements compared with chain drive.
    The 1400’s chassis is also all-new, with a twin-spar aluminium frame, beefy upside-down front forks and an adjustable rear monoshock. The brakes are a direct lift from Kawasaki’s sportsbikes – four-piston radial-mounted calipers with large, petal-type discs and an ABS anti-lock system built-in. Sleek, aerodynamic bodywork keeps the rider out of the windblast, while an electrically-adjustable windscreen allows fine-tuning of the protection to suit different riders. Large, hard panniers provide ample luggage space, while a novel "keyless" ignition system uses an electronic tag rather than a key to operate the ignition system. There’s also a trip computer with a tyre pressure monitoring system built-in.

    On the road, the GTR is incredibly fast, with a reassuring handling package and strong brakes. But it’s let down by a few flaws: fuel consumption isn’t as good as the competition, and the range of optional accessories is poor compared with BMW.

    • 1,352cc inline-four DOHC, 16-valve liquid-cooled engine
    • Dual throttle-valve fuel injection
    • 155bhp
    • 615lb dry mass
    • 155mph top speed
  • Honda Gold Wing

    Alan says: Since its launch in 1975, Honda’s Gold Wing has been a byword for touring excellence, and in its three decades of development, it has evolved into a fast, luxurious touring machine. The latest version, the GL1800, is powered by a bespoke flat-six cylinder engine, with a 1,832cc capacity, five-speed gearbox (plus reverse), 12-valve heads and Honda’s PGM-FI fuel injection, That super-smooth engine lives in a stiff aluminium frame, with a largely conventional suspension and braking setup – linked double front discs and single rear, with ABS, remote-adjustable rear suspension and 45mm front forks. The engine and chassis work well together, giving a remarkably agile and spritely ride for such a heavy machine (almost 800lb dry).

    But it’s the Gold Wing’s rider and pillion accommodation that make it stand out. Massively comfortable padded seats, with backrests and large footboards, all-enveloping bodywork and luggage space to rival some sportscars make long distances a breeze. A standard high-output CD/radio stereo sound system lets you tune into your favourite tunes on the road, while a host of optional accessories include GPS sat-nav, pannier inner bags, intercom headsets, chrome body parts and an alarm. Honda also offers a version equipped with an airbag intended to protect the rider in the event of a head-on collision.

    The Gold Wing isn’t perfect – the tank range in particular isn’t as impressive as some other tourers if you ride fast. But for long-distance travel, there are few more civilised ways to go.

    • 1,832cc flat-six SOHC, 12-valve liquid-cooled engine
    • Electronic fuel injection
    • 117bhp
    • 798lb dry mass
    • 140mph top speed
  • Honda STX1300 Pan European

    Alan says: First launched in 1990 as the ST1100, Honda’s Pan European is an incredibly capable long-distance big tourer. The latest STX1300 version first appeared in 2003, and like the 1100, it’s based around a transverse V-four engine. The 1,260cc motor has its cylinders arranged across the frame, giving a compact layout, and allowing an efficient transfer of power to the shaft final drive (since the crankshaft is in the same plane as the drive shaft). Honda’s PGM-FI fuel injection replaced the 1100’s carburettors, and a host of other mods improved the Pan European’s handling and performance markedly.

    The 1300’s engine is bolted into a stiff, fabricated aluminium twin-spar frame, which mounts conventional front fork and rear monoshock suspension systems. Braking is taken care of by a sophisticated, linked triple-disc system with ABS anti-lock function.

    Expansive touring bodywork keeps the worst of wind and weather off the rider, with an electrically-adjustable windscreen to fine-tune the windblast according to your height. Hard luggage sidecases come as standard, and many riders also fit an optional top-case to give ample luggage carrying space. Optional accessories like GPS sat-nav, a stereo system, intercom and heated grips add even more touring ability.

    Riding the Pan is a real pleasure. Its engine is super-smooth, with a meaty reservoir of low-down torque, and the handling belies the high weight.

    • 1,260cc 90° V-four, DOHC, 16-valve liquid-cooled engine
    • Electronic fuel injection
    • 117bhp
    • 623lb dry mass
    • 150mph top speed
  • Harley-Davidson Electraglide Ultra Tour Classic

    Alan says: Many of Harley-Davidson’s Big Twin motorcycles already have a fair degree of touring ability built-in. They generally have comfortable seats, relaxed, large-capacity engines and with optional screens and luggage bags fitted, you can go a long way in style on them. But for the committed touring fan who needs the extra luxury and capability of a bespoke tourer, the Ultra Classic offers much more. Harley’s latest Twin Cam 96 engine powers a softly-sprung chassis that carries a full set of touring bodywork and luggage. There’s a built-in stereo CD/radio, with intercom function, a comprehensive dashboard, and luxurious, well-padded seats.

    The Tour Classic isn’t a high-performance tourer: indeed, on European roads, the engine can be found wanting in outright speed and power. Similarly, the chassis is designed for long, straight highways: trying to wrestle it around twisty backroads is a mistake. But kept in its element – gentle-paced, long-legged mile-munching – the Classic is one of the most civilised ways to travel.

    • 1,584cc 45° V-twin, OHV, 4-valve air-cooled engine
    • Electronic fuel injection
    • 80bhp
    • 814lb dry mass
    • 110mph top speed

You will be happy with any of these

  • BMW R1200RT

    Alan says: BMW’s four-cylinder touring bikes offer the ultimate in performance touring. But the firm’s long-running Boxer twin range gives almost as much ability, in a slightly cheaper package. At the top of this range lies the R1200RT – a superbly-equipped premium flagship tourer. Powered by the latest version of BMW’s 1,170cc air-cooled flat twin, in a chassis festooned with advanced brake and suspension components, the RT is an incredibly dynamic ride, belying its considerable all-up mass with neutral, predictable handling. The engine provides ample, smooth power, transmitted through a six-speed gearbox, while BMW’s patented Telelever front suspension reduces dive under braking. ABS-equipped brakes add a margin of safety, and the BMW Paralever rear suspension minimises the effects of shaft drive on suspension movement.

    On top of this sophisticated, capable engine and chassis package, BMW has built a full suite of touring equipment. The large fairing protects rider and passenger from the elements, a digital dashboard provides comprehensive rider information and optional accessories include heated grips and seats, GPS systems, and additional luggage.

    • 1,170cc boxer-twin high-cam, 8-valve air-cooled engine
    • Electronic fuel injection
    • 110bhp
    • 505lb dry mass
    • 150mph top speed
  • Honda NTV700 Deauville

    Alan says: Deauville is a small seaside town in France, but it’s also the name chosen by Honda for its small, middleweight touring machine. The Deauville is the latest incarnation of a long-running line of all-round bikes, from the VT500 via the NTV600 Revere through the NTV650 to the current model. At the heart of the design is a 52° V-twin engine with shaft drive, fuel injection, and four-valve heads. It’s a rather unstressed, low-powered engine, producing a mere 65bhp from its 680cc, but with a broad spread of power and torque. This reliable, friendly engine lives in an unremarkable chassis, with soft suspension, linked brakes with optional anti-lock control, and a comfortable, relaxed riding position. The Deauville’s bodywork offers good weather protection, and its built-in hard luggage sidecases provide plenty of carrying capacity.

    Riding the Deauville has few surprises – the engine gives easy progress, braking is efficient and the chassis is soft and compliant. It’s short on sporting performance, but for steady, economic mile-munching, it has few parallels.

    • 680cc 52° V-twin SOHC, 8-valve liquid-cooled engine
    • Fuel injection
    • 65bhp
    • 526lb dry mass
    • 115mph top speed
  • BMW F800ST

    Alan says: Up until 2006, BMW’s motorcycle range comprised the 1,200cc boxer twins and four-cylinder engines, with the single-cylinder 650 range, and nothing in between. In an attempt to expand its range, the Bavarian firm released the F800 range – powered by a parallel twin-cylinder engine that offered strong middleweight performance. The F800 engine is marked out by a unique balancing system. The top end of the engine is largely conventional, with four-valves per cylinder, fuel injection, and twin camshafts. But the bottom end is unique. BMW engineers have mounted a long, weighted bar on a pivot at the back of the engine, which then connects at the front to the crankshaft via a small con-rod. As the crankshaft turns, the weighted bar pivots up and down, and this movement cancels out the movements of the pistons, balancing these forces and reducing vibration.

    This innovative engine is fitted into a more conventional chassis design, with a twin-spar aluminium frame and sporty running gear. This ST version of the F800 has a full fairing to keep the rider out of the weather, and with optional panniers, it makes an effective, sporty, light tourer.

    • 798cc parallel-twin DOHC, 8-valve liquid-cooled engine
    • BMS-K fuel injection
    • 85bhp
    • 412lb dry mass
    • 135mph top speed
  • Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird

    Alan says: If you like your touring to take place at higher-than-average speeds, then Honda’s Super Blackbird is the perfect choice. Originally launched as a 175mph hypersports bike in 1996, this large, comfortable sports tourer uses a design based on the CBR900RR FireBlade. The Blackbird’s engine is a conventional inline-four design, with the large capacity and straightforward layout giving its massive power. The original machine used carburettors, but Honda soon switched to fuel injection in order to rectify an annoying dip in midrange power. The chassis was also fairly conventional, with a twin-spar aluminium frame and a sporty, yet plush, suspension setup. The Blackbird also used a version of Honda’s CBS (Combined Braking System) linked brakes, where both front and rear systems are linked by a series of valves and slave cylinders to give balanced stopping.

    The Blackbird’s most obvious design feature is its aerodynamic bodywork. The super-slippery shape is aimed at giving the CBR1100 effortless high cruising speed, and the Honda easily inherited the "world’s fastest motorcycle" crown from the elderly Kawasaki ZZ-R1100 at its launch.

    Today, the Super Blackbird is nearing the end of its development, making it a sound budget choice as a fast, civilised, capable sports tourer.

    • 1,137cc inline-four, DOHC 16-valve liquid-cooled engine
    • PGM-FI electronic fuel injection
    • 150bhp
    • 499lb dry mass
    • 175mph top speed
  • Triumph Sprint ST

    Alan says: Triumph’s recent success has been, in part, down to careful benchmarking of class-leading models from competitors, then exceeding these benchmarks with its own designs. And a quick look at the Sprint ST sports tourer seemingly confirms that this exercise was carried out on Honda’s VFR800 – the sport-touring king before the Sprint was launched. Triumph’s design has a similar basic concept: a torquey engine in a sporty chassis, with comfortable riding position for two and a protective fairing. But the Sprint offers much more performance than the Honda, especially from its three-cylinder 1,050cc 12-valve engine. The strong low-down and midrange power of this engine is perfect for a sport-tourer, giving relaxed yet strong acceleration together with smooth fuelling. The handling is precise and assured, and the brakes are excellent. Triumph offers a wide range of touring accessories, and with a set of hard luggage fitted, the Sprint makes for a comfortable, long-legged distance machine. And when you arrive at your destination, the Triumph will let you make the most of any sporty riding backroads.

    • 1,050cc inline-triple DOHC, 12-valve liquid-cooled engine
    • Electronic fuel injection
    • 125bhp
    • 462lb dry mass
    • 165mph top speed

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