Touring bikes are another breed of road-bike that have neither the flashy body-panels, speed and maneuverability usually associated with sport bikes, nor the laidback macho style, cruisers are famous for. They are the foot-soldiers of the motorcycle world, the grunts, who seldom present anything to turn the heads of onlookers, however, they’re - simply put - the best at what they do.
The term “sport touring” does not only reflect the fact that this bike was built for long distance trips but it also addresses a philosophy of riding. If the sport bike is the equivalent of sprinters in humans these guys are without a doubt the equivalent of marathon-runners in the motorcycle world. The type of marathon runner though, for whom running means a lot more than finishing first. Sport-tourers never take any interest in the finish at all, as a matter of fact the longer the run – in this case the ride – the better off they are. For these guys a short distance, shortest route run is a living breathing nightmare. The best way to get from one point to another is never the shortest one but the one with the most curves, and the one presenting the most beautiful landscape.
The design of these bikes is in stark contrast with that of the cruisers. Cruisers were developed by having all parts not absolutely necessary for the proper functioning of the vehicle, ripped off road-bikes. Sport-tourers don’t chop anything off their bikes. Quite contrary, they add all sorts of “farkles” designed to make life that much easier on the road for the rider. “Farkle” is a term resulted from the drawing-together of the words “sparkle” and “ function” thus depicting a device that is both flashy and functional. Examples of such “farkles” are heated grips, satellite radios, radar detectors and so on. Only the imagination of the rider really sets a limit to the “farkling up” of the bike.
At first sight a modern touring motorcycle (like the 2006 Yamaha FJR1300AE) might seem like a sport bike – specially if stripped of its saddlebags and/or top mounted box – but obviously it isn’t one. The seating of the rider is a lot more upright one than in sport-bikes thus making for a more comfortable ride over long distances.
There are quite a few subclasses to touring bikes like full-dress tourers, standard tourers, global on+off (GS) road tourers, and of course the sport tourers.
Full-dress tourers are usually huge machines, with heavy-torque engines designed to provide the rider with as many commodities as possible (AM-FM full stereos with CDs and Tapes are common, satellite radios, heated seats, selective venting and even such oddities as air conditioning) Such full-dress tourers are the Honda Goldwing and the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide.
Standard tourers feature fewer factory-farkles, having smaller frames compared to full dressers their engines are also a bit smaller. The Yamaha FJR1300 is an example of such a machine.
Global on+off (GS) Tourers are a special breed of bike. They are like a cross between an offroad motorcycle and a standard tourer. They offer high ground clearance large fuel reserves, large displacement understressed engines for reliability but also good high speed road handling. Such bikes are used in some of the most gruelling conditions world wide including the famous Paris-Dakar rally. These guys can cope with pretty much anything nature throws at them, and even if they sometimes succomb to adverse conditions they still remain the best choice to tackle the unexpected. Examples of such bikes: the KTM 990 Adventure series.
Sport-tourers are a blend between sport bikes and standard tourers offering sport-like performance and handling all from the comfort of a touring bike. Such bikes are the Honda VFR and ST series, and the Ducati Multistrada.
Whatever one’s preferences are as far as motorbikes go, for a true, all-environment, long distance ride, the touring bike is definitely the only sound way to go.