If you fancy doing a bit of touring, but without a huge financial layout? We asked ex-MCN road tester Adam ‘Chad’ Child, to give us his faves for under five grand.
Choosing a sports tourer is one of the hardest decisions to make, especially on a budget. You want something versatile, fun and with the ability to transport you in comfort, complete with pillion and luggage when necessary. You also want something that you’re proud to own, right?
To cope with a big tour I’ve decided to look at large capacity bikes, with power and torque – they’re traditional tourers but with a sporting edge. We’ve not gone for the obvious Honda VFR800F and Suzuki Hayabusa, the traditional go to bikes for those wanting a sporty all-rounder, and we’ve chosen a slightly different path. So, here’s our guide to the best sports tourers for under £5000.
BMW K1300S (2009 onwards)
It might not have had the headline grabbing performance figures of Suzuki’s Hayabusa or Kawasaki’s ZZR, but it did have brilliant handling, excellent stability and was super smooth, with ‘real-world’ usable power.
The optional ESA electronic suspension, fitted with lighter Duolever front suspension components, gave more feeling and ironed out any imperfections when compared to its predecessors. Over bumps it was incredible, way ahead of the competition of the time, while the optional ABS assisted brakes, gripping twin 320mm discs, were also noticeably ahead of the big bruisers from Japan.
To produce the K1300S, BMW worked in partnership with Ricardo, the clever engineering consultancy team who’d worked on the 200mph Bugatti Veyron (ED: that’s a supercar!). Increasing capacity over old model, the K1200S, resulted in 175bhp, which was more than enough. If your tour did manage to take in some German Autobahn, the K1300S would be good for a top speed of around 160mph.
I always favoured the BMW over the ‘Busa and Kawasaki ZZR1400. It might have been slower, a tad heavier and less lively, but it out handled both and was comfier too. The shaft-drive gave practicality, and once you’d ticked all the optional extras, like the quickshifter and onboard computer it made the others feel a little dated. It’s a lot of bike, and early examples can be had for under £5k.
Triumph Sprint ST (2005 onwards)
Triumph took the biking public by surprise and launched their Sprint ST 955 in 2001. The original Sprint ST went straight for the Honda VFR800F, one of the best selling bikes of the era, and was a better proposition in many ways.
The Sprint ST 1050 of 2005 was attractive, desirable and was backed up by an intoxicating triple bark from the three underseat pipes. It was far more sports than touring. Indeed, while the underseat exhaust was fashionable at the time, it did cause the pillion to sit higher than most would have preferred, and earlier models used a plastic tank which precluded the use of a magnetic tank bag. Problems with these warping led to later models using a traditional steel items.
A true 160mph top speed, sometimes a little more, and 123bhp from the 1050cc inline triple was serious performance. Power was smooth and progressive, making it effortless to ride. There was a nice little burble on the overrun. The handling was also impressive. It wasn’t razor sharp, more rolled into corners. But once on its side it didn’t mind leaning over to knee down levels of lean.
The large bodywork and ergonomics made it comfortable too. The 21 litre fuel tank and decent mpg, was a winning combination. The three-dial dash layout was simple and effective. The only downside was the tall pillion seat which pitched pillions into the windblast above the rider’s head.
With early bikes now over a decade old, a good Sprint ST can be had for £5k, with high mileage examples even going for sub two grand.
In 2010 Triumph brought out the more touring orientated Sprint GT. This model was generally less well received than the ST that went before it. With a conventional, side exit, exhaust, lower pillion seat and more luggage capacity, the GT can also be had for less than our £5k budget.
Kawasaki Z1000SX (2010 onwards)
I was lucky enough to attend the world launch of SX in Spain back in 2010, and I went on to own a SX for a year, covering close to 20,000 miles. It’s a brilliant bike, and very underestimated.
The Z1000SX was loosely based on Kawasaki’s successful Z1000, sharing the same 1043cc inline four-cylinder engine, this time producing 138 bhp. Mid-range power was impressive, and the SX drove with real gusto from as little as 4,000rpm.
The SX had a real quality feel about it. Radial brakes came as standard, as did multi-adjustable quality suspension, the charismatic quad exhausts and a manually adjustable screen on a simple ratchet system was simple to change on the move. The SX version came with integrated, colour matched panniers and ABS as standard; this is the model to go for.
Kawasaki gave the SX a 17 litre fuel tank, up from 15 litre on the Zed, but some owners still wanted a little more. And I, like many owners, fitted the larger aftermarket screen, but otherwise a brilliant bike.
Suzuki GSF1250GT (2008 onwards)
In 2007 Suzuki were forced to revamp the old Bandit and launched the ‘all-new’ 1250 version which met new Euro legislation and increased the capacity to 1250 (actually 1255cc). Later, in 2008, Suzuki launched the GT version to further boost sales. The Grand Touring version benefited from a full fairing, full luggage system, panniers and large top box, plus at the time a cutting-edge Garmin GPS unit. Despite being labelled a replacement for the Bandit, underneath it was essentially the bike of old. It sold in good numbers and that was mainly due to price. In 2008 the full loaded GT version was only £6799.
When I first road tested the bike back in 2008, I thought I’d hate it, but I ended up seriously considering buying one and recommended one to a good friend, who went on to love it. It was simple, heavy and a little ‘old school’ but it worked, and you got one hell of a lot of bike for little money.
The ‘new’ engine was super smooth, as was the gearbox. It made impressive torque, there was power from nothing and the fuelling was excellent. For a big bike it was easy-to-ride and on longer journeys comfort was more than decent, although the bodywork was more for cosmetic reasons than actual wind protection. For under £7000 new the 1250GT was a bargain, did exactly what it said on the tin, a no fuss big mileage tourer for not much money. Yours now for around four grand.