Spring is here and the time is right to hit the road and get out on that big holiday trip.
But what if you are looking for a cheap set of wheels to munch the miles in comfort? Are there any bargain touring bikes out there? Insidebikes went in search of five second hand motorcycles, which can realistically be picked up for two grand or less.
Touring bikes are not en vogue these days, if indeed they ever really were, and that’s largely down to the phenomenal success of BMW’s R1100GS adventure bike.
The GS and its imitators offered most of the benefits of a fully loaded tourer, but with a taller riding position and an image that was more ‘round the world globetrotter than on duty policeman.
It’s kind of ironic, then, that one of the big losers of the GS revolution was this, the BMW R1100RT. The two shared the same engine (and many other components) and it remains the finest example of a late 1990s touring motorcycle, which was popular in its day.
For £2000 you’ll get a nice example, although they are all around 20 years old now (the model ran from 1996 to 2001). At 282kg, it’s no lightweight but those low slung cylinders mean that it is hugely manageable and the adjustable seat height makes it lower than a GS and perfect for shorter riders.
With just 90bhp, it will feel a little underpowered when fully loaded but it’s a classy and well built machine with a good spec that includes panniers, ABS and an electrically adjustable screen.
Many of these saw action with police forces up and down the country and these decommissioned bikes can be absolute bargains on the second hand market. There’s nothing wrong with them, as they will have been looked after fastidiously, but do be aware as they have a lower specification that includes smaller panniers and the absence of a pillion seat. They’re usually white too, and can be identified by the calibrated speedometers. BMW also made an R850RT but these are underpowered and quite rare. The updated R1150RT was introduced in 2002 and is a better buy if you can find one. These have a little more power, a six (as opposed to five) speed gearbox, updated ABS and more modern wheel sizes. Prices for these are generally a little higher, but decent high mileage examples can still be found for £2000.
Launched as the NT650V in 1998, the Deauville was never as fashionable as the glamorous French resort after which it was named.
Critics slammed it as dull, but the Deauville was (and remains) a hugely capable and practical motorcycle, even if it did lack excitement.
Early customers tended to be older riders downsizing or London couriers looking for a tool with which to tackle the city streets. The dispatch rider endorsement tells you all you need to know about the Honda’s reliability. They are bulletproof.
The V-twin motor only made 55bhp, and at 233kg it was no lightweight, but with a low seat height, useful fairing and maintenance free shaft drive, the Honda made up for its lack of character with extreme practicality. Later (2006 onwards) bikes saw the engine bored out to 680cc, creating the NT700V, and these made a more respectable 65bhp.
These days there are plenty of Deauvilles on the used market and they have found a loyal following among commuters and blood bikers looking for a practical day-to-day ride. Most courier bikes have joined the great bike park in the sky, albeit after many, many years (and miles) of loyal service. There are plenty of ‘one careful owner’ examples out there and, by virtue of the kind of buyer they attract and the Honda reliability, they tend to be in very good condition. Our £2000 budget will get a mint 650, or a higher mileage 700.
Honda ST1100 Pan European
If a Deauville’s not quite enough bike for your tour, Honda’s evergreen Pan European could be the bike for you.
By the late 1990s, Honda had loads of practical bikes in their range, including the best selling VFR800i. These were once the great do-it-all bikes and are still popular and good value on the second hand market, but for sheer value for money it’s hard to beat the Pan.
As the name suggests, the model was conceived mainly for European riders, for whom the massive GoldWing tourer was considered too big. Along with the BMW R1100RT, the Pan European was a popular choice with police forces around the world, and the spec of the two was very similar.
Honda used its trademark V4 configuration for the Pan, although unlike the VF range of bikes it is mounted longitudinally in the frame. With shaft drive, a massive (28 litre) fuel tank, linked brakes and a huge alternator, the Pan turned out to be something of a beast. Weighing in at 290kg, it was hardly surprising that many Pan European riders downsized to Deauvilles in their later years.
The earliest bikes were introduced in 1990 and the 1100 ran through to 2002 (when it was replaced by the ST1300). Ex police bikes can be had very cheaply, with £2000 buying a nice civilian example from the mid-1990s.
Triumph Sprint ST955i
Triumph’s Sprint ST marked a turning point in the Hinckley company’s fortunes. Previously purveyors of dull by worthy machines, the company came out fighting in 1996 with the T595 Daytona and T509 Speed Triple. Using the same basic frame and engine, the Sprint ST of 1998 went straight for the mainstream and Honda’s best selling VFR800i.
And where the Daytona had fallen short as an out and out sportsbike, the Sprint was arguably better than the VFR in many ways. For the first time since opening its doors in 1991, the new Triumph company could claim to have a class leading bike with the Sprint ST955i.
The Sprint is at the sporty side of sports touring (Triumph’s big Trophy fulfilled the role as an out and out tourer and can be picked up for a song these days) and with 97 (later 105) bhp on tap, the ST (for Sports Touring) didn’t hang around. High-ish bars, taller screen and a comfy seat made the Triumph a capable bike for racking up the miles, and the factory offered panniers and a top box for touring practicality. The luggage set up still showed signs of the new Triumph company’s naivety, and wasn’t as good as that offered by BMW and Honda, as did the crude gearbox, but that three-cylinder engine was a peach, as was the chassis.
Despite its success, the 955i is unlikely to be destined for the same modern classic status as similar era Speed Triples and Daytonas. These days, they are real bargains on the second hand market and £2000 will easily get a nice example that’s not carrying too many miles.
In 2005, the 955 was replaced by an all-new Sprint ST1050. Early examples of these occasionally scrape under our £2000 budget, although in many ways they are less capable touring bikes. The 1050s were definitely sportier but the high pillion seat (dictated by the underseat silencer) was not popular with passengers. Early bikes also had plastic tanks which could deform and prohibited the use of magnetic tank bags, but with 123bhp on tap they offer a lot of performance for the money.
Yamaha was a relatively late entrant to the tourer sector game. It’s innovative GTS1000, complete with hub-centred steering, was an expensive flop but the success of the Honda Pan European and BMW R1100RT in the late 1990s convinced them to come again with a new model. Unfortunately, by the time the FJR1300 arrived in 2001, the touring bike bubble had been burst by the arrival of the GS, but that shouldn’t detract from the Yamaha’s qualities.
There was nothing particularly clever about the FJR, which was the spiritual successor to the popular FJ1100/1200 of the 1980s. It featured a 1298cc inline four-cylinder engine putting out 141bhp – a healthy dose more than the competition from BMW and Honda – with an electrically controlled windscreen, shaft drive and a big fuel tank.
The FJR1300 was another popular police bike, taking a lot of sales from the Honda ST1300 Pan European due to concerns over that bike’s handling at speed, but it was considered heavy and thirsty and never really took off with the bike buying public.
These days, good early examples can be picked up for under £2500. Look hard (and negotiate even harder) and you’ll see an occasional example that can be yours for less than £2k. If you can find one, you’ve got an awful lot of bike for the money, with more modern looks and far higher performance than a BMW or Honda from the same era.