My Touring Delimma
Last summer I went touring on my bike for the first time, from St. John’s to St. Anthony and back. I enjoyed it so much that this year I spent a week and a half exploring the north east coast and the Eastport and Bonavista peninsulas. It’s become clear to me that this is how I want to spend my holidays for as long as I’m physically and financially able to do so, and now I’m toying with the idea of buying an actual touring bike.
I’ve been touring on my 2006 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Low, and yes, it does the job. It has great wind protection from the huge windshield I installed, it’s incredibly stable on the highway no matter how windy it is, it has enough power for passing and gets great fuel mileage. The main reason I want a different bike is for comfort. My Sporty has forward controls, which means that I can’t transfer any weight to my feet in order to soak up bumps or move around slightly on the seat. I could install mid-controls, but then my knees would be up higher than my waist, not an ideal position either. The “low” in the name means that the bike is lower to the ground to appeal to shorter people…at the expense of suspension travel. If I run over a dime I can tell if it’s heads or tails. Every time I hit a bump (there’s a scattered rough road in Newfoundland!), the impact rockets through the bike and right up my spine. It’s a little fatiguing, and I’m sure it will become even moreso as I get older.
Another issue I have with touring on the Sportster is the fact that the bike has tubed tires. When you’re in the middle of nowhere and you puncture a tubeless tire, you simply plug it and use your tiny compressor to inflate the tire, then you’re on your merry way. A punctured tube is disastrous, and necessitated me lugging along a scissor jack so that in the case of a flat, I could jack up the bike, take the wheel off (I had to pack ALL the tools for removing BOTH wheels) and try to find a service station that could break the wheel down. Yes, I know I should’ve brought tire irons, but the trip planning was done in haste and I ran out of room. I’m not a perfect planner, as much as I hate to admit it.
Sportster enthusiasts would tell me to get a set of wheels that don’t need tubes, upgrade the suspension and stop whining. And I may do that. OR I may buy another bike. The search isn’t easy though, I’m struggling to find a “touring” bike that fits my extensive criteria, and the fact that I refuse to buy a bike brand new really cuts down on my options. The main problem I’m facing is that most touring bikes are absolute behemoths. I don’t want a bike that is ONLY for touring, and too big and clumsy to scoot around town on. It needs to be stable, yet still somewhat agile. In addition, I’m looking for: lockable, waterproof luggage, comfortable riding position, good performance, stable in the wind, and low enough to the ground. Oh, and it has to look good too, at least in my opinion. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all.
It would probably make sense for me to buy a slightly bigger cruiser, like the Dyna Switchback. It would definitely be stable and low, and more powerful than my Sportster. Plus I already own lots of HD t-shirts, which of course you just gotta have in order to tour on a Harley 😉 The biggest problem with this is the cost. I’m trying to keep this under $7000 for the bike and luggage/accessories, and I’m not getting a touring-capable cruiser for that kind of cash.
I’d love to get an adventure bike, I really would. All day comfort, great performance, and if it gets dirty it doesn’t look bad because hey, it’s an ADVENTURE bike, getting dirty is the point! However, I’ve found that every ADV bike I’ve looked at is designed for people with legs at least 3” longer than mine. I’m 5’5″ and I usually don’t feel short, but when I’m looking at an ADV bike I feel miniscule. I sat on a BMW F700GS last week and could barely get it off the side stand. I know that it’s possible to lower just about anything, but I’m afraid that lowering a bike 3” or more would affect the handling way too much. I could probably handle a Kawasaki Versys 650 (though many wouldn’t call that a true ADV bike) but the combination of short wheelbase, height and small wheels makes the bike just too “twitchy” for me to be comfortable on the highway. I have yet to sit on a Suzuki V-Strom 650, I’ve read that the seat is high but narrow, which may make it a possible contender.
I’ve thought about sport-touring bikes as well, and I already own what could be considered a sport-tourer: my 1997 YZF600R. The problem I would have with touring on that bike is that I get thrown around like a feather in the breeze when it’s windy, the ergonomics are a little too sporty for long distance comfort, and the fairing is in a thousand pieces, scattered all through my house. Most sportbikes are unfortunately too light for me to tour on, and even if I bought a used middleweight like a Yamaha FZ6 or Suzuki SV650, I’d still have to spend money on luggage.
If I could find a used BMW F800GT I would probably buy it on the spot. The bike fits me quite nicely, with mildly sporty ergos and good wind protection. I think that by now BMW has the “touring” thing conquered, they know what they’re doing. ABS and standard heated grips are great features too.
Another contender (and the current front-runner in my quest) is the Honda VFR800 Interceptor. It’s a bike that kind of flies under the radar, and I actually never considered it before I saw the 25th Anniversary edition featuring the retro red, white and blue paint scheme. Absolutely beautiful bike. I found a used one for sale in the city (complete with colour-matched hard luggage!), and had a look at it last week. The ergos are a little more sporty than the BMW, but not as much so as my YZF, especially with Helibars installed. The seat height is just a little high for my liking. I could manage to ride it fine, but backing it out of my long, narrow, flat driveway would probably take me the better part of an hour. The bike felt smaller than it looked when I sat on it, but I could tell that it’s a lot heavier than a true sportbike. That weight is actually a good thing, because it adds to stability on the highway. My only concerns with touring on this bike are my high-mileage knees cramping, and how absolutely devastated I will be if I drop it. I guess I should start saving up bubble wrap so that I can totally envelop the bike with it.
I know that I may never find a bike that will suit me perfectly. Maybe it’s like finding a partner; if you’re looking for perfection, you’ll be alone forever. You just need to decide what’s the MOST important, and learn to live with (cope with?) the rest.
I have lots of time to research and shop around, since it’s going to be another year before I get to enjoy the backroads of non-Avalon Newfoundland again. If anyone has any suggestions of what I should consider or look at, please share your experiences, I’d love to hear from you!
Posted on August 27, 2013, in Behind the Visor and tagged adventure touring, bmw f800gt, dyna switchback, motorcycle touring, newfoundland travel, sport touring, suzuki v-strom, vfr 800 interceptor. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.