What Makes a Sport-Touring Bike?

What makes a Sport-Touring Bike? (Article1802)

Sport-touring Corner

By Norm Kern


As we said last month, sport-touring riders view motorcycling as a skill-based sport. They look forward to a challenge and enjoy developing their riding skill, which is directed toward riding twisty roads at a brisk pace. This is best done with a bike that combines performance and comfort, with agility being an important factor. While there are many things that make a good sport-touring bike, here are some fundamentals:


Foot peg location- The foot pegs of a sport-touring bike are located directly below the front of the rider’s seat, usually as low as possible while still allowing plenty of cornering clearance. This makes it easier to shift body position for leaning into corners, raising one’s body from the seat to avoid jarring bumps etc. They are definitely lower and further forward than the typical sport bike’s pegs in order to reduce the bend at the rider’s knees for all-day comfort.


Seat height- Many riders assume the lower the seat height the better, but that’s only an advantage for putting your feet down while stopped. Once moving, a taller seat height gives the rider greater leverage, reducing the lean of the bike needed for cornering. 30-32 inches for seat height is the sweet spot on sport-touring bikes.


Handlebars- On a sport bike, handlebars are narrow in width, low and far forward to provide a leaned over, tucked in riding position. At the other end of the spectrum, touring bike handlebars are wide and swept back for a full upright riding position. Sport-touring handlebars fall in between those extremes- height usually allows the forearms to be near horizontal, with enough pullback to allow elbows to be bent. This allows a more upright riding position than a sport bike, but encourages more forward body lean than a touring bike.


Windshield- Since the sport-touring windshield and fairing are smaller than a touring bike, the rider gets more air and the typical faster sport-touring pace provides some wind force against the body that reduces pressure on hands and arms. Forward body lean, combined with foot peg position, enables the rider to easily shift their body position for cornering and rise off the seat to avoid painful spinal compression when encountering potholes or bumps in the road.


Trail (also known as castor)- The diagram shows a line through the steering head axis to a point where it intersects the ground. Trail is the distance from that point to where the front tire contacts the ground and is a critical dimension for quick and responsive steering. Most sport bikes and sport-touring bikes have 3.9-4.3 inches of trail.


Wheelbase- Not as critical as trail, but a typical sport-touring bike’s wheelbase is 59-62 inches, falling in the middle between the 54-57 inches of sport bikes and 64-68 inches typical of cruisers and pure  touring bikes.


Tires- Sport-touring bikes use sport bike style tires–tubeless radials with high speed ratings and low profiles for maximum stability. To enable seamless cornering, they have a rounded cross-section and shallow tread designs. Although I have sport-touring friends who claim to get 12-14,000 miles out of a set of tires; those of us who like to twist the throttle are lucky to get half that. If you want to play you’ve got to pay!


Suspension- Sport-touring bikes have suspension similar to their sport bike cousins, but typically with somewhat softer springing. Since control in corners is one of the desired features of sport-touring bikes, many of them have tunable suspensions. Some even offer electronic adjustability on the fly. Suspension travel is important as well and five inches of travel front and rear is typical.


Curb weight- Varies over a wide range but 500-700 pounds is common for full size sport-touring bikes.


In the course of writing this article, several readers asked about particular makes and models and whether they can be considered sport-touring bikes, so let’s look at a few of them.


Harley-Davidson Road Glide- It may look sporty next to a Road Glide Ultra, but forward controls put the rider’s feet at the front of the bike and the seat height of only 27 inches further reduces the rider’s leverage, so shifting body position and weight to control the bike is more difficult. Curb weight is 855 pounds. Then there’s 6.8 inches of trail, combined with a longish wheelbase of 64 inches, which makes the Road Glide want to go in a straight line rather than carve corners. A rider who prefers Harley-Davidson will still enjoy this bike on a twisty road, but it’s simply not configured for the sport-touring riding style.


2017 Honda Goldwing- Lots of people ask about the Goldwing and I wanted to include it in the discussion because most true sport-touring bikes are not roomy/comfortable for two large adults. Many would reject a 920-pound bike out of hand, but I have two friends who regularly sport-tour on Goldwings, so what’s the deal?

First, the Goldwing has conventional footpegs in a pretty good position. Second, although the wheelbase is long at 66.5 inches (essential for two-person seating comfort), the wing’s trail is 4.3 inches- right in sport-touring territory. Third, it has tunable suspension with 4.8 inches travel in the front and 4.1 at the rear. Seat height is 29 inches.


Much less obvious is the Goldwing’s “mass centralization” places most of the bike’s weight close to the center of gravity, giving it a lighter feel and better ability to turn. It’s NOT a sport-touring bike, but is easier to ride at speed in the twists than one would think.


BMW K1600GT Sport- Lighter than the Goldwing and Harley, it still weighs in at over 700 pounds. The wheelbase is long at 66 inches, but all the other specs are right in the sweet spot for sport-touring. With a very sophisticated suspension and six-cylinder, 160-horsepower engine, the K1600 GT Sport is a very exciting bike for two-up sport-touring and a great solo mount too.


2018 Honda Goldwing- Who would have expected the new Goldwing to be downsized with a smaller fairing and luggage plus a weight cut to 787 pounds? Will it carve out a new space in the high end, two-up sport-touring class? This will be exciting to see in 2018!

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