Fully equipped touring bikes, including ‘full-dressers’, have a reputation of being a fairly exclusive breed – but they don’t have to be. While it’s true that the most extreme and luxurious offerings, such as Honda’s GoldWing, are not just enormous but prohibitively expensive as well, there are also plenty of more conventional and affordable offerings. And while this category has certainly slimmed in recent years, with the demise of bikes like Triumph’s 1200 Trophy and Kawasaki’s 1400 GTR, there’s still plenty of variety.
What they all offer, of course – in many cases better than any other type of bike – is long distance cruising comfort for two, the sort of luggage options other machines simply can’t match and luxuries and equipment, sometimes including stereos, more akin to cars than most motorcycles. Sure, some adventure bikes can deliver a similar experience, but a bespoke, road-orientated tourer takes comfort and ease to another level.
Nor does all that necessarily add-up to bikes which are ungainly or unable to entertain on sweeping country roads. The days of wobbly BMW LTs are long gone. So, what’s currently out there and what do you get? Here’s our pick of ten of the best, in ascending price order, to help you decide…
Launched in 2022 the Honda NT1100 is a slightly oddball but effective purpose-built tourer that revives the sensible spirit of the old NT700 Deauville (hence the NT – or ‘New Touring’ designation) but this time based on the parallel twin powertrain, with optional DCT, from the CRF1100 Africa Twin adventure bike. As a comfortable, effective, but slightly drab and unexciting tourer it certainly delivers, too. The engine has rumbly twin cylinder character and enough power to be effective; the DCT (Honda’s Dual clutch Transmission semi-automatic system which costs £1000 more) makes it into something of an 1100cc scooter; the seat is low and the bike slim and light enough to be manageable (especially for a tourer); the ride is plush and comfort, with a big and adjustable seat and screen is excellent. You even get panniers as standard. On the slight downside it’s grey image will be a turn off for some, the switchgear and twin dash could and should be better and there’s no shaft drive. But as a comfortable, manageable mile-eater it’s undeniably efficient.
You’ve got to admire Yamaha’s ambition and technical proficiency in creating the Niken. Launched in base form in 2018, the Niken is basically a Yamaha Tracer 9 but with an innovative (and effective) leaning two-wheel layout at the front, in other words making it a three-wheeler – a bit like a Morgan, but one that leans. It works well, too, and provides extra reassuring front end grip, although sadly hasn’t yet proved the sales success Yamaha had hoped for perhaps because it has none of the advantages of a car or bike, but the disadvantages of both. Yamaha addressed some of these concerns by relaunching it as the Niken GT in 2019, a more sport-touring version with higher screen, luggage, comfort seat etc and that version has now been updated again for 2023. It’s still an oddball and a leftfield buy that won’t suit everyone, but it is a more than competent tourer.
Few bikes are as difficult to pigeon-hold as Kawasaki’s big Versys. Is it an adventure? Styling aside, not with its four-cylinder engine and road chassis it’s not. And seeing as Kawasaki themselves have now come up with this Grand Tourer variant, which comes complete with three boxes, inner bags, hand guards and satnav holder, ‘Tourer’ seems more appropriate than most.
And, particularly considering the price, a good tourer it is as well. While the original Versys 1000, which is basically a taller, upright, semi-adventure styled Z1000, was something of an oddball, a 2015 update saw it evolve into a practical, comfortable, effective and still great value tourer. That update brought revised styling, improved ergonomics and engine tweaks to the detuned four to now produce 118bhp along with masses of easy grunt. There’s a new slipper clutch, three-way traction control and rider modes while all the touring extras are a boon, too. While this top of the range SE version also now boasts semi-active suspension. Yes, it’s still slightly odd, hasn’t the sporting sharpness of its Z1000SX sibling and lacks the prestige and pedigree of a BM, but it suits taller riders well and does the job impressively. Besides, if you’d prefer a cheaper version, the base Versys 1000 remains just £10,879.
It seems odd to see BMW’s master-tourer RT so early in the price list, so it’s worth saying here this is the price for the base RT – the LE with all the spec boxes ticked is the wrong side of £20K. But that distracts from the fact that the boxer RT even in base form is arguably still the definitive touring bike. Now with BM’s latest, ‘ShiftCam’, 1250, 136bhp boxer engine, it’s brilliantly effective. The new motor has plenty of punch yet is smooth and easy; the enormous fairing and electric screen are cosseting; comfort, complete with adjustable seat, is sublime and, despite its apparent bulk, the R1250RT is also surprisingly light, lithe and a decent handler. It now also has the latest, 10.25in TFT colour dash plus a peerless reputation, enviable badge, classy build and, depending on spec, exactly what mix of luxuries you want. No wonder it’s the emergency services bike of choice.
Honda’s Gold Wing aside, tourers don’t get any more six-cylinder slick, sophisticated and, well, substantial than BMW’s brilliant, transverse, six cylinder-powered K16s. But while the latest Honda chimes in at 30 big ones, the BM starts at a comparatively bargain £21K.
First launched in 2011, originally as the panniered GT and ‘full dress’ GTL, the BMW redefined touring performance (thanks to their 160bhp), smoothness and luxury. Handling, despite its size, impressed, too. Updated repeatedly since and now with next generation ESA, TFT dashes and more, both remain the slick limousines of the bike world. In standard form they’re well-equipped and peerlessly comfortable and able but if you tick all the options with such as heated seats, audio system, Dynamic ESA, tyre pressure control, quickshifter and more there’s simply no other machine in motorcycling that’s as lavishly equipped and yet 160bhp potent as well. If you don’t fancy the heavyweight GTL, the slightly sharper, lighter GT starts at £21,000 while an ‘Americanised’ bagger and full dresser version, the K1600B and K1600 Grand America are £21,000 and £24,630 respectively.
Proof that it’s not only American brand Harley-Davidson and Indian that can pull off US-style ‘baggers’ and full-dress tourers. After years of development, BMW launched its take on a heritage-style US cruiser with the all-new, boxer-twin powered R 18 (£19,540) in 2020. The German firm then followed it up with a pannier and plexiglass screen ‘bagger’ version, the R 18B (£22,450), as a rival to Harley’s dominant Street Glide and then, in 2021, went further still with this, a full-dress US tourer style variant, the R 18 Transcontinental. To BMW’s huge credit they’ve pulled it off impressively well. The Transcontinental has everything you want from a US style tourer – a rumbly, torquey twin, lots of comfort and toys including an Infotainment system, plenty of quality and, perhaps most impressive of all, convincing retro/heritage style. It’s even cheaper than the US equivalent and has shaft-drive. The only question, though, is if you want a US style tourer, do you want a German one?
The Street Glide Special is a very American take on the touring bike in being a bagger – a laid-back cruiser with added long-distance practicality and comfort courtesy of standard hard panniers and a half-fairing. But while plenty of baggers make do with a plexi-glass screen, for the sake of touring purity we’re only considering proper faired versions here. What you get is necessarily a bit of a compromise: being effectively a cut-down Ultra Glide, the Street is less of a tourer than its full-dress brother but is a mix that still delivers and has proved hugely popular in the US where the Street Glide has outsold every other bike. As such it’s comfortable-ish (but lacks the back rest and broader pillion of the Ultra); its chassis and 88bhp ‘Milwaukeee Twin’ engine rumbles along adequately; the brakes are Harley’s best ever; the panniers provide reasonable carrying space and there’s even a stereo to entertain as you pile on the miles. Best of all, though, it makes you feel like a modern cowboy, even in Carshalton.
Harley also offers a frame-mounted fairing-ed version, the Road Glide Special, at £27,795.
Like Harley’s Road Glide and Ultra Limited, the Roadmaster is Indian’s range-topping, ‘full-dress tourer. As such it’s based on the marque’s 1811cc, ‘Thunderstroke’ V-twin (rather than the newer, liquid-cooled, 1769cc Challenger motor) but similarly takes things to higher levels of comfort, weather protection and luxury. Like the Harley Ultra, its fairing is fork, not frame mounted but leg guards help give thorough protection. Otherwise, it pretty much ‘out-Harley’s Harley’! Slightly bigger and more potent all round it also boasts a leather seat, lashings of chrome and masses of cowboy-style luxury – if you like that sort of thing. Perfect, in fact, for cruising down Route 66, although being so big and heavy, despite half-decent handling, means that, also like the Harley, a BMW RT or similar will simply run rings around it on European roads. Indian also offer the Roadmaster Limited and Elite (at £28,595 and £28,795 respectively) plus the new Challenger-engined Pursuit Limited (£28,995) and Pursuit Dark Horse (£29,495).
If ‘baggers’ like the Street Glide don’t fully convince as tourers, both Indian and Harley offer ‘full-dresser’ versions. The Road Glide Limited is currently H-D’s range-topping tourer and essentially the top-spec, frame-mounted fairing version of Harley’s legendary ElectraGlide, the bike which, thanks to standard screen and panniers, was effectively the first factory tourer in the ‘60s. But although the tech and spec has markedly improved since, the recipe is essentially the same, to whit: rumbling, grunty, V-twin (now producing 88bhp in its latest, partially liquid-cooled guise); frame-mounted fairing which also hold stereo and satnav (if you prefer the slightly smaller, handle-bar-mounted, ‘Batwing’ version, that lives on as the £29,995 Ultra Limited); sumptuous seating (for two) complete with footboards and three-box luggage. Modern improvements have made the Glide far more competent and competitive than its ‘olde worlde’ looks suggest (lighting is now LED, for example) and, for many, it’s still an icon, but a modern BM or Honda will still run rings around it…
The bike that single-handedly redefined the whole touring concept in the late 1970s and early ‘80s is back and it’s better than ever. Although the flat-six ‘full-dresser’ recipe is unchanged, the whole bike was new in 2018 and was a massive leap forward in terms of ability and tech. The 1833cc engine produces 125bhp and benefits from rider modes and optional DCT semi-automatic transmission (for £32,449); the whole bike is more compact and lighter which, along with the novel ‘double wishbone’ front suspension makes it far more manageable and a better handler than before, while the brakes are stronger, too. Most impressive of all, though, are the new luxuries and gizmos, including fancy TFT screen, electric windshield, keyless ignition, centrally locked luggage, cruise control, fancy stereo, standard sat nav and much, much more. Yes, nearly £30K is a helluva lot of money, but once again the ‘Wing can rightfully claim to be the tourer with the most. Besides, there’s also a base DCT with fewer goodies and no top box for £25,249.
Fancy a used option? Here’s our five of the best:
2001-2021 Yamaha FJR1300, £3,000-£13,500
Now deleted 144bhp shaft-drive four was a great, rugged and fast workhorse
2013-2018 Moto Guzzi 1400 California, £7,000-£12,500
Big Italian American ‘bagger’ V-twin is packed with chrome – and character
2012-2017 Triumph Trophy 1200SE, £4500-£7,000
Short-lived touring triple shaft-drive was a decent British alternative to BMW RT
2002-2018 Honda STX1300 Pan European, £3,800-£8,400
125bhp V4 shaftie is one of the best all-round, old-school tourers you can buy.
2009-2013 BMW K1300GT, £4,800-£6,500
Four-cylinder, shaft-drive tourer was one of the best of its breed