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What Type of Motorcycle is Best for Touring

What Type of Motorcycle is Best for Touring

The trend of using motorcycles for touring dates way back to the mid-1900s and early 2000s, especially in the United States when the highway system and advanced infrastructure were introduced. Motorcycle manufacturers took inspiration from their military motorcycle models designed specifically to support war efforts during WWII, and launched a production bike with storage accessories and a powerful engine, encouraging riders to push the limits of the machine and cover longer stretches of asphalt. In the post-WWII era, motorcycles were used extensively as a cheap mode of transportation. Still, as the financial status of people around the world improved, they had more resources to channel toward recreation and adventure, and it was during this time that motorcycle touring and adventure riding started to become mainstream.

Picking on the changing market trends and the growing motorcycle touring movement, motorcycle manufacturers started introducing travel-friendly features in their bikes and also worked on providing more power, greater fuel capacity, and enhanced fuel efficiency. In addition, motorcycle brands also began giving importance to making low-maintenance bikes that could be on roads for days without experiencing any major mechanical breakdowns. In the quest to make the perfect touring motorcycle for riders that checked all the boxes of preference for a wide range of riders, motorcycle companies took to hybridized motorcycle technology combining winning features of different motorcycles to create a do-it-all model that could tackle any road condition and traverse any terrain without compromising comfort and luxury.

This advancement in motorcycle engineering and technology resulted in the creation of an array of touring motorcycles, each with its unique character, attitude, styling, and functionality. From offering a fun flickable ride on the twisties to crossing the sand dunes of Africa and covering freeways across the United States at 85 mph for days, the touring motorcycles of the modern world are highly impressive machines that will leave you awe-struck with their unparalleled performance and touring support.

But with a large selection of touring motorcycles comes a highly challenging question: What type of touring motorcycle is the best? This article will explore the different types of touring motorcycles available on the market and will also help you determine what qualities a bike must possess to become your best touring machine.

1. What Does the Term Motorcycle Touring Imply?

Can traveling 100+ miles for work-related reasons be considered motorcycle touring? Does commuting regularly on a motorcycle be termed as touring? If you are looking for a touring motorcycle for the mentioned riding purposes then you are looking at the wrong type of bike.

Motorcycle touring implies riding a bike to seek adventure, indulge in recreational activities, and undertake long journeys that involve riding a few days to your destination. Motorcycle touring also implies getting off the grid to find remote scenic places that not many people have explored. For this purpose, riders do not even hesitate to grapple with difficult off-road terrain. Though a touring bike can certainly transport you to work, it is designed to serve a greater purpose, which is to help you experience the freedom of open and witness spectacular landscapes.

2. What Are the Different Types of Touring Motorcycles?

As mentioned, touring motorcycles are fashioned to serve different riding purposes and satisfy distinct requirements. Consequently, these specialized motorcycles have created a specific niche within the broader motorcycle market, which is crowded with bobbers, choppers, cafe racers, hypersports bikes, naked bikes, dirt bikes, enduros, etc.

In the touring segment, you will find a wide variety of motorcycles that share their features, functionalities, and characters with the motorcycles of other segments, such as sports bikes, dual sport bikes, and also cruisers. Here are the different types of touring motorcycles you are likely to find in the dealerships of most high-end motorcycle brands.

2.1 Conventional Touring Motorcycle and Baggers

Conventional Touring Motorcycle and Baggers
Photo credit: @Harley Davidson

Conventional touring motorcycles are two-wheelers designed specifically for on-road touring and boast mechanical and comfort features to support their purpose. Usually, baggers or touring motorcycles can be recognized at first glance, thanks to their large and powerful engines, wide fairing and tall windshield combination, and availability of stock capacious tour packs and saddlebags. On paper, touring motorcycles boast advanced suspension systems, sophisticated braking setups, high-end electronics, and intelligent rider aids. High-end touring motorcycles are engineered to support urbanized riding; therefore, they also showcase excellent capabilities for handling different road conditions, such as narrow city streets, serpentine roads, and sometimes even gravel paths. Conventional touring motorcycles are still high in demand due to the exceptional riding comfort they offer. However, the compass of preference is slowly tilting towards adventure touring motorcycles for reasons discussed infra.

Examples of Baggers/ Standard Touring Motorcycles

2.2 Cruiser Touring Motorcycles

Cruiser Touring Motorcycles
Photo credit: @Harley Davidson

Cruiser touring motorcycles are the lightweight and simpler versions of touring motorcycles and are often also termed lightweight/small baggers. The cruiser touring motorcycles may feature factory side panniers or saddlebags, otherwise, they come with mounting points for the same purpose, allowing riders to install custom luggage bags. Moreover, cruiser-touring motorcycles boast classic styling with heavy chrome accents and are suitable for light touring, short motorcycle trips, and relaxed freeway rides. In addition, cruiser-touring motorcycles may lack the advanced electronic features, heated grips, navigation systems, and entertainment systems that most grand touring motorcycles have. Moreover, compared to grand tourers, cruiser-touring motorcycles lack a comprehensive wind protection system. If they feature a stock windshield it may not be sufficient to resist staggering highway winds or alleviate the buffeting effect.

Examples of Cruiser Touring Motorcycles

2.3 Adventure Touring Motorcycles

Adventure Touring Motorcycles
Photo credit: @Honda Powersports

Adventure touring motorcycles are designed for hardcore adventure seekers who enjoy aggressive off-roading, along with a smooth highway riding experience. It is worth mentioning that all adventure touring motorcycles do not possess the same capabilities of off-roading. Some ADV bikes have their limitations and can only be used for light off-roading. Adventure touring motorcycles combine the features and functionalities of a conventional touring motorcycle and a dual-sport or dirt bike. Long suspension travel, powerful engines, tubeless tires, and a robust chassis are some of the common features of adventure motorcycles. Moreover, these dual-nature touring motorcycles boast a special ADV touring luggage system, designed to withstand the brutality of harsh weather and rugged landscapes.

Examples of Adventure Touring Motorcycles

2.4 Sport Touring Motorcycles

Sport Touring Motorcycles
Photo credit: @Yamaha Motorsports

Sport touring motorcycles offer the thrill of sports bikes and the comfort of grand touring machines. In terms of comfort, wind protection, and engine performance, a sport touring bike is similar to the conventional tourer, but it is more nimble, offers more ground clearance for sharp cornering, and is lightweight. These bikes are best for winding roads and twisties, allowing you to zoom down the road at high speeds without having to crouch uncomfortably for required aerodynamics.

Examples of Sport Touring Motorcycles

  • BMW R1250 RT
  • KTM 1290 Super Duke GT
  • Yamaha FJR1300ES
  • Yamaha Tracer 9 GT+
  • Suzuki GSX-S1000 GT+
  • Honda NT1100

2.5 Custom Touring Motorcycles

Custom Touring Motorcycles
Photo credit: @Triumph Motorcycles

Any motorcycle that is not originally designed for touring but is transformed into a tourer with the addition of aftermarket touring parts and luggage bags is called a custom touring motorcycle. Today, many people use cruisers and sportbikes for touring after installing crash bars, saddlebags, tour packs, wind protection, custom seats, and backrests. A great example of a custom touring motorcycle would be the Honda 750 Shadow Phantom and Harley Softail Fat Boy. Though these custom touring motorcycles have limited engine capacity, low-end to mid-range torque production, and may also lack touring-worthy suspension systems, braking setups, and tires; however, they can be used for relaxing highway rides and motorcycle camping trips. As for off-road capability, most custom touring motorcycles are incapable of traveling off-road.

Cruiser touring motorcycles or baggers not only allow riders to cruise in relative comfort at 60-65 mph, but also feature robust weight-bearing frames, allowing riders to easily mount luggage racks, sissy bars, and tour packs to carry extra weight without compromising the bike's structural integrity. Hence, they embody the essence of a grand touring motorcycle, enhanced by custom, travel-friendly parts and aftermarket touring luggage bags, making them an ideal choice for extended journeys.

Examples of Custom Touring Motorcycles

3. Adventure Bikes vs Standard/Sport Tourers - The Better Option

Adventure Bikes vs Standard/Sport Tourers - The Better Option
Photo credit: @Honda Powersports
Adventure Bikes vs Standard/Sport Tourers - triumph
Photo credit: @Triumph Motorcycles

As more time passes and new motorcycles are being launched, it has been observed that the highways are now being dominated by adventure touring motorcycles, and there are multiple reasons behind this new trend in the world of motorcycling. The foremost reason behind the success of adventure touring motorcycles is their rugged appearance. Even the riders who only use their bikes for urbanized riding, often fail to resist the strong aesthetic appeal of these robust bikes. The tough features of adventure motorcycles indicate their resilience, on the other hand, the luxurious features of the touring motorcycles often overwhelm riders with the thought of effort required to maintain them. For this comparison, the term touring motorcycle refers to both standard touring bikes and sport-tourers.

3.1 Versatility and Off-Road Capability

Aesthetic appeal aside, a lot of people are becoming inclined towards adventure motorcycles due to their sporty feel, the capability of traversing a wide range of terrains and supporting long highway travels, including cross-country trips. On the other hand, touring motorcycles can only be used for long-distance on-road travel. However, there is another limitation attached to these bikes and that is not being able to ride them completely off the grid. To ensure safety and a comfortable touring experience, it is necessary to ride a grand touring motorcycle in areas where you are never more than a couple hours away from a dealership or a town.

3.2 Weight

Weight is a huge concern for many riders who use motorcycles for touring, and unfortunately, almost all touring motorcycles and most adventure touring motorcycles are too heavy to be reliable for around-the-world, cross-border, and even cross-country trips. Adventure motorcycles like the BMW R1250GS Adventure, and Triumph Tiger 1200 Rally Explorer, and touring motorcycles like Harley Road Glide, Harley Ultra, and Honda Gold Wing pose the same challenges in terms of weight. All these bikes are too complicated to fix and difficult to lift in the event of an accident or fall. Therefore, if you are riding these bikes in remote areas where finding help won’t be completely off the charts, then you shouldn’t have to face any inconvenience. However, getting too adventurous on these bikes isn’t exactly recommended.

On the brighter side, riders can easily find mid-sized adventure motorcycles that can travel across borders or cross-country easily. Mid-sized adventure motorcycles can be confidently used to travel to South America, across North America, and even Europe or Africa. The Suzuki DR650 is a great example of a simple, reliable, and easy-to-service adventure motorcycle. The bike lacks complicated electronics and can be easily picked up from the ground with all your luggage on. Plus, it is robust and highly low-maintenance, all the qualities that make for a great touring motorcycle.

As for lightweight and nimble touring motorcycles, Harley Road King, Harley Heritage Classic, and Yamaha FJ1100 are some of the most reliable long-distance touring motorcycles. Though these bikes also have some limitations, weight is not one of them.

3.3 Significant Price Difference

Another key aspect behind the increasing success and demand for adventure motorcycles is their pricing. Compared to conventional grand touring motorcycles, adventure bikes are way less expensive and easier to maintain. Here’s a quick price comparison:

The starting price of the 2024 manually-operated Honda Gold Wing is $24,700, while the starting price of the 2024 model of the Africa Twin Adventure Sports ES is $17,599. Similarly, the starting price of the 2024 BMW R1600 Grand America is $28,130, while the starting price of the 2024 BMW R1250GS Adventure base model is $20,745. Therefore, adventure touring motorcycles allow riders to save some money compared to high-end touring motorcycles. The price comparison may not be a fair test in determining the best type of touring motorcycle, since grand tourers have better technology and comfort features, but if we only focus on the touring capability, then adventure bikes certainly have an edge due to their lower price points.

3.4 Degree of Riding Comfort

Comfort is one aspect where no motorcycle segment can outperform standard touring motorcycles. Compared to adventure motorcycles, touring bikes have large windshields with multiple degrees of adjustability and also feature a fully faired front that maximizes wind deflection and reduces wind buffeting effectively. On the other hand, adventure motorcycles still require much improvement in terms of wind protection. Though they feature adjustable windshields and a fairing, it is nothing compared to what grand touring machines have to offer in this domain.

In terms of comfort, it is difficult to conclude whether a touring bike or adventure motorcycle is better due to the subjectivity of this topic. Riding position depends on the individual’s preferences, some people do not find even the Honda Gold Wing’s seat and relaxed stance comfortable, while others may enjoy the upright riding position of a BMW R1250GS Adventure. In terms of pillion riding, touring motorcycles are more comfortable and spacious than adventure motorcycles, and if you frequently travel long distances with your partner, it is best to opt for a touring bike.

3.5 Luggage and Storage Capacity

Touring motorcycles are decked with factory luggage bags, including side panniers and tour packs, and offer ample storage space for long travels. For adventure touring motorcycles, luggage bags come as an optional feature. Again, the availability and absence of standard luggage bags is a matter of personal preference. Some riders prefer the color-matched luggage bags that touring motorcycles are equipped with. On the other hand, adventure motorcycle enthusiasts consider the lack of stock luggage as a chance to customize their bikes. The lower price point of adventure bikes allows them to purchase different pieces and curate a luggage system that best suits all their riding needs.

3.6 Sophisticated Electronics

The technological features and electronics in adventure motorcycles are nearly as good as in touring motorcycles. However, it may vary for different brands. For example, if we compare a Honda touring motorcycle - the Gold Wing - and a Honda adventure bike - the Africa Twin - both bikes have touchscreen TFT displays, Android Auto and Apple Carplay for navigation through the screen, electronic suspension, traction control, cornering ABS intervention, and cruise control. On the other hand, if we compare a KTM adventure bike with a Harley touring motorcycle, then the electronic specs will certainly be different. Suffice it to say, that with a little research, you can easily find a touring motorcycle or an adventure bike with elite electronics.

3.7 Seat Height

Tall seat height is a major issue in most adventure motorcycles, making them inaccessible, highly uncomfortable, and at times intimidating for average and short riders. Unless you are 6 ft tall or over, an adventure motorcycle’s seat height will remain a problem for you. Unfortunately, this phenomenon is common in all brands. The reason adventure motorcycles are so tall is because they are equipped with long travel suspension and feature high ground clearance, both necessary specs for safe off-road riding.

On the other hand, touring motorcycles feature dramatically low seat heights compared to adventure bikes, and this trait not only makes riding touring bikes easier but also offers greater stability and confidence.

4. How to Choose a Touring Motorcycle That’s Best for You?

How to Choose a Touring Motorcycle That’s Best for You
Photo credit: @Triumph Motorcycles

When choosing a touring motorcycle, make sure you consider your budget, the qualities you prioritize in a motorcycle, and your riding style. With a wide variety of touring motorcycles with each having its standout qualities, choosing one type of bike can be difficult. The best way to assess which bike will be best for you is to test-ride different types of touring motorcycles. Furthermore, you can rent different motorcycles from RiderShare or Twisted Roads to try out different touring motorcycles and determine which best fulfills all your preferences and requirements.

As mentioned, budget can act as a determining factor, considering buying a grand touring bike on a tight budget is highly challenging. You may have to seek finance facilities from dealerships or check second-hand markets, but whether both options are worth it is essentially for you to decide according to your financial situation. It is also advisable to consider any maintenance costs involved, especially if you purchase a second-hand grand touring motorcycle.

Moreover, if you enjoy riding off-road, then buying an adventure motorcycle is perhaps your only option in the touring segment. Again if you have the budget, you can invest in a touring motorcycle and an affordable dirt bike or small dual-sport bike to have the best of both worlds.

5. Last Words

Determining which type of motorcycle is best for touring is nearly impossible as it all eventually gets down to personal preference, what you want to do with the bike, and what you expect the bike to do for you. However, if we follow the trends of the motorcycle industry, adventure touring motorcycles are gaining much popularity despite being less luxurious than touring motorcycles, having a taller seat height, and a less comfortable pillion. On the other hand, touring motorcycles are exceptionally high achievers in terms of plush long-distance rides and comfort. No bike can give you a smoother highway riding experience than a grand tourer or a sport touring motorcycle. Having color-matched luggage bags and more than enough wind protection are some aspects that cannot be overlooked. Not even their heftier price tags can overshadow the standard of extravagance offered by these two-wheelers on the road.

In a nutshell, if you want a versatile bike that can carry you through roadless paths and paved roads, then adventure touring motorcycles are your answer. On the other hand, if you are after comfort and luxury, then touring and sport-touring motorcycles are your best bet. One thing that can be concluded after the discussion in this article is that the future belongs to adventure motorcycles and that’s probably the reason why most popular motorcycle manufacturers have entered the adventure touring market.

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