Devon Help Us - 2003 Tourer Test

The sorry tale of taking three express tourers to the land of eternal rain and mist in an attempt to find a ray of sunshine

Posted: 5 November 2003
by Jon Urry

Ever since my parents moved to the Devon/Somerset border four years ago it has been a standing joke between us that the sun never, ever, seems to be shining when I visit them. In fact I am now reasonably convinced that no matter how sunny the South West is, some strange force drags low cloud and rain over the area as soon as I pass Bristol. So paranoid am I about this I even tried to dodge around the city once by going through Wales and across the Severn Bridge, but it started to rain as soon as I got half way across!

But this time I thought I had the weather beaten. The whole of the UK was undergoing a mini heat wave as photographer John Noble, freelance writer Luke Ponsford and myself left London and headed down the M4 towards the South West.

Like most plans which end in stunning failure the idea was simple. Despite it usually being covered in mist, from what I had seen of this area of the UK the scenery is spectacular to say the least and the roads are relatively Police and speed camera free, unlike Wales which now has a Police helicopter permanently airborne to catch speeders. We had a Honda Pan European, Yamaha FJR1300 and BMW R1150RT ready to go and a quick phone call to my parents the night before we left confirmed that the weather was beautiful. Mum told me dad was wandering around the garden without a shirt on in his shorts and sandals (maybe Scotland wasn't such a bad idea after all!). What could go wrong?

Stopping at the first service station just before Bristol things seemed to be going well. Despite doing most of his riding through London on his Fazer 600 Luke had adjusted well to the extra width of the FJR and its panniers and had only bounced them off one car's side, and the sun was still shining. Being an owner of the old Pan European John had bagged the new model for the first leg of the journey as he was intrigued to see what the differences were.

"That seat's terrible, my Pan's much comfier. And it weaves at 80mph," grumbled John as soon as he got off the Honda. When it was launched last year there were a lot of complaints about this and Honda recalled the Pan blaming the slight weave on manufacturing procedures that had left the bolts holding the engine in the frame unevenly torqued up, and as the engine acts as a stressed member in the frame this caused a flex and the weave. After the stop I rode the Pan for the rest of the motorway miles and I can't say I really noticed much of a weave, and I reckon that John was being a bit overly critical because he has done so many miles and is such a big fan of the old Pan. But he was right about the seat. It's not the comfiest around and the BMW's lovely sculpted seat is far better for motorway miles, although the Honda's is definitely better than the Yamaha's - which feels really hard in a most un-touring fashion.

Boring as motorway miles are they do serve a very useful purpose when it comes to big tourers. These bikes tend to spend more time than most on straight roads as getting to touring areas more often then not requires using main roads, which is why decent protection for the rider is essential. Being a physically bigger bike than the others it came as no surprise that the Pan offered the best shelter. Its enormous fairing meant that even if it was raining the rider remained dry but, surprisingly on a bike that costs just over £10,000, the Pan comes without an adjustable screen as standard.

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The view from the rear seat

It's not much fun touring on your own so a decent pillion seat is essential on a sports tourer. For marital bliss if nothing else. However, not having brought a spare wife with us it was left to Luke to test the pillion provisions. He rated the Pan the best for pillion comfort but this was mainly because the top-box gave good support to his back. He reckoned the seat was a little hard and the BMW's was much better. Also the BMW has nicely placed grab handles and if the Beemer had had a top box it would have been best. The Yamaha was definitely last as its seat was too hard and narrow for covering mega miles. Also the Pan's smooth motor made it easy to stay balanced on the back while the Yamaha's strong acceleration nearly had him off the back!

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