Top 10s

Top 10 BEST Touring Motorcycles of 2020

The trusty Tourer motorcycle must munch the miles quickly, comfortably and reliably... but which is the BEST Tourer motorcycle money can buy in 2020?

When it comes to long distance motorcycling comfort, mile-eating ability and luxury, the ultimate is the purpose-built tourer motorcycle. 

With big, grunting but smooth engines that make light work of pulling two riders and their luggage; road-oriented chassis that give planted, reassuring handling without the dirt compromises of an adventure bike, and generous weather protection and equipment that cosset the passing of every mile, a tourer, quite literally, has it all.

But what’s currently out there – and which is the best? You’d be forgiven for thinking that, with the huge popularity of adventure bikes, pure tourers are a thing of the past – but you’d be wrong. 

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Tourers still form the cornerstone of the ranges of BMW and Harley; the legendary Honda Gold Wing was recently thoroughly reinvented and is now better than ever and there are even temptingly affordable new budget tourers from China. Here’s our current pick of the best…

10. CFMoto 650GT (from £5799)

Introduced in 2019, the Chinese-built, bargain priced GT is the fully-faired touring flagship of CFMoto’s seven-strong family of 250-650cc single and twin cylinder roadsters and tourers – there’s also a 400GT tourer producing 39bhp that’s even cheaper at £4799! 

Styled by Kiska Design (also responsible for KTM’s signature look), the GT’s good looking, well equipped with LED lights and a swish TFT dash, comfortable and, producing 60bhp from its Kawasaki ER6-alike 650 parallel twin, a willing performer, at least solo. Being a relatively light and manageable middleweight also means that, like the old, defunct Honda 650 Deauville, it’s a true tourer, but with an unintimidating size to go with its affordable price. 

On the downside some parts, such as the slightly squishy suspension, are conspicuously budget, that 60bhp is a bit lacking if you want two-up, long distance tours and things like panniers are extras.

9. Kawasaki Versys 650 Grand Tourer (from £8849)

Some might argue that the versatile (geddit?) Kawasaki Versys 650 and 1000 duo are ‘adventure-styled’ – which they are – but even Kawasaki would claim neither, with their road wheels, tyres and suspension, has any real adventure ambitions and that, and the fact ‘Special K’ offer both in specific Tourer and Grand Tourer spec qualifies them for inclusion here. 

The 650, first introduced in 2006 and improved twice since, has always been a brilliantly versatile and affordable all-rounder. Now, with perky 68bhp performance from its ER6-originating parallel twin (the same engine that dominate Minitwin and TT Junior racing), a decently handling chassis and impressive quality and spec, Kawasaki also offer it in both Tourer with panniers, inner bag and handguards, from £8099, plus Grand Tourer spec with panniers, riding lights, top box, inner bags, hand guards and tank pad, from £8849.

All of which makes the Kawasaki Versys a brilliant value tourer – and one with few rivals.

8. Kawasaki Versys 1000 Grand Tourer (from £12,999)

The ‘big brother’ to Kawasaki’s Versys 650 is even more of a pure tourer, being powered by a transverse four-cylinder engine derived from that of the Z1000SX and, arguably, even better value still. 

First introduced in 2012 as a kind of ‘Z1000SX on stilts’ it was a bit hit and miss – brilliant value at around £10K but also oddly styled and with slightly squidgy handling. Two updates since, the last in 2019, however, have seen it evolve into a substantial, well-equipped and still brilliant value tourer. The detuned SX four produces 118bhp and is fabulously smooth and torquey; it’s also roomy and comfortable and, particularly in Grand Tourer spec with full luggage set, riding lights and more, is more than capable of taking two over vast distances in blissful comfort. 

It might lack quite the sharp handling, spec and style of some pricier rivals – an SE version, also introduced in 2019, adds electronic suspension, uprated clocks and electronics and more but, in our view, isn’t worth the £4K extra – but nothing does as much for so little money.

7.  Indian Roadmaster (from £25,599)

Historic American brand Indian was bought by automotive giant Polaris in 2011, relaunched with an all-new range of US-style V-twins in 2014 and has been threatening Harley-Davidson ever since. Its smaller Scouts out-do Harley’s Sportsters, its Chieftain-based cruisers are a valid alternative to Harley’s Softails and its range-topping, ‘full-dress tourer’ Roadmaster arguably ‘out-does’ Harley’s legendary Electra Glides, too. 

Bigger, glitzier, arguably better performing and sumptuously equipped, the Roadmaster, in typical American style, is a full dresser taken to the max. There’s vast leather seats, huge three-box luggage, big screen, a flash entertainment system and it’s all lugged around by a meaty, 100bhp V-twin. It’s certainly no wallflower and, for European and certainly British roads is a bit OTT although on American Interstates is simply brilliant. 

The base, blacked-out Dark Horse version starts at £25K rising to £35K for the Elite with all the bells and whistles, even a five-year warranty, although it still doesn’t quite have the kudos and dealer network of Harley. But if you want the most, American style…

 
6. Harley-Davidson Electra Glide (from £20,195)

Few motorcycles, and almost certainly not touring ones, are as well known, revered or as long established as US giant Harley’s legendary Electra Glide. First introduced in 1965 as a successor to Harley’s touring Duo and Hydra Glides (Electra signified the addition of an electric starter) it quickly became the flagship Harley tourer and evolved (the ‘batwing’ fairing came in 1969) to become the archetypal American ‘full-dresser’ (the name given to American-style touring machines with full luggage, touring fairing etc). 

And although, styling-wise at least, it’s changed little since, certainly since 2013 Harley’s Glide family have fully modernised with new, partially liquid-cooled V-twin engines, Brembo brakes and slick, touchscreen ‘Infotainment’ systems. 

With around 90bhp it still can’t match, performance-wise, the latest from BMW or Honda, and the basic versions remain pretty spartan. But if you want the ultimate American touring icon and can afford the Ultra Limited (£24,695) or, better still, the factory-customised, fully blinged-up CVO Limited (£35,595), it’s still the original king.

5. BMW K 1600GTL (from £20,270)

When it comes to ‘full dress’ touring excess there’s still nothing ‘more’ than BMW’s amazing, six-cylinder, 160bhp K1600GTL. First launched in 2011 alongside a slightly lower spec (no top box etc) K1600GT and updated for Euro5 and with improved ESA in 2017, the K16 is a technological wonder among touring motorcycles matched only, arguably, by Honda’s Gold Wing. 

Unlike the Wing, though, the K16’s six-cylinder motor is in-line and mounted transversely and, producing 160bhp, is a whistlingly smooth ballistic missile. It’s also so big and lavish it’s like a two-wheeled Starship Enterprise – so is not for the feint hearted. But if you can man-handle it, the engine’s smooth grunt and low-down weight means low speed manoeuvres are surprisingly easy while it’s impressive chassis also means sweeping though bends, even fully-laden, is astonishingly swift. 

On top of that it’s sumptuously comfortable, especially with heated seats, lavishly equipped with sat nav, stereo, heated grips, electric screen and more and superbly capable. On the down side, it’s still something of a monster, its clocks, in particular, now look a little dated and, with all the options ticked, is fairly pricey, although the GT from £18,745, US-style Grand America from £23,825 and bagger ‘B’ version of the latter, at around £19K are all alternatives. 

But if you want a tech-laden luxo tourer that also has 150mph potential, there can be only one.

4. Yamaha FJR1300 (from £14,947)

Gold Wing apart, the Yamaha FJR is one of the longest lived and most successful of all dedicated Japanese touring machines which means it’s a shame it won’t be around for much longer. First introduced in 2001 as a belated successor to the much-loved FJ1200 it’s a purpose-built heavyweight tourer that, if lacking true luxury and allure has made up for that with solid, proven, all-round performance, decent value, a series of useful updates and, more recently, some clever tech including an optional clutchless transmission and electronically-adjustable suspension. 

The basics it does brilliantly: brisk 146bhp peak performance married to lashings of smooth, easy grunt with the bonus of shaft drive. Handling, though heavy, is engaging and predictable. Comfort is adequate, too, plus it’s always been decent value. And that, pretty much, is that, which is also why the FJR’s also become so popular with the likes of the police, even landing a big order from the Italian ‘Polizia’ in the last month.

If you want more tech or luxury, however, the FJR is a little lacking. The AS version gets the clutchless shift and panniers from £17,847. The AE has panniers and the electronic suspension from £17,247 and the new, final year, AE ‘Ultimate Edition’ comes in special black livery for £17,647. If you want a great, solid, all-round workhorse at reasonable money, this is the one. Buy one while you still can.

3. Harley-Davidson Road Glide Limited (from £24,695)

You know how I said the Electra Glide or, specifically, the Ultra Limited, is the ultimate ‘full-dress’ touring Harley? Well it’s not, not quite, anyway.

While the Electra, and its derivatives, remain undoubtedly the most iconic Harley tourer, thanks to its historic, handlebar-mounted ‘batwing’ fairing, the Road Glide, which differs most by having a larger, frame-mounted, twin headlamp fairing, which provides more weather protection, is arguably the better touring bike. 

Introduced, confusingly, as the Tour Glide in 1979, the latest version, the Road Glide Limited, got a thorough makeover for 2020 while retaining its classic ‘Shark nose’ style and is now the most sophisticated and best-performing tourer in Harley’s range. 

While its engine is the same as the Ultra (89bhp and 121ftlb) the bigger fairing, higher bars and taller front wheel means it’s roomier and arguably more comfortable; in this spec it’s slathered with equipment and luggage and it handles pretty well, too. The Road Glide’s looks may not be to everyone’s taste and its price is undeniably daunting, but if you want the ultimate Harley tourer, this is the one.

2.  Honda Gold Wing (from £23,999)

The Gold Wing has been a motorcycling touring icon ever since the original unfaired, four-cylinder, 1000cc version was unveiled way back in 1975. That bike quickly morphed into 1100cc, 1200cc, and increasingly luxurious ‘full dress’ Interstate and Aspencade versions, so much so that, when the a 1500cc six-cylinder version was launched in 1988 it effectively redefined the whole class, set the benchmark for all full-dressers to follow and gained a huge following all of its own – particularly in the US. 

Although it became the GL1800 in 2001 a lack of development since had meant in recent years it had become overshadowed by newcomers such as BMW’s K1600GTL. That all changed with this all-new Gold Wing which was launched in 2018. Although still an 1800cc flat six it’s both lighter, better handling and, now with 125bhp, better performing than ever but better still is fully-updated and bristles with luxurious high tech. 

While smaller than before it’s still sumptuously comfortable with masses of luggage space. The screen’s electrically adjustable, there’s a bafflingly sophisticated TFT dash and entertainment system, there’s bags of electronics including switchable riding modes and uniquely there’s the option of Honda’s excellent, semi-automatic DCT system. On the downside, if you want all of that, you’re looking at over £30K, but a base version, without top box and DCT, is more easily within reach.

1. BMW R 1250 RT (from £14,870)

BMW, rightly, have a long and deserved reputation as touring bike kings and of all its offerings, immense six-cylinder K1600GTL included, its comparatively simple RT is – still – renowned as the best. 

Although the German firm’s faired boxer tourers have been around since the first R100RT in 1978, in this latest, liquid-cooled form, it debuted in 2014 before being upgraded with BMW’s clever, enlarged ‘Shift Cam’ powerplant in 2019. 

Simply, it does it all: the now 134bhp boxer twin is the perfect blend of performance and flexibility; its proportions, being a relatively lightweight twin, are at the same time manageable yet sufficiently substantial for two. The big fairing with adjustable screen sets the standard for weather protection. 

Handling is light yet secure and, compared to some, almost nimble. While being a proven BMW, the RT also has plenty of class and all the luxury equipment you want to tick on its options list. The RT wants for nothings yet at the same time is neither excessive, overly cumbersome nor too expensive. 

The tourer that has it all? Almost. And if the base version isn’t enough, you can go for the SE (with electronic suspension adjustment, heated seat, cruise control and more) or LT (with all the above plus quickshifter, chrome exhaust, central locking etc) variants instead.

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