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Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
1/5/20 8:44 a.m.

I never thought I'd even be considering a bagger, but here it goes. 

Last summer, a buddy of mine and I went on an awesome motorcycle trip through the Blue Ridge Parkway... on Honda Groms. 

We threw them in the van, drove up there, then set up camp and took day trips on different parts of the parkway. Total mileage on Groms? More than 300. surprise And, uh, yeah: That's too many miles on a scooter. 

Fast forward a few weeks, and my buddy buys one of these and decrees that 2020's Grom ride won't include a van or Groms and will include baggers and our wives as passengers. 

Challenge accepted. Which means I'm shopping. I need a bike that will comfortably drive 500 miles on the highway with a passenger and luggage for a weekend, then carve up the twisties for a few days without being a huge drag. Locally I'm seeing clean ST1300s, K1200GTs and LTs, and FJR1300s for sale in my budget. My only requirements are ABS and a comfortable passenger seat. Bonus points for easy maintenance and broad aftermarket support.

So what should I buy?



914Driver GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/5/20 9:26 a.m.

I sold my K-100 for $3200, helluva bike.  Bought an RT-1150, sold that for $3k.

I took a ride with my brother and his Harley buddies once to Canada, stopped for the night and my bags came off the bike and went into the room, all the Harley guys had to scoop the stuff out.  (No Dr., I'm not knocking Harleys)

914Driver GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/5/20 9:39 a.m.
BoxheadTim GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/5/20 10:00 a.m.

As someone who usually buys their bikes for touring purposes and has had a bunch of BMWs:

  • Newer BMWs aren't always that DIY friendly, especially when equipped with the servo ABS. You need the dealer software and cable to be able to flush the brake fluid, which needs to be done every 12-24 months. Bricking the servo unit and then wanting ABS is really, really expensive. That said, the K1200/1300 GTs are good bikes if they have been looked after properly. Personally I prefer the R models. If you don't want or need massive weather protection, look at R1150Rs - those are great, nimble bikes that still eat miles.
  • I'd avoid the K1200LT. They're a pain to service (first step on just about every job - take all the plastics off, an hour later start the real work). Get a GoldWing instead.
  • ST1100 and ST1300 are pretty much the easy button if you don't want a GoldWing. Keep in mind the 1100 uses a timing belt and the carbs are a pain in the rear to sync (they're nestled in the centre of the V). Especially late 1100s are pretty much bomb proof if they have been looked after, hustle pretty well and are comfy for long distances. The 1300s can exhibit iffy handling if you overload the rear and/or mess up the front/rear weight distribution.
  • FJR 1300 is another very good bike for the job, falls into the similar no-brainer category as the Honda STs. Like at least the ST1100, not all of them have ABS.
  • If you want to go more on the sporty side, look at well looked after Ducati STs and Triumph Sprint STs. That said, I I'm pretty sure the ST2 I just agreed to buy doesn't have ABS and the Sprint ST I used to own (2001 or so) didn't either. VFR 750 & 800 is also worth considering if you want more the sporty end of sport touring.
  • Triumph Trophys are all-day mile eaters in the same vein as the K1200LT, but less sought after. Can't remember if they came with ABS. They also have a reputation to be thirstier than the Irish Rugby team on an all-night bender.
  • A well looked after BMW K1100LT is a superb tourer that still goes around corners, and has ABS. There's also a K1100RS that's a bit more sporty.

 The ABS requirement pretty much means that you're looking at either newer bikes or BMW Flying Bricks (K-Series) or Oilheads (R1100/1150/1200), with the odd ST1100 thrown in as not all of them had ABS. IME - as mentioned, I owned a bunch of BMWs - the ABS can be an expensive source of problems from a somewhat neglected bike. So if you're looking at the GRM budget end, make sure the ABS works.

Oh, and if you're looking at BMWs - the ABS computer is very voltage sensitive. Just because the battery manages to start the bike doesn't mean it's made the ABS computer happy. I've of course never used this knowledge to get a better price in the past . Although if it wasn't the battery, things get expensive.

BoxheadTim GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/5/20 10:03 a.m.

One other thought - I don't think there is a best model bike for your budget. It comes down to how well looked after a bike is.

Oh, and Ducati picture (because someone is going to ask):

That bike set me back a bit less than $2500, has 17k on the odometer and a bunch of good aftermarket parts. 2V Ducs are pretty DIY friendly, too, although this one has the added complexity of a watercooled engine.

BoxheadTim GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/5/20 10:11 a.m.

In reply to 914Driver :

They also make a newer version, the Concours 14(00). That might be a little outside the budget, though.

Another bike I forgot to mention - Moto Guzzi Norge 1200. They're not that easy to find, but they are surprisingly good bikes and usually around your budget. Just make sure that if it's an early 8V, the known issues have been addressed. The basic 1200 2V engine is pretty much bomb proof, Guzzi has been making those since before the dinos went extinct.

secretariata GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
1/5/20 11:25 a.m.

What, nobody has suggested a Hayabusa yet? Leave your spouse or SO laying in the road because they weren't holding on tight enough at launch...it'll only happen once. ;). Oh wait, no ABS on those for $3k...

I'm not sure if the newer VFR's that can be had with ABS are down that low in price? Although passenger comfort is probably compromised compared to some of the bikes more on the touring end of the spectrum. 

Dr. Hess
Dr. Hess MegaDork
1/6/20 8:33 a.m.

For four large, you can start to get into a pretty nice Harley dresser.  Very comfortable.  500 mile days at your age are easy. 600 mile days are easy. And they handle surprisingly well. Look for an Evo motor FLHT, '86 to '99.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
1/6/20 8:41 a.m.

Thanks for all the advice so far, everybody. Really seems like BMWs are the way to go, so that's what I'm looking pretty hard at. I've got a line on a $2400 RT1100 that seems to be taken care of, so I'm probably going to go look at that next. 

And no Harleys. Just... no. Sorry, living in Daytona Beach makes you hate them for some reason. 

Dr. Hess
Dr. Hess MegaDork
1/6/20 8:49 a.m.

Oh well.  You know, if you ride wide open outside you Mom's window at 3AM on a Harley with open drag pipes, versus trying it on a BMW, it just isn't the same.

BoxheadTim GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
1/6/20 9:50 a.m.

In reply to Tom Suddard :

An R1100RT is a pretty good touring bike that does exactly what it says on the tin, as long as you stay on paved roads.

If it's a higher mileage bike, I'd look at the following areas for potential issues:

  • Check the rear and especially the front coilover (the front one being up near where a normal suspension bike as the triple trees). If you see shock absorber oil on the front mudguard you're already way past having a problem.
  • Check for oil leaks, especially at the engine/gearbox connection - these have a car like separate gearbox with separate oil, and any oil leaks from the drainhole there are either the rear crank seal or the input shaft seal. Did I mention that the way these bikes are assembled is that the engine and gearbox are bolted together, levitated up and then the rest of the bike is assembled around them?
  • Oil leaks on the rear drive
  • If it has ABS, check for regular brake fluid changes. 1100s don't have the servo brakes, but water in the brake fluid can still damage the ABS unit. ABS warning light(s) should flash after you start the bike and extinguish after riding it for a few feet. If they don't you either have a battery voltage issue or a busted ABS unit.
  • 1100s and non-twin spark 1150s are very sensitive to throttle body synchronisation. If you get surging during the test ride at constant throttle, that's likely the issue.
  • Due to the different suspension design, these use tires differently than other bikes. They're pretty hard on front tires - check for cupping on the front tire. Even if it has plenty of tread left, if it shows cupping it's time to ditch it.
pres589 (djronnebaum)
pres589 (djronnebaum) PowerDork
1/6/20 9:58 a.m.

VFR800 maaaaybe.  I never rode two-up that long on mine.  ST1300 seems like the smart solution.  I want to say yes to a Connie 1k but I have this aversion to inline-fours (ignoring that my current bike carries an inline-four).

bearmtnmartin GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
1/6/20 10:36 a.m.

It seems like quite the jump to go from a Grom to a fully dressed 1100. My son picked up a very nice 650GS for $3000 Canadian and it has ABS and will do everything you need it to although it would not be a rocket two up.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard GRM+ Memberand Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
1/6/20 10:55 a.m.

Great advice on the RT1100. Thank you.

And yes, it's a big jump from a Grom to a bagger. The Grom isn't the only thing I've ridden–my motorcycle resume includes a childhood on dirt bikes, then a few 250-500cc dual sports and a CB400F growing up, along with some time on my dad's Triumph Bonneville. I don't /think/ I'll immediately wheelie into oblivion. 

I'd be looking in the 6-800cc range if I was alone, but having a passenger and needing to knock down highway miles means I'm shopping for bigger bikes. 

dxman92 HalfDork
1/6/20 11:52 a.m.

That Concourse that was posted earlier looks like a slam dunk..

Dr. Hess
Dr. Hess MegaDork
1/6/20 12:26 p.m.

I'm telling you, Tom, you should test ride a Harley dresser.  The dealers have these demo ride things all the time.  Just do it and ignore the label on the tank, tour pack, fairing, sadlebags, exhaust, floorboards, pegs....  Compare the ride for what you are looking for.  An older model, like my 86 FLHT, will be substantially the same, if down on power a bit from the new 100+ cubic inch models.

ebelements Reader
1/6/20 12:28 p.m.

I rode an '06 Concours across the country a few years back. Cool bike, especially after I did some mods to it (lighting, suspension, windshield, crampbuster, highway pegs, topcase, tires, ditched the reed valves, etc). Good time! Bike cruised well, made good power, was reliable, was every bit as topheavy as they say, had the thing dive for the gas pump somewhere in wyoming. I'm 6'4" and while it rode and handled quite well, it was clear the ergos weren't right for me. 

At the time I also had a VERY farkled DR650 that I supermoto'd to hell and back. Loved that bike, but it sucked for 2 up, and well, everything besides being a hooligan. So, in search of a single all-rounder, I sold both spring '17.

I bought a 2009 FJR because it hit all the criteria. Not TOO big to ride to work but big enough to cross the country on. EFI. Shaft drive. Long maintenance intervals. Great aftermarket. Cheap to insure. Doesn't look like grampa's bike. Right out of the box it's the best bike I've ever owned. Comfortable, good luggage, feels smaller than it is, eats corners, and ABSOLUTELY RIPS.  Also, electric windshield. Oh good golly do I love the electric windshield.

wheelsmithy GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
1/6/20 6:31 p.m.

Wee-Strom or Versys. Dirt cheap (Kawasaki, anyway), and you can add enough bags to do what you want. Just a thought.

chaparral Dork
1/8/20 9:26 a.m.

Left-field option: my old '07 CBR1000RR was all-day comfortable if a bit loud. An ABS-equipped sportbike would be fun here.

CarKid1989 SuperDork
1/9/20 4:08 a.m.

This is a topic that I have personally been researching for years and think you're on the right track.  My only question is why the requirement for ABS? If its what you like and want great, just was wondering if there was a specific reason.

imgon HalfDork
1/11/20 7:18 a.m.

I own an '00 RT1100, it has 113k on it, I have enjoyed it but they have their issues. They are maintenance pigs,  needs service every 6k miles, stock seats are notoriously uncomfortable,  budget an aftermarket seat, like someone else mentioned,  the front tires don't last long, think the best I ever got was maybe 10k. Only had a couple of non maintenance issues in 20 years of ownership. The ST and FJR are nice bikes too, probably a little less maintenance and more overall dealer support if you are traveling. I think if I was doing it over I would go with a Gold Wing , they seem to offer the best overall bang for the buck. Eat up miles comfortably , reliable  and handle well. Enjoy the hunt and ride safe.

Rodan Dork
1/11/20 8:46 a.m.

Sport touring... right up my alley. laugh

First you can absolutely tour on a 'Busa... I did it for years.

It's a fantastic bike for it, if your body is still reasonably flexible.  No good for two-up though.

I did the Ducati thing.  It sucked.  Too much maintenance, and handled like it had a hinge in the middle.  E36 M3 brakes.  Way more bike for the $$ from Japan.  Also to cramped for serious two-up distance.  That said, there is no better sound on two wheels.

IMHO, the R1100RT/R1150RT is an excellent choice.  I had an R1100RS and it was fantastic, but would have been tight two-up.  Great handling, reasonable power, and all-day (like 1k miles a day) comfortable.

The earlier bikes had an odd size rear tire that was kind of hard to find on the road, but the later bikes may have gone to a 180/55... not sure.  All of these are getting long in the tooth, and parts can be expensive.  Air/oil cooled bikes can get hot in traffic in summer.  From ~2004(??), when the BMWs went to 1200s, they got exponentially more complex and even more expensive to keep running.

Gold standard in the 'older' bikes is the ST1100.  I had a couple over the years, and they are really good bikes.  Smooth, comfortable, and deceptively fast.  Honda reliability.  Unfortunately, a little Honda personality, too... or lack thereof.  Kind of like a two wheel Accord.  Big enough to be great for two-up.

The ST1300 is faster, roomier, heavier, and by all reports pretty boring.  Even more like a two wheel Accord.  I've only test ridden them so I can't comment much more than that.  They do have really good brakes.

FJR, IMHO is the gold standard in newer bikes.  My BIL has had several of them and they're great bikes.  He keeps buying one a little newer than his last as the prices drop.  I don't have a lot of time on them, but I was impressed.  The earlier 5 speed bikes can be a little buzzy on the highway.  I don't know what prices are like on these right now, but for what you said you wanted, an FJR would probably be my choice.

Another option is 'adventure bikes'.  I had a VStrom 1000, and it was probably #2 on my 'all-around' best bikes list, and I've owned a lot of bikes.  I rode it coast to coast, and border to border.  I rode it on the track.  I rode it 1350 miles in 22 hrs.

Fantastic motor.  Great Ducati like noises.  Suspension good enough to grind pegs.  Roomy and comfortable.  The earlier bikes don't have a big enough alternator to run heated gear for rider + passenger.  It also didn't get the greatest mileage, and hard riding loaded up could get the fuel light on at ~120 miles.  Wind management/weather protection is not as good as sport-touring bikes, but that's true of all of the adventure bikes.

IMHO, stay away from the smaller version (Weestrom/ DL650) for two-up, loaded up touring, especially if any altitude is involved.  You'll feel like you're back on the Grom.

Anything based on a sport bike will be too small for two-up touring.  You can do it, but you won't like it.

I owned a 1500 Gold Wing for a while, and have spent time on the 1800s.  Nice and roomy for two up, but the feet forward, sit up straight position was not compatible with my back.  Serious lack of ground clearance for the twisty bits.  Heavy... there's a reason they're called Wingebagos...

NGTD UberDork
1/11/20 12:11 p.m.

I'm a fan of these, but they are way smaller in displacement than most of the other recommendations:

09 Suzuki GSX650F - FI, ABS

I got mine with only 7k kms on it for $3500 CAD

former520 HalfDork
1/11/20 12:22 p.m.

Some great recommendations above.  Love the Connie; have seen, but not tried the Busa; VStrom is a solid choice.  Another one not on the list but great - Triumph Tiger 1050.  Tons of torque, factory heater grips, removable bags and under the radar to pick up for a great deal.  Last on I had did PHX to Alaska up the coast and down the rockies 2 up most of the way with no issues.  Sold with ~40k miles for $3200 6 or so years ago.  No ABS unless you go newer and higher $$$

kevlarcorolla Dork
1/11/20 1:57 p.m.

Had an FJR,very very nice drivetrain.


 The windsheild sucks,its power adjustable so it sucks at its lowest setting and gets more sucky the higher you raise it.


 Depending on your height,the height of the windsheild  and speed the wind either pushes on the top of you head or your back.


 I tried an additional adjustable foil at added to the stocker,helped but never removed the problem completly.


 A buddy with one simply cut a few inches off and says its perfect after that but I never tried it.

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