Are Sports Tourers Making A Comeback? Here’s Our Top 8

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When I cast my mind back to my childhood, sports tourers were the mainstay of British motorcycling.

You couldn’t move for quietly understated, do-it-all machines such as the highly revered Honda VFR 750 or Triumph’s Sprint ST.

But as we rocketed into the 21st century, these legendary touring Goliaths were steadily cast aside as buyers shifted their focus onto the newer, gadget-ladened world of adventure bikes.

And with good reason!

With day-to-day versatility, rugged good looks, and an abundance of technical gadgetry, adventure bikes gave us the full package.

one of triumph's iconic sports tourers on a mountain road
Fond memories!

Sports Tourers: Quiet, But Not Gone

All that being said, though, sports tourers never really left us.

And over the last few years, sports touring motorcycles have been formulating their revival in the quietest corners of motorcycle factories.

We saw the new Honda VFR 800 go and come back again. Along with its bigger brother, the Honda VFR 1200 – which never made it through the euro emissions tests.

Suzuki gave us their GSX S1000X. And even Ducati ruffled a few feathers with their release of the SuperSport back in 2017.

And throughout all of this, we had the massive rise and fall of Kawasaki’s infamous Z1000 SX – now returned under a sexy new name.

honda vrf1200
The Honda VFR 1200 came and went due to Euro5 (image: Autotrader)

Are Buyers Realigning With Sports Tourers?

Now though, there is an abundance of sports tourers beginning to march their way back into motorcycle showrooms.

Shoving the adventure bike upstarts out of the way, sports tourers are gracing forecourts from a plethora of manufacturers once again. And all of them are vying to take the old-school crown of best sports tourer.

Ultimately, the best sports tourers are those that delicately toe the line between sports bike performance and touring bike comfort.

And in 2021, the choice is ravishing as the options span from entry-level, do-it-all bikes to powerful touring-specific machines.

In this post, we bring you the best sports tourers for 2021.

Kawasaki H2 SX

kawasaki h2sx - best sports tourers
Kawasaki revolutionised sports touring motorcycles with the H2 SX SE (image: Kawasaki)

Spawned from the seed of the mind-boggling Supercharged H2 in 2018, the Kawasaki H2 SX SE is its more relaxed sibling.

It has a more comfort-orientated riding position. And it has a larger tank range, a larger screen, and a strengthened rear frame to accommodate a passenger.

If you’re into tech, it comes with launch control, a TFT dash that will make you dribble, a quick-shifter, LED cornering lights, and heated grips.

Since 2019, the SE inherited the semi-active suspension from Kawasaki’s ZX-10R, as well as ‘self-healing’ paint, and upgraded Brembo brakes.

The result is a comfortable sports tourer with modern electronics, sports handling, and quality components and tech.

KTM 1290 Super Duke GT

ktm super duke gt
KTM’s Super Duke 1290 GT is one of the most eye-wateringly quick sports tourers on the planet (image: KTM)

A few years back, KTM stunned the biking world with the release of its utterly bonkers 1290 Super Duke R. In 2016 came this GT variation with a fairing and some touring-inspired gadgetry.

But that doesn’t stop this bike from being a 175 bhp, tech-ladened sports tourer that will smash just about everything on the road!

Luggage space is quite tight and therefore the panniers are small. But it does come with semi-active suspension, multiple riding modes, cornering ABS. Moreover, it has an engine that will shroud you with moreish grunt.

Other touring-appreciated specs include cruise control, tyre pressure monitoring, and self-canceling indicators.

It’s not the quietest (nor the most sensible) on our list. But if you want to get to your destination with a smile on your face, look no further than this characterful twin!

BMW R 1250 RT

bmw r 1250 rt - best sports tourers
BMW produce some impeccable sports touring motorcycles (image: BMW)

With its sturdy build, massive fairings, luxurious comfort, and clever luggage options, the BMW R 1250 RT is the heaviest of the sports tourers on our list and weighs in at a hefty 279 kg.

But despite its weight, if you want something that can carry you and your significant other in sumptuous comfort, then nothing else even comes close without stepping into the full-dressed arena.

With heated grips, heated seats, electronic suspension, and even central locking, there’s nothing else left to ask for!

Noted for its buttery-smooth engine, the 1250RT is a tried-and-tested tourer with the BMW pedigree of comfort, quality, and luxury.

The BMW makes for the most comfortable sports touring motorcycle on this list.

Kawasaki Ninja 1000 SX

kawasaki ninja 1000
One of the most iconic sports tourers of the last decade – the Kawasaki Ninja 1000 SX (image: Kawasaki)

If you prefer your sports tourers to be on the sporty side of the spectrum, you can’t go far wrong with the Kawasaki Ninja 1000 SX. Especially at the price.

Since its inception in 2010, the bike has seen numerous upgrades and refinements. These include new brakes and suspension, integrated panniers, and improved electronics.

It also provides a comfortable touring experience thanks to its new TFT dash, quick-shifter, LED lighting, and cruise control.

For us, its grunty 140 bhp engine, all-day rideability, great spec, and value for money makes this one of our favourite sports tourers on this list.

BMW S 1000 XR

bmw 900 xr - best sports tourers
The big brother in BMW’s XR sports tourer range (image: BMW)

The BMW S 1000 XR has been around for a while now and has always taken a back seat to the GS.

Whilst different bikes, this is the first sports tourer on our list that has that ‘adventure’ styling about it. Although it definitely orientates towards tarmac.

The best part about this bike is the engine – which comes from the mind-warping S1000RR sports bike and is de-tuned for touring.

In 2021, we still get that monstrously addictive 165 bhp engine. But we also get a lighter frame, a TFT dash, and new LED lights.

You can also find electronic suspension, cornering ABS, and hill-start control.

The problem with this bike is its equally impressive baby brother (below) – which is a staggering £4,500 cheaper!

Yamaha Tracer 9 GT

yamaha tracer 9 gt
Possibly the most successful of the sports tourers in recent years (image: Drivespoark)

The Yamaha Tracer 900 GT (the older version of this bike) was voted bike of the year numerous times and you can see why.

With oodles of comfort and versatility, the Tracer 900 GT became one of Yamaha’s best European selling sports tourers.

The updated version is now in showrooms for 2021 and comes with a new name – the Tracer 9 GT.

It’s a force to reckoned with. And we can certainly see it as a contender for the best middleweight sports touring motorcycle of 2021.

Furthermore, with heated grips, cruise control, a comfy seat, quick-shifter, and pannier set as standard, it’s ready to tour.

Our only niggle is range. You can expect to get a comfortable 175 miles from a tank. But we would prefer it to be more towards the 200-mile mark.

BMW F 900 XR

bmw 900 xr - best sports tourers
The smaller sibling of the 1000XR (image: Drivemag)

It honestly makes you wonder why BMW even bothers with the S 1000 XR when this bike is practically the same. Just £4,500 cheaper.

The BMW F 900 XR shares the same engine as the GS 850. But you can tell it isn’t just a feeble attempt to rival Yamaha’s Tracer 9 GT.

Similarly, it’s not trying to be a baby 1000 XR, either.

Additionally, BMW have done a great job here of making the 900 XR a bike in its own right. And it’s one we really like if you’re looking for an all-round package that is sensible and affordable.

It isn’t the fastest of sports touring motorcycles. But it makes up for it in agility, equipment, composure, ergonomics, and ride quality.

For the money, it’s a great option.

Yamaha Tracer 7 GT

yamaha tracer 7 gt
Yamaha gives us one of the best budget sports touring motorcycles on the market (image: Yamaha)

Yet another European bestseller by Yamaha, the old Yamaha Tracer 700 (born from the MT-07) had a lively 72.4 bhp engine, loads of room, and loads of versatility.

And then in 2021, we saw the rebirth by way of the Tracer 7 GT.

The older models had a definite feeling of ‘budget’ about them. But these new sports tourers come upgraded with a new screen, a TFT dash, adjustable suspension, and panniers.

And if you’re planning on touring, the GT can make your money stretch further with accessories that are expensive if you were to buy them separately.

If you’re looking for a fully-kitted out sports tourer that is lightweight, affordable, and approachable, the Tracer 7 GT simply has to be on your test-ride list.

The Best Sports Tourers: Conclusion

So what are the best sports tourers for 2021?

If we had lots of money and did a lot of touring, we’d be going for the BMW 1250 RT. But for newer riders on a tighter budget, the Tracer 7 GT offers a great all-round package.

For the all-round rider at the mid-range price point, the BMW 900 XR is understated whilst ticking a lot of sensible boxes.

And if money is no object (or if you enjoy the smell of poo running down your leg when you tour), go for the H2 or the KTM.

Crazy bikes – but filthy fun!

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