Touring Motorbikes: Finding The Right Type Of Bike For Your Touring Style

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You’ve no doubt already done a Google search on the best touring motorbikes available if you’re about to embark on the exciting path that is motorcycle touring,

And that’s great.

But the thing with touring motorbikes is that what works for one person, might not necessarily work for you.

And whilst it seems natural to go straight for the most recommended (or best advertised) touring bike out there, there’s sometimes more to be gained from a little reflection beforehand.

Understanding the different types of touring motorbikes that are available can really help you see what will best fit you, your lifestyle, and your touring preferences.

row of touring motorbike choices
Chose a touring bike that matches your touring style

Touring Motorbikes: The Wrong Tool For The Wrong Job

I’ll use myself to better illustrate the point I’m getting at.

I have a brand spanking new Honda Africa Twin. It’s a great bike and I love it.

And when I bought it, I had every intention of going off-road. But it was only after I bought it that I realised I preferred off-roading on a small and agile 250cc… NOT a 230kg lump.

I do a lot of miles up and down to London on it. And I obviously do a fair bit of touring on it.

But if I’m honest, there are better touring motorbikes out there for covering long distances. And there are better bikes out there for going off-road.

As a result, I now spend my days trying to get a massive bike through central London. Or wincing every time I want to filter.

honda africa twin road and sand
Buy the right bike for the right job. (Image: Honda)

Buy The Style Of Bike You Need

It’s all too easy to take a touring motorbike out for a test ride and then end up buying it – with your rose-tinted glasses still perched on your nose.

But it’s important when buying a touring motorbike that you buy the style that suits your riding the most.

Do you like a minimal setup with fewer motorways and lots of twisties? Maybe a sports bike will work for you – or maybe a sports tourer.

Need something that will munch miles but still have off-road capabilities? Perhaps look at an adventure bike.

In this post, we’ll look at the types of touring motorbikes available to you rather than particular makes/models of motorcycles.

honda africa twin - touring motorbikes
Below are the types of touring bikes you can consider (Image: Honda)

Sports Bikes As Touring Bikes?

This comes up quite a lot. And it amazes me how many people say you CAN’T tour on a sports bike.

Rubbish!

In my first year of riding, I covered more than 20,000 miles. I toured Scotland (the NC500), Wales, numerous places all across England and finally a trip to the Alps.

And I did all of those miles on a Honda CBR 600.

Still don’t believe me? Ask Sjaak Lucassen who has toured the world on a Honda Fireblade and a Yamaha R1.

Still not enough? How about Nick Sanders who has used four different Yamaha R1’s to ride around the world on four separate occasions?

If you’ve got packing down to a fine art and have learned how to genuinely travel light, choosing a sports bike could be an excellent decision.

And if (like me) you live for the twisties, sports bikes are a brilliant option.

ducati panigale v4
Who said you can’t tour on a sports bike?! (Image: Ducati)

Sports Tourers

Sports Tourers occupy a whole post just by themselves. So I wrote one! The link is at the bottom of this page.

They can vary in engine size, weight and comfort. And the perfect sports tourer for you could be the worst sports tourer for someone else.

They’e usually derived from their sports bike siblings – but the engines are tuned slightly differently.

They’re big enough to accommodate luggage but nimble enough to throw around the twisties.

And they usually have a slightly tweaked riding position to relieve stress on your wrists and back over long distances.

Often times, sports tourers will come with added extras such as a centre stand, heated grips or cruise control. These features are not usually present on the sports bikes from whence they came. But they’re added to make the process of touring easier.

They’re intended to be a compromise between a sports bike and a tourer. And for a lot of people, sports tourers make for ideal touring motorbikes.

yamaha tracer 9 gt - touring motorbikes
Sports tourers bridge the gap between sports bikes and touring bikes. (Image: Yamaha)

Adventure Sports

Adventure Sports has become such a large genre of touring motorbikes that I could quite easily dedicate an entire post to them. Hell, I could write a full website about them.

In fact, people already have.

Many times.

Manufacturers began to see a growth in the amount of people using adventure bikes on the road. Many buyers were using them almost exclusively as touring motorbikes – and so the adventure sports subsection was born.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that they’re brilliant.

They hold all your stuff, they’re comfortable, they do everything, and they’re actually incredibly nimble on the twisties. You can even track them if that’s your thing.

On the other end of the spectrum, put the right tyres on and they become insanely capable off-roading machines.

The road-going versions look rugged but come with grippy tyres and electronically adjustable suspension.

Whilst the original intention of these bikes was to glide over sand dunes or power through dirt tracks, modern road-going adventure bikes will munch up mile after mile.

Long-distance travel is well within their capabilities – and this makes them viable touring motorbikes.

Adventure (and adventure-style) bikes have grown over the years and it’s now considered normal to buy one that is 1250cc or 1300cc.

The KTM Super Adventure R will chuck out 160bhp when you open the throttle. The new BMW S 1000 XR will churn out a stonking 175bhp.

Aimed primarily at the touring market, adventure-style touring motorbikes now come with electrical everything – as well as an accessory list long enough to keep you entertained for days.

honda africa twin off-road
Adventure bikes are now predominantly aimed at the sports touring market. (Image: Honda)

Dedicated Touring Motorbikes

Tourers are like the Bentley’s of the motorcycle range. They’re big and heavy, but fast, comfortable, and impeccably behaved. They’re the ultimate when it comes to dedicated touring motorbikes.

For many years, the flagship tourer has been the Honda Goldwing. With its flat-six 1800cc engine, carrying you, your pillion, and both of your luggage is easy.

All dedicated tourers are designed with comfort in mind. And this can make them the perfect solution for long-distance touring over multiple days, weeks, or even months.

Pillion comfort is also catered for with dedicated touring motorbikes offering plush, heated seats for both of you.

Other comforts can include stereo systems, integrated GPS systems, heated air vents and more luggage space than you can shake a stick at.

Coming with every conceivable gadget and gismo, you should expect the price of them to be quite high.

But if you’ve never come across the price of them before, you better take a seat.

Because a top of the range Goldwing will set you back more than £30,000.

There is, of course, another option if tourers aren’t your thing.

Harley-Davidson and Indian offer traditional cruising-style touring motorbikes. And BMW now offer their K1600 Bagger – derived from the engine of its Goldwing competitor, the K1600 GLS.

harley-davidson road glide - touring motorbikes
On the other side of the spectrum are dedicated touring bikes such as cruisers and baggers (Image: Harley-Davidson)

Off-Road

The problem with every single one of the bikes above is weight. Unless you’re extremely adept at off-road riding, lugging 250kg+ over slippery trails is a tall order for most of us.

Lighter alternatives are a fast-growing segment of the market.

So it confuses me why manufacturers continue to make adventure bikes bigger and bigger when what people want are bikes that are lighter and lighter.

Some, however, have made it through the net.

KTM have their capable 790 Adventure (and now their incredible 890.) Yamaha have their equally capable Tenere 700. BMW have their smaller F 850 GS, and Triumph have their new release in the excellent Tiger 900.

Personally, I’m waiting for an 800cc Africa Twin!

yamaha tenere 700 off-road
Off-road biased bikes are great for those who want to stray from the tarmac (Image: Yamaha)

Style Of Touring Motorbikes: Conclusion

I hope that this post serves to open your eyes to the styles of touring motorbikes that are available. Particularly in relation to the jobs you want them to do.

If you want to spend most of your time on the trails, don’t buy a Honda Goldwing! Likewise, if you plan on spending most of your time on perfect tarmac, don’t buy a 250cc with knobblie tyres.

As for me? The jury is still out when it comes to the choosing of my next trusty stead.

I love my Africa Twin. But just like Range Rover drivers, I simply don’t use it for what it was intended.

I do have a shortlist of touring motorbikes in mind. And a few of them are on the lists in this post.

But a few of them aren’t.

You’ll just have to keep an eye out for the trail of breadcrumbs I leave!


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