“Touring on a sports bike is a stupid idea” said my Ducati Multistrada-riding work colleague.
I’d only passed my test 12 months earlier and was riding my first ever ‘big’ bike – a 1999 Honda CBR 600.
It was old, a bit tired, and had around 40,000 miles on the clock. But despite its flaws, I absolutely loved it.
It was a turd, but it was my turd.
So far it had never let me down. And now, it was going to take me on my first ever trip to Europe on a solo ride through nine countries.
There Were Times I Thought He Was Right
When I was packing, there were times I thought my smug Ducati-riding work colleague was right.
I had no idea what to pack, so I’d made that typical newbie mistake of taking more than I needed.
I know, I know… we all do it!
Having laid all of my intended gear out, I decided more luggage capacity was needed.
So I bought a little rack to strap my stuff to and some small fabric panniers.
My trusty stead had been transformed into a proper touring machine.
Get ready, Alps. I’m on my way.
Luxembourg Changed My Life Forever
I’d spent quite a lot of time on my way through Belgium wondering if it was really worth touring on a sports bike.
By the time I’d got to Luxembourg, I’d packed and unpacked a number of times.
I’d lost stuff, found stuff, got soaking wet before I’d had time to put my rain suit on, and started to refine my set up a bit.
But there were still times when I wondered how easy it would be if I was doing this on my friend’s Multistrada.
And then Luxembourg opened its arms and welcomed me with some of the finest riding roads I’d ever ridden.
Touring On A Sports Bike: The Luxembourg Dance
The immaculate road in front of me curved to the right.
Checking my mirror, I shifted my bike to the left to open up my view.
I can’t remember what gear I was in, but the revs sounded good – high enough to maintain throttle throughout the bend, but low enough that I had instant power for when I rolled on after exiting.
Shifting my backside slightly right, I was ready,
The bend approached, and I leaned off the seat just a touch – knee and elbow slightly out as I tipped in.
I didn’t need to steer through the bend. I didn’t have to try. The bike just seemed to respond to my thoughts like it was a part of me.
Maintaining my throttle, I glided through the bend as smooth as you like.
Holding it, holding it, holding it.
The bike should’ve been falling. But instead, I was in perfect equilibrium – gravity and physics working in harmony to suspend me in motorcycling bliss.
The road opened up. I could see it was clear and gradually I fed on the throttle.
6,000 rpm, 9,000 rpm, 12,000 rpm.
Another bend – this time to the left.
Gently on the brakes.
Dipping the clutch, I tapped down with my left foot.
A quick blip of the throttle matched my revs as I released the clutch and changed down.
No jerks or vibrations – just unmitigated smoothness as everything came together and floated me through the bends.
Turn after turn. Again and again. Like dancers completely in sync.
For hours, my CBR and I danced the dance of Luxembourg.
And that is why I love touring on a sports bike.
Through The Alps
There were many instances like this.
I seemed to spend my two weeks in Europe dancing my way through some of the finest mountain passes in the world.
And I had a massive grin on my face from the second I left home to the second I returned.
But like everybody else, I thought it could be better.
Riding a touring-specific bike had to be better than touring on a sportsbike.
Well let’s find out.
Cue The Pyrenees & An Africa Twin
Having decided that I loved touring, the Pyrenees was next on my agenda.
I’d taken a few steps up the career ladder by this point – and with those steps came quite a comfortable salary.
I could afford something better than my 20 year old CBR.
Maybe, just maybe, I could buy myself a Multistrada like my colleague.
I tested the Ducati, and instantly hated it. But that’s another story for another day.
So I tested a BMW GS Adventure. I liked it, but I wasn’t moved by it. I struggled to find its ‘personality.’
Next was Honda and a test ride on the Africa Twin.
With bundles of character and a throaty bark coming from the V-Twin engine, I loved it immediately.
It felt like a happy bike.
So I bought it.
My first ever brand spanking new bike.
I Had Space!
The new bike came with a full luggage set. So I now had a top box, a set of panniers, a tank bag and my roll bag.
Loads of room!
So I packed them all to the brim and set off for the Pyrenees on a bike that weight nearly twice as much as the one I used the year before.
And this threw up some new perceptions.
Touring On A Sports Bike: The Realisation
By the time I’d gotten back from the Pyrenees, I realised that I didn’t need even half of the stuff I’d packed.
I’d packed it because 1) I thought I needed it, and 2) because I could.
And this got me thinking to my trip to the Alps on the CBR.
I’d gone out and bought the fabric panniers. But I never actually unpacked them whilst on tour.
Both panniers were full of stuff that I simply never needed – and never used.
And the Africa Twin was the same.
I’d gotten all this luggage space, and crammed it with stuff that I never needed or used.
All I ever really used on the Africa Twin was the top box and roll bag.
And all I ever really used on the CBR was – the top box and roll bag.
For the first time, the realisation set in that it wasn’t necessarily the bike that dictated what trip I could go on. It was me – and the packing decisions I made.
Touring On A Sports Bike: Packing Only What I Needed
As mentioned above, most people overpack when they first start touring.
But as you become a bit more accustomed to touring and what it brings, you also start to become more acclimatised to leaving stuff at home.
And once you do this, you realise that you absolutely CAN go touring on a sports bike.
For more on common touring mistakes, be sure to check out this post: Motorcycle Touring Mistakes To Avoid
I’m Not Alone
Nick Sanders has famously circumnavigated the globe on almost countless occassions.
He’s done it numerous times on a Yamaha YZF-R1.
And not only that, but I once saw an interview somewhere where he stated his favourite 3 bikes for touring were a Royal Enfield, a Yamaha XT660R and his Yamaha R1.
There’s not one, massive 1000cc+ adventure bike anywhere in that list. But there is a sports bike.
And it’s not just Nick.
You can find tonnes of other people on the net who voice similar opinions.
So, Are Sports Bikes Good For Touring?
It would be remiss of me to try to tell you why Nick Sander’s loves to go touring on a sports bike.
And I couldn’t possibly speak for all the others who love it too.
But I can speak for me.
So here are my top 5 reasons for touring on a sports bike.
1. Touring On A Sports Bike: Sheer Riding Pleasure
As mentioned in my story above, no other bike can give you that raw, motorcycling goodness that comes from a sports bike when you power out of the corners.
Tipping it in, scraping the pegs, then easing on effortless power is truly an addictive pleasure to behold.
And I love the twisties!
I don’t enjoy straight roads – I enjoy short, sharp, fast, technical twisties. So I love the challenge of those high mountain passes.
And whichever way you look at it, those roads are simply made for enjoying on a sports bike!
A 2021 BMW GS 1250 Adventure comes in at 250 kg. So does the new Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250.
And that’s before you’ve added the top box and panniers.
By the time you’ve added your luggage (and filled them with a load of crap you don’t need), you’ll be touring on a behemoth that probably weighs in the region of 320 kg.
A Yamaha R1 weighs around 170 kg.
Stick a roll bag on it and you’ll still be topping the scales at under 200 kg.
And that is a HUGE difference.
3. Riding Experience
When you ride a big adventure bike on tarmac (it doesn’t matter which make), you’re merely a passenger.
It has everything. It does everything. It will defy whatever you throw at it with flawless efficiency.
But flawless is boring. And perfection is boring!
When you go touring on a sports bike, you’re a part of the experience.
You’re not sat on top of it in a heated armchair that practically rides itself whilst making you a cup of tea and gently massaging your delicate arse cheeks.
A sports bike will throw you off if you make a mistake.
You have to coax it, tame it, and caress it.
Touring on a sports bike gives you that proper, riding experience that you just don’t get from touring whilst sat atop a Chesterfield.
4. What About When You’re NOT Touring?
Most people can only tour once a year because of work. So that’s maybe two weeks out of every year.
Can you honestly say that you need that massive touring bike for the other 50 weeks of the year?
If I was to play devil’s advocate, I would suggest that for everyday use, commuting, or even a weekend blast, a sports bike would be way more practical.
It’s fun to use on a Sunday morning ride out and it fit’s through the traffic during your morning commute.
Plus, it’s easier to man-handle when you’re trying to get it in the garage.
5. You Can Always Find It
And this is mainly because hardly anybody else is stupid enough to go touring on a sports bike!
Have you ever made your way down to the hull of the ferry when you’ve docked?
A hundred bikers make their way down the stairs to find their bikes – only to be faced with the impossible challenge of trying to decide which of the identical adventure bikes belongs to who.
Obviously I’m joking here – and you can’t really count this as an advantage to touring on a sports bike.
But you get my meaning.
It’s nice to be different and it’s nice to stand out from the crowd.
Touring On A Sports Bike Isn’t Without It’s Draw Backs
I can virtually hear the big touring bike owners screaming into the screens of their smart phones as they read this post!
And yes, I concede that whatever it is you’re shouting is probably a valid reason as to why your bike is better than a sports bike for touring.
But by all accounts, arguing about which bike is ‘better’ for touring is futile.
We all have our preferences.
The job of this post is mainly to let people know that they can go touring on a sports bike if they wish.
But why is this important?
Well maybe a sports bike is the only bike they’ve got. And I don’t want people to think or feel that they can’t tour because of the type of bike they have.
If you find yourself in this position, just know that you absolutely can go touring on a sports bike!
It goes without saying that the tank range on a purpose-built touring machine is greater than that of a sports bike.
But my antidote to this is the realisation that I never use my huge tank range anyway!
How many people keep going, continuously, for 400 miles if that’s what their tank range is? Very few, I should image.
Most people that I know are stopping every 100 miles or so anyway – because they either want to stretch their legs, use the toilet, take a photograph, enjoy the scenery, or grab a coffee somewhere.
Yes, you will have to fuel up after 140 miles when touring on a sports bike.
But you’ll be stopping for any of the above reasons anyway, so what difference does it make to fuel up?
Yes, I know big touring bikes can carry more.
But as I said at the beginning, most people (including me) have a tendency to over-pack. And because you have that space, it almost tempts you into packing more stuff – stuff you don’t need.
The issue here is learning what to take and what to leave at home.
If you pack efficiently, you will be able to fit what you need on a sports bike for a typical tour.
Riding With A Pillion
Okay, okay, well you’ve got me on that one!
But if that’s the case, tell your pillion to buy their own sports bike and then you can both go touring on your own bikes!
If you’re planning on touring with your significant other, chances are a sports bike isn’t the bike for you on a long tour.
Touring On A Sports Bike: Conclusion
I’m not saying a sports bike is the only way to tour.
But I am saying that you don’t necessarily need a touring bike.
A sports bike is certainly a viable option, and it’s an option I recommend everyone tries before they succumb to the ravishing deals of a touring bike!
Yes, you will have to sacrifice space – which in turn means sacrificing luggage.
But think about how much stuff you took on your last tour. And now think about how much of it you actually used.
If you’re anything like me, you took too much.
Don’t choose a touring bike just because of how much stuff it holds.
Choose a sports bike because of much stuff it doesn’t hold – and just pack properly!
Title image via Vander Films