BY PAUL OWEN
While riding the leviathan Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited the other day recently, I began to mentally compile a list of the five bikes that are today’s finest lightweight tourers.
Now, the 400kg Ultra is quite possibly the greatest American touring bike ever made (review pending), but I’d find all that mass hard to live with over the long term. I prefer bikes that are easier to park up (and easier to pick up again if you have to). Getting to the digs du noir is awesome on bikes like the Ultra, but what follows when you reach the driveway leading to that destination generally isn’t. The main criteria for this list therefore is a dry weight figure below 200kg. That most also offer a modicum of weather protection, and that some come with luggage systems is a bonus. One even has touring-friendly shaft drive.
Claimed Weight: 196kg (wet)
Honda acknowledged the touring credentials of the X-model of the CB500 range in the upgrade the bikes received last year. Where the sporty CBR500R and the CB500F streetbike got a new muffler design as part of their welcome design makeover, the X had to soldier on with the old lower exhaust because it was felt that the new one would restrict luggage options. Otherwise, the X-bike got all the good new stuff – revised suspension and transmission, a new info display, and a Euro 4-compliant engine management upgrade that increased its already impressive fuel economy.
Said parallel-twin engine might only develop 35kW (48bhp), but it does it in a highly-refined manner that enhances the long-distance touring credentials of the CB500X. A 30 per cent increase in suspension travel over the other two CB500 models, the plushest seat in the range, and the highest windscreen further tilt the X towards open road riding applications. It’s also the only bike here that you can ride on a learner licence.
MOTO GUZZI V7 II STONE
Claimed Weight: 189kg (dry)
You’re going to have to pay extra for a windscreen and luggage with the V7 II, but it does come with shaft drive. Like the Honda it develops 35kW of power, but does so in a completely different manner. The Guzzi chugs where the Honda revs, and it vibrates a bit more as you can feel every power stroke. Some, like me, will find this character-enhancing. While for others, it’ll become annoying and tiring during long terms in the saddle.
The other limitation on the Guzzi’s touring potential is its basic suspension package, which will present the most obvious opportunity for improvement for many owners, Otherwise, this is a great do-anything, go-anywhere machine for anyone short enough to comfortably slot their knees behind the air-cooled cylinders of Guzzi’s venerable-yet-lovable short-block V-twin. Then again, those who do fit may wish to wait for the V7 III, which promises a 10 per cent power increase and improved suspension when it arrives mid-2017.
YAMAHA MT-09 TRACER
Claimed Weight: 190kg (dry)
Time to get a bit more high-tech, and with the Tracer 900 (the Yamaha’s tongue-friendlier name in the UK), we enter the realm of triple riding modes and a range of traction control options. Power also increases to more than double the outputs of the CB500X and V7, and the 850cc Yamaha inline triple puts 85kW (115bhp) in the rider’s right fist, making it the most powerful of any bike listed here.
The plush long-travel suspension of the Tracer and pampering seat make it easily the most comfortable bike in Yamaha’s MT (Mighty Torque) series, along with a fairing and windscreen that better insulates the rider from the worst of the weather. Panniers come included in the Tracer’s price, which makes it one of the most ready-to-tour bikes here, along with the Ducati.
TRIUMPH TIGER 800 XR
Claimed Weight: 188kg (dry)
The base model of the popular Tiger 800 range is also the most rider-friendly when it comes to touring over a variety of road surfaces, and still offers riding aids like traction control and ABS-equipped brakes. As the stripper in the range, it’s also the lightest of the 800 models, and comes with a quicker-steering 19-inch front wheel instead of the 21in hoop fitted to more adventurous Tiger 800s. With the option to position the seat at two heights, and two seat thicknesses available, the tall Tiger can be tailored to a range of four seat heights starting at 790mm and rising to 830mm.
With nearly 180mm of suspension travel available at either end (50mm more than the Hyper below and 30mm more than the Tracer above), the Tiger is the most gravel road-ready bike here, and comes with defeat buttons for the electronics if you’re keen on honing your own skid control. It’s plush, comfy, and reasonably quick and efficient, courtesy of the 70kW (94bhp) inline three-cylinder engine.
DUCATI HYPERSTRADA 939
Claimed weight: 181kg (dry)
Apologies for including my own bike here, but it was natural that there’d be my own personal lightweight touring bike in the garage. It’s not the most comfortable bike here (that honour goes to the Triumph), nor is it as powerful as the Yamaha with its 83kW (113bhp) peak output. But it is the most exciting bike of the five to ride, courtesy of possessing both the most dynamic power-to-weight ratio and the quickest-steering chassis.
And every time I wheel this bike in and out of my garage, it raises a smile. My Vespa 300 feels heftier to manoeuvre. It’s a pity that the Hyperstrada 939 has been dropped from the MY2017 Ducati range in favour of the new, 20kg-heavier Multistrada 950 (powered by the same 937cc V-twin engine), as it’s a bike that’s tailored towards exploring backroad SA. Still available at many SA Ducati dealerships.