BMW R 1200 GS
Like SUVs on two wheels, BMW’s adventure touring bikes are sturdy, comfortable, and equally at home on any type of road surface—or on no road at all. Numerous manufacturers claim to offer similar versatility with their touring models, but BMW’s go-anywhere machines are in a class of their own, and the top-of-the-line R 1200 GS is the finest example to date.
Although assertive in stance and avant-garde in styling, the R 1200 GS owes much of its stature to tradition. In 1923, the first BMW motorcycle rolled out of the company’s Munich factory with a flat-twin powerplant that drove the rear wheel via a driveshaft and bevel gears; the R 1200 GS utilizes the same basic layout. The current version of this timeless package features a balance shaft for maximum smoothness, dual overhead camshafts, and fuel injection. The bike develops a robust 100 hp and, according to BMW, is 8 percent more fuel-efficient than its predecessor.
To address rider comfort in any situation, BMW attached its Telelever front and Paralever rear suspension systems to an exceptionally rigid multitube frame. Generous suspension travel (7.5 inches in front, 7.9 inches in back) also helps to ensure a smooth ride, but the 496-pound R 1200 GS remains nimble and predictable in its behavior. The front gas-filled strut and rear shock absorbers are manually adjustable for preload, and generously sized disc brakes—twin discs with four-piston calipers in front and a single disc with a two-piston caliper in back—incorporate a partial antilock system for optimal control.
At $15,500, the R 1200 GS comes with a digital instrument cluster, hand protectors, a luggage rack, and a sturdy stainless steel exhaust system. BMW offers dealer-installed accessories ranging from engine guards and cylinder-head protective covers to storage bags and an antitheft alarm. More elaborate options include heated handgrips and cross-spoked wheels, the latter of which are much appreciated when the R 1200 GS ventures off the road. —Ray Thursby
Bird of Prey
While fads come and go, the iconic Harley-Davidson Electra Glide, an 8-foot package of full-dress luxury in chrome and custom paint, seems eternal. The ne plus ultra of the Electra Glide family, which includes the Classic, Ultra Classic, and Peace Officer Special Edition models, is the Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle Electra Glide 2. As the most powerful member of the clan, the Screamin’ Eagle features a bored-out, 103 cu in V-twin (compared to the 88 cu in version on other Glides) that spins the 808-pound machine’s drive belt through a 5-speed gearbox. Adjustable air springs on the rear suspension ensure a smooth journey; cruise control, an AM/FM/CD stereo system, a garage-door opener, and an antitheft alarm provide additional comforts of ride and mind. The hefty Screamin’ Eagle comes at a hefty $30,000 price, but there is nothing else like it on two wheels. —Ray Thursby
In the realm of travel and touring, motorcyclists traditionally are concerned as much with dependability and comfort as they are with performance and style—if not more so. Little surprise, then, that the Ducati ST4S sport-tourer, which benefits from the brand’s proven L-twin engine platform, has emerged as a favorite among travel enthusiasts. The ST4S’s rider- and passenger-friendly ergonomics make extended freeway stints a pleasure. And with 121 hp pushing just 454 pounds, and the same trellis frame design and geometry as its superbike brother, the $16,000 ST4S is an agile canyon runner that adapts easily to myriad paved routes. Wherever its rider travels, the ST4S delivers him in style and comfort with color-matched hard saddlebags and a full fairing to reduce fatigue and buffeting by the wind.
The Light Fantastic
Leaner, faster, and more powerful than its predecessor, the BMW R 1200 RT ($17,500) is the ultimate manifestation of the company’s active touring line, a collection of motorcycles that falls somewhere between luxury and sport touring bikes. The completely redesigned 2005 RT—which, unlike the R 1200 GS, is built strictly for paved roads—has gained 15 hp (to 110) and lost 70 pounds (to 505) to become a lithe machine that defies the stereotype of a heavy, long-distance bike. To lessen the strain of extended journeys, the RT includes such creature comforts as cruise control, heated seats, and a navigation system. Electronic Suspension Adjustment (a $750 option) negotiates preload and damping settings via a handlebar-mounted switch, and Partial Integral ABS automatically balances braking between the front and rear wheels faster than any human could. Finesse has never been so visceral. —Basem Wasef
BMW Motorcycles, www.bmwmotorcycles.com