Smile for miles! It's the best touring motorbikes

Honda Gold Wing touring on the road
Honda Gold Wing touring on the road
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Touring by motorbike is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable things you can do on two wheels. While it’s true that you can tour on anything from a superbike to a 125, this list will concentrate on the bikes designed for the job.

The distinguishing features of a touring bike are generally comfort, good luggage and/or pillion provision and good tank range. Within that, we’ve split the bikes into four rough categories; heavyweight, sports, adventure and lightweight.

Touring isn’t a one-size-fits-all activity and so we haven’t ranked the bikes, but these are among the best touring motorbikes money can buy.

Best touring motorbikes

Best heavyweight touring motorbikes

Heavyweight tourers have large, effortless engines, a sumptuous ride, plenty of room for two people, wardrobes attached to the side and lots of weather protection.

2018 Honda GL1800 Gold Wing (£15,300 used - £22,399 new)

Spec: 1833cc / 125bhp / 378kg / 744mm seat height

Honda Gold Wing

Top-end versions of the Honda Gold Wing over the years have included features from stereo systems to airbags and hot air vents to keep you warm.

The pillion provision is incredibly plush and the bike’s high starting weight and flat-six 1800cc engine make carrying large quantities of luggage a cinch. If you plan on cruising around in a relaxed fashion with lots of luggage and a pillion, a full-dress tourer could be the perfect solution.

If you can’t stomach the £30,699 price tag (2020) of the Gold Wing Tour with DCT and air-bag, there are cheaper versions available, however don’t expect any to be cheap. A base model 'Wing will still set you back £22,399, for instance.

2020 Harley-Davidson Road Glide (£20,000 used - £24,695 new)

Spec: 1868cc / 89bhp / 423kg / 735mm seat height

Harley-Davidson Road Glide

From across the pond you’ve got Harley-Davidson, who have arguably been the reigning kings of all things bagger for about 60 years. Their biggest machines, such as the Road Glide Limited, got a big update for 2020 to include fancy electronics, but they’re not cheap. The Road Glide Limited starts at £24,695, although they do also offer the mini-bagger Sport Glide for £15,295.

2017 BMW K1600GT (£13,500 used - £18,745)

Spec: 1649cc / 160bhp / 344kg / 810mm seat height

BMW K1600GT

If you fancy something European, you could also consider BMW’s K1600 range, with its 1649cc six-cylinder engine – plus all the mod-cons you would expect, legendary BMW build-quality and a six-pot soundtrack reminiscent of an early-noughties M3. It could be the ideal toy for distance work.

As is often the case with BMW, the options catalogue for the entire K1600 range is vast, so look out for used examples with plenty of extras added.

The 2017 GT model came fully loaded as standard with adaptive headlights, Dynamic ESA, daytime running lights, ABS Pro, Audio system with GPS preparation, reverse gear (for the first time), Dynamic traction control, hill start control and tyre pressure control.

Best sports tourer motorbikes

Sports-tourers share many of the mile-munching attributes of the heavyweights but are a bit more fun on proper roads when you reach your destination with sportier handling (hence the name) and higher ground clearance.

2018 Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX (£11,400 used - £15,599 new)

Spec: 998cc / 197bhp / 260kg / 835mm seat height

Kawasaki Ninja H2 SX SE

One of the top sports tourers on the market has to be the Kawasaki H2 SX. A supercharged, 197bhp Kawasaki may not sound like the ideal tool for a bike tour, but that’s exactly what it is.

If you’ve got the wallet for it, the SE+ version includes a mind-boggling array of tech and gadgets but the best feature is the engine and that’s the same whatever model you go for.

MCN’s Editor, Rich Newland, took his Kawasaki H2 SX long-term test bike on a 715-mile ride around the UK in a single day and said: “Exactly 18-hours in the saddle with nothing but fuel breaks – and I feel fine.” If that’s not proof of a bike’s touring credentials, then what is?

2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX (£10,300 used - £10,999)

Spec: 1043cc / 140bhp / 235kg / 835mm seat height

Kawasaki Ninja 1000SX

You should also consider Kawasaki's own Ninja 1000SX, which was confusingly introduced for 2020 as a replacement to the Z1000SX series.

The Kawasaki Z1000SX was a phenomenal success for the firm: their biggest-selling bike in the UK for the past decade, and Europe’s top-selling sports-tourer for at least the past three years, so if you don’t want to stretch to a new bike then there are plenty of used Zs on the market.

The H2’s less powerful little brother still boasts 140bhp, more than enough for real world riding, especially when you’re touring. The 2020 version marked an improvement in handling over previous versions, especially at slow speeds.

The Ninja 1000SX’s standard spec is high and the base-model comes with cruise control, quickshifter/autoblipper and a colour TFT dash with Bluetooth connectivity. Z1000SX models from 2017 - on, also have cornering ABS and traction control, as well as piercing white LED headlights.

2019 KTM 1290 Super Duke GT (£11,000 used - £16,799 new)

Spec: 1301cc / 175bhp / 209kg / 835mm seat height

KTM 1290 Super Duke GT

If four-cylinder engines don’t tickle your pickle, you could also consider a thumping twin – in the form of KTM’s 1290 Super Duke GT.

The Super Duke GT may look a bit like an adventure sport but don’t be fooled. Packing over 170bhp from its 1301cc V-Twin power station, electronically adjustable WP suspension, and a striking three-pronged trellis chassis, you don’t have to dig very deep to find its sporty potential.

It shares an awful lot with the previous generation KTM 1290 Super Duke R on which it is based. If you’re stepping away from sportsbikes, but still lust after the performance, this is the way to go.

Best adventure bikes for touring

Adventure bikes have grown in size and become increasingly powerful in recent years and manufacturers noticed that many were used predominantly - or even exclusively - on the road.

2019 BMW R1250GS (£11,995 used - £13,845 new)

Spec: 1254cc / 134bhp / 249kg / 850mm seat height

BMW R1250GS

The undeniable king of the genre is the BMW R1250GS, which took over from the R1200 in 2019 as the German brand’s flagship adventure bike. Since its inception, it has won every MCN group test it has taken part in. Also new for 2019 was the R1250GS Adventure, which offered a 30-litre fuel tank for more miles between fill-ups, wire wheels and long-travel suspension.

Although looking like an over-grown trailie, the big GS is also more than capable of handling itself on the road and the large boxer engine and shaft-drive make it incredibly reliable.

2018 Ducati Multistrada 1260S (£13,000 used - £17,395 new)

Spec: 1262cc / 156bhp / 235kg / 825mm seat height

Ducatio Multistrada 1260S

There are Multistradas of all shapes and sizes these days including the smaller and lighter 950, through to the top-of-the-range Pikes Peak edition.

The 1260S has a grunty and torquey big V-twin engine, refined electronics and top-spec equipment and can really be considered a do anything superbike. With cast wheels in place of spokes and Ducati’s almost magical adaptive suspension working in the background and the DVT system keeping you in the power at all revs you’re set to crush continents at pace.

2010 Yamaha Super Ténéré 1200 (£5500 used - £12,547 new)

Spec: 1199cc / 109bhp / 261kg / 845mm seat height

Yamaha Super Ténéré

The Yamaha Super Ténéré may be a bit long in the tooth compared to the other bikes here but it offers an economical alternative to a lot of the high-end competition. It’s also still more than capable of taking you and your possessions as far as you decide to go.

A look at the owners’ reviews for the Super Tén on MCN will prove that you lot absolutely love them, too, which just goes to show that you don’t necessarily need the latest all-singing-all-dancing machine to have fun.

Best lightweight touring motorbikes

Finally, the lightweight tourers lose a little of the continent-swallowing capabilities of the other categories, but make up for it in practicality, economy, affordability and day-to-day useability.

2020 Yamaha Tracer 700 (£5900 used - £7947 new)

Spec: 689cc / 72bhp / 196kg / 835mm seat height

Yamaha Tracer 700

The Yamaha Tracer 700 uses the same parallel-twin engine as its more off-road focused Ténéré 700 and sportier MT-07 siblings and, actually, you could tour quite happily on any of them.

The Tracer got a facelift for 2020 (and looks so much better for it) but it also got more comfortable, sharper in the bends and smoother on the throttle, too.

Yamaha have widened the bars and given it a thicker seat to make it easier to stay in the saddle for long periods of time, making it even more suited to touring. There’s loads of extras in the catalogue too so look out for those on used models.

2016 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT (£6500 used - £7999 new)

Spec: 645cc / 71bhp / 216kg / 830mm seat height

Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT

The V-Strom’s 645cc V-twin engine hasn’t really changed much for two decades. It’s been used in the Suzuki SV650 for all that time and found its way into the V-Strom in 2004. This got a big update in 2011 and then the XT version came along in 2016.

Solid, dependable and capable describe the V-Strom perfectly, but it’s not going to stir everyone’s soul as much as some of the competition.

2019 Honda CB500X (£4400 used - £6119 new)

Spec: 471cc / 47bhp / 197kg / 830mm seat height

Honda CB500X

The Honda CB500X may be down on power compared to every other bike here, but don’t write it off straight away. For a start, who says you can’t tour just because you have an A2 licence?

The bike has all the build quality we’ve come to expect from Honda over the years wrapped up in a classy package. The 47bhp parallel-twin engine has plenty of grunt off the line thanks to Honda playing around with the valve timing and increasing the size of the airbox over the previous model.

The 19-inch front wheel means the CB500X is capable of dabbling with a bit of off-roading on gravel trails but it is likely to become unstuck in wet mud so if you’re considering a smaller, lighter option because you fancy some off-roading, look elsewhere (Yamaha Ténéré 700 or KTM 790 Adventure perhaps).

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Ben Clarke

By Ben Clarke

Staff Writer, hick for life, two cylinders max