Lament for the Sport Touring Motorcycle

Story by Kim Royal// Photos by Kim Royal
May 30 2023

Are motorcycle manufacturers forgetting about a whole demographic of consumers?

In the last decade, we have seen sport touring motorcycle offerings decline and the adventure bike market explode. Adventure bikes are touted as the do-anything bike, from canyon carving to off-road excursions. In practice, if you want a good road bike, you need to give up off-road performance. And vice-versa: if you want to favour off-road then you give up paved road performance.

Manufacturers have met the demand for street performance by offering 17-inch wheels on some models. This version is okay on light gravel, but not very good once you leave that behind. A dedicated sport touring bike is okay on light gravel too, as long as you take a moderate pace.

This past summer on a trip to the Yukon, between road construction and detours, I think I covered more than 75 km of gravel on a Yamaha FJR without a problem. When I’m on road trips and I talk to riders on adventure bikes, they are focused on travelling paved roads, not dirt tracks. So why did they buy an adventure bike?

Well, going back a few years, the media made a big deal out of each release of a new BMW GS and KTM Super Adventure bike. Virtues were extolled and the public responded by buying the newest “perfect all-rounder” bike. As the sales started to rise, other manufacturers created their own versions. With all the media hype, new sales were moving to the adventure format and the sales of the sport touring bikes declined. Declining sales mean models get discontinued.

The Touring Bug

When you want to spend more than a few hours on the road, you are ready to start to look at overnight or multi-day trips. Now you are into the world of touring. Arguably, a touring bike is any motorcycle that will allow overnight excursions — a backpack on a moped would qualify. Not what you would enjoy on a multi-day trip, but it would work.

Through the 1960s, people toured on small displacement bikes (300 to 400 cc) and up to the big boys of the day like a Norton Commando. In 1969, Honda released the CB750, creating a rush of large comfortable options from several manufacturers. As time progressed, aftermarket manufacturer Vetter, which also produced Windjammer, created fairings and hard bags for a variety of the larger displacement bikes.

Seeing a sales opportunity, the motorcycle manufacturers started to…


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