article and photos by Steve Gross
Based on the fact that you’re reading this, I’m assuming you have an interest in sport-touring. What a coincidence, me too! By definition, sport-touring bikes are going to be a compromise—it’s right there in the category name, mixing sport and touring. But, there are as many ways to slice that compromise as there are sport-touring riders. Most manufacturers seem to be geared toward the touring side—meaning they start from a touring bike and make it able to do some sporting riding. I prefer it the other way around.
In my view, Ducati came the closest with their (now-discontinued) ST line. For example the ST4S weighed about 450 lbs (dry) and had about 120 HP and a great chassis for carving corners. Compare that to Honda’s ST line: ST1300 makes about the same power but carries almost 200 lbs more dry weight! Sure you can get a middleweight sport-tourer like the Yamaha FJ09, or even a Ducati Multistrada but for me the center of gravity is too high on both of those bikes. And so it goes on down the list of everything on the market!
Those of you that know me, know that I have ridden a 1998 Ducati ST2 since 2008. I have that bike nicely set up for my version of sport touring, but I have to admit that it is a little gutless at 85 HP. Also, it’s getting a little long in the tooth, and has let me down with electrical issues on a couple of recent trips. “What,” you say, “electrical problems on an older Ducati? Inconceivable!” Point taken, but I have drunk the Ducati Kool-Aid and will likely drink it again in the future. This summer, I was open to a change, and had been hanging out at BMW Motorcycles of Southeast Michigan since they moved to a location much closer to my house.
In July on the Bluegrass Boogie ride, I was rooming with a friend when he decided to sell his essentially brand-new BMW S1000R. It’s a long drive back from Kentucky and by the end of it I made him an offer he couldn’t refuse—finding myself the owner of a naked supermodel. Oh, yeah, sorry about the misleading headline up there.
At first blush, the S1000R didn’t seem like a good replacement for the ST2–instead, I figured it would replace my Honda CBR929RR sportbike. Maybe I forgot to mention that in order to get approval from the finance committee (my wife) to buy my friend’s bike, I had to agree to sell something. But the more I rode the S1000R, the more I thought it might actually make a good sport-touring machine. The ergos are reasonable, the chassis is pretty good (although heavier than a modern full-bore sportbike or even many other naked bikes), and it’s got plenty of power. Not much in the way of wind protection or luggage capability though. I would have to do something about that.
For whatever reason, BMW doesn’t agree that the S1000R would make a good sport-touring bike–at least based on their accessory catalog. Unfortunately for the local BMW dealer, I would have to look to the aftermarket for the stuff that I needed.
First place to start was luggage. After quite a bit of research, I decided to go with the Hepco & Becker C-Bow saddlebag system. This is a pretty slick setup—the saddlebags mount to brackets on the bike, much like a standard hard-bag setup. As a result, they don’t contact the bike’s bodywork at all. They’re not huge, but I’m not a camper and together with a duffel bag they hold enough cargo for me. I considered the SW-Motech Blaze saddlebag system also. The advantage of the Blaze system is that the brackets come off the bike quickly and easily when you’re not using the bags, but for me this was outweighed by the fact that the bags themselves draped over the rear seat. I didn’t like the potential for scratching the paint.
For a tankbag, I went with the Wunderlich SportBag. This is another slick piece of kit, designed just for the S1000R/RR. It mounts to the bike using quick release hardware, and is designed so that you can fill the gas tank without touching the tankbag. It’s not the biggest tankbag in the world, and it doesn’t have a map pocket. Still working on a solution for the latter item. I considered the BMW S1000R/RR tankbag, but it was just too huge for my taste.
Next up, wind protection. When I bought the bike, it came with 2 accessory windscreens—one from BMW, and one from MRA. If you read my October article, you know that I wasn’t completely satisfied with either one. After my UP trip, I went back to the drawing board and came up with the Wunderlich Marathon windscreen. This is just about the biggest windscreen available for the S1000R (discounting a weird barn door looking thing available from California Scientific). As is typical of Wunderlich gear, it’s extremely well designed and built. Not inexpensive, but I felt like I got my money’s worth once I took it for a test ride. Looking forward to putting it through its paces more next season.
The bike also had the BMW Comfort saddle installed when I bought it. The seat is aptly named, but I’m not the tallest guy in the world and this saddle added 1” of seat height—not optimal! I considered both Corbin and Sargent, but many reviews of these seats on various forums mentioned that they “lock you in” to a single seating position—I didn’t like that. Wunderlich makes a seat, but it’s crazy expensive and I couldn’t find any reviews of it online. Then I found a few positive forum posts about Saddlemen saddles. Their S1000R saddle has an unusual feature: a channel in the middle designed to reduce pressure on one’s, er, gentleman’s area. If you are not a gentleman, I suppose the same principle would apply to your area as well. My bicycle seats have this feature and it works great. Although their website is terrible, I found one on closeout on eBay and decided to give it a try. After a couple thousand miles, I’m generally happy with this saddle. The channel works very well, but the shape of the seat tends to put pressure on my inner thighs. I might try a Sargent saddle next year.
For bike protection, the previous owner had already done a great job. He had already installed frame sliders, axle sliders, and handlebar sliders all from R&G Racing. He also put on Cox Racing radiator and oil cooler guards. He made the bike more user-friendly by installing an R&G kickstand pad, SW Motech mirror wideners, and BMW HP folding adjustable levers. I was thankful for all this protection when I tipped over at a stop light in my first week of ownership. This tip-over led directly to the search for a lower saddle.
I could write a whole separate article about electronics, but I didn’t do anything special for the S1000R. I already had a GPS (Garmin Zumo 350), radar detector (Valentine One), and communicator (Sena SMH10 + SR10 hub) which I used on my other bikes. I just moved the mounts over from my CBR929RR to the S1000R and called it a day. BMW made this job much easier than any other manufacturer I have ever seen, by including accessory power jacks in convenient locations—no need to run a bunch of wires back to the battery or install a separate fuse block/power distribution module! If I were starting from scratch, I might have made some different choices, but I was already spending quite a bit of my kids’ college fund on farkles and figured I should draw the line somewhere.
Speaking of drawing the line, I did go for one piece of pure bling. The S1000R is less in need of an aftermarket exhaust than any other motorcycle I have ever owned. But when I found an Arrow titanium and carbon fiber slip-on on closeout on eBay, I pulled the trigger. I have to admit, it does nothing for the performance, sound, or fuel economy. But the little yellow label looks nice.
There’s a few more things I want to do next season, mostly around cold-weather riding. Although my bike has heated grips (which are fantastic), I plan to install handguards to cut the windblast on my fingers. And I also will install a permanently mounted heat controller for my Gerbing’s jacket, rather than using my portable one. Finally, I plan to pick up the BMW S1000R/RR tailbag—I hear that a certain club member has one which is surplus to his needs…
Anyway, that’s what I did to turn the S1000R naked supermodel into an S1000RT sport-tourer. And although a lot of the products I mentioned are specific to the S1000R, the basic approach applies to making any bike more touring-friendly.