Our epic four-day, 2200-mile sport-touring comparison test took us from SoCal to Albuquerque through some of the most gorgeous and demanding roads California, Arizona, and New Mexico could throw at us. It was cold. Real cold, including an overnight low of 17 degrees in Albuquerque and persistent daytime highs between freezing and 45 degrees. That’s the kind of weather to best evaluate the wind protection of our four test bikes and the BTU-ability of our heated riding gear.
The four prime riders had it easy, but photographer Kevin Wing needed patience and inventiveness in equal measure. Why? Because I put him on my long-term Honda NC700X for the simple reason that we needed to give him a riding platform that also wasn’t one of the bikes to be photographed. The NC, fitted with the full selection of Honda Accessories side cases and top trunk, seemed ideal. He ought to find room for all his stuff, I thought.
He filled the three rear bags (29 liters a side, 45 liters in the trunk), the center “tank” storage bin, and then loaded a tripod case over the passenger seat before donning a backpack large enough to be George Jetson’s jet pack, or maybe an apartment complex for hobbits.
Over dinner each night, Wing told the tale of a modestly powered, overloaded bike trying to catch four big-inch STs. “I would pin it, tuck in, and watch the speedo: 88, 89, 90…oh, then a hill, 89, 88, 87. On one road, with a headwind, the NC wouldn’t pull sixth gear at all. It’s just not fair.” Here, Kevin, have another Jack and coke. (You should probably avoid the seafood, it smells funny.)
At the end of the second day, Kevin had had enough of cold hands. Even though the NC has Honda’s really good heated grips, there’s not a square inch of wind protection. He fixed that. Two one-gallon plastic jugs gave their lives as improvised bark busters. Affixed by the cheapest duct tape on the planet, the Wing Wings (patent pending) nonetheless held on for the rest of the trip, despite several attempts to reconfirm the NC’s terminal velocity when overloaded by about 150 percent.
Kevin made it home by midnight on the fourth day with grudging respect for the little Honda he couldn’t kill, despite trying. Although we did literally push the NC too far. After failing to get gas before attempting a mountain pass—in the highlands of New Mexico in mid December, no less—we had to double back. The Honda gave its last wheeze half a mile from the only gas station in town, and then drank down exactly 3.7 gallons, the precise stated capacity of the tank. Somewhat to Kevin’s chagrin, it started right up and carried on for the next 1100 miles like nothing had happened.
For Kevin, recovery therapy will be a little more involved. He says it needs to include a Gold Wing.
First gas up, actually quite a process for five bikes while closely tracking mileage numbers.
Just starting out and wondering what we’ve gotten ourselves into!
Thomas Kinzer’s t-shirt makes an early trip prognostication.
Photographer Kevin Wing, the legend of the trip, hauling an insane amount of weight on his back and flogging the little Honda NC700 to keep up. The poor NC was so overloaded, his headlight looked like it was checking for low-flying aircraft during night riding.
It wouldn’t be a tour without some gastro-intestinal challenges to entertain and amuse between friends sharing rooms. This is the first stop in what can only be described as a stream of masochistic culinary decisions.
Random Mexican restaurant with an etched bathroom window. We’re guessing this was somehow related to the “Jesus Was No Sissy” pamplet we found in the front that included the nugget: “Anyone who turns the other cheek is a chump.”
Definitely a “don’t ask” moment.
It was a romantic moment.
Zack Courts and Aaron Frank saddling up.
We made a “run for the Corral” and Zack Courts becomes a fan of the chocolate fountain.
We also learned that the fountain is the 8th wonder of the world. You heard it here first.
Back on the road.
What front license plates look like in Arizona, where it’s customary to drive on the right shoulder of the road to allow passing on long straight stretches of 2-lane roads.
We put a few thousand miles on 4 sport-touring machines: BMW K1600GT vs. Kawasaki Concours 14 vs. Triumph Trophy SE vs. Yamaha FJR1300A
The transfer of the Kawasaki’s “FOB” was an important ceremony. Proximity ignition systems are an idea that we can do without.
Cockpit for the Triumph Trophy SE.
Our photographer, Kevin Wing needed a bit of a push. He ran out 500 yards from the single pump gunsmith gas station. Better there than in the mountain pass we were just in with a storm moving in. Fortunately, we avoided cannibalism and got the little NC700 to some fuel.
Our photographer, Kevin Wing, improvised some bark busters out of milk jugs to protect him from the cold storm hitting us. Temps during the tour dipped as low as 28 degrees.
Good friends and good miles. Feel the 2-wheel stoke!
And it was often. No get-offs in over 2 thousand miles, though. The sketchiest part was often the sand used to break up the ice.
Digital Editor Thomas Kinzer tip-toe’ing through some twisties on the FJR.
Triumph Trophy SE picking up some extra luggage.
“Very Large Array,” one of the best names for something ever.
One of those moments when you realize you aren’t in Los Angeles anymore.
You can’t just ride past a sign for the Continental Divide without getting some photos, right?
Although this may look cold, all of us stayed toasty and comfortable with the gear we were evaluating which included heated undergarments.
Photo opp on the Continental Divide!
One of the best things about staying off the interstates and on the little highways is the little rural towns and shops along the way. So much more interesting than the “samesville USA” chains that litter our freeway system offramps.
One of our warmer moments. 4 days of this kind of beauty made it hard to get stuck in Phoenix traffic on the way back home.
2013 Yamaha FJR1300A getting put through its paces.
Sometimes, you just gotta turn up the heated vests and slow down.
Day 4 through Arizona turned very nice as we scout for photo shoot locations.
Aaron Frank layin’ down on the job again.
After nearly being run over in an intersection by a swarm of undercover cop cars, we head for Tortilla Flat Apache Trail area in Arizona for a photo shoot.
After all the snow riding, the bikes were pretty dirty, so it was pressure wash time. Maybe we should have opted for the undercoating package.
Day 4 started out a little chilly.
Damage Assessment: Marc Cook hit something very big the night before, tearing off the bottom of the Kawi’s fairing. Kinzer insisted it was a chicken crate, but we just want him to stop saying “chicken crate.” Whatever it was, it was big.
After nearly running out of gas once, we started stopping for fuel more often.
Final photo shoot on Day 4 and then it was a long night time slog on the slab to get home to Los Angeles. Full comparison results coming in an upcoming print issue.