Motorcycles are a lot like horses, there are many breeds all with their own unique strengths and characteristics.
You wouldn’t use an Arabian horse to pull a heavy cart just as you wouldn’t enter a Shire horse into a race.
So what kind of motorcycle is best-suited for the job of chomping tousands of miles without giving you nightmare far from home?
In the end, it all comes down to the rider and what they need the motorcycle to be.
You’d think that a comfortable riding position would be a good start.
How about a long fuel range to save you money on the trip?
Good handling is surely another important consideration, especially if you have to ride through difficult and not to forget, dangerous terrain.
So why is it that when you search for ‘best touring motorcycles’ they all seem to be brand new machines with high-tech gadgetry and costing upwards of £10,000?
There are still so many great motorcycles you can buy used from yesteryear that cost a fraction of the price and will still get the job done.
Here are some great motorcycles that have shown they can gobble up the miles without leaving you stranded and are now attainable for a reasonable budget.
The virtual budget I will set is £2,500/€2,870 and I will be searching for motorcycles in the UK that are fully road-legal and in good condition.
Off I go then to browse some auction sites and classifieds!
Let’s see what I dug up
Motorcycles for Long Distance Riding
Honda CBR1100 Super Blackbird | 1996-2007
Sport Tourer | 4-cylinders inline | 164hp | 91ft/lb | 223/254kg
Starting with a real rocketship from the 90’s, the Honda Blackbird may seem a bit OTT for the application, but in truth, it’s well suited for long-distance adventures.
Once the ‘World’s Fastest Production Motorcycle’ – Honda really engineered a masterpiece with the Super Blackbird. It’s a super-reliable sport tourer that’s at home on winding roads or long motorway journeys.
There is a nice cockpit to keep the wind and rain mostly out of your eyes and the factory mirrors which are surprisingly good-looking work a treat.
The suspension works well and the brakes are more than capable of saving you in the event of any wild animals stepping out in front of you.
It is possible to fit various kinds of luggage and a comfort seat would help you behind a little on the longer road trips.
Reliability will never be a concern, nor will capability, and for under £2,500 you won’t find more bike for your money.
- Bags of torque and power
- Able to cruise comfortably at any speed
- Possibly Honda’s most reliable model
- Agile steering
- Ergonomic body design is comfortable for most
- Very decent cockpit
- Prone to regulator/rectifier issues
- Fuel-injected models suffer from snatchy throttle at low speeds
- You won’t find many roads to stretch the Blackbird’s legs properly
Used Price: £1,900-£2,500
Ducati Multistrada 1000DS | 2005-2006
Naked/Dual-Sport | 2-cylinders L-twin | 92hp | 64ft/lb | 188/214kg
Let’s be honest, the Multistrada didn’t exactly receive a warm reception when first released by Ducati around the turn of 2002.
Looking like the lovechild of a Monster, ST tourer and a supermotard, it was hard for many bikers to understand what the bike was really designed for.
It’s beautifully Italian name – ‘Multistrada’, translates as ‘many roads’, which of course added to the confusion as it hardly seemed equipped for off-road riding.
It has an upright seating position which is rather comfortable, although the seats were improved in 2005, they still weren’t too friendly after a long time in the saddle.
The 992cc L-twin engine provides good power and torque, albeit a bit underpowered considering the engine size. There is a meaty growl sort of like an angry pitbull and throttle response is good making riding hard a really enjoyable experience.
Whether the styling is your cup of tea or not, you can’t deny it’s unique and definitely forces you to take a second, more meticulous look at it.
- Practical and well-equipped
- Built with quality parts that work well
- Versatile riding position
- Decent amount of torque
- Great road handling
- Heavy clutch operation noticeable in town
- Ducati parts come with Italian prices
- From the front it is odd-looking
- The screen causes some annoyance
- Aftermarket parts are hideosly expensive
- Tank range is low at 150-160 miles
Look for optional extras fitted like luggage or improved screen.
It was surprisingly difficult to find many bikes within budget. I thought it would be much easier considering it was never popular, mainly due to its ‘unique’ look.
£2,500 gets you a very tidy example however for extras expect to get closer to £3k
Used Price: £2,100-£2,500
Yamaha FZS600 Fazer | 1998-2003
Naked | 4-cylinders inline | 95hp | 45ft/lb | 189/210kg
I do personally own this motorcycle, but that’s not why this trusty bike is on the list.
It had to make this list because it’s such a capale yet underrated bit of the kit for the money!
Often the steed of choice for most motorcycle mechanics due to it’s untouchable reliability, the Fazer was long seen as ‘just a commuter’ good for nothing more than piling up the essential miles all year round.
But when you look past the conservative styling and squidgy suspension you will find a very well engineered machine with a heart taken straight from the sporty Thundercat which gives it plenty of character and a memorable exhaust note.
The engine has been retuned and calmed down slightly for a more streetable application and the result is a lot of fun!
The front end gives a lot of confidence through the turns making it easy to ride even for a novice. Braking up-front is fantastic thanks to the blue spot calipers pinched from the R1.
This capable tourer can handle anything you can throw at it, will stand the test of time and while it might not be exceptional in any particular area – it does everything pretty well.
- Front end inspires confidence when cornering
- Engine is ful of charisma
- Comfortable upright position
- R1 front brakes
- Long service intervals
- Outstanding reliability
- Standard suspension is too soft
- Mirrors don’t look the part
- Factory luggage wasn’t an option
It’s not hard to find box-eye models with under 40k on the clock for less than £1,600.
Look for out for cracks in the carb inlet rubbers, corrosion around fork bottoms and swing arms.
Used Price: £1,300-£2,200
Honda Goldwing GL1100 | 1980-1983
Cruiser | 4-cylinders flat | 81hp | 65ft/lb | 308/331kg
The longest continuous motorcycle roadtrip ever was completed by the Argentinian gentleman Emilio Scotto.
Why am I tell you about Emilio?
Because the GL1100 was his bike of choice!
His 457,000 mile journey around the world just reinforced what everybody already knew – that the Honda Goldwing is capable of anything you can dream, without letting you down.
The Goldwing is a motorcycle that is widely respected across the international motorcycle community because it does one thing better than any other motorcycle, and thats bulletproof luxury touring.
While these GL1100 models are not as snazzy or perhaps well-equipped as later models, these were the machines that really started the revolution against Harley-Davidson and formed the foundation in which later models could improve.
- Outstanding comfort with air-assisted ride
- Vast selection of upgrades and extras
- Engine provides power everywhere
- Superbly designed for long-distance touring
- Riding position allows for hours of riding
- Retain their value very well
- Weight at low speeds requires skilled balance
- Not much chance of lifting it back up if you fall down
They hold their value tremendously well and as a result it was probably the most challenging bike here to find for £2,500 or less.
Used Price: £2,500
BMW K75 | 1987-1996
Sport Tourer | 3-cylinders inline | 75hp | 50ft/lb | Fuel-injected | 235kg
There’s a lot of good things that can be said about this motorbike. For many people the iconic image of these ‘flying brick’ machines BMW created in the 80’s was instantly recognisable.
Beyond the elegance of it’s design there is a distinct sense of simplicity. Instruments and controls are laid-out in an intuitive way and on the whole the bike feels very well built.
The handling is really quite a surprising factor on the K75, it gets going nicely and handles any corner you bring its way without being physical or cumbersome.
The engine is also a interesting part of the whole deal. A strong engine with characteristics that perhaps nod towards it’s car heritage, nonetheless it makes long-distance riding a dream.
- Superbly comfortable ride
- Shaft-drive contributes to low maintenance
- Torquey engine
- Simple to maintain
- Proven reliability
- Timeless styling
- Suffers badly with heat in warm climates and stop-start traffic
- Genuine BMW parts have a pricetag to reflect
- ABS functionality can be temperamental
Used Price: £1,100 – £2,200
Yamaha TDM 900 | 2002-2011
Naked/Dual-Sport | 2-cylinders parallel | 86hp | 65ft/lb | 210kg
The Yamaha TDM 900 is an interesting street/trail hybrid with a twin-cylinder engine and capable enough for almost any kind of adventure.
Much in the same vein as the Multistrada, the TDM was a largely misinterpreted machine in the UK and never really took off.
In Europe on the other hand, they seem to be everywhere, being used as the tough workhorses they are.
Scurrying through mountain passes, tackling forest roads and bombing through towns and villages full-laden with cargo these bikes are very versatile and practical, with ample performance to back it up.
Yes, the TDM is looking This bike is a bulletproof gem that offers a lot of freedom, just don’t be too hopeful of it’s offroad capabilities.
- Very capable handling
- Can be ridden at a calm pace or aggressively as you like
- The bike feels slim and ergonomic
- Great brakes contribute up front
- Agile cornering ability
- Lightweight compared to its competitors
- User friendly maintenance
- Front suspension is a bit squishy
- Typical Yamaha fuel-injecion ‘character’ means throttle has a tendency to be snatchy at slower speeds
- Aesthetically not to everyone’s taste, and that’s being kind
Used Price: £1,500 – £2,400
There we just looked closely at 6 capable motorcycles that are ready to go an adventure right now, all for under £2,500.
We’ve seen that you don’t need a big budget to find some really fun and impressive long-distance machines.
Of course they were always going to be an odd bunch, but a well-maintained example of any of these bikes on the list will stay with the new bikes all-day long.