I decided to review the Honda and BMW sport touring motorcycles after riding the Honda ST1100 and ST1300 for about 11 years and then replacing the 2003 ST1300 with a 2010 BMW R1200RT. I wanted to wait until I had some miles on the RT before I started this project. I'll be comparing the 2010 RT to the 2003 ST1300 I had. Starting with the front of the bikes and working my way to the back...
Please note that a 2010 ST1300ABS is essentially the same as the 2003 ST1300ABS.
Headlight - The RT has got very good dual H7 powered headlights and a third H7 high beam. The ST has a pair of special H4 bulbs that only Honda sells. Most tourers put in higher powered H4s in place of the OEM bulbs. I did that on both my STs with good results but I still think the stock RT headlight is better. Winner RT.
Dash - Slight edge to the RT. The BMW dash just looks more professional and the LCD display is easier to read in most daylight conditions. I also like that you can check remaining range whenever you want on the RT. The ST displays remaining range only when it goes into reserve. Both fuel and temperature gauges appear to be very accurate. Winner RT.
Mirrors - Let me rate these on a scale from 1 (very bad) to 5 (very good). I would rate the ST mirrors a 3 and the RT mirrors a strong 4. Both are positioned perfect for protecting the hands from wind, bugs, etc but the ST mirrors show too much of your hands in most conditions. I found myself dipping my head in order to get a clear view of whatever was behind me. Not so on the RT. Both offer a clear view (little to no vibration). Winner RT.
Seat - This item is so subjective and no two riders will have the same impressions on any motorcycle seat. I replaced the stock ST seats (both 1100 and 1300) with Corbin seats. The Corbin was much better than stock and better than the RT OEM seat. I am forcing myself to like the BMW seat since it has the heated option at a cost of $350. Nevertheless I may upgrade in the future. Winner RT (comparing stock seats).
Transmission - Both bikes have top notch transmissions. I'll give the nod to the RT for smoother shifting and 6 speeds. In my opinion the ST is geared slighter lower in high gear. I find myself looking for another gear while on the highway. The RT seems to be geared perfect for highway cruising but first gear is very tall (high). It idles in 1st gear at about 8 MPH. I've never found a false neutral on the RT in just over 10K miles and I expect the RT transmission to get even better as I add miles to the bike. Winner RT.
Brakes - Both bikes were equipped with ABS and both are awesome. Slight edge to the Honda for the ABS. You never know it's there until it's needed. Winner ST.
Suspension - I liked the ST setup but the RT has the electronic suspension option (ESA II). I like being able to change the settings from normal to comfort for the highway and then to sport if the going gets twisty. And you can do that while riding. Preload on the RT has to be set via switch while you are stopped. Setting are 1 up, 1 up with luggage, and 2 up. Riding the BMW with paralever and telelever suspension is a unique experience. I like it. The 2010 has ESA II which addressed several concerns with the older system. Winner RT.
Cases - Both are very good and can hold a full face helmet. I give the edge to the RT because you can leave the bags unlocked plus they have 4 latching points. Also the RT looks a lot better without the bags. The ST does not have a clean look when the bags are off. Winner RT.
Tank (mileage) - The ST1300 has a 7.3 gallon tank and the RT has a 6.6 gallon tank. I modified the ST with a K&N air filter, Two Brothers mufflers, and a Turbo Tom fuel pressure regulator. Those changes made the ST much better and increased my mileage. At low speed the RT has better mileage. At high speed the ST was better. Slight edge to the ST but both bikes can do over 300 miles on a tank on a good day. Winner ST.
Fairing - BMW did it right with the new RT. The ST is good but the RT offers better protection and less wind noise. In addition, I can have the windshield lower and still have the wind stream go over my helmet so I don't have to look through the windshield. Winner RT.
Weight - The BMW is about 120 pounds lighter ready to go. One of the reasons I purchased the RT over another Honda ST or BMW K bike. Winner RT.
Options - Hands down it's the BMW. I ran out of money before I ran out of options for the RT. Winner RT.
Engine - Like them both - a lot - for different reasons. The Honda V-4 is simply awesome in the way it delivers its power. Riders talk about sweet spots for cruising. I like to say that the ST's sweet spot is 60 to 110 mph. It will cruise at any speed you want very easily and the engine pulls from about 2,000 rpm on. I do a lot more shifting on the RT. Going down a road or highway I say the ST is best for 5 to 25 mph and the RT is better for 25 to 75 mph and the ST taking over again at speed over 75 mph. Both engines are very smooth. The Honda does kick out a lot of heat whereas the BMW has nearly zero heat hitting the rider. Nod to the Honda engine. Winner ST.
Handling - Once again - subjective but the total package of the BMW makes for the better ride. I find myself using the RT for short, around town trips. I normally would not do that with the ST. Lots of factors involved - lower COG, lower weight, suspension bits, brakes, etc. The total package goes to the BMW. Winner RT.
Dealer Network - No contest! My Honda dealer is about 5 miles away - the BMW dealer is 265 miles away. Winner ST.
Cost - I think the ST cost me $14.5K in Nov 2002. The base cost for the 2010 RT is $17K and a little over $21K with the options I added. Winner ST.
Reliability - Honda makes good stuff. In 50K miles I had 3 things go bad on the Honda - oil leak (within a week of purchasing the bike), bad CPU that gave a FI fault (took the dealer a year to fix), and a brake valve (drove 600 miles with only the front brake). In 10K miles the BMW electric windshield refused to go down. I'll have to give this one to the Honda. Winner ST.
Throttle Response (update) - The ST had some reported issues with throttle response and a lean spot that was there to meet EPA regulations. I never really had much issues with this but did have a few times that the throttle response was rather abrupt. It wasn't often and only lasted a half second but it did happen. Going from the ST1100 to the ST1300 it is the one thing I noticed the most (besides more power and better brakes). The RT on the other hand has been perfect on throttle response so far and it is the only bike that I have had that just seems to get better overall as I put miles on it. Winner RT.
Body Panels (update) - This may seem like a trivial category but it was such a pain taking the Honda to the dealer for any type of service. Whenever the dealer had to remove a panel I never - I repeat - I NEVER got the bike back in the right order. I know that this is more a dealer issue than a bike issue but it created a number of problems in either case. For those of you that don't know, the bike uses at least 3 different panel screws plus plastic rivet type locks in other places. The plastic locks don't last too long and the metal screws have different size threads, different lengths, and different size shoulder depth! And some are Phillips and others Allen. Some black and some alloy. It's a mess. The problem with the dealer was so bad that I got to the point that I was stocking my own set of panel screws and they are not cheap! And yes I reported it to the main guy and yes I showed them what went where and yes I even loaned them my service manual. The 2010 RT has only one type that I know of. I haven't taken off all the panels yet but the ones I've had off are all the same size, color, wrench size, and they are all Torx. In addition, the panels on the RT just fall into place - no bending or twisting of panels to get them to pop in place. Winner RT.
Both bikes are awesome to ride and when I purchased the ST1100 I thought it was the perfect touring motorcycle for me. But overall it's the RT for me. Too many things that I like about it. The lighter weight and lower center of gravity makes it much easier to move around and ride at slow speed. The handling is top notch, the range is very good, brakes are great, weather protection is one of the best, good set of practical options, good cases, etc. In addition, I wonder how I rode for so many years without a cruise control. It took me about 3 months to get used to it but now I use it whenever I hit the highways. I also really appreciate the gear indicator on the dash. It's amazing how many times I glance at that whereas on my prior bikes I tried shifting again - either up on 5th or down after I was in first. For some strange reason the RT is just a pleasure to ride. I look for excuses to ride.
Kind of long winded but I wanted to cover the main areas of each bike. In any case... both bikes are awesome.
Update 2012/1/10 - Honda is selling the ST1300 again. Price seems to have gone up to $18,230. That's getting up there with the BMW RT cost.