Adventure Motorcycling History

The Adventure Motorcycling industry has become firmly established. Adventure riders have collectively recognised our pioneering forbears from history, also the subject of another post here, and developed and adapted our own two wheeled machines, retold the myths of exploration and long distance travel and passed on stories of riding legends.

In this post I’ll cover developments of the adventure motorcycles themselves.

Which do you think is the benchmark bike,

[(bĕnchˈmärkˌ)►
n. A standard by which something can be measured or judged: 
v. To measure (a rival’s product) according to specified standards in order to compare it with and improve one’s own product.]

for the definitive Adventure Motorcycle?

To really answer this you’ll need to be ready to deal with fierce brand loyalists, cubic centimetre and microgramme obsessed lightweight bike gurus and technical stats aficionados.  Survive these debates and you’ll be better placed to think about handling, reliability and all the things that you look for in your bike; which are rightly important to you and you alone.

Here’s a look at the timeline for adventure motorcycle development:

Early 1900’s

This is Robert Fulton who rode this bike, a Douglas, around the world on it in the mid 1930s, He wrote a book about the trip, One Man Caravan and the film he took came out on DVD titled Twice Upon a Caravan with his own commentary recorded in the 1990s.
He owned the bike until his death in 2004 at the age of 95. The pioneers of challenging riding, these guys and girls often used whatever machines were popular at the time and made their own modifications.

Robert Fulton's Motorcycle
Robert Fulton’s Motorcycle

Military Motorcycles

Industry R&D was powered up by the World Wars of the twentieth century. Bikes were mass produced to meet military requirements for reliability, handling and off road skills. Despatch riders pushed their machines all around the world in the conflicts and industry kept them up-to-speed. Once hostilities were over the bikes left behind were solid, reliable, proven and easy to maintain – ideal as cheap and easy adventure motorcycles.

Military Motorcycles WWII
Military Motorcycles WWII

The  1960s International Trials Scene

European and US teams slogged it out on a variety of scramblers, desert sleds and Baja machines. This was the era of Steve McQueen and Bud Ekins in ‘In Any Sunday’.

Triumph Bonneville Desert Sled
Triumph Bonneville Desert Sled

Japanese Off Road Bikes

The boom of the Asian motorcycle industry created enough wealth and expertise to trial and develop new forms of machine: notably the dedicated off road trials or enduro bike. Aimed at competitions or short and challenging off road riding they were quickly recognised as having great potential as low maintenance adventure bikes. The Japanese Motorcycle Industry capitalised on this popularity by developing an additional range of midweight consumer orientated bikes like the Honda Africa Twin.

Honda Africa Twin
Honda Africa Twin

Modern Adventure Motorcycles

As the sports and road bike era waned in Europe and the US in the late ’90’s and the ’00s dedicated adventure machines became more popular. The exemplar of this new breed is, of course, the immensely popular BMW GS.

BMW R1200GS with typical middle age male riders
BMW R1200GS with typical middle age male riders

… but it’s by no means the benchmark. Check out Ed March who’s preferred two wheel option is a C90…

Ed March and C90
Ed March and C90