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.
In adventure motorcycling terms there is a (very) small group of true middleweight ‘all rounder’ motorcycles that are ready for the adventure rider. It’s the combination of a larger engine size and a greater power coupled with a relatively light frame and fairing that works. It’s a good mix for off road – up to a point – and fine on the road for long distances and riding comfort whilst on the tarmac.
Middleweight in this market segment is probably around 700 – 850cc. The engine designs vary but many are versions of v-twin or parallel twin layouts.
Here’s some of the main factors to consider;
If the bike is too heavy (mostly caused by being designed for predominantly on road use) then it’ll handle poorly off road. The centre of gravity is likely to be high and possibly over the front; limiting agility and responsiveness and making for an uncomfortable trip on the dirt. A high weight also reduces MPG figures and can stress a frame when it’s loaded with overland gear and fuel.
The power to weight ration should be the driving factor in a middleweight bike choice. If you’re in the business of trading off road capability for on road ability then you will want a punchy engine that can manage sustained high speeds for long distance work.
This is a critical area. There are many contenders for the middleweight adventure motorcycle segment but only a few are genuinely worthy of consideration. To be in this list the bike must be able to go off road properly. Many look like they could do but few actually cut the mustard once on the dirt. Road biased set ups will generally have limited ground clearance and soft suspension. Whilst this can be changed with a set of TKCs and an adjustment to the fork preload it won’t be enough to get a road bike into the ball park and competing with a Dakar design.
Here’s a list of some of the best true middleweight adventure motorcycles out there:
Released in 2013 as an upgrade to the F800GS model, the ‘Adventure’ F800GS comes with 798cc in a parallel twin making a claimed 85bhp @ 7500rpm.
• 24 litre underseat tank increases range and lowers the centre of gravity.
• Massive amount of touring accessories available.
• Expensive BMW premium.
• Still relatively heavy at 230KG.
A very capable top-of-the-range adventure motorcycle. Powerful and capable off road and equally impressive on road, it’s a good all rounder that minimises the compromises common to this market segment. You get what you pay for; and in this case you certainly do pay for it!
A classic middleweight design; 799cc, 215kg wet weight and plenty of real world power with 94bhp @ 9400rpm. In line three cylinder engine produces plenty of low down torque as well.
• Great power – able to be used on and off road.
• Off road handling is very good. Low centre of gravity and high agility.
• Spare and parts availability likely to be limited outside US and EU.
• Short screen and (relatively) small tank at 19litres.
A great all round option. The Triumph Tiger 800XC handles on and off road with the best of them. Triumph has taken on board the lessons of the big trailie era and in the 800XC has made a real tiger off road.
The original Africa Twin was based on the Paris-Dakar NXR750 rally bike. Produced between 1989 and 2003, the Africa Twin was an adventure stalwart. Combining legendary Honda reliability with a 742cc v-twin design it had loads of useable power and great ability off road.
• Build quality and parts availability.
• Close to perfect balance of power, weight and dirt riding credibility.
• Now out of production, also not sold in the US.
• Heavy and slow compared to the latest generation.
As close as the last two decades have come to the holy grail of middleweight adventure hero – this is the bike you would choose for an overland expedition.
Finding the best lightweight adventure bike is a perennial source of debate and argument amongst the adventure motorcycling fraternity. Deciding what bike to buy is also one of the most common reasons to research online for help, advice and information. We’ve put together a list of the most important factors to consider whilst choosing your perfect bike, and a guide on some of the best and most popular motorcycles out there.
Adventure. Everyone has their own definition of ‘adventure’. For some they will spend most of the time on packed dirt tracks, fire breaks and desert; perhaps with the odd stretch of tarmac thrown in to connect the trip together. Others will spend 90% of the journey on tarmac, only venturing on the occasional foray off road. Most riders will fall somewhere in the middle, looking for the best adventure orientated dual sport machine for them and the kind of riding they do.
Riding. There may also be a delta between the kind of riding people want to do and the kind of riding they actually do. Adventure motorcycling’s ultimate vision is all about heading off into the distance on that trip of a lifetime around the world, ready for all the challenges ahead. The most common riding we actually do is either a regular commute or longer weekend trips at best. In the US or Europe most of the miles are done on tarmac.
Lightweight. We’ll consider bikes up to around 600cc as ‘lightweight’. There are lots of other designs that change the weight, power and appeal of these dual sport motorcycles but the outstanding design component is that they’ll all be enduro styled and able to carry a rider and equipment for a couple of day’s riding on and off road.
Deciding Factors. There are some pretty key requirements for a lightweight adventure motorcycle; here are the top ones.
Weight. ‘Light is might’ and ‘Light is right’. No two ways about it. There is nothing like the amount of sheer pain and effort of riding a bike that is too heavy to pick up, overloaded with gear and fuel in a challenging off road context. Lighter bikes are easier to ride, particularly off road in the wet, and easier to lift (or manhandle onto a vehicle if need be). There’s also a trade off with a better MPG return – useful for long distances between fill ups and for saving money.
Reliability. Once you’re on the road you’ll be happier with a more reliable bike because you rely on it. Any machine that’s solid, easy to work on and with a plentiful supply of spares will be better than an exotic bike with major electrical problems. The truth is that adventure motorcycles get exposed to a lot of wear and tear and the elements. They will break down at some point.
The aim is to reduce the number of times or impact of this when it does happen. Bikes that are easy to work on will make it possible for you to not only repair if need be but also stay ahead of trouble; with regular servicing and replacing of worn parts.
The amount of power needed to go round the world is much less than the amount of power most dual sport bikes make. A healthy, lean power-to-weight ratio is the holy grail. Useable and agile power will get you through tricky off road sections, over obstacles and even out of trouble around other vehicles on the roads. The top end of the engine power bands will help with long distance cruising in comfort and overall road ability. Too small an engine and you may get trapped between trucks or around other road users, too big an engine and the bike is going to be overweight and handle badly when you do get off road.
Engine. The engine design will affect the amount of power that you can put through the tyres in different situations. In general most adventure bikes favour a variation of one – three cyclinders, usually offset or opposed to produce more torque lower down the rpm range. This helps with low speed control and handling in off road situations.
The bike’s frame needs to be strong enough to take the weight of at least the rider, a full load of equipment and spare pack fuel as well as the possibility of a pillion passenger.
Luggage attachment points on the frame, panniers options and positioning of the exhaust system affects this. Think about what kind of luggage you want early on and plan ahead.
Extras to consider
Fuel tank – can you fit an aftermarket one to increase range?
Handlebar risers – are there risers available to aid control when stood up?
Screen and wind protection – is it sufficient for you?
Storage and luggage – how much do you really need?
Kick start – peace of mind when the electric start fails!
Having read this far you’ve hopefully got an idea of what to look for – and what might suit you and your style of riding. Here’s a compilation of some of the best lightweight bikes available:
KTM 690 Enduro
The KTM middleweight entry to the Dakar Rally from 2008 – 2010. Class leading power to weight ratio and a bulletproof single cylinder 654cc engine. KTM have designed this bike and it’s engine to fit at the upper end of the lightweight adventure motorcycle group (hence it’s included here).
• Lightweight overall and excellent power
• Excellent off road ability
• Limited long range comfort and protection
• Not many equipment options for hard panniers
A hard core option for dedicated trail riding and off road adventure. Few compromises made to long distance ability. Lots of power makes it a popular hypermotard model for street use rather than a true ’round the world’ option. KTM build may indicate high maintenance and can suffer from electrical gremlins with the speedo cabling. For short trips off road it’s hard to beat.
Honda’s virtually unchanged answer to the lightweight adventure market has been part of their long running XR production series since 1993.
• Great off road
• Reliable, easy to maintain engine.
• Limited comforts on road
• Fewer equipment options.
Lots of owners upgrade the tank and seat .
It’s noted for excellent useable power off road and has a more dirt capable focus than it’s nearest competition (KLR and DR series). It probably suffers slightly as a trade off once on the road with a weaker frame and fewer hard luggage options.
This afternoon I headed west away from the A1/Catterick area and headed out into the Dales. Leyburn is a kind of frontier town before one commits to the real Dales experience; stone walls, narrow roads, twisty and tight roads running along valley floors and grey hamlets en route.
The BMW was perky and on new Metzeler Tourance tyres. A combination that I kept an eye on to avoid any sudden stepping out as new tyres are wont to do.
This afternoon’s ride was one of the first this year, what with a busy work/home life I’ve not been riding much so far in 2014. The plan was to sweep some cobwebs away and take in the Yorkshire countryside as a bit of a stress reliever.
I stopped in Hawes and then picked up this summer’s Tour de France route over the mountain by Thwaite.
After some fast sweepers along a cliff side road I came back down to the Swale River valley – the real “Swaledale”.
Despite the damp and chill it was a good run out. Looking forward to some more riding soon!
Discuss: there is no adventure bike boom from an article on Visordown;
“Manufacturers are falling over themselves to get a share of the supposedly huge adventure bike market. According to Visordown’s industry expert, who in his own interest cannot be named, they’re chasing their tails.
Something you’ll never see most GS owners do ALL the best jockeys are lightweights, right? Well, what if a 28-stone bloater not only kept up with them but tore ahead, horse buckling under the load?
That’s an equestrian analogy for the sales success of the BMW R1200GS.
All the UK’s top 10 best-selling bikes are sub-125cc – except for the GS.
Between January and September last year, the GS wasn’t just the only bike over 125cc in the top 10. Add the two versions of it together and it was number one. The base model R1200GS came in at number two, while the R1200GS Adventure was eighth. Between them they sold 2,198 units, hammering Honda’s budget commuter, the CBF125, into a humiliating second place, with 1,526 sales.
Some call it an adventure bike boom. Certainly every other manufacturer is clambering to get on the bandwagon. But none of the rivals, however good, even dimple BMW’s dominance. Because people don’t really want ‘adventure’ bikes. They want GSes.
Take Yamaha’s Super Tenere, for instance. Only a tiny number found buyers last year, a trickle compared to the rivers of R1200GSes that appear to be virtually firing themselves out of dealer showrooms and into the garages of motorcyclists everywhere.
It’s not a UK-only obsession. The R1200GS outsells the next most popular bike in Europe at a rate of around two-to-one. And that includes cheap-as-chips scooters. In 2013, a total of 21,151 R1200GSes were sold in the EU, while the number two spot was taken by the 50cc Peugeot Kisbee, with sales of 10,971. It’s that dominant.
Like a Range Rover or an iPhone – similarly expensive options with capabilities far beyond the needs of 90% of owners – the GS has hit that all-important ‘want one’ button in the buyer’s psyche.
Owners will point to its practicality, its strong residuals, but 90% are just like school-run mums in their towering (and spotlessly clean) 4x4s. Never venturing off-road, they’re like the teenager using his iPhone 5S to play Angry Birds; don’t try telling us it’s the most cost effective and practical solution to your needs.
They’ve bought something over-qualified for the task in hand, not because they have any need of it but because they wanted it.
There’s nothing wrong with that of course. Motorcycles shouldn’t be purely about satisfying practical requirement; they’re about desire and impulse. Eventually the GS will fall from favour, to be replaced by something else. In the meantime it shows us that even in tough times people buy bikes out of passion, not logic.
Long may it be so.
But be in no doubt that this is all the ‘adventure bike boom’ amounts to. If the GS were pulled from BMW’s line-up tomorrow, said boom would vanish like one if its adventure kitted owners in a sandstorm.”
From Visordown. A good, interesting, direct article. However, I think Ben, or one of his subeditors misses the point. Adventure Motorcycling does not stand or fall based on sales of the GS, either in the UK, Europe or the US. Long before the GS, people understood the synonymous relationship between motorcycles and adventure. Many intrepid travellers crossed the world on all kinds of bike over the last century; notably Ted Simon on a Triumph Tiger (500cc).
It is only the recent industry that have hyped the GS. And you know what; it’s a good thing. It creates possibility and imagination: fires rider’s enthusiasm. As long as the bike is used for the right thing journeys then who cares if it isn’t an ‘adventure’ bike. Low sales numbers of the GS alternatives (KTM, Tenere, Explorer, V-Strom) don’t equate to a ‘bubble’ around adventure motorcycling. That’s just a temporary marketing phenomenon. If the GS is a fantastic balance of function and form then so much the better.
Adventure Motorcycling has always been possible and now is here to stay, whatever the manufacturing industry produce.
The heat wave is still ongoing in the North of England so I took the opportunity to go for a ride to Reeth. We followed the River Swale and headed west from Richmond, stopped briefly for a chat in the village square and then found a little road over the moor out to the south.
The R1150 GS with top box only in the village square at Reeth. That’s the view of the Dales to the south, looking over the River Swale and up at the moor top.
Kate, my pillion for the day. She’s been on her Dad’s bike before so was absolutely fine with the sweeping corners on the fast bits. So fine in fact she leaned enthusiastically into a corner at one point, tipping us in a little more than I expected. All good on the big BMW though, rock steady and lots of lean in reserve. I was riding pretty sensibly as well.
We met James in Reeth as well. James is a local photographer (duophoto.co.uk) who knows the area pretty well and recommended some more far flung destinations. I’ll follow those up later on.
Also seen in Reeth; great touring posse of Royal Enfields.
Me with the new Shark Evoline helmet. It’s a great bit of kit so far. Series 3 has learned from the first versions of this flip up.