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.
An unfortunate truth is that motorcycling is essentially selfish. It is, in fact, one of the most selfish activities one could do. Even with a pillion only one person is riding the bike. Bikers are almost all romantics, we are idealists who share a common image of independence granted by two wheels. For some the motorcycle comes to represent individual agency itself; roaring out of the garage, sticking up two fingers to the stresses of modern day living and riding off to freedom and adventure.
Whenever bikers gather together there’s a tiny anarchic feel to the event. Biker meets and gatherings have a unique sense of liberation from the cares and mores of society that arriving on two wheels brings. Not exactly a Hell’s Angels’ run out to Berdoo, California in the ’60s, but something not exactly mainstream either. In fact that reminds me of Hunter S Thompson’s great opening paragraph to his ‘Strange and Terrible Saga’ of the Hell’s Angels:
“California, Labor Day weekend . . . early, with ocean fog still in the streets, outlaw motorcyclists wearing chains, shades and greasy Levis roll out from damp garages, all-night diners and cast-off one-night pads in Frisco, Hollywood, Berdoo and East Oakland, heading for the Monterey peninsula, north of Big Sur. . . The Menace is loose again.”
The social roots of the Hells Angels; thirties depression, deeply affected and disaffected WWII veterans, itinerants and the rest of the ‘1%’ clan, have never been forces of change in the UK. The values the HA represented came over in parts; the whole has only a limited total following. Parts of the image have become mainstream however; the individual, the open road freedoms and the slight touch of anarchy.
It could have gone either way back in the seventies; British motorcycling was in the doldrum latitudes but the British marques were hugely famous internationally, Triumph, Norton, Enfield, BSA et al. The advent of Japanese sales competition and gathering interest in international motorsport changed the pattern. British motorcycling split, an old guard of now ‘Classic’ bikers and a new generation of bikers gathering status through speed, statistics and racing pedigrees.
Meanwhile, on the European continent giant trailies roamed; less affected by the UK and US dynamics. In the end this dual sport bike love would prove to have the longevity and stamina to go the distance; giving us the Paris-Dakar Rally, the BMW GS series, the big KTM twins and the Ducati multis. Japan’s industry answers to these multi role machines were less convincing; the Tenere and Africa Twins being the exceptions that prove the rule.
So I make that three gangs; ‘Classic’;
Each has it’s own styles, smaller, inner groups and values.
There’s probably one notable emerging new group; ‘Customs/Cafes’.
It’s an international scene, driven from Oz by the Deus brand, picked up on internationally with, interestingly, Triumph as an newly cool brand worldwide and latterly re-emerging in the UK.
So who are we? Well, we’re all individuals with unique influences and ideas. The best of us will make new scenes come alive, bringing new life to that ancient and most powerful magic; the song of the road.
BMW earned around £200m in the last financial year from sales of 17,500 BMW R1200 GS models in Europe and according to US site autoevolution the GS is part of a string drive of sales in the US as well.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that the big GS craze took off in the late nineties after ‘The Long Way Round’s’ McGregor power boosted the identity of the 1150GS in Europe, notably at the expense of KTM.
The big trailie concept has been riding high in the UK since then, and has always done in Europe. BMW GS’ have changed along the way, evolving into technological power houses and in the 2013 R1200GS’ case, boxer engine water cooling innovation.
As The Times and BIKE magazine have reported in the UK recently, there is a possibility that a weak nut in the headstock can cause tank slappers (violent head shaking) at unpredictable and unlikely riding moments; possibly in the case of Kevin Ash’s fatal accident in South Africa at the 2013 R1200GS launch.
…. to the best/worst bike ever. If I’ve ever had a love/hate relationship this was it. The big twin was a monster in traffic, awesome on B roads and like a rock off road. However, on big distance days the buffeting was strong and my ears would ring in the evening. KTM has a great concept; 70′ V Twin, tall chassis, low centre of gravity, raw power but this early build had a few gremlins. Electric parts and cabling are lifed to c20K, after that the bike starts to chew ’em. The clutch fails, the over-engineered hydraulic clutch slave cylinder fails to be precise. In the end it wasn’t a contender for a round the world.
Peril and the Prize: The Dakar Rally « Gear Patrol. Grab yourself a long, tall drink, preferably with ice, and read on. The Dakar Rally began it’s crazy existence in the seventies and has seen fatalities, terrorist attacks, long distance heroes and relentless riding. Now held in South America due to the growing extremist threat in North Africa’s Sahel region, the Dakar continues to attract the edge riders, it is NOT for the faint hearted!