A large part of the excitement and fulfillment for challenging adventure travel plans comes from the initial preparation. Adventure motorcyclists are no different; in fact, because we’re packing to fit all our gear on a bike, we’ve got extra considerations about space and weight to consider. It’s part of the sport and with increasing experience you know what to leave behind and what vital kit you need – tool kit step forward!
Phase 1 – Trip Planning
Here’s where you pore over the maps, google searches and other ride reports for the area. If your chosen destination is really remote or hard to reach then it’s worth getting opinions from other travellers’ blogs and staple Adventure Motorcycling sites (links).
Phase 2 – Riding Gear Preparation
Based on your interpretation of the likely Met conditions, the length of your days-in-the-saddle and how much comfort you need to dial in for your personal preference. Select the kit you’ll be wearing and then make sure it’s in good condition; the seams and weatherproofing is intact and the stiching won’t fail during prolonged hard riding or if you take a spill. I find it helps to lay out the kit and then look over it in order. It’s at this point that you can wash in a coat of NIKWAX or hydrophobic water repellent for textiles or for leather, rub in some treatment. Particularly important is to check your riding helmet for signs of deterioration or damage.
Phase 3 – Bike Tools and Spares This is where experience and forethought really count. It’s about finding the balance of a lot of factors; light enough to carry, useful enough to actually use and all with a strong likelihood of really being needed. It’s unrealistic to carry spares for every eventuality and a heavy process to boot! It’s really useful to think about how you’re going to be packing and carrying the spares. Look for somewhere low and central on the bike for heavy items. Good examples of this are Austin Vince’s solution on the DR350 during the Mondo Rally; he used and old metal ammunition box bolted below the engine, and any possible use of the easily available ‘tractor’ tool tubes like these;
Phase 4 – Gear Check.
This is for everything you need to carry on the bike to survive. Again it helps to be organised; lay it out, check tents and shelters for weatherproofing, that the stove is working, sleeping bags are intact and the thermarest is still holding air.
Now you’re ready to enter the debate about how much gear is just enough, what you cannot do without and what your essentials are; enjoy!
Finding the best minimalist 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 minimalist adventure motorcycles out there.
Minimalist. We’ll consider bikes up to around 590cc as ‘minimalist’. These bikes will offer few comforts or concessions to long distances on the tarmac. They’ll generally be enduro focussed and likely to have engines around 400cc.
Very minimalist bikes appeal to the true overland traveller as they can be easily lifted and moved over obstacles, return great MPG and are generally easy to repair.
Deciding Factors. There are some pretty key requirements for a minimalist adventure motorcycle; here are the top ones.
Weight. 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 great MPG return – useful for long distances between fill ups and for saving money.
Luggage. Because the engines are smaller there is a need to pack light and scrutinise the kit taken much more carefully. The bikes are often designed for a solo rider with no equipment so care must be taken to keep the overall weight on the frame and luggage points to a minimum.
Here’s some of our recommended lightweight adventure motorcycles for minimalist overland travel.
The definitive lightweight adventure motorcycle of the nineties. Still out there as the cheap option. Production stopped in 1999 and the model was superseded by the DRZ400.
• Simple engine and ease of access for maintenance
• Light weight makes for good off road ability
• Plenty of spares available worldwide.
• Getting a bit long in the tooth – may be high mileage and heavily used.
The 398cc single in the DRZ400 is well balanced for a mix of off road ability and some on road power. With a few refinements it can be made to carry gear and rider in comfort.
• Robust, reliable and easy to work on
• Plentiful spares available
• Limited road power
• Tank range of 100 miles on standard tank.
A great all rounder with a bias towards enthusiastic off road use. Virtually indestructible with a great reputation for reliability these bikes have a loyal following and deservedly so. With some modifications they can be made more capable for long distance but not all will appreciate the lack of comfort or refinement.
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.
The safer you are, the more fun you will have—it’s as simple as that. Nobody likes when crash bars dig into terra firma and saddlebags get ripped off their mounts. Follow these five tips and you’ll do a much better job of keeping your bike and yourself together.
1) Know your size. Adventure machines are not dirtbikes. You won’t be comfortable racing down the street at 80 mph on a dirtbike, so don’t think for a minute that you should feel comfortable traveling dirtbike speeds off-road. It doesn’t take a physicist to understand that force equals mass times acceleration.
2) Pay attention to balance and the muscles you’re using. If you’re exerting too much energy or feel tense, you’re likely out of balance and compensating with strength or possibly speed. “Get over the back wheel and gas it!” may be a popular saying, but it’s not proper technique.
3) When you bottom the suspension, the bike is warning you. If you didn’t expect the bike to bottom, take the warning doubly serious. If the bottoming continues, sooner or later, you’ll have a broken bike, or worse, a hurt rider.
4) Standing on the footpegs is key to controlling a heavy machine in demanding conditions. Your weight becomes somewhat isolated from the motorcycle and you can use all of it, mostly through the pegs, to control the bike.
5) If you venture beyond maintained dirt roads, having DOT-approved knobby-style tires (think Continental TKC 80) improves dirt handling and safety appreciably. Though durability often dissuades riders from switching to knobs, you’ll never wear out any tires with a cast on your leg.