The Art of Minimalist Motorcycle Adventure Touring

You don’t need the biggest, best and latest motorcycle to enjoy adventure touring – in fact, the idea behind minimalist motorcycle adventuring touring is almost the complete opposite. It’s about smaller and simpler bikes, packing light and taking only the bare essentials. Not only can it reward you with being able to ride to harder to reach places, but the cost savings can mean more money to spend on your trip. We chat with Martin Livingstone who has presented at Horizons Unlimited events in the past about what minimalist motorcycle adventure touring is to him.

But first, how do you define minimalist adventure touring? Like any idea or ethos, it’s open to interpretation and there’s no hard or fast definition. Some will argue that minimalist touring is taking the smallest bike possible with the absolutely bare minimum of gear. Others will say that bikes up to 650 cc in size can be included along with reasonable levels of gear, food and equipment.

“If you ask 10 people you’re going to get 10 different answers”, says Martin. “I suppose I consider minimalist adventuring touring to be more along the lines of 400 cc and under but some people consider 650 cc to be minimalist compared to the 1200 cc beasts that you see out there.”

At the end of the day, minimalist adventure touring is what you want it to be although it would be hard to argue that taking a 250 kilogram 1200 GS with panniers, drop tanks and a top box could possibly be minimalist. And hence that’s why smaller bikes like the Yamaha WR250R or Suzuki DR-Z400 are more in line with the idea behind minimalist riding.

Minimalist adventure touring can be many things, but a full loaded 1,000cc plus bike it is not.

Minimalist adventure touring can be many things, but a full loaded 1,000 cc plus bike it is not.

But it’s by no means only the size of your bike that counts towards the idea behind minimalist touring, but your gear as well. “Think about it in terms of making sure you pack light and only have essentially the things that you need to keep yourself going and keep the bike going” says Martin. For him, that means a small gas cooker, a can of soup for dinner and a spoon to eat it with – and perhaps a utility knife which can double as an all purpose tool. The reasoning behind this is sound – as you’ll need to refuel regularly, there’s no need to stock up on supplies as you’ll be required to head into town anyway. The only exception to this is plenty of water – including enough to cover delays due to breakdown or other emergencies.

As far as sleeping arrangements go, Martin uses a small and lightweight two person tent, a sleeping bag and pillow – all of which wrap up neatly into a roll bag and is tied to the back of his bike. “In terms of stuff that you need to pack there’s not really that much.” Packing lightly can be augmented by stopping in caravan parks, national parks or road houses that provide hot showers and a place to have a warm cup of coffee or tea.

Tools of course are a necessity and a proper evaluation of your bike (and the purchase of clever tools that can serve multiple functions) can help reduce how many items you need to bring. Most bikes will come with tool kits that allow you to unscrew a variety of different sized bolts – where possible though, try and reduce the amount of tools you have without sacrificing your ability to make running repairs. Smartly designed tyre levers like the ones from Terra-X double as a spanner set. A Leatherrman or similar is another way to reduce the amount of tools you need to pack.

Terra-x-Tyre-Levers-800

Clever products such as these Terra-X tyre levers mean you can combine a variety of tools and related bits into one device.

So why do all this though? Surely having a nice shiny new bike with massive amounts of power in reserve is the better way to travel? In some situations, yes it is. But many people perhaps look to get into adventure riding and think the only way to do so is by the large ADV bike route – not only is that expensive, it can sometimes come at the cost of true adventure.

As Martin admits, smaller bikes that are often used for minimalist touring aren’t comfortable – especially when on long stretches of highway but that can prove to be an advantage. “It forces you to take your time – metaphorically you smell the flowers.”  So instead of trying to do a 2,000 kilometre journey in a few days you spread it out over a week or more. It allows you to see more and journey to those place you might otherwise have overlooked. “So instead of going for 200 k’s and stopping, you stop at 80 k’s and stretch your legs, take photos and stuff like that.”

Another big factor in favour of minimalist adventure touring is the cost in getting started. A brand new BMW 1200GS goes for about $16,000 in the US.  For that amount of money, you could buy a brand new Yamaha WR250R, upgrade its suspension, install safari tanks and if necessary a windshield and still have enough money left over to buy your partner a carbon copy of the bike plus money to spend on your trip.

martin livingstone drz250

Light, basic and unsophisticated – but it’s still more than capable of doing thousands of miles and getting you to out of the way places.

And that’s just the startup costs. Ongoing running, maintenance and repair costs for smaller bikes like a KLX250 or DR-Z250 is almost always cheaper – especially when you’re comparing it to big new European ADV bikes. If you drop your KTM 1190 Adventure, the price to fix scratches or dents on the body work is almost always something that you’ll have to go through insurance to fix. But a dual sport? Tape it up and keep going. “They’re all carbies and cable everything, no electronics whatsoever” says Martin. “It’s one of those things that if you do crash it, they’re kind of built to crash.”

And when the terrain gets tough, crashing is far more likely on big, heavy ADV bikes than they are on smaller machines and that’s basically down to physics. But it can also come down somewhat to fatigue, with the lighter bikes being naturally more at home in technical terrain and requiring less physical input

Of course, nothing is without its downsides. As Martin said, there are times that even he will choose a bigger machine over smaller ones. If he needs to get to places further away in a shorter amount of time, big bikes rule. When there’s limited places to get fuel, the larger tanks and therefore longer range of big ADV bikes is a major plus. And there’s no doubt that top of the line adventure bikes with nice big padded seats, heated grips and cruise control offer a far more comfortable ride.

But remember, people have been riding long distances on motorcycles ever since they were invented and for the vast majority they did it on small, simple machines. Simplicity and the pure enjoyment of adventure riding is what minimalist touring is all about.

Due to its popularity, the WR250R has a huge range of farkles available to make it a truly ADV capable machine. Photo courtesty Basher Designs.

Due to its popularity, the WR250R has a huge range of farkles available to make it a truly ADV capable machine. Photo courtesy Basher Designs.

Big or Small? What Makes an Ideal Adventure Bike?

The adventure bike market is huge and probably the biggest growing segment in the motorcycle industry today. While adventure riding has been around for decades, it has recently undergone a renaissance of sorts thanks to a certain television series featuring the BMW R 1200 GS. Now, every company wants in on the action.

That’s because adventure bikes are normally priced at the upper end of the scale, which generally means more profit margins. But are riders missing the obvious here? Instead of spending huge wads of cash on bikes that come with all the latest technology and gadgets, why not settle for a humble dual sport – essentially a dirt bike that can legally be ridden on and off road?

For a new dual sport, you’ll probably be forking out less than half the amount of money for a machine that’s arguably more capable of adventure riding. Or is it? We decided to take a look at that supposition – for adventure riding are you better off on a smaller, cheap(er) dual sport, or a big, more expensive ADV bike?

The KTM 1190 Adventure R is powerful, but is that power needed?

The KTM 1190 Adventure R is powerful, but is that power needed?

For the purposes comparison, we’re going to focus on two specific motorcycles just to help us see real numbers and specifications – although the comparison could equally apply to similar machines. Those two bikes are the Yamaha WR250R and the BMW R 1200 GS – both are regarded (arguably) as among the best in their respective categories. The WR250R has long been classed as the best dual sport machine in the market, while the 1200 GS is a sales success and has no doubt inspired many an individual to purchase an adventure bike.

But if your purpose is to actually ride a wide variety of surfaces and conditions, which is better? The roughly 1200 GS with all its gadgets and glamour or the far cheaper and more humble WR250R? And regardless of the specific bike your’re looking at, is big or small better?

Weight

Weight is the enemy of all motorcycles. The more a bike weighs, the less manouverable it is at low speeds and the less agile it is too. While a heavy bike most certainly doesn’t prevent you from going off road, it does make things more difficult for the vast majority of riders. And even if you are in the top percentile of skilled pilots, fatigue will definitely be reduced if you’re riding a lighter machine. Low speed maneuvers – something that is often required when on the dirt and other terrains that isn’t asphalt – are much easier with smaller, lighter bikes.

The Yamaha WR250R weighs only 295 lb (about 133 kg) fully fueled.

The Yamaha WR250R weighs only 295 lb (about 133 kg) fully fueled.

Here, smaller bikes win, no question. Heavier ADV bikes are less able to take on technical trails which means that your choice of where and what you can see are reduced. We’re not saying it’s impossible for an ADV bike to overcome, it’s just far easier and more within the grasp of mere mortals on a dual sport. And given the difficulties in some types of terrain, when you eventually do go down you’ve sometimes got double the weight to pick up.

Yamaha’s WR250R weighs only 133 kg (295 lb) as opposed to the R 1200 GS’s 256 kg (564 lb). That’s a massive difference and while there are big adventure bikes that do weigh less, they’re pretty much all tipping the scales at well over 200 kg.

winner dual sport

 

Power

Most small capacity dual sports have around 20 to 30 horsepower, whereas big sized ADV bikes with their liter plus capacities have over 100 horsepower and a far stronger power to weight ratio. That makes them the winner, right? It does, but it’s a lot closer than the specifications might indicate.

For the vast majority of off-road riding, you really don’t need much power at all – 30 horsepower on a bike that weighs less than 150 kg is more than enough for off-road riding. It will still get you to 100 km/h – a speed that most won’t hit off-road, and it’s plenty for getting up inclines and over obstacles.

Where the lack of horsepower does become an issue is when you’re on highways. All dual sports will hit the speed limit of a highway with a bit to spare, but it generally won’t be its preferred habitat. You’ll be in sixth gear and on your way to redline with the accompanying buzzing and noise that goes with it. A big ADV bike on the other hand will barely be breaking a sweat and have plenty of speed in reserve for overtaking.

As the saying goes, there’s no replacement for displacement and while not much is needed when you’re off the beaten track, it becomes an issue at other times.

winner adv

 

Comfort

This is a somewhat subjective criteria, but it’s also the one that you can’t really nail down by just looking at our two picks – the WR250R and the R 1200 GS. But as a general rule of thumb, dual sports are designed to inflict extreme pain on your posterior from a days riding, while ADV bikes will only make you feel sorry for yourself until the next morning.

Most stock bikes come with seats that are awful, but overall the padding and cushioning you get on an ADV as opposed to a dual sport is better.  Some dual sports like the KLX250 have a seat that’s just a small piece of foam over what we’re assuming is a slab of concrete and has been designed by sadists.

That comes down to the design of the differing machines. ADV’s are usually inspired by road bikes while dual sports come straight from motocross machines where seats aren’t sat on that often. When adventure riding, you’ll be standing a lot, but there are plenty of times when you’ll be sitting and here, ADV bikes usually offer a nicer experience for your derriere.

This isn't really recommended on a dual sport with their less than well padded seats.

This isn’t really recommended on a dual sport with their less than well padded seats.

Additionally, ergos on ADV bikes are just generally better than dual sports. Again, dual sports are generally just modified motocross bikes which are designed for riders to do fairly short stints around a track whereas ADV bikes are made from the outset to accommodate entire days in the saddle. Add in luxuries like heated grips, seats, adjustable windshields and so on and it’s a far more pleasant place to be for days on end.

winner adv

 

Running Costs

As we said at the outset, smaller dualsports are cheaper to purchase than big ADV bikes, sometimes by more than half. And those savings continue when you own the bike, too. A dual sport on average is going to use less oil and other fluids, go through tires less (plus replacement tires which are smaller will also be cheaper) and service intervals are usually greater for the smaller bikes too.

For example, the current model WR250R only requires a valve check every 40,000 kilometers, whereas the 1200 GS needs to have its valves checked twice as often at 20,000 kilometer intervals.

And given that a dual sport uses cheap and flexible plastics as their fairings, any scratches, dents or breaks are much easier and cheaper to replace – and there’s also the added benefit of aftermarket replacement plastics which you generally won’t be able to get for bigger ADV bikes.

winner dual sport

 

Luggage

If you’re going on a driving holiday with the family, what’s better – a family statoin wagon or a compact? Obviously, the bigger vehicle. It fits more in without a hassle whereas a smaller car means you have to play virtual tetris to fit everything in. So the same applies to bikes, right?

Well, if you’re going solo like most would, how much do you actually need? For adventure riding, both types of bikes will probably be adequate when it comes to the amount of luggage you need to fit. So, draw?

No, because when it comes to luggage options – both for the actual carrying of your items and for attaching them onto your bike, ADV bikes are way out in front. Panniers, top cases, various types of mounts – there are entire companies out there that design and produce luggage systems for ADV bikes. If you’re lucky, they might do the same for the most popular dual sports.

That’s aftermarket. Many ADV bikes come standard with luggage options from the get go – that’s pretty much unheard of for small dual sports.

winner adv

 

Range

Here, maths gives us an easy answer. A WR250R has a fuel tank that can hold two gallons of fuel (about 7.5 litres) whereas, a 1200 GS is happy to hold 20 litres of black gold (5.3 gal). While the bigger machine is thirstier, that isn’t enough to for the smaller dual sport to compete on range. The BMW is good for around 300 miles (a bit under 500 kilometers) while the WR250R can eek out around 117 miles (a bit under 200 km).

Sure, you can buy aftermarket tanks for the WR250R that just about double capacity, but you can also buy aftermarket tanks for the 1200 GS, too. The simple fact is that a bigger bike has more room for a bigger fuel tank and thus has better range. And that goes for just about every bike in their respective categories – bigger bikes get more mileage. The WR250R’s range is actually at the pointy end for dual sports – there are some that struggle to get more than 150 km in range.

This Suzuki DR-Z400 owner ran out of fuel while crossing the Amazon river.

This Suzuki DR-Z400 owner ran out of fuel while crossing the Amazon river.

How important is this? Well, that obviously depends on where you’re riding but there’s probably few riders who don’t get range anxiety on their dual sports when they’re out in the middle of nowhere with an OEM tank. As we said, larger aftermarket tanks alleviate this, as do fuel bladders and the like, but from the showroom floor, ADV’s win this hands down.

winner adv

 

Repairs

When you’re out riding in the bush, forest or desert, you’re always praying to the motorcycle gods that everything is reliable. And the less that can go wrong, the better. Here, dual sports reign supreme.

All those luxuries you miss out on – ABS, heated grips, cruise control and so forth can become a curse if they malfunction in the wilderness. ADV bikes often sport the most sophisticated and recent technology of all bikes – even superbikes – one just needs to look at the list of standard features on the KTM 1290 Super Adventure to see that.

On the other hand dual sports tend not to have changed much in the past decade. Sure, companies refine them but they’re essentially very similar machines to what they were many, many years ago. Same engine, suspension, chassis and so. They’re fairly low-tech.

That means that should an issue arise, they’re simpler to fix but also parts are far easier to come by. Given the lack of electronics on smaller dual sports, you can usually Macgyver something up in a pinch. Even today you can buy a brand new dual sport from a dealer like the Kawasaki KLX250S that uses a carburetor instead of electronic fuel injection – that’s how basic they can be. Add to that the options available for a two-stroke machine and it gets even easier.

winner dual sport

 

Conclusion

So it’s a fairly even result, which shouldn’t be surprising – they’re essentially two different machines that approach the same problem in different ways. For the real hardcore adventure rider, a dual sport will get you to places you can’t easily access on a big ADV bike, especially highly technical terrain.

That said, while the dual sport does have advantages in maneuverability and weight, we’d argue for them to be a truly “one size fits all” bike, they do need some upgrades – not least is a larger fuel tank. Generally, larger ADV motorcycles are ready to go from the showroom floor, have more range and better luggage options. And while they’re not quite capable as a smaller bike (at least without considerable effort) it will still get a capable rider wherever they want to go 90 per cent of the time more comfortably and at home on the tarmac.

Like so many things in life, it’s all a matter of compromise. Now, if only someone decided to sell a mid-capacity adventure bike, like a 690 Enduro…

Weeeeee

Weeeeee

The New Honda Africa Twin Is Coming

There hasn’t been an official announcement yet by Honda of a brand new Africa Twin coming out in 2015, however it’s all but assured. It was pretty much inevitable when Honda showed off their True Adventure prototype at EICMA last month, and now Honda has released two videos in a continuing series which heavily hints at a return by Honda of this iconic model.

The True Adventure prototype was for show only at EICMA. Absolutely no technical details about the machine were released but our sources indicate that the machine displayed was production ready and featured a 1,000cc, liquid-cooled parallel-twin with the option of Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission.

The first video posted shows Honda’s history of racing in the Dakar Rally – an arena the motorcycle that the Africa Twin was based on had huge success in during the late 80’s.

http://youtu.be/M-gXpyjwGgg

The second video which was released only a few days ago looks at long distance riding and exploration by every day people – something a new Africa Twin would be perfectly suited to.

And just in case you had any doubt that these videos are part of a pre-marketing plan for the new Africa Twin, take a look at the True Adventure website Honda has published which features the same logo at shown at EICMA.

We’re hearing that an official announcement on the new machine will happen in the new year with a release in Q2 of 2015.