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.

Royal Enfield Himalayan Specifications Released

Just last week we finally got to see the brand new Royal Enfield Himalayan in action, snapping foot pegs and all. Now we get a release date as well as specifications – but no pricing just yet. The bike will go on sale in India on 17 March and is expected to reach western markets such as the UK and Australia early in the second half of the year.

At the heart of the Himalayan is an all new engine – it’s a single cylinder, air-cooled 4 stroke with a capacity of 411 cc. It produces a 24.5 hp (18 kW) at 6,500 rpm and a peak 32 Nm of torque at a reasonably low 4,000 rpm. It’s mated to a five speed gearbox, fuel management is by way of carburetor but it does get an electric starter.

royalenfield-himalayan-bike-2

Suspension is tilted towards off-road tasks although many will probably still find it a little underwhelming with 200mm of travel for the 41 mm front forks with 180 mm of travel on the rear shock. There’s no mention of any available suspension adjustments though we’d be very surprised if rear preload wasn’t at least changeable. Ground clearance is 220 mm. Both wheels are spoked, with front and rear diameters of 21 inch and 17 inch respectively.

Kerb weight isn’t too bad at 182 kg and seat height is 800 mm but offers no adjustment and there’s no mention of factory options raise or lower it. There’s plenty of room for luggage or extra fuel with mounting points front and rear and the fuel capacity of 15 litres isn’t bad considering the engine capacity.

royalenfield-himalayan-bike-3

Looks wise we’ve got to say we rather like it, especially in the ‘Snow’ white colour. There’s an unmistakable Royal Enfield look about it and while this isn’t going to challenge KTM or BMW for premium adventure bikes it will definitely offer a unique proposition in the market. For the most part the bike appears to have been designed as a truly off-road capable machine. Proper sized wheels, decent suspension travel, high slung exhaust. It’s nice to see that a bash plate is standard although why they seem to have left the a section of the header pipe exposed at the front is strange.

chasis (1) suspension luggage royalenfield-himalayan-bike-4 royalenfield-himalayan-bike-1 royalenfield-himalayan-bike-7 royalenfield-himalayan-bike-4 (1) royalenfield-himalayan-bike-6 cooling instrument

Royal Enfield Officially Unveils the Himalayan

Royal Enfield today officially confirmed their new adventure bike, the 2016 Royal Enfield Himalayan. It has been teased and spotted since last year and we’ve seen it come together through its development. Now Royal Enfield has posted on their website some videos and images of the bike as it has gone through testing.

https://youtu.be/gsPc1y7YeiI

At this stage the website doesn’t provide any specifications on the machine, nor a price or release date. It is however expected that the new Royal Enfield Himalayan will use a brand new single cylinder engine with a capacity of about 410 cc and producing around 28 horsepower.

Hopefully the bike comes out a little bit hardier than what is shown in the above video featuring Indian rider C.S.Santosh. At the 1.53 mark, not only does the rear suspension bottom out quite dramatically off a rather minor jump, but also the right footpeg appears to snap off on landing…

 

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

Get Comfortable With AltRider’s DualControl Brake System

When riding offroad there’s a lot of variation in your body position, the biggest of which is how you ride the bike between standing and sitting down. One issue that arises is your foot position in relation to the rear brake which is a critical input when hitting dirt roads. Accessories manufacturer AltRider thinks they have come up with a solution that’s pretty low-tech – which when we’re talking about offroad riding is always welcome.

Called the AltRider DualControl Brake System, it’s effectively a replacement for the right OEM rear brake lever that has three parts – a riser, an enlarger plate and a brake snake. With AltRider’s custom enlarger and riser, there’s now effectively a two level lever – an upper section for when standing and a lower section when seated. For those with different measurements and preferences, two riser heights are also available for further customisation, being 22mm and 32 mm. The riser sits on an enlarged plate which provides more real estate to give your boot better purchase on as well.

As an optional extra, Altrider has developed another add on that helps prevent debris from getting in between the pedal and the bike and therefore minimising the potential for damage and bending of the lever which they call the Brake Snake. The full kit costs $69.97, while the kit with only an enlarger and riser is $64.97.

Unfortunately, at this stage its only available for BMW 1200 GS bikes of the water cooled variety, though Altrider is working on kits for the Super Teneere, BMW F 800 GS, KTM’s adventure models and KTM’s dirt bikes.

Source: AltRider

 

2015 BMW S 1000 XR Review

Is the all new BMW S 1000 XR a high performance adventure sports bike or just a really comfortable superbike? While BMW Motorrad is targeting the bike at those who like to at least think they’ll head off road occasionally, in our mind the S 1000 XR is a literbike in sheep’s clothes – high and wide bars, upright riding position and suspension that makes the bike feel downright luxurious in comparison to dedicated track weapons. And that’s fantastic in our view.

The adventure bike market has exploded in popularity over the last number of years with every manufacturer seemingly wanting to tap into the every growing pie. The ironic thing however is that like similarly marketed cars, for most owners their adventure bike won’t ever venture off the bitumen and onto a road less traveled. So why do people buy them? Probably because they at least have the notion they’ll get them dirty at some stage, but also because for normal riding they’re so comfortable and practical.

Wide bars making cornering a breeze, the upright position is not only better on your back but also gives a better view when riding – especially in traffic. Add to that the generally more padded seats for your posterior and the added bonus of luggage being easily available and you can see why said bikes are increasingly the go to weapon of choice for riders.

And this is why the BMW S 1000 XR is so good. It’s about as far removed from a dirt capable bike you’ll get this side of a sportsbike. Yes, it’s styled like a typical adventure motorcycle and no doubt BMW’s advertisements will try and convince you of its amazing offroad abilities, but this is a sportsbike, plain and simple. And BMW shouldn’t shy away from that fact because to us it’s the key selling point of this machine.

Probably the most in your face indication that this is so is the dash. Taken virtually as is from the BMW S 1000 RR, it not only features a shift light but a mode that allows you to monitor lap times. Then there’s the suspension – front travel is 150mm while rear 140mm – most true adventure bikes will at the very minimum have 180mm of travel at the front and anything really made to tackle serious off road scenarios will be looking at 210mm of range. Even Ducati’s Multistrada, the closest competitor to the S 1000 XR has 170mm of travel front and rear.

In fact, for shorter riders, BMW offers a lowering kit that reduces travel to 120/110 front and rear – true sportsbike territory now. This isn’t a criticism mind you – because 150mm is a great sweet spot between the harsh and planted ride of a sportsbike and the plush feel of an adventure bike. And if you’re never going to take the S 1000 XR offroad (like 99% of owners wont) then you’re not sacrificing anything but still gaining a heck of a lot.

When I first saw the specifications like this on the bike, I readied myself for disappointment thinking this would be a very average adventure bike. And if you’re thinking of something like a KTM 1190 R then yes, it pales in comparison. But when you readjust your thinking and accept this bike for what it is – a luxurious sportsbike – it makes perfect sense and in fact comes close to being the ultimate hybrid machine.

The engine from the S 1000 XR is from what we can tell taken directly from the S 1000 R naked. That means 160 hp @ 11,000 prm and 112 Nm of torque at 9,250 rpm – down considerably from the 198 hp of the S 1000 R sportsbike but honestly, it’s hard to tell. How this machine is almost of a quarter of the power down from its big brother is hard to fathom because this machine is fast, raucously so. It pulls from wherever you are in the rev range and an incredible speed.

Like the naked S 1000 R, that’s partly explained by the fact the engine has been retuned for more usable power down low and with the torque curve being flatter and peaking earlier. Fueling is just about perfect and even at low speeds when in stop start traffic, the engine never complained once, nor did the gearbox. It’s extraordinary refined – another mark for it being a comfortable sportsbike.

At a base level, the bike comes with two riding modes – “rain” and “road”, but from what we’ve seen, BMW seem not to really be bother with pushing the base model but instead offering the the next level up with what are described as “pro” riding modes of “dynamic” and “dynamic pro”. Those two pro riding modes also take advantage of  Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) – all of which feeds into the bike’s semi-active suspension.

All of this is in typical convoluted BMW fashion. The “dynamic” mode really unlocks the bike for what it should be as standard. Throttle response is instant, traction control is dialed down to a more sensible level and wheelie control is reduced too. The “dynamic pro” mode is activated by what BMW refer to as a coding plug, which once inserted deactivates ABS and traction control completely. It also further blunts wheelie control and sharpens throttle response to track levels. It’s pretty cheeky of BMW to ask customers to pay for things that are already present in the bike by way of software, but they do like their upsell.

The upsell is worth it because it comes with the dynamic suspension – something increasingly common on high end bikes and it really does propel motorcycles to new levels of comfort and control. On road mode, damping is automated depending on conditions while preload can be electronically adjusted at the push of a button. Fancy. All this works in conjunction with both the front and rear of the bike.

Handling is brilliant, and dare I say that with two equal riders – one on the S 1000 XR and one on the S 1000 RR – riding in tight, twisting mountain roads would see the S 1000 XR come out victorious. You just can’t beat wide bars for improving low speed cornering with the added leverage making turn in so much easier. Cornering ABS is also an added bonus of the “dynamic” upgrade.

Further luxuries include heated grips, hand guards and cruise control. The cruise control is simple to use and the hand guards in conjunction with the heated grips provide good levels of cold weather versatility. Annoyingly, the sides of the hand guards bow out further than necessary, adding probably just under 2cm of extra width to the bars – making an already bike needlessly wider which is annoying when filtering in traffic.

Despite that fault, there’s only one other major criticism of the bike – the vibrations. Despite being an line four, you’d sometimes be mistaken for thinking you were riding a thumper. For the most part it’s not really an issue. BMW has done a pretty good job of masking the vibrations and they aren’t really felt through the bars. That is at least until you hit a certain engine speed – for me it was around the 7,000 rpm mark until just below 9,000 rpm while for others it seems to come on a bit lower.

Many riders have stated that the vibrations they felt were extremely noticeable both in the bars and pegs at such speeds but we experienced them through the seat – and they were very strong. This has the potential to cause fatigue in riders looking to go on long tours, but in the bike’s defense, the engine is so flexible and strong that you can easily just choose another gear to keep out of the ‘vibration zone.’ Crucially at highway speeds, engine speed is low enough to avoid this issue. To me the rest of bike is good enough to overlook the vibrations, but for others who are spending a not insignificant amount of money on a new machine may consider otherwise. Also to note is that many owners have stated as the bike gets more mileage on it and loosens up a bit, the vibrations seem to reduce.

Overall, the BMW S 1000 XR just makes sense. I want a super fast bike to ride everyday, but one that doesn’t feel like a medieval torture rack and prevents me from getting blasted by wind as soon as I hit the highway. A bike that has space to put my luggage, a comfy seat and is easy to corner – a comfortable sportsbike that really won’t ever be taken off the road. That is the BMW S 1000 XR and it’s brilliant – save for the vibrations. If BMW adds a counterbalancer for the first model refresh, it’ll come close to the perfect all-rounder.

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Pirelli Scorpion Trail II Tire Review

The holy grail for adventure riders is a tire that offers long lasting wear, as well as great grip on and off the road.  And while there’s no such tire that truly meets all three criteria and probably never will be (that is until someone develops a tire that can morph from road tire into a knobby on the run) the new Pirelli Scorpion Trail II provides brilliant road grip, long lasting wear and does a pretty decent job on the dirt too.

Pirelli offered me the opportunity to test their new Scorpion Trail II tires recently which had been affixed to a Suzuku V-Strom 1000 – a machine that’s actually pretty capable of hitting the odd trail. In addition to hitting some twisty roads at pace, I was keen to see how far I could push the tires off road as well.

Pirelli Scorpion Trail II Tire Review

Dirty chicken strips

Pirelli is aiming this tire at the ever expanding adventure touring segment and is an evolution rather than a revolution over the previous version. The aim is to create a tire with good road performance, while still capable of tackling unpaved surfaces. It is designed for motorcycles such as the Ducati Multistrada, Aprilia Caponord, Kawasaki Versys and Suzuki V-Strom and in fact is starting to come standard on a number of such bikes.

The tread pattern of the tire takes cues from the Pirelli Angel GT which is aimed at the sport touring segment, but with modifications to provide more off-road grip. The side grooves of the new Scorpion Trail II have been modified to ensure optimal drainage in case of rain, while the layout and “binary open” shape of the central ones not only contribute to the drainage of water but also ensure better traction, greater stability and more regular wear.

Pirelli Scorpion Trail II Tire Review

Compared to its predecessor, the new tire has a wider central section which retains a compound developed for high mileage without compromising cornering performance, and especially developed to offer excellent wet performance. The side compound was designed to optimize the balance between performance on dry and wet roads. Pirelli states that they think mileage will be around 30 per cent higher on the Scorpion Trail II range compared to its predecessor without any reduction in grip levels – a sizable improvement.

That all said, these tires aren’t designed as off road specific boots. In fact, they’re really a 90/10 ratio offering of road/off-road and so if you’re planning on going through the mountains or forests where you won’t see asphalt for days a time, this isn’t the right tire. What they are designed for is the adventure tourer who expects good amounts of grip but with the ability to hit hard packed dirt roads with confidence should the need present itself.

Pirelli Scorpion Trail II Tire Review

There’s even little scorpions on the tire. Aww…

So how do they go for what they’re expected to do 90 per cent of the time? Very well. Tire technology has come ahead so far over recent years that it’s almost a case of every new tire coming out offering grip levels that far surpass what most mere mortals need for the road. In fact you could take your adventure bike to the track with these tires and be assured they will perform effortlessly.

After racking up a many hundreds of kilometers of aggressive riding over a few days, they didn’t once miss a beat. I found that turn in performance from the tire to be pretty much spot on for what I personally like on an adventure bike – not too aggressive that sees the bike lean over too quickly but still enough to really let you throw the bike into the corners.

But what i really wanted to do was test them off the black stuff. Unfrotunately the weather was against me. Day after day there was light to moderate rainfall and I wasn’t particularly enthused with the idea of taking these tires attached to a 250kg V-Strom onto muddy roads – I’m just not that competent an off-road rider. But as the deadline to me returning the bike grew ever closer I bit the bullet and headed out to try my luck.

Despite a few hairier moments, the Scorpion Trail II tires were surprisingly good in light mud.

Over the course of the day I road over packed dirt, light gravel and some rather wet patches that caused me to reconsider what the hell I was doing. That said, the tires performed admirably. Yes, I had a number of moments where the back end stepped out when on muddy patches in corners but every time I just held the throttle open and waited for the tire to hook back up. Again, not my tire of choice for the mud but it did far better than I expected it to. I’m sure that with a better rider at the helm and perhaps dropping the pressures down, those moments might have been avoided all together.

Overall, the new Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tires offer good value given their grip levels and based on the previous Scorpion Trail range, provide a good amount of life before needing to be replaced. Best of all, they’re now available in a 90/90 21 size for dual sport riders wanting another option.  Prices start at $169 for a front and reach $308.95 for a rear, depending on size.

Sizing Available:

Pirelli Scorpion Trail II Tire Review

Honda CRF1000L vs KTM 1190 Adventure vs BMW R1200 GS – Which is the most Adventurous?

Come later this year, adventure riders will have three fantastic choices when it comes to truly off-road capable adventure bikes. The leader of the pack is undoubtedly the BMW R1200 GS – BMW’s most successful model and inspiration for many a midlife crisis. The KTM 1190 Adventure R is  slightly more focused at the off-road rider but is nevertheless a competent and capable tourer. So what chance does Honda’s reborn Africa Twin, aka the CRF1000L have?

The hype surrounding the all new Honda CRF1000L was huge and started last year with the unveiling of the True Adventure concept. But like so many things that are heavily anticipated, the reality can sometimes disappoint. There were high expectations that reborn Africa Twin would be light, powerful and cheap – but it seems it won’t really be any of those things. But it most certainly shouldn’t be written off due to its spec sheet alone. In fact, a closer analysis of things shows that the 2016 Honda CRF1000L will still be a potent competitor.

2016 CRF1000L Africa Twin Official Specifications Released

Performance

The Honda CRF1000L is the most under powered of the three bikes we’re looking at. It’s not only down on horsepower but it’s heavily down on torque. The former we’re not really concerned with as 94 horsepower is more than adequate for off road bikes and in reality is enough for the road too – although we wouldn’t have complained about an extra 10 or 20 horses.

The fact that it’s down on torque compared to the KTM by 21 per cent and the BMW by 19 per cent however is more of an issue. Being able to twist the throttle and get the power you want to maintain momentum – especially when negotiating steep inclines – is a big deal for adventure bikes. That the new Africa Twin is so down on torque may necessitate more gear changes which not only makes riding it more difficult, it also increases fatigue.

Thankfully, the CRF1000L comes with DCT as an option, however that creates problems of its own…

ktm 1190 adventure r

Weight

Perhaps the biggest disappointment when the specifications for the CRF1000L were released was its weight which starts from 503 lb. But its an unwarranted criticism as in comparison to not only the KTM 1190 Adventure R and BMW R1200 GS but almost every other big capacity adventure bike out there, it’s quite reasonable.

What people tend to forget is that adventure bikes are not designed like enduro bikes that start their life as a dirtbike. Adventure bikes are made to be extremely tough and resilient – and that generally means thick and sturdy frames which translates to more weight.

Sadly, that 503 lb figure quickly rises if you add ABS and DCT – having both pushes the weight up to 534 lb, making it heaver than the KTM and the BMW but with much less power. That’s a pretty big power to weight disadvantage.

One thing to keep in mind however is the weight distribution of the bike. Honda is very good at disguising the weight of their machines – they often feel a lot lighter than their actual mass. It’s also important that the weight be over the front wheel on an adventure bike which is critical for handling. Just by looking at the new CRF1000L you can see that Honda has got that sorted.

r1200gs_1920x1080_08

Geometry

Here is where the Africa Twin shines and shows that it’s more dirt focused than road (and therefore potentially less of an all-rounder than the competition). Up front is a 21 inch wheel – bigger than the 19 inch on the R 1200 GS but matched by the 1190 Adventure R. Ground clearance for both the Japanese and Austrian bikes is 9.8” which again eclipses the BMW’s 8.1”.

But it’s the front and rear suspension that show what Honda’s interest is. Front travel on the Africa Twin is 230mm, and 220mm at the rear. That’s 10mm more at the front and the same on the rear as the KTM. The BMW’s more all round nature is demonstrated by the fact that it’s front/rear travel is 190 mm/200 mm. That means it’s less capable of absorbing hits from potholes and rocks that are common on grueling rides.

2016 CRF1000L Africa Twin Official Specifications Released

Miscellaneous

From the specifications we’ve seen so far, there are two other areas that have us concerned with the new CRF1000L. The first is the fuel tank capacity. Quoted at 4.96 gallons, that’s down on both of its rivals (and also goes some way to explaining its lighter weight when fully fueled). Honda is claiming that the all new parallel twin will offer great fuel economy which may make its smaller tank irrelevant.

The other head scratching issue is the options available in the US. For the US (and we assume Canadian market) you can either buy the standard model without ABS, or the top of the range model with ABS and DCT. You can’t buy the bike with ABS and not DCT. That’s an extremely dumb decision as we have no doubt that there will be far more people wanting ABS than DCT. Not making the Africa Twin available with ABS on its own is a baffling decision.

The other big question is the price. Only pricing in some European countries has been confirmed which often doesn’t simply translate to the UK, US or Australia so it remains to be seen how much of a value proposition the Africa Twin will be. But in our opinion it will need to come in under the KTM and BMW to stand a chance.

Honda CRF1000LKTM 1190 Adventure RBMW R 1200 GS
Engine998cc liquid-cooled 4-stroke 8-valve Parallel Twin with 270 degree crank and uni-Cam2-cylinder, 4-stroke, V 75°Air/liquid-cooled four stroke flat twin engine, double overhead camshaft, one balance shaft
Capacity1,000 cc1,195 cc1,170 cc
Power93.9hp @ 7500 rpm150hp @ 9500 rpm125 hp at 7,750 rpm
Torque72.3 lb-ft @ 6000 rpm92.2 @ 7500 rpm89 @ 6000 rpm
Gear BoxConstant mesh 6-speed MT / 6-speed DCT with on and off-road riding modes6 gearsConstant mesh 6-speed gearbox with helical gear teeth
Front Brakes310mm dual wave floating hydraulic disc with aluminium hub and radial fit 4-piston calipers2 x Brembo four piston, radially bolted caliper, brake disc Ø 320 mmDual disc brake, floating brake discs, diameter 305 mm, 4-piston radial calipers
Rear BrakesBrembo two piston, fixed caliper, brake disc Ø 267 mmBrembo two piston, fixed caliper, brake disc Ø 267 mmSingle disc brake, diameter 276 mm, double-piston floating caliper
Front Suspension256mm wave hydraulic disc with 2-piston caliperWP-USD Ø 48 mm, 220mm travelBMW Motorrad Telelever; stanchion diameter 37 mm, central spring strut, 190mm travel
Rear Suspension220mm stroke, hydraulic spring preload adjustorWP-Monoshock, 220mm travelCast aluminium single-sided swing arm with BMW Motorrad Paralever; WAD strut (travel-related damping), spring pre-load hydraulically adjustable (continuously variable) at handwheel, rebound damping adjustable at handwheel, 200mm travel
Front Tire90/90-R21 90/90 R 21120/70 R 19
Rear Tire150/70-R18150/70 R 18170/60 R 17
Wet Weight228kg (STD), 232 kg (ABS), 242kg (DCT)526 lb (238 kg)525 lbs (238 kg)
Tank Capacity18.8 litres23 liters/3.5 liters reserve20 litres/4 litre reserve