A guide to the perfect adventure motorcycle
The Triumph Tiger XCA, the BMW R 1200 GS, the Ducati Multistrada 1200S, Honda’s Africa Twin – even the Himalayan or the G 310 GS. All torment me in my dreams. Singing like sirens, luring me to a possible shipwreck on a rocky shore. How does one choose between thoroughbred stallions? Took the Himalayan out with that definition I guess. The G 310 GS merely hangs in with its fingernails. The others, firmly in the fight right now, will probably lose ground to lighter, more powerful dual-sport machines as lean will replace fat.
The ADV motorcycle is a compromise, designed to cross beautifully carpeted tarmac and the sands of Morocco alike, with a fair degree of competence on all surfaces. But how do you choose?
Very few of us actually review, study, examine and obsess before buying. Its always because of ‘a deal’ or because a friend recently bought one that you get the irresistible urge to be in his TCX Pro 2.1 boots. Hardly has the scream of the departing Akrapovic died down that you have made up your mind. You briefly look about, pretending to contemplate. You finally go down the “I’ll have what he’s having” route and slap down your credit card. Your choice is made. Three months later, the insides of your thighs having been burned black by the heat of a big bore engine in traffic, your bike comes up for sale. What’s good for your friend may be a disaster for you.
The few of us that do the research pore endlessly over the spec sheet. “Seat height difference being 2mm lower convinced me,” said a friend. I gently pointed out that more than half his riding time, on a mix of gravel and tarmac would be spent standing, knees comfortably cosseted in the curve of the tank, chin over the handlebars, staring into the distance completely oblivious to the manically sliding rear wheel. Where, in this utopian ride into the sunset, was the seat height going to play a major role? More to the point would have been the distance between the pegs and the seat which would’ve decided the angling of the knees when seated. Even a few degrees can make the difference between a comfortable ride and one where you stand, even on tarmac, to straighten out those creaking joints!
When we choose our steed, we need to ride the bike, for at least 200 kilometres, before you can tell whether it fits or not. The normal dealership ride will at most allow you to slot 3rd gear in heavy traffic and before the novelty of the quick-shifter has worn off the ride is done! Take the bike out for a long ride. Gear up as if you were off to Ladakh. Spend the day taking in both the twisties as well as the long straights, gravel and tarmac. If there is a choice to be made, ride all options on a long trial on consecutive days, so you clearly remember yesterday’s ride.
That being said, many of the small niggles can easily be fixed, by adjustment, or accessorising. Almost all ADV bikes need handlebar risers and once installed make all the difference in riding stance, especially for taller jockeys. Remember the bike will need to be fitted to you and won’t fit right out of the box. Narrow footpegs can give way to wider ones. Mismatched gear ratios can’t. Decide what can be fixed and what can’t!
Eventually, ignore the spec sheet, ignore your friends’ choices, but never ignore your gut feeling. Motorcycling is visceral. Choose after riding the bike. Not short, but long. Not once, but many times.
Your choice of an adventure bike should be based on the fit, feel, balance and joy – none of which have a yardstick, or are even mentioned on the spec sheet! If you can’t stop grinning after your ride – that bike is for you!