Over the years my riding style has changed. I’ve never had any real dirt experience, like motocross, and pretty much stuck to the tarmac when possible.
And like most Americans I admit to getting caught up in the “Bigger is Better” updraft where displacement and hp/torque numbers were like medals on your chest, a testament to manliness…or something.
Succumbing, to a lesser degree, to peer pressure. The perfect example is how Harley riders refer to the 1200cc Sportster, a really sound machine, possibly Harley’s best (along with Buell’s) as a “girl’s bike.”
And there is the attitude coming from some brand cultists, a bias against “Jap crap” and “rice burners,” and the Tuetonic chest-thumping.
I’m not a Harley guy, but admit that when I bought my Honda VTX 1800C, I did so because at the time I wanted the Biggest Bike out there. And it was, an 800+lb. beast with pistons the size of coffee cans banging right below your crotch and a rumble that sets off car alarms.
Then came MotoCaribe and the move to the Dominican Republic to start a motorcycle touring company with a fleet of Suzuki V-Strom DL650s, one of the first reasonably priced “adventure” motorcycles, bikes that could carry its rider anywhere, paved or dirt roads. The DL650 is an excellent bike for the DR, even though small by North American standards where “size matters.” We got many comments from future guests about the bikes being “small,” even though physically they are quite large, tall with a long wheelbase.
The DL650s can really scoot. They love riding between 4000-7000rpm, and are bulletproof, truly outstanding machines, like a sport bike with a straight-up riding style that you can ride on some hard-packed dirt or gravel.
They are also my first real entry into “adventure” riding where handling a bike off the tarmac is common. New skills had to be learned and taught to some guests. And part of acquiring knowledge is voraciously reading everything possible on “adv” riding.
There are a lot of hardcore adv riders out there. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Ewan McGregor’s and Charlie Borman’s exploits in the “Long Way Round” and “Long Way Down” series, where semi-average guys ride massive motorcycles across continents falling, crashing, fording raging cold rivers and getting bogged down in mud on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes not so much.
I won’t pretend to ever want to be hardcore. I like some creature comforts, but I also want to know I *could* if I wanted to. So I pay a lot of attention to the hardcore adv riders out there, blogging like mad men so we pedestrian plebes can live a vicarious life through their exploits, and learn from their experience.
One thing is for sure; the bikes used in the Long Way series, huge BMW GS1200s (or the then equivalent) were the wrong tool for the job when the tarmac ended. Don’t get me wrong, the big Beemers are awesome machines. Just not how Ewan & Charlie used them.
I came across this article a couple of years ago about “which bike should I buy for adv riding,” Adv Bike Selection 1. It’s an excellent article written by a serious rider, one who has learned his lessons the hard way. I’m left with his summary:
A single cylinder bike below 165 kg dry weight should be your starting point. If you are heading to Mongolia or the Sibirsky Extreme Zone north of the Trans Siberian Highway on anything else, you are either kidding yourself that you are going to enjoy it, or you are a rally standard rider. It may sound harsh, but anytime I see a 1200GSA or Super Tenere in Mongolia, I know straight away it’s a naive adventurer struggling on his first proper offroad adventure, and I can be sure of at least one thing – he will never go back there on the same bike ever again. If only he knew that before he went there …
(This is about as close as you can get to driving a freight truck on two wheels.)
Interesting: he advocates a smaller bike for true adv riding. In other words, the best bike for the worst conditions. Certainly the examples he uses are “dual sport” machines that, by nature, are more of a dirt bike that can also be ridden on the tarmac, 60% dirt/40% tarmac.
But what about us “regular” riders who see ourselves on a 30% dirt/70% tarmac adventure? I can still see how “size matters”—in this case, smaller is better. Heck, even a DL650 is 215kg, a hefty ride.
I also came across this article about a young lady who wanted to do a serious adv ride with her boyfriend. She makes some excellent points: Why I chose a “beginner bike” as an adventure bike.
Put aesthetics aside and imagine the perfect adventure bike for your height, weight, strength, agility and most importantly, your true needs. What would it be? Would it be the 900-pound road warrior fully equipped for high-speed pavement travel and ill-equipped for off-road or even bad-road use? Or perhaps the 600-pound monster promising adventure and glory, but also getting stuck in the sand? Or would it be a simple, lightweight, slim, small-displacement dual-sport that will fit in with the locals in adventurous locales around the world?
OK, this all sounds a bit biased, but you already know my choice. So, before your next adventure, ask yourself: How much stuff do you need, how much money do you want to spend, how many times can you pick up your bike, and how much fun will you have?
(Toes on the ground, but comfortably in control.)
And that got me thinking: exactly what smaller adv bikes are manufactured? Not a dual-sport, but like a smaller displacement bike along the lines of a DL650, KLR or BMW650—except much, much smaller, but still packing a rugged punch.
So I started looking (thanks Google & Al Gore)…