What is an Adventure Motorcycle?

This is the second post of the More Power, More Adventure and More Scramble series where we discuss what’s trending in the motorcycle world for 2015.

More Adventure

The so called adventure motorcycle segment continues its expansion as can be seen by the number of new motorcycle models launched in 2015 to cater to adventure riders. That is, manufacturers anticipate selling more motorcycles to riders who increasingly enjoy the looks, functionality, or the life style associated with adventure riding.

Funnel Canyon, June 2014

Adventure Riding: exploring beyond pavement ends

With more motorcycles being marketed under the “adventure” umbrella it is just about the right time to ask what is really an adventure bike?

And with the increasing use of the word adventure as a sales pitch, we see qualifiers added to it such as “True Adventure” or “Not an Ordinary Adventure Motorcycle”  perhaps to make sure their advertised product is the authentic adventure motorcycle.  Are we now facing an identity crisis on the adventure motorcycle segment?

Let’s find out what is an adventure motorcycle and then we will discuss how marketing campaigns now feel the need to justify the “authenticity” of the adventure riding experience their product provides.  Along this conversation we will talk about some of the new adventure bikes for 2015.

Motorcycles and Adventures

Let’s first talk about some philosophical interpretations about adventures and motorcycles. Despite knowing Steve McQueen had quite a dirt riding bias, I would think he would have agreed that riding most any motorcycle would give you the feeling of being on an adventure.  Here is one of Steve McQueen’s often quoted ideas about riding motorcycles:

One of the things that make motorcycling so great is because it never fails to give you a feeling of freedom and adventure.

My view of it is that adventure is on the mind of the rider, no matter what he/she is riding. In that case, adventure means many things to different riders. If the sense of adventure is based on the perspective of the rider then ultimately any motorcycle will be suitable for an adventure.

To keep things in perspective, a standard definition of the word adventure states:

An adventure is an exciting or unusual experience. It may also be a bold, usually risky undertaking, with an uncertain outcome. Adventures may be activities with some potential for physical danger such as exploring, skydiving, mountain climbing, river rafting or participating in extreme sports.

In terms of motorcycle riding, however, the word adventure has been mostly associated with traveling long distances to places outside of the beaten path, a riding style not be hindered by unpaved roads.  The ultimate adventure to many riders I’ve spoken with is to go on a round-the-world motorcycle trip. However, a weekend trip to the nearby mountains with your tent and food supplies, involving a gravel road and a short single dirt path to the campsite could also be an adventure ride, right?

If an ultimate adventure machine is characterized as the one that can take the rider on a round the world adventure, we still maintain that most any bike can do it. People have gone on round the world trips on the most unexpected types of motorcycles, from Honda C90’s to Harley Davidson cruisers and I know of at least one rider who has taken a Yamaha R1 Sports bike around the world.

“The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong, that’s when adventure starts” -Yvon Chouinard

Yvon Chouinard’s words are a well known play on the definition of adventure: The adventure really starts when things go wrong.  If Che Guevara and his buddy were on any of the adventure bikes available today instead of an old beat up Norton when they set off for their trip from Argentina to Miami, the results would probably had been different. They would have made it to Miami without any motorcycle problems, except for regular tire and oil changes, of course. The huge revolutionary adventure came about from their exposure to the plight of the miners in Chile that gave them shelter and a ride at some point, what they witnessed about the struggling people who helped them with their motorcycle problems along the way until the terminal breakdown of their Norton, still in Chile.  With a good working motorcycle like the adventure motorcycles of today, they would have cruised to Miami and perhaps the revolutions he ignited along their path would have been different or even not have existed.

When we talk about adventure motorcycles today we might be talking about the bikes that will make this round the world trip the easiest for the rider, a motorcycle that is less likely to leave you stranded somewhere with a mechanical problem, and, should I dare say, it should offer all of that with some level flair and a level of comfort while at it? Are we actually saying an adventure motorcycle today can actually be adventure proof if we borrow Yvon Chouinard’s thinking?

Not necessarily, because as mentioned earlier, the adventure is on the rider’s mind, not the motorcycle. However, such an adventure ready motorcycle almost contradicts the notion of adventure if it is designed to prevent the rider from encountering challenges along the way, potentially insulating the rider from experiencing what could be the actual feeling of adventure.

One last quote from Chouinard, from the movie 180° South:

Taking a trip for six months, you get in the rhythm of it. It feels like you can go on forever doing that. Climbing Everest is the ultimate and the opposite of that. Because you get these high-powered plastic surgeons and CEOs, and you know, they pay $80,000 and have Sherpas put the ladders in place and 8,000 feet of fixed ropes and you get to the camp and you don’t even have to lay out your sleeping bag. It’s already laid out with a chocolate mint on the top. The whole purpose of planning something like Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain and if you compromise the process, you’re an asshole when you start out and you’re an asshole when you get back.”

May your adventure motorcycle, whatever it is, not prevent you from some sort of spiritual and cultural gain if you embark on a long adventure journey with it.

Now that we’ve gotten this out of the way, we can talk about what is the industry’s definition of an adventure motorcycle.

What is an Adventure Motorcycle?

Less philosophically and more functionally speaking, when today we talk about Adventure Motorcycles we are talking about a group of motorcycles ranging from upright street touring bikes to the formerly (and in some cases still) called enduro or dual purpose motorcycles.

These are motorcycles that ride reasonably well on paved roads and also on non-paved roads. This motorcycle needs to have a strong frame and sub-frame to be able to carry a passenger and/or travel gear.  This motorcycle will need a reasonable tank size, commensurate to its fuel consumption so you ride some 200 miles before needing a refuel.  This motorcycle needs to be reasonably reliable, requiring limited maintenance and be easily serviceable.  More suspension, beefier frames, crash bars, larger tank sizes, mean that in general adventure bikes will be heavier than a non-adventure version of a similar motorcycle.

A good adventure motorcycle is one the rider could take on a round the world trip with very small modifications to it and it likely won’t be the reason for the rider not to accomplish his/her goal of completing the trip.

adventure umbrellaMany motorcycles fit under the Adventure umbrella matching the many riders’ perspectives of what an adventure ride is and what an adventure motorcycle is able to deliver. As mentioned earlier, an adventure rider can be the guy who loads his bike with his travel gear and goes camping on a weekend trip to a location not too far from his home, to the guy who loads his bike up with travel gear for a week-long trip to the American west and will almost exclusively ride two-track dirt roads and rocky mountain passes, to the guy who will go on a round-the-world motorcycle trip. Let’s not forget the guy who buys an adventure motorcycle almost exclusively for touring purposes, with the intent of getting the most comfortable bike for the job.

As a side note, in terms of performance, an adventure motorcycle lives on an unavoidable compromise between performing well on the streets and also on off-pavement situations (I’m purposefully avoiding here the term “off road” as these bikes are, ALL of them, road bikes). To tackle the ultimate round the world adventure, these bikes need to be a touring and a dirt bike into one.  From the expression “jack of all trades, master of none” we know an adventure bike won’t do either function completely well, although with new designs and new technology bikes keep getting better and better at doing both, such as is the case with the latest generation of the BMW R1200GS and KTM’s 1190 Adventure bikes.

Adventure MotorcyclesIt is good to be reminded that typical owners of larger adventure motorcycles will never take their adventure bikes off-pavement.  The “adventure riding” life-style has a lot to do with the choice of buying an adventure motorcycle and it has a lot to do with the motorcycle industry marketing more motorcycles for this life-style or even creating the life-style itself.

An Identity Crisis: Adventure, Super Adventure, No Ordinary Adventure, Sports Adventure, and True Adventure

Because of the increasing popularity of the adventure riding lifestyle, and manufacturers creating models for this market’s increasing demand, the spectrum of what is considered an adventure bike has been broadened. Although more street oriented motorcycles are considered adventure motorcycles today, a bike’s dirt performance remains the key marketing strategy for the adventure motorcycle, capturing the rider’s dreams or imagination for riding the machine that could take him to exotic locations.

A bike’s ability to take the rider over dirt roads has demonstrated to be a successful selling strategy and has pushed designers and engineers to make motorcycles more dirt-ready.  To make sure the potential customer knows (and can show off) the bike’s dirt performance, qualifiers have been added to the word Adventure on recent marketing campaigns.

Such is the case for Honda’s “True” Adventure for the very internet-popular and very speculated successor of the Africa Twin that had a pre-production model presented last fall at EICMA in Italy and is expected to be launched later this year as 2016 model.  Triumph’s campaign of “no ordinary” adventure motorcycle for their new 800XC line is another example of a campaign trying to relate their product to specific dirt riding attributes. Aprilia named “Rally” their new for 2015, more dirt-ready version of the Caponord which comes with spoked wheels, and Suzuki brought in 2015 the “XT” model to their V-Strom line, which supposed to provide a better dirt riding performance.

Enduro or Adventure

The best example of consolidation of the “Adventure” name happened to these motorcycles when BMW very recently (late last year or early this year) put an end to their GS line “Enduro” association in lieu of the word “Adventure”.  Incidentally, GS is the German word for off road/on road, Gelände/Straße, perhaps the first definition of what now is considered an “adventure” motorcycle.  BMW is the company who put adventure riding into the map, pun intended.  Which was eventually consolidated with Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman’s Long Way Round and Long Way Down adventure series on BMW R1150GS on the first series and BMW R1200GS on the second series.

BMW is phasing out the word ENDURO and will use ADVENTURE in its place

BMW is phasing out the word ENDURO and will use ADVENTURE in its place

The BMW R1200GS remains a best seller and has been the yard stick to which adventure bikes are measured against. The fact that they are now officially referred to as an “adventure” bike by BMW is mostly irrelevant since most riders do not need to know that when someone refers to BMW’s GS line.

2015 BMW R1200GS - Still the Benchmark?

2015 BMW R1200GS – Still the Benchmark for Adventure

Incidentally,  BMW has been gradually improving its best seller, the R1200GS water-cooled model.   For the 2015 model the bike will have a slightly larger/heavier flywheel improving its tractability on all riding modes.

It is important to note that BMW has had motorcycles named Adventure for quite some time already on their GS line, and currently offers two Adventure models (R1200GSA and F800GSA).  Main characteristics separating these bikes from the regular GS line involve making these bikes better suited for long distance travel. Among the differences are larger fuel tank capacity, allowing a range of about 300 miles between refuels for both GSA models, and better wind protection.

2014 BMW F800GS Adventure.  2015 models are available in Kalamata or White.

2014 BMW F800GS Adventure. 2015 models are available in Kalamata or White.

Sports/Touring Adventure

For some purists, these bikes are not adventure motorcycles. They are the street boundary of the adventure segment, the most left of center, let’s say. Perhaps Ducati invented this segment with the Multistrada, especially with its 2010 model, built on a de-tuned version of its 1,198cc  superbike motor of the time, the testastretta motor.  With four riding modes, Ducati advertised and marketed this bike as a four in one motorcycle: sports, touring, urban and enduro modes.

Paolo Pirozzi's Lidia. The Multistrada that went around the world in 2010. Borgo Panigale, October 2011

Paolo Pirozzi’s Lidia. The Multistrada that went around the world in 2010. Borgo Panigale, October 2011

Although it is mostly a sports/touring bike, emphasis on sport, it has shown its capacity to lead people into adventure.  Would you say going to the end of the road to Dead Horse Alaska is a good adventure? Well, this bike has done it, and it has done more than that. For example it has also won the Pikes Peak race in Colorado, when that mountain climb race still involved several miles of dirt and gravel, leading Ducati to release a Pikes Peak version of the Multistrada.

Several manufacturers have bikes for this segment of the market, bikes with mostly a road/street bias, such as Aprilia’s Caponord and Honda’s X-line (CB500X, VFR800X Crossrunner, and its 1200 Cross Tourer version).

BMW is a new comer on this segment of adventure motorcycles. It is perhaps one of the the strategies for moving from “Enduro” to “Adventure.” BMW is launching a very street oriented adventure motorcycle, the much anticipated BMW S1000XR.  Based on one of the motors of BMW’s very successful in-line 4 sports bikes, the S1000XR is not a sport bike, and it is definitely not an Enduro bike either. We may call it an adventure motorcycle, albeit with a road bias to it.

2015 BMW S1000XR

2015 BMW S1000XR and it already has a nickname: Multi-Strasse

The S1000XR is expected to be very successful in Europe, with high pre-sale numbers. Perhaps it will sell well in the United States as well.  This 160hp in-line-4 motorcycle is probably catered for the rider who is coming from an in-line-4 sports motorcycle, loves in-line 4 motors, and who is getting older or simply transitioning to the adventure world and is looking for a motorcycle that would allow longer distance travel with the possibility of carrying a passenger.  This bike is for a rider who does not want a compromise on horse power and road performance while he/she enters the adventure world, hence a GS would not be an option.

Obviously this motorcycle is competing with the Multistrada and other sports/touring oriented, well established adventure motorcycles. No wonder someone has already nicknamed the BMW S1000XR as the Multistrasse.

The 2015 Multistrada incorporates fairly significant changes when compared to the 2010-2014 models. The most significant change for 2015 is on the 1200 TestaStretta motor, in which Ducati has incorporated variable valve timing (the first motorcycle with continuous variability for both intake and exhaust valves) boosting the motor’s output to 160 hp and a good chunk of increase on the torque department.  Ducati states this motor with Desmodromic Variable Timing (DVT) provides a very smooth power delivery from low RPM.

2015 Ducati Multistrada 1200

2015 Ducati Multistrada 1200

The list of changes for the 2015 Mutistrada is large, including LED headlights that change direction according to the bike’s lean angle to illuminate the inside of the curve, Bosch’s latest ABS iteration (similar to KTM’s Motorcycle Stability Control on the Adventure line), color TFT information cluster (with blue tooth interactivity for smart phones), upgraded Skyhook suspension (the semi-active suspension started with the 2013 models), and the list goes on with other updates.

New TFT color display for the 2015 Multistrada

New TFT color display for the 2015 Multistrada

In this same segment, you will also find Honda’s X line of bikes, of which we only have access to the CB500X here in the United States. We do not get the VFR800X and its larger version, the VFR1200X.  The VFR800X Crossrunner has changes in its 2015 model that made it into a better overall motorcycle, and which seems to be of a nice size and just powerful enough to deliver plenty of fun on the twisties and also be plenty of bike for long distance touring adventure.

2015 Honda VFR800X Crossrunner

2015 Honda VFR800X Crossrunner

If we don’t get the complete Honda X line, we will get Kawasaki Versys 1,000 for the first time in the United States.  The 650 Versys has also been upgraded to become more of an adventure motorcycle than its previous versions.

2015 Kawasaki Versys 650

2015 Kawasaki Versys 650

More Dirt-Ready Bikes

As mentioned earlier, “adventure” sells, and more dirt-ready adventure bikes sell better.  As new bikes are included in the street side of the adventure, traditional bikes from this group have been upgraded to a more dirt orientation. This is the case for the V-Strom 650, now getting wire wheels in its XT version.

2015 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT

2015 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT

And Aprilia Caponord has now a Rally version. Are these versions of the Suzuki V-Strom and Aprilia Caponord, with wire-wheels and all, really more suited for off-pavement riding?  Yes, they will probably do a little bit better on off pavement roads, especially because wire wheels deal better with badly maintained roads – which is what you will mostly find on round the world adventures, be those real or dreamed adventures. These bikes will certainly look better in front of the Starbucks, and that’s probably good enough for most.

2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally

2015 Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally

KTM, with its 1190 Adventure line has been approaching BMW as the benchmark for the adventure market.  KTM is a fast growing company on this segment and has been using the “adventure” word on the name of several motorcycles, including the recently launched Super Adventure motorcycle based on their 1290 cc motor, which is now the largest motor of this segment.  It is an 1190 Adventure on steroids.

2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure

2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure

What is important is that with the S1000XR, alongside the new Ducati Multistrada, the Aprilia Caponord, the KTM 1290 Super Adventure, the Suzuki and Honda models discussed above, and several other similar bikes available, riders can go on adventure rides and they can bring with them the sports bike of their choice, be that a V-Twin, a Triple, an In-line 4 or a parallel twin among other variations on the theme.

No Ordinary Adventure Motorcycle

Continuing on the marketing hype for adventure motorcycles that have a better dirt-orientation, Triumph has launched its 2015 line of the Tiger 800 line.  This bike has many upgrades from the 2011-2014 models, on electronics and on suspension, which in my opinion has improved this bike’s touring capabilities the most and with better suspension, it also improved its dirt manners.  To make sure you know their new Tigers are really off-pavement capable, they launched the “no ordinary adventure bike” campaign.

2015 Tiger 800 XCx

2015 Tiger 800 XCx

And in case you have any doubts, Triumph has included Edward Michael “Bear” Grylls, the British adventurer, writer and television presenter, in their campaign. Be like Bear, buy a Triumph.

Unleash Your Spirit of Adventure

Similar to Honda, Yamaha (or Yamaha dealers) does not make available their full line of adventure motorcycles for the United States market. We only get this large beast, the XT1200ZE Super Tenere.

2015 Yamaha XT1200ZE Super Tenere

2015 Yamaha XT1200ZE Super Tenere

Despite its weight, this hefty machine actually delivers as a large adventure bike if you don’t stray too much from the beaten path.  The Super Tenere lineage was born from Yamaha’s successful experience in the early Dakar races, when BMW, Yamaha, and Honda alternated presence in the podium.

Yamaha’s campaign is on the title of this section: unleash your spirit of adventure. They say:

Inside every one of us there is a spirit of adventure that’s just waiting to be set free. And when the urge to break out of the daily routine becomes irresistible, this high-tech explorer is ready to take you wherever you want to go.

Riders that once experienced the long discontinued XTZ 750 Super Tenere are hopeful Yamaha will eventually deliver a more adventure-ready mid-size machine. One could assume, if that is the case, it would not be unlike what Honda has been preparing to deliver this fall under the True Adventure campaign, in place of its venerable Africa Twin.

True Adventure

Certainly the most anticipated adventure motorcycle for 2015 is the much speculated successor of Honda’s Africa Twin.  Actually, Honda was perhaps the first one to bring the word “adventure” into its line of motorcycles, with the Africa Twin.  Check on the panel above the exhaust.  It says “adventure sports”.

The Original! Honda Africa Twin XRV650

The Original! Honda Africa Twin XRV650, Adventure Sports

Honda presented a pre-production model of its successor of the venerable Africa Twin under the “True Adventure” banner at the 2014 EICMA show this last fall.

Original Honda twin from 80's Dakar races, the new Africa Twin, and on the right the current Honda Dakar bike (450 CRF)

Original Honda twin from 80’s Dakar races, the new Africa Twin, and on the right the current Honda Dakar bike (450 CRF)

Independently whether this new bike will be called the New Africa Twin or some variation on the True Adventure theme, Honda’s new adventure bike has gathered lots of attention.  In its campaign for this motorcycle, Honda has launched a series of videos in which they define what a “true adventure” motorcycle should look like.

Honda's prototype of the New Africa Twin

Honda’s pre-production version of the New Africa Twin

On the first video the theme was Honda’s successful participation on the Paris Dakar race, the ultimate enduro race which originated the large enduro, now adventure motorcycles, and Honda’s Africa Twin line of motorcycles. The second video was about round the world travel with Honda motorcycles, ranging from small CT90’s and CRF250L’s to older Africa Twins.  The third video was about Honda’s return to the Dakar races in the last few years (now held in South America).  On the last Dakar race, Honda’s CRF450 enduro race bike has led several stages, challenging KTM on their decade long dominance on this event.

With the video series and the mud splattered pre-production bike Honda’s marketing seems to be setting the parameters for what their new motorcycle will be all about. They seem to be talking about a performance oriented dirt machine which will also be capable of road travel and also round the world travel.

Conclusion, if any is possible

We are pleased that many more options of our favorite type of motorcycles are available today than it did some 10 years ago.  Based on motorcycles being launched in 2015, we now have more motorcycles with an adventure capability, ranging from a good assortment of bikes with a road bias, as well as more motorcycles with better dirt riding capacity.

Adventure motorcycles live on some compromise between their road and dirt manners. If a rider’s sense of adventure is really about going out of the beaten path, they can pick one of the smaller bikes available, although smaller bikes are not where the industry seems to be going.  If it is about going the distance, unencumbered by wind and weather challenges, and with a passenger, the rider can pick one of the larger bikes, where most adventure motorcycle models are available. If it is about the bike’s performance off pavement, there are several bikes with a 21 inch front wheel and with longer suspension travel – an area where this segment seems to be growing with new models becoming available.  If the rider wants to bring a sports motorcycle along in an adventure trip, there are plenty of exciting new bikes being offered that will deliver the power the rider is used to and it will still allow the rider to bring his/her camping gear along.

What is important is that the rider matches his/her riding style and riding objectives the best, knowing that most any motorcycle is capable of taking her/him on a round the world adventure or a weekend camping trip.

Based on our very non-scientific observations, the most common bike for solo adventures seems to be the Suzuki DR650. When carrying a passenger, the BMW 1200GS seems to be the most popular bike.  Let’s see how these new bikes being offered will fit or modify these trends.

I always keep in mind a quote from Sir Edmund Hillary:

It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.

Enjoy your adventure motorcycle and may your adventure, whatever it is, take you to a higher level in life.

Posted in Bike Reviews | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

2015 Motorcycles: more power, more adventure, more scramble – Part 1: More Power

We are well into 2015 and we now have a reasonable idea of what will be popular on motorcycle showrooms come spring. This year is shaping up to be the year of the 200hp benchmark in the Superbike world.  The adventure market is showing its continued growth with yet more bikes coming to market, we are also seeing several important upgrades on the range of available adventure bikes and we anticipate the launch of Honda’s new adventure bike this fall as a 2016 model. However, the largest growth and vitality to the motorcycle market for 2015 could be a back to basics trend, at the scrambler side of things. Let’s re-discover the joy of riding, it seems to be telling us.

This is a first of three posts where I will discuss and highlight 2015 motorcycles in three areas: more power will cover a selected group of 2015 superbikes; more adventure will cover the latest trends in the top segment of the adventure bikes; and last, but definitely not least, in more scramble we will talk about hot new scramblers reaching the market and what could it mean for the industry!

More Power: Superbikes and the 200 hp Club

Why would you want to climb Mount Everest? people often ask climbers. Invariably his or her answer will be: because it is there. Same answer could be applied to motorcycle power. When I had my Honda XL250, with less than 20hp, I thought it had all the power I would ever need on a motorcycle. It was plenty good to jump ahead from a line of cars when that light turned green on a city traffic situation. Little did I know, although even then I innocently suspected a 350cc would be a better XL bike, how once I went up on the power ladder I experienced one other side about motorcycle riding, the experience of an engine’s power, and how addictive can it be.

Still, you don’t need to climb Mt. Everest to experience the thrill of mountain climbing. Any good mid-size street bike today will reach three digit speeds in very few seconds and the vast majority of riders will never push their bikes to their limit, or even when they do, it may only happen on a closed track with the appropriate gear and supports.  The bottom line, however, is that power has always been the ultimate yard stick that defines who is on top of the food chain.  The motorcycle industry is not an exception to the competitive nature that makes us humans. After all, horse and camel racing dates back from before cars and motorcycles were ever imagined.

I’m only stating the obvious here and I type these words on a mood ranging from contemplative to celebratory, if these two moods can be put together in the same gradient.  Contemplative because one ought to ask: where do we go from here? Well, we already know we only need $50K and we can buy a turn-key 300hp motorcycle, although it is a track-only machine, you can wonder what is next? Celebratory because, well, the trickle down of technology from the race to the regular customer has reached a point where there is now a good the number of bikes reaching and crossing the 200hp line in 2015 and which not priced too far out of the park. Not that 200hp means really anything – it is just a nice round number – but not unlike when people talked about the “ton”, to describe the machines that reached 100mph – and that was quite the accomplishment several decades ago!

So, what are these superbikes we are talking about? Starting from the top, the highest peak to climb, the popular sensation on the international motorcycle shows this last fall was the Ninja H2 and particularly its H2R version. These bikes are about absolute power.  In its H2 form (street version) the Ninja makes 207HP from its 998cc 4-cylinder in-line motor thanks mostly to a supercharger.

2015 Ninja H2

2015 Ninja H2

The H2 comes with a suite of electronic riding aids, as it is expected these days.  I would say it is almost a requirement at that power level: traction control, launch control, engine brake control, anti-locking brakes, quick shifter, and an electronic steering damper by Öhlins.  At 525lbs, it is not the lightest superbike out there, but who will really notice that when you twist that throttle? The price tag for all of this is US$25,000 – quite expensive, Ducati level dollars here – but it is not going to be a mass produced machine.

2015 Kawasaki Ninja H2

2015 Kawasaki Ninja H2

In its H2R version, at US$50,000 you pay the price for a 48.5lbs diet and an extra 100hp give or take over the H2. At just above 300hp this machine will reach an insane 210 mph.  Remember though, it is a track-only machine, and sales will be mostly directed at collectors and amateur racers. 

A Detour for Design Obervations: A few journalists observed on this bike the design cues reminiscing of a certain European superbike on the H2.  I can see what they are talking about.  Interpretations of the original never end up as good as the original, although the H2 will certainly demand a double take as it passes you by on the street. The fact that the H2 reminds us of the Panigale proves the point that the Panigale deserves its Compasso D’Oro prestigious award as it remains the one that established a new design paradigm.

If not for its design, the H2 demonstrates Japanese manufacturers are back at the leading edge of things motorcycle, leap-frogging past the European manufacturers on the power department. No other large motorcycle manufacturer offers a supercharged production bike!  And although the H2 street version is rated at “only” about 207 HP, you and I know tuners have a recipe to follow.  They need only to look at the H2R to know they can reach higher numbers for its street version.  It could be insane.

The European Crew: While the H2 and H2R are a paradigm shift on raw power for production motorcycles based on the use of a supercharger, the Europeans followed, for the most part, a more evolutionary model for increased performance for 2015: slight power gain combined with slight weight losses on established models.

The Panigale gained incremental power and, as is Ducati’s tradition, evolved some more into the lightness of being.  We can actually say the word “leggera” is always on the Ducati engineers’ mind, or any Italian motorcycle or automobile engineer for that matter. Outside of Moto Guzzi, that is.  To achieve more power the Panigale gained about 100cc’s of displacement, and got re-badged as 1299.  The 1299S model is rated at 205HP in a 420lbs ready to ride package, according to Ducati. The Panigale 1299S price starts at US$25,000, not your run of the mill machine.

2015 Ducati Panigale 1299S

2015 Ducati Panigale 1299S

In its R version, the Panigale retained its 1198cc motor (to homologate Ducati’s World Superbike race machine) but power is also rated at 205HP on a 406lbs package ready to ride (90% of fuel in the tank).  Starting at US$33,995 this track only bike will end up on very few homes, not unlike the H2R.

2015 Panigale R

2015 Ducati Panigale R

In BMW’s camp, the successful S1000RR gained 6hp to reach 199hp and it happens on a 450lbs ready to ride package, that is 75lbs lighter than the H2. Although not quite reaching the 200hp club, the BMW is actually a bargain when compared to the above bikes, at a starting price of US$15,500 (with ABS) it is surprisingly affordable.  However, you have to live with “only” 199hps.  I’m sure some basic tuning will get you that one extra hp if you are so adamant about rules and want to join the imaginary 200hp club.

2015 BMW S1000RR

2015 BMW S1000RR

Then we have the Aprilia RSV4 RR.  This reigning superbike champion would not miss its ticket to the 200hp club!  Besides gaining one more letter to its alphabet soup name, it  gained 16hp to its V4 motor and is now rated at 201hp. Subtract to that a fractional 3 pounds of weight it lost during the winter and voilà.  The looks do not disappoint either, with only slight modifications from the previous year, it is still a sharp looking bike.  It is also available on an Aprilia Race Pack including forged wheels and Öhlins suspension.

2015 Aprilia RSV4 RR

2015 Aprilia RSV4 RR

Back to Japan, there is Yamaha. At US$16,490 the 2015 R1 street-legal race bike will have a lightweight aluminum frame and an all-new 998cc four-cylinder engine that is expected to put out some 200 horsepower at the crankshaft.  Looks good.

2015 Yamaha YZF-R1

2015 Yamaha YZF-R1

Overall, it is a nice club with a good group of bikes for riders craving power.  The popular sensation of this group is, no doubt, the Kawasaki and its supercharger motor. How many people will actually buy the H2 bike?  And for what purpose? Kawasaki and the other manufacturers on this exclusive club are well aware these bikes are for a select group of riders, people who, like the top mountain climbers, will want to experience no less a thrill than climbing the Everest of motorcycle power. If this purchase will serve for their owners to simply add a notch on their belts or for them to experience power in its various shapes it shouldn’t matter.

As mentioned earlier, the real unanswered question, though, is: where do we go from here? Is there going to be a reset button or will power gains continue to climb? Or how popular these bikes will be?

What we know is that technology is not a limitation for power north of 200HP for motorcycles, and of these powerful bikes become more popular, that could mean more bikes at this power range could become available, and more people will be riding such machines.

Not an answer to the question, but a recent Cycle Word interview with KTM Boss Stefan Pierer may point to either a need for self restraint from manufacturers to continue developing these bikes and making them available for the street or perhaps that legislators could be imposing limits soon.  Here is what Stefan Pierer had to say about the 200HP issue (quote from Cycle Word, Vol. 52, Issue 7, Page 79, February 18th, 2015):

(…) I’ve been working for 15 years as President or Vice-President of ACEM (The Motorcycle Industry in Europe), the European industry organization. And I think if the politicians in Brussels had their choice, they would forbid motorcycles to use the public roads. They would like to ban us completely. But let’s be honest, if your Superbike is reaching 200 horsepower or more, it’s impossible to argue that it belongs on the street.  It really doesn’t anymore.

What we can say is that reaching and surpassing the 200 HP mark is something to celebrate as these several bikes become available in 2015, showing what technology has allowed us to achieve and how it can be made available tot he public in reasonably affordable motorcycles.

However, it also calls the attention to legislators and their perspective on what can be considered an exaggeration.  Who really needs 200 horsepower for street riding? The KTM CEO seems to be on task here and he clearly understands the safety side of this issue and possible repercussions of reaching this historical mark. That doesn;t mean KTM won;t develop a 200 HP motorcycle. On the same article he states a successor of the RC8 V-twin will be produced. Just that, he states, it will not be homologated for sale as a street bike. Expect that KTM Superbike to be ready for 2016 when the standard electronic systems rules will implemented on Moto GP.

The question remains: where do we go from here?

Soon we will have the next post on this series, More Adventure! where we will cover what’s new in the Adventure world for 2015.  It is a segment that continues to grow and consolidate to a point where you could say it now faces an identity crisis! What is an Adventure Motorcycle?

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Honda True Adventure – Episode 2 – Live Unlike the Others

The second installment of what will likely be a series of videos Honda will be releasing in preparation for the launch of its “True Adventure” motorcycle, or line of motorcycles, is out.

On the first video Honda showed footage of the original Paris-Dakar races, videos of the motorcycles that would give origin to the Africa Twin motorcycle.  Close to the end of that video they found a way to quickly connect Dakar racing with adventure riding, the road that put the Africa Twin motorcycle on the map, pun intended. And from there to “Adventure” riding and now what seems to be an important element on Honda’s marketing for this new bike: round the world travel (RTW), whatever it means.

A pattern is emerging, it seems.  On this second installment it is only about RTW riding, portraying mostly small single cylinder bikes (a few C90’s a couple of CRF250L’s and one exception, an old XRV750 Africa Twin).  If Honda is preparing a line of “True Adventure” motorcycles, perhaps one of them will be set up for long distance travel. Perhaps it will be a single cylinder, smaller bike. Or they want you to believe a parallel twin from Honda will do it well on long adventure rides.  Either way, they are drawing a path that is clearly different (…unlike the others.) than BMW’s RTW, adventure campaign with Ewan and Charlie and their travel crew and support vehicles.

Small is good for RTW travel, especially for the smelling of the flowers part of if travel. For the one who like that part of it, of course.

Honda C90: Small is good for RTW travel, especially for the smelling of the flowers issue.  Kidding aside, small bikes are practical, some would say disposable, making travel in certain parts of the world more doable.

This second video depicts footage of round the world travelers in exotic places and features these travelers talking about their RTW experiences. Most of the quotes sound cliche. Not quite cute, not quite new. The last quote in this video mentioned “if you go, you will not come back the same” and the cynical in me remembered a quote from Yvonne Chouinard (Patagonia):

The goal of climbing big, dangerous mountains should be to attain some sort of spiritual and personal growth, but this won’t happen if you compromise away the entire process.

There is a version of this quote that Yvonne mentions in the 180 degrees South film which is a bit more colorful and there is more emphasis on the “compromise away” of the process and how it waters down the experience.  You could translate that, for example, for the supported way of going round the world on a motorcycle, as in “The Long Way Round” and the “Long Way Down.” Nothing wrong with supported riding, I would say.  Charlie and Ewan were very successful in what they did, and so has been BMW.  Today you can hire organizations who will prepare the trip for you and guide you on the trip .  It is a way to experience RTW travel on motorcycle without giving up your career. Yet.

Contrasting to this, however, there are plenty of BMW riders riding the world on new or old BMW motorcycles, following their own path in a way that is not unlike what Honda seems to be proposing from what we depict from this last video. It is a different path. I mentioned the corny and common place, cliche quotes throughout this last video. But there was one quote that was very different and to me reached out further than all the others together.  It was displayed at the opening of the video in which could be another emerging pattern for these series of videos, which are the quotes attributed to Soichiro Honda himself:

The value of life can be measured by how many times your soul has been deeply stirred

There is nothing wrong about small light-weight bikes or even large and heavy bikes which require large fuel tanks, or whatever people interpret as RTW motorcycles.  RTW riding, after all, can be a soul searching type of riding, no questions about it, even if that is not what you were searching when you set out for a long trip.  We all know the travelers’ quotes included in this video are cliche but we also know they are relevant, most of us would say.

Having said I’m hopeful the next video installment will go back to the other side of Honda’s True Adventure: the desert racing side of it on motorcycles that are powerful, have great suspension, and go well on fast, desert riding… that, my friends, will deeply stir my soul.

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Ducati 2015 World Premiere

Perhaps this post is not going to speak to most readers. After all, we are all about the motorcycle itself, the riding experience, the specific characteristics of the motorcycle and here I propose to talk about something different, although still about motorcycles.  I’m an economist by training and besides my passion for riding I also have a passion for discovering and understanding what’s behind a success story.  I like to observe and study market trends and make projections from these analyses.  I like to study marketing strategies, dissect them to see how new ideas emerge, how they became mainstream. You have probably already observed a tendency I have to write a few words beyond the motorcycle itself and talk about the segment where the motorcycle resides, for example.

The point of this post is to go over Ducati’s 2015 World Premiere at the EICMA in Milano and discuss what I considered a lesson in marketing by Ducati’s CEO, Claudio Domenicali. It may not speak to you, or you don’t care about the Ducati brand. That’s all fine.  But maybe you are interested in knowing more about marketing strategies, corporate identify, product development? Claudio made it very simple and personal, touched all the critical points of the Ducati brand and family of products, good or bad, including the recent negotiations with the workers union in the Borgo Panigale plant.

You can see and hear the entire event for yourselves and reach your own conclusions. Below is the video from when the event was streamed life the day before EICMA opened to the public.  By the way, Claudio announced future world premieres will be broadcast on similar fashion as a way to better connect with the Ducati community.

Below are some highlights.

On all product presentations Claudio talked about the people at Ducati. He was talking directly to them, as well as to the Ducatisti around the world.

Some updates: Ducati now employs in Borgo Panigale and its subsidiaries in Brazil and Thailand, 1400 people.  Ducati started assembling motorcycles in 1946, Claudio announced that in 2014 Ducati assembled its 1,000,000th motorcycle. And in 2014 they will have delivered the highest number of motorcycles in a year, with more than 45,000 motorcycles projected to be distributed worldwide this year. He portrayed the company as a vibrant unit, a company in expansion.

He also celebrated the brand’s care about design, and its win of the Compasso D’Oro prize, the most prestigious prize about design, which was given to the 1199 Panigale in 2014, the first motorcycle to ever win that prize.

He also talked about the challenges in negotiating with the union, but celebrated the agreement recently reached and pointed to their presence in the audience. He also talked about the difficult years in Moto GP, where Ducati has been visibly struggling. But he talked about the new Ducati Corse General Manager, Luigi Dall’Igna, and how much progress has been achieved since he joined Ducati. He also brought to the stage the two riders Andrea Iannonne and Andrea Dovizioso and celebrated Dovizioso’s pole position at Montegi.

Before introducing the new products Claudio reminded the audience about the three values of the Ducati brand:

  • Style
  • Sophistication, and
  • Performance

He also introduced the new brand within  Ducati, the Scrambler Ducati brand. A new brand, with its own logo, its own product line, and its own values.  It will be more than a motorcycle, as they will sell with it all sorts of riding apparel.  Ducati has been selling branded riding apparel for many years, but with the new Scrambler Ducati brand it has become more clear how their business model involves much more than the motorcycle itself. Here are the values for the Scrambler Ducati:

  • Free-spirit
  • Fun, and
  • Self-Expression

Claudio explained this new brand as an opportunity to expand the Ducati motorcycles to a different kind of rider.  Or even to non-riders, bringing the idea of riding to people who are not the traditional Ducati riders or even people who have never ridden before.

2015 crambler Icon - photo courtesy Ducati and Asphalt and Rubber

2015 crambler Icon – photo courtesy Ducati

The vice president of marketing  introduced the Scrambler motorcycle by telling its history, from 1962, when the Scrambler was born as a request from an American motorcycle distributor, to 1975 when it stopped being made.  He described the values of the 60’s and 70’s, and how these values are extremely contemporary today.  He sold the product itself and its vast line of accessories, more products, which will allow this motorcycle to be customized from four starting points (the Icon, Urban Enduro, Full Throttle, and Classic models).  And beyond that he presented the line of clothing, riding apparel, including helmets that will be sold with the new brand.  This is a large investment, and I have a feeling it will pay off. They mentioned this is a starting point for something that will have a long life within Ducati.  They are certainly energized by this product.

One interesting comment to make about the Scrambler is that people in motorcycle forums have discussed how small the Scrambler seems to be or really is (some people have already seen it life).  When the four motorcycles were brought to the stage during the premiere, they were ridden by four guys that have been directly involved in the bike’s development (accessories development manager, project manager, engineer and designer), and they all seem to be at least 6ft tall.

Going back to the Ducati brand, back to style, sophistication and performance, one of the highlights for 2015 is the Diavel Titanium, which will be limited to 500 production units, similar to the Panigale Leggera.  It will probably be a very expensive machine, with high end materials (Titanium , of course, carbon fiber, and others) and several components and paint customized especially for this bike, including a set of forged wheels. If you like exclusivity, that’s the way to go.

2015 Limited Production Diavel Titanium - Only 500 units will be commercialized

2015 Limited Production Diavel Titanium – Only 500 units will be commercialized

Another highlight is the 1299 Panigale, coming in three versions: The Panigale 1299 , the Panigale S and the Panigale R, all of course, with the superquadro engine.  The 1299 models have a 100cc increase in displacement from the previous model and are now reaching more 205hp at 10,500rpm. This is quite the machine, with a whole host of eletronic riding aids, including Öhlins suspension with electronic compression and rebound damping adjustment with semi-active mode.

2015 1299 Panigale

2015 1299 Panigale

The Panigale R is a different animal. This is actually a 1198, although still at 205hp.  The idea baout this bike is to be within the Superbike’s EVO rules which has pushed for the return of the homologation special, the very small production line of very specialized motorcycles at very high prices. The Panigale R is Ducati’s homologation motorcycle.

2015 Panigale R - an 1198cc special production for Superbike homologation purposes

2015 Panigale R – an 1198cc special production Panigale for Superbike homologation purposes

The final product presented was the 2015 Multistrada.  Claudio presented the new Multistrada under Ducati’s belief in accurate design and technological innovation. Despite the strong similarity with the 2010-12 and the 2013-14 models, the 2015 is a completely new motorcycle. And it’s key difference starts with a small part, the camshaft phaser, which is at the heart of the new motor, the Desmodromic Variable Timing (DVT) motor. Ducati’s DVT is a first on a motorcycle to have variable timing on both the intake and exhaust valves.

2015 1200 Multistrada S with Testastretta DVT Motor

2015 1200 Multistrada S with Testastretta DVT Motor

There are many other updates to this new Multistrada.  We already presented the new motor in detail, as well as some of the anticipated changes to this new model. We will discuss the new specs in more detail on an upcoming post. The list is rather long, this bike deserves a post on its own.

Overall, we wanted to give you a summary on Ducati’s marketing through its way of communicating with its customers on this world premiere.  It was well delivered and at high standards of professionalism, but it always felt very personal, like he was talking directly to each one of us. Nothing like having the CEO of the company be the guy leading the conversation, delivering the products, and as a result demonstrating his engagement with the company’s business and its products, the customers, and his team of staff. The overall impression is that of commitment to the company’s values, renewed efforts on technological improvements, and continued growth.

Introduction of the Scrambler to the team at the Ducati plant in Borgo Panigale.

Ducati and Scrabler Ducati logos red and yellow side by side.

The branching off of Ducati via the Scrambler Ducati is an ambitious project, and the results no doubt will come. There will be a lot of yellow on your local Ducati dealer coming up this spring with a new family of products that will take the Ducati brand, in its Scrambler guise, to people who have not had a Ducati before, and people to whom the Scrambler will be their first bike.

Well done Ducati, well done Claudio Domenicali.  That was a great format to deliver new products and it highlights a company who is proud of its line of products and is committed to a growing set of loyal customers they know well, the Ducatisti.  And now be ready, they will also Scramble you.

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Honda True Adventure – Episode 1 – The Dream

Honda’s build up for their new Adventure bike has started.  First it was about giving away specs about a rumored bike here and there – journalists claiming they received the information from “Honda insiders.”  Maybe the information circulating was not intentionally given away, but it happened. And the information circulated across all corners of the world and helped feed the frenzy. Great marketing so far.

Original Honda twin from 80's Dakar races, the new Africa Twin, and on the right the current Honda Dakar bike (450 CRF)

Original Honda twin from 80’s Dakar races, the new Africa Twin, and on the right the current Honda Dakar bike (450cc)

Second was the presentation of a prototype on the EICMA 2014 show in Milan, under a “True Adventure” title.  No details were given whatsoever but the bike shared the stage with a 1980’s Dakar winner that became the Africa Twin and a current single 450cc Dakar bike.  It’s just there for everyone to see and photograph and speculate about it.  Great marketing again.

Now they are releasing what appears to be a series of videos titled True Adventure.  Here is episode 1, The Dream.

EICMA’s “True Adventure” and the message on this first video could be all surrounding the launch of one motorcycle, the new Africa Twin (which could be renamed). Since the time Honda stopped producing the Africa Twin in the 90’s I believe, Honda has effectively left the adventure segment and has been mostly selling watered-down road version bikes with adventure styling, what is now the X line (CB500X, VFR800X – Crossrunner and VFR1200X – Crosstourer) or small and mid-size dual-sport single cylinder motorcycles.

With the “True Adventure” strategy Honda could be mounting a come back to this market with something more than the Africa Twin.  They could be working, for example, on a team of serious enduro bikes under the “True Adventure”  moniker, bikes that would run parallel to their current “X” line of adventure-styled motorcycles. What if they would have an Elsinore as a smaller adventure bike (could be a single cylinder), and a new Transalp, which would be a touring oriented adventure bike with a 19 inch front wheel, and finally the true enduro bike, the Africa Twin, the top of the line, the one with the rumored 1,000cc parallel twin, 270 degree crankshaft.  That’s just speculation from our part, of course. At the end of the day we will be happy if all this build up and marketing campaign is only for the new Africa Twin. That’s the bike we want to see. And ride!

The Episode 1 video talks about Honda’s commitment for racing and for building competitive motorcycles, and the dream for making things happen.  To highlight this message they go so far as using a quote by Soichiro Honda.  It is a good build up for a new direction, or a renewed dream.

The video also includes actual footage of Dakar races won by Honda motorcycles. You will also see at least two strategically placed close-up shots of modern Brembo calipers – a hint for things to come, a motorcycle with a good set of high end components. The video also shows video footage and photos of present day, round-the-world riders traveling on Honda motorcycles, which is what we used to think about a possible range of motorcycles to come under Honda’s new “True Adventure” brand.

In summary, this video series seems like another great marketing strategy from Honda. They are building momentum which is something to be expected and commensurate for, at a minimum, bringing the legendary Africa Twin back to life. In other words, we interpret the presentation at EICMA and this video as a sign that real and serious things are to come from Honda on the adventure side of the spectrum.

Fasten your seat belts!  We will be following this soap opera up closely as the “True Adventure” story unfolds.

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The Honda Africa Twin is REALLY Back! Sort of…

There you go my friends, time to end one set of rumors… and start another. Under the title “True Adventure”  Honda showed three bikes at the EICMA 2014 event in Milan this week.  On one side a 1980’s Honda Twin Dakar racer – the one that eventually became the iconic Africa Twin, on another side Honda’s current Dakar race bike (450 cc single), and on center stage, covered in mud, a prototype of a bike that seems to include elements of the other two.

Original Honda twin from 80's Dakar races, the new Africa Twin, and on the right the current Honda Dakar bike (450 CRF)

True Adventure: Original Honda twin from the late 80’s Dakar races on the left, the new Africa Twin on the center, and on the right the current Honda 450cc Dakar bike.

We can’t go wrong by saying this prototype, or something very close to it, will be Honda’s new Africa Twin – which is now rumored to be out by the fall of 2015.  We are one step closer to the final product!

New Africa Twin prototype

New Africa Twin prototype

And from what we can see from these official images, and in our opinion, Honda nailed it! We are making some assumptions here, of course, when we imagine this will be a true enduro machine.  But everything seems to point to it.

Honda's prototype of the New Africa Twin

Honda’s prototype of the New Africa Twin

Other than this stage set up with the two Dakar bikes and the official Honda promo photos of this bike we are sharing here, nothing else has been said about this bike so far and as far as we know. That is, this bike under a camouflage paint scheme and dried up mud is all we have so far.  So we are back to rumors, but now we have rumors fed by images coming from Honda itself.

So let’s use these images provided by Honda to pick this bike apart and make some sense out of it.

1. Two airboxes? The bike has two air scoops high up on each side of the front fairings and flanking the tank sides.

Left side air intake

Left side air intake

This goes well with the rumors we discussed here on previous posts about this bike, where we presented Honda’s patent on a two-part airbox system, to be mounted on either side of the tank and replacing the traditional location of an airbox, which in general occupies a large portion of space in the middle of the bike, below the fuel tank and seat, and on top of the engine.

Honda Patent on Aircleaner

Honda Patent on Aircleaner

There is hope for something especial on this department, with fuel more in the center of the bike and lower perhaps even under the seat.  At the same time, it makes it easier to maintain the air cleaner, or cleaners, we should say.  This is something important and practical for a bike that will be ridden often on the dirt.

Right side air intake

Right side air intake

2. Two radiators and an oil cooler. It has also been mentioned here before that this bike would have two radiators, mounted on either side of the fairings. That has been confirmed as well. And an oil cooler is added to the equation (peg side of the bike).

Two radiators and an oil cooler

Two radiators and what appears to be an oil cooler

3. Frame and sub-frame in one piece. This is somewhat of a controversial idea, when considering there is “adventure” on the title of this bike’s presentation.  But I consider it good because we shouldn’t use rigid bags on real adventure bikes. And a one-piece frame certainly works well for a rally/enduro machine.

Frame and subframe in one piece. Aluminum?

Frame & subframe in one piece. Aluminum?  Seems like boot marks on the frame, good sign if it means it is a running prototype!

Looking at other mid-range bikes, the worst bike on this frame scenario is the Tiger 800XC, which has a single frame, but it has passenger pegs welded to it.  Why is it an issue? When the pegs hit the ground, and this is something that happens since bikes hit the ground, and with pegs protruding quite a lot they become a leverage point, and it has been cases when they bend the frame, and then the bike has become a total loss (in the United States that is the case).  BMW F800GS has a bolted subframe to the bike, and that is the case for most adventure bikes. You bend it, you change the subframe. Done!  But on this Honda prototype, despite the single frame, the passenger pegs are a bolt-on affair (they are not included on this prototype – but you can see the holes).

An advantage? Yes, several: lighter frame, a more rigid frame, and you don’t ever need to worry about subframe bolts coming lose. And lose they come and what a mess it is when they do in the field and you rode for miles with the lose bolt eating threads.

Two recommendations: remove the passenger pegs and use soft bags for true adventure rides on this bike and the frame will likely never bother you.  That is the typical use for aggressive or real off road riding, anyway.

Single frame

Single frame

Someone from the press has mentioned this is an aluminum frame.  Good, it helps keep the weight of this bike low. And adds even more rigidity to it. Good again.

4. Parallel Twin Motor. None of the photos give a good idea about the cylinders’ portion of the motor. But from the account of people who saw it life, it is likely a parallel twin motor.  The size? From what we can see on the images, the cylinders seem smaller than what you would expect if they are side by side and each one of them displaces 500cc.  But then, it can be a long stroke motor, which would go well with the idea of a lower rev torquey motor. If that is the case, it seems close to the rumored 1,000cc, perhaps slightly less.  Or, on a more far fetched speculation, but based on rumors on the internet (and we know internet information counts, right? we are all in it after all) it could be that this is the smaller version of the bike, the 500cc Elsinore version of the new “True Adventure” Honda line.  And it could even be a single cylinder motor, if you want to go to the extreme of what is possible based on the photos.  We know the photos clearly show two headers, but there are plenty of single cylinder motors with two exhaust headers.

Peg-side view of the bike

Peg-side view of the bike

And if we go by what the older rumors indicated, this should be a 1000cc motor and would have a 270 degree crankshaft angle, making things more interesting for a parallel twin. Eventually we will know more about this very important part of the motorcycle.

5. Dual-clutch automatic transmission – DCT.  Right, you and I may be the only two who do not quite appreciate this. But I bet Honda will provide a manual transmission version. Well, they should! Nothing wrong with DCT, just that one of our true moments of joy when riding a motorcycle is the actual shifting job, clutch in, clutch out in the blink of an eye.  We understand DCT may be more efficient and does a better job than humans can in terms of gear changes.  But shifting is not a safety issue like ABS or Traction Control are, and which are items we appreciate on a motorcycle.  Shifting is simply fun and it is a great part of the riding experience in our opinion.

Where's the shifter? DCT on board.

Where’s the shifter? DCT on board.

6. Wheels 21 front, 18 rear. This bike has the wheel sizes for a true enduro machine. We hope those wheels remain on this size on the final product. Lots of aggressive dirt tire options for this wheel combo.  This could be another indicative of the seriousness of this bike for dirt applications, a true rally/adventure machine.

Pirelli Scorpion Rally Tires, Rear tire at 140/80 18

Pirelli Scorpion Rally Tires, Rear tire at 140/80 18 (notice ABS ring)

7. Suspension Travel.  Difficult to elaborate on it.

Front forks, about 7 inches of travel.

Front forks, about 7 inches of travel.

The radius of a 21 inch wheel is 10.5 inches and is measured from the center of the axle to the inside of the  rim.  With that perspective in mind, the visible area of the fork, as seen on the above photo, should measure some 7-8 inches, add unladen sag, maybe it has about 9 inches of travel.

8. Round headlights, like the original. That’s what it appears to be. Under the larger glass area that has some geometric shape to it with somewhat straight lines, we can see round headlights.  That is a nice touch!

Right side air intake

Round headlights behind the geometric shape of the glass area

Other observations:

Lots of enduro-styled design elements: nice wide pegs, seat looks good as a one piece in a single swoop, tall handle bars, nice tall perch for a GPS.

Tall handlebars, nice tall perch for GPS

Tall handlebars, nice tall perch for GPS

Also it has a tall rally/dakar styled screen which seems to be adjustable on height and angle.

Windscreen seems to be adjustable

Windscreen seems to be adjustable

The rear wheel sensor ring indicates ABS will be available, as we would expect. Nothing has been mentioned abut tank size and nothing can really be judged about its size considering the speculation about the air cleaners being up high on the bike on the sides of the tank. Except we can say it is not a large, bulky tank, which is a good thing (if it takes 5 gallons of gasoline for a 200 miles of range, that is).

General Conclusion

What can we say? Overall it seems the photos give an impression of this being a serious off-road machine. Wheel sizes, the frame, the dimensions and ergos, the style, from what we can see, it all points out to a machine that would look comfortable at speed on the desert.

Rumored specs (from several months before EICMA 2014):

  • 200kg / 440lbs (fueled) // 180kg / 396lbs (dry)
  • 20L / 5.3 gallon fuel capacity
  • Parallel twin engine, 1000cc
  • 100hp
  • 250mm / 9.8in suspension
  • 21” front / 17” rear - On the bike presented at EICMA, it is an 18 inch rear wheel
  • Offroad-designed ABS brakes
  • Offroad-designed traction control

The exhaust on the prototype seems a bit on the “race” side of the equation. So one can imagine this will be modified somewhat, and it should have a cat converter at some point, if it is not on the muffler itself.

The real deal! Will it really be made?

The real deal! Will it really be made?

We know a final product will be different than what we see in these pictures, the older  speculations seem to have proven to not be fully correct, as one could expect, so here we are, like many of you across the world, waiting for more information from Honda about this bike, their plans, when they will be available and all that fun stuff.

Overall the general theme offered by this bike is a great one and we hope Honda sticks to it! We should say Honda is finally showing it has the courage to build something that will not only look good in front of a Starbucks, but which is fit for the desert like no other bike since the KTM 990 Adventure and SE stopped being made – and it seems, and we hope it should actually be better than the KTM. It seems like a real enduro/rally machine for the serious hobbyist that will hangout with this bike in a tent in the middle of nowhere. True adventure, right Honda? By the way, this bike puts the X line in its proper place: adventure-styled touring machines designed for tarmac roads and good gravel roads.

If Honda will really build this bike, if it will have this general shape, and the dimensions will be close to the previously rumored specifications, it will have a regular 6-speed manual gear box as an option, this bike is likely going to sell well on our corner of the world when (and if) it becomes available in the United States.

Honda's prototype of the New Africa Twin

Honda’s prototype of the New Africa Twin

Given those conditions above, we are likely to acquire this machine despite the fact that its beakless and somewhat rounded front end looks a bit like Hiccup’s pet dragon…

Hiccup's pet dragon

Hiccup’s pet dragon and the Honda Prototype: separated at birth

Updates will be posted on this site as they become available.

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The 2015 Multistrada will be revealed at EICMA: What we already know about it.

Several spy photos of a typically disguised motorcycle have been circulating on the internet pointing us out to what the 2015 Multistrada will look like.

2015 Multistrada

2015 Multistrada

Judging by the photos and what we already know about its new motor, the 2015 bike has incorporated enough revisions to make it a totally new bike.  Although the general shape is still there, there are changes everywhere on this bike, from the motor, to the frame, to the seat, and to some subtle design elements everywhere. Nothing was spared, it seems.

A New Motor

The changes start with the most important component, the heart of the new machine, a totally new motor and this is perhaps the most radical change to this bike.  And actually it is the most radical change to Ducati’s L-twin motors since the development of the superquadro motor of the Panigale, we comfortably risk saying.  On our previous article we covered the Desmodromic Variable Timing (DVT) motor in detail, using official information provided by Ducati.  We can summarize by saying that the output numbers generated by this motor are really impressive.

1200 Testasretta DVT in numbers

1200 Testasretta DVT in numbers

Comparing with the two previous Testastretta generations, we know this new motor is a good step up in performance.  We see a 7% increase in HP, an 8% reduction on fuel consumption, and our favorite one, a 9% increase on torque values.

The Evolution of the Multistrada Testastretta motors

The Evolution of the Multistrada Testastretta motors

But we also want to direct your attention to one number and parameter on the Ducati’s specs, the -78% IMEP COV.  It is something that we have not seen discussed anywhere on forums and reviewers of this motor so far. What is IMEP COV, a “smoothness index” Ducati says?  And what a 78% reduction may represent from a rider’s perspective?

IMEP COV = Coefficient of Variation in Indicated Mean Effective Pressure

IMEP COV = Coefficient of Variation in Indicated Mean Effective Pressure

Of all variables posted by Ducati, IMEP COV shows the largest gain for the DVT motor. Because Ducati thought it important enough to publish IMEP COV numbers we decided to investigate more about it.  It is not something sexy like HP, or something serious like torque, or something practical like fuel economy. But it is a fundamental parameter on engine development. Touted as a “smoothness index”  by Ducati, our short and superficial research led us to some important and interesting findings.

All of us have learned along the years that fuel injection motors when combined with strict emissions standards have pushed motors towards operating at the lean side of the spectrum, making certain motorcycles, especially single and twin-cylinder bikes but not exclusive to them, practically unrideable at low RPM speeds.  That was especially the case for the first version of the 1200 Testastretta 11 degrees motor. Owners of those bikes spent thousands of dollars, and we are not exaggerating here, on full exhaust systems, re-programmed ECUs, dynamometer time, and some other home tuning gadgets to resolve this issue. And it never completely cured the problem. Despite some improvement on engine stability from all this aftermarket work, the hesitation at low RPMs and abruptness off idle was always there.

The dual spark motor of the 2013-14 models showed great improvement on this issue.  When we tested the 2013 bike in comparison to a 2010 bike we noticed considerable improvements on the motor’s rideability.  The dual sparks associated with a changed angle of the fuel injection and an auxiliary air valve improved burning efficiency at low RPM which in turn improved the fluidity of the motor at low RPMs while increasing torque at the same time. Although the torque increase on the 2013 model was really small, it specifically improved torque delivery at low RPMs. And that motor also improved fuel efficiency by a good 10%.

But with the DVT motor Ducati is raising this bar to a much higher level, presenting this 78% reduction of IMEP COV which we assume is a figure derived from a comparison to the already improved dual spark motor.

Engineers the world over have been designing motors on the envelope determined by three main conflicting sets of variables: more torque and power; better fuel efficiency and lower carbon emissions; while maintaining the motor’s running stability.  ECU-based fuel management systems have optimized motors to expand the limit of lean burn operation to improve fuel efficiency and reduce exhaust gas emissions without compromising power.  But lean burns increase cyclical variation in the combustion intensity, which directly affects the rideability.  This is what we experienced in the 2010-12 Multistradas for example and so many other motorcycles since emissions regulations have become more stringent. This rideability effect is measured by the coefficient of variation (COV) of the indicated mean effective pressure (IMEP).

Although the consumer has little access to this information, we actually experience it when riding our fuel injected motorcycles and we all know it is a lean fueling issue resulting on cycle to cycle variability. Too much cycle to cycle variability, however, challenges lower idle speeds and engine stability.  Therefore, when Ducati claims a reduction of 78% on IMEP COV on the DVT motors, they are basically saying variable intake and exhaust valve timing along perhaps with other parameters, has reduced cycle to cycle variability, as measured by the indicated mean effective pressure or IMEP.  IMEP is a measure of the average pressure over a cycle in the combustion chamber of the engine. The pressure stability from cycle to cycle, IMEP COV, shows high correlation to a rider’s subjective rating of an engine smoothness.

As a result, we assume these motors can run a leaner mixture, which explains at least partially the improved fuel economy, without compromising rideability. In fact, it has improved engine smoothness substantially from a more stable fuel burning cycle to cycle which helps with emissions, which we believe is the main push for this technology. A virtuous cycle of sorts.

And we want to add one more item to this discussion, although it has not been mentioned anywhere yet, so it is just a speculation from our part: perhaps a more efficient motor in terms of fuel burn cycles produces fewer emissions resulting in yet another reduction on the size of the catalytic converter (it was already marginally reduced in size on the dual spark motor of the 2013 model). We know the catalytic converter is a heavy component of the bike, so reductions in size can influence overall weight of the motorcycle and compensate any increase in weight due to a few added parts to the motor.

How will DVT and the 78% reduction of the cycle to cycle variability (as measured by IMEP) translate into a riding experience? Has it solved the rideability issues? We don’t know, but considering the torque increase, the Testastretta DVT motor can only improve an already awesome machine. We will know what to say about this 78% number when 2015 demo bikes become available.

A New Frame

Another very important change on the new 2015 Multistrada is a revised frame.

Spy photos claimed to be of the 2015 Multistrada

Spy photos claimed to be of the 2015 Multistrada

Comparing to the current frame on our 2013 Multistrada Pikes Peak you can see some obvious changes right away.

Walls of Snow. Crater Lake National Park, April 21st, 2013

2013 Multistrada Pikes Peak

We can see one brace of the frame is gone, there are some new angles on the remaining elements and what seems to be revised anchor points to the engine.  There may have been other changes to the frame that we can’t see from these photos. And we don’t know what  are the reasons for this change.

New Seat

We’ve been hearing about a new seat with adjustable height on the Multistrada.  On the photos you can see the seat is different, there is something like a trim or a layer on the seat.

2015 Multistrada: New Seat?

2015 Multistrada: New Seat?

We can’t quite tell from the photos if the seat is really lower.  But it seems more curved closed to is rear portion, so perhaps that whole area of the bike where the seat rests may have been modified. Certainly a lower seat would be a welcome addition to this bike, opening up its market to a large group of inseam-challenged riders.

And having the seat be adjustable will probably not exclude the current set of tall riders who enjoy the Multistrada’s triangle dimensions (handlebar – seat – pegs) and its height.

New Front End

Another obvious change, judging by the set of circulating photos, is a revised front end.

2015 Multistrada: revised front end.

2015 Multistrada: revised front end.

A few changes we can see right away: It is wider, has larger air intakes, it is more square and less beak-like. It gives the bike a more aggressive look.

Which one is the best?

Subtle changes on the front end of the 2013-14 models (left) when compared to the 2010 model (right)

There is windshield on the spy photos bike, but judging by the base of the shield on the photos, it seems like a hybrid from the 2010 and 2013 models:  back to the three anchor points of the 2010 but perhaps retaining the one-hand operation of the 2013.

2015 Multistrada: Detail of the Front End

2015 Multistrada: Detail of the Front End

Also, the base of the shield seems to be a bit more vertical than the two previous models. Besides the angle itself, the bodywork arriving at the sides of shield shows how it is more integrated.

Either way, windshields are an Achilles heal of adventure styled motorcycles due to the wind buffeting they generate in their job of providing protection from the elements to the rider.  Let’s hope on this third iteration of this bike Ducati has managed to find the sweet spot for wind management.

Öhlins or Sachs/Skyhook?

A gold front fork on the spy shots points to Öhlins.  But gold forks are not a property of Öhlins. Or this bike could be fitted with older Öhlins technology.

Ohlins or Sachs?

2015 Multistrada Spy Shots: Ohlins or Sachs?

Besides the gold color  commonly associated with the Öhlins, there is that  blue on the logo, which actually seem to point this bike to really being back with Öhlins.

But will it really? Independent of it being Öhlins or Sachs, we will go out on a limb to say the 2015 Multistrada will retain its semi-active suspension operation. After all, this has been proven to be an effective technology and has become the new standard on the top tier of the large adventure motorcycle segment. Öhlins has developed semi-active technology since the 2013 Multistrada was launched, so that is a possible scenario.  But I would say an unlike scenario due to the cost of Öhlins while the Sachs/Skyhook combo has proven itself effective on the last two years of operation.

The 2013 Multistrada (Silver) and the 2010 Multistrada (Red)

The 2013 Multistrada (Silver) and the 2010 Multistrada (Red): Sachs on the silver bike, Öhlins on the red bike.

Color Display, Switch Gear, Cruise Control

We do not have pictures of what the 2015 Multistrada dash display looks like, but it is almost certain that this bike will have a thin-film-transistor (TFT) liquid-crystal display similar to the one found on the Panigale. We hear the switch gear will be different and the bike will finally have cruise control.

Riding Modes, Suspension Settings

Without knowing anything about the new riding modes, we can speculate the four riding modes (Urban, Enduro, Touring and Sport) will have been retained and perhaps revised and improved with the new motor with DVT.  That assumes the possibility of playing with such an important new parameter available at the ECU such as variable valve timing.  We assume it opens more options for engine management.

And the semi-active suspension settings may have benefitted from lessons learned from more than two years running of the Skyhook system. If this bike goes back to Öhlins suspension, it should be something with semi-active operation.

Finally, it would be fitting to this bike’s role of being a leader of technological innovation if the 2015 bike incorporated the latest ABS system from Bosch, something similar to the system that has been available in the KTM 1190 for the last two years under the MSC name.

Overall Conclusion 

This is a completely new motorcycle. It retains the overall shape of the two previous versions but the body changes seem far from subtle. The new motor on itself is enough change to make this a new bike.

We expect this new motor to be the key selling point of the new Multistrada. But we would expect other structural, software, functional and cosmetic changes that we described or speculated were probably made by Ducati with the objective of keeping the Multistrada in its position in the market: a comprehensive and sexy package representing the forefront of technological advancement while maintaining a multi-personality where riders can enjoy it as an urban, enduro, touring or sport machine.

We believe the timing for the change is about right, although we have had only two years of production of the dual-spark, Skyhook version. That is because the competition on this segment of the market has increased. We hear BMW will bring an S1000 with a more upright riding position with bags (or bag attachments) in sport touring guise, for example. There are three KTM products competing directly with the Multistrada (the 1190 Standard, the 1290 Super Duke, and the new for 2015 1290 Super Adventure). And there are a few other bikes that have evolved in the last few years and have been knocking at the door of this segment of the adventure market.

When we see the 2015 Multistrada for the first time, perhaps at EICMA in a little more than a week from now, and certainly when we see it in person and test ride it, we will have a better idea about how we believe this bike will position itself in the market.

Short tour to Cottage Grove and Wine Country. May 3rd, 2014

Our 2013 Multistrada Pikes Peak

Considering we have been riding a Multistrada for the last two years, what we hear about the DVT motor and what we’ve seen so far in spy photos and rumors, it makes us believe the 2015 Multistrada will be a good improvement to an already excellent and still rather unique machine.

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