Riding the BMW R nineT

After my visit to the One Moto Show in Portland, and after having had a chance to spend some time with BMW’s head of design Ola Stenegärd and the BMW R nineT project lead Roland Stocker, I was now curious to test their creation.

2015 BMW RnineT

2015 BMW R nineT

I know I’m late to the party.  This bike has generated all the sensation in 2013 and 2014, and still demands plenty of attention in 2015. Despite all of that, I confess only now I get to pay close attention to it. I had been looking for an urban bike that was not a sports, cruiser or adventure bike, but I had been obfuscated by another bike that had been getting a lot of press during that same time – more on that later. What is important is that when I took the R nineT for a ride it was an all new bike to me. I got to ride it with an open mind, unbiased from the opinions of previous reviewers.

IMG_4080That’s how I like to ride a new machine, as if I’m exploring a blank canvas. My biases were from sitting on it and perceiving the handle bars to be perhaps a bit low (from my adventure rider perspective), from knowing about the water/oil cooler boxer motors from my previous riding experiences with the 2012 R1200GS, and from what I had heard from Ola and Roland about the project itself, not their riding experience with it. Well, that and it is a beautiful machine, I wanted to like it.  What is important is that I had not heard or read or paid special attention to anything that mentioned what is was like to ride this bike.

IMG_4088Thank you Scott and Madelyn at the European Motorcycles of Western Oregon for the opportunity you’ve given me to meet the key BMW staff behind this bike and for letting me ride it!

IMG_4030On a sunny Saturday, a couple of weeks after my visit to Portland I had the chance to test the R nineT demo bike here at the Eugene store.  I started the motor and it felt as a typical twin boxer, trying to rotate the whole motorcycle clockwise as you blip the throttle. It is something you get used to after the first or second time you blip its throttle at a stop, one of those things that are part of the twin boxer experience. Nothing new. Once in motion however, the motor felt so much composed, more than what I remember from my experience with it on previous air/oil cooled R1200GS’s.

IMG_4118I took the bike to the wine country in the south Willamette Valley where I explored how it handled two-lane country roads with shapes of all kinds from tight switchbacks to fast sweeping curves.  Despite the ergonomics being different than what I would have chosen it to be, I prefer taller handlebars for a more upright position, as soon as the bike was in motion I’d forgotten all those thoughts.  It just fit me so well. It seems this is always the case with BMW’s, I don’t know how they manage it, but their bikes’ riding positions have always been great for me, no matter what BMW I’ve ridden.

IMG_4111The first thing I noticed when in motion was the exhaust note. I was using my super quiet Schuberth C3Pro helmet on top of good earplugs, and the sound that managed to go past this double layer of good protection was just the right amount of a deep tone, somewhat angry exhaust note. I would assume it was a very well studied and engineered note. I have to say it is just perfect in volume and tone, providing great feedback to the rider and letting you know you are riding a true roadster.  And if you want louder, just remove the baffles.

IMG_4065The next thing I noticed is how smoothly the motor responds to throttle input. I didn’t get that thrilling instant acceleration from minimum throttle input I get on my 2013 Ducati Multistrada (and I really like that, by the way).  But then, the R nineT is a different animal.  Although it is not sports bike fast, I did not miss much in terms of throttle response when I asked the bike for something more exciting. For a naked bike with a relaxed stance, this bike actually delivers more than I expected in terms of power and acceleration. And not only that, the acceleration felt very linear on its broad torque range.  The motor was a willing partner going up the RPM range with ease.

IMG_4113The other surprise element was the smooth gear box.  What a gem. I was not sure what was going on, was I really changing gears or was it doing on its own? Gears went in precisely, fast and quietly. You close the throttle, the revs come down quickly, a quick press of the clutch, slight input on the lever and the next gear is in, back on the throttle.  All of this work is assisted by the sweet sounds from the exhaust, making sure you know what is what and when is when at all times.  Like it always should be on a motorcycle.

IMG_4098Now, how to explain how nice it is to ride this machine?  I guess the recipe starts from combining the perfect ergonomics, add to it the exhaust note and the clean input it gives the rider, and then the smooth acceleration. On top of that, count on the gear box where gears get it in as if on their own… I guess that is the experience of complete riding satisfaction. IMG_4107One more thing to add is the absence of a windscreen. All you get is clean air. One of the drawbacks of adventure motorcycles is their small windscreens, coupled with the upright seating position.  Everything in life carries an inherent compromise. On the R nineT on speeds up to 60 or 70 mph, depending on wind speed and direction, you are riding comfortably on clean air. All you hear are the motorcycle mechanicals in action and the distinct exhaust note. Past 70mph and your chest starts pulling you back. Last weekend I went riding with friends and the maximum speed on that ride was about 70mph. I would had been fine if I were riding an R nineT on that 125 miles loop.  There are trips when 70mph is the average speed, of course, and for those scenarios, you would certainly want some protection, at least to keep the wind from directly hitting your chest and pulling you back.  The good thing is that this bike has an assortment of accessories and parts catalog from renowned parts makers.

Such as is the case for Wunderlich, with a nice vintage looking windshield among other parts they make for this motorcycle.

Wunderlich Daytone Fairing for RnineT

Wunderlich Daytona Fairing for R nineT

Rizoma has a full set of parts for this bike as well. Cafe Racer anyone?

BMW RnineT with Rizoma Parts

BMW R nineT with Rizoma Parts

And of course, there is Roland Sands, who was involved with this bike’s project, and has come up with an assortment of cool products for this bike.

Roland Sands Design - Products for BMW RnineT

Roland Sands Design – Products for BMW RnineT

Finally, BMW itself offer a few options of their own.  Actually, the bike is sold as a customizable machine.  You can easily remove the rear sub-frame, for example.

BMW RnineT without rear subframe Or add a different tail to it.

BMWRnineT bob tail

That is, you can find a windshield to your liking, if you will take it on longer rides and get a proper rear view mirror for it as well (more on the mirror later). You can make this bike your own by customizing it to your liking with off the shelve tastefully designed parts.

Back to my test ride of the R nineT, one other design item I would like to point out is how this bike carries a theme, throughout any visible component, it seems. A theme that merges the BMW industrial look of the last decade with something more artistic, I would venture saying.

IMG_4078The theme of the dashboard is transferred to the tank, the seat, and many other parts of the bike.  However, it never quite repeats itself, the shapes are all different across different parts with different materials, there is a clear theme across them, however.  It is like when riding this motorcycle, it has the ergos, the motor, the gear box and the exhaust in total harmony. So is the bike’s design, carrying an interesting harmony on itself.  That, to me, is one key attractive element about this bike. If I had to pick one word to describe this bike, it would be harmonious. There isn’t an odd element to it.

IMG_4081Although it has the air/oil cooled motor of the 2014 R1200R (1170cc, 110bhp @ 7550 RPM), this bike is a roadster of its own. In fact, after coming back from my ride I took a second look at a 2014 R1200R that was on the show room and all of a sudden the R1200R looked clunky and out of place.  My perspective had been transformed by spending quality time with the R nineT.

IMG_4120On the other side of all the positives about this bike, I noticed four issues that may not be too relevant, or too negative, but they are there. None of them would stop me from buying this bike.

First issue is that 1st and 2nd gear are close to each other and then there is a gap to 3rd gear.  I actually liked where second gear is for it makes for nice 2nd gear uphill hairpins, it puts you in the meat of the torque with plenty of range left for accelerating out of the apex before moving to 3rd gear.  You will learn on those times when you are short-shifting, you will likely consider carrying second gear a bit further before getting to third.  Not a big deal.

As a second issue, although this bike is very svelte at the seat and feet position, the foot pegs are exactly on the way my feet would be hitting the ground.  So you get this annoying sensation of foot pegs hitting the chins.  To solve it I made sure I placed my foot forward from the pegs and rested my calf on the foot peg, letting its spring move the peg backwards if I needed more direct connection to the ground. Your mileage may vary. For example, if you have longer legs, you should be fine with more options to place your feet on the ground at stops and this would not be an issue. For my 31 inch inseam, this became a small but obvious annoyance at every stop.

The third issue is the suspension. It works great at the regular speeds, and I actually did not have any problems with riding this bike on those roads in the wine country.  But once you push it harder, the bike feels less planted. I’m not sure this bike is meant to be ridden fast, and even if that was the case, it would not be my intention, if I owned this bike. I would avoid taking it out of the nice sweet spot of performance it offers, running the gears in the 4-6k range. Having said that, if higher performance is demanded, a suspension upgrade can be made.  I do not consider it a show stopper. I would even keep it stock if I bought it.

The fourth issue are the mirrors. They really do not give you much of a rear view. No problems, though, as you can get plenty of options on the catalog of accessories from Rizoma, RSD and others with products that will take care of this issue with style.

IMG_4110The question is: Would I buy this motorcycle? As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’ve been on the market for an urban motorcycle.  Something that is easy to saddle up to run city errands and perhaps to take on short trips to the wineries around town, maybe a stretch to the ocean or the mountains every now and then.  All my bikes are tall adventure styled bikes, not necessarily ideal for doing my short weekend rounds.  My options to fill this gap have been the Triumph Bonneville, the Moto Guzzi V7, and lately my attention has been directed at the Scrambler Ducati. Remember when I mentioned “obfuscation” at the beginning of this post?  Now the BMW R nineT has been filed as prominent candidate on my short list.

There are a few items that go in favor of the R nineT as my choice for local rides.  Number one is its size. It carries enough weight to offer a steady ride without compromising my sought after urban nimbleness, allowing it to be comfortable on short but also on longer journeys and has plenty of power for that.  Also, there has been talk about this motor being discontinued once European legislation is implemented in 2016. The R1200GS has had the liquid cooled motor since 2013, the R1200R has the liquid cooled motor for its 2015 model year. Will the R nineT be forced to go the same route?  If that would be the case, perhaps 2016 would be the last model of this bike as we know it.  If that happens the air/oil cooled RnineT would become an instant classic.  If that is the case, I would want to make sure I get an air cooled version of this bike before the door closes behind it.

Unlike other BMW designs, which on their whole are sort of Bauhaus as in they have a function or a job, be it touring, sports or adventure, this bike has none of that. It is there for the fun of riding, pure and simple. And it delivers fun in spades. The question is: isn’t there something else in the market that would deliver similar fun costing sensibly less? That is the one item running against it in my book, especially considering I’m also looking at upgrading a couple of my other bikes.

IMG_4094A second point going against it are the rumors circulating on the motorcycle forums and magazines, speculating about a scrambler version of this machine.  Would it be possible, considering a potential legislated European ultimatum on this motor?  If it is possible, the Scrambler version would be my choice! The deal would be sealed, no questions would be asked.

Anyway, I have time to decide, I will wait and see where things go – there is a lot of movement at this end of the motorcycle segment, some of it were actually generated by the R nineT’s successful story itself.  Bottom line, this is an excellent motorcycle and I can see it in my garage, sitting on the front of the line closest to the door, always ready to be my ride of choice when I don’t plan to go too far.  Knowing my style, eventually I would take it on longer trips – just to enjoy it at its fullest.

That was it, my friends, thank you for reading. As a bonus for you who read this post all the way to the end, here is a video about this bike. It is from the fall of 2013, you probably have seen it already.  If that is the case, it is time to see it again.  If you haven’t seen it yet, it is part of BMW’s marketing campaign for this bike, staging how Ola and Roland introduced this motorcycle to people who can appreciate it, the kind of people who would be showing their own creations at Portland’s One Moto Show, for example.

A motorcycle is beyond transportation. It is something else because it connects you… with life.

Warning: In closing, here is my final advice, please read it with attention. This is the kind of motorcycle I do not recommend anyone to test ride unless they are ready for a change, have a healthy balance on their bank account, or a good credit score and, on top of that, a nice accommodating spouse. Because this bike may balance your foundations and your definition of what is fun about riding and consequently create an unbalance on your check book. Be careful or it will follow you home. I’ve actually seen it happen! You’ve been warned.

Posted in Bike Reviews, BMR R nineT, nineT | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The 2015 One Moto Show in Portland

Isn’t it always the case that a crisis brings new opportunities?  It is my moto in life: when one door closes start looking for other doors that will certainly open. This common place truth could serve to explain the process that brought to us the One Moto show.

one moto show pdx 2015February 2015 was the sixth edition of the One Moto Show and it was the first time I had a chance to be there and experience the show for myself.

The founders of this show explain it in the context of the last economic crisis.  While the crisis happened people who could not necessarily afford a new motorcycle got a hold of old bikes that were increasingly becoming available.  Bringing these motorcycles back to riding condition became a popular activity and more than that, it became a new culture when people started to purposefully look for old motorcycles as a canvas for their creations.  It was an opportunity born out of a crisis and it has been documented by the One Moto Show.

We started picking up bikes for free and on the cheap. We pulled off the stuff that was unnecessary, put a little money into getting the cycles a bit more safe to ride, and rode the crap out of ‘em until we needed to rebuild. In the process we found the places where we could score parts, met people who could help us, and learned.

1973 Triumph

1973 Triumph

Making something cool out of old motorcycles is not a new idea.  What made this movement interesting and perhaps new was how widespread it became during this last ten years or so.  It is great that guys such as the ones behind the One Moto Show have stepped in and made an event out of this movement – it allows us, the public at large, to appreciate what can be done using an old motorcycle as a starting point.

I quickly began to notice that there was a growing number of people who loved this subculture of motorcycling. This was when I decided to host the first gathering of what we would deem The One Motorcycle Show. The idea that a bike meant more to someone through experiences and stories. The notion that a motorcycle was built, restored, constructed, invented, or modified for particular reasons, using the means at their disposal.

I had heard about this event in years past from the local news, other bloggers, and from my riding friends, one of them in particular who has exhibited a couple of his motorcycles in this show a few years back.

I was not disappointed for making the trip.  It was a beautiful and sunny day instead of the usual rainy days typical of our winters here in the Pacific Northwest, making the Saturday I was there a popular day to attend the show with long lines of people waiting to get in the building.

The One Moto Show, 2015

The One Moto Show, 2015

Despite a growing level of importance this show has been gathering, resulting on an increasing number of visitors and exhibitors every year, it has remained a free enterprise for visitors and exhibitors alike.  The show has also been outgrowing buildings year after year and the 2015 edition was on yet a larger building than the previous year, I was told.

Re-purposed old industrial building

Re-purposed old industrial building

Similar to what these riders, or should I call them artists, have done to their old motorcycles, bringing them back to life under a new light, the building used for the 2015 One Moto Show was also re-purposed.  It was a 20,000 sq ft historic building on the lower east side industrial area of Portland.  I don’t know what manufacturing took place in that building or when its operations stopped, some of the old machinery, however, was left behind when operations ceased.  It made for a perfect setting to frame the beautiful motorcycle creations being exhibited.

Old building, old structure, perfect setting

Old building, old structure, perfect setting

I don’t think I can fairly categorize the bikes displayed.  Walking around the exhibit I found heavily modified cruisers, scramblers of all kinds, flat track bikes, cafe racers and everything in between, and some very out of the ordinary bikes, side by side with some true to detail restorations. I’m sure my descriptions would not do justice to what these guys with an artistic mind and great fabrication skills have created. I will let the photos tell the story as much as is possible.

1960 Harley - "Steam Hammer"

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IMG_3880.

IMG_3951.IMG_3870Check this trio of Honda Elsinores.  Two 125’s and the one on the right is a 250.

IMG_3930.

IMG_3968.

IMG_3926As you can imagine, this is a very small sample of what was available in this year’s event.  Among the exhibitors, the event included examples from well established designers such as this Indian by Roland Sands.

IMG_3945Quite an Indian, uh?

IMG_3942And this BMW by Spirit Lake Cycles.

IMG_3958Talking about BMW Motorcycles, isn’t that a 2015 BMW RnineT in the background?  It brings me to another quote from the organizers of the event:

This doesn’t stop at a particular year. People are expanding their range: you see a lot of late model customs inspiring vintage customs, and vice-versa.

Yes, it is a 2015 BMW RnineT on the background.  The RnineT is a recent creation by BMW, I consider it a compliment to the artistic minds of the many riders across the world who have put their artistic minds and fabrication skills into make something beautiful out of old motorcycles.

IMG_3868It is a compliment when BMW get its interest in the idea and comes up with its own creation of what a new bike would look today based on old and traditional concepts.

This takes me to the other reason to my drive to Portland. It was to include a stop at the BMW of Western Oregon in Tigard where I had a chance to meet and spend time with the great Ola Stenegärd, the head of BMW Motorrad vehicle design and the creative mind behind the RnineT design. Ola came to attend the One Moto Show and included a visit to  the Portland area BMW dealer. What a nice down to earth guy.

IMG_4015Ola’s creation has proven to be a very successful model in BMW’s line up. I will have more about this motorcycle on a next post, when I will describe my experience after I spent some time with this motorcycle, riding it on the nice roads of the wine country in the south end of the Willamette valley.

All in all, it was a nice trip to Portland.  I really enjoyed seeing the nice motorcycles in the exhibit and getting to know a bit more about the RnineT from its designer.  I’m already looking forward to next year’s edition of the One Moto Show.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned!

Posted in Bike Reviews | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Tipi Village… No More?

After 18 years in Ohio, in November of 2005 I moved to Oregon.  In the several months before my move to the west coast I lurked on adventure rider websites, followed riding stories and dreamed about ending my 18-year riding hiatus with style, by riding on the Oregon high desert.  By early 2006 I was established in Eugene, had a house, a garage, and a brand new motorcycle. Via the internet I met a group of riders in Bend, Oregon and with them, in June 2006, I was finally riding the high desert.

Playa in the south end of the Catlow Valley, Lone Mt Loop, 2006.

Playa in the south end of the Catlow Valley, Lone Mt Loop, Oregon, June 2006.

However, my riding possibilities in Oregon really took off after I met Ken and his community of riding friends in the Eugene area.  Ken is the kind of person who aggregates people around him. Once I met Ken, I met many local riders. And a special flavor was given to this community of riders, when we congregated around Ken’s outdoor kitchen at the Tipi Village, pun intended.  The Tipi Village is located in the Mohawk Valley near Eugene, here in Oregon

Ken and a group of friends preparing dinner, July 2009

Ken and a group of friends preparing dinner, July 2009

In September, every year, there was the Tipi to Tower event, an exclusive event organized by Ken where local motorcycle riders would get together at the Tipi Village and from there we would ride to the McKenzie pass, and from there to Sisters for lunch.

Tipi to Tower events

Tipi to Tower events

Of course, the events would always start around Ken’s outdoor kitchen where many local riders would gather for a hearty breakfast before starting the trip to the tower (the Dee Wright Observatory) at the highest elevation at the McKenzie pass.

Bikes gathered at the Tipi Village before a Tipi to Tower event.

Bikes gathered at the Tipi Village before a Tipi to Tower event.

Along the years I’ve enjoyed many rides starting or ending at the Tipi Village. I even volunteered on the spring and the fall in the task of yearly managing the canvas process on the tipis.  Well, I mostly only took pictures while the others brought the canvas from storage and installed it (and the other way around in the fall).

Canvas back on the Tipis, an annual Spring task.

Canvas back on the Tipis, an annual Spring task.

I’ve also witnessed how the Tipi Village transitioned from being Ken and Suzanne’s home to become a side business, to become their way of living.

Inside a Tipi at the Tipi Village

Inside a Tipi at the Tipi Village

In that transition process of the last several years I’ve witnessed weddings and other social events take place there, business retreats, and I saw the Tipi Village become an unique bed and breakfast location. The Tipi Village is now a special place for many local people who visit it regularly as well as many people staying there while visiting the area.

Tipis at the Tipi Village

Tipis at the Tipi Village

Why do I say “Tipi Village, no more“? Well, it so happen that Ken and Suzanne have been separated for a while.  Now the time has come for the official end of their marriage and with that their partnership at the Tipi Village.  I know each story has its various sides, and being fair on the dissolution of an union and its related assets is a rather hard task if not an impossible one to achieve a completely fair outcome.  Having said, I wish both sides get their fair share of what they’ve built together along the years.  Of course, as a by-product of this dissolution we could see the end of the Tipi Village as we know it.

Will that canvas ever go back up?

Will that canvas ever go back up?

Therefore, I hope it stays with whom will keep the Tipi Village as a viable business, for it to remain a gathering place for local and visiting folks, for it to remain the special place it is for many of us.  I hope it will be there for many years to come for the several couples who got married there, for the visiting people who stay there every year and have written their personal histories in that place and have built a spiritual connection to the Tipi Village.

Ken at the Tipi Village outdoor's kitchen

Ken at the Tipi Village outdoor kitchen

Personally, I would be sad to see the kitchen empty of the great food Ken prepares, empty of the people who gathered around to assist with the cooking and to enjoy the food, the people who gathered at the Tipi Village to tell and hear stories, to live Oregon’s lifestyle.

No more Tipi Village?

No more Tipi Village?

Selfishly I want to have the opportunity to go back to the Tipi Village and bring the ingredients for a margherita pizza, in the hopes Ken will still be there, manning the pizza oven to help me bake an authentic Italian pizza.  And I hope for many more Tipi to Tower motorcycle events or simply for the opportunity to start and end motorcycle rides from there.

Posted in Other Stories | 1 Comment

Back to Basics: Scramblers!

This is the third and final post of the more power, more adventure and more scramble series of posts regarding what’s trending in the motorcycle world in 2015.

Are we experiencing a revolution in the motorcycle world?

Adventure motorcycles are here to stay with more models being launched every year and with an increasing level of sophistication in the last few years.  There are interesting developments in sport bikes with the introduction of the Ducati Panigale a few years back and this year we have the supercharged Kawasaki H2 and several other sport bikes surpassing the 200hp mark.  There is no question, adventure and sport bikes are experiencing sales growth, and they are essentially where you find highest power developments and the highest level of technology on the motorcycle world.

Despite all this increasing level of sophistication and power, standard and retro-styled motorcycles have gained popularity on motorcycle shows and forums these last few years. It is a counter culture of sorts when you juxtapose it to the increasing sophistication of adventure and sport bikes of late.

Of this group of motorcycles the scramblers appear to be the most popular. And among them, the Scrambler Ducati seems to be by far the one gathering the most interest among veteran and new riders alike. Ducati’s campaign for its Scrambler proposes the joy of riding theme. The bike and its campaign seems to resonate very well with many riders! With the popularity amassed by the Scrambler Ducati in shows last fall, with healthy sales volume now that it it hit the showrooms, mean this bike will influence or change the industry’s course? Or is this just another new bike wave that will come and go?

 Scramblers are nothing new, as a matter of fact…

Although the Scrambler Ducati was the undisputed sensation of the international motorcycle shows of last fall, we all know this type of motorcycle is far from something new. Triumph and Moto Guzzi have been offering standard motorcycles which have evolved very little through the last 50 years and both Triumph and Guzzi have offered a Scrambler variant to these models.

What’s new is how Ducati has approached it and how Ducati organized a broad marketing campaign for this product using various media alternatives, and with that targeting people who do not fit the profile of the motorcycle consumer of late.  It certainly took the Scrambler idea out of its small niche and put it on the map for everyone to see and to fall in love with motorcycling for the first time or all over again.

Categorizing motorcycles in large groups we have cruisers, sport bikes, touring bikes, and dirt bikes. And all of these bikes have their DNA traced back to “standard” bikes.  Variations on the theme occur of course and we have sport-touring bikes which are a hybrid between the two types that make the name, we have enduro motorcycles which are dirt bikes re-purposed for endurance off road races (what came first enduro or dirt-bikes, actually?), we have dual purpose bikes which are street legal dirt bikes that will ride well on pavement.  More recently we have the adventure motorcycle, which can actually be a mix of several types of motorcycle as long as it can take you on long distance travels, carrying gear, is comfortable, and can be ridden on various types of roads.

Most of the types of bikes and their variations have started with motorcycle owners making small changes to their motorcycles to adapt them to their needs, be it to ride them on dirt, or for road racing or for long distance travel.  The latest variations on the theme are the cafe racers, which are mostly home made customization of standard bikes to look like vintage racer bikes. We have supermoto bikes which became a category of bikes when many owners turned their dirt bikes into urban hooligan machines by installing 17 inch street wheels and tires on these bikes. And the list goes on all the way to custom cruisers and a few other customizations. Some of these types of motorcycles have become popular enough to be endorsed by manufacturers, and be built in large enough numbers such as is the case of the Ducati Hypermotard as a supermoto, or the Triumph Truxton as a Bonneville variation in a Cafe Racer guise.

Riders have been racing motorcycles since probably the invention of the motorcycle – again what came first, right? The first documented races were either on bicycle flat tracks or on hill climbs, and England was just the likely scenario.

To Scramble: Make one’s way quickly or awkwardly up a steep slope or over rough ground by using one’s hands as well as one’s feet.

Scramblers were probably the first type of variation made to motorcycles, when owner made modifications to standard motorcycles were made so they could race them on dirt roads – perhaps as early as 100 years ago.

And with respect to the word “scramble,” it was first associated with hill climb motorcycle races in England.  One of these first racers or race organizers, as early as in the 1920’s, is often mentioned as having said this about those early hill climb races:

Whatever we call it, it will be a hare old scramble!

The Scramble name stuck for the races and the motorcycles used in these events became the scramblers. Eventually the industry caught on and produced bikes designed specifically for the dirt and eventually we got the trail, motocross and the enduro bikes, essentially turning the Scramblers into a dead end or branch on the evolution tree of motorcycle types.  The same happened for the hare scramble races, becoming mostly locally organized races while motocross and enduro races gained international popularity.

However, the Scramblers never disappeared from the radar.  And although  they became mostly a side bar to the conversation, they never stopped being created.  They gathered momentum with street consumers in the 60’s and 70’s, but it was not enough to turn them into mainstream motorcycles.  Home made Scrambler creations remained viewed as cool bikes and Triumph’s machines became the standard of choice for such creations and eventually Triumph launched a Scrambler as a factory model.  And now Moto Guzzi offers several levels of scrambler kits to its V7 motorcycle. And of course, we have now the avalanche of enthusiasm for the re-released or new Ducati Scrambler.

Te Scrambler Ducati can be interpreted as a re-lease of the bike because Ducati had a scrambler model in the early 60’s which was actually built by Ducati based on customer and motorcycle dealer request.  It was rather successful in its time, however its production ended when Ducati started its L-twin motors and road race success ensued.  50 years later, caching on the regained “cool” factor of these bikes, targeting a brand new generation of people with no previous interest on motorcycles, and reminding us about the joy of riding, Ducati brought back the Scramblers to the market. More than that, Ducati’s campaign and the motorcycle itself brought the idea of a Scrambler motorcycle to a level of popularity not seen since the 60’s. And it could be bigger than that.

The King of Cool loved these bikes!

The Triumph Bonneville series of motorcycles are perhaps the most popular base for building a Scrambler, as mentioned earlier. So much so that Triumph has had an official Scrambler model based on the Bonneville for many years already. Steve McQueen rode several of these bikes in scrambler form and owned several of them and put them to real use on several dirt races before turning into more purposefully built dirt bikes.  McQueen rode at the edge of the change from Scramblers to dirt bikes, and he eventually owned Husqvarnas and Hondas and other bikes that could no longer be called Scramblers. They were purposefully built dirt bikes.

Steve McQueen and a TR6

Steve McQueen and a Triumph 650 used on a Six Days Race in 1964 (Photo from Matt Stone’s book McQueens Machines)

Back to the Scrambler, the most famous of the Bonnevilles,  disguised as an older motorcycle, was a co-star with Steve McQueen in the Great Escape film.  Who hasn’t seen this film and this scene?

You can buy a 2015 Scrambler Bonneville today. It doesn’t look much different from the original 1950’s bikes with the parallel twin with a 270 degree crankshaft motors. You can ride a motorcycle that is basically what the King of Cool used to ride in the 60’s.

Triumph Bonneville Scrambler

Triumph Bonneville Scrambler

Despite the classic styling, the Bonnevilles are updated machines with fuel injection motors. However, they still ride on a five-speed gear box and no ABS option is available.

There is no question that Triumph will benefit from Ducati’s campaign and the resulting renewed interest on Scramblers.  However we need to keep in mind that Triumph is about to make modifications to its Bonneville line to comply with 2016 regulations for the European market.  Depending on how far Triumph will need to go with the changes to have its old Bonneville line comply (some say it will be water-cooled and it obviously will have ABS), it may impact the Scrambler line, first in Europe, and eventually here as well.  Whatever the outcome is, we can’t imagine Triumph without a traditional looking Bonneville in its line of products. After all this bike is the thread between the old and the new Triumph company.  We expect Triumph not to stray too far from these classic lines, and we expect a Scrambler will remain available.

The real back to basics machine

Moto Guzzi has held its place in the history of standard motorcycles. The V7 machines have kept the V twin motor, transversely mounted, shaft-driven to today.

Moto Guzzi V7 Stone

Moto Guzzi V7 Stone

With its 750cc 90 degree V motor this is a vibey machine of old, and some riders like it exactly for that.  Want to talk about the joy of ride?  There is something there, that Moto Guzzi offers and others don’t.  Want performance? Look elsewhere. Having said that, the 2015 model, the VII, comes with a new 6-speed gear box, ABS and traction control.  That is, you get the old style, a basic motorcycle, and it comes nicely updated.

2015 Moto Guzzi VII Stone

2015 Moto Guzzi VII Stone

Owners have customized this bike in several shapes, including the Scrambler mode. Banking on the Scrambler frenzi, Moto Guzzi has prepared a set of accessories that will make this machine into a very nice looking Scrambler in 2015.

2015 Moto Guzzi V7 II with  Scrambler Kit

2015 Moto Guzzi V7 II with Scrambler Kit

Indeed, it is a very nice looking machine.

The new/old kid on the block: The land of joy

Although the Ducati is using cues from its 1960’s and early 70’s Scrambler, the new Ducati Scrambler is a completely new machine.

1970's Original Ducati Scrambler

1970’s Original Ducati Scrambler

The origin of the 60’s Scrambler, as mentioned earlier, was the result of pressure from an American sales representative, indicating there would be a demand for such a bike.  Ducati built it based on single cylinder motors (as the one depicted above), it became rather successful in the United States and eventually in Europe as well.

However, when Ducati developed its L-Twin motors for the race bikes, and won GP races with it, things changed. The L-twin motor’s success on the track and then on the sport bikes of the time became synonymous with Ducati and eventually led to the end of all Ducati singles and with that to the end of the Scrambler line.  Ironically the only air-cooled L-Twin motor in Ducati’s line, the one that most resembles the motor that essentially killed the Ducati singles and eventually the Scrambler of the 70’s, is now the motor on the new Scrambler.

2015 Scrambler Classic - Photo source: Ducati via Asphalt and Rubber

2015 Scrambler Classic – Photo source: Ducati via Asphalt and Rubber

However, today’s Ducati scrambler is the one with most power when compared to the Triumph and the Moto Guzzi machines.  It also is the lighter and has longer suspension travel when compared to the other two.  And like the Moto Guzzi, it has a six-speed box and ABS.  No traction control for the Ducati, though.

One thing important to know is how, with the re-introduction of the Scrambler, Ducati is working to keep their brand values separate. This bike was not meant to fit on Ducati’s culture and brand values that have evolved from the 70’s when the Scrambler was discontinued as Ducati succeeded in moto GP races.  Ducati is making sure this bike tells its own story, where power and sophistication are no protagonists. Ducati has become known for three brand values:

  • Style
  • Sophistication, and
  • Performance

The Scrambler Ducati brand  has its own values:

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

The main idea is the going back to basics. I cant wait to test ride one of these new Ducatis and see if it will evoke the joy of riding.  The V-Twin motor, no rider aids, no fairings or wind screens, and all of that on a very light and nimble motorcycle… I think it will deliver the joy of riding in spades.

So what? A revolution, you said?

There is no denial on the power of the Scrambler Ducati campaign.   I’ve heard Ducati has temporarily re-purposed its production line to build more Scramblers and satisfy the strong demand for this model. Not all show rooms have this bike on the floor yet and we already hear speculation about more Scrambler models being discussed at Ducati.

Is this a new movement? Will we see more “simple” machines, variations not too far from traditional standard machines being designed and produced? Will Scramblers finely come out of its niche to become a mainstream type of motorcycle?

I doubt these scenarios will materialize themselves now and in years to come.  Personally, I have no expectation that Scramblers sales are going to be sustained in the long term. Riders will continue to buy or show interest on bikes with the highest level of sophistication. Power will remain a key measure of success or status for a motorcycle.

Having said that, these bikes, led by the Ducati campaign, will reinforce the joy of riding notion, no matter what motorcycles we ride. It will help some riders rediscover the pleasure of riding a motorcycle which has lost itself behind windscreens, fat seats, cruise control, traction control, extreme horse power, and even automatic transmissions.

Most importantly, it will bring a new group of riders into the fold, people who have never ridden a motorcycle before.

For all of the above, the Scrambler Ducati will be written as  a new paragraph, perhaps a chapter, in the motorcycle history book.

Meanwhile we will continue to customize our bikes, ride old or new bikes, and define our own joy of riding.

Posted in Bike Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

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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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