2015 Honda VFR800X Crossrunner: What it is. What it isn’t.

What was the bike the “Honda magician” revealed on September 10th?

Magician reveals the...

Magician reveals the…

It wasn’t the much anticipated New Africa Twin. Instead, it was an upgrade to the VFR800X Crossrunner, a motorcycle not marketed for the United States.

2015 Honda VFR800X Crossrunner

2015 Honda VFR800X Crossrunner

What was so impressive about this upgrade to deserve this unveiling, and why does it matter to the Adventure segment and the anticipated new Africa Twin?

Let’s see what Honda’s press release says about this bike and its changes from the previous VFR800X model:

“The heart of the machine remains its VTEC-equipped 90° V4 DOHC 16 valve engine, which now offers increased low and mid-range torque for flexible, effortless drive, plus increased peak power of 105bhp, delivered at 10,250rpm.

“The aluminum twin-beam frame features a lighter, revised subframe and new aluminum swingarm – another VFR signature piece. Suspension has longer travel: 25mm in its two-piece telescopic forks and 28mm in the rear shock. ABS comes as standard and the front 17-inch hollow-cast aluminum wheel is fitted with dual 310mm discs, worked by radial-mount four-piston calipers. Tires are sporty street-size 120 front and 180 rear for optimal on-road performance.

“The rider now also benefits from the same kind of torque control system fitted to the Crosstourer. HSTC (Honda Selectable Torque Control) offers two levels of control (plus off) to sense imminent loss of rear wheel traction, and seamlessly reduce torque to allow the tire to grip.”

2015 Honda VFR800X Crossrunner

2015 Honda VFR800X Crossrunner

“The Crossrunner is a true VFR – a motorcycle designed for hard riding fun, but with style, comfort and practicality. Accordingly, the seat is now adjustable, offering two height options, and 5-stage heated grips and Honda’s self-cancelling indicators are both fitted as standard. New, full LED lighting adds a distinct presence and premium finishing touch.”

We’ve never seen this bike in the metal, so we have to rely on other publication’s opinions. Under Asphalt and Rubber’s “more than an update” post, they state:

With these changes, the 2015 Honda Crossrunner pushes further into the adventure side of the touring equation, making the Crossrunner an attractive sport/ADV model from Honda.

Adventure Touring and Sport Adventure

Ducati launched the Multistrada line in 2003 and eventually discontinued its Sport Touring (ST) line in 2008.  In 2010 Ducati launched the MTS1200 with four riding modes: enduro, urban, touring, and sport. The Multistrada has ergos that would be suitable for an enduro bike, but it has a motor from a super-bike and it is fitted with 17 inch wheels. Whether you call it a Touring or Sport bike, or even an oversized super motard, it is viewed as an Adventure bike. It was part of the movement forming the Adventure Touring or Sport Adventure segment within adventure bikes.

Ducati's ST line gives way to the Multistrada line

Ducati’s ST line gives way to the Multistrada line

On the October 2014 edition of “Motorciclist” they ran an Adventure Tour comparo. The bikes in this set were the Aprilia Caponord, the Ducati Multistrada, the Suzuki V-Strom 1000, the KTM 1190 standard, and the BMW R1200GS. This was the street end of the adventure segment that we can call touring or even sport adventure. This new Honda would fit just right for this comparo.  Although with a smaller displacement, it would not fall behind the V-Strom necessarily. And the Aprilia and the Ducati have 17-inch front wheels.  The Honda VFR1200X Crosstourer would probably be a better fit for this comparo, but the point is, this revised VFR800X is as deserving of being called an “Adventure” bike as the V-Strom, the Ducati, and the Aprilia are.

Suzuki V-Strom 1000

Suzuki V-Strom 1000

At the same time we hear Yamaha is also making an investment on this area of the market. We hear a more upright version of the FZ-09/MT-09 with its triple motor will be presented in a few weeks at the Intermot meeting in Cologne. At least two illustrations of what this bike could look like have been circulating on motorcycle sites.

Concept Ilustration of Street/Touring Yamaha based on MT09/FZ-09 bike (CycleWorld via Young Magazine)

Concept Ilustration of Street/Touring Yamaha based on MT09/FZ-09 bike (CycleWorld via Young Magazine)

One of these illustrations associates this new bike with the TDM name.  Just imagine bags and these bikes will look adventuring touring. Or sport adventure.

Speculated Yamaha TDM or FZ-09, MT-09

Speculated Yamaha TDM or FZ-09, MT-09

And don’t forget the “adventurizing” of the BMW S1000RR with its in-line 4 motor that has also been circulating.  But in the case of BMW these are real photos of prototypes, so it goes beyond pure speculation.  Although sport should be this bike’s emphasis.

Speculated "Adventurized" version of BMW S1000R - Source Motorcyclist Magazine

Speculated “Adventurized” version of BMW S1000R – Source Motorcyclist Magazine

In other words, it is just one more bike entering with a more solid foot in what we call adventure motorcycles, and for the other, it is the adventure segment being stretched to include a touring component.  These are motorcycles offering upright ergos, good amount of suspension travel, good on road performance for long distance travel, but with a motor delivering “sport” performance. Some of them are probably good enough for gravel roads. Adventure enough to go to Alaska, for example.

There is a “number” circulating on several sites and forums, claimed to be from Yamaha, stating that less than 20% of Super Ténéré owners take their bikes off road.  All these riders want, it seems, is a bike that is comfortable for touring and maybe ready for a side road adventure.  Why not build a bike that more clearly fits this street adventure rider profile? Honda seems to be getting it with its X line. The question is: will this bike look badass enough for those times when you park it in front of the Starbucks to get a cup of decaf salted caramel non-dairy latte while dressed in your full enduro regalia?

Unfortunately this VFR800X will not make it to the American market. It seems like a really nice motorcycle, with just enough power to be lots of fun, and not too heavy or over-sized.  Just right with the appropriate amenities and electronic features. I bet it is a good Adventure Tourer and probably competitive on this segment of the market.

What about the Africa Twin?

So what happened to the Africa Twin, you may ask? We have enough information to give us a good amount of certainty that the Africa Twin is still coming. And we believe this more adventurized VFR800X actually solidifies the perspective that the new Africa Twin will be a real enduro motorcycle. Or will be capable of it with some minor modifications.

Let’s take a look at Honda’s X line: they have the CB500X, the NC700/750X, the VFR800X and the VFR1200X.  They form a nice gradient, based on size, of street oriented adventure or adventure-styled bikes.  What’s missing from this line up?

Exactly, what’s missing is an enduro version. It just may be that as the VFR800X gets more adventurized, the more likely it will be that we won’t see an Africa Twin that overlaps too much with it and these other X bikes.  That is, we may see a real enduro bike coming up from Honda, something that will definitely not belong on this soft X line.

Having said that, we would be surprised if Honda unveils the Africa Twin in the upcoming Intermot and EICMA shows.  Honda would not unveil this bike without milking such a launch with strategies that are more effective, on a longer term and more widespread than the magician’s reveal of the VFR800X in a German site.

We think at this point it may be something for next year, but we hope to be wrong. We keep our hopes up for a great enduro machine from the big red.  Or two, who knows, it would be cool to see a smaller Elsenore alongside the proper Africa Twin.

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2015 Honda Elsinore or Africa Twin? 500 or 1,000? Both? Neither?

Africa Twin Rumors

We’ve been following the rumor trail of a possible new Africa Twin. The idea of Honda bringing the Africa Twin back to the market has generated an extraordinary amount of posts from motorcycle publications and on motorcycle boards. These rumors centered mostly on “leaked” specifications about this bike, a patent from Honda on a dual air cleaner system, Honda’s renewal of U.S. trademark of names of discontinued Honda motorcycles, and an interview with Honda’s head of product planning in Europe. There were also a set of drawings by journalists, all speculating what this motorcycle would look like. And just recently, there was an announcement from Honda about a world premiere of an adventure motorcycle in Germany on September 10th.  We believe the Africa Twin name, with its following and tradition would require something larger than a reveal just a few days before Intermot.  But the rumors continue so let’s entertain the possibilities.

“Leaked” Specifications of the Rumored 2015 (or 2016) Africa Twin

These are specs that were published by a couple of motorcycle publications in Europe.  They claimed the information came from Honda insiders and was associated with a new Africa twin:

  • 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
  • Offroad-designed ABS brakes
  • Offroad-designed traction control

The main issue was that it was a parallel twin and no longer a V-twin like the original bike. Many speculated the proposed 440lbs when fully fueled and ready to ride was not feasible to be achieved for a 1,000cc motorcycle with a 5 gallon tank, packing latest generation electronics and equipped with off road suspension.

Although there is no consensus of what an ideal dual-purpose motorcycle should look like, most everyone agrees lighter is better, and more power is better. Add to this recipe road worthiness/comfort/cargo capacity for long distance travel and we have the holly grail for a boundary expanding new enduro/adventure/dual purpose motorcycle.  The specs on this rumored Africa Twin were spot on for most people, if they are feasible to be achieved, that is.

The Air-Cleaner Patent

This is one of the most interesting part of the rumors – Honda’s patent for a new airbox system. It divides the aircleaner/airbox into two elements, one on each side of the bike, flanking the traditional tank/steering. It places the air cleaner where most motorcycles have the overhanging side of tanks. And it opens up space on top of the motor and under the seat (places where the airbox is traditionally located), allowing the heavy fuel to occupy the space in the center of the bike, just above the motor and under the seat. It helps in lowering the center of gravity of the motorcycle for one thing, and it facilitates air cleaner maintenance for another, an important item for off road vehicles.  More on this further down this post.

Honda Patent on Aircleaner

Honda Patent on Aircleaner

The Interview with a Honda Executive

Exactly a year ago (at the 2013 EICMA meeting in November, Milan) we heard an interview of Moto.IT with Dave Hancock, Honda’s head of product planning and business development of Honda Motor Europe.  When asked about the speculated Africa Twin, Mr. Hancock said:

We’ve heard everybody would like to see a new Africa Twin. The official line is we can’t make any comment about any models that we are bringing in the future. But you can probably see by the look on my face that we probably will be thinking about something maybe… I can’t tell you when. But I think you probably will be happy eventually.

This interview leaves no doubt about Honda bringing a new model, one that is based on what the Honda Africa Twin  represented.

Trademark on Motorcycle Names

At some point last year Honda renewed (filed) the United States trademarks of names of Honda motorcycles that have been discontinued, among them Elsinore and Africa Twin.  These could be routine trademark renewals, with no intention of doing anything about them on the near future.  We and most others speculating about an adventure bike from Honda mostly focused on the Africa Twin name.  It makes sense in our opinion that it will be called Africa Twin, since the Africa Twin name carries a much larger tradition and following outside of the United States.  The name in itself could be the marketing campaign.  But we would not be surprised if Honda brings something else to the market, and based on the Elsinore name.

The Many Illustrations of this speculated Africa Twin

As soon as rumors started, several motorcycle publications illustrated their vision of the new motorcycle. Follow this link to see these illustrations and our poll on five renditions of the new Africa Twin. Let’s just show you our favorite, and it is also the version that got the most votes on our poll so far.

Will this be the 2015 CRF1000 Africa Twin?

Motorrad’s version, and most popular illustration (based on our poll) of what this bike could look like

The September 10th Announcement

A couple of days ago Honda’s site in Germany announced the world premiere of a new model. On the site they had an illustration of a magician about to unveil a motorcycle.

Magician reveals the...

Magician reveals the…

The caption on the picture read:

World Premiere on September 10th! We show a new form of adventure.
Whoever you are, wherever you are: Get ready for a motorcycle that will allow you a whole new experience. The experience of being able at any time to break out of the everyday. Do not miss out when the curtain falls.

Is this it? Is this the new Africa Twin, we ask? Or is it something else?  We will know soon enough.  But we believe the Africa Twin would require something larger and with more reveal installments, with some leaked photos and other promotion steps geared to milk more from what the Africa Twin name represents. We are not keeping our hopes up for this reveal.  But we will know more soon.

Honda Elsinore 500

Just when we were all set for the count down for what Honda will unveil on September 10th, assuming it could possibly be the Africa Twin, a new rumor hits the webs. This new rumor brings back the Elsinore name as opposed to Africa Twin. It is a name that is more meaningful for us here in the United States, where Africa Twins were never sold. Elsinore is associated with Steve McQueen and the California deserts! Elsinore is associated with smaller displacement, two-stroke Honda motorcycles of 125cc and 250cc from before the CRF line, one of the several motorcycles Steve McQueen used to ride.

Back in May of this year, when rumors about the Africa Twin specs (1,000 cc parallel twin) and the famous air cleaner patent started circulating in the internet, Motorcycle.Com mentioned the trademark names renewed by Honda, one of them associated with the Elsinore name.  This is what Motorcycle.com had to say at that time:

As for the name, some recently filed Honda trademarks may offer up some clues. Two particular names stand out: Elsinore and Africa Twin. Both names carry a long tradition with Honda. The Elsinore was an early Honda dirt bike released in 1973, but they were small displacement motocrossers that preceded today’s CRF models. The name has the right retro-sounding appeal to it, but connecting the name to a 1000cc engine might be too much of a departure from the Elsinore legacy.

“Africa Twin” might be an apt name, and the engine description would fit the bill. A new Africa Twin however would be more of an adventure tourer along the likes of the Yamaha Super Tenere or Triumph’s Explorer and the design in the sketches lacks the same rugged styling.

We focused our attention on the Africa Twin name in our discussions. But are we talking here about the same bike? 1,000 or 500cc? Both? Neither?  Here is where another component of the latest rumor comes to play.

The Spanish motorcycle site SOLOMOTO.es is claiming that the adventure/enduro/dual purpose motorcycle Honda will reveal in the upcoming fall motorcycle shows (Intermot and EICMA), and perhaps it is what will be unveiled on September 10th as well, is not the anticipated 1,000cc Africa Twin, but instead a 500cc Elsinore.  The 500cc displacement is a better match to the Elsinore name than 1,000cc.  And the Motorrad illustration of what this bike could look like (depicted earlier on this post) better matches a 500cc motor than an 1,000cc motor. It makes it much closer to the 450 CRF rally motorcycle Honda uses in the Dakar and which appears to be the inspiration for the Motorrad illustration.

Further on this SOLOMOTO post, they describe this speculated Elsinore to be an all new all-purpose adventure motorcycle with a two-cylinder motor based on the CB500 motor, a parallel twin liquid cooled, 8V DOHC motor with electronic fuel injection.

On our first post about the speculated new Africa Twin we had sited Gizmodo’s Indefinitely Wild post of June 11, 2014, which described how Honda’s new airbox patent would work for a new adventure motorcycle. They quoted a Honda insider describing how the dual airbox design, instead of being on top of the motor and under the seat, was pushed to the outside of the tank, would allow the tank of this new motorcycle to stay on its traditional position, but its volume going deeper, lower on the motorcycle and more centered, by occupying the location traditionally taken by the airbox right above the motor and under the seat. SOLOMOTO indicated the Elsinore radiators will also be located laterally under the pair of air filters. They also mentioned it will be a very light with good power to weight ratio bike. An all-purpose bike with off road trail aesthetics.

Previously “leaked” information indicated it as a brand new motorcycle with the motor nested inside a twin-spar frame and a tank of just less than 5 gallons. If based on a 500cc motor, 5 gallons would give you more than 300 miles between fills.

Africa Twin or Elsinore? Our Preference

The Africa Twin name is larger than anything on the Honda lineup when we talk about adventure/enduro motorcycles. Even beyond Honda, Africa Twin is a symbol for adventure/enduro motorcycles. If this bike is going to be made, I doubt it will be called something else other than Africa Twin.  Unless Honda is planning two bikes, one smaller with a smaller displacement motor to be called Elsinore and one with a larger displacement motor to be called Africa Twin, we can not see anything being called Elsinore in place of Africa Twin. The Africa Twin name is not going to be relegated. Our preference and prediction for a larger displacement adventure motorcycle from Honda is that it will be called Africa Twin, no questions about it.  However, for something else in the enduro lineup, smaller and more nimble, if Honda has such prospects, Elsinore is a fitting name.

Particularly, we’ve been on a quest for the perfect enduro machine, the holly grail we described in the beginning of this post: the one that reaches the optimum compromise between dirt and road, light weight and suspension for the dirt but with good road manners for long distance travel.

In May 2015 we had brought up the Honda CB500 Rally versions, as developed by the Thai HRC guys, as a possible bike that we would be interested in building to reach that optimum balance. It is inexpensive, it is light weight, has a smooth parallel twin motor, and we could possibly build it to our riding interests. However, radically modifying a motorcycle suspension and wheel sizes affect a bike’s geometry, and we do not know what these changes would entail in terms of handling. And riding a designed-for-the-street bike aggressively off road, even if the suspension can take rough roads,  may bring other problems related to components of the bike not designed for that type of use and we would be bringing different sets of stress to an unknown frame strength.

Thai HRC team's CB500X Rally, with 19 and 21 in front wheel versions

Thai HRC team’s CB500X Rally, with 19 and 21 in front wheel versions

The CB500X is rated at 430lbs wet, which we considered good enough. It makes this speculated Elsinore 500 a more feasible motorcycle to meet the 440lbs specs rumored earlier this year.

Including the speculated Elsinore on the chart of dual-purpose, enduro, adventure bikes

Including the speculated Elsinore on the chart of dual-purpose, enduro, adventure bikes

Our ideal scenario for the perfect bike sees it with a 750cc motor.  However, between a 500cc and a 1,000cc bike, if they weigh the same, we will favor the 1,000cc.  If the 500 is substantially lighter, that’s what we would favor. That is, between 430lbs for the 500cc machine and 500lbs for the 1,000cc machine, we will likely go with the 430lbs, 500cc machine.

We also favor the Elsinore name to the Africa Twin name for a smaller bike, if this is what Honda will bring. Reserving Africa Twin for a proper larger adventure bike. Elsinore denotes lighter weight and a smaller bike, and it is connected to Steve McQueen, and it speaks of the California desert.  Worldwide, however, we know the Africa Twin carries a lot more weight with the public, and Honda’s marketing knows that better than us. So, we are not discounting the possibility of a new Africa Twin. But this new rumor opens the possibility for something else. Not the Africa Twin.

In a few days we will know what we will have from this Honda world premiere motorcycle. An Africa Twin, an Elsinore, maybe both bikes and names in two different engine sizes, wheel sizes, and applications. Or something in between? Or maybe nothing.  We think it will be something else.

Meanwhile, let’s bring some perspective on the Elsinore name, here is a video of Steve McQueen riding the Honda Elsinore 250, with the two-stroke motor.  The location of the ride is probably California.

And while we wait, let me make Steve McQueen’s words mine:

I ride fast, I ride fast on the dirt. I ride with safety equipment. If you ride on the street, be safety minded. Don’t ride too fast.

That’s how I see it and ride as well. Fast on the dirt, not too fast on the street. And always with protective gear which, thankfully, is much better today than it was at Steve McQueen’s time.

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Is September 10th 2014 the day we will see the New Africa Twin?

Will it finally be unveiled, and will this reveal take place five days from today? A tease on Honda’s German site, the home country of Intermot (2014 Intermot starts on October 1st in Cologne), shows an illustration of a magician in the process of revealing a motorcycle.

We would expect the Africa Twin name with its following and tradition would require something larger than a world premiere promoted by Honda’s German site. That is, Honda would want to make it a larger event.  So, not keeping our hopes too high, let’s entertain the possibility.

Magician reveals the...

The caption on the illustration says:

World Premiere on September 10th! We show a new form of adventure.
Whoever you are, wherever you are: Get ready for a motorcycle that will allow you a whole new experience. The experience of being able at any time to break out of the everyday. Do not miss out when the curtain falls.

Well, this is just a drawing, and it is not a real motorcycle on the illustration. That is: it’s not it, even if it’s meant to be it.  We will wait another five days to know what this new motorcycle is. Will it be the new Africa Twin or something else? And if so, will it be the Africa Twin we hope it to be? We offer more questions than answers for now…

In terms of something else, it could be a Honda Elsinore, and it could be of 500cc instead of 1,000cc. For more information on a possible Elsinore variation to the Africa Twin, check our Elsinore or Africa Twin post.  Or it could be a different motorcycle for a different type of adventure. We will know soon.

For more information on what we and others have speculated about it being a new Africa Twin, check our “The Honda Africa Twin is back” post.

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New Adventure-styled Yamaha based on MT-09/FZ-09?

New puzzle piece gives us an idea of what could be next from Yamaha in the Adventure world.

An illustration (source: CycleWorld via Young Magazine in Japan) of a sport/touring Yamaha has been leaked to the press. You could call it an adventure-styled motorcycle.  It appears to have been “photoshopped” around the MT-09 (FZ-09) triple motor and frame and denotes a definite street orientation, but with an adventure flavor to it.  Imagine saddle bags and a different screen and it will look more the part.

Concept Ilustration of Street/Touring Yamaha based on MT09/FZ-09 bike (CycleWorld via Young Magazine)

Concept Illustration of Street/Touring Yamaha based on MT09/FZ-09 bike (Source: CycleWorld via Young Magazine, Japan)

Certainly this handsome concept is street looking enough to not be associated with the Ténéré genealogy. We believe a real mid-size Ténéré, if it is forthcoming, will probably have a 21 inch front wheel, more suspension travel, spoked wheels, and a different more upright windscreen.

However, this bike fits our earlier prediction that Yamaha could bring to the market two adventure styled motorcycles: a street oriented version that could be based on the triple motor; and a dirt-oriented version that could be based on the parallel twin motor.

Adventure or Sport Touring?

We were expecting the street version of a new Yamaha adventure bike to come fitted with a 19 inch wheel. Instead, whoever included a 17 inch front wheel in the drawing above places this bike in another pack of bikes, perhaps as an affordable version to the Multistrada or the speculated touring styled version of the BMW S1000R.  Or you could see it as a good upscale version of Honda’s CB500X and NC750X.  Such a Yamaha bike would be right in the middle of this gradient of 17 inch front wheel adventure-tourers. This is a growing segment, it seems – adventure styled street bikes with a touch of sport that are great in urban settings and good enough for touring. The larger bikes of this group could definitely be called sport/touring adventure-styled bikes.

Speculated "Adventurized" version of BMW S1000R

Speculated “Adventurized” version of BMW S1000R (Source: Motorcyclist)

Anyway, this sport/touring adventure-styled drawing could actually be similar to one of the 15 motorcycles Yamaha is claimed to be launching at the upcoming motorcycle shows this year (Intermot in early October in Cologne and EICMA in early November in Milan).

We still believe Yamaha will bring to the market, besides an MT-09-based adventure/sport/touring bike, a mid-size Ténéré based on the MT-07/FZ-07 platform, a real adventure bike, with dirt orientation to take over the aging 660 XTZ.  Overall, it could be based on the concept depicted in this illustration, although it looks way too urban to us. Perhaps imagine a narrower bike, with a 21 inch front wheel, a more upright screen, and an overall more rugged look.  That would do it. But for now this concept gives inspiration for what could be coming soon from Yamaha and what a dirty version of this concept, based on the parallel twin, could look like. Fingers crossed.

Stay tuned for new updates.

(By the way, doesn’t that wind screen in this photoshop seem out of place there? It looks like a sport’s bike screen thrown on an upright bike. The rest of the bike looks fine, though.)

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Poll: What is your favorite rendition of the New Africa Twin?

By now we have at least five renditions for what the New Africa Twin will look like based on rumors that Honda will bring this bike back to the market in 2015 or 2016 (if you want to read more about each version, read the post on this link).

In order of appearance in the rumor mill, we have:

Motorrad’s version (Germany):  Dubbed CRF 1000 it is based on Honda’s excellent 450cc machine used in the Dakar races.

Will this be the 2015 CRF1000 Africa Twin?

Motorrad’s version

In Moto (Italy):  Somewhat similar to Motorrad’s version, but with a front fairing more similar to the CB500X and NC700X.

In Moto Version

In Moto Version

MCN (England):  Replica of the original, including the double round headlights and gold rims.

MCN's rendition of the New Africa Twin. Can you spot the differences?

MCN’s rendition of the New Africa Twin.

Moto Journal (France):  Similar to In Moto’s rendition but with headlight and bash plate that seem to have been copied from the KTM 1190.

Yet, another rendition of the speculated Honda.

Moto Journail

EnduroPro (Spain):  A mix between the MCN and the In Moto versions. But the motor on this drawing is not very realistic and also does not look like a parallel twin. Although EnduroPro’s text indicates they believe the bike will be a parallel twin.

EnduroPro Magazine's rendition of the New Africa Twin

EnduroPro Magazine’s rendition of the New Africa Twin

Your criteria could be to select the one you believe is more likely to be what Honda is thinking about, or the one you like best.

Have fun!

 

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Is the Tiger 800XC a desert racer? (Steens 2014 Part 3/3)

[This is the third and final post from my last trip to the high desert in southeastern Oregon and this time with the Triumph Tiger 800XC. This post includes a comprehensive review of the Tiger's performance on dirt roads.  Click here for Part 1 and Part 2]

It was timely to have researched about the new mid-size adventure bikes Honda and Yamaha may bring to the market as I prepared and executed this ride with the Triumph 800XC to Oregon’s high desert.  It helps for keeping things under the right perspective.

The Oregon High Desert

The Oregon High Desert – fun roads to ride motorcycles

After riding the Triumph on desert roads with a good dose of aggression I went back home from this trip with many thoughts in my mind as I evaluated the Tiger 800XC’s performance on these fun roads. I was surprised by how well it performed and made me re-consider what I would like to see on a mid-size adventure bike, especially now that we hear about a possible new Honda Africa Twin or a new Yamaha 700 (or will it be 750?) Ténéré.

Getting ready to leave Diamond, population 7.

Getting ready to leave Diamond, population 7. This was my second visit and stay at the Diamond Hotel, I plan to go back.

Ahead of me I had plenty of time, about 400 miles of two-lane highway going west towards the Cascades range and down to the Willamette valley to organize my thoughts.  But before hitting the highway I decided to visit two local attractions  – the Round Barn and the Diamond Craters.

Lots of signs.

Let’s make sure you know where you are going

I went to the Round Barn first then backtracked from there to see the Craters and from the Craters started the long way back home. The Round Barn is just what the name says, a round barn.

The Peter French Round Barn.

The Peter French Round Barn.

It was built in about 1,880 by Peter French, the boss of the “P” Ranch on the Donner and Blitzen Valley. They used this barn for breaking and exercising horses in the winter. It was quite the investment during those days, bringing the rocks for the inside wall and the wood, but then again, when all operations depended on the horse, that was the way to go.

Peter French Round Barn

Peter French Round Barn

The barn is listed in the National Register of Historical Places.  If you are in the area, go check it out. There is also a book store on the grounds where you can find books and information about this interesting area of the state.

Peter French Round Barn

Peter French Round Barn

From here I started my way back stopping on the Diamond Craters. A sign at the visitor area of the craters says this is “designated an outstanding natural area and area of critical environmental concern (…) it is home to many plants and animals adapted to living in an environment of lava flows, cinder cones and craters.”

One of the craters

One of the craters

And one crater with water on it. Water levels used to be higher.

Another Crater.

Another Crater.

Time to hit the road, I turned my back to the Steens and headed north and west back home.

One of the several "last views" of the Steens.

One of the several “last views” of the Steens.

Soon I connected with Highway 205 and from there I went through the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge towards Burns.

Another "Steens last view".

Another “Steens last view”.

I’ve been to this area in early September in 2009 and found this lake dry that late in the summer. I remember the GPS indicating water on both sides of the road and all I could see from the road was dry grass. It is mostly a shallow body of water and by September after several months without rain most of it becomes a dry grassy area.

Malheur Lake, June 2014

Malheur Lake, June 2014

Just before getting to Burns Hwy 205 climbs a ridge where I stopped and looked back for the last view of the Steens on this trip.

Till next time, my friend!

Till next time, my friend!

From Burns it becomes a boring two-lane highway.  I filled the tank in Burns and from there I did not stop until I hit Sisters. Before I left the Diamond Hotel staff had mentioned a forest fire in Tumalo, just outside Bend. There were concerns of possible road closures but once I got to the area traffic was flowing normally. I got to see a helicopter with a hanging bucket of water flying towards the fire.  From my perspective it looked like throwing a tea-spoon of water on a healthy fire in a fireplace.  It won’t make much of a difference, I thought, no matter how many trips that helicopter would have to make.

Smoke from the near Tumalo fire, viewed from Sisters.

Smoke from the forest fire near Tumalo, viewed from Sisters.

The Sisters mountains were somewhat hidden by all the smoke in the area.  I know a couple of people who live in the Tumalo area and I wished their houses and business were safe.  The smell of burned wood that permeated the area, that view of the helicopter, the haze throughout the area, you experience through that the seriousness of the situation. We are at the mercy of the powerful nature.

Fire near Tumalo clouds view of Sisters

Fire near Tumalo clouds the view of the Sisters

And just as I was writing this segment of the story on July 13th, a Sunday morning here in Eugene, I heard thunder not too distant from here, thunder without rain, thunder being nature’s source for forest fires. It just crossed my mind a new forest fire could be starting somewhere especially when things have been really dry around here this year.

Back to the story, when I rode the Lone Mountain Loop, with all the dust, the bike lost its idle. It is a “feature” of the Triumph Tiger, where dust gets into the mechanism between the idle stepper motor and the linkage to the roller at the rest stop of the throttle.  There is one particular area of this exposed mechanism (it has some three connections between the stepper motor and the throttle stopper) which operates on a tolerance of less than 0.5mm, where just the right amount of dust takes it our of whack.  More on that later.

Back home in one piece.

Back home in one piece. Minus idle speed.

The point was that traveling in the traffic of Springfield and then Eugene, the bike with no idle speed became a potential liability at some intersections, but mostly a tremendous annoyance. It makes you wonder whether this bike was meant to be ridden off pavement. Other than that, the bike performed really well.  And this is what I want to talk about.

Back to the main question of this post: Is this bike a Desert Racer?

First of all, I’m not an expert or professional rider, but I have many years of riding off pavement. I do believe most owners never take their bikes off pavement, and when they do, they ride conservatively or have their bikes loaded with camping gear. When I talk about desert racing here I mean speeds that a rider with average dirt riding skills (my case) comfortably and safely ride when they ride fast. That means some sliding out of corners but no two-wheels-in-the-air stunts. It is not about Dakar speeds.  Although on occasions I confess to have taken this bike to some good speeds on these roads, just to see what it could do.

The Bike and the Tires

The bike is a 2012 Tiger 800XC (all original except for a Triumph bash plate, engine guards, and fender extenders front and back).  Bike was not carrying any gear, except for basic tools, cameras and drinking water.  The bike was shod with Shinko 705 tires for this trip. They are usually rated as 80% street 20% dirt and I picked these tires because I was reluctant to make this bike into a dirt rider – I did not want to compromise its on pavement performance.  It just does so well on paved roads, why mess with it, right?  But in the end these tires performed really well on dirt and gravel. And it just makes me wonder how much better this bike would have performed if I had installed TKC 80’s, Karoo 3’s, K60’s or other more aggressive tires instead.

Shinko Trail Masters 705. With about 1,200 miles on them

Shinko Trail Masters 705. With about 1,200 miles on them

Tire pressures were kept at 36 psi front and back – not aired down from the recommended 36-41 range. I have for tradition not aired down tires when traveling on dirt and gravel roads, especially because these larger adventure bikes which, although with a 21 inch front wheel,  have rims that are relatively wide to accommodate lower profile street tires.  When you air these tires down, combine that with the weight of the motorcycle and the wide rims, you will have less tire profile (or cushion) between the rim and that odd rock you may encounter at speed. You run the risk of bending the rim. On the other hand, airing tires down assists the suspension in coping with smaller bumps on the terrain and significantly improve traction and adherence. So, taking in consideration not airing down the tires, the bike/tires combo did great.

2012 Tiger 800XC

2012 Tiger 800XC

In terms of suspension, the bike is all original. Only change was a bit of compression added to the rear shock.

What is this desert I talk about?

I’m talking about off-pavement but riding on existing roads.  These are relatively leveled dirt roads, with light gravel at times.  On these roads, the bike traveled very well and safely at speeds ranging from 40 to 75 mph.

Dirt Roads, lightly graveled.

Dirt Roads, light gravel, just how I like.

On these roads, the bike always felt planted when going at speed. The front end never pushed wide or threatened to slid from under the bike.  The rear, except for 3 or 4 unexpected slides, which were always easily controlled where the bike quickly regained composure, never stepped out beyond what I had planned. For the most part the rear stuck very well under acceleration, sliding just enough to keep the bike composed and settled on the curves. It was as if this bike had traction control.  Overall it was as if the bike were on rails.

If anything, I wish this bike had a faster throttle response and consequently more rear action.  There were times when I realized I entered a curve too fast and could be running out of road, and in those times I wished I had a faster throttle response. I do think this is an inherent characteristic of motors with three or more cylinders and linear torque curves – without that sweet spot. But this bike can actually do it.  Only that you have to get used to ride it on the higher range of the torque curve. That’s where you get more engine braking and more throttle response from smaller throttle input.  You just have to get used with the engine revving higher than what you would expect from a dirt bike. Most riders suggest a different sprocket to resolve this issue.  Problem is this bike has a narrow-span gear box, with a tall 1st and a short 6th gear when compared to the F800GS and the KTM990.  So when you shorten all the gears, you obviously will shorten an already short 6th gear.

The Tiger 800XC has a tall first and a short 6th gear

Gear ratios: The Tiger 800XC has a tallest first and the shortest 6th gear of this bunch

However, when going slow on first, lets say climbing a steep rocky area, the tall first gear becomes a real hindrance. You will need to slip the clutch, more so than with other bikes.  In those cases, if you ride through that type of terrain frequently, I would recommend a change of sprocket. It will somewhat compromise your road riding, maybe fuel economy as well. I don’t think it will actually solve what to me are motor characteristics, the inherent torque delivery of three cylinder motors when compared to single or twin motors.

Under normal operation this bike operates well at the 4K rpm range where the motor sounds relaxed and does not struggle to deliver smooth power. But riding on these desert roads, when you start having fun and need that immediate and stronger throttle response, I recommend keeping the motor on the northern portion of the rev range and you should be fine. I’m talking about 5-6k rpm peaking at 8k perhaps. Although at this range it sounds like there is drama going on with the motor, it is well within the normal operating range, and that’s the band of the range where you will find the type of torque that will deliver the power you need. Remember this bike does not redline until close to 10k rpm.  That’s what makes this bike sound and feel as if you were driving a Trophy Truck instead of a Baja Bug.  That can be a lot of fun, actually.

Here is a video of the action.  I already posted videos on the previous post of this trip, but here you will find 12 minutes of unedited action. You will see how well the bike handles.  This bike can go a lot faster than what I rode it.  It just needs the right rider to make it happen.  That is, the limitation was not the bike, but the rider in this case.  You will also see how it bogs down some when keeping it at 4k rpm and I twist the throttle, how it lags a bit to get power from 4k rpm.  But going one gear down and keeping it at 4,500 it already shows a better profile for response.

 

One Recommendation: adjust suspension to your riding style

One recommendation I would make is to set the suspension for your riding style.  This bike’s forks are not adjustable.  But it seems like Triumph did a great job setting it up for the right compromise for all occasions and riding styles.

It was only when I pushed it on bumpier roads that I felt the forks had too much rebound. On those occasions the front end feels locked up and as a result you get a harsh ride over bumps.  The compression seemed fine.  Here is a video going over small bumps from odd sized gravel mixed in with the dirt and dried up mud from cattle (hooves).  You can clearly see how the front end feels harsh.  Of course, airing down tires would have helped some.  But it would not solve the actual problem, especially when facing larger obstacles.

 

Therefore, overall, so far the only recommendation is to adjust the front suspension, and only if you will be riding fast. Otherwise, leave as is and you will be more than fine. But if you are going to adjust it, since it is a non-adjustable suspension, it will require re-valving.  If you will go through that trouble, you may as well make it a fully adjustable set of forks.  Also if you reduce the rebound damping, something that is needed in this bike, you may realize that you will need to upgrade the springs as well for your weight and riding style. This can be expensive really fast, though.  But it may just transform a good bike into a really good bike.

Faster Gravel Roads

And I also traveled with this bike on fast gravel roads, what I call gravel highways. On these gravel roads, the bike traveled well at 65 to 85 mph speeds.

Gravel Highway

Gravel Highway

On these roads I encountered two problems that I don’t think are unique to this bike. One of them was a front end wobble on deeper gravel sections.  But on these roads I was riding with a friend of mine and he was riding a KTM Adventure 950 and his bike was having the same problems, if not worse.  And he has a steering damper on his bike!  Here is a video of the wobble, which I called on the video “headshake”.  But I’m not sure that’s what it is.  In this video you will notice I stopped where my friend had stopped to check front tire pressure, as the wobble made him think he had a flat tire. That thought had crossed my mind as well.

And to prove the point that his KTM was struggling more than the Triumph, here is a video of the Tiger going past his bike as if the KTM was standing still.

Ok, I confess I added this video just to rub it in on the KTM riders who claim their bikes are the best machines for off pavement riding.  I have no question they are great bikes.  But there are other great bikes out there.

The second issue I encountered on fast gravel roads was rear wheel traction on washboard areas. But again, I don’t think this is an exclusive “feature” of the Tiger.  This is just the way things are with most bikes.  It can be improved, perhaps in the case of the Tiger it is about too much rebound for the rear shock as well.

The Real Problem and a Solution

The one issue that really bothered me with this bike is that it is prone to lose idle speed when riding on dusty terrain.  You hear all about it on the several forums.  People often refer to it as a stepper motor problem.

I encountered this problem for the first time on this trip, and I have to say it was extremely annoying (and dangerous when I was riding on city traffic on my way back home). So I decided to investigate the issue.  I cleaned the bike and removed the tank and the airbox to have access to the stepper motor and the linkage to the roller where the throttle rests at idle.

The naked Tiger

The naked Tiger

And here is the stepper motor to the right of the black cross bar, with the mechanisms leading to the roller and throttle resting stop and cable to the left of it, between upper and middle trumpets.

Between the top throttle body trumpet and the midde one, you will see the throttle cable, the roller and to the right the linkages leading to the stepper motor.

Between the top throttle body trumpet and the middle one, you will see the throttle cable, the roller and to the right the linkages leading to the stepper motor.

I cleaned the throttle linkages and the roller and it took care of the problem. But I can’t see myself after a day of riding on dusty roads doing this work by a campsite.  Some people suggest adding marine grease to the linkage to prevent this problem from reoccurring.  Others suggest spraying WD40 into the area when the problem happens and you are on the field. I don’t like those solutions. I will keep it as dry as possible, and will see if I can simply spray air into the area, just enough to blow the dust off of it.  It is tight in there and there is no clear vision from the outside (you need to remove the tank and airbox to see it).  But once you know where it is, you can “map it” and cut a small piece of hose and curve it just enough to reach the area from outside of the frame. And you can either use compressed air (if in your garage) or take the hose with you and use canned air or a tire pump when in the field to blow air. Alternatively, you can use a small nylon brush with the appropriate curvature to reach the area. I will try these alternatives before applying grease or WD40 (or similar) options.

Close up of the roller, the area that needs to be cleaned. It is tight to get in there from the outside.

Close up of the roller, the area that needs to be cleaned. It is tight to get in there from the outside without removing tank/airbox.

Anyway, when looking at things in perspective, this is nothing compared to the problems the KTM 1190 Adventure and Adventure R are facing with respect to riding on dusty areas. The 2013 bikes had problems with the airbox’s lid warping from engine heat and letting air bypass the filter and going into the throttle inlet via cracks formed between the box and its warped lid. KTM changed the airbox design for the 2014 but that still did not solve the problem.  Dusty air getting into the motor creates significant, and expensive damage.  It may seem I’m bashing KTM here, but I’m not.  It is what it is. I really like those KTMs. The 1190 is in my short list of future bikes, who knows, certainly something to consider after there is a KTM fix for the airbox problem.

Spotless airbox lid on the Tiger. Filter and airbox work!  (I have a Uni pre-filter installed on this bike as well)

Spotless airbox lid on the Tiger. Filter and airbox work! (I have a Uni pre-filter installed on this bike as well)

The entire operation to get to the Tiger’s problem area involves removing plastic, removing tank, and removing the airbox to access the throttle linkage.  The first time I did this and then put everything back together took me about the time of an entire soccer match.  The second time I removed all those pieces and put it all back together took me about half of that.

France vs Honduras on FIFA world Cup in Brazil: the amount of time it took me to clean the throttle linkage.

France vs Honduras on FIFA world Cup in Brazil: it was the amount of time it took me to get to the area and clean the throttle linkage and put the bike back together when I did it for the first time.

Conclusion

If you are an average rider like me, and will only be riding gravel and dirt roads, you basically don’t need to do anything to this bike. It would be overkill to invest on suspension or change sprockets or anything.  Just ride it as is and you will have plenty of motorcycle for a lot of fun. I personally haven’t changed anything on this bike up to now, although I imagine suspension adjustments will go a long way in making it a better bike. And yes, tires make a difference as well.

Now, if you will be riding on rocky terrain, deep sand, single track, then, to begin with, this size of bike is not the ideal size for that type of travel. You would want something smaller and lighter. But I understand, we all dream these bikes can ride the Back Country Discovery Routes. And they do if you have the skills or the cullones to put it through those routes. I think it still can do it without changes if you ride in normal and conservative speeds. But you will probably benefit from a sprocket change to lower the gears for crawling or going steep and technical terrain. And if you want to ride it more aggressively, and loaded with gear, I would recommend reviewing the suspension set up. And that’s it. Well, and learn how to clean the throttle linkage up from the stepper motor on occasion.

Now for the personal preference side of this equation I’m thinking about a slip-on exhaust to get a more throaty exhaust note, something that would drown out the triple whistle (what makes it sound like a jet turbine) and the engine tappet-like sound (Triumph dealer claims it is normal) you hear at around the 3k RPM.  Also, a narrower slip-on exhaust would allow for side racks that won’t stick out too far and wide, which would work for side panniers (I’m thinking about soft panniers like the Siskiyou (Giant Loop) or the smaller set of the Mosko Moto).

What about the speculated new Africa Twin and the new Ténéré 700 or 750 XTZ?

After riding the Tiger on this trip and pushing it on these roads, I have to say the 800XC is pretty much spot on. But of course, it could be better. And that is what I’m hoping from these two new possible offerings in the market.

Will this be the 2015 CRF1000 Africa Twin?

Will this be the 2015 CRF1000 Africa Twin?

If they are lighter than the Tiger would be one thing that would be extremely helpful, so you could venture with these bikes with more confidence in technical terrain.

More torque at lower revs would also be a welcome improvement, which is something these two speculated bikes would have if they stick with parallel twins with a 270 degree crank as rumors seem to indicate.  Although the Yamaha seems to have a smaller displacement and less power, with only 50 ft/lbs of torque if the motor comes unchanged from the FZ-07/MT-07 as it has been speculated.  But 70 hp of the 700cc twin of the FZ-07/MT-07 it is still plenty of power to have loads of fun on dirt roads!

Will this be Yamaha's new mid-size adventure bike?

Will this be Yamaha’s new mid-size adventure bike?

The BMW F800GS has a parallel twin (360 degree crank, though) and has more torque at low revs when compared to the Tiger.

2014 BMW F800GS

2014 BMW F800GS. Too bad they discontinued this color for 2015 (Kalamata now available on adventure version only)

Finally, one item that would be very welcome is the capacity to fully adjust front and rear suspension (pre-load, compression and rebound damping).

Other than that, the 200 mile range of the fuel tank is spot on for the Triumph, you don’t need more than that, in my opinion. So I hope that is the case for these two new bikes. When you need more range, just strap a gas jug and it takes care of the issue.  But under normal circumstances, 200 miles will be plenty.

That’s it.

For whatever my opinion is worth, overall the Triumph gets two thumbs up from me for the loads of fun it afforded me on the desert roads of southeastern Oregon. Maybe it is not a desert racer, but given reasonably leveled roads, this bike does really well. I was thrilled by its performance.

For what my opinion is worth, TWO THUMBS UP!

For what my opinion is worth, the average adventure rider, TWO THUMBS UP!

As for the other bikes, I would love to ride the F800GS, the KTM 1190 and the speculated new Africa Twin and new Ténéré (when/if they become available) on these fun roads.  Maybe these other bikes will make my Triumph Tiger 800XC feel like a heavy street bike.

Thank you for reading.

Up next the Ducati goes back to the California Sierras.

Posted in Bike Reviews, Riding the Triumph | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

XTZ 700 – Yamaha’s new mid-size Ténéré

[This post has been updated - scroll down for a concept illustration of a sport/touring motorcycle based on the MT09/FZ-09 Yamaha]

We are not surprised to see a drawing of a speculated XTZ 700 (or 750) Yamaha Ténéré surface on the internet. Motorrad sketched something that looks really interesting, with design cues from the XTZ 1,200 Super Ténéré and using a parallel twin motor, likely a variation of that motor from the Yamaha MT-07 (or FZ-07 for the American market).  That’s not likely to be Yamaha’s own view for such a bike (if they have a view for such a bike in the first place), but certainly this drawing looks interesting and to a certain extent, makes sense as an evolution of the XTZ660 and XTZ1200 styles.

010_Yamaha-XTZ-700The launch of the MT-07, the speculation about Honda’s New Africa Twin, Yamaha’s own Dakar history, a perceived gap in the adventure market, and the age of the XTZ660 has led us to believe something could come up from Yamaha’s camp sooner or later in the midsize adventure market.  This article from Motorrad suggests Yamaha may be finally taking action. The same article indicates Yamaha will have 15 new models to be revealed on the fall motorcycle shows.  Something similar to the bike depicted in the drawing above could be one of these 15 new bikes.  That would be quite a large market attack from Yamaha. Can we say blitzkrieg?

The 2014 Yamaha MT-07 (FZ-07 in the USA)

The 2014 Yamaha MT-07 (FZ-07 in the USA) has a good powerplant for an adventure bike

More details are yet to be provided so, as we have been doing with our Honda Africa Twin is Back post, we will update this Ténéré post as new information becomes available about this speculated motorcycle.

For now let’s talk about how this segment of the market is shaping up and the basis for this new speculated motorcycle by Yamaha.

The Perceived Gap

It just may be that finally we are experiencing saturation on the large adventure bikes’ market, the 1,200 cc segment of the adventure motorcycle market. It makes sense: you first take care of the most profitable segment, stake your claim there, then you go after the second best, the midsize market.  And of course, the motorcycle industry has heard the cry of the adventure enthusiasts who have been asking for more multi-cylinder mid-size bikes on the adventure segment. And we should add there is that almost permanent quest from a minority of us for a more enduro or rally oriented motorcycle in the adventure market, I’m not sure this group has been heard really. Bottom line, as we’ve discussed on the New Honda Africa Twin post, there is a perceived gap in this market and it seems there finally is some action from the industry to provide bikes for that portion of the market.

perceived gap on adv marketOn our interpretation of this market there are no multi-cylinder motorcycles that are dirt oriented in the segment from 700 to 1000 cc of displacement since KTM stopped producing the 990 Adventure.  Some people consider the BMW F800GS and the Triumph Tiger 800XC to be “dirty enough” and to a certain extent, they are. But that’s it.  And that’s where Honda seems to be targeting with at least one of the possible and speculated versions of the New Africa Twin. Or so some of us hope.

On the 1,200cc segment you have many options,  but they are more touring-adventure types of motorcycles. It seems every motorcycle manufacturer has captured one slice of this profitable large bikes’ market in their quest to erode BMW’s R1200GS dominance of this segment. But the GS remains the best seller.  And these large bikes have evolved along the years, perhaps even including the KTM 1190R, to become more street oriented.  If not for anything else, it is for their larger weight and, of course, their price. Some of these bikes perform well enough on dirt (for their size), but very few owners take them off road. Yamaha recently let us know only 12% of the Super Ténéré owners take their bikes off-road.  Where’s is the next Starbucks?

This is Motorrad's interpretation of the Adventure Market gradient between dirt and street. And where they situate the speculated Africa Twin

This is Motorrad’s interpretation of the Adventure Market gradient between dirt and street. And where they situate the speculated Africa Twin

Of the two mid-size adventure bikes worth mentioning when we talk about dirt orientation, the F800GS is probably the measuring stick today. Although BMW was not the first motorcycle manufacturer to conceive, develop and successfully market a motorcycle for this mid-size portion of the motorcycle industry, it is the BMW F800GS, launched in 2008 in Europe (2009 in the US), the leader of this segment. It is the more dirt-oriented mid-size machine of this multi-cylinder segment.

2014 BMW F800GS

2014 BMW F800GS

Triumph successfully entered this market in 2011 with the Tiger 800XC, and I happen to have one of these machines and I do take it on off-pavement adventures on occasion, where it performs rather well, I would say.  Like the BMW, the Triumph could be better, though.  And this is where I would like to see new bikes being offered in the market deliver: a better dirt package, perhaps a more enduro or rally oriented suspension, and if possible, a lighter multi-cylinder motorcycle. And maybe that is not possible.

My 2012 Triumph Tiger 800XC

Our 2012 Triumph Tiger 800XC in action

Back-tracking some more in the history timeline of adventure/enduro bikes, to before the time BMW, let’s say, re-discovered the 800cc market with the F800GS, this displacement size was the top size of the enduro market.  It was the Paris-Dakar rally what brought the appeal for a motorcycle that would travel the world and would be capable of traversing any terrain. The BMW R80GS was the machine that turned this segment into reality.  This is the origin of the multi-cylinder adventure bike which evolved into the very successful BMW R1200GS and this entire larger displacement segment. Some of this bike’s (and this segment’s) consolidation can be traced back to the adventures of Ewan McGregor’s and Charley Boorman’s Long Way Round and Long Way Down series and other individuals who have taken these bikes on round the world adventures.

A new era on the motorcycle industry

1980-87 – BMW R80GS created a new market for the motorcycle industry

Yamaha and Honda were also leaders of this 700-800cc segment of the market by also winning the Paris Dakar race several times and by also producing Dakar-based motorcycles under the Ténéré and Africa Twin brands respectively.  But that was a relatively short lived period for these two manufacturers.  They have invested on it, produced bikes that carry their name in the imagination of riders to today. But they lacked a commitment to further develop the bikes, and lacked presence across some markets in the world.

The Original! Honda Africa Twin XRV650

The Original! Honda Africa Twin XRV650

1990 Yamaha XTZ750

1990 Yamaha XTZ750

Consider that before the KTM era (total dominance since 2001), from 1979 to 2000, Yamaha and Honda were rather successful:

  • Yamaha – 9 wins
  • BMW – 6 wins
  • Honda – 5 wins
  • Cagiva – 2 wins

Yamaha was the brand with the most Dakar wins until KTM entered this circuit. Like BMW, Honda and Yamaha before them, KTM themselves have developed a series of motorcycles based on the prestige of the Dakar bikes. Differently than BMW, Honda and Yamaha, though, until recently KTM did not seem to propose to lead the market in sales volume, but in developing motorcycles that have better enduro or off road aptitude than the offerings from other manufacturers.

Paris Dakar Winners since 1979

Paris Dakar Winners since 1979

All other mid-size multi-cylinder adventure-styled motorcycles currently available are just it, more emphasis on the style and not the capability for off-road adventures.

In honoring the Dakar race history, it seems only four manufacturers are actually expected to produce machines that could offer the general public some level of the sensation of what it could be like to ride a Dakar capable machine (even though Dakar is now limited to 450cc machines, we are talking here about multi-cylinder machines). Yamaha, BMW, Honda and KTM are it. And then, on the outside of this circle, but looking into it, we have Triumph with the Tiger 800XC.

Rumors feed our dreams for what these manufacturers could bring to the market should they perceive a gap exists as well. And it seems they finally agree with us.  I guess we are all looking for something new and exciting on this perceived gap of the market.

The Orange camp seems to be an obvious candidate, they are the ones that have been building the more enduro type of bikes of all of them. We have heard from forum participants the desire of seeing a 750 V-Twin with more rally-like specs than the 990 Super-Enduro.  We’ve heard some faint rumors that it could be a reality, especially since KTM stopped producing the 990 Adventure.

The red camp talks about the revival of the Africa Twin, and these rumors seem to be the most realistic ones of all speculated stories on this front.

BMW already has the F800GS, but it eventually will need a revamp, something more radical than color, subtle styling changes and the addition of electronic packages of recent. The only changes to the 2015 F800GS are color changes, for example. Well, they built the Adventure version (I wish they had only expanded the tank with one extra gallon, by the way). But then again, the F800GS remains the benchmark on this size.

Triumph, who knows, they may surprise us again. Although I seem to think their way up will likely be with evolutionary changes on things they lag behind on the Tiger 800XC, such as an electronics package, the need to move the dash information control from buttons on the dash itself to controls on the handlebars, and a subframe (or making passenger pegs an added/removable part from the frame).

Other manufacturers may join this market, the same way they crowded the 1,200 segment.  Although the midsize segment is not a hot market as the 1,200 cc market is, there is room for growth, and there is plenty of room for building exciting machines.

But we have hope that, akin to what happened in years past with the 1,200 market that, we may see fireworks on this segment of the market in the next couple of years.

Under the skin of a speculated new Yamaha Ténéré

With respect to this midsize development, Yamaha has been the silent one.  But we haven’t forgotten that Yamaha is a member of this exclusive group of manufacturers with history and an interest in this market.  Maybe they are still feeling the sting of the low sales volume they experienced with their Super Ténéré, an excellent motorcycle but which never generated much excitement in the market, except for the bike’s launch itself. Although very solid and proven to be reliable, this bike actually seemed to be somewhat obsolete by the time of its launch.  I remember comments from journalists and riders at that time, that were actually wanting Yamaha to develop an evolution of the XTZ750 and not a 1,200cc bike. The 2014 XTZ 1,200 has shown a few improvements from previous years, a small diet, and the addition of an electronic suspension package.  Progress, but still a soft selling machine.

What really triggered our interest in Yamaha’s camp, with the possibility of finally bringing a mid-size machine as a continuation of the actual Dakar-based Ténéré line, was the development of two new and exciting powerplants and the recent launch of two naked motorcycles based on these two powerplants. As soon as these bikes and motors came out adventure enthusiasts started to speculate whether these motors would work on a mid-size adventure motorcycle.

First was the beautiful new three cylinder motor that powers the Yamaha MT-09.

Three-Cylinder Powerplant

In-Line, Three-Cylinder, 847cc Powerplant

The MT-09 came to the market with appropriate fanfare. It is an exciting package with performance and a reasonable price. For some reason, three cylinder motors have a following, or a new found following in the market. There is something about flat, linear torque curves and smooth acceleration.

MT-09 or FZ-09

MT-09 or FZ-09

I know about this based on the 3-Cylinder 800XC.  The Tiger 800XC performs really well on dirt roads, but in my case, I bough this bike thinking mostly about riding it on the road. This is where the power plant seems to better deliver its power and torque curve.

Because of an adjustment of the bikes in our shed (a Ducati showed up) I was reluctant but did make the Tiger into a more dirt-oriented machine. And I have been positively surprised by how well this bike behaves on fast dirt roads, with all original equipment, except for the Shinko 705 tires. Check this video (link below) where you can see how well this bike can do on dirt roads.

There are a few things one would prefer on an off road bike though, such as a better low to middle RPM 1st gear action for technical and high incline climbs, more engine braking, and a more lively throttle response, which are things you normally get from a twin-cylinder motor. Add a small weight reduction to better face technical terrain.  And on more of a preference issue, the bark of a twin-cylinder when off road just sounds more fitting.

And that’s where a new Africa Twin and a possible mid-size Ténéré based on a twin-cylinder package sounds appealing.  So it was as if on cue that soon after the story about the MT-09 came out and people started talking about a Yamaha adventure bike based on this new triple motor, I’ve heard of the MT-07 and another new motor, a compact parallel twin package.

MT-07 (FZ-07) 700cc parallel twin motor

MT-07 (FZ-07) 700cc parallel twin motor

And the bike that came with it.

Yamaha MT-07 / FZ-07

Yamaha MT-07 / FZ-07

So I’m glad the Motorrad drawings depict this speculated new Ténéré with a parallel twin motor.  This motor offers the hope for a lighter bike in an adventure package.  And on top of that, this motor has a 270 degrees crank, meaning it will provide rideability and hopefully sound and feel similar to that of a V-twin, but on a compact package.

Specifications for these two bikes:

FZ-07 FZ-09
Price $6,990 $7,990
Cylinders Parallel Twin, 270 degree crank Three in line
Displacement 689cc 847cc
Power 74hp 115hp
Torque 50 lb/ft 64.5 lb/ft
Fuel Economy 58mpg 44mpg
Tank size 3.7 gallons 3.7 gallons
Calculated Range (mpg x tank size) 214.6 miles 162.8 miles
Weight 397lbs 414lbs

The 1991 Paris Dakar winner Yamaha YZE750T had these figures:

● Engine type: Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, DOHC, 5-valve, in-line 2-cylinder, 802.5cm3
● Transmission: 5-speed
● Maximum power output: 74HP
● Weight: 194kg / 427lbs

The new parallel twin motor, if it is the one applied into an enduro package (adventure), would probably replicate very closely, the specs of the winning motorcycle, matching the exact 74hp of that bike, and perhaps the same weight, about 430lbs.

1991 YZE750T Super Ténéré

1991 YZE750T Super Ténéré

The new parallel twin’s 74hp is plenty good power in our opinion. It was plenty good for the race bike to win the Paris-Dakar race in 1991. The challenge is to keep the whole package light and make it fit into the gradient of bikes available as a lighter bike.  Or that’s what we would like to see on a new bike.

table of comparison
Therefore, if Yamaha decides to build such a bike, and it is based on the FZ-07 motor (or a variation on the theme), it gives us hope this is going to be a light bike, perhaps in the 430-450lbs level. It could also be that Yamaha could make a dirt version with the parallel twin motor and a more touring version, 19 inch front wheel, with the triple motor. These two versions would make everyone happy, open up the options for the market, and for some, make it a difficult choice between two dreamed about mid-size adventure bikes.

We will keep an eye on information about this possible bike and this segment of the market, where we predict a few new exciting motorcycles will become available in the next couple of years.  We will update this post (or create new posts) as more information becomes available.

Update: September 1, 2014

It seems someone has leaked a photoshop illustration of a sport/touring motorcycle based on Yamaha’s three cylinder motor.  Drawn around the MT-09 (FZ-09) triple motor and frame, the concept illustration presented yesterday at CycleWorld (borrowed from Young Magazine in Japan) denotes a definite street orientation.

Concept Ilustration of Street/Touring Yamaha based on MT09/FZ-09 bike (CycleWorld via Young Magazine)

Concept Ilustration of Street/Touring Yamaha based on MT09/FZ-09 bike (Source: CycleWorld via Young Magazine, Japan)

Certainly this concept, as depicted above, is not worthy of a Ténéré denomination. CycleWorld seems to think such a bike could slot in the Ténéré line up as a smaller option to the 1200 Super Ténéré. We instead believe the real mid-size Ténéré, if it will be built, will have a 21 inch front spoked wheel.

However, such a concept fits our earlier prediction that Yamaha would bring to the market two adventure styled motorcycles, where a street oriented version would be based on the triple motor and a dirt-oriented version would be based on the parallel twin motor.

However, we were expecting the street version to come fitted with a 19 inch wheel. Instead, this drawing shows it as a more popular and accessible version of the Multistrada and the speculated touring styled version of the BMW S1000R.  That is, street bikes that can be used for touring, sport touring as many say.  This is a growing market, it seems.

Speculated "Adventurized" version of BMW S1000R

Speculated “Adventurized” version of BMW S1000R (Source: Motorcyclist)

Anyway, such a sport/touring motorcycle, similar to what is shown on the illustration, could be one of the 15 motorcycles Yamaha is supposed to launch at Intermot or EICMA this year. We still believe Yamaha will bring to the market a mid-size Ténéré version based on the MT-07/FZ-07 platform.

Stay tuned for new updates.

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