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.
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.
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.
Many 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.
It 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.