Should I upgrade my 2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak with the DVT model?

Should I upgrade my 2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak with the 2016 Pikes Peak model? That’s the question.  I’m not the only one grappling with this question since 2015, when Ducati incorporated many upgrades to the Multistrada, especially the DVT motor.

2016 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak on the right, my 2013 Pikes Peak on the right.

2016 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak on the left, my 2013 Pikes Peak on the right.

On this post I will discuss ten reasons to keep my Multistrada Pikes Peak or to get the new DVT model.  These reasons are not “either or” scenarios, they are just considerations on specific items, where, on my personal view, I would favor one motorcycle or the other.  Your take might be different than mine item by item, but you can use this framework to reach your own conclusions.

2016 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak

2016 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak

A premise for this comparison is that besides the DVT Multistrada I haven’t seen other motorcycles that would work as an upgrade to my Multistrada.  There are some motorcycles that are better on sport or touring performance.  When you combine sport and touring, though, and put together on a upright riding position package, the Multistrada is still my favorite so far. I say “so far” because I’m open to other motorcycles, and will look for alternatives if something comes up.  For now the Multistrada DVT is the natural upgrade to my sport/touring motorcycle, the 2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak.

The 2016 Mutistrada DVT Standard model I test rode

The 2016 Mutistrada DVT Standard model I test rode

Within the Multistrada line the alternatives have improved with the addition of the Enduro version.  But it is the Pikes Peak primarily the one that gathers my attention, hence the one that will be discussed here.

My 2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak

My 2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak

Now that we have discussed the context at hand, we are ready to start bringing up, one by one, the items, the differences between the 2013/14 and the 2015/16 Pikes Peak bikes, that can make me, or you, favor one or the other.

Reason 1: The Testatretta motor!

No question, one of the most critical elements that makes the Multistrada successful is its motor. When this bike first came out in 2010, the motor was all the rage. This bike was a first on that front and has created a new segment, we now have a few other options delivering similar or better level performance from their motors from KTM, BMW, Aprilia, and others. So let’s start with the Testastretta motor.

The case to keep the 2013: The dual spark motor performance and characteristics

Although the DVT motor has more power, is more stable on low RPM, and is smoother throughout the rev band when compared to the 2013 motor, its power delivery at the mid portion of the RPM range does not feel as strong as what I experience in my motorcycle’s Testratretta dual spark motor.

Testastretta twin-spark motor, Multistradas 2013 and 2014.

Testastretta twin-spark motor, Multistradas 2013 and 2014.

The 2013/14 Multistrada’s motor is a re-designed version of the original Testastretta motor on the 2010/12 models.  The re-design included several modifications that improved the management of spark, fuel, and the air mixture maximizing its efficiency and stability at lower RPM.  It was a subtle but critical improvement.

The 2013/14 motors maintain just enough of the characteristic vibration of a V-twin, it is something I actually like.  But it is not overwhelming at all, it is just a light touch you feel via the handlebars, seat and pegs. When you add the v-twin vibration to the dynamic forces of acceleration and sound, it does give a feel of raw performance, it delivers an aggressive attitude. It is telling you there is a strong v-twin in there, taking you on this high performance adventure, and in the case of this specific motor, it is willing to give you more as you climb the rev range.

The Evolution of the Multistrada Testastretta motors

The Evolution of the Multistrada Testastretta motors (the 1198 was the original motor)

In preparation for this write up, I rode my Mutistrada over the weekend, just to be reminded of what this motor is all about. At 4,500 RPM that motor is already very responsive and linear. The magic spot, the characteristic of a motorcycle where I enjoy the riding experience the most, happens at the confluence of vibration, RPM gain, speed gain, and induction sounds.  On this bike it starts just above 5K RPM on the “150 hp high” setting.  That’s the sweet spot of its motor, all the way to about 8K RPM, giving me a great latitude, a wide range for fun.  This is ultimately the reason I like this motor, and why I keep it at the 150 hp and on the high setting, where its delivery is sharp, even when on Urban mode.

Even Urban setting is kept at 150 HP with the High acceleration on my bike

Even Urban setting is kept at 150 HP with the High (150 HIGH) acceleration on my bike

The case to get the DVT bikes: The DVT motor performance and characteristics

As a counter point, though, the DVT motor is sublime. Although it is smooth at higher RPMs, you would never question there is a V-twin pulling you through when riding this motorcycle, especially at lower RPMs. There are several advantages to this motor, from technical to experiential in relation to the motor on my motorcycle.

The DVT Motor

The DVT Motor

From the technical side, it is yet more efficient than the motor from each it evolved.  Actually, there are so many differences, it is a different motor altogether.  The most important one, of course, is on its name, the variable valve timing on intake and exhaust valves.  It delivers more power and yet more improvements to low RPM motor stability, and better fuel efficiency, without compromising performance on the higher end of the rev range.  As a matter of fact, this motor has about 10% more torque than the dual spark motor.

On the experiential side of things, when comparing to my 2013, the DVT motor does feel more stable at low RPM.  However where I noticed the most improvement was on how smooth it is under strong acceleration.  And since we are talking about strong acceleration, there is rush of power you get above 6K RPM from this motor… it is something out of this world. That’s where the sweet spot of this motor resides.

Although that rush of power is great, it comes with a down side. If you are in touring mode you will experience a slow down on the acceleration rate when the motor goes from 4K to 6K RPM. It is somewhat of a disappointment to have that flat spot on the torque curve, but it only makes the acceleration you experience above 6K so much more intense.

In conclusion, I would say both motors are great. The dual-spark motor delivers more of a raw performance, it is an in your face performance, and you get some nice induction sounds along the way, it is a true v-twin motor, perhaps the last of a generation.  The DVT motor, on the other hand, is a lot more refined, but it is still delivering a thrilling performance. It requires a change on how you use the gears, if you want to be on the sweet spot, but when you are there you will be rewarded! For as much as I like the feel of the dual spark motor, there is no looking back, the DVT motor on itself is already a good reason to upgrade to a 2015 or 20156 model.

Reason 2: Reliability and Service intervals

Anytime someone knows I ride a Ducati one of the questions that comes up in the conversation is about reliability and service intervals.  These are important items to consider when we know these bikes are expensive to maintain and service.

The case to keep it: reliability

The twin-spark motor turned out to be reliable.  My motorcycle has never had any mechanical problems.  It was also the first Ducati motor to have a 15,000 mile service interval, which is great progress for these service demanding Ducati motors.  However, it still requires belts to be changed every two years.

The 2013 Twin-spark motor, 24,000 Km, 15,000 miles service interval.

My 2013 Twin-spark motor, 24,000 Km, 15,000 miles service interval.

The case to get the DVT bikes:

While we are still learning about the DVT motors, who knows what reliability level they will reach, they incorporate lots of changes and new technology.  What we know is that these motors have yet a longer service interval than the motor they substitute. Its service interval is 30,000 Km which translates to 18,750 miles.  And I hear (to be confirmed) the belts need to serviced only every 5 years.  That is not bad at all.

DVT Motor: Desmove service every 30,000 Km, 18,750 miles

DVT Motor: Desmove service every 30,000 Km, 18,750 miles

I would say, in the long term, the DVT motor, with its longer service intervals, will carry more value, not even considering what it already gains in performance and efficiency from the variable valve timing technology.

Reason 3: The Suspension

Aside from the motor, another important item that makes the Multistrada successful is the suspension.  The 2010-12 models had the Öhlins suspension, and from the 2013 model the Multistrada line comes equipped with Sachs semi-active suspension, also called the Skyhook which with Ducati’s name added to the acronym it becomes DSS.  In 2015 the Multistrada continues with the Skyhook, but with evolutionary upgrades.

However the 2015-16 Pikes Peak comes with an evolution of the Öhlins you would find on the first versions (2010-12).  This makes for a difficult decision here, and it will probably be the most important one for several people.  I remember on motorcycle forums in 2013 some people were very passionate for Öhlins or for Sachs semi-active suspension. The reason for the controversy is obvious: they are both good suspension systems.  But they are also different.

The case to keep it:  Sachs Skyhook Suspension (DSS)

The case for Skyhook is comfort and the easiness to get performance from it.  You can dial it in to your own style of riding going through a series of menu items. It is incredible how the DSS, Ducati’s semi-active suspension, works.

DSS: Ducati Skyhook Semi-active suspension.

DSS: Ducati Skyhook Semi-active suspension.

Once you ride a motorcycle with it, and you happen to like it, which is my case, you want all suspensions to work the same way, especially when you travel on rough surfaces. On sport mode, for example, it keeps the damping you need for aggressive riding, but softens the edges of imperfections on the road. Overall, it is likely to keep the wheels on the ground on a more evenly fashion while making the ride more comfortable as well.

Therefore, you should get more performance, safety, and also comfort out of it.  The tendency is that more and more motorcycles will have semi-active suspensions. We already these systems on premium brands such as KTM, Aprilia, BMW, and MV Agusta.

The case to upgrade to the DVT: Öhlins suspension, including the fully adjustable Öhlins TTX36 shock

On the other hand, Öhlins is known to deliver high performance suspension. I rode a 2010 Multistrada with Öhlins and liked it. I also rode the 2016 DVT with the standard  suspension (not semi-active) more recently. After so many years riding Skyhook semi-active suspension, I’ve gotten used with it. However, riding the standard Multistrada I got reminded about how good it is to have better feedback from the front end of the bike.

Ohlins front forks

Ohlins  front forks, the gold stanchion is back…

Semi-active suspensions don’t give you that important detail, the feedback you may want to feel at the handle bars. The feedback makes it easier to ride faster, even if semi-active suspensions deliver optimized performance in varying conditions. You need to trust the semi-active suspension, you read the bike better on “analog” suspension.

Overall, I would like to have both suspensions, and then switch to one or the other by a flick of a button. Since that is not possible, if I had to opt, I would give a try to Öhlins next.  I know I would miss the Skyhook, though.  That is a tough decision.  You can go with Multistrada S with DVT, in which case you get the DVT motor, but an evolutionary version of the semi-active suspension.

Reason 4: Riding technology package, the case to get the DVT bikes

Since both bikes offer high level of technology, and the choice is between these two bikes,  having technology is not an issue favoring one or the other bike. As a matter of fact, riding technology is another element that characterized the Multistrada, since it was one of the first motorcycles to have a full package including riding modes, power delivery modes, suspension settings, levels of ABS and traction control.

That is, if you like a Multistrada, chances are you like the technology that comes with it as well.  Therefore, when comparing the 2013/14 Multistradas to the 2015/16 models, there is no question, advantage goes to the DVT bikes.

Latest version of Bosch's ABS, with stability control (the "cornering ABS)

Latest version of Bosch’s ABS, with stability control (the “cornering ABS)

And that’s because of the upgrades it includes.  Two items are probably making the case unambiguous:  Bosch’s ABS with stability control, the famous “cornering ABS”; and cruise control.

Thanks to Bosch and KTM for introducing the cornering ABS to their Adventure models, a technology that has become a requirement on all top brands since then. KTM has it, BMW has it, and the DVT Multistradas have it.  I want my next performance motorcycle to have cornering ABS.

The second item, cruise control, is not the most important item, but there are moments when you really wish you had it, when you need to do something with both hands, things you shouldn’t be doing  (like turning the camera on).  Or when you need to rest your right wrist on a long ride. It is very convenient even if you only use it once in a while. I’m at the “why not” camp for that one. I want my next touring motorcycle to have cruise control.

Cruise control on the DVT

Cruise control on the DVT

Reason 5: Seat height

The DVT Multistradas have a lower seat, offering better reach to the ground for inseam challenged people.

Lowe seat height can be a major advantage for the DVT models

Lowe seat height can be a major advantage for the DVT models, should you be inseam-challenged

Depending on how tall you are you may find this a reason to upgrade or not.  For me, this is a major positive item!  When riding my Multistrada I’m always observant when stopping about how at least one foot will reach the ground and how stable that reach needs to be.

Reason 6: Marchesini wheels, the case for the 2o13/14 models

On the previous Pikes Peak models, Marchesini wheels has been the one major item that characterized the model, besides the color scheme.

Marchesini wheels on the Pikes Peak, discontinued on the 2015 and 2016 models.

Marchesini wheels on the Pikes Peak, discontinued on the 2015 and 2016 models.

That’s no longer the case, the DVT Pikes Peak models come with cast wheels.

Cast wheels on the 2015-16 Pikes Peak

Cast wheels on the 2015-16 Pikes Peak

This is not a priority item, but it makes a difference on performance and strength of the wheel and is one of those contributing items that help with the decision.

Reason 7: Information display, the case for the DVT models

This is a no-brainer. The new TFT color display of the DVT models is so much better than the monochrome displays of the previous series.

2010-14 Multistrada Monochrome displays

2010-14 Multistrada Monochrome displays

Some have complained the new TFT displays scratch easily. There is always a downside, right? You can apply protective film to them, problem solved.

The TFT color display in the DVT model. More informative, easier to navigate

The TFT color display in the DVT model. More informative, easier to navigate

Aside from looking better, the DVT model offers a much easier navigation process. Just one more reason to go for the DVT models.

Reason 8: Engine sounds and the Termignoni silencer, the case for the DVT Models (2015/16)

When Ducati announced the Pikes Peak model in 2013 it showed pictures of the bike with the Termignoni slip on. It happened that it was not included on the bikes destined for the American market. Now it is part of the Pikes Peak package.

Termignoni slip on on the DVT Pikes Peak

Termignoni slip on on the DVT Pikes Peak

It happens that I like the sound of the DVT bikes better and with the Termignoni silencer it gets even better.  It is the case of getting the Pikes Peak DVT.

Item 9: The overall package, the case for the DVT bikes

There are so many other items on the new model, like cornering lights (lights that come on when the bike is leaned to illuminate the direction when cornering), back lit switches. I also like the shorty carbon fiber wind screen on the DVT better.

Carbon fiber shorty on the Pikes Peak DVT, another point for the DVT bikes!

Carbon fiber shorty on the Pikes Peak DVT, another point for the DVT bike!

The overall fit and finish quality seems to have been improved as well. It is, overall, a more refined motorcycle.

Item 10: The looks! So subjective…

It took me a long time to acquire a taste for the Multistrada, what with the beak and the  angry bird face. The Pikes Peak bikes were always a better paint scheme in my opinion. And the 2013/14 Pikes Peak models in particular are unique when compared to the other two Pikes Peak versions.  The first Pikes Peak version had the red and white and black and the shiny carbon pieces, a nice looking beast.

2012 Multistrada Pikes Peak

2012 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak – official Ducati photo

But the 2013-2014 model is the only one that is only red and white.  It looks more aggressive, sharp, and the satin carbon fiber adds a nice touch to it. It is my favorite.

2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak - Official Ducati photo.

2013 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak – Official Ducati photo.

It is not that I don’t like the new Pikes Peak paint scheme, but on looks alone, I prefer the 2013.

2016 Multistrada Pikes Peak

2016 Multistrada Pikes Peak

Of course, this is very subjective. And it should not be a determinant factor on someone’s choice.  But it helps.  I doubt Multistrada motorcycles of this vintage (2010-2016) will become collectible items some day, but if it were the case, I would bet on the Pikes Peak models more than the others to have that space in history.  And perhaps the 2013-14 models are a special case on that scenario, or so I would hope. Aside from the Pikes Peak versions, a potentially collectible version of the Multistrada could be the black color on the 2010-2011 S models which are rare motorcycles.  And those black bikes look great as well.


In my mind, there is no question the DVT is a much improved motorcycle. If my Pikes Peak checked all boxes when I got it, the new one comes with “optional” boxes that did not exist at that time.

Which Pikes Peak? 2016 DVT or my 2013?

Which Pikes Peak? 2016 DVT or my 2013?

At this point, I want the DVT motorcycle. I have other priorities at the moment which do not allow me to indulge on the new level of performance and quality the DVT bikes deliver, and in specific the Pikes Peak, my unambiguous choice.  Also, I think I have a few more adventures to accomplish with my Pikes Peak. It is still my favorite and the best motorcycle I’ve ever had.

I still want to have more adventures with this bike

I’m not done with  my Pikes Peak, I want to have more adventures with it

But if someone is considering the upgrade, Ducati has a campaign with the Pikes Peak where you can get 1.99% financing or $1,200 cash for accessories.  That should make it easy, right?

I will dream about the DVT, but I can’t complain, my Pikes Peak is an awesome motorcycle.

Disclaimer:  I write this blog as a hobby and a reflection of my passion for motorcycles and motorcycle riding. I’m not affiliated with any business or organization, I’m not paid to write and publish my posts. The potential income generated by advertisements you may come across on my posts are going to WordPress, the organization hosting my content. I pay WordPress to manage and host my content, I would have to pay more to have advert-free posts.





Posted in Bike Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

The 2017 BMW R NineT Scrambler is here!

I got a text message earlier today… “bring your camera!” it said.  I was involved in so many calls and conversations today, it was hard to wait until I could find the time to get to the European Motorcycles of Western Oregon to check this thing out in person.

The 2017 BMW R NineT Scrambler is here!

The 2017 BMW R NineT Scrambler is here!

I had seen one of these bikes for the first time in February at the One Moto show in Portland. But this time I could see and touch it as well.

It is something!

It is something! Just beautiful.

I don’t know what angle is the best angle to photograph this machine. They are all nice angles o this bike.

Beautiful from all angles

Beautiful from all angles

It doesn’t have the nice front forks of the R NineT roadster.  Nor the aluminum tank.  And a few other items here and there, showing BMW wanted to make sure this bike started at a lower price point than the R NineT Roadster.

Another nice view...

Another nice view…


However, you can build your own by selecting options or getting BMW accessories for this bike, and almost bringing it all the way to the roadster level. ABS is standard. As options you can get traction control, heated grips, cross-spoke wheels and off road tires, for example.  As accessories, there is a long list.  As examples, you can get a headlight protector, a short seat and the aluminum hand brushed tank.

Footpegs are positioned slightly lower than on the roadster. The Akrapovic exhaust is "scramblerized"

Footpegs are positioned slightly lower than on the roadster. The Akrapovic exhaust is “scramblerized”

The cast wheels are okay.  The cross spoke wheels are better looking in my opinion.  My one complaint about this bike? The one-clock. Really? One clock is okay, but why not make it an analog tachometer? Speed shows so well in digital form. I guess that is an issue of preference.  Not my preference, in this case.  During the preliminary videos released by BMW, they do talk about a two-clock option.  But I haven’t seen that on any of the official materials available so far.

Single clock. Looks nice but...

Single clock. Looks nice but…

On the other hand, I like the Metzeler Karoo 3 tires.

Metzeler Karoo 3 tires. A no extra cost option.

Metzeler Karoo 3 tires. A no extra cost option.

It comes only on this matte gray color, called… Monolith Metallic Matt. Despite the name, I like this color a lot. I actually prefer it to the original black or the hand brushed aluminum tank version. The matte gray works well with the orange tones of the seat.

Gray tank and orange seat, good match, in my opinion.

Gray tank and orange seat, good match, in my opinion.

By the way the seat is not leather. It looks like leather, it almost feels like leather, they did a great job at it, even with the stitches in some strategic areas, giving a more realistic look of leather.  I like the color of the seat as well.

I want one!

I want one!

I had a chance to check the ergos. It is taller than the roadster, but I still can flat foot it (my inseam is between 30 and 31) with both feet.  The handlebars are taller than on the roadster.  It checks all the boxes on the ergos.

Another 'round the world machine?

Another ’round the world machine?

I can see riding this machine around the world. Or just around the block. I would take it many times around the block… It looks like the perfect machine, the essence of what riding is all about. It is unassuming, a good mix of old school but modern, a classic motor, but with great performance. Based on my test rides on the R NineT roadster, it is powerful and a lot of fun to ride. One of the best machines I’ve ever ridden.

Ready for adventures!

Ready for adventures!

If you want to see one of these bikes in person, contact your local BMW shop, they should have one ready.  If you are in the general proximity of Eugene, check with Mickey at the European Motorcycles of Western Oregon. Who knows till when they will have this bike available… I bet not too long.

Thank you for reading.

Posted in Bike Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A Ducati Multistrada 939?

While I was entertaining the possibility that Ducati would come up with a real enduro machine based on the Scrambler line, a reader from Moto.It came across this disguised motorcycle that looks a lot like the Multistrada, but in a smaller version.

A 939 Multistrada?

A 939 Multistrada?

The folks at Moto.It believe the motor is the one from the 939 line (as in Hyperstrada, Hypermotard).  It makes sense to me.  When I tested the previous Hyperstrada version (you can read that report here), the one based on the 821 motor, I thought it was a perfect machine.  At 110 hp at 9,250 RPM and 65.8 lb-ft at 7,750 RPM I thought it lacked a bit of grunt, well, when compared to my 1200 Multistrada and my previous Streefighter 848.  Having said that, the motor’s performance was not quite and issue, it actually moved the bike fast and the motor was very smooth at it.


I test rode the Hyperstrada (this was the 821 version)

Overall lack of comfort for touring and some, well, lack of “maturity” to the design was more of an issue to me on the Hyuperstrada. Nothing wrong about it being a hooligan machine, at 450lbs of weight. However, it lacked the travel requirements I would think a “strada” motorcycle should have.

If Ducati develops a 939 Multistrada, though, that would make this smaller size bike such a perfect motorcycle for so many who, like me, think the Hyperstrada just doesn’t cut it, and for the ones who think the Multistrada 1200 is a bit too much. As a matter of fact, a 939 Multistrada would actually be comparable to the lovely MV Agusta Turismo Veloce.


2016 MV Agusta Turismo Veloce 800

To keep things in perspective, the 939 motor in the Hyperstrada delivers 113 hp at 9,000 RPM and 72.2 ln-ft at 7,500 rpm.  These numbers are very close to the Turismo Veloce’s numbers of 110 hp at 10,000 RPM and 61.2 lb-ft at 8,000 rpm.  And if I remember my ride on the Turismo Veloce, it was plenty fun!  You can read it here.

Overall, a 939 cc Multistrada would fit a perfect spot in the range of what we can call mid-size sport touring motorcycles and it would show how Ducati continues to expand its motorcycle lines, and investing more on adventure machines.


Talking about adventure, Ducati, please hurry up, burn a few marketing steps, and put together the Enduro version of this Multistrada 939.  Am I dreaming too big?  Maybe not, judging by that “spy” photo, this smaller Multistrada already comes with a 19 inch front wheel and double-sided swingarm.  And the low seat height might allow for 21-inch front wheel and more suspension travel for an Enduro version without making it a too tall of a motorcycle.


Let’s see if this possible Multistrada 939 will show up at EICMA.  Very likely at this point. Or if Ducati delivers an Enduro Scrambler. Or both bikes, and then some?

Posted in Bike Reviews | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

The Honda CB500X Adventure – Part 5: Riding it on Death Valley – Is it an adventure motorcycle?

The Death Valley adventure continues. Today we will ride Goler Wash Road and go over Mengel Pass, it will be a great opportunity to test the CB500X on various types of roads,  the kinds of terrain an adventure machine is expected to manage.  The previous day was a preliminary test of this motorcycle, on today’s loop, with new and more challenging obstacles, we will gather more data to discuss how much of an adventure machine the CB500X can possibly be.

The CB500X Adventure Conquers Mengel Pass

The CB500X Adventure Conquers Mengel Pass… but… do you see rain drops on the bike?

The Mengel Pass Loop

This loop is 177 miles long, starting from our camp on Panamint Springs, to Mengel Pass via Ballarat and back to camp via West Side road and Furnace Creek. I subdivided the route into these six segments:

  1. Panamint Springs to Ballarat – 32.8 miles
  2. Ballarat to Goler Wash Road – 15.2 miles
  3. Goller Wash Road to Mengel Pass – 9.1 miles
  4. Mengel Pass to West Side Highway – 24.3 miles
  5. West Side Highway to Furnace Creek – 39.6 miles
  6. Stovepipe Wells back to Panamint Springs – 56 miles
177-mile loop

177-mile loop

The terrain on this loop offers a great variety of riding conditions:

  • Pavement at the beginning of segment 1, the end of segment 5, and the entirety of segment 6;
  • Gravel highways with nice sweeping curves on most of segment 1, the entirety of segment 2 and most of segment 5 (Note: gravel roads are my all time favorite type of road for motorcycle riding, especially when it includes sweeping curves);
  • Gravel two-track roads (my second favorite type of riding) on the majority of segments 3 and 4;
  • Rocky, slow going, pick your line or you will not have ground clearance, on steep terrain. We fund this type of road on small portions of segments 3 and 4 (Note: this is something I’m not good at, making it my least favorite type of riding); and
  • The bonus segment…. deep sand riding thanks to a major sandstorm that in less than one hour covered a portion of the West Side road with more than a foot of sand, in the beginning of segment 5 (Note: I kind’a like riding on sand).

The segments included terrain descriptors and my riding ability/preference on each type of terrain, to provide a better context for my review of the CB500X Adventure (Rally Raid Level 3 kit).

To get some perspective on how other types of bike performed on this same loop, Scott and Hugh were on this ride with me, riding a KTM 500 EXC and a 2013 BMW R1200GS respectively.  The smaller more dedicated motorcycle for technical terrain (KTM) as well as the large and well known great adventure motorcycle (BMW) provide a good range of types of motorcycles to help make comparisons with the Honda Cb500X Adventure which is sort of on the middle of these two other bikes.

KTM 500 EXC, Honda CB500X Adventure, and BMW R1200GS

KTM 500 EXC, Honda CB500X Adventure, and BMW R1200GS – in Ballarat, Death Valley, CA

Adventure starts when things go wrong

As a preamble to this ride and review, let’s talk about adventure.  The old saying “adventure starts when things go wrong” is true. Not sure someone would question its applicability. What people could question, perhaps, is whether they want to be in a situation that would possibly turn into an adventure as defined per that saying.

When riding a motorcycle you are automatically on adventure mode. It is even more the case when riding off pavement, in desolate areas with limited traffic and difficult access.  If something happens, you want to be ready for it.  That’s one element, getting ready for the unknown, something that attracts me to motorcycle riding, and it is a large component of my interpretation of what is “adventure” riding.

The 177-mile loop planned for this ride can easily be done in a day, considering all terrain involved, the easy and fast, and the challenging and slow segments.  In our case, besides the terrain itself, three elements conspired to make this ride into a real adventure.

The first one being that we left camp late, meaning we would likely be in the most desolate part of the ride deep in the afternoon.  The second was the weather forecast, indicate a 70% of rain. Here in Oregon, 70% of rain means it will rain.  In the Death Valley, I thought, well… 70% means perhaps maybe it will rain, but the skies were so blue, the park is so large, we will likely dodge it…  Still, I brought my rain gear with me.

We could have worked with these first two items and gone for a plan B of sorts.  We could have departed earlier in the day or decided for another destination.  But we didn’t.  As a result, 70% meant 100% and we got rained on and it made riding on rocky terrain more slippery, hence more challenging, and the rain helped make things darker sooner, when we were still in the mountain.

The third item was a sand storm and you already know about it as I have mentioned it on the other posts where I mentioned this bike and this trip.  We knew about the chance of rain, we did not know about the sand storm.  Storms like this seem to be very localized and not too infrequent in the area.  I had never been on a sand storm before, I have to say it was quite the experience.  It was the icing on the cake, making this a real adventure, as it was an ultimate test for me and for the machine. An experience not to be forgotten.

The combination of all these factors contributed to making this day, this ride, a legitimate adventure. Mother nature and the weather it throws at us is beautiful, incredible, powerful, overwhelming.  Because the conditions turned so quickly, we had no shelter, not even a tree or an overhanging rock anywhere.  When the sand storm arrived further reducing visibility it introduced deep sand as a new element to the road conditions… we had no choice but to keep moving.  It caused the group to get separated after a small incident with one of the bikes.  We were able to resolve it, kept moving, hoping for the best.

Maybe it is not a big deal.  How often when you ride you are cold, wet, and also hungry, right?  But when you add all of that together, and then take n consideration where we were, and when we were there, things get really interesting.  We were the last people traveling in the area just east of Mengel Pass for that day, as far as I could tell. Just to give you an idea about its intensity, we had food with us, but the conditions were such that we did not want to stop, dig it from the bags, and eat it. Well, it definitely would not be possible to eat during the sand storm. Earlier when it had started raining, I did not stop to don my wet gear either.

We made it through it all, and the group reconnected before going back to camp.  Because the outcome was a positive one, we were able to celebrate this ride like no ordinary ride would be celebrated.  I know other riders have been through challenges much more realistic and overwhelming than the ones we encountered.  Still, in the end, our little adventure was felt like the real thing.  This ride, this small 177-mile loop, was one of the best rides of my life, for what I endured on my own perspective, for the friendship I hope to have strengthened and developed with Scott and Hugh during this full day of riding. We already have a plan to go back there for another ride together.

Having said all of that, let’s go back to the evaluation of the CB500X with its Rally Raid Kit as an adventure machine.  When we call a motorcycle an “adventure motorcycle” we are talking about something different than the adventure I just described. We are not precluding the possibility of such an unexpected adventure to happen, but we are talking about “adventure” as the evolved definition of a type of motorcycle based on its capacity to travel long distances, carrying gear, including camping gear, and which can traverse all types of terrain, from pavement to some off-pavement roads.  That’s how the CB500X with its Rally Raid Level 3 kit, the adventure kit, will be evaluated.

But there is a lot more to this story.  So, don your helmet, let’s start this ride!

Panamint Springs to Ballarat – lots of fun and the first incident with the CB500X

This was my second time in the Death Valley.  The roads, the landscape, it is always good to be there, experience the scale of it, there is a lot to absorb. No wonder it has attracted so many people to visit or to live there, even considering, or perhaps because of its often inhospitable weather conditions.

We were all set. The BMW carried our lunch.

Lunch on the bag on the back of the BMW

Lunch on the bag on the back of the BMW

I carried tools, spare tubes, and camera equipment. Because one of my dirtbagz burned the day before, I improvised with small bags from Mosko Moto that I had as a back up.  Two 4-liter storage pouches attached to the side racks, with camera equipment.

Back up plan for bags: Mosko Moto 4-Liter storage pouches

Back up plan for bags: Mosko Moto 4-Liter storage pouches

Two 2-liter storage pouches attached to the engine bars, with spare tube and tools.  Ready for the action!

Two 2-Liter storage pouches, for tools and spare tube

Two 2-Liter storage pouches, for tools and spare tube

We started by going south on Panamint Springs road. It was already windy, and the winds were blowing from the south.  You can actually see some sand blowing on the horizon already.  But that was not a big deal at this point, and nothing compared to what we would face later in the day.

Going south on Panamint Valley Road

Going south on Panamint Valley Road

We turned into the fun gravel roads in the direction of Ballarat, our first destination, a total of about 33 miles from our camp.  The CB500X is light enough to move fast on these roads, power seems just appropriate for the kind of speed you can safely manage on gravel  roads.  The bike feels composed with the Rally Raid’s upgrade to front forks and rear shock. Front fork has about 7 inches of travel (almost 2 inches more from stock).

Yes, this road is a lot of fun to ride and the CB500X did very well.

Yes, this road is a lot of fun to ride and the CB500X did very well on these roads.

When we reached a section with sweeping curves, that was the ultimate fun with this machine.  Because it has limited, well, low power, about 48 hp, it makes it really easy to simply twist the throttle with abandon and have the bike settle nicely on gravel curves, with very little risk the rear will pass the front.

When riding on gravel I like to crank the power at the very beginning of the curve to help settle the bike and relieve the front from steering functions.  With this bike you don’t need to fine-tune the throttle, there is no need for traction control, just go for it. Besides its soft power, Rally Raid’s Level 3 kit with its Tractive shock and spring on the rear was probably another decisive factor on keeping this bike settled so well. It never feels to be hunting for traction even on washboard surfaces. Perfect.

Fast sweeping curves, perfect for the CB500X

Fast sweeping curves, perfect for the CB500X

I kept cranking the speed up and up, the bike always feeling composed.  I was having a blast! And then I was riding at about 60-70 mph on straights, slowing some on curves, I was on the zone, when out of a curve I came to a straight stretch and I see a sign on top of an erosion-damaged area on the road.  I had been through others on this road, but this one was different. There sign was on top of it.  I arrived too quickly to do anything about it.

On the photo below, just before I hit it, it looks like nothing.  Actually it was not too deep but it had a sharp edge on the other end with just the amount of height to make it a big deal, especially when hitting it at about 50 mph.

I hit this thing at about 50 mph, major impact

I hit this thing at about 50 mph, major impact

It was a major impact and I felt it hard, but the bike kept moving.  I could not believe the bike was in one piece.  However, the handlebars moved on the clamps, the front rim (tire inflated at regular pressure) got slightly bent, and the bike developed a light clank from the triple tree area.  I could not find the source of the clanking at that time so I kept riding it, but kept checking on things at stops to see what was damaged from the impact.

Checking to see whether the wheels were still round and tires still inflated after the shock.

Checking to see whether the wheels were still round and tires still inflated after the shock.

After a closer look I learned the steering stem bearings were smashed pretty good from the impact, the bike developed a slight notch on the steering.  Therefore, here goes another upgrade I recommend for this bike if you want to take it on serious off pavement adventure riding.

Part number 130279 or AB22-1020 or 22-2020 will fit the CB500X and costs about $35 on ebay

Tapered bearings: Part number 130279 or AB22-1020 or 22-2020 will fit the CB500X and costs about $35 on ebay

The CB500X comes with ball-type steering head bearings.  I recommend substituting it with tapered bearings.

After some research, and talking to the chief mechanic from the Honda dealer in town, I learned this “All Balls Racing” tapered steering stem bearing (left) was a fit for this bike.

I purchased the kit and the bike has now a more appropriate stem bearing.  However, I would recommend this bike be ridden more carefully, it is not a rally machine.  It can be even more of a problem if you do not have the Rally Raid Level 3 wheels.  Can you imagine hitting this bump at speed with the 17-inch alloy wheel that comes with this bike?

Slightly bent front rim (and did you know these Conti tires were made in Korea?

Slightly bent front rim (and did you know these “German” Conti TKC 80 tires were made in Korea?)

We arrived in Ballarat without further incidents.  I’m glad this Dodge power wagon truck is still there. I had seen it in 2010 and six years later it is still there, like it belongs to the landscape.

1940's(?) Dodge Power Wagon

1940’s(?) Dodge Power Wagon

Ballarat is one of the many interesting places in the Death Valley. It is worth a stop.

The Trading Post in Ballarat

The Trading Post in Ballarat

The “Trading Post” is still there, with the same guy who manages or owns it or lives there.

The piano in the porch of the trading post, Ballarat, CA.

The piano in the porch of the trading post, Ballarat, CA.

What was different this time was this beautiful model who was taking advantage of the peculiarities of Ballarat as a background to photograph and model for her vintage clothing shop.

Interesting juxtaposition of subjects

Interesting juxtaposition of subjects

She graciously accepted the request to be photographed with us.

Beautiful with the beasts (men and machines)

The beautiful and the beasts (men and machines).  Photograph taken by the model’s photographer

To conclude this first segment, the incident where I hit the erosion across the road was not the bike’s fault.  But it does point out that if you want to push this bike hard, and again I do not recommend anyone ride any bike that way, then you should replace its stem ball bearings with a set of tapered bearings.

It also shows the importance of having having a set of spoke wheels which are stronger than alloy wheels. And the larger, 19-inch size helps going over obstacles as well, when compared to this bike’s original 17-inch wheels.  This is exactly the kind of scenario that justifies the Rally Raid Level 3 kit, or why bikes with alloy wheels are not recommended for this type of riding.

Overall, on gravel roads the CB500X does a great job.  I enjoy its power and power delivery for this type of road, when you are already on the range of the torque curve, you can accelerate it on gravel curves and it is solid and settled on how it feels and behaves.  Gravel roads are my favorite type of riding by a great margin and this bike, with the Rally Raid kit, allows for twisting the throttle with abandon. With a 100 hp machine you can have fun as well, of course but you will need to manage to manage it carefully, unless you rely on traction control.

You may not even need the Rally Raid Kit for gravel riding on this bike. You can always go slowly and enjoy the scenery and in that case this bike on its OEM configuration, maybe better tires, would had been fine on this first segment of the loop. But with the rally raid kit you have better suspension which makes quite a difference if you like to ride faster.  It is not a rally machine, though, and if only the already improved front suspension dealt better over the smaller rocks, this machine could be considered a perfect gravel monster.

Ballarat to Goler Wash Road to Mengel Pass – More fun and the second incident with the CB500X

After the short stop in Ballarat we were back on track.  After that first incident I re-adjusted the handlebars, did a final check on things and considered it good to go.  I did start slower this time though.  The road continued south with the same type of gravel, just a bit rougher on spots, until reaching Goler Wash Road (Goler Wash Road is part of Coyote Canyon Road), some fifteen miles or so south of Ballarat.

Continuing south of Ballarat and changing skies

Continuing south of Ballarat and changing skies

Take a look at the picture above and the one below, the skies have completely changed from what you see on the first photos. No more blue skies, no questions, a storm was brewing.  We carried on.

The skies have changed...

The skies have changed…

Soon the road starts climbing as we enter the canyon.  It is about 9 miles from the main road to reach the summit of Mengel Pass through Goler Wash.  It turns out there is a mining site that has been operational for the last 6 years or so in the area, it is about half way to the summit of Mengel Pass, and is reached through the Goler Wash Road.

That means the road has been graveled to support the back and forth traffic of trucks carrying mining equipment,fuel,  supplies and whatever they are mining.

Goler Wash... deep gravel, not very compacted yet.

Goler Wash… deep gravel, not very compacted yet.

As a result, there are no more “steps” on Goler Wash. Instead, it is this gravel that is not very compact.  On the picture above it looks like a simple gravel road, but it is very steep and the deep and loose gravel made me lose traction when I got half way through it.  I was the first to hit it, and had no idea how steep and loose it was until the bike lost traction some 10 yards from the top.  Once I lost traction the bike fishtailed one way, than the other, and when it got sideways I dropped it.

Dropped the thing

Dropped the thing

To the CB500X’s credit, no bike made this little hill on their own power. Also, there was no damage done to the bike. It crashes well (well it was almost stopped by the time I dropped it).

We ghost-walked the KTM.

Ghost-walking the KTM on this steep with gravel portion of the road.

Ghost-walking the KTM on this steep with gravel portion of the road.

The BMW almost made it on its on power after Hugh got some speed to start the short but steep hill.  But it also lost traction close to the top and once it lost traction it dug its own trench and required attention.  We have to give credit to Hugh and the BMW, although it also lost traction, the bike looked stable all along.  The problem was how to extricate this heavy bike from this trench on this steep incline… Two of us pushing, Hugh on board, a few back and forth moves, that’s how we made it.

The BMW dug its own trench, but did really well, almost cleared it without assistance

The BMW dug its own trench, but did really well, almost cleared it without assistance

All bikes needed help but the three of us made it to the top of this small patch of road.  This steep hill was not a big deal, considering what we would face next, but we did talk about maybe turning around here. We decided to keep going.

First obstacle cleared!

First obstacle cleared!

From the picture below you can see how the road abruptly disappears. It was a steep section of this road.

To understand how steep it is, take a look at hour it disappears abruptly behind the BMW

To understand how steep it is, take a look at hour it disappears abruptly behind the BMW

The road continued without any other major challenges after that.

The road continued with no other challenges until a few miles after the mine operations

The road continued with no other challenges until a few miles after the mining operations

At some point we reached the mining operations. The road continued to be good for a couple of miles after that.

Mining operations on Goler Wash area.

Mining operations on Goler Wash area.

But then the road started to degrade and segments with rocky terrain appeared.  Not too bad, though. The section below was the worst portion on this road and it was just before hitting the summit.

Rock garden!

Rock garden!

Most of the time, though, it was just rough going, but fun and and we kept moving.

Rolling stones rocking our going

Rolling stones rocking our going

This kind of terrain, with rocks creating very rough spots is hard on the CB500X, even with the Rally Raid kit.  The front suspension does not have the travel to allow more shock absorption, hence the bike feels really hard, transferring shocks to the handle bars, giving the sensation that it crashes onto these rocks instead of hovering over them.  You do need to slow down. And sometimes you lose the momentum, especially if you add the characteristics of the motor.  What is good about this motor on pavement and on gravel, may not translate too well on technical terrain.

But we made it to the top!

We all make it to the top of Mengel Pass

We all make it to the top of Mengel Pass

As a summary, for this segment, especially the nine miles to reach the summit, I would say the bike did well.  What makes this bike interesting as a lightest multi-cylinder adventure motorcycle available is the capacity to use it on solo travel.  Perhaps I could have picked it up on my own and recovered from the incident on that steep area of the gravel road.  I’m not sure because in this case I had assistance to pick it up and ghost-ride it to the top.

Based on this incident, which most riders would encounter when riding off pavement and off the beaten path, my conclusion would be:  the KTM could do it on its own power or the rider could manage to drag it to the top of that hill one way or another if needed, it is a very light machine; the CB500X is likely to need assistance; the BMW definitely needs assistance if it doesn’t make it.  The BMW has more weight and in part because of the weight, and in other part because it has the appropriate power delivery and gearing, it seems more stable to tractor up that steep incline. But if or when the BMW gets stuck you will definitely need help to get it going again.

The CB500X, on the other hand, does not have the “tractoring” type of power on first gear, that low speed torque delivery you need on these conditions. It is a bit frenetic (is there a better word to describe it?) on its power delivery from first gear, which is a problem for this type of riding condition. It works well in the city, it is fun on the twisties. Here it is a nuisance. A better rider would have perhaps cleared that little hill without problems.  But chances are these experienced riders will be riding something different.  And that is the point about the CB500X, with Rally Raid kit or not, its essence, the combo of motor, transmission and clutch, was not designed for this type of riding.  More on the clutch next.

From Mengel Pass to the West Side Road:  Third incident with the CB500X

As we were on the top of the pass, taking pictures and celebrating our accomplishment, it started to rain. Very lightly, though. We had felt a few drops here and there before, but now we know it is really coming, we could see it in the horizon.  The total distance to reach the West Side road from here is about 24 miles.  And mostly down hill.  Not a problem, right?

On top of Mengel Pass, looking towards the east, storms brewing...

On top of Mengel Pass, looking towards the east, storms brewing…

However, going down the other side, the road does not get any easier.  Actually it gets worse before it gets better.  There are some more rock gardens, with larger rocks than on the other side.

Real rock gardens on the other side of the pass. Notice the projected light of the bike - it is getting dark

Real rock gardens on the other side of the pass. Notice the projected light of the bike on the pile of rocks – it is getting dark


For this type of riding, you need to feather the clutch to go slow while keeping that very important momentum going.  This happens with most any motorcycle on these riding situations.  In particular with the CB500X, as discussed earlier, because of its its low and somewhat peaky torque, which feels more pronounced at slow gears and speeds, reliance on feathering the clutch becomes yet more important.

That’s when I found another potential challenge for this bike as a true adventure machine: it has a narrow friction zone for clutch engagement. It was about one inch of travel at the lever at the beginning of the ride and operating on this narrow margin was difficult, I stalled the bike several times.  At some point either the cable stretched or the clutch plates started wearing down, I was down to less than one inch of engagement travel. I adjusted it on the spot, which improved some, but there is only so much to work with, I learned.

Struggling to move forward... narrow friction zone on the clutch

Struggling to move forward… narrow friction zone on the clutch

The friction zone is something important for an adventure motorcycle, we need a good amount. On the street, no problems, we want fast gear changes.  Kudos to Honda for making a DCT version for the Africa Twin, designed to prevent the bike from stalling, exactly what makes it good for these types of circumstances. It is also what makes the Rekluse auto-clutch so popular on dual sport and adventure bikes. Maybe Rekluse has something for the Honda CB500X? I doubt it, but it would be an awesome upgrade!

The challenge to make the CB500X a true adventure machine is that you can’t broaden a clutch’s friction zone on a bike. You can maximize it by adjusting the cable and lever properly for the largest range it can deliver.  You can change friction plates to have them last longer or change springs, but stronger springs, which would be required for this type of riding, may actually shorten the friction zone.  I don’t know what I will do with this yet, but it is an area that may require some research.

After a few more challenging spots the road finally started getting better. And dark.

After a few more challenging spots the road finally started getting better. And dark.

As an alternative, now that the bike has more miles with the Tractive suspension, I can go back and properly adjust the sag, which based on a recent preliminary measure requires an increase of about half an inch of sag, reducing the pre-load may actually make the bike lower, and hence easier to maneuver on these situations.

If you have a long inseam this issue can be resolved with the old leg assist. In my case, I have to use balance and rely on a steady throttle to have the bike climb and crawl over obstacles.  I never wanted to be a trial rider, but you need these skills on these types of riding or a bike that will work with you.  The CB500X is not one of these bikes.  The BMW seems to do it so well… or was it Hugh’s riding? Both, I would say.  The KTM is light and Scott maneuvered everything very nicely as well.  They both had to wait for me and sometimes help me, each time we encountered one of the several areas of the road when such steep or rocky terrain required slow going.

Back to the ride, after a while the road finally got better and we were cruising.  I think at some point we went past Striped Butte.  Nothing to see, really, all we wanted at this point was to get out of the mountain as it was raining more and of course, getting darker.  We will come back to this area next time and I hope to spend more time on this very beautiful plateau.

Road gets better, we were cruising!

Road gets better, we were cruising!

At least now we were past the trouble zone, and only had rain to contend with and darkness was approaching fast.  I was just saying to myself “will there be any other surprise” ahead of us?  I was thinking about road conditions as surprises, but something else happened.

I was following Hugh and his BMW R1200GS when he hit a rut that had an odd camber to it, and it was right where there was a deep ditch on the side of the road. Perhaps it was the only portion of road with a ditch!

As Scott cleared the hump ahead, Hugh crashes his BMW into a ditch

As Scott cleared the hump ahead with his KTM, Hugh crashes his BMW into a ditch (Part 1)

His bike hit the rut and went out from under him and veered to the right where the ditch was.  There was nothing he could do. The bike went “head first” into the ditch. Check the sequence of events, below is part two.

Part 2 of the sequence

Part 2 of the sequence

Part three.

Part 4

Part 3

Part four.

Part 4

Part 4

Part five.

Part 4: front of the bike has fallen on a deep rut

Part 4: front of the bike has fallen on a deep rut

Part six, the most important thing: Hugh is fine.

Part 5, The most important thing, Hugh is fine!

Part 6, The most important thing, Hugh is fine!

This happened when it really started raining.  Scott had just cleared the next hill so he had no knowledge this was happening right behind him and continued. We were assessing the situation, waiting to see if Scott would come back to help us move the BMW from the ditch.  But with that rain falling steadily we figured we should not wait, we should try to extricate the bike ourselves.

We tried different ways, the best approach, we found out, was to drag the bike on its side to bring the front wheel back on the road.  It took a while but we managed to bring it back to the road and from there we stood it up.  There was damage to the beak and front fairing, and especially worrisome was the information cluster that was completely loose from its anchoring points.  I know some bikes need a working cluster to be able to start the motor and run.  Hugh turned the key on and it lit up and the bike started right away. What a relief, Hugh was fine, the bike was running! Great job BMW.

However, we lost a good amount of time there.  Scott by this time was probably almost out of the mountain.  He was completely oblivious to our issues, and, at the same time, he knew the road had been good since the last time he had seen us, so he had nothing to think that we were not just right behind him.

The incident with the BMW was something completely out of the ordinary, as Hugh is a great rider. “Sh!t happens”, is the best way to describe it.  Later we learned that once Scott reached the West Side Road, a good point to stop and wait for us, the sand storm was are already in full swing.  Have you been on a sand storm? There is no way someone could stand there, waiting, with all the wind and sand hitting you.  Especially when you assume we were not too far behind him. Scott carried on, he was worried, but assumed we were fine. I would had done the same, given the circumstances.

Meanwhile, Hugh and I did not know anything about the sandstorm, we are now riding again, maybe some 30 minutes or more behind Scott, it is still raining but road conditions are improving as we are getting out of the mountain and in more open areas.  It was a beautiful scenery, too bad I had stopped the video camera and never thought of turning it back on.

All along I was following Hugh and we were checking Scott’s tracks.  All of a sudden I got distracted and when we reached a more frequently traveled area, I could not see Scott’s tracks anymore.  What if Scott had gotten lost or fallen on the side of the road and with the rain and darkness we missed him?

With these thoughts in mind we made it out of the mountain and when we got to the West Side road the sand storm was going at full tilt and had already covered the road with a feet or more of sand.  The last leg of the adventure was just about taking shape.

In five minutes we stopped, our own tracks had been already covered by the sand storm (West Side Hwy.)

In five minutes from the time we stopped, our own tracks had been already covered by the sand storm (West Side Hwy.)

These photos do not make justice to how dark it was, nor it documents the wind level, nor how much sand was flying. It was a scene of total desolation, which, once again, explains why Scott did not wait for us here. Hugh and I talked, maybe screamed at each other over the wind noise and blasting. Assuming Scott was ahead of us, we decided to carry on, hoping for the best.

Te BMW is fully operational, except the headlights are aiming to the skies instead of the road ahead.

The BMW is fully operational, except the headlights are aiming to the skies instead of the road ahead.

From West Side Road back to Camp:  No more incidents with the CB500X, just a curious thing

My main concern at this point was about the bikes, how would they perform on this deep sand?

The G1X camera after about 1 minute of exposure to the sand storm

The next morning I photographed the G1X camera to show how much sand it accumulated after about 1 minute of exposure to the sand storm (when I took the sandstorm pictures)

The CB500X felt very stable and easy to ride.  When I realized this was not going to be an issue, and now that it was completely dark, we started riding side by side, as the BMW’s headlights were useless after the crash, aiming to the night sky, and Hugh had to rely on my Honda’s lights.  We went side by side for basically all the distance back to pavement.  Luckily the sandstorm stopped a few miles north (or we rode out of it).

A scene of total desolation

A scene of total desolation

When we were very close to reach pavement, just south of Furnace Creek, my GPS indicated I had received a phone call from Scott’s wife (the GPS connects via blue tooth to my phone).  I stopped to check my phone, it did not have reception at that point, but I let Hugh know we had received the call.  That was good news, it meant Scott was looking for us. Soon after I got a call from Scott. Great, he was waiting for us at the Furnace Creek gas station.  We arrived at the gas station just before 9 pm, just before it closed. It was great to regroup, even emotional. Very celebrated indeed. The adventure was complete.  Or was it?

Hugh filled his BMW’s tank, and I did not fill the Honda’s tank. We were 56 miles from camp, and we had ridden some 121 miles so far and I confess, I did not start this loop with a full tank. It was one bar down…  But 177 miles would be plenty good for the 50 mpg this bike does on average. As we were hanging out at the gas station I had a second thought and decided it would be a good idea to fill it up, but by that time the gas station was closed.

Zipties to adjust the BMW's headlights.

Zipties to adjust the BMW’s headlights.

We worked a few minutes on the BMW, using zipties to adjust the headlights.  It worked, they were now pointing on the right direction.

It is "fixed"

It is “fixed”

We continued on the last leg of the ride back to camp, we had 56 miles to go.  I don’t know this bike very well, this was the first time I was riding it with an emptier tank. In my history of motorcycle ownership, all my bikes had a reserve petcock or a a reserve amber light on the dash.  I was somewhat confident the Honda would make it back to camp with the gasoline I had on the tank.  But then we were climbing from Furnace Creek, the fuel gauge had two bars remaining and then it went fast to one bar and soon after it started blinking. No amber light? What the heck was that? Was I past the the traditional amber light point and did not notice it?  The dash would flash the last bar, alternating with a red bar (the red bar is part of the dash but it is covered by the lowest black bar when you have fuel).

The dash would flash the last bar, which would show this red box

The dash would flash the last bar, which would show this red box

The dash eventually showed a number on the right, which started from 0, and then the word “gal”.

Then it should the last black bar with a number on the right

Then it should the last black bar with a number on the right

Therefore, not having read the manual of the bike, I had no idea how much gasoline the bike had at this point.  I did not realize until then, instead of counting miles from the time the tank hits the reserve (when it starts flashing the last bar – that’s the amber light equivalent for this bike), the bike starts counting the amount of gallons consumed form the reserve amount.  The point is, I had no idea how much gasoline there is on reserve on this bike. So I started riding on save mode.  Hugh and Scott were way ahead, I could see their lights, but I was just not going to accelerate too much to keep up with them.  When we started going downhill again I started pushing it a bit more and finally reconnected with them.

Somehow the bike made it and now I know I can ride at for least 50 miles, if ridden carefully, after the reserve starts. Gladly this last part of the adventure did not mean I was going to be waiting on the side of the road for one of them to go back to camp to bring me some extra gasoline (we had plenty of gasoline at the camp).  The Honda sipped fuel, as the number on the right did not go past 0.2 in those last 50 miles or so. Now, after the fact, I checked the manual and it doesn’t say how much gas the bike has on reserve.  It does state “refuel right away” and the manual says that when you go past 0.26 miles (1 liter) it will start blinking faster.

Is the CB500X an Adventure Motorcycle?

To conclude, the CB500X Adventure is just what it is, a street bike with an adventure kit. You can expand its adventure boundaries with the kit, and then add your riding skills to the equation, and it will still have its limitations.  If your adventure riding is limited to dirt and gravel roads, the bike will be more than fine.

If you want to push it hard, this is not going to be your bike. The limitations are a city riding torque curve, narrow friction zone, and overall, parts that are not made for dirt riding, such as the stem bearings.  Besides the Level 3 kit, you can work around some of these issues. If changing the gear ratio for shorter gears, you may take care of two problems (torque curve and narrow friction zone). Maybe it will work with a different clutch spring or more rugged clutch plates.

Having said that, I would not have taken my Tiger 800 XC to Mengel Pass.  Would I have taken a BMW R1200GS if I owned one? From what I saw, it worked really well.  It was probably the best bike of the three on the slow going technical terrain.  Partly it was rider skill, as Hugh showed great balance, great throttle control, and picked his lines very smartly. However, I’m not sure I would take an R1200GS on these roads…  but as I always say, if I had to have only one motorcycle, it likely would be a BMW R1200GS.

The key issue here is that if you get in trouble with the CB500X, and you’re alone, at least you may be able to extricate yourself from the situation because it is a relatively lighter bike. Well, it is not light. It is about 440 lbs wet (“official” wet wait is 430 lbs plus the Rally Raid kit’s heavier wheels).  But it is the lightest multi-cylinder adventure motorcycle currently available.  If you want to go lighter than the CB500X you have to pick a single cylinder motorcycle.

The weight issue…

So what are the alternatives for the CB500X? Short of a single cylinder motorcycle, there is nothing out there. Yes, there is the BMW F700GS, but you may need to put spoke wheels on it. The Suzuki Strom DL 650 is also an option.  But both the BMW and the Strom are heavier than the CB500X. The small Honda with its Rally Raid kit is what is available at the moment, one of the few options out there on the just above 400lbs weight.

Not many options around the 400lb mark

Not many options around the 400lb mark

However, rumors are showing up indicating KTM will have a mid-weight, 800cc adventure bike.  Yamaha could be working on a 700 cc mid-size Ténéré.  And finally Ducati seems to expanding its Scrambler line with something that looks like an enduro machine (or a Scrambler with real scrambler ambitions). I would not be surprised if these other bikes really come out, since this is a real empty space in the market, for people who do not want a single cylinder machine.

One of the things a like most about the CB500X is that it is an unassuming underdog of a machine. Maybe I can make it slightly better for future endeavors. Meanwhile, this bike delivers lots of fun when riding it fast on paved or gravel roads. It is an interesting machine.

If you are an expert rider, look elsewhere.  If you want a real enduro or adventure performance from a machine, this is not for you either.  But if you want to enjoy the back roads with an inexpensive unassuming machine, this bike will deliver fun in spades.  I will keep mine. Unless Yamaha, KTM or Ducati convince me otherwise.  They will have to deliver something good to convince me to trade my Honda.

Final Day in Death Valley and Return home

That was it for the review of the CB500X in the Death Valley. The next day I did not ride it, for one thing I did not want to exacerbate the head bearing problem. And second, I had taken with me the WR250R and I wanted to take it out for a spin.

Took the WR250R for a ride, this time Lippincott trail from the top (in 2010 it climbed it)

Took the WR250R for a ride, this time Lippincott trail from the top (in 2010 it climbed it)

It was great to ride the WR250R again, it is so light. It shows also, that one bike is not enough… it is always good to have an alternative. Or so I want to believe.

On the next day I loaded the bikes and traveled back to Oregon.  The strange or strong weather patterns continued. Around Susanville the winds were really strong, enough for the highway patrol to prevent trucks to travel on certain portions of the road.  And then I encountered snow close to Mount Shasta.

Snow on the way back home

Snow on the way back home

In the end the weather played an important role on this trip. I had strong winds on the way in, strong winds on the way back, rain storms, snow storms and sand storms. And a lot of fun with two great guys who are great riders.

I’m already looking forward to my next trip to the Death Valley.  The CB500X will gain auxiliary lights, a sag adjustment, maybe a shorter gear ratio, maybe mirrors that don’t flop around.  I’m sure it will be fun to ride it again on the dirt.

Thank you for reading.

Posted in Bike Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

The Honda CB500X Adventure – Part 4: Riding it on Death Valley – first impressions

The Death Valley in California is a great location to test an adventure motorcycle. It has gravel roads, sandy roads, rocky roads leading to challenging technical passes, and also paved roads, connecting the many fun riding sites.  On Part 4 I will report how the CB500X did on easy roads, Saline and Hunter Mountain roads.  On Part 5 we will raise the bar by testing it on Goler Wash and Mengel Pass.

The CB500X Adventure (Rally Raid Level 3 Kit) in the Death Valley

The CB500X Adventure (Rally Raid Level 3 Kit) in the Death Valley

If you’ve followed Parts 1, 2 and 3 where I describe this bike and the build process, you know I bought this bike for three main reasons: 1) I wanted a smaller multi-cylinder adventure motorcycle that is reliable and manageable for solo rides to isolated places; 2) I wanted to work or build my own adventure bike, which with a kit from Rally Raid designed for this bike, it makes the build process really easy, anyone can do it; and 3) I wanted this bike to be an option for visiting friends. There is more on these items on the previous posts about this bike.

Highest state of disassembly for this project

Highest state of disassembly for this project

To summarize Parts 1, 2 and 3, I bought the bike used, but with very low miles, and purchased the Rally Raid kit and then some other parts, to turn it into an adventure motorcycle. Then I spent the cold and rainy month of February building the bike.  This involved researching and procuring parts, organizing the shop for the build, getting the parts shipped, and then the build itself.  Installing the Rally Raid Kit itself takes only a couple of days, maybe three, if you have all the tools you need and some experience on the basics of working on bikes.

The project included setting up the shop and the CB500X itself. Because it culminated with taking this bike to Death Valley, I also worked on the Truck and the WR250R that I took as a back up bike.

The project included setting up the shop and the CB500X itself. Because it culminated with taking this bike to Death Valley, I also worked on the Truck and the WR250R that I took as a back up bike.

It was a busy February.  Besides organizing the shop and building the CB500X adventure itself, I had a few other tasks to do preparing the WR250R which I also took to Death Valley, and some work on the truck, which was my means of transportation for the almost 500 miles to get from Oregon to the Death Valley.

Bikes and gear loaded on the truck

Bikes and gear loaded on the truck

The Death Valley trip itself involved meeting two other riders who are based in California, Scott and Hugh.  I know Scott from my Ducati trips to Northern California, a great guy whom I’m lucky to call a friend, and his long time friend Hugh.  The three of us connected really well, we had a blast riding our bikes in the Death Valley, and we already have plans for a 2017 ride.

Last day of riding on this trip to the Death Valley, March of 2016

Cesar, Scott and Hugh: Last day of riding on this trip to the Death Valley, March of 2016

Overall, the CB500X did very well on its adventure riding test.  It can go most anywhere, but it really shines on packed gravel roads and it struggles on technical, rocky terrain, the kind that requires slow moving, slip-clutch type of work. I will discuss all of these issues in detail.

Getting to the Death Valley, weather issues

March is the perfect time to be in the Death Valley, it is the time of the flower bloom, it is the time when temperatures are not too cold nor too hot. On average. Since it is also the time of transition from winter to summer, though, you can call the month of March the Death Valley’s spring, but it is more like one day is winter the next day it could be like the kind of summer weather we find in Oregon. And this transition can be violent, you may find yourself on unexpected situations, like strong winds, rain storms, sand storms, and even snow storms. Add to it that in my case I was traveling from Oregon to California and had to cross a few passes, as a result on this trip I encountered all of the above conditions on the way in, while there, or on the way back.

I studied the weather forecast to find the best route to get there.  The first obstacle was the strong winds I faced on I-5 near Mount Shasta.  The winds were so strong my five-speed truck struggled even on down hills, the small 5L V-8 requiring the engine to be on 4th gear, even on a down hill, to keep up with traffic.

4th gear on I-5, fighting strong head winds

4th gear on I-5, fighting strong head winds

I had several options of routes to get to the Death Valley and I had to make course corrections on the fly.  One of them was to get out of the I-5 and the strong head winds with which the truck was fighting.  I turned onto SR89, going south east towards Susanville.  My fear about taking this route was the possibility of finding snow on high elevations and then it is an area with less traffic, so if you need assistance you can be waiting for a while, if you can get in touch with someone, that is.  I was ready to sleep in my truck’s cabin if needed.

On the way south, only snow I encountered was on the side of the road, roads were clear.

On the way south, only snow I encountered was on the side of the road, roads were clear.

I arrived in Susanville and it was dark already. However, once I got past Susanville the road conditions improved, I cruised on 395 going south with no problems. I was going to spend the night at some point, and I knew Scott would be with his RV in Bishop, CA to spend the night. My goal was to meet him there, but I had left my house several hours behind schedule, therefore my plan was to go as far as I could, stop and take a nap if needed, and catch up wit him on the following day.

Susanville, CA

Susanville, CA

South of Carson City I got a text from Scott who was driving from Sacramento, California, and while updating each other on our progress, we realized we were just a few miles apart.  We met and drove together to Bishop where we spent the night at the Paiute Casino RV park.  The next day the weather was perfect and we arrived at the Death Valley park with no problems.  I will discuss more about the weather on the second day of riding and on my return to Oregon on Part 5 of these series of posts.

Close to the entrance to Death Valley, following Scott's RV.

Close to the entrance to Death Valley, following Scott’s RV.

We arrived at the camp (Panamint Springs), setup the RV, unloaded the gear and the bikes and went out for a ride. I was really glad to be there and to have this chance to test the CB500X in the real conditions you would expect such a bike to perform.

Bikes unloaded, ready for action

Bikes unloaded, ready for action

Riding the CB500X on Saline Road and Hunter Mountain Road, Death Valley

This first ride was an afternoon ride, so we decided to take it easy, go towards Saline road and from there make a right on Hunter Mountain road and check the cabin.  Then go back the same way. I was really anxious to try the CB500X off pavement.  The bike is a bit tall for my 30 inch inseam, but it is and feels a good amount lighter than my Triumph Tiger 800XC. I was counting on that for when I would need to stop on uneven terrain.

On the way to Saline road, a quick stop for pictures

On the way to Saline road, a quick stop for pictures

As soon as we got on the gravel, the bike felt really good.  I did not air down the tires, just rode it with regular pressure.  The bike felt very stable on gravel and I was able to get it to just around 70mph without any problems.

At 70mph, bikes feels solid

At 70mph, bikes feels solid

The bike did very well on the sweeping gravel curves of Saline Road.  This is where less power is a benefit, as you can twist throttle with abandon, well, some level of abandon, and the rear is not going to step out too much or risk passing the front. It just settles the bike very nicely.

Pin it and the rear wheel will keep the front where you want it to go

Pin it and the rear wheel will keep the front where you want it to go

The one thing that bothered me at this point was how much the front bounced on the kind of rocks you find on these kinds of roads, the ones that are lodged on the road but protruding slightly through the surface of the road.  In part this was happening because I did not air down the tires, but mostly it seems it could be coming from how stiff the front end felt as it reacted to these smaller bumps at speed. It seems everything was transferred directly to the handlebars.  My Tiger 800XC does a better job, my WR250R does a really better job at these situations.  Even my Multistrada could do better, I think.

The rear suspension, on the other hand, felt perfectly suited to any situation, I never felt the rear wheel to be fighting for grip and traction, even when going fast on washboard situations.

Rear weheel traction was good, great Tractive suspension setup for this bike.

Rear wheel traction was good, great Tractive suspension setup for this bike.

The bike did very well on the odd mud holes we encountered on the way up the mountain, much more a function of the tires, perhaps. Same happened on the sand patches we encountered.  The bike always felt solid and stable on mud or sand, really, really good.

No problems handling sand.

No problems handling sand.

While the front suspension did not absorb well the two- to five-inch rocks and edges on the road when going at speed, it did well on the larger more rounded obstacles, such as this erosion ditch on the final approach to the cabin on Hunter Mountain Rd.

Bike handled well erosion ditches.

Bike handled well erosion ditches.

It turns out, the bike and its upgraded suspension do very well at slower speeds on rough terrain, as long as there is momentum going forward. I would learn more about this on the second day, and I will go on more detail on Part 5 when I talk about it. Upfront I can say it is about power delivery on first gear and a narrow, maybe too narrow clutch friction zone.  That’s were a street bike’s set up, the part of the build you can’t quite change, find its limits when going off road type of situations (not off-pavement).  But more on that later.

When riding steep uphill on rough terrain, if you slow down, the bike struggles. A power and friction zone thing.

When riding steep uphill on rough terrain, if you slow down too much, the bike struggles to continue. It is a power (low torque) and clutch friction zone (too narrow) issue.

What is important is that we made to the cabin without a problem, just a slight moment, something that gave me pause to think this bike may reach “adventure” limitations at a lower level of challenges than what I had anticipated.  I have to say that, overall, I was very satisfied with what the bike delivered in this first day.  It is nothing more, nor less, than what I could be expected, with a small adjustment on the less side of it.

Te bike made it to the cabin on Hunter Mountain Rd.

Te bike made it to the cabin on Hunter Mountain Rd.

The only real problem that happened on this first day had nothing to do with the bike, but with the dirtbagz that moved from its position when I was riding and got too close to the exhaust. Obviously my job attaching them to the side rack was not good enough, and the bag on the exhaust side burned, and with it a spare tube got burned as well.

The burned dirtbagz bag

The burned dirtbagz bag

Since then I already bought a new set of dirtbagz (they fit both the WR250R and the CB500X) and found a better way to attach the bags on the CB500X.  Two tests so far and they still haven’t moved or burned.

We returned to camp the same way, and as expected it soon was dark.  The CB500X headlight is okay, but there is room for improvement.  This is a limitation that is not particular to this bike, as most bikes will do better, a lot better, with auxiliary lights. This is something I will upgrade on this bike during this next winter, by adding a set of good auxiliary lights that will work for both the Cb500X and the WR250R.

Headlight is okay, would benefit with the addition of auxiliary lights. I already have something in mind.

Headlight is okay, would benefit with the addition of auxiliary lights. I already have something in mind.

Going over Saline and Hunter Mountain roads was just an appetizer of a test.  The real test was to see how this bike behaved when going up Goler Wash and from there Mengel Pass.

On the first day it was only Scott and me for the Saline Rd and Hunter Mountain RD adventure, as Hugh was still traveling, arriving only at night.  Hugh joined us with his 2013 BMW R1200GS. As you can tell, for joining us on this adventure on Mengel Pass with his large adventure motorcycle, Hugh is either courageous, or a great rider, or both.

It turns out both were true, and the large BMW motorcycle gets its credit as well! It turns out having the R1200GS along for this ride was a great way to learn about the importance of having a very tractable at low speed, torquey motor to ride on challenging technical terrain.

On top of Mengel Pass, looking towards the east, storms brewing...

On top of Mengel Pass, looking towards the east, storms brewing…

But this is something for the next chapter, when I will report how the CB500X did on the ride towards the Mengel Pass.  I will report one crash, or two, and also, the horrible weather conditions we encountered as we descended towards Badwater, including a blinding sand storm. It was another night ride back to camp, with some drama to make things better – it was about confirming the definition of “adventure”.  All with a good ending, mind you.

Part 5 will include a summary of my perceptions of the CB500X as an Adventure motorcycle and a brief report on the return of the WR250R to the Lippincott trail (I was there with that bike in 2010) and my trip back to Oregon.

Thank you for reading and stay tuned for Part 5 where the real action unfolds.

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

A KTM, a Ducati, and a Yamaha walk into a mid-size adventure bar…

To see a KTM or a Yamaha in such a club, that’s not a big deal, you would expect those guys to be out there. But a Ducati?  If the Multistrada Enduro was not enough of a surprise, not only for the bike itself, but for the positive reviews it has been receiving, now we have rumors of a new dirt-oriented Ducati motorcycle of the Scrambler Ducati variety.

The 2016 Multistrada Enduro: Positive Reviews!

The 2016 Multistrada Enduro: Positive Reviews!

As posted here before, it seems more like an enduro oriented version of the Scrambler, a bike with actual capability for off pavement riding and travel, and likely with the 80occ L-twin motor.  Some claim or want the 1,100cc motor on this bike, to me, it makes most sense to have it with the Scrambler, 803cc motor, and be it a bike squarely directed at the sparse mid-size adventure market.  Overall, it seems, Ducati is diving head first into the adventure world.

Scrambler Enduro?

Scrambler Enduro?

Let’s be reminded, Ducati has tried their wheels on dirt and sand and managed to win. Those were the days of the Cagiva, with the Ducati L-Twin motor, and their days under the sun, winning the prestigious Paris-Dakar race.

1989-90 Cagiva Marathon. Winner Paris Dakar, 1990.

1989-90 Cagiva Marathon. Winner Paris Dakar, 1990 (Ducati museum, Borgo Panigale).

Then we have the rumors about a Yamaha mid-size Ténéré, with the 700cc parallel twin, 270 degree crank motor. Following the launch of the Africa Twin, which to most was a hit but to some a disappointment when it was learned the bike tipped the scales above the 500lbs mark, this idea of a mid-size Ténéré has become very popular. It would be another candidate for the potential mythical, lighter weight but still adventure capable machine people seem to want.

Is this Yamaha's mid-size adventure Ténéré?

Is this Yamaha’s mid-size adventure Ténéré?

Yamaha has struggled to make their 1,200cc Ténéré gain the space it deserved in the market as the competent large adventure motorcycle that it is.  Its relatively low sale volume is a puzzle coming from a motorcycle that has the name, Ténéré, which has been traditionally associated with winning Dakar, it is a capable round-the-world adventure riding machine. Add to it Yamaha’s reliability and you would expect a winning formula.

2012 Yamaha Super Ténéré. December 23, 2011

2012 Yamaha Super Ténéré. December 23, 2011 and already on sale

Instead bikes sell at discounted prices. The speculation has been that Yamaha fans wanted a lighter weight Ténéré, a bike to replace the single cylinder 660 with a parallel twin motor, similar to the original  Ténérés, instead of a 600lbs + machine.

1991 YZE750T Super Ténéré

1991 YZE750T Super Ténéré

That is, people may have been wanting a mid-size 700cc version of the Ténéré, using the 75 hp parallel twin motor, with the raved 270 degree crankshaft, which is available already in a few other products.  This motor has been receiving plenty of positive reviews, and such a bike, built around this light and compact motor, could be the ticket.  It could be a serious contender for off pavement riding.

Last but not least, we have KTM’s 800cc parallel twin motor.  This has been more than a rumor, as this motor has been on an official announcement from KTM. Although this motor is expected to appear first on street bikes, likely on a 270 degree crankshaft, the real speculation here is whether it will find its way into an adventure motorcycle or not.

Famous photo of KTM with supposed 800cc parallel twin motor

Famous photo of KTM with supposed 800cc parallel twin motor

KTM used to produce the 950 and then 990cc Adventure motorcycles until a few years ago. Then they moved to the BMW GS world (bikes around 1,200 cc) with their 1190 series.  Who didn’t want to try their odds at the most competitive and lucrative portion of the adventure market, right? Full circle, there is the Ducati Multistrada Enduro, the latest entrant to that still growing full size club.

Bikes parked in front of the Diamond Hotel

On the left, a model of the first year and first series of the KTM 950.  On the right, my Tiger 800cc

For many, though, the 1190 was a solution to a problem that did not exist, they miss their beloved 950-990 bikes.  An 800cc from KTM could be the replacement to the missed V-twins nut on a more compact package using the parallel twin motor, perhaps lighter than the V-twin bikes, but likely rated at the same power as the missed line of V-twins. Perhaps this new bike will be a rally or enduro ready machine. Ready to race, tight?  That would be something to almost match their own 700 cc single in dirt performance but beat it in long distance travel comfort and reliability.

Of course, we have had the BMW F800GS for many years already, and it has been quite a successful motorcycle, suffering only evolutionary changes since its launch in 2008. It was the starting point of this segment. And the Triumph Tiger 800 XC and subsequent models, which followed the BMW coming to the market in 2011 have been there fr a while as well.  Both these bikes were or still are very popular in the adventure riding world as a lighter alternative to the 1,200 series of bikes.  They don’t sell as well as the large bikes, thought.

That’s where these new bikes speculated from Ducati, KTM, and Yamaha seem to fit, hopefully they will be geared to an even lighter end of this spectrum. That is, maybe, just maybe, the time has come when we will finally have more adventure bikes with real enduro aptitude, bikes that will be fun to ride on dirt at speed, my bias, and fit that elusive multi cylinder mid-size gap.

adventure bikes 400 to 600lbs

That’s the gap, the gap that has brought to us adaptations to existing bikes to fill that vacant space, such as my own Honda CB500X, with its Rally Raid Level 3 package.

The 2015 Honda CB500X, with Rally Raid Level 3 "adventure" kit, in Death Valley, 2016

My 2015 Honda CB500X, with Rally Raid Level 3 “adventure” kit, in Death Valley, 2016

Let’s see if there is a punchline to the KTM, Ducati and Yamaha’s entrance to the mid-size adventure world.  Although I really enjoy my CB500X, and it is the bike I actually want to ride when the plan is ride around town and on off pavement adventures, the 25 extra hp that a similar packaged Ducati or Yamaha could deliver is something to pay attention to. An extra 25 hp makes a difference, especially if these new bikes weight the same as the CB500X.

KTM, if tradition is followed, is likely delivering something with a bit more power than 75 hp from its 800 parallel twin motor and certainly will be reasonably light and hopefully with the “ready to race” attitude.  Either way, it seems we will have the options we have been wanting and speculating about for several years already.

However, if Ducati delivers something interesting for this segment, that will be the real punchline to this story. It would be an example of real change coming from the unsuspected group of guys.

Posted in Bike Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The most badass rider there is

Have you ever wondered who is the rider taking the most risks out there? I was watching a John McGuiness interview the other day (Marc Potter), and he was describing that picture where he is shown to be side-ways at 175mph.  You know the picture.

McGuiness sideways (Bike Social)

McGuiness sideways (Bike Social)

And he talks about what he is doing to win the TT race.  He is the one with the second most wins… and it is because he wants to win it. And he will make it happen, as the photo shows. The TT is one intimidating race, it is the Nurgburing and then some, because it is about motorcycles. And this guy knows how to win it because he knows what it takes. As did Joey Dunlop and very few others.

John McGuinness at the TT Race (Independent)

John McGuinness at the TT Race (Independent)

In my opinion, of all the riders out there, winners on all modalities, from speed to endurance, the TT riders are on top as the most badass riders out there. And chances are  you would agree with me.

But you may bring something else to the table.  For example, I go to Brazil often and I see those riders on 125cc motorcycles and a large fiberglass box mounted to their bikes’ rear rack.  They ride everyday, rain or shine, in heavy traffic, filtering through cars that are already too large for their own narrow lanes, and then, at night the time perhaps when they have more demand for work, they do it at the risk of being robbed at gun point, besides the inherent higher risk during night riding itself.

Motoboy, that's how they are called.

Motoboys, that’s how they are called.

You order that pizza, they deliver. In Brazil many products and documents are delivered by riders. They are badass riders on their own right. Perhaps they have a choice to work on something different, something that does not involve riding a motorcycle.  But perhaps they picked this kind of work because they like riding or that kind of work and the adventure that comes with it is what they are looking after. It is a lot less boring than a desk job.

And what about Simon and Lisa who have been riding the world for many years. It is not about the known danger of riding in different countries, different traffic rules, precarious roads, different driver cultures, only.

a chance encounter with Lisa and Simon at the BMW shop

a chance encounter with Lisa and Simon at the BMW shop

It is about the courage to live on the go, without the security of a place to call home.

Yes, difficult to tell who is taking most risks and why they do it. This post is for all of you riders who have fun doing what you enjoy, making riding your way of living, and for those who push my imagination to farther away horizons.  There are many other badass riders out there because, to a certain extent, smaller extent in my case, we all are.  Enjoy your own ride and the rides with your friends. Ride more, ride safe.

(by the way, this was my 200th post!)

Posted in The Book | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Riding the 2016 Ducati XDiavel

Cruiser motorcycles never featured on the list of motorcycles I would like to own or even ride one day.  My opinion about these bikes has always been subjective, either linked to the looks of these bikes or the lifestyle associated with owning them.  But then things changed.

Before a ride, let's test the access to foot controls...

Before a test ride, let’s test the ergonomics of forward foot controls

This changed this last couple of years when manufacturers started producing bikes with cruiser ergonomics, especially forward foot controls, but with somewhat of a sport aggressive demeanor with a motor that goes with it.  These bikes can been referred to as urban sport cruisers. Three bikes among this group of bikes, very different from each other, I see them as cool urban bikes, drew my attention: the Ducati XDiavel, the Victory Octane, and the Moto Guzzi V-9. Yes, the Guzzi is more different than the other on this group of different bikes.

This report is about my thoughts about urban sport cruiser machines, but primarily it is about the XDiavel.  I will discuss in more detail this bike, will provide my riding impressions on it from the perspective of someone who had never ridden a cruiser before.  I will also speculate whether there is change on the urban motorcycle scene, since I believe I’m not the only one who has become interested in cruisers for the first time as part of this crop of interesting urban motorcycles coming out in the last few years.

An XDiavel line up - ready for organized test rides in the PIR, May 2016

An XDiavel line up – ready for organized test rides in the PIR, May 2016

The Background

If you have been following my stories, I’ve been posting thoughts on what would an ideal urban motorcycle be, a motorcycle someone could use on a daily basis.  This search has been very predictable for me, an adventure and enduro motorcycle rider, leading me straight to “standards” of the scrambler variety, like the Ducati Scrambler and the BMW R NineT Scrambler.  Old habits die hard, I know.

This search, however, brought to light other interesting motorcycles on a style I’d never paid attention before, bikes that are definitely out of the adventure riding box.  On this vein, the XDiavel was one of the bikes I was most interested in riding because I’m familiar with this brand and have ridden most of its products. Therefore when Ducati organized a national tour to offer test rides on the XDiavel, I jumped at the opportunity.

The XDiavel promotion tour, truck with motorcycles and merchandise was at Portland International Raceway on May 2016

The XDiavel promotion tour, truck with motorcycles for organized test rides and merchandise, was at Portland International Raceway on May 2016

Before getting into the Ducati, though, let’s talk about the other two bikes on this short list.  The Victory Octane became an interesting option for me especially because at some point it had been rumored we would see a Victory model based on Project 156.  Many of us heard about project 156, as the promotion was well orchestrated especially around the Pikes Peak event.  Just in case you haven’t heard about it, Project 156 was the result of Roland Sands teaming up with Polaris to deliver a concept bike under the Victory brand with the design and the performance to conquer Pikes Peak in 2015. The bike did not win it but it certainly left a mark.  Job well done, Victory.

Project 156: Roland Sands and Victory, teaming up to conquer Pikes Peak

Project 156: Roland Sands and Victory, teaming up to conquer Pikes Peak. Great looking motorcycle.

Some say the descendant of the 156 is the Victory Octane, which it turns out, has the look and feel more to a cruiser, much more similar to its Polaris cousin, the Indian Scout, than the more upright and standard or even aggressive stance of Project 156.


On the other hand the Victory Octane motor delivers a more aggressive riding experience than the Scout does, according to reviewers (I have not ridden the Victory Octane nor the Indian Scout), and the Octane certainly looks more aggressive than the Scout.  The Octane’s 1179cc motor is a V-Twin rated at 104HP at 8,000 RPM and reaches a maximum of 76 ft-lbs of torque at 6,000 RPM.

What this motor can possibly deliver in terms of performance is what makes the Victory Octane interesting to me.  The riding experience described by others resonate with what I’m looking for, especially because it comes on a compact package, with an interesting, very urban demeanor.  Meanwhile, Polaris, here is my question to you: is the Octane really the bike meant to have been originated from project 156?  That is, will we see something more upright like the 156 instead of the Octane and the two other Octane-derived concepts (the Ignition and Combustion concepts)?

2017 Victory Octane

2017 Victory Octane: shinier version.

The other urban sport cruiser that has caught my attention is Moto Guzzi’s V-9 in bobber style.  The controls are not too far forward, more of a standard look, but still offering a relaxed approach to riding.

2016 Moto Guzzi V-9 Bobber

2016 Moto Guzzi V-9 Bobber

The motor is an attraction on itself, an 853CC transversely mounted V-twin in Moto Guzzi tradition. This motor is attractive not for its performance, but for what it represents, its tradition, a true classic and one of the remaining air cooled motors. From several reports from the people who have ridden it, they say although rated at only 55HP, the way its torque is delivered (the maximum torque is 47 lb-fts, but at a very low 3,000RPM) they never felt power was a missing element on the riding experience. On paper and on looks itself, this seems like a great urban machine to me.

An interesting aside here is that Moto Guzzi appears to live in a special place in the mind of moto-journalists.  On all reviews they are very quick to point out the limitations on these bikes, and there are several limitations.  On the other hand, they hardly dismiss these bikes for their short-comings.  Quite the contrary, they always seem to find something positive to say about these bikes. Is it because these bikes deliver a feeling, a riding experience that can take you to years past, but with traction control, fuel injection and ABS, and perhaps 21st century reliability? Is this today’s interpretation of what a true motorcycle is?  It only makes me curious about this bike, and I think it deserves a test ride.

Moto Guzzi V-9 Bobber

2016 Moto Guzzi V-9 Bobber

Since I’ve been discussing the BMW R NineT Scrambler on several posts, including this one, and it is on my short list of bikes I would like to own one day, let’s see how it rates in comparison to the Victory Octane and Moto Guzzi V-9 Bobber in terms of specs.

Air-cooled boxer motor: going, going...

BMW R NineT Scrambler, One Moto Show, Portland, February 2016

The BMW R NineT Scrambler, if the motor is the same as the R Nine T for the United States market (for the European market it has changed to meet Euro 4 standards) is likely to be rated at 110HP at 7,750 RPM and reaching maximum torque at 85 lb-fts at 6,000 RPM, figures that put this bike very evenly matched to the Victory Octane.  But BMW edges the Victory on torque and is set on a lighter weight, “scramblerized” package. These are different leagues of bikes, in terms of style, but the BMW is probably a bike that you can take for a ride with your sport bike friends and not be left behind.  The Victory Octane, who knows. The BMW is a more versatile machine. But I digress. From this short list of bikes, with two of them closely matched in performance, the Moto Guzzi sits alone with its lower HP and torque. It should be about the subjective riding experience, right? That’s what counts in the end.

What about the Ducati XDiavel?

Talking about the importance of the riding experience, let’s get back to the main protagonist of this post, the Ducati XDiavel. The XDiavel is a departure from the Diavel concept, more refined and clearly more defined towards the cruiser domain.

2016 XDiavel S

2016 XDiavel S

The Diavel immediately looked out of place when the XDiavel was put next to it with its more sophisticated appearance, trellis frame exposed, more traditional shapes for the tank and seat. And foot controls set forward. And we are not even taking in consideration the DVT motor yet.

The XDiavel and the Diavel

The XDiavel and the Diavel

Thanks to Ducati’s marketing campaign which remains bold on motorcycle launches, they brought the motorcycle “launch” experience to me on a truck that toured several parts of the country.  In May of 2016 the XDiavel truck was in Portland with several motorcycles on board for a three-day window of organized test rides. I was there for the experience and I got to ride the XDiavel twice.

Ducati's mobile "launch" of the XDiavel in Portland, May of 2016

Ducati’s mobile “launch” of the XDiavel in Portland, May of 2016

Incidentally, Ducati still makes use of umbrella girls. I confess I find it difficult to criticize Ducati for using this approach to draw attention to their products, who knows when this practice will end. I bet they were happy to get a check for this work. And they were very nice as well, and patient and dedicated to their jobs, they posed for me.

Nice motorcycles

Nice motorcycles

Since the XDiavel has been out since last year, you probably already know its specs.  But just in case, and because I mentioned the basic specs of the Victory Octane and the Moto Guzzi V-9 (and also the BMW Scrambler), I should talk about the Ducati as well.  Although the Victory Octane brings a new level of performance to the urban sport cruiser scene, the XDiavel is on another league in terms of power and technology, it is a different beast altogether.  Let’s not forget, it is a Ducati.  So let’s see those numbers.

XDiavel Specs (from Ducati’s website)

The motor is a new Ducati Testastretta DVT (Desmodromic Variable Timing), L-Twin, with 4 desmodromically actuated valves per cylinder, dual spark, liquid cooled and driven by a belt (instead of chain).

Here are some numbers:

  • Displacement: 1262 cc (77,0 cu in)
  • Bore x Stroke: 106 x 71,5 [mm] (4,17 x 2,81 [in])
  • Compression ratio: 13:1
  • Power: 156 hp (114,7 kW) @ 9500 rpm
  • Torque: 95,0 lb-ft (128,9 Nm) @ 5000 rpm

If this summary of the motor specs are not enough, or because of them, the Ducati comes with a full host of riding technology aids that is usually associated with high-end sport, touring and adventure motorcycles.  Its standard equipment includes riding modes, Bosch cornering ABS, traction control, a power launch (for when you want to safely show off this bike’s power to your friends or for those unsuspected encounters at red lights), ride by wire, cruise control, self-cancelling turn signals, full-led lighting, backlit handlebar switches (quite nice actually), bluetooth module, infotainment system, and I think I may have missed something or another.

This is no ordinary cruiser.  The Victory Octane, as mentioned before, is a departure from the usual scene, the Ducati XDiavel even more, and so much so that it needs a power launch control.  Some people have been referring to these bikes as muscle cruisers. Maybe you could say that in relation to the Victory Octane.  You can hardly say that for the Ducati, as it is too sophisticated and technologically packed for that association, although it has a lot more power than the Octane.  I’ll stick with urban sport cruiser, a much better match in my opinion.

Ducati Power Launch - DPL

Ducati Power Launch – DPL.  A muscle cruiser? Or a sport cruiser? Who cares, it moves fast!

The Design – attention to detail and exclusiveness

You can see from the motor and technology package that this is a special machine. Maybe you would realize all of that by just looking at it, especially the S version, with its glossy black paint, machined belt covers, premium seat, machined aluminum mirrors, and a myriad of other details.  As you’ve seen on my previous post about this bike, the attention to detail is incredible on this machine. It is a Ducati on its soul, besides the power, this bike’s appeal comes from its styling and sophistication.

Everything about this bike talks about style, refinement, but also aggressiveness

Everything about this bike talks about style, refinement, but also aggressiveness

It is a very attractive motorcycle. Power that is unmatched, style and sophistication is what Ducati brings to the segment, something that has not been available before.  Of course, you would not be surprised, it comes with a hefty price tag. Yes, it is a Ducati.

Short exhaust exiting on the side with a dual pipe configuration , if we can call that a pipe...

Short exhaust exiting on the side with a dual pipe configuration , custom wheels, beautiful and sophisticated in all details

As a final result of this package, when I saw this bike for the first time at the local Ducati shop back in March, I immediately wanted to ride it.  I patiently waited until the truck arrived near me, with the bikes, the umbrella girls, and all the marketing paraphernalia.  They even gave me a T-shirt along with the ride.

XDiavel: "Are you ready for change?" summarizes the concept and the campaign about this motorcycle.

XDiavel: “Are you ready for change?” summarizes the concept and campaign around this motorcycle.

So let’s see what riding this machine is all about!  Am I ready for change?

Riding the XDiavel

I arrived at the PIR on a late Saturday afternoon, so I got to ride this bike on one of its last groups for that day.  Then I came back Sunday morning and took another ride.  Lets start with the Saturday afternoon ride.

Following my ride, one more tour is heading out

Following my ride, one more group is heading out

Organized group test rides are very limiting, as one important priority on such rides is about keeping moving as a group which limits the attention you may want give to the bike and its riding experience.  You are not encouraged to accelerate out of the pace of the group, you are not allowed to stop whenever you want to document the bike, and you have to ride the route they planned for you at the pace they selected for you, for the duration they consider will be enough for you.

Bikes ready for action!

Bikes ready for action!

On the Saturday guided test ride, besides the lead and sweeper riders, there were about eight test riders, a relatively large group.  The route was to leave the PIR area and head east towards the airport area on the other side of I-5 using back roads and then ruen south before going west again to return on a parallel road to the PIR.  It was about 40 minutes long, at speeds averaging between 30 and 40 miles per hour.  As I mentioned already, it is a bit lame to ride in a group but since we were testing a motorcycle with cruiser ambitions, maybe it makes sense to ride on a parade mode. We want to make sure the bike rides well on a slow pace.  Even if it has 156 hp at the ready.

The bike offers three positions for foot control adjustment. I picked a bike with the foot controls in the middle.  And I thought it was still too far forward to me.  That is something one has to get used to, if they’ve only ridden adventure or sport motorcycles. Once you are moving it is all good, the problem is when you stop.  If you remove both feet from the pegs, once you start going again it is difficult to really know where your feet go to reach the foot controls.

Left foot controls positioned at the most forward setting

Foot controls (in this case for the left foot) positioned at the most forward setting. I picked one with controls in the middle position, it still felt too forward to me

Therefore here there is an advantage for being compliant with what you learned on your motorcycle safety course: if you keep one foot on the controls (bike in first gear, right foot on rear brake as recommended) it is very easy for the left foot to find its way back to the peg because you have the right foot as a reference.  Problem solved.  Anyway, I assume after a day or two of riding the new tall and forward foot controls position are going to be learned and become automatic.

I put the bike in sport mode, what’s new, and I could immediately feel the power, lots of it.  How to tame this beast for slow riding is the challenge we expect from powerful motors and this bike felt a bit lumpy on 1st gear when trying to move at constant speeds of below 20mph.  Of course those are speeds you only use when leaving a parking area.  Most of us will spend very little time at those speeds, so that is basically okay.  The bike I rode on Sunday morning, also on sport mode, felt better on those same speeds, same riding mode and it should be noted that when I tried urban mode for a little while, the bike felt better at slow speeds and you can change back to sport mode on the go.

Somewhat lumpy below 20mph in first gear

Somewhat lumpy below 20mph in first gear

Once we got to the riding speeds programmed for this tour, between 30 and 50 mph, the bike felt good.  You have to use the gear box, though, you have to be on a proper gear for a smooth operation on this bike.  That is, if you are at 30 mph, in third gear, on a slight uphill and you want the bike to accelerate quickly, you will be better off by downshifting to second gear.  This bike’s motor has been designed to deliver a good amount of power at the lower end of the torque curve, but it still feels and deliver better performance at higher RPMs.

Therefore, you need to use the gear box to enjoy the power and quick acceleration you get when at the 4,500 or 5,000 RPM and above.  That’s where the power lives.  That is, it is still a typical Ducati, it has torque down low, but it still is a motor that revs high to deleiver performance of a true sports bike.  You need to appreciate the rush of power delivery going past 5,000 RPM to really enjoy what this bike is all about. Believe me, it is fantastic.

Bike feels much better and more responsive at about 5K RPM

Bike feels much better and more responsive at about 5K RPM

Yes, each bike has an appropriate or best gear for a certain speed and acceleration depending on gear ratios and motor design.  Cruisers by tradition will actually tractor well at low speeds but they will top off too soon on the RPM range. It is one of those compromise situations.  The XDiavel is coming from the other side, it is a performance motorcycle with capacity to ride at low speeds.  Therefore, it is not a cruiser in the traditional cruiser sense. It is a sports bike, with classy urban looks, with cruiser ergonomics.  An urban sport cruiser.

Perfect at slow cruising speeds, 36mph on 3rd gear

Perfect at slow cruising speeds, 36mph on 3rd gear and 3.5 K RPM

Having said that, the bike felt very good on 3rd gear at above 30 mph speeds for cruising. If cruising is the thing to do, you can also resort on its cruise control.  I did test it at slightly less than 50 MPH on 4th gear.

Cruise control engaged

Cruise control engaged (green light on the right side of the upper dash)

With the cruise control engaged the bike traveled very smoothly at those low speeds.

Cruise control on (green light on the right side of the upper dash) set at 48mph, 4th gear

Cruise control set at 48mph, 4th gear, smooth operation and riding experience

Eventually we started our way back to the PIR and I felt this ride was not enough for me to get a feel for this motorcycle.  The event organizers told me they would be back at 9am Sunday morning, that on early mornings they have had less people show up, so they could take me on a different route.

One thing to note is that this bike has self cancelling turn signals.  I’ve always been skeptical about these systems thinking they would not work well or that they would not be timed to work the same way I would do manually. But the reality is that it worked really well, it never failed, and the timing was perfect.  Together with cruise control and cornering ABS this is something I would like to have on my next premium motorcycle.

Sunday morning I showed up at 9am ready to ride.  No other riders were ready to go at that time, so I got to ride only with the lead and the sweeper.  I felt I was riding escorted by two guards, one ahead and one behind me. Yet, we rode a little bit faster, and we took a different route.  This time we went to the opposite direction, west towards St. John.

Leaving St John

Leaving St John

We crossed the Willamette river, which was already a much more interesting route than looping on the south area of the airport.

Crossing the Willamette

Crossing the Willamette

And from there we took the short cut going up towards the Skyline Boulevard. Since it has a great amount of curves, I had a chance to see what else this bike can do.  It leans very nicely, fast and sharp despite its long wheel base.  It is a bit of a strange position to have your feet up and way forward when trying to ride more aggressively.  This bike may not be able to keep up with sport bike riders on the hills, but they better keep their game up or the sport bike in cruiser disguise may catch up with them.

Cornering with the XDiavel

Cornering with the XDiavel

We reached the Skyline Boulevard and turned around from there, back towards the PIR, so the ride would be a total of 40 minutes long to be back and ready for the next group (the guided tours leave on the hour).

Back to St Johns and the PIR

Back to St Johns and the PIR

Back at the PIR, at the headquarters of this tour, I could reach more informed conclusions about this bike. The Sunday ride with more variation of terrain and speeds gave me a better impression about this bike.  It can cruise well, it can accelerate very nicely (its best performance feature in my opinion), and it can lean and be ridden aggressively on curves, which is not a surprise, considering it is a Ducati.

In essence, it is a cruiser in shape and form, but don’t think the cruiser ergos will stop you from enjoying other experiences with this motorcycle.  A case in point is that as another group got ready to go on their guided test, I went with the local shop guys to a back road to test the Ducati Power Launch (DPL).  By the way, once you’ve used the DPL three times in a row the system will only be actuated again once the bike cools down (from time from the last time or miles ridden since you last tried it).

Testing the DPL

Testing the DPL

And that was it.  Overall, thank you Ducati for allowing me to test ride this wonderful machine.

The Urban Scene

The Ducati XDiavel, along with the other bikes described on this post, form a new group of cool bikes to enter the motorcycle urban scene. We’ve seen the scramblers, roadsters, cafe racers, and there were already cruisers as part of this group.  But the Ducati XDiavel and the Octane bring performance to this group of cruiser-styled bikes.  The Moto Guzzi brings a more classical and traditional performance, it seems.

These bikes are all after the cool factor that comes from the riders who created a path themselves by making modifications on their bikes to create beautiful, exclusive and desired machines. Manufacturers design motorcycles that look somewhat like these custom machines, but built on an integrated factory-built platform that allows performance, safety and reliability for real use.

Bikes lined up for group test rides at the PIR

Bikes lined up for group test rides at the PIR

These bikes will never be as cool as a well designed custom creation, but they are likely to perform better, and they allow more riders,who do not have the skill or the time, perhaps,  to have access to cool bikes. That larger access diminishes somehow the cool factor and here is where the Ducati comes in:  with its style, sophistication and performance, the associated price tag is likely going to keep some level of exclusiveness.

To summarize, this is a unique bike, the one you could ride wearing a tuxedo for a gala event, or ride it with your scuffed leather jacket to your local riding club, or don your race leathers and take it on a spirited canyon ride with your sport riding friends. It would do well on these three scenarios. You would potentially look cool in at least two of these three scenarios. Three for three will depend on how good your riding friends are, they would have an advantage if they ride sport bikes.

Will I buy one?

Well, I liked it, but I will likely not buy it this point.  And it is not something against the XDiavel in particular.  It is something that would apply to the Victory Octane as well, even though I never test rode one (and I still want to test ride one).

The reason is simple.  Although I find these bikes very cool, and the XDiavel is a wonderful performance machine, I just did not get comfortable with the forward foot controls.  Whenever I crossed cruisers on the road in my many years of riding, guys with their feet forward, backs arched, I always thought maybe, just maybe, there s something special about that riding position, maybe it is even a comfortable riding position.

This bike is about style and performance in cruise disguise

Style and performance in cruise disguise

But in reality, I learned with two 40-minute rides, I’m much more comfortable with a more upright riding position.  It allows me to ride on a more relaxed mode.  But when things get more interesting, the upright bikes allow me to move my body so much more easily on the bike to assume a more aggressive posture. On a cruiser, you are more of a passenger on your own motorcycle, and it does not leave much room for movement.  I’m glad I had a chance experience what would be to ride a motorcycle with cruise ergonomics.  I’m not going to say “never” but for now I say: not yet.

As others have mentioned before, and I will say it again, it is really great to be a motorcycle rider these days. The XDiavel in particular is bringing something that was not available before, with its extreme power and sophistication.  I am looking forward to seeing these bikes on the road and hopefully try them again, just for the sake of experiencing that nice motor.

Posted in Bike Reviews | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Ducati developing new Scrambler, an Enduro version?

The launch of the Ducati Scrambler and the Scrambler Ducati brand in 2015 followed one of the most intensive marketing campaigns in the moto industry.  Ducati would release pictures, videos, had a website, made use of social media.  When the bike was finally out people were experiencing, well, I was experiencing an overdose of publicity, of hipsters, beards and flannel shirts.  Thank goodness that is all gone now and we can move on.  It took me a while to get to ride a Scrambler, an Urban Enduro, and it only happened after the dust of the launch had settled and journalists’ and even new owners’ reports had already been out. It was worth the wait, though, what a a lovely machine it is: fast, torquey, nimble and a true Ducati with its air-cooled V-twin soul.

The 2016 Urban Enduro Scrambler Ducati

The 2016 Urban Enduro Scrambler Ducati

By the time I got to ride it there were already rumors about expansions to the Scrambler Ducati brand, how this family of bikes would have new models soon.  In fact, it was announced by the Ducati officials themselves during the launch of the bike.  People assumed new models would be larger, Ducati went smaller.  The Sixty2 was it, named after the 1962 year, the year when the Scrambler Ducati was produced for the first time.

I actually participated on a survey on the Scrambler site, even before I got to see a first Scrambler live, and on this survey there were questions about my perceptions about the bike and one of the questions asked whether I thought the Scrambler was too powerful.  There was no option on the multiple choices for this question saying “No, I want more power” or something similar.  But it did ask if the bike’s 803cc motor, rated at about 75 hp,  was too powerful.  Ducati was gearing for the Sixty2, with the motor modified to deliver 400cc displacement, significant less power tailoring the bike to the beginner rider.

The 400cc Sixty2 Scrambler Ducati

The 400cc Sixty2 Scrambler Ducati

Over in Europe new riders are regulated in terms of how much power they should have at their disposal on their first years of riding.  The Sixty2 complies with the European A2-class driving licenses, which restricts riders to motorcycles of up to 47 hp (The Sixty2 is rated at 41 hp).  It works in Japan where 400 cc capacity of a motor (the Sixty2 is actually 399cc) is the boundary for lower level licenses. And then the bike is more affordable as well. It was a move to produce a bike to a new segment. Incidentally here in the US a beginner can show up at any motorcycle dealer and exchange cash for whatever bike they want, I believe they don’t even need to show a motorcycle endorsement on their license to make the purchase.  Darwin law rules here, which is somewhat ironic, actually.

Anyway, now there is hope Ducati is going larger in the family branching of new Scrambler models. Or at least different. A new (spy?) picture circulating on the internet shows a bike of the Scrambler Ducati family, just that this time it is not about the displacement of the motor, it seems (or only), but about the bike’s shape and function.  People have been expecting an 1100cc machine, Ducati has that type of motor from many iterations on other models.  Maybe this is it, maybe not.  What we can see from the photo is more of a true enduro machine.

Scrambler Enduro?

Scrambler Enduro?

Upside-down forks, rear rack, side racks, spoke wheels, maybe a larger front wheel (19 or 21, cannot tell from the photo) and we could be talking here about a more realistic Enduro version (as opposed to the “urban” enduro).  Maybe it will have the same motor, it seems it still has a single disc upfront, so the 803 motor seems like a good match. Who knows, these “spy” photos may not mean anything and this bike could be a side, dead branch on the stages of the Scrambler evolution (seems like appropriate language since we mentioned Darwin earlier).

What I see in this photo seems very interesting to me.  I would welcome a round headlight enduro machine with no windscreen nor front fairing, but with capacity to carry travel gear. Light weight and probably keeping the essence of what I experienced on my test ride of the Urban Enduro: a fast, torquey and nimble machine. If it is kept simple, as it seems, and it is dirt and travel oriented as well, then why not?  Bring it on Ducati, we need to redefine adventure in the context of motorcycles. This revolution might as well come from someone as unexpected to ignite it as Ducati.

Stay tuned.

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

Riding the BMW R NineT, thinking about the BMW R NineT Scrambler

Take a look at this  motorcycle.  Doesn’t it look great in my garage?


It feels at home!

I like the boxer motor, the nice shape of the tank and the overall nice lines of a standard concept.

Air-cooled (oil-cooled) boxer motor and a nicely shaped tank

Air-cooled (oil-cooled) boxer motor and a nicely shaped tank. Overall, a standard motorcycle!

But I prefer the Scrambler version of this bike, based on what I saw on the One Moto Show in Portland earlier this year.

Air-cooled boxer motor: going, going...

The R NineT Scrambler at the One Moto Show in Portland, February 2016

The BMW R NineT Scrambler is just about to be released in the United States, and I think the Scrambler would look great in my garage.  Although it is called a “scrambler” it remains a street machine, in my opinion, just that I like better the scrambler looks and it will match my other bikes.

The main differences between the R NineT and its Scrambler version? A 19-inch front wheel (you can get the tubeless spoke wheels of the GS on the Scrambler), riding position might be slightly taller, the bike overall should be an inch or two taller. The other changes are a steel tank (instead of the aluminum tank of he R NineT) and lower specs, but hopefully still good enough, for components such as brakes and suspension.

BMW Motorrad photo - Spoke Wheels for tubeless tires - same or similar to the R1200GS wheels

BMW Motorrad photo – R1200GS Spoke Wheels


When did I start wondering about a BMW Scrambler in my garage?

A standard motorcycle has been on my short list of bikes to have for a while and this BMW package in Scrambler guise seems to check all the boxes of my wish list.  Several years ago I was considering the Boneville Scrambler and the Moto Guzzi V7.  I also thought about buying a 70’s BMW to turn into a scrambler, a look I like.  I wanted something simple, not too tall, not too heavy, with no fairings or windscreens, just an essential motorcycle for every day riding and for relaxing rides not too far from town.  Just a fun, back to the riding basics, lay back motorcycle.

BMW Scrambler

An honest Moto Guzzi V7 or something similar to this BMW Scrambler is what I ultimately wanted

Motorcycles have been evolving over the years. If we assume a past point in time, let’s go back to what we may call the standard bike, the basic upright motorcycle with a round headlight and no fairings of the 60’s and 70’s.  For sake of argument, let’s consider those bikes the “common ancestor” of today’s bikes because they already had all the essential elements and operating gear we see in motorcycles today. (Maybe we need to leave cruisers out of this scenario as “our” common ancestor with them may have been produced a few decades earlier.)

Honda cb450

People would buy those standard motorcycles, be them BMW’s, Triumphs, Hondas, and the many others available at that time and would take upon themselves to make changes to them, usually by eliminating parts to turn them into scramblers and flat trackers, adding lowered and narrower handlebars to turn them into roadsters, or adding fairings and bags to turn them into tourers.  Eventually manufacturers themselves offered a line of accessories, like fairings and bags to make money with the transformation process.  And later on some equipment came with the bikes as standard options.  Gradually more differentiation took place to a point where today these bikes are designed from the ground up for a specialized and specific use, and hence look and perform so differently one from the other.

BMW's view on motorcycle types for the American market

BMW’s view on motorcycle types for the American market

From the original scramblers we today have dirt bikes, enduro bikes and adventure bikes. From the basic standards with windshields and bags we today have touring and sport touring bikes. From roadsters and cafe racers we got sport bikes and street fighters.  I enjoy my Ducati Multistrada because it is such an awesome sport-tourer and no standard motorcycle with mods and all could match this bike’s performance on 500-mile days, carrying gear and all.  I enjoy my WR250R because right off the box it performs on dirt  better than any scrambler has ever been able to.

Despite all the benefits we have gotten from this evolving process however, a standard motorcycle has been increasingly capturing my imagination mostly because the specialized bikes have distanced me from the pure riding sensations, something only a standard motorcycle delivers.  And I always enjoyed riding standards, since the first standard I’ve ever ridden, a Honda CG125.

Honda CG125

Honda CG125

But there is one remaining contradiction with my enjoyment of riding standard motorcycles. Let’s go back to my idea of getting a BMW of the 70’s and turn it into a scrambler. When I got to ride one of them recently, it became a turning point on my plans. I test rode an R90 and it felt like a tractor and handled like if the frame was made of rubber with the front wheel going on a direction, the rear wheel on another.  And what about the brakes?  They were made of wood it seemed.

My memory of the fun riding experiences from the past had been obfuscated by time and the gradual improvements on technology that occurred during the last 30 years.  I realized riding new motorcycles had raised the bar on what to expect from a motor and chassis.  The 1970’s BMW is extremely cool, but it does not deliver a basic level of performance I expect today without modifications that are certainly beyond my capacity or perhaps the bike’s capacity itself.  Yes for the standard’s basic shape, ergonomics and feel.  No for the motor, chassis and brakes.

A BMW /5 of the early 70's

A BMW /5 of the early 70’s

But there were newer and traditional motorcycles in the market, as I mentioned earlier I had been thinking about the Moto Guzzi V7 and the Triumph Boneville.  My idea about buying the V7 or Boneville was put on hold when I heard about the new Scrambler Ducati.  The air-cooled Ducati L-twin motor was a major attraction. So I decided to wait until I could ride a Scrambler Ducati and make my mind.  However, before I had a chance to ride the Ducati, BMW launched and offered demo rides on the BMW R NineT.  And that was quite the experience, and another turning point, this time a very positive one.

2015 BMW R nineT

Riding the 2015 BMW R nineT, April 2015

I must have ridden more than 50 different motorcycles since I started riding.  The BMW R NineT was clearly my all time favorite for relaxed rides on pavement.  It was the one which provided me with the best riding experience. It is a basic formula: a standard motorcycle with a great motor, brakes and suspension.  Because it is an air-cooled boxer motor it retains some of the older motorcycles’ tradition alive delivering the sound and the feel of the past.  However, this motor was on the very successful and mainstream BMW GS line until four years ago and because of that it has been through many upgrades, it is basically a modern motor, with modern touring dynamics and performance. Now you put this motor on a compact package with a solid well designed chassis, and the result is phenomenal.

Riding the R NineT, April 2015

Riding the R NineT, April 2015

Once I knew a Scrambler version of this bike was on the works, I had a feeling it was going to be an interesting motorcycle.

Riding the BMW R NineT, Spring 2015

Riding the BMW R NineT, Spring 2015

While we don’t have the Scrambler available for a ride yet, the best way to have a feel for how the Scrambler will ride would be to take the current R NineT bike for a ride again, and while at it purposefully project how it would possibly behave in Scrambler guise.

Riding another R Nine T. July 2016.

Riding another R Nine T. July 2016.

I had ridden the R Nine T in Spring of 2015, that has been more than a year already. What I remembered from that test ride of the R  NineT was how I enjoyed the motor in terms of performance, especially at low to middle RPM ranges. I also remember what a great and smooth gear box it had.  A motorcycle that seemed perfect for in-town riding or for relaxed and even somewhat spirited rides on the many great roads on the south hills not too far from town.

Perfect for an after work trip to the wineries.

Perfect for an after work trip to the wineries.

The 2016 model I took for a ride this last month (July 2016), had the brushed aluminum tank with the visible weld on the tank.  I actually like this package better than the black one.

Brushed aluminum tank with weld mark on the 2016R NineT

Brushed aluminum tank with visible weld on the 2016R NineT

But the Scrambler matte gray with the brown seat looks even better in my opinion.

Steel tank on the Scrambler, as opposed to Aluminum in the R nineT

Steel tank on the Scrambler, as opposed to Aluminum in the R nineT

Back to this last month’s ride, turning the motor on, there it was, that nice sound of the boxer twin I had almost forgotten already.  I assume the R Nine T and its Scrambler version will sound about the same, although the R Nine T has the exhaust on a lower position.

R Nine T Exhaust

R Nine T Exhaust

And the Scrambler has the pipe exiting in the typical higher scrambler position.  I want to think the Scrambler version with the Akrapovic exhaust will sound as good as the regular R NineT does.

I definitely want one.

R Nine T Scrambler exhaust.

Placing my feet on the pegs of the R NineT and I immediately started wishing the Scrambler has a higher seat to peg distance.  I had forgotten this tighter roadster style rider triangle of the R NineT.  The Scrambler will be taller so there is a possibility for lower foot controls.  I checked on the motorcycle ergonomics site (cycle-ergo) and the BMW scrambler data is not there yet.  I examined photos of the two bikes side by side and it seems the frame is the same on both bikes, which makes sense.  But looking more closely, the foot controls of the Scrambler appear to be positioned about one inch lower than that on the regular R NineT.  I hope this is the case, if not someone will likely put together a kit for lowering the foot controls.

Boxer twin looks funny, looks traditional, behaves distinctively

Boxer twin looks funny, looks traditional, behaves distinctively

Back to the motor, it vibrates like a motorcycle motor should vibrate.  Except that it has that boxer motor side torque push when you rev it in neutral. I think about it as a badge of tradition, the reminder that I was revving an unique motor. Once I put it in gear and started moving, the vibration and the side push disappeared. From that time on all I was enjoying was its torquey power delivery matched by a smooth gear box finished with the traditional boxer sound enhanced by a nice exhaust tune.

Riding the BMW R NineT, April 2015

Riding the BMW R NineT, April 2015

Once on the hills, I was enjoying the bikes overall performance, its turn-in speed, and projecting whether it would maintain some of its characteristics on scrambler form. I like bikes with a taller stance, I like the way they fall into the lean. On taller bikes with taller front wheels the turn-in is slower and gradual, but wider bars (the general case for taller, enduro bikes) give you more leverage and compensate against the resistance, allowing light counter steering input to generate proper and quick lean action.

The air-cooled boxer motor lives on

19-inch front wheel on the Scrambler

If the 19-inch front wheel slows things down a bit on the front while in motion, my dirt riding bias will actually appreciate this anticipated front end stability.  Just that I doubt it will have wider handlebars. I have heard, however, the Scrambler has a different rake and trail, and is expected to neutralize the effect of the larger wheel on turn-in speed.

Nice lines!

Wider bars? Taller probably.

Moto-journalists from Europe have already had a chance to ride the bike, and the two reviews I’ve read so far have given exactly opposite opinions on this very matter.  One of them said turn-in on the Scrambler was faster than on the Roadster version while the other one said it was slower.  These two opposing perspectives that we have so far tell me there isn’t a clear difference among the two bikes.  Therefore, even if the actual turn-in speed is different, it is likely not by much.

Riding the R NineT, April 2016

Riding the R NineT, April 2016

For the rest of the changes that might make an impact on riding experience between these two bikes we have suspension and brakes.  We hear in both cases BMW procured lower quality components for the Scrambler… well, let’s say they procured more affordable components.  And again, the two journalists disagreed on how the Scrambler’s suspension behaved when compared to the R NineT.  One said he was surprised the Scrambler’s front end was stiffer than the R NineT despite its longer travel, while the other said the front end was softer on the Scrambler when compared to the R NineT.  Again it tells me the Scrambler will be fine.

BMW R NineT Scrambler at the One Moto Show, PDX, February 2016

BMW R NineT Scrambler at the One Moto Show, Portland, February 2016

Will I buy the BMW R NineT Scrambler?

I’m seriously considering it. Price is something to take into consideration, of course.  Pricing has been released in Europe, but not here in the United States.  We can make some projections based on European prices, with the caveat that this never quite happens in a simple way as it depends on the manufacturer’s world and local marketing strategy for the product as well as on what are local legislation requirements and taxation levels.  Having said that, here is a simplistic mathematical way to project US prices for this bike:

  • Starting price in Italy for the R NineT: 15,950 Euros
  • Starting price in Italy for the R Nine T Scrambler: 14,000 Euros.

That makes the R Nine T Scrambler valued at 88% of the R NineT’s price (in Italy).

  • Starting prince in the USA for the R NineT: US $ 15,095
  • Projected price in USA for the R Nine T Scrambler: US $ 13,250 (88% of R NineT’s price in the USA)

Adding the four items I would like to have:

  • ASC: 350 Euros (maybe, not a priority, but I will check insurance quotes with and without ASC, and see the difference, it may be a good investment)
  • Heated grips: 230 Euros (it would be good to have, not a necessity)
  • Spoke wheels, tubeless (from R1200GS): 400 Euros (this will definitely be an to include!)
  • Two clocks (R Nine T style): have heard comments, have not seen in photos, nor have seen quotes of price (not needed but I like analogue rev counters).

With the options I want, it will probably be priced at almost the same level as the starting price of the R Nine T.  Given the caveats discussed above, we know pricing will be different  for the bike and accessories than what I projected. This is just about getting a ball park figure, where we know it will be priced above the level of the Boneville T120 line, closer to the Thruxton R price.


BMW R NineT Scrambler at the One Moto Show, Portland, February 2016.

Therefore, who knows what will be the out-of-the-door price for the first batch of these bikes. In other words, we need to wait to see if it will become a member of the “I’d Rather Be Riding” garage or not. It is a very strong candidate, it is currently ahead of any other bike at the moment.

If you live in central or western Oregon and are considering the BMW Scrambler, go to the European Motorcycles of Western Oregon and schedule a test ride on their R NineT demo (if they still have it, as these bikes have been selling fast).

That was it for now, folks. I’m slowly catching up with my posts, so what’s next?  My report on the unique XDiavel or my awesome adventure with the CB500X in the Death Valley?

Stay tuned and thank you for reading!

Posted in Bike Reviews, The Book, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments