Adventure generally resides in the adventurer's adrenal glands, but this particular mission qualifies on all counts. Whatever you call them--adventure-tourers, ber trailies or just bloody weird--we assembled a representative quorum of the biggest ones at Motorcyclist's headquarters: BMW's R1200GS (our 2004 Motorcycle Of The Year), KTM's aptly named 950 Adventure, Suzuki's obliquely named DL1000 V-Strom and Triumph's reworked-for-'05 Tiger 955i. All aspire to places you wouldn't take your run-of-the-mill streetbike; North Africa, for instance, or the Yukon. Or Hill Street between First and Eighth Ave. in Los Angeles. They're all different answers to a very important question.
That said, how do you get away from the thundering hordes of nomadic bikers, boaters, spelunkers, golfers, etc. in '05? The answer is simple: Go where they can't--or won't--follow. We're not antisocial. We just need a little extra personal space once in a while.
Seventeen floors below the palatial Motorcyclist offices, das Boxer is amazingly agile in
Still, with only a handful of days to burn, the Sahara desert was out. This would be a stream-of-consciousness trip. And if there were adventures to be had, we'd have 'em. These are adventure bikes, after all, motorcycling's omnivores. We can go wherever we want. Almost. CHP-barricaded offramps are a really bad idea. The same goes for the habitat of various endangered species, or any trail Malcolm Smith might classify as neat. The theory was this: Jammed surface streets would lead to slots between lanes of stalled freeway traffic, which would eventually lead to quaint country roads--which would then become stretches of two-track dirt roads that would magically morph into actual dirt trails way up high in the San Gabriel Mountains. We'd ride. We'd have adventures. We'd play off-roader at Jim Hyde's 42 Bar Ranch for a day or two. We might even stop off at nearby Willow Springs International Raceway for a few hours. And we'd get to know these do-everything streetbikes better than ever.
But the first and most formidable hurdle was the L.A. Basin itself.
Thru TrafficWe plow through the most patently ridiculous traffic in America everyday, sometimes on pavement rough enough to impersonate downtown Baghdad. So believe us when we say these are the very best commuter tools in the business. After too many miles too close to the pavement on sportbikes and cruisers, these things are a revelation: You sit up straight, boots planted a comfortable distance beneath butts, with 30-plus inches of seat height affording a commanding view of traffic. BMW and Triumph have even included height-adjustable seats for the inseam-impaired. Wide handlebars provide sufficient leverage to dart away from impending Oldsmobuicks and avoid ending up underneath. Those plastic hand-guards--most substantial on the KTM and BMW--are good at keeping your hands warm. They're even better at fending off oversized SUV mirrors jutting into one's path while you're threading between miles of gridlock. And aside from a little spilled latte inside one Lincoln Navigator, they're cruelty-free.
Dealing with all manner of vehicular turpitude reveals much. On the KTM, traffic-choked stretches of pothole-riddled misery become a sort of urban enduro. At 507 pounds wet, it is the lightest of the bunch, nearly 40 pounds lighter than the Tiger. For those with a 34-inch minimum inseam, commuting on the KTM is the modern version of every 7th-grade-boy's dream: riding to school on a '71 Bultaco 250 Pursang. Except no Pursang ever made 89 horsepower or hammered up Interstate 5 at 85 mph. More so than the others, the KTM is decidedly skewed toward dirty adventures. As such, it needs a committed rider who never whines about the moderately cruel seat, skimpy fairing protection or footpegs that buzz at 80 mph. If the engine dies at a light, smile and punch the starter button. But if you're not on the KTM when the pavement ends, you'll wish you were.
Provoked by some inopportune combination of speed, terrain and bad judgment, any of these
When the job at hand is to keep moving in stagnant traffic, the Triumph is a more practical tool. No surprise there. Triumph's (and Suzuki's) engineers reworked an existing street machine to address this particular market segment; their counterparts at KTM and BMW started with clean computer screens. So beneath the Tiger's faux feral orange exterior throbs the domesticated three-cylinder heart of a commuter. Making more points with smoothness than strength, it flows happily through traffic between 4000 and 7000 rpm. Revs don't build quickly, but twisting the Tiger's tail produces satisfying propulsion accompanied by a delicious growl all the way to 9500 rpm.
The Tiger's sportier steering geometry makes avoiding urban obstacles--Laurel Canyon craters big enough to swallow an 18-pound turkey, or a 19-inch front wheel, for instance--easier than on the lighter V-Strom. But softer springs at both ends mean the Tiger heaves over genuinely rough stuff with less composure than we'd like. Plush? Yes. Precise? Not exactly. Suzuki's V-Strom rides on soft suspension, too, yet it's slightly more poised over hostile urban real estate even if it is a little more difficult to turn. Meanwhile, the BMW GS rolls through Hollywood with the confident precision of Rommel's Afrika Korps: powerful, and taking everything in its considerable, seven-league stride. Confronted by an obstacle it can't roll over or around, the GS's servo-assisted EVO brakes stop hard enough to make anything less feel like your kid-sister's Schwinn Pixie.
Here's what happened when Little Timmy's size-12 slipped off one of the Tiger's rubber-cov
Freeway ConfinementAll the signs say they're freeways. But for most of the people who waste an average of 93 hours every year there--or so says a recent Texas A&M University report--the Los Angeles freeway system is actually one huge, cunningly disguised parking lot. Unless you're on a motorcycle. No worries--we're getting good at this SUV mirror-slalom thing. Here, the more firmly suspended, more crisp-handling KTM and BMW are slightly better than the semi-cushy Triumph and Suzuki. The V-Strom's tiny throttle-response hiccup between 3000 and 4000 rpm hurts it in these environs.
After a few miles of this two-wheeled swervery our valiant quartet breaks into the open and settles into the 80-mph flow. Scan the mirrors for encroaching CHP. Marvel at the dexterity of an aspiring supermodel in an '05 Corvette applying lip gloss and driving like Dale Jr.
Winter monsoons had carved the driveway of Jim Hyde's 42 Bar Ranch into a bigger challenge
If you could flip through our notes, the Suzuki might seem like the first-class cabin at this point. Room: plenty. Wind protection: good, though a little turbulence short of great with the screen in its tallest slot. Repositioning it requires a Phillips screwdriver, an Allen wrench and above-average mechanical fortitude. Still, the 'Strom cockpit is calmer than the Triumph's. Although slightly less protective, the BMW's windscreen adjusts sans tools. Back to the V-Strom. Suspension: commendably humane and easily adjustable. Seat: broad, flat, soft and comfy.
After that, the BMW's firmer, more logically contoured saddle is the place to be. The BMW's a little buzzier above 80 mph, though, and its spastic LCD fuel readout can't decide how much gas is left. All four bikes carry sufficient fuel for 200 miles of exploring, and a conservative throttle hand can squeeze out another 40 or so.
Dirty Pretty ThingsWinter monsoons had carved the driveway of Jim Hyde's 42 Bar Ranch into a bigger challenge than most of these bikes will ever face. We, however, would become quite familiar with even bigger challenges over the next two days. Jim's RawHyde Adventures (see sidebar page 104) puts together all manner of luxury off-road excursions for fans of these two-wheel behemoths who are also aficionados of haute cuisine, warm beds and hot showers. He'd invited us to sample all of the above, promising to aim us at some scenic, non-lethal terrain the next day. Having secured the photographic services of Mr. Joe Bonnello, we were prepared (or so we thought) to meet our fate.
Before leaving the pavement on any motorcycle with roughly the same mass and disposition of an adult grizzly bear, say to yourself, "This is not a dirtbike." Now say it again. Provoked by some inopportune combination of speed, terrain and bad judgment, any of these bruisers can ruin a perfectly good femur, simultaneously financing your orthopedic surgeon's summer vacation in Aruba. Real-deal knobbies--Continental TKC80s are an excellent choice--will drastically improve these bikes' off-road handling. But in the interest of science and street traction, we stuck with standard rubber: Michelin's Anakee on the BMW and Triumph, Bridgestone Trail Wings on the V-Strom and Pirelli Scorpions on the KTM.
Roughly 25 feet after mashing the KTM's six-speed into low gear, the 950 becomes the most confidence-inspiring off-roader in this quartet. No surprise there. It's lighter, stronger and rides on real dirt-spec WP suspension. Arriving at the top of a mountain first, the KTM pilot's biggest challenge is finding something to do until the others show up. Still, discretion is valor on these things. It's best to take your time. Think observed trials, not motocross. Precision, not feckless bravado. At that rate, the BMW is a corner or three behind its Teutonic colleague. Despite its extra mass and a Telelever front end that isn't as compliant or communicative as the KTM's inverted WP fork, the 84-horse Boxer does a credible Panzer impersonation, laying down usable power from 2000 rpm and chugging through essentially anything the Michelins can get hold of. Switching off the ABS helps, but the GS's front brake is touchy; strictly a one-finger proposition in the dirt. The KTM's brakes are less powerful but more effective and much less scary. The 91-horsepower Suzuki suffers from cantankerous low-rpm throttle response, softish suspension and slippery-when-wet rubber-covered pegs. Some distance behind, the Tiger just suffers. With even softer suspension, slipperier-when-wet rubber-covered pegs and a peakier power delivery, it's an unhappy cat on the rough stuff.
Semi-flaccid suspension is the Tiger's Achilles' heel on dirt or pavement.
Going the Extra MileBefore Interstate 5 was just a gleam in some paving contractor's eye, Model T Fords, Packard sedans and lumbering chain-drive Mac trucks took the Ridge Route from Castaic to Gorman. With 599 corners plus Dead Man's Curve--conveniently located directly above a spot soon known as the Junk Yard--any trip on this 20-foot-wide snake of pavement was an adventure. Some 90 years after it opened, there's plenty of adventure left in the 30 remaining miles. Riddled with craters and choked in spots to handlebar-width by mudslides, the surface alternates between scabs of ancient blacktop and the even-more-antique concrete underneath. It's enough to rattle a car or a regular streetbike to pieces, but these beasts eat it up. The Triumph seems happier carving between boulders in the gravel-strewn corners.
The KTM's Pirelli skins stick well on the street, sliding predictably if provoked.
Pulling up to regroup at a particularly magnificent overlook, you can almost see it, miles off to the east: Willow Springs International Raceway, home of the newly constructed Horse Thief Mile circuit. We could have just strafed a few unsuspecting canyon roads, but how much fun would that be? Horse Thief Mile is what happens when Keith Code, Eddie Lawson and pro-rally legend Rod Millen cram 11 corners into a single mile of pavement. Draped on the hill overlooking Willow's familiar 2.5-mile road course, it could have been called the Rollercoaster Mile. Aside from 1500 feet of straight and level pavement, you're either hammering up one hill or down another into mostly blind, decreasing-radius corners on billiard-table-smooth pavement. Yeeooowww!
On public roads, the performance crown comes down to the KTM's omnipotent power/weight ratio versus the BMW's rock-solid chassis and brick-wall brakes. With no cops, cars, dogs, ice-cream trucks, bumps or puddles of ATF to keep speeds down, it's basically the same story. The Adventure wins the dragrace out of every corner but pitches forward on its long-travel suspension, braking crazily into the next one. Wound between 6000 and 7000 rpm, the GS is still five horses down on the lighter Austrian. Its better brakes, zero front-end dive and superior cornering manners make up some of the difference, but not quite enough.
The KTM's Pirelli skins stick well on the street, sliding predictably if provoked.
At Horse Thief, the Suzuki gets the best of its customary battle with the Tiger. Cranking in maximum spring-preload at both ends keeps the V-Strom chassis settled in all but the fastest two corners. The Suzuki's pegs drag sooner, and its standard Bridgestones begin losing their grip earlier than the Triumph's Michelins. Keep the Tiger spinning near 9000 rpm and stay smooth on the brakes and it's capable of a respectably sporty clip. Still, Hinkley's 955cc triple can't quite match Hamamatsu's 996cc twin lunging from such tight corners, especially when it's pushing a heavier package. With better tires and brakes, the V-Strom could be right up there with the pricier Europeans.
At the end of the day, conclusions emerge amidst cooling engines and cold beers. To select the perfect adventurer, you need to choose the adventure you have in mind...and how adventurous your check-writing hand feels today. If it's more about dirt than street and you're not kidding about the Van Zyl's Pass next year--the steepest, rockiest mountain trail in South Africa--then the KTM is a slam-dunk. But if you're riding from L.A. to New York and then catching a flight to Cape Town, the BMW's pavement capabilities, ABS and assorted accoutrements seal the deal if you can part with the $15,490 admission price.
Still, gratuitous foot-out cornering behavior is mostly unnecessary.
If price is more important than accoutrements, ABS or traveling on unimproved surfaces, it comes down to a choice between the Suzuki and the Triumph. The V-Strom's $8999 sticker price--$1500 less than the Tiger's--cinches that deal for us, making it one of the last true steals in anyone's showroom. It's a great all-arounder.
But if you're pinning our ears back for the absolute king of adventure, toss another beer over here and go with the GS. BMW invented this category more than a quarter-century ago, funneling engineering R&D into it when nobody else cared. It's motorcycling's answer to the Swiss Army Knife. Ride it to work today, to Telluride tomorrow and Dakar next summer.
On the GS, adventure is anywhere you haven't been yet. And that, as far as we're concerned, is the whole idea.
Off The RecordMitch BoehmAGE: 42 HEIGHT: 6 ft. WEIGHT: 225 lb. INSEAM: 32 in.I must be getting soft in my old age. I love all four of these things, including the Tiger, which is a great streetbike. Yeah, it's softly suspended, and a touch lacking powerwise down low. But it's a gas to ride, and a plush one at that. Ditto the V-Strom, which adds stump-pulling power to the party. Ultimate Urban Assault Vehicle (UUAV) honors go to the KTM, which would have no problem wheelieing over bothersome VW Beetles like speed bumps if the need arose. And then there's the GS, the best all-around motorcycle going. I'll be heading to Europe again this fall for our Alps Challenge Tour (sign up and come with us!), and I've already booked a GS. Werner, don't let me down!
Barry BurkeAGE: 41 HEIGHT: 6ft. WEIGHT: 165 lb. INSEAM: 33 in.When Carrithers first called me about helping out with this adventure bike test, I had a few doubts. Bikes weighing 500-plus pounds? Saddlebags? Semi-knobby tires? On the street? What would my buddies say? But at least I'd be riding, and getting paid for it. So we took off in traffic, and...hey, these things were sorta fun. Things got better on the fire roads north of the city, where the KTM and BMW were huge fun blasting around on. The KTM is most impressive on loose surfaces, but the BMW wasn't too far off the mark, which is impressive for such a good streetbike. Heated grips? (Cue Homer Simpson voice.) Mmmmmmmmmmm. I have a whole new respect for this adventure riding thing. Carrithers...call me anytime!
Tim CarrithersAGE: 46 HEIGHT: 6ft. 3in. WEIGHT: 210 lb. INSEAM: 35 in.Sportbikes have evolved to the point where you can stick a fork in the thought of riding one hard on the street: done. Cruisers are great if you're in the market for a loud, 600-pound hunk of costume jewelry. That leaves these gigantic trailies, which is just fine with me. Aside from AMA Supercross or roadrace nationals, they'll let you take a stab at just about any other two-wheel pursuit. And when it's time to ditch the dangerous cretins clogging up all the good roads every weekend, these bikes are the only way.
Paul GoldeAGE: 50 HEIGHT: 5ft. 11in. WEIGHT: 170 lb. INSEAM: 32 in.Obviously, none of these big trailies are the sharpest tools in the dual-sport shed, mostly because of their dismal stock street/dirt tires and high streetbike-like weight. The KTM is the most capable in the dirt even with the stock rubber and the BMW is capable enough, so sehr kuhl. The Suzuki is a great value of a streetbike with comfortable seating and suspension, but does not like to go off the tarmac, period. Ditto for the Triumph, though it's $1500 more.
Paul Golde has been riding for 37 of his 50 years, and is the international brand manager for Fairchild Sports, a company that controls brands such as Held, Hein Gericke and Vemar.
RawHyde AdventuresPortable luxury for the enlightened adventurer
Those who've become accustomed to the whole civilization thing may have issues with adventure touring. Where should you go? What if you get lost? Will you be eaten by wild dogs? Moreover, various staples of enlightened existence--clean sheets, hot showers and edible food, for instance--often stay home. After a day in the dirt you often trade funk-infested gear for an even funkier sleeping bag, warm Gatorade and a deformed Power Bar from something called a fanny pack.
Sign up with RawHyde Adventures and things will be considerably different.Proprietor Jim Hyde can explain the intricacies of successful adventuring: riding technique, requisite accoutrements and routes. The works. Then, after an all-day immersion in California high-desert splendor, you ride into RawHyde's rolling oasis and the most difficult decision is this: Heineken or Corona? There's a hot shower waiting inside the mobile RawHyde hotel, along with air-conditioning, comfy sofas and chairs, plus satellite TV and a munificent bar for those who appreciate that sort of thing. Halfway through Corona numero dos, Gigi--RawHyde's truly gifted chef--emerges from her professional kitchen on wheels. After warming up with appetizers that shamed 80 percent of the restaurants we know, she took it up a notch with every ensuing course.
After swapping the usual implausible stories, towering exaggerations and blatant contradictions of physical reality around the campfire with your fellow adventurers, adjourn to an actual air-conditioned bedroom upstairs--complete with a queen-sized bed--or one of the safari tents mounted above nifty gear lockers on another trailer in RawHyde's little desert caravan.
We sampled an abbreviated version of Hyde's Adventure Experience, essentially a three-day 500-mile boot camp for prospective omnisurface adventurers. It starts at Jim's 42 Bar Ranch near Castaic, California, and includes some valuable riding instruction, magnificent scenery, two nights of RawHyde-style camping and then some for $1195. Bring your own bike. Various other programs are available depending on the time and money you have to spend. If you're interested, click on www.rawhyde-offroad.com for the particulars.
Why no Multistrada?Left at home on purpose? Or is it just a wallflower?
The less-than-gentle readers among you might, even now, have your fingers poised midair over your computer's keyboard, prepared to type a rather intemperate--incendiary, even--query to the effect of, "Why didn't you knotheads include the Multistrada?"
The Multistrada's omission is easily explained. First and foremost, Ducati has maintained right from the beginning that despite the bike's name--for the umpteenth time, Multistrada means many roads--the only roads it's meant to traverse are paved ones; crudely paved mountain passes perhaps, but paved just the same. As designer Pierre Terblanche said, "It's very much a sports bike with some extra features, not an enduro bike adapted for the street."
Still, some confusion might insist upon arising given the engine's designation, 1000 DS. Again, for those of you just joining us, or who live too much of an isolated, Bates Motel lifestyle, the DS means Dual Spark, as in twin spark plugs in each cylinder head, not Dual-Sport.
Lastly, the Multistrada simply doesn't have the rolling stock for adventure-touring, nor could you easily fit some even if you wanted to disregard all the evidence so far that it's a streetbike, period. Wheel sizes are distinctly sportbikey at 3.50 x 17 front and 5.50 x 17 rear. There simply aren't any dirt-worthy tires available to fit.
And that's all there is to it. Return now to Tim's Adventure Test already in progress.
Adventure TechniqueEasier than you think, more fun than you can imagine.
Dirt Rider Editor Jimmy Lewis is nothing if not a hugely talented and accomplished off-road racer. He's won at everything from backyard supercross to the ISDE to stages in the Dakar Rally--and even the Baja 1000. He's also a teacher, having taught off-road riding for a decade, specializing in adventure-touring machines for the last few years. Here's Lewis' quick primer on getting the most from your adventure machine.
BalanceAs with all aspects of riding, it's all about balance. Keep your bike upright and inline and even the heaviest machine will feel light. Lose that balance and the bike will suddenly feel heavy. The trick is catching it quickly and getting it back on point while moving or stopped. Many riders hold their bikes out of balance while riding and then wonder why they get tired.
Loose and RelaxedThe key to controlling an adventure bike is using your body weight to make the machine do what you want, not the other way around. If you're tense and tight on the bike, your mass is added to the bike's weight, and when something happens you've got nothing to fight back with. By being loose (and often by standing on the pegs) you can let the bike move under you and use your body's influence when necessary.
Clutch, Throttle and BrakeCan you ride around more slowly than first gear allows by slipping the clutch? Can you do it with very little throttle and not stall? Can you now apply the brakes and come to a full stop, balanced, without putting a foot down? Then, can you use the controls to snap back into balance? When going slow off-road, being in control is crucial. These three controls are key, and you'll need to use them like never before.
Knobbies--the only way to goGet beyond a graded dirt road on street tires--or even what manufacturers call a 50-50 tire--and the fun can end really quickly, especially in mud or sand. A true knobby has to have blocks, especially on the sidewall. The Continental TKC80 is about the best compromise for these large bikes. It'll do anything, from cylinder-on-the-deck scratching to desert dunes.
Slow Down This is most important: You are not on the Dakar, and no matter what you think your bike's capable of, its weight is just waiting for the next ditch or rut to toss you into terra firma. If you can't stop before a danger or obstacle, you're going too fast. I ride my big off-road bikes like I'd drive a Jeep--slow, controlled and balanced, except when I tip over, and that's about all I'd want to do on a bike this size.
More For The HardcoreUpgrades for the earnest adventurer
Touratech Motorrad-ausrstung started out selling trick, computerized speedometers to the sort of riders who know La Paz is the highest capital city in the world because they took el Camino del Muerte through the Bolivian rain forest to get there. Based in Neiderschach--56 miles south of Stuttgart--in southern Germany, the company's original 12-page 1995 catalog has grown to 674 pages in '05, covering everything from titanium coffee mugs to sump guards for BMW's R1200GS. Imagine L.L. Bean meets the Dakar Rally.
There are loads of interesting bits here for all manner of adventurous tourers, even those who don't ride a GS. Here are four fully Tourateched--and much more off-road-worthy--versions of our test bikes. We've picked four helpful bits for each, but there are far more parts on each bike than we can list here. See the rest at http://www.touratech-usa.com.
BMW R1200GS Sport seat: $369.10hlins shocks: front, $719;
Suzuki DL1000 V-StromHandlebar risers: $50.70ZEGA pannier system: $963.70Oil-cooler guard: $53.80High windscreen: $195
KTM 950 AdventureXenon auxiliary headlights: $443.80Kevlar fuel-tank protectors: $200.40High front fender: $221.40Tank bag: $176.30
Triumph Tiger 955iWirth fork springs: $118.80Handlebar brace: $28.80Crash bars: $248.90