In the early and mid-nineties if you wanted to be cool on two wheels you needed a flashy race replica, set of one piece leathers, melted sliders and tyres with balled-up rubber on the outside. This said you were a true biker, riding hard, living on the edge and with your finger on the pulse of the racing world.
But now the tide is turning. Dirt is the new tarmac and instead of gaudy leather an ever-increasing number of ‘cool’ riders are slipping into two-piece adventure kit with pseudo-motocross lids. Rather than saying ‘I’m just off to set a lap record at Brands’ these rider’s kit says ‘I’m off for a quick blast to the Serengeti.’
So what has caused this shift in fashion? Let’s be truthful here, in the UK we are still enormously sportsbike biased. Just under a quarter of all bikes sold in the UK are sportsbikes, whereas naked bikes account for about 20% and adventure bikes 10%. But that isn’t the most significant figure, in a sales climate which is plateauing adventure bike registrations were up 31% in 2007, sportsbikes only increased 6%. Figures that are mirrored in Europe. Adventure bikes are the growth market, and manufacturers are picking up on it.
Think about it. If you want a sportsbike you are basically limited to a Japanese 600 or 1000, Ducati, Aprilia or KTM if you have the extra cash or Triumph 675. That’s not a huge variation in models, or indeed looks. Although there are the quirky ones such as BMW’s R1200S or Buell’s 1125R.
Want an adventure bike? BMW has the R1200GS, R1200GS Adventure, F800GS, F650GS, Xchallenge and Xcountry, Honda the Transalp and Varadero, Yamaha the Tenere, XT660R, Suzuki the V-Strom 650 and 1000, Kawasaki the Versys, Triumph the Tiger, Ducati the Multistrada, KTM the Adventure and 690 Enduro, Moto Guzzi the Stelvio, Buell the Ulysses, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Nearly every manufacturer has at least two adventure bikes in its range. So what has caused this trend?
There are many factors, both from the rider’s and manufacturers perspective. For manufacturers adventure bikes are considerably cheaper to develop than a sportsbike. Look at the Honda’s Varadero, when did it last change? Yamaha’s Tenere uses the same engine as the XT range, saving costs, Triumph’s Tiger uses the same trick with its 1050 motor and the V-Strom hasn’t altered since 2002. Compare this to the ever-evolving sportsbikes with their spiralling development budgets. And it’s not hard to be competitive in the adventure bike world. Give it a big tank, comfortable riding position, panniers, quirky look and decent handing and you’re away. With a sportsbike it’s much harder, which is why companies with limited budgets can make an impact.
For a rider’s perspective adventure bikes are now acceptable. Gone are the days where you were looked down on because you pulled up on a GS, Ewan and Charley have made even this visually-challenged behemoth cool with their globe trotting adventures. Ride an adventure bike and you to can savour this slight taste of the wild, even if it’s within the M25. Then there is the fact that riders are getting older, and older riders like their creature comforts such as heated grips and a comfortable riding position. Add to this the ever-present menace of speeding fines and it’s simple to see why riders are changing class.
So are adventure bikes the new ‘cool?’ If you want to look different getting a race replica paint job on your sportsbike no longer cuts it. What you need to stand out and create a stir is metal panniers covered with stickers from exotic locations, a grizzly beard with bits of desert still in it and a battered adventure bike. Like a modern day Steve McQueen.