One night on earth...after 1500 miles on the open road. "James, the wine please... and what's with the stupid hat?"
AHHH, THE HAT. Jim's hat (which goes by the name of DB1) travels with him everywhere. There is a DB2, of course, which is kept for special occasions or for when there isn't the chance of stainage by random fluids, bodily or otherwise. DB stands for Dicky Betts, mainstay guitarist of the Allman Brothers' Band from day one, sacked three years ago, apparently.
None of which any of us knew at the start of the evening you see pictured on your left. Once we'd finished talking about the bikes and after doing a lap of France - we had plenty to talk about - we got onto the other stuff. Like DB1. Even at 3am, after 12 litres of Celliers de Dauphine, we were still at it.
This test started out as a pilgrimage to northern Spain, to find a warm beach and an equally warm bottle of Rioja to go with it. Our chosen tools, the BMW R1200GS, Triumph Tiger, Suzuki DL1000 GT, KTM 950 Adventure and brand new Buell Ulysses, would speed us in relative comfort across France, surely. In 24 short hours we'd be basking in the last summer sun most of us would see for a while. Some chance.
We didn't make Spain, for reasons you'll discover over the coming pages. Instead we entered a world of constantly unfurling Armco-lined motorway, shrouded in mist, or rain. Or both. You're joining our own little band of brothers at the last supper before the short return leg to Blighty. The bikes are silent, finally. The fire's on its way, the grub won't be far behind it and the talk is of the day's ride. So with the smell of woodsmoke imagined in your nostrils join us, dear reader, for one night on earth...
Click here to read the individual bike reviews: Suzuki V-Strom 1000 GT review, KTM 950 Adventure review, Triumph Tiger 955i review, BMW R1200GS review and Buell Ulysses review.
WE LEARNED A great deal on this trip. Mainly about our ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the face of adversary, or summat. We also learned a lot about these bikes. Two of them - the Tiger and the V-Strom - offer great VFM (they're £7000 each and fully loaded) as well as a solid, reliable (if a little uninspired) experience. The £8195 (£8935 with bags) Ulysses has some limitations in this company, some of which are an easy fix and, if you want an adventure sports bike that leans toward sports, this may well be it. If you've got fairly long legs. KTM is trying harder to sell the 950 Adventure - you get the panniers now included in its £8350 swing ticket. It's got the soul of an off-roader and if you fancy some real adventure in your sports then you've found it. Which leaves the R1200 GS. A lot of you haven't, and that says a lot. At £8715 stock it's the dearest but also, happily, the best. Ride one for half an hour and you won't like it. Ride one for half a day and you won't want anything else.
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