If you want a bike to have fun on, to commute on, to explore and maybe even have an adventure on, then you really need one of these.
Everybody is talking about rocketing sales in the UK Adventure motorcycle sector. It’s true that some are styling exercises and incapable of traversing more than a series of puddles, but most are extremely practical and some even more fun than the sports bikes that they are hammering in the sales charts.
A giant Adventure bike is cheaper to buy, insure and maintain than a sports bike, and is less likely to go missing or lose you your licence. If you only ride at weekends on short-term, road-biased adrenaline blasts then nothing is going to prise the sportsbike from your cold, dead hands, but for those looking for something more from their riding, it’s hard to ignore adventure bikes.
All has not been perfect in Adventure Land, however. In the past several models have been aimed at bigger, more experienced riders - a BMW R1200GS Adventure with all the bells and whistles on is an intimidating tool for any rider, let alone a beginner. Indeed, there’s not been much in the way of introductory or middleweight contenders to add balance to the influx of global crusaders hitting the showroom floors. Until now. 2008 has seen the launch of three significant models, all of which have ancestry, pedigree, or both.
From gentle green-laners to the full Ranulph Fiennes, the F800, Transalp and Tenere can take you places you never even knew you wanted to go. Yamaha and Honda have given us fresh-faced upgrades of models that have been kicking around for 20 years while BMW have built a smaller, more manageable version of their legendary off-roader but with an all-new engine and – horrors! – a drive-chain instead of a shaft.
The new XT660Z Tenere has an enviable history of desert racing, fantastic styling and a mouth-watering price tag, while the XL700V Transalp has already secured its place as the unbreakable Steady Eddie of the mid-size ramblers. BMW have transplanted the power-plant from the unloved F800 road bike into a very interesting package that has the potential to open up the market.
The Welsh assembly forms in an M4 service station and I’m already eyeing the Transalp with suspicion as it stands out like a camp tart next to these macho off-roaders. I can’t quite figure out why they settled on the quirky styling that is neither one thing nor the other, though undeniably unattractive. Parked next to the Tenere, I also can’t decide whether the Honda looks too short or the Yamaha too tall until I swing a leg over it and realise that the seat is actually very low to the ground, which is no bad thing considering the lack of choice for ladies and lower gentlemen.
With the smallest of engine capacity increases (up 30cc to 680) the Honda sounds and feels very similar to its predecessor as it happily chugs onto the motorway and settles into a steady trot. Being sub six-foot is fine but anyone straying above that benchmark will feel and look a bit daft as they begin to dwarf the poor thing. Dimensions and styling aside, this is a Honda so everything is going to be just fine, because it always is. At a steady 80mph, the V-twin is quiet and smooth at just over 5,000rpm and extremely comfortable. I’d be genuinely happy, if unexcited, to spend day after day in this soothing saddle behind the surprisingly effective screen.
In contrast, the XT stands tall and proud, and as skinny as a supermodel with a very purposeful, funky appearance. I like its angles and desert Khaki colour scheme and bet that this is a proper off-road tool. As I swing a leg over it at the first changeover I smash my shin against the passenger grab-rail and climb aboard. Thanks. It dawns on me that it looks tall because it is, and even my lengthier travel companions struggle to mount the beast. Unless I’m mistaken, Yamaha have dropped a slight clanger with the 895mm seat height (it actually feels even higher than that) and we haven’t so much as fired it up yet. I’m short but not short on confidence so it won’t bother me in the slightest, but I pity the poor punters who visit their local Yamaha dealers only to find that they’re struggling to climb aboard.
To confirm my theory, I thumb the modestly powered single into life and shift through the gears to the 80mph/5,000rpm region and settle into a groove. After a short while, I take both feet off the pegs and attempt to scrape the toes of my boots on the tarmac and fail to make any contact. Other than potential traffic light howlers, another disadvantage of being so high up is that you’re more exposed to the elements and subject to a steady blast of air that travels up via the forks and yokes into the face. After the Honda, the seat feels firmer and the motor, being a single, is understandably less smooth, but we’re admittedly cruising at a speed that is slightly above the ideal for the Yam. I’m not worried as the XT looks like it will turn the tables once the we’re finished with the monotony of the M4.
Continue the Short Way Round - 2/2
If you ride a bike - any bike - and haven’t ridden to Wales for a two-wheeled break yet, then you’re just plain daft. Glorious roads, great scenery, and even the Welsh themselves aren’t overly scary, being entirely welcoming and hospitable in many places. We’d be lying if we said the food was top notch, though. It’s only two hours down the M4, bikes are free on the Severn Bridge toll, expect to pay around £50pp for a good hotel. For the best roads explore the triangle between Abergavenny, Llandovery and Builth Wells. If you want to do it on the rough there’s hundreds of campsites to choose from, and the off-roading is some of the best in the country. Go to www.visitwales.com
Posted: 24/03/2009 at 16:02
Posted: 24/03/2009 at 16:40
Posted: 16/06/2009 at 17:35
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