How I Bonded With ‘My’ Honda Transalp On A Cursed Tour

When a European bike tour went awry for weather-related reasons, I could count on my XL750 longtermer to get me through it

Honda XL750 Transalp on the French/Swiss border

If you’re anything like me, you’ll look at an iffy weather forecast and think “Well, it might get better”. And what won’t cross your mind is it could get worse. Much worse. 

‘Much worse’ was very much where I was at as I started to feel water seeping into my usually very resilient range of kit from multiple places on day three of a European motorbike tour organised to mark my father-in-law’s 60th birthday. We’d checked how things were looking for the trip in the days leading up to the departure and were expecting to get wet, but the sheer volume and relentlessness of the rain caught us all off guard. 

The original idea was to do the usual French autoroute slog to get as much of the relatively uninteresting (in terms of riding) northeast corner of the country out of the way as quickly as possible. We’d then continue down to Switzerland with a diversion on some twisties around the border, proceeding to traverse several mountain passes taking in a chunk of northern Italy, before making our way back to Calais via Germany’s Black Forest and the Ardennes in Belgium/France. 

“The best-laid plans of mice and men…” is very much appropriate here. Having gotten wet on the way down to Folkestone, wetter still riding from Calais to Dijon and thoroughly drenched getting to Interlaken, we found rain wasn’t the only element of the weather working against us. 

Waking up ready to tackle some (wet) mountain passes, we awoke from our stop on the shore of the gorgeous Lake Brienz to find that having just reopened for summer mere days ago, all the roads we were due to take had been closed due to unexpected snowfall. Oh, and it was snowing at what was supposed to be our next destination, St. Moritz, so even if we could find a suitable way around the closures, going there wasn’t really a safe option. 

Queue a hasty reorganisation of the middle part of the trip with a new stop near Lake Constance, getting to which involved a truly miserable ride almost exclusively on sopping wet motorways while some areas in southern Germany experienced more than a month’s worth of rainfall over 24 hours. 

Through all of this, though, I had a ‘friend’ to get me through it - Visordown’s Honda XL750 Transalp longtermer. It’d sit out in the rain all night, dutifully waiting in the car park of each hotel, ready to do its best to make the gloomiest parts of the trip that little bit brighter while taking another day of weather-related abuse in its stride.  

Yes, I’m still a bit irked that cruise control isn’t even available as an accessory when you can have it on something like an Aprilia Touareg 660 or KTM 790 Adventure (but admittedly not the Suzuki V-Strom 800 RE/DE), but otherwise, it was an ideal companion for the worst parts of the trip and the best. 

It never once had an issue - the same can’t be said for my brother-in-law’s Triumph Street Triple RS, which suffered from failed daytime running lights, a light cluster filling up with water, and a check engine light on the dash. The Transalp, on the other hand, wasn’t bothered. 

It proved comfortable, practical (helped by the fitting of the £710 50-litre top box from the accessories catalogue, plus the £120 touring screen), and economical, clocking over 60mpg. And that was despite long stints involving some less-than-efficient riding on the more interesting parts of the route, particularly in the Black Forest, at which point we finally had some dry running. 

At that point, the XL750 really proved itself. Yes, something like a Honda Africa Twin or another big-bore adventure bike with all the toys might have been a little more pleasant on the boring parts of the trip, but that would have been at the expense of enjoyment when the going got twisty. 

With its over-square, revvy, surprisingly naughty 270-degree crank parallel twin, the Transalp is a joy to rev out. Then you have to factor in just how well it handles corners - a reasonably modest kerb weight means it’s quite chuckable, and it’s one of the many modern middleweight ADVs that turn with a remarkable keenness despite the presence of a 21-inch front wheel. 

On the best, driest parts of the route, I didn’t find myself clamouring for a sportier bike. The Transalp thrilled me plenty enough while promising to keep me comfortable and reasonably protected from the elements when the roads weren’t as interesting and the weather less than pleasant. 

It’s all about striking a balance, which the XL750 does brilliantly. Since returning from the trip, I’ve been wondering what other bikes I might have rather taken, but would I have bonded with any quite like I have with the Honda? I doubt it.