The cult of the adventure bike is nothing new of course, as anyone growing up with motorcycles in the early to late nineties will be able to confirm and yet, if the motorcycle press is to be believed, these bikes didn’t exist any earlier than just a few short years ago. Adventure bikes are cool, there can be no doubt about that as they look superb and allow riders like you and I to finish work on a Friday, pack, load the panniers and head off towards Europe and beyond ready for tea on Saturday, perhaps covering anything between 4-600 miles a day in reasonable comfort. But let’s not forget that the modern adventure bike will also traverse gravel, sand and snow as well as showing extreme competence on that most basic of surface, tarmac.
BMW, KTM, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Ducati et al have spent the last few years trying to convince us that these are the bikes we need and that you can’t take on the World, or a ride to the shops, without anything else. And you know what, they’re not actually far wrong. There’s just something about the feeling of freedom that long travel suspension, knobbly tyres and standing on pegs grants you and it’s that ability, whether real or not, that helps encourage the shrinking of this beautiful Planet.
But let’s not ahead of ourselves here after all, a brand. An adventure bike is a big chunk of the folding stuff and buying one is a major investment these days so what alternatives are available and at what cost? In this article and part 2 in this short series, I hope to be able to answer these questions and more.
The first time that I noticed something different on the street was way back in the late eighties. Sportsbike were bang on trend with the Honda CBR600 and Yamaha FZR600 cutting great swathes through the countryside at speeds previously unheard of as well as blue clouds of two stroke following RGs, RDs and TS’. But there was something else building, a feeling that Sportsbikes weren’t the be all and end all and that perhaps there was a different route to take. Looking across to the continent the British motorcyclist was becoming more and more aware of trail bikes, large trail bikes with single and twin cylinder power plants basking in the glory of the Paris Dakar.
Suzuki’s DR S 750 BIG of 1988 was perhaps one of the first so called Dual Sports bikes, successfully combining traditional off road elements such as trail tyres, long travel suspension, a gloriously tall seat height with a very large, single cylinder engine. In fact, the Suzuki was initially released as a 52bhp air and oil-cooled 727 cc single cylinder four-stroke, SOHC with a four valve head in 1988 before development added two more horses to create the 54bhp, 779cc single cylinder of 1990.
But Suzuki can’t take the credit for inventing the category as most people have already decreed that honour to BMW and their own range of GS boxer twins starting with the R80G/S from 1980, a bike so iconic that BMW have recently started to replicate it for today’s rider with the superb R nineT Urban G/S X. But that original, a bike that won the Paris Dakar in 1981 with Hubert Auriol riding, was game changing. The air cooled, horizontally opposed, 4-stroke twin produced max power of 50bhp @ 6500rpm and max torque of 41.8ft lb @ 5000rpm from it’s 797cc capacity and became known for it’s simplicity and reliability. Essential traits for an adventure bike.
Jumping back to 1988 and Honda were making sure that Suzuki didn’t have everything their own way with the Dominator, the motorcycle that MotorCycle News say defined the ‘urban trailie’ craze of the Nineties. The Honda was beloved by town-bound motorcycle couriers and those that wanted to ditch their Sportsbike and enjoy the torquey power delivery, rugged build quality and commanding riding position the Honda Dominator offers. With a 644cc, SOHC, air-cooled single-cylinder, 4 valve engine delivering 43bhp @ 6000rpm and torque of 41ft/lb @ 5000rpm this was a popular choice and one that benefited from Honda’s superior build quality over it’s rivals.
And finally, for now, we have the Kawasaki KLR650 of 1987, a bike known at the time to be comfortable, grunty, quiet and reliable and one that, if it weren’t for the efforts from Suzuki, Honda et al, would certainly have been more successful than it ultimately would turn out to be. The basics were all there from the start with a 4-stroke, single cylinder, DOHC, 4 valve engine producing a more than adequate 48bhp @ 6500rpm and torque of 38ft/lb @ 5500rpm and like every other adventure bike, is more than capable of taking rider and luggage over distance.
So what conclusion can we draw from all of this? Certainly that adventure bikes were and still are, an extremely popular type of bike and that basics have really not changed that much despite the increasingly prevalent electronic packages now available. The problem, if it can be seen as one, is that buying new is becoming extremely expensive with the modern equivalents from BMW, Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki and others starting at around £10,000 mark and rising towards a fairly hefty £16,000 or so. Which is why, in my opinion, it is always worth looking into the equivalent bike from a couple of decades previous. With the modern trend for all things retro you’ll also be bang on when it comes to style whilst retaining the practicality that these bikes have always be known for. And with Dominators, DRs and KLRs starting at around £1,500 for a decent one, the decision doesn’t really look that difficult at all.
Stick around for part 2 when it’s time for the twins.
Where will you go?