Why Adventure-Touring Bikes Are So Popular

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totalmotorcycle
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Why Adventure-Touring Bikes Are So Popular

Unread post by totalmotorcycle » Tue Aug 28, 2012 3:03 pm

Why Adventure-Touring Bikes Are So Popular When the going gets tough..or we hope that someday it might…


A few years back, when SUVs suddenly seemed to be taking over the world, a friend of mine said, “Why are people buying those big, tall things instead of a normal car?”

I thought about it a minute and said, “Maybe they want to carry a canoe on the roof. Or carry five people in comfort, haul a beer cooler and tow a boat. All the things their big, old, standard rear-drive Chevy or Ford sedans used to do but with the added attraction of going through the snow.”

I suppose you could make a similar case for the rise of the adventure-touring motorcycle. These tall, industrial-looking devices do all the things that a standard, unadorned bike like my old Kawasaki KZ1000 used to do but with the added attraction of being able to blast down a dirt road without crashing in a cloud of dust. In an age of specialization, they’re something of a throwback to the basic virtues.

On an adventure-touring bike, you can sit up straight, ride comfortably two-up, carry luggage, stand up on the pegs to stretch your legs or just add a windshield that fits your personal height and climatic needs.

I was about to say that adventure-touring bikes have become the Jeep Wranglers of the motorcycle world, but that’s not quite true. Jeeps are relatively slow and ill-handling on pavement, while a BMW R1200GS or Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Sport can absolutely carve when the pavement gets twisty. They’re essentially sportbikes for riders who revel in peripheral vision.

Did I mention the word leverage yet?

Low bars and rearsets are wonderful things when you’re circulating at Road America or Willow Springs—or riding fast on a nice, smooth mountain road. But when the road gets iffy, some of us prefer wide handlebars. And we have a lot of iffy backroads here in Wisconsin. Our road crews love to surprise you with new tar and pea gravel, and I’ve yet to see a leak-proof manure spreader (or fail to smell one, for that matter). I’ve found, generally, that the less I know about the road ahead, the happier I am with my elbows out and my feet underneath me.

Which is probably why my last three or four “main bikes” have been adventure-tourers of some kind. I’ve owned two KTM 950 Adventures (one got crashed by a friend) and would probably still have the last one if we had a dealer within 100 miles. But for the past three years, my do-virtually-everything bike has been a 2009 Buell Ulysses. And I say “virtually” because I’ve never been tempted to take this bike on anything worse than a nicely graded gravel road.

For real back-country adventure, I’ve always defaulted immediately to a Suzuki DR650. Much lighter, simpler and more manageable. The KTM 950 was a far better dirtbike than the Buell, but even this got left behind in favor of the DR650 when I spent a week exploring the trails of Mexico’s Copper Canyon a few years back.

And a good thing, too. We crossed a swollen river that would have drowned the KTM’s low-mounted battery and knocked the flat-sided bike over in the powerful current. As it was, I could hardly hang on to the Suzuki. Long story short, the KTM would still be down there, with some confused Mexican teen on a remote rancho trying to get the water out of the hydro-locked cylinders.

There probably are plenty of Paris-Dakar-quality enduro riders who could have made this trip just fine on the 950, but I ain’t one of them. At my skill level—and mere 6-foot-1-inch height—smaller is always better when the trail turns gnarly.

Real world-class adventure touring, of course, can also include some very long rides on half-decent roads through the middle of nowhere, and here’s where the big, honking Twins (and now Triumph Triples) come in. Comfort, speed and headwind-crushing power can be wonderful things. You have to look at the map first. On some trips, big bikes are best, but this wasn’t one of them. Generally, I’d rather be saddled with a bike that’s a little too small on the occasional boring road than to drop a big one in the middle of a river.

Which brings up tallness. Why are most adventure tourers so tall? No one knows. Perhaps it’s to accommodate the five percent of expert owners who can use all that suspension travel, but half the guys in my local motorcycle club won’t even sit on my Ulysses because they’re afraid of dropping it in the parking lot. One member, Mike McSherry, just won a brand-new R1200GS Adventure in a drawing, and—despite being a BMW collector and great dirt rider—he’s got it sold before he even picks it up. Too tall. I suspect that about two inches of the total seat height on modern adventure tourers can be attributed to a romantic image of rugged world travel.

But I may be treading on delicate ground here, because romance is a big part of why many of us choose a particular motorcycle. Only our most stolid (crushingly dull) citizens buy motorcycles purely for daily transportation with no dreams of all the adventures in speed or exploration they might inspire. And few human dreams are more potent than the belief that we might go anywhere.

When you look at an adventure-touring bike in a showroom, you see more than just machinery (or, in some cases, the $20K price tag dangling from the handlebars, sans hard cases and skidplate). You also see the Alcan Highway, the emptiness of Patagonia or a road to the ruins at Machu Picchu. And if you’re Ewan McGregor or Charley Boorman, you might see a road across Siberia, where you get to pick your big, heavy bike up out of the mud, over and over again. Those two guys should get some kind of medal, not only for selling a million adventure-touring bikes but just for persistence.

Someone once described adventure as “nothing but a badly planned vacation,” and McGregor and Boorman proved that all the planning in the world doesn’t protect you from the realities of weather and distance and human whim. But then, I don’t think they wanted to be protected from anything. And we don’t, either. If we did, we wouldn’t be reading about adventure-touring motorcycles.

Or looking at a map of Peru—as I am right now—to see exactly where Machu Picchu is. And how it’s spelled.


-CW
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Re: Why Adventure-Touring Bikes Are So Popular (According to

Unread post by totalmotorcycle » Tue Aug 28, 2012 3:06 pm

That was sent to me via my Google+ account so I thought I'd post it here. The article doesn't really say much (just a lot of words) and never really answers the question of the article's title. Oh well. It's an interesting read never-the-less.

Now my take on it was the re-design of the KLR650 and BMW Funduro 650 to the F650GS then the success of the DL650 V-Strom, followed by the Versys (etc after). All these bikes were reasonably priced for their size (both physical and engine) and offered something different enough to be accepted over the sportbike and cruiser. Also the timing had to do with the economy as well, gas prices were at historic levels and jobs were very plentiful thus people were buying motorcycles en-demand, it was a good time for sales but with gas being so high people wanted fuel ecomony as well as an inexpensive way to commute. You could almost called the "Aventure-Tourer" as a "comfortable commuter" it was so practicle in many ways. You could even go on mutiday tours and go off road (not many did that) with it and people liked the idea of that.

Today, we have more of the extreme side of the Adventure-Touring bikes (those 800cc and more) and those IMO won't do as well as the under 800cc ones as they have missed the point. It's not about power, it's about the IDEA you can do anything and go anywhere with less.

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Re: Why Adventure-Touring Bikes Are So Popular

Unread post by madjak30 » Tue Aug 28, 2012 7:00 pm

I have to agree that the adventure styled bikes are the modern interpretation of the original UJM...they're substance over style, no one buys one of them for their good looks (Vstrom - Versys...not pretty bikes)...the rugged style maybe, but not GOOD looks...they do it all, comfort, good visibility, easy to manouvre, reasonable prices for what you are getting...they just don't have the envy factor, which is why other bikes sell (cruiser anyone?)

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Re: Why Adventure-Touring Bikes Are So Popular

Unread post by totalmotorcycle » Tue Aug 28, 2012 7:10 pm

madjak30. Yup, I can see your point. Hopefully though they are not UJMs of today, IMO UJM's were really do-it-all bikes that everyone could do it with and HAD looks too. But it's possible; after all, I did by a V-Strom myself and I love UJM's. You are right about the looks, nothing exciting in that department in fact, the adventure-tourer bikes are so practicle that they are kinda boring, unless fuel ecomony and comfort do it for you l(ike they did for me on my DL650), thankfully the DL650 had an interesting V-Twin torquey motor.

No, no envy factor, but you do get the "wow, that bikes TALL" envy factor! hahha

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Re: Why Adventure-Touring Bikes Are So Popular

Unread post by jstark47 » Tue Aug 28, 2012 9:28 pm

IMO they are outstanding all-round utility bikes. The R1200GS community not withstanding, they're not great off road, but the extended suspension helps on our increasingly deteriorated paved roads (in the USA anyway). They are large and roomy, with standard riding position, and quarter- or half-faired, all of which spells comfort. Unlike dual sports, they generally have enough engine to be capable high-speed highway tourers.
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Re: Why Adventure-Touring Bikes Are So Popular

Unread post by BRUMBEAR » Sun Sep 02, 2012 9:29 am

I live in north west NJ and the roads here are small and twisty with tons of elevation changes. They are great for lighter bikes with travel as some of the roads are in bad shape. A few miles north of me is upstate NY that's where things get interesting after doing a rally this spring up to lake George I realized my need for a machine like this.
The smaller CC bikes like the Tiger 800 or the versey's are a great plus to this and have my full attention. The only thing I wish for is a bike like the Buell XT a Ulyssus but smaller seat height they made a few of them before Buell was shut down by H-D. IMO a 30/31"" seat height is really all you need with drop pegs for comfort and the bike still had good clearance even with the underslung exhaust, btw the stock Buell can while a bit hideous is extremely robust. The XT was a bike that could do a lot of things and there wasn't a need for the one cheek sneak at every light. That would be IMO a machine to be advanced upon. Like some of the adventure bikes 6" of travel isn't really needed when 5 would do it and make a machine much more appealing to the General public. I remember the first time I went to the local dealer and saw the KTM adventurer what a bike says I. I promptly sat on it and shoved it up quickly and realized I couldn't even come close to touching the ground as I am sitting perched like Tattoo on a 10 speed thinking uhoh I am going over into a line of finely placed machine like the prog commercial well you can guess the rest.
I love my CR 1125 with up bars and drop pegs the bike is very comfortable for long rides but with no real travel it gets tough on those frost heaves and choppy roads so I kinda dream of a machine with a little more.
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Re: Why Adventure-Touring Bikes Are So Popular

Unread post by Grey Thumper » Sun Sep 02, 2012 10:09 pm

Most of the really popular bike categories became that way because they fed riders' fantasies. Cruisers fed people's need to feel like rebels, non-conformists. Supersports are almost like athletic gear. You buy the gear to feel like your idol, whether it's Michael Jordan or Lance Armstrong or David Beckham, same way you buy the bike that makes you feel like your motorsport/track hero. When adventure-tourers became mainstream, they fed into our wanderlust, our desire to feel like we could go anywhere, on almost any terrain, at the drop of a hat. Each category has its heroes, TV shows, dream rides, farkles, gear, attitudes and clichés.

Cynicism aside, I still really like adventure bikes. As others have said, they tend to be truly useful, comfortable, function-over-style all-rounders (even the least off-road worthy among them). Even the gear is a lot more practical than typical pirate-wear or power ranger-wear. It's a bit ironic that a subculture known for fairly ugly bikes has become, as you say, incredibly popular, almost fashionable.
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Re: Why Adventure-Touring Bikes Are So Popular

Unread post by JakePoppa » Tue Nov 27, 2012 8:18 am

Maybe people are going for long rides and want all the conveniences.

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Re: Why Adventure-Touring Bikes Are So Popular

Unread post by storysunfolding » Thu Nov 29, 2012 11:32 pm

JakePoppa wrote:Maybe people are going for long rides and want all the conveniences.
My Vstrom, bought new in January 2007 has over 148k miles. I do find my rides long and I tend to enjoy convenience ;)
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Re: Why Adventure-Touring Bikes Are So Popular

Unread post by HYPERR » Sat Dec 01, 2012 6:24 pm

storysunfolding wrote:My Vstrom, bought new in January 2007 has over 148k miles. I do find my rides long and I tend to enjoy convenience ;)
You are very lucky, I would love to be able to ride that! :kicking: Do you ever work? :laughing:
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Re: Why Adventure-Touring Bikes Are So Popular

Unread post by storysunfolding » Sat Dec 01, 2012 7:34 pm

Oh I work. I just party hard to make up for it.

Now that I'm married I'm closer to only riding 12k a year.
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Re: Why Adventure-Touring Bikes Are So Popular

Unread post by HYPERR » Sat Dec 01, 2012 8:11 pm

storysunfolding wrote:Oh I work. I just party hard to make up for it.

Now that I'm married I'm closer to only riding 12k a year.
That's about what I ride a year. I have 5 bikes so not many miles per bike accumulated per year. :laughing:
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Re: Why Adventure-Touring Bikes Are So Popular

Unread post by NEDan » Wed Jan 02, 2013 1:32 pm

Too often while touring back roads in New England the Vermont NH. ME. and western MA. roads are not recognized as Dirt by my GPS. Sometimes they're well maintained and sometimes not, leaving me wishing for just a little longer, better suspension.
Since I'm on the road 90% of the time large Dual Sports didn't do it for me and yet my Multistrada 620 still made me feel a bit vulnerable with it's entry level suspension exposed bits and slick tires. A total adventure bike poser unless I was willing to spend the money on it.
I actually ended up on a pretty bad dirt section for some time on a Buell S3T once. It made me realize how much more important it was to have a good suspension over long suspension for dirt roading. It really was quite controlled and comfortable.

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Re: Why Adventure-Touring Bikes Are So Popular

Unread post by sapaul » Sat Jan 05, 2013 3:50 am

I was not a BMW GS fan, until I got one. I am not a huge dirt rd fan, but what I am a fan of is doing long distance trips around my beloved South Africa. The GS just does it all. Firstly, it is reliable, has a great dealership backup and is comfortable for the long roads. The most I did was JHB to CPT in one day. This was an epic trip fully loaded panniers and The Goose on the back. On the same trip was a DL650 and a brand new ZX10.

We did 1400 KMs in 14 hours. We got there comfortably and sat at speeds of 180kmh for most of the way on the back roads. We left at 5:00 in the morning and arrived at our destination at 7 pm and then went to supper with our fellow Marshals in CPT. Next morning we were up bright and early. The other 2 guys were broken. Not that their bikes did not perform, far from it, but the guys were broken to the point of not being able to do what we went down there to do without catching up on some rest.

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