Motorcycle adventure guide part I: The bike

This article is meant for aspiring motorcycle adventurers who want to take their bike camping in 2021.

The first part of this guide I dedicated to what may be the most important asset for your moto adventure: The bike itself. This is a good subject to begin with because I think this is where many aspiring motorcycle adventurers, young and old, have completely the wrong idea. Let’s start with a simple truth: If you have a bike in your garage you already have an adventure bike. Period. Please don’t think that only fully loaded big trail bikes are worthy of adventure. On the contrary: Bikes like these might actually kill the adventure spirit, not kindle it.

Car and motorcycle manufacturers make money by selling a better version of you. They poke your deepest uncertainties and desires. If your bike is big and powerful, you are inclined to think of yourself as such. An appealing prospect to the majority of us not so big and powerful. They make you dream of becoming some kind of superhero (Charlie Boorman or Chris Birch in this case) and they provide you a shortcut to achieving this dream without putting in the work, as long as you pay. Their solution I call ‘the feature bike’. You can recognize them by the long list of features they advertise.

This is the ultimate ‘feature bike’. Photo from BMW, who should be pleased with the free adverisment. The pricetag of a car and almost the weight. Only ridden off road by some youtubers and BMW promo teams…

The most expensive bikes, in the adventure category especially, are good examples of feature bikes: The KTM 1290 adventure, the BMW R1250GS and, arguably to a lesser extent, the Honda Africa Twin. These are bikes with ridiculous amounts of horsepower, many systems to help average riders control that power, electronic suspension systems, Bluetooth enabled LCD dashboards and sadly also a lot of bulk and the pricetag of a nice car.

Don’ t get me wrong. These are awesome bikes. Astounding technical achievements that can dispatch a transcontinental trek like a bullet train while still not falling apart off-road. In the right hands these machines offer a breath of capabilities previously thought impossible for two wheeled vehicles. The problem is these possibilities are only achievable in the commercials.

In reality, riding a top heavy fully loaded adventure bike off road is extremely difficult and dangerous. If a bike like that leans over just a tiny amount during a standstill your feeble little leg has no chance of keeping it upright (unless you are some kind of bear-human). If you haven’t broken your leg in your attempts to keep it upright (that happens) you may proceed to break your back by trying to pick it back up, which may not even be possible for you. Of course your expensive branded beauty cases on the sides will be scratched as well as your pretty stickered and painted limited edition fairings that state ‘ADVENTURE!!’. If you have become light headed at this point by the effort of picking the bike back up you might faint entirely at the thought of the massive bill to repair the damn thing. Some even say BMW dealers’ testes tingle pleasantly every time a GS goes down somewhere.

This means most feature bike owners just use them as touring bikes. They are far too expensive to risk them off road. They make excellent touring bikes, by the way, but they are kind of doing a job that’s done even better by… y’know… touring bikes! Mind you, you can have an adventure on a touring bike… As long as you are OK with it looking somewhat less sexy then the latest KTM advertisements.

What I’m trying to say is: Don’t spend all of your budget on one of these feature bikes unless you know how to handle their weight and their cost. Most of you would be much happier allocating a larger part of the budget to bike accessories, a better suit, luggage, camping gear and daily expenses during the trip. Another important reason to choose a lesser bike is the gift of limitations, which I will explain in the next section.

So what’s this about the gift of limitations? This is going to be hard to explain so bear with me. We have to think about what really makes an adventure. You can understand better by asking fellow bikes about their greatest stories and see what the best ones have in common. It’s always about something bad happening and them overcoming the situation. It’s about experiences: challenges, despair and elation as well as courage, tenacity and ingenuity. If you ask me for a great story I will tell you about that one time I was riding through a flood, being forced to wild camp or experiencing sub-zero degrees Celsius while camping. To put it bluntly: A good adventure setting is a catalyst of optimal challenges which just put you out of the comfort zone but remain within your ultimate limits.

This 500cc Honda rebel is as far removed from a trail bike as you can get. But that should never stop anyone from going on an adventure on it. If you like this style of bike just get one. Don’t think about speed, range or suspension travel you will only hypothetically need. Photo by Honda, who get some free advertisement…

This is why we do motorcycle adventures in the first place: Biking and camping are activities which are very likely to go wrong at some point and challenge us. And we get a kick out of preventing or overcoming these challenges. Imagine if your bike is magically transformed into an invincible tank that can do everything and can always keep you warm and safe it would ruin the adventure. We need our bike and our surroundings to provide limits, to provide some resistance. And yet most of us make it a sport to remove all limitations, which is fine as long as we don’t succeed in it.

Don’t buy the feature bike that can ‘do it all’. Stick with a cheaper bike with some limitations but better performance in specific area’s that make your heart sing. Get a dual sport, a cruiser or a sports bike. A bike that stirs your emotions and captures your imagination. A dual sport will give you the ability to experience off-road while a hypersport is just the sweetest thing ever on a winding road. For others there is nothing better then the ‘feeling’ of a Harley… The big trail bikes are somewhat capable of handling all environments but they won’t inspire in neither of them. Also the limitations of more focused bikes provide you with the necessary challenges. You won’t believe how much you’ll laugh if you see your buddy try to get a sportsbike with slick tires over wet grass on a camp site. Or how much of an adrenaline rush it can be trying to push a pogo stick like dual sport with knobbly tires on pavement.

If you like speed: Get your self a speedy bike and overcome its limitations. You like cruiser bikes and want to feel stylish? Don’t give a shit about tank range, comfort or ground clearance. Take it on an adventure anyway. You want to discover great forests and mountains? Get that dual sport and forget about motorway comfort and maximum lean angles. Stop reading too much on the internet (the irony is not lost on me, by the way) and just get a bike that feels right. The adventure will take care of itself. Only choose one of the big trail bikes if you have deep pockets and truly plan to exploit their capabilities.

This Fantic Caballero 500 rally is probably more conducive to adventure than any of the expensive traction control and Bluetooth equipped big trail bikes out there. It only has as single cylinder engine, but because of this it only needs a single disc up front and no electronics (except ABS). Foto by Fantic who I am glad to offer some free advertising.

Last but not least: a bike with limited luggage capacity poses one of the most interesting challenges of all: How to pack only what you need. A KTM adventure can easily carry two huge side cases and a 70 liter roll bag on the passenger seat giving you the total luggage capacity of a small car. You don’t need this and too much luggage will only slow you down. In the next part of this series we will discuss your luggage options.

Tech enthusiast and motorcycle traveler

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