Smoke & Mirrors

I’ve been watching Tough Rides: China by Colin & Ryan Pile.  It’s the long way around China and a great introduction to a little known country, but it sometimes comes off as another thinly veiled BMW ad for adventure motorcycling.

The ride itself is indeed tough with the boys working their way through deserts, traffic and mudslides all the way to the base of Everest, but their bike troubles left me thinking about BIKE’s ride from the UK to Japan on a Suzuki V-Strom.  In that case the (relatively budget) Suzuki V-Strom managed to cross Europe and Asia (including the Pamir Highway and Mongolia) in fine fettle.  Bike’s 13,768 mile (22,160km) ride highlights just how tough Suzuki’s less famous adventure bike is.

In comparison to Bike’s bullet proof V-Strom, the new BMWs making the 18,000km circuit of China quickly develop character.  I just finished the episode where one of the bikes (after not starting in a previous episode), now needs a whole new clutch.  This got me thinking about another statistic.

The Consumer Reports reliability Rankings are pretty damning.  From a purely statistical point of view you’d be crazy not to buy a Japanese bike, adventure or otherwise.  If you want something American, get a Victory!  Want something European?  For goodness sakes, get a Triumph!  Ducati is more dependable than BMW yet the propeller heads from Bavaria still seem to be the darlings of the TV adventure motorcycling set.

I get the sense that this is a triumph of marketing over engineering, which is a real shame.  If every other motorcycle manufacturer took the same risks supporting epic rides we wouldn’t all be subject to this style before substance adventure-bike TV.

A while back I was reading a Cycle World article comparing the big BMW adventure bike to KTM’s Super Adventure.  The article ended with a litany of breakdowns on both machines.  It turns out taking 550+ pound, tech-heavy giant trailies off-road doesn’t end well unless you’re a magazine reporter riding a demo bike.  I guess they’re great bikes as long as you’re not pouring money into repairs yourself.

I got into Nick Sander’s Incredible Ride a while back.  Nick road the length of the Americas three times, two of them in just 46 days, on a Yamaha Super Ténéré.

That’s 50,000 miles (~85,000kms) through the bad gas of Central America, jungle, deserts, mountains all from north of the Arctic Circle almost to the Antarctic Circle.  The BigTen worked flawlessly and when they stripped the engine down after the fact the technicians were frankly astonished by how little wear there was.  Needless to say, it didn’t need the clutch replaced during that massive trip.

Honda is bragging on their new Africa Twin, a ‘true’ adventure bike.  At 500lbs it’s a bit lighter than the super-stylish yet very breakable BMWs & KTMs listed above, and if anyone could build a bike that wouldn’t break it would be Honda.  Yet even in this case I’m left wondering just how resilient any off-road capable bike north of five hundred pounds is going to be.

You’d think it would be impossible to build a big bike capable of managing this abuse – it’s a question of physics (mass vs. the violence of off-road riding), but Sanders’ Yamaha suggests it is possible, though you won’t see it on adventure bike TV.  Maybe bikes that work all the time make for bad TV.

There is a reason why you guys are having to figure out how to
install clutch plates in the middle of a trip….

An antidote to all of this is Austin Vince‘s various Mondos.  He seems to spend about the same amount of time repairing his ailing, ancient dual sport bikes but he isn’t wearing designer riding gear and he didn’t pay anything like the $15,000 that the two Canadian boys did for their new F800GS Adventures.  Vince probably spends less than that on a whole trip, including the cost of his bike.

Ultimately, much of the adventure bike genre is more concerned with style.  Like SUV drivers, most ADV riders seldom if ever venture off pavement so perhaps this post is suggesting something that doesn’t really matter.

COST x FAILURE RATE presents a pretty obvious conclusion.

But if you can buy a better built Japanese adventure bike for less (they all cost substantially less than the nearly $22k a BMW 1200GS Adventure costs), then why on earth wouldn’t you?

If you’re buying that GS to feel like Ewan & Charley then I suppose it’s all good if you enjoy the feeling you get from it, but if you’re actually interested in going off the beaten path and don’t have a sponsorship deal and a support crew, considering reliability before marketing seems like a no-brainer.

Riding an Iron Horse in The High Desert

Since missing the opportunity to ride in the desert last time I was in Arizona, I’m aiming for a day out on two wheels over this Christmas holiday.  Since the adventure bike I want isn’t available, I’m looking at a pavement orientated trip.  That doesn’t mean I’m suffering for choice in Arizona though.


Route 60 from Globe to Show Low has fantastic reviews and offers a winding way through the mountains.  The views are so spectacular that I won’t tire of seeing them twice.  You see different things riding the other way anyway.  The section of sweeping switchbacks on the way down to the bridge over Salt River look fantastic…

…though I hope I can keep the bike in my lane unlike Sparky in the streetview above.


Route 60 over Salt River looks special.

Phoenix to Superior on the edge of the mountains is about an hour, then it gets even better!

From Superior, AZ into the mountains it’s beautiful riding… easily a hundred miles of sweeping curves and glorious high desert scenery.  It’s only about an hour from AZRide on lightly trafficked, arrow straight roads to get to the good bits, and even there you’re in the desert surrounded by massive saguaro cactuses soaking up the heat.

Once into the mountains, the roads are interesting and the views astounding.

A nice thing about not doing a loop means that we’ll know when enough is enough and turn around.  I was knocking myself out in BC to make sure the bike was back on time.  It won’t be an issue on this out and back excursion.

I’m hoping to get the new Concours from AZride.com sometime between Dec 24th and the 30th for a foray into the high desert, hopefully on a weekday when the roads are quiet.  It’ll handle my son and I with ease while making mince meat of those twisty mountain roads.

The latest generation of my twenty year old Concours.  It looks like a rocket ship and is nuclear powered.  Hope it’s available!

Motorcycle Reading: Lois on the Loose

I just finished Lois Pryce’s first travel book, Lois on the Loose.  Unlike many of these find-yourself-on-a-long-bike-ride books apparently written by people with a lot of time on their hands and no financial demands, Lois gives a real world account of the necessary evils of working in a job that anaesthetizes you.  You know where she’s coming from and why she leaves.
 
You’re on board with her once she gets going.  On the road Lois is an honest, witty writer who never leaves you waiting for the next moment.  Her prose is tight and well edited… you’ll fly through this book, but it never lacks for detail or continuity.  Ashuaia feels like the galactically distant goal that it is throughout.
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From shockingly rude Canadians to wonderfully supportive Guatemalans, this book makes you question all the prejudices we have about foreign lands (as well as the one I happen to live in).  Lois is amazingly fearless and committed to her journey.  You can’t help but admire her for her bravery.
 
If you enjoy travel writing you’ll love this book.  If you enjoy motorbikes you’ll love it even more.  When things go sideways past Titicaca I was riveted, reading until way past my bed time.  You will too!
 
   
Fortunately I’ve still got Red Tape & White Knuckles to look forward to over the holidays.
“On April 30th 2003 I left my job at the BBC and my cosy houseboat in London to motorcycle the length of the Americas on my Yamaha XT225 Serow. My route took me 20,000 miles from Anchorage, Alaska to Ushuaia at the tip of Argentina, the most southerly place in the world that can be reached by road. The book of this journey, Lois on the Loose is available in the UK, USA and has also been translated into German, Dutch and Italian.”

Crushing on the Ariel Ace

The Ariel Ace is a low production, virtually bespoke motorcycle made by a specialty engineering firm in the U.K..  With a girder frame and forks, it doesn’t look like anything else out there.  It has an almost architectural vibe to it.  The motor is Honda’s big V4, which is bullet proof, powerful and full of character.  It’s expensive, unattainable and unique; the perfect bike to have a crush on!


If you think you might be in love, head over to the online configurator and spend some time building your perfect Ace.  

In the meantime, I’ve been playing with graphics of this lovely machine:

The original from my configurator… carbon wheels?  Why yes, yes I will!