#304 What’s not an adventure bike?

Enough with labels, genres, and sub-genres: An Adventure bike is what you make it.

Question: What’s not an adventure bike?

I’m confused. What exactly is an adventure bike? I ask because if some bikes are adventure bikes, then others clearly are not. And I’ve never known a motorcycle that is not an adventure. If they’re not all adventure bikes, then which ones aren’t?
I found myself pondering this question twice this year so far. The first time was at the Toronto Motorcycle Show, when a sales person referred to a machine with slick tires as an adventure bike—a sport touring model factory equipped with 95/5 tires, meaning five per cent off road. That’s street to me.
Recently I was handed a flyer for adventure bike riders. I thought the term adventure had morphed from dualsport, which came from enduro.
If you follow BMW, the A on their 1200 enduro models stand for adventure. Turns out, it’s now something else.
I had the pleasure of teaching a friend to ride her Honda Rebel 250 in the big city. Believe me, that was an adventure! Riding cute little bikes that are light and nimble make me feel like a kid again. Getting on the back of one with a novice is real exciting!
Learning to ride was an adventure. There were two 750cc motorcycles involved—a Triumph and a Ducati with clip-ons and a very sensitive throttle—definitely an adventure for a beginner. Egads.
Buying my first motorcycle was beyond exciting. So many adventures I’ve had on that bike, and continue to have, even though the vintage Triumph is parked in my garage.
I recall riding a 1982 Gold Wing that Cliff Gordon used to own. Oh my, was it BIG! Fully custom dressed because in those days they came naked, it had huge bags on the sides and an enormous box on the back. I dropped the bike twice as I recall, once on the sandy shoulder of a country road. The bike was way too big for me.
Cliff rode his Wing to Vegas and I flew there with one week’s holiday and we took turns riding home. Fully loaded, plus passenger, my first try I could barely get out of the parking lot. My arms had turned to spaghetti.
Good thing was, if I got into a tight situation, which only happened at parking lot speeds, he could slide forward and take control.
We hauled ass home on the interstate. I chose the daylight hours; he took the ones before sunrise and at sunset. Whoever was on the back got to stretch out, feet crossed over the gas tank and arms on the rests. That wasn’t like any kind of riding I knew. Starting with a one-night tour of the casinos and a stop the next day at the Grand Canyon, I can assure you, that bike was an adventure!
My second bike, an 850 Norton, was a blast at green lights. Oh could that bike go!
I rode a 450 Honda in Thailand, a Royal Enfield in Indian, my new (in 1987) 800 R80 G/S Paris Dakar in Latin America, the Sahara and more—all adventures, complete with friends made and stories to tell.
A really strange trip was test riding the 400cc Burgman. Never before have I had such low expectations of a, ah, scooter trying to pass as a motorcycle. Never has my opinion so dramatically shifted. That thing was impressive.
I rode it through the mountains in BC to visit my sister. The clutch lever is a brake and it shifts automatically. I really had to think about normally unconscious moves while riding. I know if I can no longer swing my leg over a tall motorcycle, there are scooters—and I’m grateful for that.
The XR 1200 X Harley Davidson that I rode years back was most definitely an adventure. Hated it at first. It lunged over the slightest inconsistency in the road. Turned out I needed to learn how to handle it. Once I did I found myself enjoying one of those guilty pleasures. It was a blast riding around the city. I got Red Light Syndrome big time! Jarvis Street was my favourite. Be at the front of the line when the light turned green. Blast off! First gear, second gear, third and then drop the throttle and slow right down, then wait for the traffic (if there was any) to catch up: an excellent evening game when there were few cars on the road. Slow down until the next red. How often does one try not to make it through a red light? Now that was an adventure bike!
Test riding Harley’s new electric LiveWire could be fun too. It’s scheduled to arrive in Canada in 2015. The company is looking for customer feedback before production. Smart, eh?
If I were bummed about something, my friend (then roommate) would offer up his Kawasaki KLR 650 C named Thumper. A quick jaunt downtown was enough to make me happy because it was different and so much fun to ride.
My 400EXC KTM is most delightful, but the knobby tires and the single cylinder were just too much for a two- hour ride out of the city. Trailer, trailer hitch, loading and tying down. I didn’t like that part. Still, dirt riding is an adventure for me each and every time I do it, and on any bike at all. For me, there is no better ride than a good day on a single track through the forest making my way around trees at very slow speeds.
Mountain riding is the best! Flipping back and forth around nice tight curves while catching a glimpse of incredible scenery is pure bliss. I flew west and borrowed a 1972 BMW R75/5 for a mountain adventure that involved a sacred place, Mount St. Helens, where the regeneration after the big blowout in 1980 is mind-boggling. Riding that old bike with drum brakes required slower speeds than the modern 1200R BMW that I rode in the Alps. Both were wonderful adventures.
Soon I plan to fly south to visit a friend I met 20 years ago while riding to Sturgis, who now has two Harleys.
I’ve been offered the fully dressed 98-hp bike, not the 138 hp one. I want to ride the Dragon’s Tail. While a sportbike might be more appropriate, I know I’ll have a real good time on a great big Harley-Davidson, fun company included.
Right now I’m riding my friend Geoff Collins’ bike. It’s a beautiful blue 1955 650cc Triumph. He asked me if I would ride it in the World Pride Parade. I needed to get familiar with it first. Shift on the right, brake on the left, tickle the carb, kickstart only—it’s a dream to ride, and makes me want to pay to insure my own Triumph.
Riding motorcycles sets us apart. Not only are they great fun to ride, but when stopped for fuel or food, people approach us with questions. They want to know where we’re from, where we’re going, how we manage. When we see other riders on the road we wave. At Tim Hortons, we chat; we make friends. Sometimes it’s because we ride the same bike, and sometimes we ride different machines, but we have come to the same place. Again, I’m left to ponder the question. What bike is not an adventure bike?