2002 Adventure Tourer Comparo

When you need to visit Aunt Helga in Holland...

story by MO Staff, Created Jan. 02, 2002
Torrance, California, Jan 2, 2002 -- Labels make our lives an easier place to burn through the years, where everything fits nicely into a box. Right now I'm drunk, but you're sober. I'm cute, she's ugly. I'm straight, you're gay. My dad can beat up your mom, etc.

But when it comes to motorcycles, just how do we attach labels to those things that fit nicely into several different categories, each one a seemingly disparate niche? It's simple, really. We become politicians and take the easy way out -- the least offensive way. We attach broad, almost generic names to things. This is exactly what we're doing here, using the term "adventure tourer" to describe the bikes assembled before you.

From the start, we assumed that Aprilia's CapoNord, Triumph's Tiger and BMW's R1150GS were all die-hard adventure tourers. At a stand still, at least, they sure look the part. Just to be sure, we left the comfortable confines of our Torrance, California digs and set out in search of a ride that would be anything but mundane. We needed lots of highway, but not too much. Then the highway needed to give way to twisty back roads that would eventually end, dumping us into the dirt for a little trail blazing. Not every adventure ride takes place on a paved highway, after all. Oh, and because not every ride is a sunny day at the beach with your sweetheart and a fruity adult beverage, there would have to be inclement weather. Ice and snow were actually sought out. Thankfully, none of us jaded Southern Californians were injured in the making of this comparison.

When we set off, everybody wanted to ride the fancy new Aprilia. We're a spoiled lot, and new is cool, even when it's not necessarily better. Thankfully for Aprilia fans, the words new and good are not mutually exclusive.

By comparison, the Tiger looked a bit cobby and unsure of itself. The BMW, meanwhile, was seen as the old warhorse of the bunch, along for the ride though not necessarily in the running. Still, testers opted for the comfort provided by the GS' heated grips, thick seat and roomy ergos before they'd plop themselves into the Tiger's seat. There was just something about the Triumph that didn't spark our interest, let alone passion.

As the miles started to tick away, the first hundred-plus miles to pass were nice, long asphalt bits where the Capo's excellent wind protection and ergonomics could be appreciated. The Aprilia rider also had the opportunity to gloat in victory as we performed a number of impromptu top-gear roll-on tests from 60 and 80 miles per hour

Immediately, the BMW and its opposed twin power plant got left behind as the Aprilia and Triumph stormed off, neck and neck. In the mid-range, however, the V-Twin took the lead for good with the Triumph and its in-line triple just behind though well ahead of the BMW. It's a good thing, then, that the Aprilia's motor is so fast. It's also the thirstiest motor here, requiring more fuel per mile than either the Triumph or the BMW.

Into the twisties and BMW's comparatively weak motor was soon forgotten. Maybe there's something about the longitudinal crank that helps make the biggest bike in this test feel so light. Whatever the reason, the GS, with its wide bars and slick transmission was a joy to ride in the twisties. The Telelever front end always felt planted and never drew a single word of criticism. The same can be said of the bike's Paralever rear end as well. Especially nice was the external preload adjustment that made precise tailoring of the bike's stature to a rider's preferences a five second affair.

Though the Aprilia also has an external preload adjustment, its shock and forks drew constant criticism from the generic "it just doesn't feel right" to the more specific "these forks suck." Harsh as those words may be, there is something irritating about a bike that is so good, though fundamentally flawed. The rear shock needed a bit of preload dialed in, and then rebound damping needed some attention. Thankfully provisions were made for both.

Up front on the 'Nord, however, the forks that were decent on the highway drew criticism on less than perfect pavement, especially once the pace escalated. Over rough pavement -- especially slabs with mid-corner ripples -- the front end felt extremely twitchy and skittish, causing more than one tester to become a bit concerned, zapping confidence. The forks feel over-sprung, and the rebound damping rates are quite off, causing the front to always have a flighty feel, never assuring the rider that the front tire has a firm hold on the road below.

Opposite the Aprilia's forks were the Triumph's boingers that we initially expected to disapprove of. On the highway, in comparison to the rather muted-yet-comfortable feel of the BMW and the harsh suspension of the CapoNord, the Triumph felt almost weird. It had a soft-yet-controlled feel that was initially hard to put our collective finger on.

Once we began to get more acquainted with the bike, however, things began to turn around and the Triumph was a favorite in the twisties. Its suspension had enough compliance to soak up irregularities, combined with firm enough damping that the bike never blew through its travel when larger obstacles were encountered. The only complaint anybody could muster about the Tiger's suspension was that the forks felt a bit divey, though this was only after stepping off the BMW with its nearly zero-dive Telelever front end.

Page2The Triumph also sported the second-most ground clearance of the group, ahead of the Aprilia, even though that particular bike lacks a center-stand as standard equipment. The BMW had the most ground clearance of the trio, though this was due, in no small part, to its rather tall stature. The GS' height and comparative heft only came to the fore when we found ourselves off-the beaten path. Waaaay off the beaten path, actually, plowing through sand and snow.

After a few miles of slogging through the snow atop a 7,000 foot mountain peak, we dropped down into a valley and took a detour on a few county-maintained jeep trails. All bikes performed as well as could be expected of machines who will likely never see dirt (though it's nice to know you can if you want to. It's that whole "adventure" mentality, remember?).

Of the three, it was the Triumph that felt most dirt-worthy. Its compliant suspension and upright ergonomics actually made the bike fun to slide around a bit. In comparison, the BMW felt solid, albeit large and more able to handle the softer sands of the few washes we crossed, no doubt helped by its more aggressive treads. The Aprilia had the same sneakers as the Triumph on its feet, though the CapoNord's dicey suspension had things feeling too skittish too soon for comfort.

Back into the twisties for the final stretch before the drone home on the super slab and it was again the Triumph out front until the long straight stretches where the Aprilia's power began to help it bear down on the Tiger. The BMW, meanwhile, was content to sit back. After long stints in the saddle, the GS' rider stayed fairly fresh compared to how the Aprilia and Triumph pilots felt. The GS is a big bike, but it rewards smooth riding and never makes its rider feel on-edge.

After a quick topping up of fuel tanks and depleting the fluids from our own bladders, heated vests and extra sweatshirts we taken from each bike's saddlebags and donned. The CapoNord gets the nod from the Best Luggage department since the bags work easily and, because of the under-seat mufflers, neither bag has to make room for side-mounted exhaust cans.

It was drone time, and the bike of choice on cold nights such as this is the BMW. Comfortable ergos and decent wind protection aside, the GS' heated grips go a long way towards making your whole body feel warm and toasty even though our particular bike lacked any sort of hand protection (an option we'd have liked). Aprilia saw fit to make hand guards an option as well, and so the Truimph got the nod over the Aprilia (again) as it comes standard with these little lifesavers.

In the overall tally, the Triumph gets our nod over the Aprilia, too. This surprised us since we really have a soft spot going for these Aprilias. After all, they've won every one of MO's comparisons they've contested.

The CapoNord is a touring bike, first and foremost, making only enough slight winks and nudges to subtlety hint at all-out adventure touring. The BMW, in stark contrast, looks like it just left the staging area for the Paris-Dakar rally. It's the true adventure tourer of the group, but its motor leaves some people wanting more and, in terms of its overall size, some wanting less.

Striking a near perfect balance between tour and adventure is Triumph's Tiger. With its well-sorted suspension, motor and ergonomic package that seem so well suited to just about any ride you have planned -- short or far, paved or rally style -- it's the winner of our first shootout of 2002.





Rider Opinions:

In a Nutshell:
Best Ergos: BMW
Best Mileage: Triumph
Best Seat: BMW
Best Suspension: Triumph
Best Motor: Triumph
Best Luggage: Aprilia
Best Brakes: Triumph
Best Transmission: Aprilia
Best Wind-protection: Aprilia

Brent Avis: Even though it came down to my picking the Triumph as the best bike here, it's certainly not the one I'd own. Maybe it's my german heritage or my love of big things and being the underpowered underdog, but the BMW just suits me perfectly. It's quirky but good in every way, if only because it's not bad in any way. The ABS is cool on this bike (I usually hate ABS), the heated grips rule and the big, wide bars are wonderful to hook car mirrors with. So what if little, weak people have a problem with this bike?


Calvin Kim: All the bikes have lots of suspension travel, decent engines and great ergos. This sounds great for the city, but they're so darned heavy. Oh well. Can't have everything, I suppose. The Capo' is the smoothest of the three motors on the highway. The suspension needs to be adjusted, though. I hear that the spring rates and such were set up for the European market. I hope that's true, because that means that stuff might change for us in the US. The BMW is a great machine; large, torquey and stable. If it weren't for the other bikes, the weak motor would be a non-issue. However, the price tag is just a tad steep for mere mortals, and the lack of standard handguards at such a premium price left me wondering, "what gives?". Which leaves the Tiger. Perfectly capable in every way.

Just John: I think I like the Triumph the best of these bikes actually. Most compact riding position fits me best -- lower bars, higher footpegs, maybe most comfy seat of the 3. Purty good suspension, too. Gives it more feel on the road.

The Aprilia I din't like much. I already said it looks like a high school welding project gone bad, but the bars are too hi for me, seat is least favorite, and suspension kind of mushy in back.

BMW still has (maybe) best chassis -- especially offroad. Seems to have low center of gravity, and that longitudinal crank makes it feel like you can't fall off. But the motor is wheezy compared to others. Let's face it, wheelies are important with these bikes, and the other two do great ones. BMW requires real skill. Most of all I hate those ridiculous turn signals. Every time I use them I'm reminded of the sort of arrogant pig-headedness that gave us two World Wars and then get pissed off all over again.

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