2005 Adventure Touring Comparo
Adventure Touring Single, Twin, Triple
Get the Flash Player to see this player.2nd - BMW
Look out, here comes the James Brown of Adventure Tourers: the BMW R 1200 GS. The KLR will hold the Godfather's cape as it proceeds to get funky in three dimensions.
First: the freeway, or as Herr Boxer might say, "Ze Autobahn." The BMW flat-twin motor was conceived for smooth, long-distance travel, so it should be no surprise that the R-Bike was the freeway mount of choice for Sean, and a close second for Petey and Gabe. It has a broad, comfortable seat and great wind protection, plus a large-capacity fuel tank and decent fuel economy, returning an average of 42.5mpg. The sophisticated suspension gives the rider a smooth and pleasant freeway ride. BMW's own the open road, and this big adventurer carries on that tradition.
To quote Petey, "It's the bike I could easily commute on daily, due in part to near perfect ergonomics and the powerful, smooth mill. It seems to love cruising at anywhere between 80 and 100 MPH. The five speed tranny with overdrive is a plus when humming down endless paved miles. Throw in the little nicety of heated hand grips and the GS is the clear cut winner for me." This is high praise from a guy who practically lives on a motorcycle.
On the tight, two-lane roads surrounding Big Bear Lake, the big Beemer does OK, but it's in some tough company. The servo-assisted brakes work fine; better than the K1200S we just tested, but they still have an odd feel. The knobbie tires that make the BMW work so well in the dirt give a squirmy feel and transmit vibration to the rider at lower speeds. And the weight saps a bit of confidence on twisty canyon roads. "It tends to get a bit rough and vague feeling" said Sean, critically, referring to the optional spoked wheels and knobbies.
It's very good on-road as a general-purpose motorcycle. It's comfortable and confident, but plagued with some "funky vibrations", according to Sean. It could be a great sport or touring bike with street tires. As it is, the tire choice is a good compromise. Sean said he could ride it "all day, every day; it has great ergonomics." Still, the BMW is kind of a handful on winding roads and was voted last in that category by all three of the voting testers.
But the fire roads are where this big machine really shines. With an amazingly easy to use clutch, torquey motor and low gearing, Sean likens the GS to a Jeep... once we're off pavement. Jack said his 1988 R1000GS felt more dirt-oriented, but Sean raved about the 1200: "It really pulls in low gears on loose dirt and is happy to crawl along at 1/2mph: that bike is just a freakin' tractor". Petey also found it easy to ride in the dirt, calling it "agile" off-road, and quickly pulling ahead of Gabe no matter what he was riding. Jack said it was easy for him to get comfortable on it. For the considerable size and weight of it, the BMW is surprisingly easy to ride in the dirt and can do way more than a 500 pound motorcycle should be able to do.
The BMW has a large collection of innovative features. For instance, the luggage is versatile if a little gimmicky with the sliding extensions. Fonzie, our intrepid photographer and Sherpa, much appreciated this feature and quickly appropriated the GS for his carrying needs. However, it's not waterproof like the KTM's luggage, and we noticed that grit got in between the sliding panels, making their movement a bit too noisy.
Another feature, besides the anti-lock brakes (which can be switched off) is the Telelever suspension, which Sean says "actually works", with "not a bad feel to it". Unlike some other Telelever-equipped bikes, low speed handling is OK; "it's a big heavy bike, but it does do well in the dirt" once you're used to it. You also get heated grips,(a $200 option) which Sean hogged whenever the temperature dropped, adjustable windscreen, a height-adjustable seat, and low-maintenance shaft drive.
Sure, it's expensive at $16,935 as tested, but you do get a lot. However, one thing we didn't get was an accurate measurement of fuel in the tank, thanks to lingering bugs with BMW's single-wire "CAN" electrics. This caused no fewer than four sudden pushing sessions as different testers stared at a gauge claiming the tank was half full. Aside from that, the BMW's combination of carrying capacity and creature comforts means you're likely to spend long days in the saddle. You're also likely to keep the bike a long time: Jack Straw's trusty 1988 R1000GS has over 100,000 miles on it, and he's just starting to think about replacing it. BMW's are expensive, but like a well-built watch, it's something you're likely to use for many, many years, making the total cost of ownership more in line with lesser offerings.
1st - KTM
The Adventurer is one of the more intimidating bikes we've met, if only for the high seat. But the reality is that you do have three seats to choose from this year, in various heights and softness. The seat we had was lower than the 2004 Adventurer's, but very firm. Everybody except Sean agreed: "It needs a softer seat." But it isn't so hard that it's impossible to ride for 100 or more miles at a stretch. Toss in a powerful, free-revving motor, and freeway cruising is way nicer than we expected from a Paris-Dakar replica. The wind protection on the freeway isn't bad, although the shield causes a bit of buffeting at high speeds. Fuel economy was the worst of the bunch at an average of 36.3 mpg.
But we don't buy futuristic Paris-Dakar replicas for fuel economy, do we? The KTM attacks twisty roads with aplomb. The engine feels great, with good fuel injection and nice response. Working the smooth-shifting gearbox and listening to the carefully-engineered V-twin, you can really hear and feel how much effort and energy went into the motor of this bike. It really feels like a 90 HP thumper engine in the way it makes power - all those horses feel like they are instantly accessible, but you never fear losing control.
Pete might be a little coy when he said, "My guess is that in the right hands it would terrorize any number of sportbikes in the canyons", but there was no disagreement from any of our testers. With street-biased tires, a KTM 950 Adventurer would be as good on pavement as any sportbike out there on a canyon road, although Sean said there was a little too much torsional bending in the chassis on the road. "It's got fantastic controls and instruments. It's too tall and gangly for serious sportbike use, but fast enough to hang with anything if you're committed (or should be committed-Gabe)".
And when the pavement ends, the KTM rips off its orange rayon shirt to reveal its rippling off-road capabilities. For a bike this size, the KTM has amazing off-road capability - for a confident, competent rider. Petey bared his claws on the big machine, reporting that "sliding the rear end around was never unnerving and in fact it felt quite natural." We also appreciated the grippy tires, solid suspension feel and smooth controls. Quality-wise, it's a world (and two decades) apart from the KLR, and that reflects in everything about it, from the expensive-looking wheels to the classy, easy to read instruments and solid controls.
Overall, the KTM was Sean's favorite bike. He loved the exotic look and feel, its prowess in canyons and fire roads, and the way it runs "like a scalded cat." But what we all really appreciated was the sweet luggage. The huge Hepco & Becker panniers are waterproof and insulated, so when we needed to get our victuals back to the campsite, we didn't see a way to safely transport your laptop and digital camera across the Darien Gap; we saw a pair of ready-to-use beer coolers. This feature alone should sell thousands of motorcycles for KTM. The insulated walls are actually designed to hold a few quarts of drinking water in each bag. You can even freeze them to keep your contents icy on hot days. Spigots in the bottoms of the bags let you drain the water off if you can't stand the sloshing sounds.
Honda's New Ridgeline
Now for something completely different! Kinda. The motorcycling community finally gets a motorcycle hauler from a company that actually makes motorcycles. Honda's new Ridgeline may look like another funky SUV, but it is actually a full-fledged pickup, complete with a bed large enough to carry two motorcycles, plus all your riding gear. "What's this got to do with an Adventure Touring Shootout?" you ask. Hmm, not a whole lot, except that the Ridgeline offers a way to cover highways and fire roads in complete comfort, while toting all your luggage and a pair of high performance off road bikes (Honda CRF 450Xs in this case) anywhere you want to go, and when you get there, you'll have the luxury of a real dirt bike that's capable of covering ground that would make the average adventure tourer turn tail and head for home.
Sean took Ashley to the Hungry Valley OHV area (Gorman, CA) for a long day of blasting through the trails on Honda CRF 450Xs. The trip involved about 150 miles of freeway driving, 20 miles of surface streets, three canyon roads and some extra curricular off-road driving. Most of you don't know this, but Sean is a championship winning shifter kart racer and ex-Porsche and BMW club racer, so his driving prowess are similar to his motorcycling skills. Needless to say, he's a bit skeptical about trucks and SUVs in general, so he paid close attention to the Ridgeline's dynamic capabilities and came away impressed, considering this truck's size and weight. These are his test notes:
The Ridgeline's large four-wheel disc brakes are excellent, with a medium-firm pedal feel and moderate pedal travel. Fade resistance is quite good, with the huge discs delivering short stopping distances with consistent pedal feel, this is truly outstanding for an SUV. Cornering is a bit lazy at turn-in as the chassis and tires work to establish their slip-angle, but once settled, the Ridgeline tracks well with remarkably little body-roll for such a high center of gravity. With one passenger and about 650Lbs of payload in the rear seats and truck bed, the Ridgeline's four-wheel independent suspension offers a smooth and well-damped ride, with no trace of wallow. The Honda corners much flatter than Ashley's Mercedes ML 350 and better than some sedans that I've driven. Acceleration is acceptable, with smooth shifts from the 5-speed slush-o-matic and acceptable levels of engine and road noise. As loaded, the Ridgeline was more than happy to haul us up the steep "Grapevine" grade at 85+mph and top speed is somewhere north of 105mph, but what's the point in SUV top speed, really?
From behind the wheel, the Ridgeline offers the typical "commanding view of the road", though the interior view is a touch too busy, with lots of plasticy faux aluminum trim and leather that is a bit too shiny and slick looking for my taste.
Overall tough, the interior is highly functional, with Honda's typically logical and easy to read/operate gauges and controls. The GPS navigation system is very nice to use, with better software logic and programming than most other OEM nav units. When you opt for the nav system, you also get built-in XM radio and a decent sound system that makes long trips seem short and short trips a cussin and swearin good time (comedy channel XL150... if you like that sort of thing.) On the safety side; the Ridgeline offers standard four-wheel drive, stability control, ABS brakes, brake assist, front and side air bags and it earned 5 star ratings for both frontal and side impacts. On the practical side, the Ridgeline can haul 1,100 lbs in its bed and tow a 5,000Lb trailer. Along with the typical new car options, Honda also offers a full line of adventure equipment from kayak holders and motorcycle wheel guides, to trailer hitches and running boards. As equipped, our fully loaded tester comes to $35,155, though you can skip the fancy options and get a base Ridgeline starting at: $28,215.