2002 Adventure Tourer Comparo

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

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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.

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