“Now… If you up the ante a bit … more like 365 lbs, 200 mile range, 11-12 inches of travel and a Twin engine we’re getting to Unicorn territory.” – cb60130, advrider.com
The adventure riding world calls this bike “the unicorn” because it doesn’t exist. No manufacturer makes, or seems to have any plans to make, just such a bike. Every adventure bike made today weighs north (and some a lot north) of 450 lbs stock. Add a few necessary adventure accessories and they are pushing (or exceeding) 500 lbs. And despite advertising implying that a 500 lb bike can go anywhere or is suitable off road, not to mention the ridiculous claims by motorcycle magazine writers that “the weight seems to fall off when you’re moving“, a 500+ lb bike is not a dirt bike. Heck, it’s not even a particularly good “dirt road” bike. It’s just too darn heavy to ride very far off pavement.
Do you really want a “unicorn” adventure bike – one that weighs less than 400 lbs, has a 200 mile range, off road suspension, adequate horsepower, and all the other adventure bike requirements – or do you just claim to want one? Because if you really want one, then I have a suggestion for you. Buy a 2017 or newer Husqvarna 701 Enduro (or a 2019 or newer KTM 690) and build your own unicorn bike.
The stock 701 Enduro weighs approximately 351 lbs. with a full 3.4 gallons of gas on board. The highlights are that it makes 74 horsepower, has a 6 speed transmission, 11 inches of ground clearance, 10.83 inches of suspension travel front and rear, 300 watt alternator, and 6200 mile oil change and valve check interval. In other words, a stock 701 provides the perfect platform for building your very own sub-400 lb adventure bike, capable of touring the world while actually being off-pavement capable. Let’s run it down.
The stock 701’s off road capabilities are very good, even with slightly less than 11 inches of suspension travel. In comparison to any other adventure bike you can buy or build, the 701’s off road capabilities are untouchable, mostly because of the humongous weight advantage the 701 possesses. Weight is by far the single most important factor for off pavement riding which is why dirt bikes are built to be as light as possible. No amount of suspension will overcome a 100+ lb weight advantage. Other than tuning the suspension to meet your weight and riding style, there is nothing you need to do to a 701 to make it suitable for off road riding. And there is nothing you can do to any other adventure bike to make it anywhere near as capable off-road as the 701. Add a skid plate to your 701 to protect the bottom of the engine and hit the dirt.
Where the 701 needs improvement is in pavement touring – stock, it is not particularly capable as a long distance adventure touring bike. Luckily, the aftermarket has multiple options to make it worlds better. That being said, let’s address the elephant in the room. The 701 is not a twin, so how could it ever be comfortable as an adventure touring bike? After all, singles just aren’t made for long distance highway performance and they vibrate way to much to ever be comfortable.
I realize that everyone includes the requirement of a twin motor in their unicorn bike specs and I suspect it is because the ancient singles currently offered by the Japanese manufacturers are big, heavy, vibrating, low powered lumps. Riders seem to interpret this to mean that singles aren’t capable of being as good as multi-cylinder engines. I think “twins” is shorthand for wanting a powerful small displacement motor that is smooth, can handle long distance highway touring, and has reasonable maintenance intervals. While the 701 motor is a single, it makes more than enough power – it puts out as much power as the new Yamaha Tenere 700 twin. That power mixed with a reasonably good transmission and a very smooth motor means you can ride the 701 comfortably at freeway speeds all day long. Yes, the transmission could be wider, but it’s in no way a show stopper unless you will routinely be riding at 90 mph or faster on a regular basis. (Be honest, you aren’t actually going to tour at those speeds.) The double balanced motor is amongst the smoothest motors I have every owned in any motorcycle, including twins. The only concern one might have is with the valve inspection interval of 6,200 miles, which could be argued is offset by the fact that it’s a single and checking the valves is relatively simple and easy. Unless there is something magical about a twin that I’m missing, the motor and transmission of the 701 is more than up to the task of adventure touring.
Which brings us to the other touring requirements – namely, fuel range, rider comfort, and carrying capacity. The aftermarket provides multiple options for you to choose from in each category. You can permanently add from 1.6 to 3.6 gallons of fuel, bringing the range from a low of 250 miles (at 50 mpg) to a high of 350 miles. Install a seat concepts or other aftermarket seat for all day comfort. Add a rally kit and the 701 will equal other adventure bikes in wind protection, lighting, space for electronics, appearance, and rider comfort. Aftermarket side and rear racks enable you to add soft or hard luggage, then load the bike and strike out for parts unknown. And the best part of all is that even if you did all the above, the bike would still come in at less than 400 lbs (minus your luggage of course).
So, there you have it – the unicorn bike that everyone wants is within your grasp. All you need do is reach out and make it yours.
Adventure riders have been longing for “the Unicorn” adventure bike for as long as there have been adventure bikes. What is “the unicorn bike”? It is a lightweight, multi-cylinder, off road biased, adventure bike that can do anything and everything, is as reliable as an anvil, and costs only a bit more than a KLR to buy and own. The newly announced Yamaha Tenere 700 lit a spark in the adventure riding community that “the unicorn bike” was finally going to become reality. The faithful wildly speculated that the T700 would meet the major adventure riding requirements (power, comfort, touring capability, off road capability, long fuel range, long service intervals, reliability, and low cost) all while tipping the scales, with a full tank of gas, at 400 lbs max.
However, Yamaha dashed those hopes when the published specs for the new bike revealed there were multiple areas where the T700 did not measure up against “the unicorn bike”. Things like not enough horsepower or fuel, too little suspension travel, using the engine as part of the frame, a welded subframe, and not being available in the USA until late 2020 were not what the adventure community was looking for in this bike. The death blow was that the new Tenere would weigh at least 450 lbs. The vast disappointment within the adventure community is well illustrated by this quote from cb60130 about the Tenere 700 on advrider.com, “There’s just nothing about another 450+lb adventure bike that would make me want to sell my 450+lb adventure bike to hurry up and buy one. As the old saying goes… “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig”.”
What kind of specs does a motorcycle need in order to at least be a candidate for “unicorn bike”? cb60130 states it very succinctly, “Now… If you up the ante a bit … more like 365 lbs, 200 mile range, 11-12 inches of travel and a Twin engine we’re getting to Unicorn territory.”
What I find interesting is that the unicorn bike almost already exists. In fact, minus the twin engine, the platform for building a bike as close to unicorn status as is currently possible has been in production for the past three years. What bike am I referring to? The 2017 and newer Husqvarna 701 Enduro (and soon to be joined by the 2019 KTM 690).
Before you protest, I realize the stock 701 Enduro shown in this picture is not “the unicorn bike”, not least of all because we already know the unicorn bike doesn’t exist. It is not for sale on any motorcycle dealer’s showroom floor at any price and never will be (but that is a topic for another day). However, as I stated above, it almost exists. What that means is that the platform – the bike from which the unicorn can be built – does exist. You can take the platform – the 701 Enduro – and build your unicorn bike. I will lay out the case for this claim next time.
For the past two years or so Yamaha has been teasing us with the Tenere 700 – a multi-cylinder, middleweight, adventure bike with an off-road bias. The rumors have had the adventure riding world drooling at the thought. Imagine – an adventure bike that weighs 400 lbs or less would mean you could actually consider riding it on something more challenging than easy dirt roads and that you could pick up by yourself when you (inevitably) drop it. In other words, it would basically be a modern KLR. Exciting indeed.
But, alas, Yamaha released some of the specs for the Tenera and, unfortunately, internet rumors and reality don’t quite mesh.
The T700 reportedly weighs 452 lbs and we aren’t sure if that weight is “dry” or “ready to ride”. Likely it is the weight of the bike sans fuel.
That one spec, more than any other, has disappointed the adventure community. They were really hoping for a 400 lb, ready to ride, adventure bike.
To be fair, a 452 lb adventure bike, while still being way too heavy, is a bit lighter than other comparable bikes such as the BMW 800GS (478 lbs) and the Triumph Tiger 800 XC (474 lbs).
While I understand the disappointment rippling through the adventure community, my response is that the middleweight adventure bike everyone seems to be clamoring is already available. It has been in production for three years and is manufactured by one of the major players. We will talk about it next.