Having managed our expectations about this Cycle World article by previously re-writing the title in plain English – Sub-1200cc Heavyweight Adventure Dirt Road Shootout – we are now prepared to discuss some of the particulars of the article. Our goal here, as in part one, is to translate the “writer-speak” in the article into ordinary, everyday English so that the content can be more accurately understood.
Writer-speak: “We sought the off-road-leaning middle ground in adventure machines…larger adventure bikes wouldn’t be able to attack the technical terrain we wanted to experience.”
Ordinary english: There no real world difference between a 500+ lb 800-1090cc adventure bike and a 500+ lb 1200cc adventure bike. However, we need to claim that something is uniquely important about these 500+ lb adventure bikes with smaller motors so we are going to pretend the behemoths with the slightly smaller motors are more “off-road leaning” than the same size behemoths with slightly larger motors. The truth is the big girls with the smaller motors aren’t any more off-road capable or suitable than the big girls with the larger motors.
Writer-speak: “Ranging from 507 pounds for the Tiger to 556 pounds for the Honda (measured without fuel on the CW scale), the heft of these machines melts away as you stand on the pegs to attack the trail.”
Ordinary english: We don’t have any actual off-road riding experience. The weight of these machines doesn’t melt away or magically disappear when riding off-road. They are big, heavy pigs. The only place the weight isn’t an issue is when the bikes are being ridden and are completely vertical to the ground. Lean them either way, especially at slow speeds off-road, and you will feel every ounce of weight. But we have to explain away the weight somehow to support our claim that they are more off-road leaning than the same sized adventure bikes with slightly larger motors.
Writer-speak: “The Triumph feels the lightest, mostly because of its smaller size, while the KTM is significantly lighter on its feet than the Africa Twin.”
Ordinary english: The lightest bike (the 507 lb Triumph) felt the lightest because it was the lightest. The 535 lb KTM (the second lightest bike) felt significantly lighter than the 556 lb Honda because it weighs 21 lbs less than the Honda. In other words, the heavier the bike the heavier it felt – the pounds did not somehow melt away when the bikes were being ridden.
Writer-speak: “The real winner here is the rider looking for a machine that is capable of devouring miles of a mixed terrain while also going nearly anywhere a full-on dirt bike can go. There are no other motorcycles that expand the meaning of riding “everywhere” than midsize adventure machines.”
Ordinary english: Adventure bikes are the hottest sellers on the market and the manufacturers have carefully created an image for adventure motorcycles as go-anywhere bikes. Motorcycle magazines exist to help sell motorcycles and image is more important than facts so we are going to go along with the pretense and claim these giant beasts can go nearly anywhere a full-on dirt bike can go.
There is no reason to exaggerate the marvelous capabilities of these amazing bikes, Don’t be fooled by writer-speak. See these bikes for what they really are – truly awesome motorcycles that aren’t really suitable, or fun, to ride on anything tougher than easy dirt roads.
Cycle World recently published a comparison of three adventure bikes – the KTM 1090, the Honda Africa Twin, and the Triumph Tiger 800XCx. Unfortunately, the article was written in “writer speak” potentially making it difficult for the less experienced riders to understand what is actually being said. My goal with this website is to provide useful and entertaining information; with that objective in mind I am going to translate the Cycle World article into ordinary, everyday English so that readers can better understand the article and the type of riding these bikes are actually suitable for.
Let’s begin with the title – “Midsize Adventure Off-Road Shootout”. Cycle World’s title is a perfect example of “writer speak”. None of the three bikes in the comparison are actually mid-sized bikes and the amount of actual off-road testing is highly questionable.
An average English-speaking American would take the term “midsize” to mean “of intermediate size”. In other words, lighter than a full size motorcycle. However, that is not the case with “writer speak”. The Triumph Tiger is the lightest bike in this comparison,weighing in at 507 lbs with an empty gas tank. The KTM 1090 is next at 535 lbs while the Honda Africa Twin tips the scales at a massive 556 lbs. As a point of comparison, the BMW R1200GS weighs 538 lbs and the Triumph Tiger 1200 weighs 534 lbs – both lighter than the “midsize” Africa Twin.
What’s the point? What does the writer mean when he calls them “midsize”? He means they have smaller motors than full sized adventure bikes. Apparently, a full size adventure bike has a 1200cc motor. These three bikes have smaller motors, thus making them midsize bikes in “writer speak”. But the actual fact is that none of them are midsize bikes. Instead, they are all full sized, 500+ lb, heavyweight, adventure bikes.
Is the distinction in motor size meaningful in some way? No, in the context of the bikes being tested, it’s not. Certainly the size of the motor influences how much power a motor puts out but within the class of 500+ lb adventure bikes whether a motor is 800, 1000, 1050, or 1200 cc makes very little difference in real world rideability or use. Sure, if we were comparing a 50 horsepower motor to a 125 horsepower motor in a 500+ lb bike, then we could make a case that the difference is meaningful. But all these bikes put out in excess of 90 horsepower – more than enough that aside from drag racing performance there is no real difference in day to day use. And if you are drag racing regularly then an adventure bike is arguably the wrong tool.
How about the term “off-road shootout”? Again, this is “writer speak” that doesn’t actually mean what you think it means. In the world of motorcycle writers anything that isn’t pavement is “off-road”.
When it comes to pavement, motorcycle writers (and riders) make lots of distinctions. For example, some classifications are freeways, highways, city streets, county roads, and driveways. While a “freeway” and a “city street” are both paved roads, they are vastly different and that difference is really, really important. Let’s say you and I were going for a ride and all I told you is it would be 100% pavement. Based on that description you decide to ride your moped. You would be really mad if I led you onto a freeway, and rightfully so, since you would be risking life and limb riding your moped at 35 mph on a freeway with cars travelling at 75 mph trying to avoid running over you.
No such distinction is made when it comes to dirt surfaces. Instead, in the world of motorcycle writers if it’s not pavement, it’s “off-road”. The challenge with this is that a dirt road is both technically and actually a road. It is not “off-road” by any stretch of the imagination. If you aren’t sure this is the case, try riding your 500+ lb adventure bike in a cross country race (which are raced off-road) and you will quickly understand why simply lumping everything that isn’t paved into one “off-road” category isn’t particularly enlightening or helpful.
If you are unwilling to give it a try yourself, read about Tom Asher racing a 1200GS in a hard enduro. Tom is an experienced racer and mechanic, represented the USA as a member of the 2016 BMW GS Trophy Team, and owns an off-road riding school for adventure bikes. In other words, he is not your average adventure bike rider. How did the race go? Well, before lining up at the starting line he stripped off as much weight as possible (about 40 lbs) to improve his odds. Still, in the end he failed to reach the finish line before time ran out. He was simply too exhausted from the effort required to ride the beast in actual off-road conditions to maintain enough speed to even qualify. Considering his skill level, how well do you think a guy with average talent and skill would have performed?
In the case of the article being discussed, did they actually ride these behemoths “off-road”? Maybe. The writer discusses riding easy dirt roads and two-track and all the picture from the article were taken on dirt roads. The author does mention riding “serious single track” but does not tell us how much single track they rode or how difficult it was.
In any case, only in the delusional imagination of a motorcycle writer is a 500+ lb bike actually suitable for serious single track for the average guy. So, when you see the term “off-road” used in the context of heavyweight adventure bikes translate it to mean “easy to moderate dirt roads” and it will make more sense to you.
Now that we have contrasted the terms “midsize” and “off-road” we are prepared to re-write the title in plain English. Our new, more accurate title is this: “Sub-1200cc Heavyweight Adventure Bike Easy Dirt Road Shootout”. With this real world title you are now better prepared to read and interpret the article in a way that will actually make it useful if you are considering purchasing one of the three bikes tested.
For 20 years the mainstream dual sport motorcycle class in the United States has been stuck in a backwater swamp with few signs of life. The last time Honda updated the XR650L was never – it’s been the same bike since Honda introduced it to the world in 1992, a whopping 26 years ago. There have been no performance improvements to the Suzuki DRZ400 since its release in 2000 while the DR650 has remained unchanged for 28 years. Kawasaki’s last major update of the KLR650 was in 2008 and, as of model year 2019, has discontinued the KLR rather than spend the money to modernize it. Even the “new” Yamaha WR250R is 10 years old and has never been upgraded. Some of the smaller European manufacturers have built modern dual sport bikes that were excellent but with relatively few dealers in the USA riders tended to shy away, worried about parts availability, service, and aftermarket support.
Of the major manufacturers, KTM is solely responsible for keeping the dual sport class on life support by constantly upgrading the various dual sport bikes it sells. The fact is if you wanted a modern dual sport bike you bought KTM, which is why most dual sport rallies and events in recent years have consisted of a sea of orange bikes.
I’m happy to report that today we have something to celebrate. In the past 5 years the dual sport market has progressed from being a one trick pony to the point that there are now enough choices to have an actual motorcycle comparison. Cycle News just published a dual sport shootout of the 2019 class, consisting of the new Honda CRF450L, Beta 430 RR-S, Husqvarna FE450, and the KTM 500 EXC-F. It doesn’t really matter who won the shootout – they are all excellent bikes in their own way – I’m just excited that there are actually enough modern bikes for a shootout to take place.
So, if it has been a while since you took a good look at the dual sport market, it’s time for a revisit. I think you will be pleased with what you find.