“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.