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.