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What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

Tall in the saddle: Middleweight 'adventure' motorcycles

My favourites in previous categories.
Let's not go any further before we tackle the issue of the word "adventure." When discussing adventure machines, it's ridiculous. Adventure bikes are the SUVs of motorcycling. Indeed, just as it is common to turn the phrase "sport utility vehicle" into an acronym it is equally popular to refer to these motorcycles as ADVs. And in both cases, the name is value weighted. That is to say, you are expected to think of additional things that aren't actually promised. Specifically, the phrase that's supposed to come to mind is "off road."

But are these things actually intended to go off road? Nope. Not really. Which is fine, because the simple truth is that the majority of cases neither vehicle will ever see more dirt than that found on a well-maintained farm road. People buy them not for the sake of competing in the Dakar Rally but because they are comfortable and they look durable.

Plus, adventure is what you make it. Hell, a Lexmoto Vixen could be an adventure bike, depending on how, exactly, you are choosing to define "adventure."

Anyhoo, over the past few weeks I've been enjoying the process of thinking seriously about which machine I'll choose as my next. So far, I've looked at cruisers and sport tourers, and in both cases I've been hit with comments along the lines of: "Chris, what you really want is [NAME OF ADVENTURE BIKE GOES HERE]." 

Certainly I can see the argument for it. Generally equipped with taller seats, ADVs are likely to be better suited to my 6-foot-1 frame than, say, a Suzuki Van-Van. And the seating position is more in line with what I prefer: upright and not too bendy. The bikes are said to be comfortable and very much fit for purpose if a person is keen to take on long-distance rides. And they quite often come standard-equipped with the sort of "extras" that I find incredibly important, such as anti-lock brakes, a centre stand, heated grips and tall windscreens.

On paper, an adventure bike sounds like my ideal machine. But, oh my great googly moogly, are they uncool. I mean, so, so, so uncool. They sound uncool. The look uncool. And the accepted truth of them is that you are even supposed to dress uncool when riding them. It's as if a team of the greatest thinkers of our day were assembled and given the task of taking every single ounce of sexy out of motorcycling. They succeeded.

I have immense respect for the ADV riders I've encountered, and I know there are a handful that read this blog regularly. If it makes y'all feel better, I tend to pay more attention to the advice that comes from you than that delivered by other types of riders. I'm just not sure I want to join your legions yet.

But, if there's one thing I've learned about myself it's that practicality usually wins out over my desire to be cool. So, it's good to explore my options. As with sport tourers, I've decided to limit my options to middleweight machines, and I'm choosing to define "middleweight" as: between 600 cc and 1100 cc.

Suzuki V-Strom 650
Suzuki V-Strom 650
Price: £6,899
Basic stats: 649 cc, 68 bhp
About: This is a fabled machine. I'm pretty sure they're singing folk songs about it in the hills of some faraway place. You will struggle to find too many people with anything negative to say about the V-Strom, beyond my own personal feeling that it's not sexy. But, hey, rugged can be sexy. The old Hell for Leather website (R.I.P) once described the V-Strom as one of the very best motorcycles for carrying a passenger, and because I've seen V-Stroms kicking my ass on the motorway I know it it handles well there, too.
Would I buy it? Yes. It's tough, it's powerful, it does everything, and it seems to win the love and respect of everyone. Suzuki offers multiple packages for the V-Strom and although the version of the bike that I would want would cost about £1,000 more than the base price, that still puts it in at under £8,000 –– cheaper than all but one (a) of the cruisers and sport tourers I like.

Kawasaki Versys 650
Price: £6,649
Basic stats: 649 cc, 60 bhp
About: The Versys 650 seems like an "Oh, we have one of those, too," sort of bike for the Kawasaki stable. It's just sort of there. I've seen one in person and certainly liked the height, but it didn't strike me as a machine that would be particularly comfortable for Jenn to be on with me. Reviews I've read have been pretty mixed, with the only real consistency being that it's not fantastic at high speeds. If you ride motorways in the United Kingdom, you need a machine that can cruise at well above the 70 mph "limit."
Would I buy it? No. It costs more than the far superior Honda NC750X and I sense it would be a step down from my existing bike.

Yamaha Ténéré
Price: £6,999
Basic stats: 660 cc, 46 bhp
About: A famed workhorse of a machine, the hard-to-write Ténéré is probably the best machine on this list for doing what is implied in the looks of all the others: going where roads are scarce or nonexistent. People actually do use this thing (or, well, a version of it) to compete in the Dakar Rally. The downside is that on the road it struggles to keep pace with all those bikes that would eat its dust offroad. According to reviews, getting the bike above 70 mph is a challenging and unpleasant experience.
Would I buy it? No. It is not fit for purpose in ultra-urban Britain. I'll keep the Ténéré in mind should I ever move to Honduras.

Honda NC750X
Honda NC750X
Price: £6,299
Basic stats: 750 cc, 54 bhp
About: An oh-so-slightly larger version of the much-accoladed NC700X, this bike consistently earns motorcycle journalists' begrudging respect because it is so capable of doing so much. The only complaint they ever seem to have is that it is not a bike that is excessively thrilling. It is incredibly fuel-efficient, it has infinitely more storage space than any other motorcycle –– enough for a full-sized helmet –– and if you are so inclined, you can get one with an automatic transmission. It is also the most affordable of all the bikes in this list.
Would I buy it? Yes. This bike has shown up twice on my What I Want list. It's so damned practical that I find it almost impossible to resist. I have often thought about heading to my local Honda dealer to ask for a test ride but have a very real fear that I'd end up buying the thing right there and then.

Honda Crossrunner
Price: £9,499
Basic stats: 782 cc, 101 bhp
About: A VFR in ADV clothing, the Crossrunner has a reputation as being something of a "parts bin" machine, with numerous aspects being taken from other Honda models. That said, it gets a fair bit of respect. It is powerful, handles well and is all-day comfy. Though, it is a machine that serves as definite proof that "adventure" does not mean "offroad." Additionally, Honda have paid special attention to providing quality passenger seating.
Would I buy it? Maybe. The new VFR800F was one of my favourites from the sport tourer list, with my only real concern being whether it might feel too cramped for me. Voilà, the Crossrunner seems to solve that issue with its more upright seating position. However, although I realise that in producing 101 bhp it is a hell of a lot of bike, I still can't help feeling the price might be a tad too high. Additionally, the Crossrunner in person looks confusingly like the NC750X, which isn't necessarily a bad thing but leaves you frustrated that it doesn't have the storage space of the NC750X.

BMW F700 GS
Price: £7,680
Basic stats: 798 cc, 75 bhp
About: Bafflingly calling itself an F700, yet carrying an 800-cc engine, this machine is part of BMW's bread and butter. Thanks in part to Long Way Round, people tend to think of BMW as being the adventure-motorcycle company. Comfortable, easy-handling and compatible with an accessories catalog that only Harley-Davidson could rival, it is a surprisingly affordable prestige bike.
Would I buy it? Probably not. The base price is agreeable but you end up having to pay extra items that come standard on a lot of the other machines. I'll admit that I buy into the mystique of BMW somewhat, but less so for bikes with front ends that look like a robot Simpsons character having a stroke.

BMW F800 GS
BMW F800 GS
Price: £8,685
Basic stats: 798 cc, 85 bhp
About: Second verse pretty much same as the first. Except this time the name makes sense and it costs more. For that extra £1,000 you get 10 bhp and nothing else.
Would I buy it? No. See above and add £1,000. Then see below and wonder what, exactly, you're paying for in the BMW.

Triumph Tiger
Price: £8,099
Basic stats: 799 cc,  94 bhp
About: There seem to be about a dozen variations on the Tiger theme, but this one is the cheapest and most road-focused. Lauded by British journalists as a great all-round machine, it has a front end that looks like a mosquito with its proboscis ripped off. It also looks like something from an Erector Set, but the advantage to this is, I'm guessing, everything is relatively easy to access in terms of maintenance. As is the case with all Triumphs in the United Kingdom, it is certain to earn you a modicum of automatic respect from other riders and the occasional casual observer.
Would I buy it? Maybe. You know, to be honest, I hadn't really invested a lot of thought into the Tiger until just now. OK, yes it is ugly/stupid in terms of looks, but it certainly ticks all the other boxes. It is comparably powerful to the VFR Crossrunner but, if I understand the advantages of a triple, has more low-end grunt –– which, of course, is the thing I love about cruisers. Additionally, it is a solid £1,000 less than the Crossrunner. It also costs less than the BMW F800 GS whilst providing more power.

Suzuki V-Strom 1000
Price: £9,999
Basic stats: 1037 cc, 99 bhp
About: The big version of the V-Strom, it's another bike that's previously shown up on my What I Want list. In terms of what separates it from the 650 version of the V-Strom (aka the "Wee-Strom"), it has a fair bit more power from the engine, and you get traction control. Early reviews of the newly released machine are incredibly positive.
Would I buy it? Maybe. If I had a better-paying job, the answer would be a straight "yes." As things stand, however, at £10,000, I'd have to be strongly convinced that the larger V-Strom is really £3,000 more of a bike than its 650 cc little brother. Additionally, you'd have to prove to me that the Big Strom is also a lot better than the larger Kawasaki Versys.

Kawasaki Versys 1000
Kawasaki Versys 1000
Price: £9,599
Basic stats: 1043 cc, 116 bhp
About: It's a bit like the aforementioned Versys 650, but better. And with a bigger engine. And it is, indeed, a hell of an engine. Basically, you're getting the super Ninja in adventure form. Which means that the issue of motorway riding is completely resolved. It is said to handle well, can cruise comfortably at 100 mph, and has been the steed of choice for a number of those Ride A Motorcycle Around The World guys. Kawasaki claims to have invested a great deal of effort into making sure the passenger is comfortable, and the bike comes with a host of as-standard useful things like traction control, different power modes and, of course, ABS.
Would I buy it? Yes. All that fancy stuff takes the practical side of me to a happy enough place that it could override the feeling of uncoolness.

Triumph Tiger Sport
Price: £9,599
Basic stats: 1050 cc, 123 bhp
About: This is a bike that has been suggested to me by a number of people. Looking more like a Honda CBF1000 than an ADV bike, it is definitely a machine intended to be kept on civilised roads. Meanwhile it seems to get a tremendous amount of love from journalists.
Would I buy it? Probably not. Again, price is my main hang up here. It costs the same as the Versys but doesn't have as many of the features. Without such features, nigh £10,000 is more than I want to spend on a machine that I will never really fall in love with. It will never make me feel like a superhero.

Crow T. Robot
And that's the list. Out of all of the above, I think the machines that appeal to me the most are: Kawasaki Versys 1000, Suzuki V-Strom 650 and the NC750X. Indeed, if I stare at the Versys long enough, and sort of squint my eyes and make "vroom" noises and remind myself of the fact that I am already married to a super-hot woman and therefore have no need for a bike that could help me pick up chicks, I can sort of make myself like it. Though, I still feel that all adventure bikes look a little too much like Crow T. Robot from "Mystery Science Theater 3000."

Ever ridden any of these bikes? I'd love to hear about your experiences. Definitely let me know if you think I've gotten it all wrong in terms of the adventure class aura. Also, let me know if there are any bikes I've forgotten about.

–––––––––

(a) That one exception is the Triumph Speedmaster. At a base price of £7,199 it is £700 cheaper than a fully loaded V-Strom. But, of course, that's a real apples-and-oranges comparison because the Speedmaster has none of the fully loaded V-Strom's features. Indeed, I am only even considering the Speedmaster hypothetically, based on the fact that in 2016 all motorcycles in the UK will be required to have anti-lock brakes. A current Speedmaster lacks that basic feature, which I feel is 100-percent necessary for any bike I'd pay for. 

Comments

  1. How about the CB500X? Downstep from the current? Or simply don't like it?
    (and yes, I am aware that you mention it previously, but the focus back then was on the naked version)
    (and also apologies for the english, just in case)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a good question. From what I hear the CB500X is a hell of a bike. But I'd be just a little concerened about its ability to transport myself and my wife on the motorway. And yes, power-wise it would be a major step down. The CB500X produces 47 bhp, whereas my bike produces about 75.

      The reason I didn't include it in the list, however, is that I was limiting this particular discussion to bikes between 600 and 1100 cc.

      Delete
  2. I'd suggest having a good look at the KTM SMT. I had one and it was one of the best bikes that I've had.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Don't you just love having first world problems? Have I said that before?

    I am still jealous of all the models of bikes you get across the pond that they don't sell here. Sigh.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Of this list, I'd say the BMW GS series is the only real adventure bike, because it's the only one designed to ride in the dirt. The others, like you've said, are designed to "look" like they ride in the dirt. But you left out the Kawasaki KLR, which I feel is the best of the lot, has the ruggedness of a trail bike and the lightness, but is a lot cheaper, has tons of aftermarket support, and it carries 6.1 gallons of fuel compared to the GS 800's 4.2.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Good points and I agree with the BMW GS overpricing comments you make. A lot of these bikes are road focussed rather than adventure focussed though. Perhaps you could write up your choice of dual sport bike?

    ReplyDelete
  6. I bought an nc750x last summer and rode it from Cape Spear Newfoundland to Prince Rupert British Columbia, two up with gear across Canada. It handled the trip perfectly. I have recently installed more aggressive adv tires and I cruise down gravel roads at 100 kph with no problem. It has a host of after market adv accessories but you're definitely right not the coolest bike out there.... One of the most useful and versatile bikes.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The cb5000x has as many ponies as the xt660 tenere. Check out blancolirio on YouTube or cb500x rr adventure to see what that bike can do offroad

    ReplyDelete

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