At Full Throttle
It can be argued that every ride on a motorcycle can be considered an adventure. But Adventure Touring usually involves long distances over tarmac or inhospitable and hard to reach trails that are off the beaten path, adverse weather – all elements that takes you out of your comfort zone and gives you that natural high of beating adverse conditions. The more adventurous among us add camping into the mix, while most would prefer the luxury that a hotel provides at the end of a long day in the saddle. But whatever flavour one chooses, it is definitely an addictive sport and is attracting a lot of riders. Infact, Adventure Touring is the fastest growing segment in the motorcycle industry worldwide and every manufacturer worth its salt has a model in this segment or is working hard on getting one to market.
My first brush with ‘Adventure Touring’ (even though the term itself was alien to me at that point) was when I bought a second-hand Yamaha DT-125 in Trivandrum, Kerala and rebuilt it to an almost brand new state. I loved that machine and the confidence it gave me to just go anywhere I wanted to. I simply had to point the large 21” front wheel in the chosen direction and twist the throttle. Whether or not there existed a proper road did not matter in the least. This ‘go anywhere – do anything’ capability of the DT just got me hooked. Soon I was seeking out terrains that would strike terror into the heart of an ordinary motorcycle. Adverse weather was also welcomed with a big wide grin. This love for adventure that started in my youth only grew with the passing of years and in between owning supersport motorcyles, crotch rockets and cruisers, an adventure tourer would always figure in the mix.
Caught in a Cyclone
I have wonderful memories of clocking thousands of kilometres across the varied terrain of the UAE on my Suzuki V-Strom 1000cc. Talk about a ‘bullet-proof’ motorcycle! The V-Strom handled everything in its stride without a hiccup.Another fond memory is touring across Sri Lanka on a Honda XLR 250 Baja in Sri Lanka. My friends and I got caught in one of the worst cyclones to hit Sri Lanka in recent years and for days on end we were riding in heavy rain and slippery slushy roads. While some of my friends were on standard Royal Enfield Bullets and found it difficult to negotiate some roads, the Honda Baja I was on, made riding in these conditions really fun! Once again highlighting how bikes built for dual-purpose adventure touring really deliver when it matters the most.
What exactly qualifies as an ‘Adventure Touring” motorcycle? Ok, I have heard many riders saying that adventure is a state of mind and has nothing to do with the choice of motorcycle. While I do agree with that school of thought, why not have a motorcycle that is better suited to your riding needs? Horses for courses and all that jazz. A conventional road going bike may do well on tarmac but will struggle the moment the tarmac ends. A dirt-bike will do very well off-road but will be uncomfortable and slow on tarmac. Similarly, large cruisers are extremely comfortable on smooth roads but are not suited for unpaved stretches. So ideally an Adventure Touring motorcycle should sit between a Cruiser and an off-road bike, with comfortable ergonomics that don’t put unnecessary pressure on your back and wrists, shod with dual-purpose tyres and equipped with suspension that can take the rigours of going off-road.
So what motorcycle would qualify as the best adventure tourer for India? Considering the plethora of options available right now, the task may be easier said than done! The list is long – Hero Xpulse 200, Royal Enfield Himalayan, BMW G 310 GS, Kawaskai Versys X-300, Benelli TRK 502, Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT, Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro, Honda Africa Twin, Ducati Multistrada and of course what is considered the King of adventure touring – The BMW R 1250 GS/GS Adventure.
The BMW R 1250 GS/GS Adventure and its previous iterations have reached a cult status. Although performing well in the international adventure touring scene for several years, it really exploded onto the scene after celebrities Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman used the BMW R 1150 GS on their 31,000 KM journey from London to New York which was documented in the popular TV series titled ‘Long Way Round’. The GSA is an extremely capable adventure tourer that is ideal for crossing continents. Its ample power and comfort makes kids play out of long demanding routes. With a larger 19” front wheel, it is also amazingly adept at handling off road duties (with suitable tyres of course!).
Choice of Himalayan
But even assuming I had pockets deep enough to foot the bill of 20+ Lakhs for a GSA, would I get one for use in India? Definitely not! The cost aside, I wouldn’t want to lug around 250+ kgs (with light luggage) while riding off-road. I need a motorcycle that is capable, light weight, affordable, minimum electronics and has a network of service and spares centres across India. When I put all these factors together, my choice is clear – the Royal Enfield Himalayan.
The Himalayan is a well-planted, balanced and agile bike and its large 21” diameter front wheel is ideal to traverse rough, uneven terrain. Sporting a 411 CC single cylinder engine, the fuel-injected mill produces 24.5 bhp and decent torque of 32 Nm. I will admit that the 411 CC air-cooled powerplant does at times seem a bit inadequate while cruising long stretches of tarmac, but the torque more than makes up for it when the Himalayan is in its natural environment – off-road. This motorcycle is extremely capable off-road. Its’s calm and composed and trundles along without caring about what roads you are travelling over as long as you are not in a hurry to get there! I still recollect how it pleasantlysurprised me the first time I threw my leg over one. In the adventure touring world, torque is a very good thing. Torque is what gets you going and keeps you going over the nasty stuff, through the sticky and slippery stuff, up the steep stuff.
The Himalayan’s torque translates to slow, predictable traction at a lower revolutions per minute ( rpm), which means this bike finds itself in a sweet-spot for adventure touring or dual-sport riding. Moderate torque combined with low horsepower makes this bike excel in places where handling a more powerful motorcycle would prove very difficult. Having ridden the Himalayan across pretty harsh terrain, I can’t remember the rear wheel breaking traction even once. It has a very mellow throttle but just enough oomph to keep that rear wheel chugging through just about anything. Combine that with a 31-inch seat height and its simple to put your feet down and waddle the bike through really uneven terrain. And it’s pretty easy to pick up too when you have that inevitable fall when off-roading. Taking a look at its spec sheet, there is no single feature of the Himalayan that stands out or impresses you. On the contrary, it appears quite ordinary and boring. But as a whole package, the Himalayan is an extremely versatile and easy motorcycle to ride.
Wait for Yamaha Tenere 700
A brand new Himalayan 650, a variant of Royal Enfield’s tried and tested 650 CC twin cylinder powerplant that is currently in use in their Interceptor 650 and Continental GT 650 is awaited. If this happens soon, then the new Himalayan 650 would be the bike to beat in the adventure touring segment in India. The only other motorcycle in this segment that I would be tempted to buy is Yamaha’s best-selling Tenere 700. This jack of all trades motorcycle has kicked up a sensation worldwide outperforming motorcycles that are thrice its cost. No wonder dealers across the world never have enough stock. This motorcycle is expected to reach India by December 2021 and is said to be priced in the Rs 8-9 lakh bracket.
If all this sounds exciting and you are the sort that wants to continue your adventure even when the tarmac ends, facing inclement weather, not so rider friendly roads, mechanical issues and whatever the universe decides to throw your way, then this is the sport for you! Adventure motorcycling is all about pushing your bike and most importantly yourself beyond the limits and having one hell of a time doing it.
Best Adventure Biking Routes
- Manali to Leh Ladakh
- Spiti Valley
- Sikkim to Darjeeling
- Guwahati to Tawang (through Sela Pass which is the highest motor vehicle friendly road in the world)
- Arunachal Pradesh as a whole
- Several Routes in Kerala