Category Archives: Bikes

Quick Ride: Enfield Interceptor review

egg-Steve-McQ78-bonnie140While working on next year’s AMH I’ve contrived a new category for my expanded section on overlanding contenders: Feel-good Retro Twins. Doing a trip a la Ted Simon or Steve McQueen’s brief tour of the Swiss border could add a certain old-school frisson to the journey. Or maybe it’s just that this was how the twins that I liked looked in my influential teenage years.
It’s not all down to rosey-hued nostalgia. One dk-fittingsgood thing about retro style (or plain motorbikes) is that a tank is a tank, not a plastic cover held on by 12 zillion screws and fittings, like the Africa Twin (right). It greatly eases maintenance or fault diagnosis on the road and ought to reduce labour costs. Plastic cladding has become a cheap way of snazzily styling bikes or adapting the look across a model range.
Enfield’s new 650 roadster twin – the Interceptor is one such machine; what you see is what you get: a low-saddled, low-revving plodder which is light and low enough to handle off-highway excursions across alpine meadows while pulling its weight elsewhere and looking good as only modern classics can. There’s a 650 Continental cafe racer too and they say a taller Scrambler may be in the pipeline.
The twins were largely designed at RE’s UK Technology Centre south of Leicester, assisted by many former Triumph engineers who know a thing or two about twins. It shows, and according to re650motorthose who know, internally Enfield’s 650 engine is a very close copy of Bonnevilles and the like, but rides better in many ways, has six gears and costs about a third less.
Talk of a 650 Scrambler would make sense, given the popularity of the Ducatis and success of the Guzzi’s V85TT. The Himalayan was a big step up from the Bullets but was still recognisably an RE. On the 650 there are a few cheap components which could easily be replaced, but from the look and the feel, the new twin puts RE even closer if not right among its competitors in western markets. That’s a pretty amazing achievement.


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• Great price
• Three-year warranty includes roadside recoveryreintspex
• Looks good, so is the fit and finish
• Very slick gearbox with no drivetrain lash
• Low saddle is comfy enough (and easy to re-foam)
• Engine fuels and pulls smoothly
• Twin shocks easy to adjust or modify. Means no rack needed for throwovers, too
• No complaints about the brakes

cros
For a 270°, motor a bit lacking in character compared to a CP2. A little less silencing may help
Suspension a bit soft (shocks on lowest setting)
Clocks are a bit too retro for me
There are better-looking paint schemes than orange
Felt a bit small for me; taller bars may help

Forum link to a detailed 875mb service manual pdf download (it’s safe).

 

The first thing that struck me pulling away on the 1300-mile-old Interceptor was how uncannily smooth the motor was. It was almost disappointing that the 270° mill’s character had been so well disguised. The other observation was how exceedingly heavy the steering was. Surely not normal. The front Pirelli looked OK, but I know tyres can appear fine and even feel firm but be down by 10psi.
The seat height of 804mm (31.6″) is nice and low but the bike felt quite small which made me feel a bit exposed after a fortnight riding a plastic-clad NC750X. The motor ticks over steadily (no ineffective Himalayan-style cold-start aids here, just proper efi). It revs freely and the gearbox is amazingly slick with zero slack or lash in the drivetrain, something that spoils so many bikes. It means once rolling, clutchless upshifts take just the merest nudge from the foot. I’ve never ridden a bike which does this so easily.

Coming down some steep, shady lanes off the North Downs, the bike really didn’t feel that safe, so in Reigate I pulled into a Shell and put 32psi in the front. Aired up from who knows what pressure and with the sun now out, this was much more like it, at least when I got a chance to let the RE run on between clumps of traffic or cameras. As always, you can’t help comparing a test bike to what you’ve been riding recently and the lighter 650 didn’t feel as planted at my NC, nor was the suspension anywhere as good. Up Chipstead Way the bike (about 211 kilos with the 13.7-litre tank brimmed) was bouncing all over the place. But the motor was much smoother, if lacking the NC’s punchbag-thumping torque, and the light clutch and gearbox as unintrusive as they get.

reint-redLooks-wise, the orange tank with an RE badge and liberal chrome/alloy elsewhere doesn’t do it for me. I’ll take the more recently available batch of pinstriped and painted tanks, especially the black and red with added noire (left). And those bars look like something off my old TS185. One journalist reviewer parroted how the 650s go through no less than a ‘1007-point post-assembly inspection’ to make sure everything is absolutely in order and aligned. Maybe it’s just me, but you’d think they could take a couple of minutes to align the handlebar brace correctly (below). Luckily other bars are available and Triumph twin specialists, TEC have produced a range of 650 accessories, some useful, others just cosmetic but including shocks for just £150.

You’re going to enjoy this.‘ said the bloke at the bike shop as he handed me the keys. It should have been my type of machine but, unlike my Himalayan, I was disappointed to find myself under-awed by the Interceptor. Less quiet pipes may help but it feels like they’ve erased much of the character from the twin and reminds me yet again what a great thing Yamaha’s CP2 is – just the right blend of torque, sound and mutted throbbing – but never any harsh vibration. My XSR Scrambler could be a Feel Good Retro contender too.
These days there’s so much good stuff out there that, along with your wallet and looks, all you’ve left to help you decide is your gut instinct. I look forward to seeing how the 650 Scrambler turns out; it might be worth a second look.

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Eeesh! Sort out that crossbar brace!

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Chunky footrest mounts stick out a bit and, as TEC observed, on the left aren’t squared up.

Lots of sump clearance for protection, though header undersides might get a beating.

A classic mid-Seventies rear end.

Easy-to-adjust shocks got a bit bouncy. Only 3.5″ of travel too, but easily lengthened, with about 10mm of fork-top protruding too.

Tools and battery behind a keyed sidepanel. Just off camera top left is a knob to release the seat (I read later).

Ultrabasic clocks true to the era: odo or trip + fuel gauge.

Plastic indicators on rubber stalks and a headlamp right off my ’78 Bonnie.

Big oil cooler, plus double-skinned pipes stops them turning blue.

One big front disc does the job, with an ABS safety net.

Some pre-unit ‘homaging’ going on here. But at least no faux carb bodies.

Not much plastic at all. Honest bare metal castings with nothing to hide.

Get yer motor runnin’. Head out on the highway. Interceptor overlanding could be fun.

 

 

 

 

Quick ride: AJP PR7 review

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Updated Summer 2020
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I took a short road blat on an AJP PR7 at the Overland show in August and must say, I was impressed. Like many, I’ve been aware of these bikes for a couple of years but it looks like 2019 was the year they officially hit the shops in the UK.

It looks exceptionally well put together and finished, exuding an air of toughness, quality and design integrity which I found lacking in the similar SWM SuperDual 650X I also tried (same red top, six-speed, ex-Husky TE630 motor). However, the ~184-kilo SWM (below) costs £1500 less so it’s still a contender.

ajpp

The Samsung tablet idea could be interesting. It wasn’t hooked up online but I think the idea is you plug in your Garmin navigator to display big via the screen – or it has built-in GPS and you load maps on it, plus it must hook up with mobile signals to run online maps. There’s a USB or two on there too. The main dash pod looks like a clone of a Trail Tech Voyager, a bit small and fiddly but some of that info will display on the screen.

The 600-cc engine has loads of smooth power for the claimed 48hp (some say 58; which must be the fierce  ’60-hp’ version), but it and the gearbox were much less harsh than I expected. I got up to 60 before I realised I was still in 4th (been riding an auto lately) and I briefly saw 80 in top where I noted the screen worked very well.  By comparison, the thick but too steeply raked 650X screen (below) felt like a wind hose.

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Though it’s 920mm high and narrow, I also preferred the flat seat to the stepped one Superdual X, even if it was 30mm lower. Amazingly, I can’t say vibration was at all intrusive on either bike, but then it did all pass by in a bit of a blur.

The PR7 feels light too for the claimed 165kg wet (again, been riding a 235-kilo NC)The fuel filler is now in a more conventional position compared to the 250 AJPs, but the 17-litre tank remains low and out of the way under the seat, like 650 and 800 BMWs (and an NC, as it happens).

ajp3

With only 1.8 litres of oil in the engine, service intervals are 5000km (5500 on the SWM) which include valve checks (same as a Himalayan), but as you can see on the right (click to enlarge) a few people have already done long trans-continental trips on PR7s.

ajjjp

Price is a hefty £8500 (alongside the SuperDual’s £7k). It’s the same as an XT700, true, but this bike would be a whole lot more fun and much easier to ride in the desert or Far Eastern Russia, for example. I wonder if it will be as amazingly economical as the 690/701s because I suspect part of the engine’s smoothness is down to rich running, but I’m told it’s in the 20-25kpl range. Consider it an alternative to the two Austrian bikes which take more to be adventure-travel ready. It sure looks better.

In November I came across Belgian eric in Morocco who did one of my tours a few years back and was now back on his year-old PR7 with about 20,000km. he mentioned a fuel-pump or filter meltdown in the Pyrenees one time when he ran low. Mpg was no so good – about 20kpl or 330km to a tank. he needed a Rotopax. His Samsung tablet did not agree with the rain. But other than that he was very happy with it.

Quick ride: Fantic 500 Caballero Scrambler review

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See also: Chinese travel bikes
FTRally
fantold

Fantic is another revived Italian brand who’ve lately produced a trio of retro-styled Caballero singles: the Dirt Track, Scrambler (above) and taller Rally (left) in 125-, 250 and 500cc variants. Fantic also produce skinny, dirt competition bikes (plus MTBs and eBikes in the US), but with the nine Cabs, they clearly believe that capitalising on the current retro fashion – based rather thinly on their 1980s trials and dirt-racing legacy – is a way forward. Good luck to them; just as long as they don’t revive that hideous two-stroke 125 chopper.

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The 500s use Zongshen’s NC450 449-cc engine, tuned, we’re told, to Fantic’s specs. Along with Shineray, Zongshen is one of China’s leading moto manufacturers who don’t just pump out 125s and 250s, and have their eyes on bigger capacities still.
With the DR-Z400 unsold in the UK for over a decade, the disappointment of last year’s Honda 450L and my recent Himalayan filling a different niche, I wondered if the Zongshen motor might be the missing link between 250 trail bikes and 500+ twins?

The 4-valve SOHC water-cooled NC450 isn’t yet another clone based on a late-80s XBR Honda motor as found in the old WKs, the Mash and many other Chinese 400-cc bikes (under various brands) including the now-discounted SWMs 440s. The NCs are a cut above that and in 2017 Zongshen entered five NC-engined bikes in the Dakar. All DNF’d, but mostly due to crashes.
No surprise then that the compact six-speed NC engine looks more like the 450R in the CRF450L. Could this be a travel-friendly Goldilocks motor CCM should have used in their GP450 (had it been around), and with more realistic service intervals than Honda’s 450L? A quick spin on the Fantic Caballero Scrambler might provide answers.

• Oil capacity: 1.6L
• Oil and filter change intervals: 5000km/3000 miles
• Valve check inter
vals:5000km/3000 miles
• Alternator output: 300w
• Power / torque: 40hp @ 7500rpm / 43Nm @ 6000rpm
Source
Zong450
ZRX4-2019-2In the US, CSC directly import the Zongshen RX4 (right) which uses Zongshen’s NC450. It sells for $6000 but like many Chinese bikes, with prices now exceeding what we’ll take a chance on blindly, manufacturers seek to add value with a lot of clutter extras and bulked-up bodywork which with the RX4 whacks the weight up to over 200 kilos, more than a stock CB500X. More here
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cabspecs

Going for around £6400 new, my Fantic Scrambler had under 600 miles on the clock and riding out of Horley, at low rpm felt a bit cold-blooded, with hesitant fuelling spitting pops and bangs out of the pipe. This wasn’t a softly tuned, rattley old plodder like my recent Enfield Himalayan.
I realised: OK, so this is how it’s going to be. The Scrambler 500 likes to be gunned and the noises spitting out of the pipe are part of its character. What a shame then that I was stuck among the leafy, 40-50mph-limited byways of Sussex and Kent, with vans pulling out of driveways, tractors flinging crap in all directions crap and hatchback mums tootling about on errands.

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Providing you were a few thousand revs above idle, the motor responded instantly to the heavily sprung throttle and the snicky gearbox and taught drive train drove the bike forward. The fat-profile 17/19-inch Pirelli Scorpion Rally STRs stayed well inside their comfort zone while 150-mm of travel on the 41-mm USD forks occasionally thudded over sunken manhole covers. The twin canned Arrow pipe managed to hit just the right balance between obnoxious din and an over-muffled parp. But high pipes need intricate routing to avoid both cooking and dislodging the right leg. The burning sensation at my right ankle soon cleared once the thermostat opened but stood up, the panel pushed the shin out like a Triumph Scrambler. Looking underneath, there’s room to route it low with chassis rails to take a sump guard.
The
Bybre brakes worked as well as they looked, with little pressure needed to haul on the 320mm ø front disc. A quick stab at the back proving the ABS works like it should.

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The Caballeros are said to weigh about 160kg with ~12-litre tanks brimmed and the minimal nature extends to the switchgear and a tiny speedo. I must admit I missed a gear-position indicator – there you go, I’ve come out and said it! – but also the not-working (or disabled?) rev counter. It’s integrated a little too cleverly into the periphery of the dial, overlapping the fuel and battery level indicators. Blundering about with the display scrolling came up with trip meters and maybe remaining fuel range and battery charge (again). Even stood still it was hard to tell, but there must be a way to adjust the clock and hopefully flip to kph. Also, the unit looked set a couple degrees off in the housing.

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I pulled over onto a village green for a closer look at the Scrambler. It’s a good-looking machine and the black, all-19-inch, black, Flat Track version (below) is even better (though I might spec the Scrambler’s fatter seat). Big chunks of CNC machined alloy were bolted to the black Cro-Mo frame, the brake pedal tip is replaceable and the gear shifter folds in. I like the rectangular route of the long header with integrated catalyser; a clever way of extending the pipe (long pipes = better torque). It mirrors the big radiator above, capped with a header tank that’s not just tacked on the side for once.

FMCabFT
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There’s a feeling of solidness which matches the ride, only spoiled by the odd flaw like the oil filler cap right under the scalding header (right), the pillion footrest under the bulging sidepanel /exhaust guard, and some scruffy wiring on the left side of the engine (left).

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At the bars the ABS is intuitively disabled with a button, but the non-self-cancelling indicator rocker switch took a bit of getting used to, and the high/low beam switch is not one I’ve seen before and might be tricky to flip quickly at night. While doing that it’ll also be interesting to see how that multi-bulb LED headlamp lights up the night. On the back, the tail light must be the legal minimum size, as is the front fender. Get over it; that’s the look! The top of the plastic tank cover has an inset panel and strap slots which I’m guessing is there to evoke the enduro scorecard holder from a 1970s Cab’, but will hold a BLT just as well.

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It was time to head back to Horley, only now with a little more gusto. I’d already decided that in this state of tune, Fantic’s take on the NC450 was a bit too fruity to make an agreeable long-range travel bike. I’d trade a bit less top-end surge for some low-end grunt, plus cleaner fuelling. It reminded me of a hot-cam’ed TT500 with an over-sized slider carb which all only works towards WFO.
But for the moment, let’s just enjoy squirting the Scrambler from bend to bend, van to van and 30-mph-village to Kentish village. Out on Britain’s lonely moorland roads the Scrambler or the Tracker would be a blast. I got up to nearly 80 and the bike and engine still felt as solid as a bell and with more to give. Retuned and in a less Spartan, low-pipe configuration like the Him, it might just plug the hole for a light, dirt able travel bike which Honda’s 450L failed to do.

Many thanks to T. Northeast in Horley for the test ride.

Quick Ride: Honda NC750X DCT review

A couple of weeks after I wrote this in 2019 I bought one
NC750 - 9

I know it’s not fashionable in adventureworld but I do believe the Honda NC750X DCT (…XD) would make a great travel bike. We’re assured the NC is nothing more than a sensible commuter bike, a modern-day Benly combining a high-economy, low-output motor, but with neo-adventurish looks and a capacious ‘tankbox’. NC = ‘No Character’ say some wags, but that has as much currency as ‘TDM = tedium’. Apart from basic suspension, a lot of what the NC-XD has got would make sense on a long ride, including occasional gravel roading:

  • Tubeless wheels75018dctspex
  • Low seat height and CoG for easy low-speed maneuvering, despite the weight
  • Very economical
  • Low-compression motor for low-octane fuel
  • Decent ground clearance
  • Good weather protection
  • 420W alternator
  • New or used; they’re half the price of an Africa Twin
NC750 - 11

And then you have the wonderful DCT auto gearbox. I very rarely use the W-word but DCT is the best thing since spam fritters. I first tried it a couple of years ago on the Africa Twin and got it straight away, and again on the NC-engined X-ADV X-cooter. I have well and truly had enough of clutches and gear changing, despite the advent of quickshifters. With a manual override on the left bar, DCT really is the best of all worlds and has been further refined on the latest models (read below) to possibly make it a little more effective on off-road slopes.

The 2018 DCT used in the NC750 models features “Adaptive Clutch dctctCapability Control” that manages the amount of clutch torque transmitted. This adds a natural ‘feathered’ clutch feel when opening or shutting off the throttle for a smoother ride. Further refinements include fast operation of the N-D switch on turning on the ignition and a control system in AT mode for gauging the angle of ascent or descent and adapting shift pattern accordingly.
750xDCT
NC750 - 15

At the show where I tried it, the NC sat alongside the updated CB500X with more travel and a 19-er front end, and the odd X-ADV which, try as I might to like left-field ideas, I didn’t quite get as a genuine all-roader – well not at the price they want for it.

NC750 - 8

We set off for an escorted 45-minute backroad circuit with riders on Gold Wings the size of torpedoes, 500Xs and ATs. The DCT quickly came back to me: the start in neutral, shift with right thumb into Drive or shift again for Sport, then twist and off you go. Sport sees it hold on to higher revs before changing up, and there are three levels in S (didn’t get that deep). For manual, flick back a lever with your right index finger and it will stay in gear. To change up and down, use thumb/forefinger paddle controls on the left bar, just like an MTB. Manual gives you more control and engine breaking which you may appreciate on a fast descent. Flick back into auto any time, on the move or sat still.
Pulling away, the low-rpm grunt is quite impressive; the benefit of an engine tuned for torque before power. Just as I recall on the AT, it seems to shift up and down at just the right moment; you can leave your left hand and foot at home.

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Having tried the brilliant new XT700 a couple of hours earlier, the engine character was similar, if not more torquey off the line. There’s 25% less power than the XT7 but the same max torque of 68Nm – except it’s delivered some 2000 rpm lower on the NC. Because you can’t park in gear, just like my late 1970s Dream 400 AT (right), the left bar has an ugly parking brake clamp if you leave the bike on a slope.

But the NCs suspension and roadholding was nowhere as good as the Yamaha. Two inches less travel must have a lot to do with it which at least contributes to a saddle height of just 830mm (32.7″). I can’t quite put my finger on it; in bends it stood up a little on the rebound – inadequate damping perhaps? It didn’t feel half as planted as the XT, despite the low CoG. I hit all the manhole covers I could to give it a work-out while noticing the bloke on the CB500X in front was carefully avoiding them. So suspension on the 2019 CB-Xs is no better.

nc-shock

Looking at the stock NC shock (left), it’s not something you’d care to show anyone on a first date. Better shocks must be available and fork improvements too. It’s easier and less complicated to fix suspension than a motor, but is it as easy as that? I went through this all before and decided, no.

The single front brake was especially good considering the 230-kilo mass; goes to show one big diametre rotor can be enough. The original NC 700 had linked brakes like 1970s Guzzis (and maybe still). The brake pedal operated front and rear brakes at a given ratio, and the brake lever brought more pressure on the front. As with DCT, it frees up the hands. I loved it on a V50 Guzzi I rode years ago, but it seems there is only so much control you can remove from riders’ cold dead hands before they rebel. Riders claim they prefer conventional separate brakes because they can back the 750 into dirt bends with the rear locked or skidding… yeah, right. Switchable linked brakes, like switchable ABS would suit me,  but maybe that’s too complicated.

On the road in auto, it’s great to have your left limbs liberated into redundancy. Taking pictures is easy, so is eating, waving or any number of other distractions. Sure, an emergency stop is best made with both hands on the bars, but these days we have ABS to modulate our clumsiness. And while it’s certainly heavy, the similar BMW 700GS and even my heavy-for-what-it-was Himalayan both proved in Morocco that because of the low-set weight, both are better than you’d expect for my level of gravel roading biking.


750xdiffs
  • The 750 from 2014. A big improvement over the original 700s (suspension, DCT, counterbalancer, gearing, unlinked brakes and ABS, dashboard, seat
  • From 2016: fatter silencer, slightly bigger ‘tankbox‘, new ‘tank’ sides (usually silver), LED lights, 3 sport modes, a bit more poke,  better suspension.
  • From 2018: new dash, 2-level traction control, higher rpm limit.

This American Honda dealer (who broke the 450L story last year) has unusually comprehensive blurb on the 2018 model. There also an NC Wiki.

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They’ve just announced the 1100-cc Africa Twin, which some hope might also result in a smaller 750 spin-off. Otherwise, I don’t think customers would buy a properly adventurised version of the NC – its image is too ingrained and the weight and power would be perceived as all wrong.

A DIY job could include higher-profile knobblies to gain some clearance and dirt grip, better suspension to maintain it, add a bashplate and, fingers crossed, good to go is what you are.

Fuel access under the back seat could be a pain, and so might be seat comfort (early NC seats were bad). I’d probably end up with a bike not much better than my XSR, but that worked well enough. Both motors have the desirable 270-° crank timing to provide a V-twin throb without the bulk.

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I’m tempted to try one and get to grips with the DCT to see if the novelty wears off in the face of the weight and modest horsepower. What really holds me back is the go-anywhere agility of a trail bike. I’d like to see DCT in a CB500X (along with a 270° crank). It’s safe to say that won’t be happening.

New Adventure Twins for 2019

TW-BMW_F 750 GSWe’ve been expecting them for ages, but the recent announcement of a slew of what’s now called mid-sized adventure bikes for 2019 is still exciting. You’ll find a lot more on these bikes all over the web, but for the moment, here they all are on one page – with pictures. Here we have a bunch of functional, travel-friendly machines without gargantuan weights, ridiculous levels of horsepower or mind-boggling ‘because-we-can’ complexity.
Such flagships, exemplified by the latest R1250GS, will always be popular. BMW’s pre-eminent adventure tank is doubtless great to ride, but is ever less likely to be used by the real-world travellers, if for no other reason than the cost of one new could fund a lap of the planet.

Calls for lighter, simpler, smaller, cheaper and lower have been partly answered. Bikes not only able to take on epic, all-road global adventures which, if we’re honest, few of us can undertake more than once a lifetime, but which are also fun, do-it-all rides – something ‘adventure bikes’xt6-86 (like MTBs before them) have come to symbolise. It may all be a shallow, aspirational, SUV-like lifestyle trend but, just like the original Dakar clones: the 800G/S and XT600Z – it also happens to produce great machines for genuine overlanding.
Given that these new bikes must take years to develop, it was probably the manufacturers’ plan all along: offer the eye-catching OTT adv behemoths and once the ‘yes, but…’ backlash sets in, dish out the less flashy but still highly capable machines and capitalise on them.

tonyThe bikes listed here are all parallel twins, an engine configuration which I’ve long believed is ideal for motorcycles: it’s not long like a longitudinal V-twin, it’s not wide like a boxer or a transverse multi; it need not be top-heavy like a triple but it won’t vibrate like larger singles. A parallel twin of well under a litre is all the engine a bike needs in terms of torque, economy, weight plus dealing with motorways, hills, elevation and payloads – and yes, even that intangible quality: character: My first twin was a ’78 Bonneville and my most recent has been the 700GS rental I’m currently riding in Morocco. Both were and are satisfying machines for my sort of riding.

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The current trend for a 270 degree firing order produces the pleasing off-beat throb of a Guzzi or Ducati with the ‘cross plane’ idea improving torque and smoothness
(even more once you add a balancer or two). It works because one piston is 2bikesswinging through its mid-stroke when the other stops dead, and was probably cooked up in a Black Country woodshed in 1905. Yamaha’s second-generation TDM was the first modern bike I know of to use this configuration. Now, just about all the bikes below as well as Royal Enfield’s new 650 roadsters and any other parallel twin you care to mention uses this ‘have-your-cake-and-eat-it’ offset.

So to recap: for the moment this under-represented selection of do-it-all adv P-twins in the 500-1000cc range include Honda’s CRF1000L Africa Twin, their CB500X and, dare I add the NC750X? OK, no I can’t. Plus BM’s old 700/800GS and the latest 850s mentioned below plus Suzuki’s ageing 650 V-Strom. I suppose you might add Ducati’s Desert Sled currently being overlanded by young Brit named Henry, although Triumph’s Scrambler and a Versys 650 would be pushing it. There’s a Benelli TRK too – can’t help thinking I’ve missed some. But anyway, by this time next year that list will double. The future looks bright – we’re gonna have twins.


BMW F750 and F850GS

f750GSIn Europe BMW are already selling the all-new 853cc parallel twins replacing the old F700 and 800GS. Having spent a couple of weeks on Moroccan trails pushing a rentaltw-700 700GS rental past 110,000kms, I can vouch that this under-rated ‘beginner’s’ bike (tubeless alloys and 19-inch front) would make a great travel machine. More about that ride here.
The new F750GS and F850GS (same 853cc engine, different cams and ECU) have all had good reviews, though there was a recall on a batch of the Chinese-built engines due to a dodgy oil pump drive, but it’s said none of this bikes were sold in the UK. Even then, it’s hard to believe people are still saying ‘you’ll never get me buying a Chinese bike!’ even though BMW has been successfully using the Loncin engine assembly plant for the X- and GS 650s since 2005. Bikes are assembled in Germany.
One thing I really noticed on the old 700 was the low centre of gravity, helped by having the battery right near the headstock, the airbox where the tank usually is and the actual tank below the seat, like the 650 Xbikes
or a Honda NC. Combined with the low seat and great suspension, it made a real difference in the dirt. The new 850s carry the fuel conventionally, we’re told to improved front/rear balance, but of course it could just be price- and assembly related. Note how the new KTM below carries its fuel down low on the sides.
Screenshot-2018-11-05-15.31.39-750x482With the 19-inch front, lower stock seat, cheaper price and tubeless all round, I’d take the 750 over the 850.
Specs on the 750GS are: 76hp and 61 torques, an 813mm (32”) stock seat,  15-l tank, 224kg wet and still about 15% cheaper than the F850GS (94hp, 68 ft lbs, 860mm seat with two lower and two taller options), 15-l tank and 224kg wet – only a full jerrican less than a 1200). An 800/850GS comparison and my 2019 750GS review.

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YAMAHA XT700 TENERE

t7renderTrying to emulate Honda’s well-managed release of info of their new Africa Twin a couple of years back, Yamaha’s drawn-out feed on the new 700 Tenere feels less successful. It’s taken too long but it’s here it finally is – nearly. To look at it’s pretty much the same bike we saw a year ago.
Motor is the xt7006torquey 72hp/50 ft-lb 689cc CP2 unit I liked so much in my XSR700 and the MT-07. In a proper trail bike chassis, I’d say that puts the 700 Tenere at an instant advantage. People are already decrying the 16-litre tank, but haven’t they noticed that efi is 20% more efficient than carb and fuel stations have proliferated around the world as vehicle ownership booms? You don’t really need 20-litre plus tanks any more, and you rarely did anyway. If the 700 sips fuel at the same average of 73mpg of my XSR, the range will be good for up to 370 clicks. Nearly the 400-km ideal for a travel bike.
xt7003The key figure of weight is tententenstill unknown but some estimate it at 205kg wet which is as good as can be expected considering the old 660Z single was officially a kilo more. By comparison the KTM 790 Adventure is 189 dry, so will top out at about the same – and any KTM is always lighter than anything else from Europe or Asia. And BYO oxygen as the commendably flat seat still sits at 880mm or 34.6 inches. Keeping it Yamaha-Tenere-700-specs-c-768x512at around that level is adjustable suspension: a 43mm USD forks and one of my favourite gadgets: a shock with a preload adjustment knob.
The Tenere singles were never sold officially in North America much until the hefty XTZ1200Z Super Tenere (also 270°) got imported. But telling them they’re not getting a Japan-made XT700 until late 2020, while Europe gets French-built XT7s in 2019 won’t win many US buyers. But here there and everywhere, the latest incarnation of Yamaha’s iconic Tenere is sure to be a hit in a way the XT1200Z never was.

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HONDA CB500X

2019-honda-cb500xxjpg.pngThe only people who might not be thrilled by the announcement of Honda’s revamped 2019 CB500X are Northants engineering firm, Rally Raid.
For the last few years one of the most popular pages on this website has been the CB500X Rally Raid prototype I ran in 2015 – a 500X including a bigger front wheel, tubeless spoke rims, more and better suspension travel plus engine protection. Everything else about the bike, including the very economical if rather bland, cbsellxnon-270° motor, was Honda-perfect so for 2019 they have introduced CB500x19-dahsome of Rally Raid’s inspired mods. Up front you now get a road-and-trail optimised 19-inch front wheel and a little more suspension travel all round. A narrower seat helps shorter persons touch down plus there are some styling changes or an already great-looking bike, evoking the NC750s, plus a snazzy LCD dash, LED lights and a smidge more power. The new 500X will be the bike Honda should have made in the first place and if you want, RR will doubtless offer products to refine your machine for the rough road. Kerb weight is a claimed 197kg (mine was 195kg wet). The 2019 500X could be a bargain out-of-the-crate travel bike. If it had come with a two-seventy crank, I may well have kept mine.

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KTM 790 ADVENTURE & ADVENTURE R

Specs are in for KTM’s new 790 Adventure based on the 790 Duke which was Bike mag’s Bike of the Year. You get 95hp, 65 ft lbs, a breathless 880mm/34-inch seat height on the R, 850mm on the non-R, and a dry weight of 189kg plus 20-litre tanks giving a range of 450km at 22kpl or 52mpg. It bet I could get 30% more out of it at a steady 59mph!
And although they don’t make it clear tubeless spokes wheels are stock on both models. Hoo-bloody-ray. You can spec DID tubed rims, but why you’d do that is anyone’s guess. Very low-pressure running like sand dunes, perhaps? On a 200-kilo bike? Good luck with that,
tw-KTM-791Also not obvious are the ingenious low-slung pannier tanks either side of the engine where they also act as bash plate and crash bars. You can be pretty sure that plastic will be thick and repairable. With fuel pumps the norm with efi, it’s surprising more bikes don’t do this because, as mentioned above, it can make a real difference to handling off-road as well as picking a bike up with full tanks. Tanked up you’re over the 200-kilo mark – a vague benchmark for a functional, all-terrain travel bike. But the sort of minority who’ll be riding the KTM anywhere near its limit will take that all in their stride.
The rest of us will just appreciate the quality stock suspension. The 20% more expensive R model gets fully adjustable 48mm Ø WP-USDs (5mm fatter than the regular model) and a WP PDS shock. It all gives about 40mm (1.5″) more travel than the base model. Service intervals are a very generous 15,000km. Stick that in your 450L or Himalayan  and smoke it.


In skilled hands the Adventure will fly over the dirt, but for you and me it does almost seem a waste spec’ing all that quality WP when most won’t be able to use it for long before stopping for a breather. Still, it’s good to know it’s out there, it looks flash and the low tanks are the way things should go. We all gave up on roadside spark plug access years ago, didn’t we?
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MOTO GUZZI V85 TT2018-Moto-Guzzi-V85c-1024x885

The very first story I had published in the early 80s was featured alongside a plucky woman who rode a Guzzi Le Mans across Africa.
But the fact is, Italian bikes have never been big in on the travel scene; probably down to perceptions of reliability despite characterful good looks. Guzzi’s latest take on the adventure look is unlikely to 2019-moto-guzzi-v85-tt-first-look-4change that even if the blurb you’ll find drones on about former Dakar contenders. Still, the V85 TT’s supposedly new 80-hp engine could be a step forward. Specs are lean for the moment, but last year’s concept has become a 2019 showroom hit. Nice paintwork.

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NORTON ATLAS RANGER 650

Atlas ranger 3Announced just ahead of the forthcoming Motorcycle Live Show in the UK, Norton’s parallel twin relieves the name from its Sixties twin which, iirc, was not one of their iconic models. The looks of the off-roady Ranger version are still more street scrambler than adv, with impractical hipster touches like suede on the seat. So it’s not really a contender as a travel bike for the trail to Kathmandu, Timbuktu or Macchu Pichu, but like the Guzzi, having ‘Norton’ on the tank sure looks cool and will kick off rosy-spec’d roadside chats with old timers.
Power is claimed at 84hp at 11,000 rpm which if true, makes it even less suited to docile overlanding, but the dry weight is 178kg so well under 200kg wet ought to be possible. Seat on the Ranger is a tall 867mm (34″) and the tank holds 15 litres.
They expect to deliver it by the end of 2019 – hopefully that will be less of the drama than the earlier Commando models of a few years back. Good luck to Norton.

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