Tested: Mosko Moto Surveyor softshell jacket review

See also:
Adventure Spec Linesman
Mosko Moto

It’s hot

In a line
Lightweight and stylish, warm-weather (or high output) jacket.

€238 for an XL (remember: US ‘XL’ like this = XXL in European sizes/brands)

Where tested
Three weeks in Morocco in March/April

802g (1.76 lbs).

What they say
When temperatures drop sometimes a hardshell is too much and a jersey doesn’t quite cut it. The Surveyor Jacket fills that gap. Wind resistant and highly breathable, the Surveyor Jacket is built for high-output riding in cooler temps.
Made from durable 4-way stretch Cordura® for increased abrasion and snag resistance with enhanced comfort and mobility on the bike. Cut for a close-to-body over-armor fit, the Surveyor Jacket can be worn with or without armor making it a solid choice on the trail and at camp.
The Surveyor Jacket is right at home in the woods on long rides as the days grow shorter or chasing a receding snow line as the season gets underway. DWR water protection and wind resistance keep you comfortable in mild weather.
Two oversized mesh-lined hand pockets double as vents with flow-through venting. With one external and one internal chest pocket to keep essentials close at hand. Inspired by road and mountain biking bibs, the lumbar game pocket features three internal pockets for on-body storage. These pockets sit low enough to be compatible with our Wildcat Backpacks. Load them up for added storage on big days or ditch the pack and pair with a Reckless 10L.

Surveyor jacket supplied free for review by Mosko Moto


• Lightweight spandex fabric feels barely noticeable
• Looks good in Woodland green plus many nice touches
• Vertical back vents double up as a game pocket
• Will probably hold back a rain shower or two
• Wouldn’t look out of place on other outdoor activities like MTB-ing


• You’ll need separate armour if you expect to crash
• Would like an Aerostich-style big Napoleon pocket in or outside
• Miss some mesh drop pockets inside, too
• My jacket’s body colour doesn’t match online imagery (but is fine)

With temperatures rising up to the low 30s once over the Atlas, I decided my chunky, membrane Mosko Basilisk would be too warm and heavy for my spring tours, even with some showers forecast on the Marrakech side of the mountains. If it did rain it would be pleasant warm rain. Responding to my needs, Mosko sent me their softshell Surveyor to review. They say it’s built for high-output riding in cooler temps – but out here we’re mostly doing low output riding in warmer temps.

I know people go on about layering like it’s rocket science, and southern Morocco’s deserts and mountains may require that, but I prefer to just dress for the day and deal with a bit of temperature variation with the front zip, if needed. Give it an hour and things will change.
Underneath, most days I wore a long-sleeved Klim Aggressor base layer to keep the inside of the Surveyor clean, and some cooler days added an REI fleece gilet – one of my all-time outdoorsing favourites.

It was notable that when the other riders in various outfits de-jacketed, many were sweaty while I was as balmy and dry as a deodorant advert and never clammy or chilled. The thin and stretchy four-way Cordura Spandex fabric doesn’t look very breathable and the water-repelling DWR coating can’t help, but I never got over-hot riding up to the low 30s. I didn’t get rained on but wonder if the Surveyor would hold back a light shower quite well, and certainly dry off quickly afterwards.
The light olive green body has a surface texture and a slightly lower gsm rating than the smoother, darker green shoulders and arms fabric, a polyester/Cordura mix that’s presumably more resistant to abrasion, though neither feel as tough as regular jacket Cordura. Both have a bit of Spandex and the cut is bulky to accommodate separate armour which I don’t wear. Like the similar Adventure Spec Linesman, crashing hard in a softshell like this without armour will be painful.

I like the ‘Woodland’ colour scheme contrasted with orange Mosko Moto logos, though as you can see my jacket’s body was not sandy tan and a tad more green all round than official Mosko imagery. As it happens, I see now my Basilisk was the same. Don’t know if my colours were an experimental one off but light colours absorb less heat radiation. Inside a partial orange mesh lining also houses the pockets.
Not claiming to be waterproof, all zips flowed smoothly. I find zips get jammy in desert dust, but a quick wipe with a wet rag sorts that out. Fit adjustments add up to a pair of side cinch cords along the hem and velcro tabs at the cuffs. I’d have liked another inch in cuff circumference so the sleeves could be pushed up, Miami Vice style, when doing messy jobs.

Pockets and venting
Though I usually end up wearing a daypack most of the time, I do like a jacket with pockets for stuff you want to have on you at all times. Many times I forget my backpack at roadside stops and on this trip I ditched the pack to allow the jacket to vent better. I kept a bottle of water in the tank bag.

The Surveyor has two vertical side pockets which inside are about a foot in height so will take a big paper map or foot-long Subway. Running these pockets open will aid through-venting but of course means anything inside is not so secure. I kept them closed.
The chest pocket is bigger than the zip suggests – I kept my camera here for quick access. Inside the jacket is a small zipped pocket that’ll take a phone and a passport. I’d have preferred this one to be an inch or so wider to securely stash a dirham-packed wallet which will stay put even if you forget to zip up. Zipper pulls were skimpy bits of knotted cord; I added some plastic pullers on the ends to make them easier to grab with gloves on.

Like the AS Linesman there’s a game pocket at the back: two vertical venting zips into the orange lining (left). The mesh lining has pouches sewn inside, like road cycling shirts, to stash an energy snack or similar. You could probably put a bladder in there and you can operate these rear vent zips with the jacket on. There are additional rear vents where a flap of the green shoulder fabric overlaps the body fabric below which might help a little more with airflow.

The second week-long tour I did was quite a lot warmer and where the Surveyor came into its own. Road riding up up to 100kph and trail riding at a third of that speed, the vents became useful. I am conscious that when it gets very warm, too much venting exacerbates water transpiration; ie you lose a lot more fluid than you would zipped up and which can see dehydration creep up on you. The Surveyor kept me comfortable and didn’t see me need much water through the day while reducing the feeling of wearing motorcycle clobber. You’d want another jacket for regular all-weather riding, but for somewhere like Morocco in springtime the Surveyor was just right.

Tested: Morocco with KTM 890 Adventure R

See also:
Africa Twin 1000

In a line:
It took a second, 1200-km week’s ride to like the 890R a bit more, despite the harsh ride at times. (BIke used to guide my Morocco Fly & Ride tours).

 • Tubeless tyres
• On the move feels light for claimed 210kg tanked up
• Recorded up 72mpg (60US; 25.5 kpl) = 500-km range
• Great stability thanks to 20-litre pannier tank
• Fully adjustable stock suspension
• Easily understandable menu
• Cable clutch modulated well
• Big footrests
• Brilliant brakes
• Solid build quality
Modes aplenty and cruise control too, + USB, GPS 12v sockets
• Riding under 5000rpm, vibration was OK
• Mitas E-07/Karoo 3 tyres worked fine, road and trail
• Good aftermarket protection on the tank

Up at 2500m (8000′)

 • Engine sometimes felt/sounded rough as an air-cooled single, especially on start up
• Hard seat
• Not much engine braking
Screen too low to work on the road
• No stock attachment points on rear subframe
• No preload adjustment knob on the shock
Fuel gauge and range reading erratic or vague
Suspension harsh over small bumps
Quickshifter present but not enabled
• Display supplementary data too small to read

On a desert highway

Looks-wise I don’t really get the KTM ‘alien insect’ thing; for me it all went wrong after the 640 Adventure and I marginally prefer today’s near identical Norden 901. But second time round in Morocco I got on with a 2021 890R a lot more.
Having ridden the 890 once already for a week, I set off for one last 1200-km tour lap on a huge BMW F800GS Trophy. Even with over 100,000 on the clock there was nothing much wrong with 800 and the engine delivery was creamy smooth (so much for 270° cranks…). But it didn’t feel right: ungainly, high seated and just a plain handful, even before I filled the underseat tank. Maybe it was just over-pressure tyres, but I was relieved when the cooling system burst a seal an hour or two into the ride (blocked thermostat?) and they brought up the same 890R I’d used a fortnight earlier that night.

Fyi this was only the second time I’ve ridden an 800GS, a hugely popular bike in its day. But I recall I wasn’t so impressed in northern Arizona over a decade ago. I’ll take the old tubeless ‘650’, ‘700’ or current ‘750GS’ every time. The rental shop got rid of the 850GSs after loads of problems.

Why no knob?

Normally I’m a bit blasé with what they rent me in Marrakech and both times was given the 890 out of the blue, knowing nothing about the bike. But second time I made sure the KTM’s tyres were down to 30 psi, I ditched my tail pack for a tank bag so I could set my own bag further back. Result: a better ride with proper room on the seat. I wasn’t able to access the KTM’s tools (if present) to soften the WP shock preload, but see now all it needed was a big Allen key, not some obscure 2-pin tool. Now I know.

An 890R owner on the last tour explained that from new, the bike’s ‘Tech Pack’ is activated for the first month and includes Quickshifter+, cruise control, ‘MSR’ (engine braking control, like the AT) and the ‘Rally’ mode. I’ve never encountered this sales upgrade ploy but it’s a good trick; if you decide you want to keep the Tech Pack after it expires that’ll be £769 please. Or, to quote a press release for the 2023 890″ ‘An innovative DEMO setting gifts the rider the chance to try the full gamut of optional Rider Aids for the first 1,500 km before deciding whether to purchase and keep them permanently.’

The 890R now makes 105hp, but I doubt I ever used more than half of that or exceeded 6000 rpm riding normally. It’s hard to see how 105hp could be useful on the dirt when combined with over 200 kilos. I got up to 70 mpg, 10% better than I managed to squeeze out of my AT but which was far less confidence inspiring off road.

After some 2400km over a couple of weeks, for me the best thing about the 890R was the stability road and trail, contributed by the low-slung 20-litre tank. But I think there’s more to it than just low tanks; there’s the light weight too and the seating position with feet and hands just right. I noticed an unadjustable steering damper too (loads of places offer aftermarket adjustable ones). Initially riding the loose switchbacks streaming across Sargho west was easier on the 890R than my AfTwin, but it was easier still a week later on a dinky 310GS. Then coming back on my better set-up 890R, it was a piece of cake, bar the odd slip from the worn front Karoo 3.

The 310’s seat is better than the plank hard 890 too, though standing up is more natural on the KTM as your knees squeeze the soft seat. The ill-formed 310 is hopeless in that respect. Another inch of bar height and I’d have been comfortable on the 890R, but they say there’s not enough slack in the cables for that.
The R’s small screen was too short to avoid helmet buffeting but worked rather too well in the unseasonal 30-°C heat we had for most of November. Standing up was the only way to get some airflow through my Mosko Moto jacket’s vents while also airing off the sore backside.

Feet on the crashbars; quite comfy

This bike has a quickshifter but I later realised it wasn’t faulty, just not enabled (like the cruise control and other ‘Tech Pack’ features). I recall the quickshifter worked amazingly well on a customer’s 790 a couple of years back, but on this 890, clutchless shifting worked surprisingly well most of the time; up was a little notchier and needed a dip of the throttle.

I fiddled a bit more with the engine settings second time – the menu is easy to use without RTFM, though I found the supplementary data too small to read easily on the move. I also found the fuel range was a vague ‘>190km’ instead of an actual figure, and as it emptied it had a habit of dropping by 30% when restarting the engine, then jumping up again. I was told many overly electronic modern bikes have this issue now; it’s not just a float in the tank anymore but calculated off your recent riding pace. On my last day’s ride I was certain that at up to 23kpl the tank’s 20 litres would easily do 400km to Marrakech, so trusted in my trip odometer and recent mpg readings rather than the flakey range reading.

Trip data too small to read easily on the move. Like a phone, surely they can offer bigger font sizes.

Full ‘Road’ power was nice but excessive for my needs; in southern Morocco there was little opportunity (or point) in exceeding 115kph for a few seconds. In the end I left it in ‘Off-Road’ mode (smoother power lower down?) with Road ABS on. The latter was especially effective and never an issue off-road; these days this whole ‘OMG ABS off-road!!’ is a red herring. ‘Off Road’ ABS disengages the back wheel so it can lock up (same as on the 310s); full ‘Road’ ABS worked on both wheels and was fine on the dirt. Now I’m not 16 anymore why would I want to lock up the back wheel? It certainly won’t be to kick off a power slide on some remote canyonside in the Anti Atlas

The bike came with a Mitas E07 on the back and a worn Karoo 3 on the front – both tubeless though the rims look normal. They felt secure enough on gravelly trails given the mass of the bike, and were fine on the hundreds of dry bends we swung through each day where the frequent spits of gravel moderated speeds and lean angles.

On faster rolling dirt tracks or deep road fords the suspension didn’t bottom out, but that just takes good preload and damping. On slow-speed irregularities the back chattered or kicked back violently. I dialled off the fork settings but it was the rear shock which needed less compression damping and maybe less preload too (there’s no preload knob, unlike the non-R 890). Dropping the tyres to 30psi certainly softened my second ride; another 5 psi off would have made it better still off road but things may have got a bit hot on the highway.

One thing I did miss hopping back on a 310GS after the first run were the KTM’s brilliant brakes, but other than that for what we do I’d settle on the lighter 310 every time. While less stable and with ordinary suspension, on loose switchbacks the little GS has less mass pushing your around.

With my bag shoved back, the KTM’s seat was more roomy but it’s still a plank. And my short day on the 800GS just underlined the KTM’s relatively rough engine (it sounded so bad we even checked the oil at one point).
All in all, the 890 was what I expected: an adventure bike which performs better off road than most of its 200-kilo+ class rivals. But with KTM’s shaky reputation for reliability (a previous rental had a clutch go in the middle of nowhere), for travelling I’d settle for less hardcore performance, smoother engines and plainer looks from Honda’s new 750 Transalp or Yamaha’s very popular XT700.

Long-term test from MCN

Tested: Mosko Moto 2021 Basilisk jacket

See also:
Adventure Spec Linesman
Adventure Spec Trail Waterproof Shell
Klim Overland
Aerostich Darien

Klim Traverse 2

Tested: Mosko Moto Basilisk 2021 jacket over a month in Morocco + wet winter’s weekend in UK

In a line: Smart looking, well vented with an eVent Expedition 3-layer membrane in a tough waterproof shell (since superseded by a newer model)

EU price: Was €475,20 (20% discount)

Weight: 1550g (verified)

Size tested: XL (me: 6ft 1in/186cm • 205lbs/93kg)


• Good combo or lightness and crash-ready ruggedness
• Tough Super Fabric® abrasive panels on outer arms and shoulders
• Sleeves are good and long
• Bicep vents work well (out in the breeze)
• Looks good in a pale olive green and black
• Vertical back vents work with a daypack


• Bulky sleeves obscure mirrors
• Would like an Aerostich-style big Napoleon pocket outside
Mesh-backed vents don’t open wide

What they say:
Refined for our third round of production, the [discontinued 2021 Mosko Moto] Basilisk is our waterproof/breathable enduro-touring kit, for long-distance, multi-day trips through primarily off-road terrain. It combines super-premium materials with clean lines and minimalist design. With an articulated fit for freedom of motion and easy layering, the Basilisk is designed to work with separate armor systems for superior protection and versatility. It packs smaller than a traditional ADV jacket, for stashing on your bike when things get hot.

Mosko have new Basilisks out for 2023 (right). Looks-wise, I prefer my more muted sage and black 2021. The new model has a front zip rain flap (good), additional vents on the forearms (OK) along with full length front torso vents. I can only see one exterior chest pocket. Other than the colour design, the rest seems similar.

By the time I got to actually use my 2021 Basilisk they were bringing out a new model (see above), but here are my impressions after a hot, dry month’s riding in southern Morocco.
When it comes to jackets I prefer a light but reliably waterproof shell like my old Klim Overland, their original Traverse and lighter Traverse II. 
Mosko call these trail-biking or enduro jackets to separate them from heavier high-speed touring coats, but the Basilisk comes with a reassuringly heavy-duty shell under which you can layer and armour up all the way to an electric vest like their Ecotherm.

Second opinion by Ian T

When: End Dec full day road/trail ride.
Where: Wiltshire and Somerset 
Ambient temp: 12 deg C
Weather: heavy rain most of the day, windy. 

Shape and fit
to allow movement on the bike and extra layers.
Kept the rain out for most of the day, with a similar performance to the Darien pants worn on the same trip, considering the soaking from puddles and passing cars on flooded roads.
Reasonably warm with merino t-shirt, heated base layer and thick merino pullover underneath.
Adjustability is good.

Could do with some more pockets. There were enough for keys, phone, wallet and spectacles but my Darien easily holds these as well as a balaclava, overgloves, travel wallet and visor de-mist.
Would it replace my Darien jacket? No, but maybe I’m stuck in my ways.

The coloured shell is ’70d x 160d’ nylon with two layers of polyester 600D Super Fabric with ceramic plating across the black sections outer arms and which all contributes to the Basilisk’s heavy duty feel without making it a heavy jacket. Colourwise, I like the sage green and black combo. Anything’s better than dreary all black, but I do miss a bit of reflectivity for road riding.
It’s the little things that set a jacket apart from a bin bag with sleeves. The cuffs have a chunky velcro closure. Inside the hem is cinchable with a toggle easily accessed on the front left edge. The collar has a synthetic suede liner and another cinch cord toggle at the back. There’s also an in-built ‘dirt skirt‘ you can join up with studs to seal off the jacket’s lower edge with help from a stretchy silicone band, keeping the core warm which maintaining the shell’s articulation. Other snug fitting adjustments include two big and easily adjusted velcro flaps on the sides to help haul the belly in.

To get the air flowing in the warmer conditions I experienced, the Basilisk has three pairs of mesh-backed vents: a set in the upper arms; another pair at chest height neatly in line with the zip pockets, and two exhaust vents at the back. In my experience this set up works best for through-flow to cool you off while keeping the jacket zipped up and wearing a daypack. But in overly warm southern Morocco the small screen on the 890R I rode most of the time reduced the airflow on the body. The vents’ mesh backing reduced the aperture too, so standing up was the only way to get some venting going unless I undid the main zip. Apart from a couple of chilly mornings in the mountains, I rode with all vents open all the time.

Pockets add up to two exterior vertical zip-ups above the hem (deep enough to be secure of left unzipped) and two small chest pockets inside. I miss a huge map-sized vertical zip exterior chest pocket, as on the Aerostich Darien and as pictured on the 2023 model.

All exterior zips are chunky YKK Aquaguards but once desert dust gets on them they get stiff to operate; probably the price of being water resistant. A daily wipe with a wet cloth would fix that, but the 2023’s rain flap will keep the dust off.
The Basilisk doesn’t include any pockets for armour. I’m with Mosko on this. If you’re serious about body armour (for my sort of riding, I’m not) then get one of those close-fitting strap-on MX body armour outfits which work best close to your body (ie: under the jacket).

Bulky sleeves…

If I’ve one complaint it’s that the sleeves are too bulky so the stiff shell obscures the mirrors’ rear view; I could easily get my legs down these sleeves! I spend a lot of time checking my mirrors on the occasions I’m leading a group, and pulling them in greatly improved rear visibility. Maybe there are XL riders with huge arms, but the simple solution for all would be a velcro cinch strap or two to draw the slack in, like Aerostich do on the Darien and Klim did on the old Overland.

I don’t have a bike in the UK right now but when I get to ride the Basilisk in the pouring rain I’ll update the review.

New Scramblers and Adventure Twins for 2023

Like many, it seems the bike manufacturers got busy during the Covid lull and there’s been a healthy surge of actual new Advs and Scramblers at Milan’s EICMA bike show this year. Sit back while I cast my opinions upon them for use as actual travel bikes.

Suzuki 800DE
Fighting it out with Kawasaki as the most dormant of the Japs in the Adv sector, Suzuki are set to continue with the aged 650/1050 V-Strom V-twins. But they’ve now followed well-established trends with a new 776-cc, 84-hp, 270°-crank V-Strom 800DE P-twin. It carries over the same beaky profile of the 650 Strom, but gets a 21-inch wheel and a bit more clearance. This all means it ought to be more of a genuine gravel roader than it’s old namesake, as well as having TFT, riding modes, TC, switchable rear ABS and all that jazz. Sadly, to save costs, wheels are tubed (but you can fix that).

The subframe unbolts but looks nice and chunky, and there’s nearly 9 inches of travel, the same in clearance, plus a pre-load adjustment knob (‘HPA’) on the shock. I wish the 890 Adv R I rode last week (report soon) had one of those. Seat height is said to be 33.7″ (855 mm) with a tank at 20 litres (5.3 US) which ought to be good for well over 400km at 25kpl (71 UK; 59 US). The windscreen is adjustable to three levels over a span of 1.8 inches and there’s a quickshifter too.
But yikes, the curb weight is claimed at 230kg (507lbs), about the same as my old AT although it’s often not so helpful to compare big-tanked Advs against similar machines with less capacity (see 890 Adv R comment below). According to Suzuki UK, it’s out in Spring 2023 for around £10,000.

Original 1987 Transalp XL600V

Honda Transalp 750
With the recent release of a 750 twin Hornet roadbike, a same-engined 750 Transalp did not come as a complete surprise. There’s been talk of a ‘mini-Africa’ Twin for years; some thought it might get the NC750 motor, but that’s not really in fitting with the AT or Transalp brand.

They’re all parroting the ‘legend reborn’ label as if the original Trannie dating from 1987 (above left) was anything special. I remember being invited on a test for Bike mag near muddy Dorking around that time and us all scoffing at the plastic alloy-coloured bashplate. Whatever next, fake carb bellmouths!? Little did we know it was a sign of things to come: the all conquering ‘appearance ≠ function’ adv phenomenon.

Nice looking, this new TA.

Some 35 years on and ten years after the last XL700V iteration got ditched, the new 750 Transalp looks like a serious proposition, with Honda’s usual attention to detail. Yes, it’s another 270° parallel twin; this one’s a 90-hp 755cc. And it manages that with only 11:1 compression against the 800DE’s 12.8:1. In the old days a lower comp ratio meant better running on poor fuel (less common these days, bar the US and Mongolia) as well as less heat, but with modern efi I’m not sure the former is so relevant now.
The tank is 16.9 litres (4.5 US) which will be good for nearly 400km and is the same as the Tenere XT700 which the TA will be measured against. But like the AT, there are riding modes and power modes and engine braking modes aplenty. The seat is 850mm (33.4″; + 1 inch lower option) with clearance at 210mm, and the front and rear suspension is in the 200/190mm range but with no HPA on the back. Shame. And again the 21/18 rims are tubed. Shame again. Expect an ‘Adventure Raid’ version in a year or two with a bigger tank, TL rims, bashplate, 800/850cc and so on.

Honda fans have finally been given a choice between a CB500X and a CRF1100L. The new XL750 look like it will be a hit for riders tiring of the litre-plus behemoths. Like the AT before it, the 750 Transalp manages to looks slim for its claimed 208 kilo (460lb) kerb weight, about the same as Yamaha’s XT700. With the new Suzuki 800, KTM’s 890, the new Aprilia Tuareg, the 850GS and a few others, there’s now a great range in sub-litre adventure bikes which are surely more than enough to get the job done on the overland.
But will the new TA carry the XT700’s top-heavy penalty? Riding an 890 Adventure R for a week (210kg wet), I quickly grew to appreciate the 20-litre, pannier tank’s stability while swinging around the gravelly bends of route MH23 in Morocco. Can’t say I felt the same on my AT tank a year earlier.

Honda CL500 Scrambler
“We developed the CL500 as a machine that truly allow its owners to stand out from the crowd, and as a form of self-expression. It can be used and enjoyed casually – without hesitation – by the young generation in their daily lives and is designed to become a joyful and integral part of a lifestyle. In standard form, the off-road street style has a visual charm unlike any other model in the Honda range, and can really inspire owners to take it further in any direction they wish.”

It may look uncomfortably similar to a CMX500 Rebel ‘mock-chop’ (as we used to call them in the 1980s), but I’ve got to say I like the look of the low saddled CL500 Scrambler, no doubt reviving the ‘legendary’ CL twins of the late 1960s.
It’s about time Honda did this with the well-proven and super economical 471-cc motor (which is not a characterful 270°, alas). The publicity aspires to the usual hipster/manbun crowd, but for my sort of riding these days (or indeed always) a low-saddled, super-economical motor that will sit at 80mph and deliver 80+mpg while managing gravel tracks, is all I want from a bike.

That’s me, that is

Tank is just 12 litres but helps with a kerb weight of 192kg. Wheels are the 17/19 tubeless alloys like the current 500X; a huge advantage to repairs on road or trail and one less thing to fix. I bet that huge silencer weighs a ton and someone is already making one that isn’t. Seat height – so often a restriction to potential owners – is low at 790mm, 10mm less than my Himalayan which suited me fine. Clearance is just 155mm with front and twin-shock rear travel at 150 and 145mm, with five preload settings out back. Doubtless neither end will be the finest quality suspension to bounce along a road, but what budget stock bike is? It’s easily fixed if you need it.

Heck, it’s that deserted warehouse again!

I suppose all that ‘lifestyle/self-expression’ bollocks must sell bikes – all bikes tbh – but with some suspension upgrades and protection, I can see the 500 Scrambler being a handy real world travel bike with an inclusive [women friendly] seat height, great economy, enough power for the roads of the Global South and of course, Honda’s reliability.
For me the key will be the peg-seat-bar relationship, in particular can you stand up in a natural stance for off roading or to air the backside (with help from raisers, if needed), like on a proper trail bike. My adapted XSR, nice though it was, did not really work in that way; let’s hope the CL500 lives up to its Scrambler name.

Fantic Caballero 700
Using their brilliant CP2 motor, it’s a shame Yamaha farmed this idea out to Fantic. I guess it’s too close in their model range to the XSR700 which I Caballero-ised a couple of years back.
Looks-wise it copies the 500 Cab’s profile I tried one time, with a big, single radial front disc, a14-litre tank and wheels at 17/19 but probably tubed. Unlike the XSR, it gets the usual engine and traction electronics, too. Not much info out there yet but they say it weighs 180kg which has got to be dry. It will cost €10,000 next spring. There’s an Enfield 650 Scrambler on the way too; the more the better I say. Scramblers are to do-it-alls of biking, which happen to look great, too.

Is this the future of UK trail biking?

Yes you have to pedal it (and probably transport it), but once you reach an age when you can’t tear around on MTBs like you used to, but recognise that you must ‘use it or lose it’ to maintain good health, an e-MTB can open up a huge range of trails in Britain’s wilder corners that you can’t legally ride on a trail bike.

“It had been a darn good work-out and revealed a whole new way of enjoying the UK countryside.”

When it wasn’t a job, motorcycling to me has long added up to travel and trail riding. Ideally a bit of both. Over 40 years ago it was the limited opportunities for trail biking in the UK (compared to say, the western US) that drove me to the Sahara in the first place. I can’t imagine UK green laning has got any better since.

It may not be Algeria, but mid-Wales is a much overlooked and sparsely populated area of hill farms and old droving roads. With John, a guide from the nearby Yamaha dirt school, in 2016 we spent a great couple of days out of Llanidloes riding backroads and trails, me on my WR250R. And way back in I981 I remember my first proper enduro south of there on a lame KLX250.

Traversing that region is the Glyndwr’s Way (right), a 134-mile National Trail no one’s ever heard of. It crosses Powys, Wales’ biggest county but with the population of Canterbury. Walking the 9-day route for a new guidebook back in March, I clocked loads of sections that would’ve been a blast on an MTB. So in August I came back on my new Merida hardtail. With new guidebooks like this it takes a couple of passes to get the detail right, and a pushbike speeds up the job and so saves a bit of money.


And a blast on my Merida 500 Trail I did have, even if it was no lighter than the Specialized Stumpjumper I bought way back in the mid-1980s.
Like most people, I’ve owned MTBs pretty much no-stop since that time. In 2007 we cycled the Karakoram from China to the Hindu Kush then came back the following year to do the Himalayas (video below). Compared to motos, cycle overlanding is so simple: fly a bike in (or buy used in China); no paperwork, simple mechanics and when you get puffed out at 5000 metres on the way to Tanglang La, sling it in the back of a passing lorry.

Do sheep dream of electric sheep?

But guess what! I’m not 45 any more and hardtailing the Glyndwr’s I soon remembered cycling up a rough trail consumes loads much more energy than simply walking. Soon I ended up feeling like a hung sheep.

Makes sense to me!

My time and money saving plan to cover two typical 15-mile walking days in one soon got stretched, not least because I have to stop constantly to annotate the maps (right). On the Glyndwr’s it’s around 15 miles or nothing to get to the next lodgings and with no public transport to speak of.

I ticked off a couple of the walk’s nine stages, then realised it wasn’t going to work so left the Merida at Nick Sanders‘ place near Machynlleth (left) where I was doing a moto talk later that month. Then I thought again about renting an e-bike. With a bit of help I could achieve my two-days-in-one target plus enjoy trying out e-bikepacking.

Marin Alpine Trail E2

Range anxiety
Most e-MTB rental places want you to go round and round their closed courses, but I found a go-where-you-like outfit in Hay, 38 miles from my start in Felindre, on the English border. Leaving it all a bit late, all they had left was nearly six grand’s worth of Marin Alpine Trail E2 in Large, when I’m more of an XL. The full suspension was a bit of a novelty, as of course was the latest Shimano EP8 motor. It gave three levels of pedal assistance: Eco, Trail and Boost and claimed up to 60 miles of range.

With my gross weight and intended use, I translated that to 40 real-world miles, and soon I was huffing and puffing along hilly back roads from Hay to Felindre. Sticking resolutely to Eco until I knew better, the reality of e-pedalling soon became clear: climbs are far from effortless – when it’s steep you have to give it some welly, even with 12 gears.

According to UK laws, e-assistance cuts out at 15mph but despite the knobblies I still managed to hit over 40mph on some longer downhills. After a fat-tyre dinner at the Radnorshire Arms in Beguidy (left), I camped in Felindre (the only place which charged for an overnight charge), ready next day to cover about 35 miles on road and trail to Abbeycwmhir and beyond Llanidloes to a B&B on the far side of the Clywedog reservoir.

Stile. You can do this…

One good thing about having previously walked the trail was that good or bad, I knew what to expect. And one of those good and bad things was there are very few stiles (left) on Glyndwr’s Way. Lifting 25 kilos of Marin without damaging it or yourself soon takes it out of you.

Managing the Economy
I was warned that engaging ‘Boost’ would kill the battery and that switching off on long downhills (to save power; it doesn’t) could temporarily boggle the electronics. Initially I was over worried about ending up pedalling 30+ kilos of flat-batt bike on the dirt, though of course that’s exactly what we did in the Himalayas once you factor in baggage weight. So for the first few days I only blipped into ‘Trail’ for a few minutes a day and never used Boost.

Got the B&B date wrong – but there was room (and a wall plug) in an aromatic polytunnel
Nick Sanders in Finland

That evening I reached my remote B&B with one bar flashing and pretty knackered, even though it had been 60% hilly roads. In my rush to plan the trip I got the date wrong so ended up sleeping in a polytunnel out back.
On reason I was stuck here (the next possible place was 5 hilly miles) was that this £6k bike only had a slow (overnight) charger, not the ‘1 hour for 80%’ fast charger I’d read of somewhere. You plug it directly into the motor, through the downtube battery can be removed with tools.
Imagine the game changer fast charging would be. Though realistically 30 full-on off-road miles is all you could cycle in a day, on the road you could do 30-40 miles, recharge over a leisurely lunch, then do the same in the afternoon. In fact Nick Sanders is doing that right now from Nordkapp to Gibraltar on one of Yamaha’s new Wabash e-bikes.

Walk-Assist Mode
One huge annoyance I blame on both Marin’s online blurb, bike manual and the bike rental place is there’s no mention of walk-assist mode – a ‘hand throttle’ you can use to help push the bike up steep or rough slopes that are barely rideable or are too battery-devouring. Without it, many times I ended up pushing the bike like Chris Bonington on Annapurna: 5-10 paces; rest; 5-7 paces; rest…
Only on the very last day did I accidentally nudge the toggle switch into walk-assist which popped up on the display. But I didn’t know (or was too knackered) to know what had happened, so struggled on upward. That really would have eased my week on the Marin, along with being able to rely on the seat post dropper which was set right on the limit for my leg length and tended to collapse (ruining my Exped sleeping mat on the rear tyre).

Walk Assist explained

In fact, even with e-assist, 30 miles a day got a bit much for me after a while. Stage 6 out of Mach was 80% trail with no less than 70 gates to Llanbrynmair (LBM). By the time I got there, overdid lunch and chatted with a very rare GW walker, I realised I probably didn’t have it in me to navigate the 11 miles rising steeply up onto the tussocky moors and over to Llangadfan. Instead. I took a lovely road ride to pick up the GW in the Nant yr Eira valley, then backtracked next day from Llangadfan back to LBM with no baggage, to tick off the missing section – much more fun!

The heavenly valley of Nant yr Eira east of Llanbrynmair. Check it out next time you’re there.

I was now getting the hang of optimising the bike’s economy and came in off that 30-mile day still with 3/5 bars. I even treated myself to a spot of turbo Boost but was surprised how little it did, compared to switching from Eco to Trail (but see comment from Ian, below). Time it right in the right gear and Trail really can feel like the hand of god giving you a gentle but firm push uphill.

No overnight clobber – much more fun!

About UK Rights of Way
Just as motos must stick off-road to the few remaining byways, BOATs etc, pushbikes and horses cannot ride footpaths and must stick to bridleways and above. Glyndwr’s Way switches constantly between footpath and bridleway (plus tracks and backroads. The GW is 27% asphalt and is 80% legally cyclable – in other words only 20% is footpath.

Regarding that 20%; while I agree that in the congested Peaks or the Lake District riding footpaths would be bad form and is in fact a civil wrong or tort – in the lost paradise of mid-Wales I rarely saw anyone anywhere, and when I did, none batted an eyelid as they’d rightly have done had I been on a cackling WR450 dressed like a transformer.

After a week and some 200 miles, temperatures were creeping back up to the 30s making riding more tiring. In Welshpool I completed my job and caught a train to Hereford where they picked up their sheep-shit splattered Marin. My shins were all scratched to buggery from the pedals and I was still picking thistle thorns out of my knuckles and legs weeks later. But I’d had a great mini-adventure.

2022 Marin Alpine Trail E2
250W, 85Nm Shimano STEPS EP8 motor and 630Wh removable downtube battery

Charger, about 500g. Cable lock, the same

Clean, integrated design and subtle graphics
Low standover height – really helpful when stopping all the time
SLX 4-piston brakes
Firm suspension (did not meddle)
Pleasing boost from Eco to Trail mode
Stay in Eco where possible and range exceeds what I can ride off-road on a good stay
Seatpost dropper (seat on max; could not use reliably)
No flats or slips on Maxxis Assegai tyres (tubed)
Clear, simple display
Though I locked out the front as needed, I can’t say I detected any suspension bobbing from the unlockable rear spring. Maybe e-assist helps
I’m a big fan of 1x drivetrains; did that to my old Charge Cooker years ago
Ended the days tired but not beaten up (ie; full sus may well work, even for touring)

Fern catcher

£5765 (but apparently it’s a bargain and going for under £5k late ’22)
Weight when pushing unassisted or lifting
No mention on marin.com about ‘Walk Assist’ mode!!!
Slow, 1.8A Shimano 6002 charger takes all night
‘Trail’ –> ‘Boost’ was imperceptible – won’t pull you out of a steep climb
Pedals low, due to 27″ rear wheel or my weight?
Downtube fork ‘bumpers’ broken off on collection
Small wheel/big 1st gear means derailleur eats ferns
Feels like electronics get a bit confused sometimes
‘Large’ frame too small for me (6′ 1″) but was only one available

Above the Dyfi valley out of Abercegir

It had been a darn good work-out and revealed a whole new way of enjoying the UK countryside. Though I was leg tired at the end of most days, I didn’t feel beaten up which must be a testament to full suspension combined with my slow or interrupted pace. The e-assist helped when I was in a marginal spot crossing some muddy hump at 1mph – the extra pedal boost got me over where I’d have otherwise stalled and fallen over. But stalling on a steep stony track there’d often be too much torque from the motor and the wheel spun, while the bike was too heavy (or me lacking strength and finesse) to get back on restart (working seat dropper would have helped). And on a ride where range wasn’t so critical, using more of the Trail setting would add up to loads of fun. Just don’t think for a minute that you won’t break a sweat!

A tad too small but it got me there

I made things harder for myself by sticking to Eco 99% of the time, getting off and pushing when Trail may have got me up some hills. Tbh, it was nice to walk sometimes and air le derriere. And I also had things made hard for me by not knowing about Walk-Assist plus having the weather warm up on me. In Wales? Who’d have thought.

On the G-Way your PoW Steve McQueen fantasy comes true, but without the Nazis on your tail

The question is: will owning an e-bike get you riding more and for longer than your regular MTB, or is it just another toy? Setting aside motivation which overcomes all excuses, I think much must depend on opportunity and access to worthwhile riding. I’d say in the Southeast e-bikepacking would be wasted but in the remoter upland locales of western and northern Britain there must be loads of great riding nearby and where the climbs need not always be daunting.

Will I be getting an e-bike? Not at £6000 tvm and not any more than I’ll be getting a small trail bike. Where I live what I consider the worthwhile stuff is just too far away. But it sure was fun trying out e-bikepacking. I’ll definitely be renting one again some time.

* A couple of weeks later I picked up my Merida from Nick’s and ended up riding it from Upton to Cheltenham to catch another train. Costing me just £800 near-new, I was reminded what a great hardtail it is – and what a great thing a seat post dropper is when you’re stopping every 10 minutes to open a gate. Something between the Marin and my Merida could do nicely. They even sell clamp-on Bafang motors for a grand.

Y Golfa hill near Welshpool, end of the Glyn’ Way