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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.