Tag Archives: Zen Overland

The bikes at HUBB UK 2013

hubeJust back from HUBB UK (read feedback here) and having just returned from the  Overland Expo in Arizona – also pitched at all wheeled overlanders, not just motos – it was interesting to note the differences in the bikes in attendance.

hub1hub2In the US the range of bikes seemed more narrowly focussed towards big BMWs (left), including  GS12s of course, as well as F800s such as the fully laden example on the right. Meanwhile at HUBB UK the bikes were about as diverse as you could imagine considering the similar theme; everything from C90s up to the 1200s and beyond.

Some might scoff at the Americans and their XXXL tastes, at least when judged by European standards, but it is a big country and unless you live in an area like the West where domestic ‘adventure motorcycling’ (aka: off-highway touring) offers near-infinite possibilities, getting to the good spots in a short amount of time is better done on a big, comfy machine, and one that might have some off-roading pretentions once you get to the sharp end. Even then, you hear of people on the other side of the country getting their big  GSs trailered over to Utah by the poor sod who drew the short straw, while the rest fly in after them for just a few days. So perhaps they do really have a thing for big machines to go with big everything else. Anything else might be classified as regular ‘dirt biking’.


Brits might be classified as more experimental and eccentric. The picture on the left in the camping area shows a Tenere 660, a Guzzi Griso (a great looking machine!) and the venerable Africa Twin. Just out of shot is a Varadero (‘XXL Africa Twin’) and lined up at the back is a GS12, possibly a Suzuki DR-Z, maybe a Katana, a Serow-like small trail bike and a BMW F800GS. We have to remember of course that many of the bikes just mentioned are not even sold in the US, and many of these are not necessarily travel bikesElsewhere at HU I saw Huskys, twin-lamp Teneres, X-Countrys, Bonnies, but definitely a dearth of the big bikes that we are told define adventure bikes (I didn’t see one NC700X or Crosstourer hub99*but perhaps I should have gone to SpecSavers). There was even an old airhead BM (right) done up like my old late-70s black and gold 900SS, right down to the full clip-on and rear-sets treatment. Can’t be many of those to the pound.

Other bikes that caught my eye at the show were several KTM690s. I wonder if I missed a trick not listing the 690 more prominently in the book among the ‘Ten Overlanders’ from p44 (not the 10 best overlanders). I still think people are buying them not because they’re a super duper Tenere, ideally suited to overlanding, but because they fill the gap left by the 640 Adventure, while the current 660 Tenere is too heavy. With cars I’d compare the gap between your average Land Rover/Land Cruiser and hub4Unimog type vehicles – there is precious little in between. Out of the crate a 690 is indubitably a well-built machine that’s brilliant in the dirt, but  requires a fair expenditure to set up like a 640 or an XTZ (as the Rally Raid stand at HU showed). I’ve never ridden one but I view the 690 as a rather highly strung machine that like many KTMs is too good to waste on long-range travel.

hub5The 690 is of course light and that’s the direction you’d hope travel bikes are taking, now that power and economy are well covered. So not surprisingly there was a lot of interest in the imminent CCM GP450 previously mentioned here.

I must say in the flesh just as in the promo pics it looks more of a KTMish rally racer than a travel bike to me, though as a flashier rally bike will probably attract more attention and presumably greater sales. It’s said that Rally Raid (also at the show) had a hand in designing the bike and there’s even talk of Dakar entries in a year or two. Many commented on the fuel filler (17-litre tank) beyond the back of the seat which would get obscured by luggage. That, along with the £8k asking price and the one-litre engine oil capacity were what other onlookers questioned from an overlanding PoV, though I believe fully synthetic oil would last the recommended 5000-mile oil changes and if you can’t do that then change sooner. hub6Plus, as someone observed, one litre of good oil is not so much to carry. If that’s the worst criticisms garnered from looking at the GP450 then it’s a pretty short list. The CCM guy told me the gearing had three close and low ratios, with 4th and 5th more stretched out. Seems like agood plan on paper as once you’re in 4th or more you’re rolling along.
ccmframe4The square beam alloy rear subframe (above right) certainly looks more substantial than my last bike and the frame itself uses literally ‘cutting edge’ technology for a production machine as demonstrated on this video. Short sections with complex joints are finely cut from billet and are then bonded and  bolted together (left). No welding required. I noted the other day some Jap frame used a similar arrangement.

In fact the overall build quality and attention to detail appears far better than your average Jap bike. All that remains is to find out how the GP450 performs and more significantly, what it is like to actually live with.

hub7There was another CCM at the show, the SR40 which I admit slipped under my adv radar. Apparently CCM only built some 80 of these twin-shocked DRZ-engined ‘street scramblers’ a few years ago and Zen Overland had a couple prepared for an imminent big trip (left). Don’t quite know what they have been doing in the meantime but for CCM the jump from an SR40 to the snazzy GP450 in just a few years is nothing short of a Neolithic Revolution out of the Stone Age. Has some secretive but patriotic oligarch invested in the Bolton-based company?

hub8The SR40 was nice and low but looked a bit short for me and had a few design compromises for overlanding – all easily got around as far as I could see. Nevertheless I suggested to the bloke on the CCM 450 stand that a bike like this was more of a real world adventure bike than the flashy 450 and it would be great to see something like this again – a simple, low-saddled overlander harking back to the XT500 era, but with a modern efi engine and all the rest. Have to say I’m not convinced CCM get ‘adventure overlanding’ as I understand and define it, but then neither do most other manufacturers. Quite rightly they all have their eyes and aspirations on what might actually sell to the majority of bikers who have no intention of crossing a continent, but like biking and ‘the adv look’ all the same.

All that remains is to say thanks to Iain H. and Sam M. for organising a great HUBB event at the new venue.


Tested: Rigid Industries SR-M LED Lamp

Being a late 80s bike which by some oversight got produced right into the 21st century, my GS’s lights have trouble attracting moths, and for the same reasons the alternator doesn’t have much poke either: a puny 200W at 5000rpmBut one real advance in lighting technology in recent years are LED riding lamps: a lot of extra light for very little draw on the electrical system – a win-win situation.

ZenderZen Overland sent me the mini SR-M (along with other stuff, in exchange for an ad in AMH), the smallest in the Rigid Industries range putting out 700 lumens, but drawing less than an amp. About 700 is not so much – Petzl now make a head torch putting out that level of brightness, but let’s see how much you actually need. I’ve found in the past superbright headlights lighting up the other side of the country aren’t the main goal – a spread of light is what counts.

I fixed my lamp in a bit of a rush ahead of a long ride back south. Access to stuff like electricity was a bit of a faff; the nearest town being 25 miles away, but an old brake bracket with the right holes bent out to mount the lamp off the headlight’s side.
You can tell this is really a car light unit – the battery terminals are huge, the cable lengths are a bit off and the on-off switch would work best pressed into a dashboard, not a handlebar.  The cable length from the battery to switch is just long enough, but with my battery under the seat put the light’s fuse annoyingly out of reach under the tank. Meanwhile the switch to lamp cable is three times too long. Better lengths would be the other way round for a bike with the battery in the usual place under the seat. Later I rewired it all, including wiring the lamp to the ignition circuit, not direct to the battery. It’s OK like that inside a car but any brat passing the bike can flick the red switch on.
At full stretch I managed to get the red switch on the front left of the tank where it’s easy enough to operate on the move. Obviously on the bars would be best using a more suitable switch. The lamp itself looks as rugged as a baked walnut and the plug from it to the wiring loom is well sealed, again hinting at its intended car application.

Lights on
Where I’m living at the moment, at this time of year when it’s a cloudy night you have trouble walking outdoors without a torch. Being more accustomed to star-lit Sahara nights, this total blackout caught us out walking back from the neighbour’s one time. We had to feel our way home with our feet on the tarmac. Good conditions for testing the effect of the SR-M, then!

The pictures here have been enhanced but show the SR-M against the warmer Suzuki OE headlamp. Click to enlarge. I don’t feel they fully convey the added brilliance the SR-M adds to the scene, but especially backed up with high beam you light up a whole lot more. It’s possible the LED was too high itself and will need aiming down if it’s to be used as a full time beam. As it is it’s dazzlingly bright to look at in a way you can’t say of the OE filament bulb light.

All the books say you ought not ride at night in the AMZ, but as we all know there are times when that has to be done. Along with an appropriate speed, good lighting is the key to dealing with the many hazards out there and for the price, ease of mounting as well as the ‘redundancy’ value should you main light pack up, an SR-M or something like it is well worth fitting to your overland machine. I can see that from now on riding with just the Suzuki’s standard lights on unlit roads is going to be a bit like going back to a typewriter to write letters. I’ve since wired out the 24/7 headlamp and started using the LED as an ultra bright day riding light in towns which if nothing else saves the charging circuit. Especially on an older bike, for the reasons mentioned a light like this is a valuable accessory, providing added or auxhilary illumination with minimal weight and bulk and without blighting the charging system.