Saturday, May 24, 2014

ADV Pulse Survey -- Rebutting the ADV Stereotype

Just completed a survey over at ADV Pulse about whether or not so-called "Adventure" and/or "Adventure Touring" bikes are the SUV's (read "vehicles for poseurs who like to pretend they are more rugged than they really are") of today. I can't answer for anyone else, but I've taken my Strom -- certainly not the most off-road capable ADV bike on the market -- to some pretty rugged unmaintained roads...:

...even if I do ride it on pavement or maintained dirt/gravel roads 90% of the time:

One question they didn't ask, but I wish they had, is "would you spend more time off-road if your bike had features that made it more capable off-road?" (my answer would be yes). For example, if my Strom had a longer travel suspension, a little more ground clearance and a lower c.g., I'd probably be a lot more adventurous on it. Yes, that raises the question, "so why didn't I get a KLR or DR650?" to which I would reply, "because it's a long way on pavement between places I wanted to visit in my home state of Alaska, so the Strom seemed better suited for the type of riding I would typically be doing." Additionally, while the KLR is, by all accounts, a very capable bike, it was just lacking the excitement factor I wanted in a motorcycle. While my Strom might not be as capable as the KLR once the pavement ends, it gets a lot more smiles per gallon on pavement than I expected from the Kawasaki.

That, basically, is the essence of the "Adventure" motorcycle paradox: manufacturers build motorcycles that meet the "90% of the time needs" of motorcycle riders (i.e., pavement-oriented), while "Adventure" riders like myself dream of the 10% of the time we are going some place really cool (i.e., unmaintained 4x4 trails and such). However, because the bikes we own are strongly biased towards the pavement, we don't explore the really cool places as often as we'd like. Manufacturers see that most "ADV" bikes rarely travel off-road, and continue to bias their "ADV" offerings for the street. Wash, rinse, and repeat as required.

You can see this with the newer bikes being introduced to the market. The BMW 1200GS is the flagship of the Adventure Touring world, but honestly, how many of us would really take a 600 pound, $20,000+ dollar motorcycle on a rugged trail where the likelihood of dropping and damaging the bike is extremely high? Yet all of the major manufacturers are introducing bikes that are more like the 1200GS than the DR650 or KLR650: Ducati's Multistrada, the new KTM 1190, the Triumph Tiger 1200, Yamaha's Super Tenere are all strongly road-biased. Honda's two "Adventure" bikes and the new Suzuki DL1000 V-Strom are "Adventure" in name only.

Ideally, I'd like something very similar to the Husqvarna 650 Trail or the Tenere 660 (not available here in the U.S., @#&$%!!!) but with a twin-cylinder engine. Since it doesn't exist (and the Triumph Tiger 800XC wasn't available in 2010, when I bought my bike), I settled for the best compromise I could find at the time, a 2009 Suzuki DL650. Because it is a compromise, I don't spend as much time on rugged trails as I would like.

If only the manufacturers would build a small, light, off-road capable twin for the U.S. market...

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Early Season Ride up to Hatcher Pass

When I was a child, my family lived in Northern Japan. One of our frequent day trips was to drive to the Towada Mountains, a volcanic range of mountains, one of which had a caldera lake, with an absolutely spectacular gorge carved by the Oirase River which flowed from the lake to the ocean below and to the east. To this day, it's one of my favorite places on earth; perhaps my very favorite, even. I remember traveling up into the mountains near the caldera lake one winter afternoon, and being amazed. The snowplows had done an amazing job of keeping the road clear -- but on either side of the road were vertical walls of snow towering way over our heads. It was an impressive sight, to say the least.

So, when a co-worker told me he had recently tried to drive over Hatcher Pass between Willow and Palmer, Alaska, and had run into walls of snow that sounded like the ones from my childhood in Japan, I decided I needed to take a trip out to Hatcher Pass to see it (again) for myself.

My co-worker had driven up from the Willow side, and maybe the Palmer side was just a little warmer and received a little more sun than the Willow side. Or maybe, I just waited too long to head out to the Pass. Whatever the reason, I didn't find ten-foot-high walls of snow on either side of the road, but it was a great day for a ride, anyway. The weather was beautiful -- warm, sunny, mild winds -- and the trees were just starting to bud, filling the air with the delicious aroma of spring (cottonwoods are a pain in the backside come mid-summer, but they smell wonderful in early May!). Even though the snow wasn't as high on the sides of the road as I expected, there was still too much snow near the summit for either the Pass itself or Archangel Valley to be opened yet...which is not at all unexpected, as the Pass usually doesn't open until around the 4th of July. Nevertheless, if you are visiting Alaska by motorcycle (or even by car), I'd still recommend a trip up to Hatcher Pass, if you find yourself in the Mat-Su Valley. Like the Towada Range in Japan, it's one of my favorite places to spend a sunny summer day.