The Death of a Bike

It's somewhat funny the way old ideas just pop in my head when editorials are expected from me every now and then. There are a lot of subjects out there, but everything is so fuzzy nowadays and being able to pick one is probably the hardest part when it comes to writing.
Nevertheless, as I was riding in the cold air of the morning I saw another guy on a new Transalp and suddenly I knew what was coming. This piece is not necessarily about this specific emblematic Honda bike, but about what it stood for over the years: the true dual-sport motorcycle... this rather late category.

It looks like the industry has lost its appetite for the true middle-class dual-purpose or dual-sport bikes if you like this name more. Don't rush to claim there still are neat bikes like the 990 Adventure KTMs, the GS1200R Beemers, the Yamaha Super Tenere and so on! They are BIG bikes and have absolutely nothing to do with what we've begun to lose years ago.

It's that awesome select club of bikes with absolutely nothing special, with no 5-star rating in anything, but whose all-round abilities made them famous. I mourn (if it's not that a big word) for the demise of the middle-class touring, rally touring, street-enduro (and the name list could go on) bikes of the 90's.

Just take a look around and notice the way these bikes have changed and lost a bit from that awesome 50-50 balance between road and off-the-road fun. And I'm considering the 600cc Honda Transalp and the Africa Twin, the Cagiva Elefant, Aprilia Pegaso, even the 600cc Yamaha XTs or the Dominators, or the awesome DR Big, the KLR 500 or the F650 BMWs. They are fading away, either no longer being manufactured or receiving a lot of new feats which place them in a new, different category.

The very “off-road” term has been changed to “trail biking” and this is frustrating as hell. I am no Dakar rider, but I cannot help ranting against this pathetic softening up. A dual-purpose bike should be able to handle almost anything nature and rider might throw at it... that's the purpose!

City and country roads for commuting or highways at a decent speed (80 mph / 130 kph) is no feature... it's just pretty much what ANY bike can do with no effort whatsoever. But being afraid that the new Transalp 700 might hit the ground with its catalytic converter is outrageous... and it did touch the ground on so many occasions; thankfully we were just “trailing” and the earth was soft. And how about smaller front wheels... who came up with this idea of having a 19” wheel for off-road? Oh, sorry... it was just trail, wasn't it?

Well, it looks like the future will bring a hiatus between the middle-class dual-sport models and when buying a brand new bike people will have to choose between heavily off-road / dirt oriented and street ones.

I remember how I and other dual-sport friends used to laugh at the 650cc Suzuki V-Strom and its exposed oil radiator which was in desperate need for a guard lest some rocks cracked it. Despite the fact that the DL650 was a very nice bike, we were beginning to see the oncoming changes: it was built for rough streets more than it was for bad roads at the edge of the desert or up in the mountains.

Likewise, we stood by and watched how the spikes disappeared from the footrests of the 650 Transalp and saw the gratuitously wider fairing. “Things are going to change, mate” I heard one of my friends say. “And they're not gonna change in a nice way, not for me and you and people like us... the true dual-sport bikes are dying”.

Years have passed and I really hate to learn how right he was. Of course, one can bring the new trail bikes to hard terrain and live through, but there's going to be some additional costs and not just in financial terms. There are of course things that will not take the rough terrain quite lightly and will need repair, but the biggest problem is the fun factor and riding comfort, as little as one can get in such conditions.

New bikes created for the street (and some “trail”) simply cannot perform well enough on mountain roads and that's frustrating. For the manufacturers it might be a nice perspective, as a guy who likes both asphalt and the barren roads of the wilderness could consider buying TWO bikes in the end: one for the on and the other for the off.

Or simply forking out more money (if possible) and going for one of the big bikes in the 1000cc+ range, but this gets us back to where we left off: there are less and less true dual-sport middle-class bikes out there.

And for those who already own such a motorcycle... I'd say they're twice as lucky, because these bikes from the 90's are also rock solid and can probably do 200,000 miles (~320,000 km) and still work fine and provide awesome fun. Mine is around 61,000 miles (roughly 100,000 km) and I couldn't be happier with it.

Ride on, ride safe, have fun!
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