2016 UL­TI­MATE AD­VEN­TURE

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Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week -

I’ve al­ready rid­den Honda’s new Africa Twin to Corn­wall in a wet and cold Jan­uary. I’ve done count­less miles on KTM’S 1190 and BMW’S GS. I spent all last week on Tri­umph’s new Ex­plorer, cov­er­ing over 500 miles, al­beit aboard the ‘low’ model. The Du­cati, though, is new to me – it was only launched to the world a few weeks ago – there­fore it made per­fect sense to jump on the ex­cit­ing new En­duro first.

We didn’t get off to the best start: I’m only 5ft 6in tall and get­ting the fully fu­elled Du­cati off its side­stand was hard work. It has a huge 30-litre fuel tank, which ex­plains why the new En­duro is so wide and why it’s so top heavy, es­pe­cially if you’re ver­ti­cally chal­lenged like me. The 870mm seat height is, along with the Honda, the tallest on test, but the Du­cati is wider in the seat, mak­ing it harder to get your feet down and more of a strug­gle at low speeds.

As soon as the wheels are turn­ing, the bulk of the En­duro is re­duced, but the huge, wide tank is a con­stant re­minder of its weight, like hav­ing a Labrador con­stantly sat on your lap. I had to care­fully plan where I was go­ing to stop, avoid­ing cam­bers in the road, which eroded my con­fi­dence. At 6ft tall, MCN'S Michael Neeves had no such prob­lem ne­go­ti­at­ing the back streets on the Du­cati and didn’t give the lofty seat and big tank a sec­ond thought. But you know the Du­cati is a truly enor­mous bike when the BMW GS and new Tri­umph feel rel­a­tively small by com­par­i­son.

Yes, in this com­pany, the once seem­ingly giant GS feels nor­mal. The BMW hasn’t ac­tu­ally lost any ki­los over the years, but at 20mph or slower you’d guess it was one of the light­est bikes on test. With its weight car­ried low in the chas­sis, there’s a lovely bal­ance to the Beemer that makes it so easy to live with and to­tally un­in­tim­i­dat­ing, much like the Honda.

The Africa Twin is unas­sum­ing; it’s the friendly one of the bunch, de­spite its high seat height and be­ing the only bike on test with a 21-inch front wheel. The par­al­lel-twin mo­tor is about as rock and roll as Cliff Richard, the switchgear is sim­ple and straight­for­ward, the sus­pen­sion con­ven­tional. There aren’t any rider modes and you can’t even change the height of the screen, but this sim­plic­ity at­tracts and works, es­pe­cially at low speeds.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, it’s the eas­i­est to get along with and in typ­i­cal Honda fash­ion you just jump on and ride; you don’t have to read the man­ual to switch off the trac­tion con­trol and the power is never go­ing to scare your pil­lion. But as soon as we started the climb up Mount Etna ev­ery­one wanted more power.

The Du­cati has the power; com­par­ing it to the Honda is like throw­ing a heavy­weight boxer into the ring with a light­weight. It’s un­fair. It out grunts the lot of them, in­clud­ing the sporty KTM. Its DVT L-twin is also smoother than the KTM’S, less lumpy and im­pres­sively un-twin-like at town speeds. Crack the throt­tle at any RPM and you’re treated to an in­stant smack of power. 160bhp may sound a lot, and it is, but Du­cati have in­stalled clever elec­tron­ics and rider modes to con­trol the power. The pre-set modes are sim­ple to se­lect from the easy-to-read and well-pre­sented dash, and so ef­fec­tive that it's like hav­ing three bikes in one.

On pa­per the KTM 1190 is only a few horse­power down on the Du­cati, but on the road it feels more. Fol­low­ing the KTM in the power stakes is the Tri­umph Ex­plorer and then the BMW. The three-cylin­der Tri­umph loves to rev, the en­gine spins up quickly and, if you want it, the new Ex­plorer has a punchy turn of speed. It will hap­pily and grace­fully pull from low rpm, too; you can smoothly short-shift and still out ac­cel­er­ate the Honda and even give the GS a run for its money with­out us­ing all the revs. It has the mo­tor for high­speed, two-up, fully loaded tour­ing, no prob­lem.

The GS, mean­while, has lovely fu­elling, pulling cleanly from barely above tick­over at walk­ing pace. The BMW isn’t slow, ei­ther, but in this com­pany it would have felt the least pow­er­ful with­out the sub-100bhp Africa Twin. But de­spite be­ing the old­est bike on the test, the GS sur­prised us as we climbed the never-end­ing hair­pins to­wards the sum­mit of Etna. It takes a lit­tle get­ting used to as there’s vir­tu­ally no dive from the Telelever front end, but once you learn to trust the front you can se­ri­ously hus­tle the Boxer along. The brakes are im­pres­sive, it turns con­fi­dently and with great ac­cu­racy,

'The Du­cati's three pre-set rider modes are so good that it's like hav­ing three

bikes in one’

With huge tank ranges and su­per-comfy seats, the Du­cati En­duro and Tri­umph Ex­plorer make great tour­ing bikes too Is there a rider mode for vol­canic ash on the road? Lava red Africa Twin flows be­tween Etna's cliffs Huge fuel tanks mean you need a rea­son

There's al­ways time for ice cream! Where we went Dawn breaks in the Si­cil­ian sky as MCN'S team of dirt war­riors pre­pare for bat­tle

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