2016 ULTIMATE ADVENTURE
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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’