2016 ULTIMATE ADVENTURE
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and exudes competence. It’s old but thoroughly sorted.
Like the BMW, the Triumph takes a little getting used to as there’s a lack of dive and feel from the semi-active suspension, which is always trying to keep the bike level for comfort (depending on the rider mode and settings). The rear shock has active preload adjustment that changes on the move and which, apart from lacking a little feedback when chasing crazy Italians up scary mountain roads, increases comfort dramatically. You don’t really notice how good the Triumph is until you ride it back to back with any of the others. It turns badly surfaced roads into near perfect smoothies and makes it the most comfortable of the lot for rider and pillion.
The sportiest award, however, goes to the KTM, which just edges out the Ducati. The Adventure is so light on the move and a delight to throw around, while its responsive and aggressive engine has some real bark to it, especially when you keep revving it hard. But this is no one-trick pony and has some clever rider aids keeping you safe, including KTM’S excellent cornering ABS. As I said, the Ducati runs it close and has a stronger engine, but for me is a little too top heavy, especially with a full tank of fuel. It certainly handles beautifully and stays glued to the back wheel of the KTM, but the Austrian bike is just a little easier to ride at speed. Only the Honda, which doesn’t have active suspension, rider modes or cornering ABS, was outclassed in the on-road handling stakes. But considering it’s also the only bike with a 21-inch front wheel it kept up a decent pace; it’s only when riding with larger-capacity bikes that it feels outgunned.
As we climbed further up Etna, the road tightened, became narrower and we had to overcome other dangers, too. Piles of black volcanic ash sat in the gullies, while melting snow trickled across the road when we least expected it, and the bikes started to gasp for oxygen. The speed of the ride up Mount Etna soon reduced as the temperature tumbled and snow sat on the road around blind corners.
Soon we reached the end of the road, almost within reach of the alarmingly active crater. As the bikes cooled down with the stunning sight of Etna in the background we had time for reflection and a chance to chat about the bikes.
Michael Neeves praised the Ducati highly. At 6ft tall he hadn’t experienced the same top-heavy feeling I had, and the tall seat wasn’t a problem either. Our Italian guest riders from Pirelli also praised the Ducati’s power and speed. MCN'S Michael Guy relished the sportiness of the KTM: "It feels raw and mechanical, it really wanted to take off, it's the sportiest of the bunch," he said. We all agreed that despite the BMW’S age and relative lack of power it was anything but past it, far from it. The
Triumph hadn’t scored highly in the fun stakes on the climb up Etna but we all agreed the semi-active suspension was supremely comfortable, and it was backed up by a strong motor.
So which would we choose for a fun ride back down Etna’s endless twists and turns? Both Michael Guy and I opted for the KTM followed by the Ducati. Neevesy had the reverse order: Ducati first and KTM second, while the BMW was everyone’s third favourite.
For longer miles into the heart of Sicily both Michaels opted for the Ducati, followed by the Triumph with the BMW third. They cited the Enduro’s huge fuel tank, excellent comfort, ergonomics and engine as the decisive factors. The Triumph XRT was my long-distance winner because of its sumptuous comfort, with the BMW second and Ducati third. The Africa Twin didn’t make it into anyone’s top three but we had to remind ourselves that at only £10,495 it is by far the cheapest bike here.