2016 ULTIMATE ADVENTURE
'Honda Africa Twin boosted my confidence, flattered my riding and did everything with absolute ease' Continued over |||||| ||||||||||| ||||||||| |||| ||||| ||| |||| ||| ||| ||| ||| ||| ||| ||| ||| || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || |
Etna ascent two: off-road
I’ve got limited off-road skills and, like many owners, I doubt I’d actually take my brand new £16k, 225kg adventure bike onto the dirt. In fact, the most off-road action the majority of these bikes will ever see is a gravelly car park. However, each manufacturer has designed their bike to be fully competant on the dirt. They all have switchable ABS and traction control while most have specific off-road rider modes and automatic suspension settings, not to mention the all-important enduro style, too.
Despite the latest adventure bikes being easier than ever to pilot off-road I was still dreading day two – the offroad day – especially as we had Etna to take on again, this time without the assistance of tarmac. (For reference we put every bike into its specific offroad setting.)
KTM are the off-road experts here, so I immediately stole the key to the 1190 before we headed for the base of Etna on freshly fitted off-road-biased tyres (see box out). In its specific offroad mode there’s ABS on the front but not on the rear, and power is limited to 100bhp, but I still found it aggressive and snatchy down the tiny, craggy tracks and struggled to keep pace with MCN’S off-road expert Michael Guy.
With most of our riding now in first and second gear and low RPM, the KTM felt too aggressive for me. I’m sure experts won’t agree but I felt safer and more at home on the GS. For someone with my level of off-road skills, very much an amateur, the GS has a lovely balance to it at low speed, I didn’t feel the need to dab my foot down for confidence like I did on the KTM, while Michael Guy said I was noticeably smoother and quicker on the GS, too. That near-perfect fuelling pulls you through or up anything. Nothing is rushed or scary; you simply and methodically plod up the hill side. The off-road ABS is also excellent and boosts your confidence, more so if you’re nervous to start with.
Triumph have improved the Explorer’s off-road capabilities over the old bike to a point where even a novice like me can feel the differences. Critically, the fuel tank is narrower, making it easier to get further forward over the wide handlebars, helping me cajole it over the rough stuff.
And so to the dreaded Ducati. Dreaded because I’m only 5ft 6in and find it too tall, too top heavy and, with so much power, intimidating. If I have my right foot securely on the ground taking the weight of the 30-litre fuel tank it’s so tall that I can’t flick the sidestand up with my left boot. I’m stuck. On the move, standing up on the pegs feels natural with the wide bars perfectly placed, while the clever electronics control the raging horses. The taller and more experienced riders on test loved the Ducati in the mud, but I was always intimated.
The Honda suited my lack of experience and short inside leg perfectly. It was by far the easiest to ride despite the absence of any clever electronic suspension. It boosted my confidence, flattered my riding and did everything with ease. It was easiest to steer offroad, allowing me to opt for a certain trail or path, or avoid large rocks without a struggle. I was also about 20% quicker on the Honda, without scaring myself. On every other bike here I was on the white-knuckle limit of my off-road abilities, but on the Honda it felt like I could take on something a little more challenging, even if the summit of Etna remained a little out of our reach.