'Honda Africa Twin boosted my con­fi­dence, flat­tered my rid­ing and did ev­ery­thing with ab­so­lute ease' Con­tin­ued over |||||| ||||||||||| ||||||||| |||| ||||| ||| |||| ||| ||| ||| ||| ||| ||| ||| ||| || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || || |

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week -

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.

BMW'S GS is hap­pi­est when drift­ing in vol­canic ash No clouds, just smoke from an ac­tive vol­cano With its off-road tyres fit­ted, KTM rides out the rough

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