ROAD-GO­ING AD­VEN­TURE

We head to the wilds of Shrop­shire

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - By Michael Neeves CHIEF ROAD TESTER

You don’t need to travel thou­sands of miles to have an ad­ven­ture, es­pe­cially when we’re priv­i­leged to have scenery like this on our doorstep. Glossy brochures might de­pict big ad­ven­ture bikes rid­ing though the desert, or scal­ing far-flung moun­tains, but when you ar­rive here in the Shrop­shire hills, on the English side of the Welsh bor­der, the views are so mag­i­cal you don’t want to leave.

And you don’t need to spend a for­tune to have fun on an ad­ven­ture bike ei­ther and they don’t need ridicu­lous­ly­pow­ered su­per­bike en­gines to shove them along – as the four bikes you see be­fore you to­day neatly prove.

The KTM 1090 Ad­ven­ture, Suzuki V-strom 1000, Honda Africa Twin DCT and Du­cati Mul­tistrada 950 are all se­ri­ous ad­ven­ture bikes. With their big en­gines and roomy rid­ing po­si­tions they can ham­mer all-day mileage with­out break­ing sweat and if you want to get your tyres muddy, big front wheels and dual pur­pose tyres let you do just that.

They’re not drip­ping with ev­ery con­ceiv­able elec­tronic rider aid, or cut­ting-edge chas­sis parts, but these machines give you ex­actly what you need: ABS, trac­tion con­trol, com­fort, poise and sta­bil­ity. They all have just the right amount of power for nor­mal folk like us and don’t cost the earth, es­pe­cially if you go down the PCP road (see spec panel).

Re­ally, just choose the ma­chine you fancy the look of, or suits your bud­get and you’ll go off on your ad­ven­ture smil­ing. But we’re here to see which one is best.

Rid­ing around with a big grin on your face is some­thing you’ll be do­ing a lot of on the £11,335 Du­cati. The Mul­tistrada 950 is rolling proof that small Du­catis are big fun. Back when they only made sports­bikes, the old 748 su­pers­port weapon was al­ways more in­volv­ing, smoother, faster steer­ing and less clat­tery than the 916 su­per­bike. The same is true to­day when you ride the 959 and 1299 Pani­gale back-to-back and that point is proved again with lit­tle and large Du­cati ad­ven­tur­ers.

The 950 might ‘only’ have a 113bhp twin, com­pared to the Mul­tistrada 1200’s 160bhp, but it packs a sur­pris­ing punch. This is the same 937cc Tes­tas­tretta en­gine you’ll find in the Hyper­mo­tard and new Su­pers­port, but feels the most at home in the new Mul­tistrada.

This peachy pow­er­plant is packed with grunt, is de­void of throt­tle glitches and has a re­lent­less top-end rush that be­lies its rel­a­tively mod­est power claims. Best of all is the bass-in­fused gut­tural, race­bike-like, air­box bark when you open the taps to the stop, fill­ing the Shrop­shire hills with the sound of Ital­ian mu­sic.

Un­like the stilt-like Honda and KTM rid­ing po­si­tions you hun­ker down in the Du­cati (its 840mm seat is the low­est here). The rid­ing po­si­tion is on the airy side of sporty with your feet rest­ing on rear-set pegs. There’s lots of wind pro­tec­tion and the way the man­ual screen serenely glides on its run­ners, like it’s sit­ting on the finest-greased ball bear­ings, sums up the qual­ity and at­ten­tion to de­tail lav­ished on the 950.

Ride qual­ity is plush, brakes are re­as­sur­ing and the sharp, con­fi­den­cein­spir­ing han­dling is ev­ery­thing

you’d ex­pect from a Du­cati. There’s enough stan­dard equip­ment to keep you amused, too, in­clud­ing fullyad­justable sus­pen­sion, elec­tronic rider modes, trac­tion con­trol, ABS and an on-board com­puter. You don’t get a full-colour dash, but the 950’s black and white LCD screen is easy to read any­way, un­like the mir­rors, which are in a con­stant state of blur and use­less at mo­tor­way speeds.

KTM cracks the ad­ven­ture nut in a dif­fer­ent way. Where the Du­cati has no doubt been tested at Mugello at some point in its devel­op­ment, the £11,299 1090 Ad­ven­ture has Dakar cours­ing through its veins. It’s tall, thin, soft­lysprung and Tonka Toy-tough. It doesn’t have the Mul­tistrada’s pol­ish-it-on-aSun­day-morn­ing, glossy fin­ish, fully ad­justable sus­pen­sion, or sim­ple-touse dash and modes func­tions, but it’s im­pres­sive on the move.

Pro­duc­ing the most power here, the re­worked 1050cc 123bhp mo­tor is packed with an ex­plo­sive midrange. The rear end squats down hard when you tap the throt­tle, then fires this orange bul­let at the hori­zon, trac­tion con­trol light puls­ing like a disco light over the KTM’S tribal sound­track.

Like the Honda, the 1090, with its long-travel sus­pen­sion and per­fect stand­ing-up rid­ing po­si­tion, is the bike you’d re­ally end up tak­ing of­froad, but its tar­mac man­ners are still per­fect. You’re a lit­tle more re­mote from what’s go­ing on com­pared to the Du­cati, but the KTM’S soft­ness, from its throt­tle, to brakes and sus­pen­sion, all work bril­liantly and in­spire con­fi­dence at any speed. The 1090 has so much use­able power and poise you’ll never be wish­ing you’d bought the 160bhp 1290 Ad­ven­ture.

While the two Euro­pean machines have a tough, sporty feel, their Ja­panese coun­ter­parts have a softer edge, with calmer, more re­laxed en­gines and are a fair chunk heav­ier, too.

The re­vamped Suzuki’s su­perb 100bhp 1037cc V-twin mo­tor, oozes silky grunt and char­ac­ter and the sure-footed chas­sis never springs any un­wanted sur­prises. The V-strom is comfy, friendly and will do ev­ery­thing the KTM and Du­cati can do, but just not with as much in­volve­ment or piz­zazz. But it costs com­fort­ably less than ten grand, or just £103 a month on PCP.

Honda’s fab­u­lously-styled £12,179 Africa Twin DCT oozes pres­ence, is the best look­ing bike here and re­turn­ing 62mpg is the most fru­gal (KTM: 54mpg, Suzuki: 48mpg, Du­cati 47mpg). But its 94bhp par­al­lel twin is breath­less in this com­pany, es­pe­cially as it’s by far the heav­i­est here.

The 242kg ma­chine has the tallest, firmest seat, but on the flip side it’s spa­cious and the body­work and screen of­fer plenty of wind pro­tec­tion. With its fussy dash and eight but­tons on the left switchgear alone, the Honda’s hap­haz­ard con­trols are a world away from the Du­cati’s well laid out cock­pit.

This DCT ver­sion didn’t win any fans dur­ing our test. With its overly ag­gres­sive power de­liv­ery and lack of a clutch to con­trol it, low speed ma­noeu­vres are tricky. In auto mode, which you end up us­ing once the nov­elty of chang­ing gears with the but­tons on the left switchgear has quickly worn off, you’re never be­ing served up the cor­rect gear. You’re ei­ther sail­ing into cor­ners a cog too high or hang­ing onto revs for too long when you don’t want them.

The man­ual Africa Twin is much eas­ier to con­trol, more in­volv­ing to ride and a wel­come £969 cheaper.

‘The V-strom will do ev­ery­thing the KTM and Du­cati can do’

The 1090 has Dakar cours­ing through its veins Who needs a 1200 when the 950 Multi is so en­gag­ing? It’s the best looker but we pre­fer the man­ual ver­sion of the Africa Twin The guys on the right have clearly for­got­ten their mo­tor­cy­cles

The V-strom is an im­pres­sive per­former for un­der 10 grand

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