We’ve tested a range of adventure motorcycles on these pages. This hardcore, no-frills, offroad machine is something else entirely...
SAND, they say, is the great equaliser. Riders will proudly boast of their off-road skills (which are often more about their vehicle’s abilities), but take them onto sand and you soon find out who really has the moves.
Dual-purpose motorcycles are capable, comfortable and perfect for the open road but, if you want play in the sand, there are few motorcycles as capable as a full-on enduro or moto-x bike.
It’s the reason all three of us CAR bikers – Peter Palm, Nicol Louw and I – are a little tense as we wheel the CRF450RX off its trailer. This is, after all, the largest moto-x bike Honda offers and, even though we’re on sand dunes, you can still hurt yourself pretty badly.
These bikes are extremely narrow, which helps with control once seated, but it’s a seating position that’s higher than we’re used to thanks mostly to the significant amount of suspension travel needed for the kinds of surfaces (and heights) this particular Honda is built to conquer.
The rutted gravel road which leads to the Atlantis dunes outside Cape Town chucks the CRF’S front wheel around but, once we hit the smooth sand, it is a completely different story.
At first we take it easy – it’s a steep learning curve – but, once we get used to standing on the foot pegs and letting the bike move beneath rather than trying to manhandle it from the saddle, the CFR rewards its rider with impressive agility. Never before have I had to manoeuvre my body across a bike so much; monitoring the way it reacts to the surface and shifting my weight accordingly, while keeping a firm grip on the handlebars.
The deep sand does unsettle the front wheel but the key is to keep your weight shifted further back to aid rear-wheel traction. A twist of the throttle and a pulsating burst of torque from the single-cylinder engine sends up a rooster tail of sand, rocketing the lightweight bike over the surface. Riding the Honda is incredibly tiring but you can’t help but grin like an idiot, either.
Once you begin to trust the phenomenal grip offered by the knobbly tyres, you can engage in further sand spraying as the rubber studs bite the surface and slingshot you off on another trajectory. The throttle has such an immediate effect on the rear wheel that you can perfectly modulate the amount of spin required or, as you get braver, decide on how much lift you want from the front wheel or how long you want to keep the wheel in the air.
As is often the case with sportscars, the more intense and raw the experience and the more exhausted you are, the more enjoyable the experience. This is exactly the case with the CRF. Covered in sweat, we realised just how fit you need to be to get the best out of bike like this. The pay-off, though, is one of the most intense off-road experiences you can hope for.
These bikes may have only a small fuel tank, no instruments, indicators or even lights – you can’t even register them on the road – but why would you, as there are several places where they can be enjoyed. Our public roads can be hazardous and our morning with this Honda was a refreshing reminder motorcycles can be enjoyed in alternative ways. And hitting the sand might just be the most exciting method of the lot.
clockwise from top left It’s easy to kick up some sand on this hardcore Honda; knobbly tyres allow for sufficient traction while two exhausts look great; wheelies are a simple twist of the wrist away; a square starter button … and that’s it; single-cylinder punches above its weight.
Forget heavy adventure bikes – this is off-road riding in its purest form Nicol Louw
Lightness and abundant torque allow it to devour the dunes Peter Palm