So you think Adventure Riding tickles your fancy and want to know more? Excellent! But before you saddle up and head deep into the backcountry there are a few basics you should know to help you make the most out of this growing segment of the motorcycling world.
Over the past 15 years, adventure motorcycling has exploded in popularity. Heck, nowadays you are more likely to see the hero of a manufacturers' motorcycle lineup as a 1000cc or larger adventure machine rather than a superbike. The rules have changed, but the basics of adventure motorcycling have remained quite consistent. Especially if you are only getting into the sport.
What makes an Adventure Motorcycle?
While it is fairly safe to say that any motorcycle is capable of being an adventure motorcycle, the term has changed in its most popular definition to reflect a bike that can capably and comfortably take its rider on forgotten back roads, gravel and even completely off-road.
Typically, manufacturers have taken this on board and have produced a wide variety of capable bikes ranging in size from 250cc to nearly 1300!
But engine size alone doesn't denote how capable a bike marketed as an Adventure Bike is, and that is when we take a look at the suspension and wheels.
Here we see the category break into two main schools of thought, the 19-inch front wheel and the 21-inch front wheel, where a bike with a 19-inch front wheel is much more likely to have a stronger focus on-road ability than a bike with a 21-inch front wheel. At its most simplified, this is because a bike with a 19-inch front wheel tends to be more stable at open road speeds whereas a 21-inch front wheel offers quicker handling in the dirt where control of where your front wheel is pointing makes a huge difference.
The suspension also plays a role, with more expensive motorcycles often featuring compression and rebound adjustment in long travel components, where cheaper bikes often forgo the adjustability to keep costs down. While both have their role, as you move forward in your adventure riding career you will likely want the adjustability as your riding skills improve and you start to add luggage for long trips away.
What Makes A Great Starting Point?
As we've already said, motorcycle manufacturers offer a wide range of bikes marketed as adventure bikes these days to cash in on the growing movement. However, not all bikes marketed as an adventure steed make for a good starting point for those new to the sport.
Just like when you are starting out riding you don't want a 1000cc superbike, the same applies to adventure riding. You are much better off starting out with a simple smaller capacity machine than a 230kg halo bike. The best choice really does depend on what you plan on doing adventure.
In our opinion, there are few better starting points to get into adventure riding (particularly in NZ) than a road-registered trail bike. This includes and isn't limited to models such as the popular Suzuki DR-Z400E, DR650, Kawasaki KLX250, Yamaha WR250R and 450F and our very own Honda CRF250L Rally.
These bikes feature long-travel suspension and 21-inch front wheels but also are generally lightweight and are made in a way that if you drop them you aren't going to cause costly damage to the bodywork. They are also very easy to modify for your needs with many options ranging from larger fuel tanks and more comfortable seats to lowering kits (they can be limiting for shorter riders) and to exhaust systems to help squeeze more power from them.
Why a road-legal trail bike you ask? Simple, lightness is your friend when it comes to the more challenging riding conditions, and what they may lack in creature comforts they more than make up for in both ability and durability.
We suggest sticking with the popular Japanese manufacturers as they are often competitively priced and have a very good spread of dealerships across the country which makes parts and servicing access a lot easier than some of the European options.
If a road-legal trail bike just simply isn't your cup of tea, you still have very good options in the form of the BMW G 310 GS and Kawasaki Versys-X 300. These two bikes feature 19-inch front wheels and much lower seat heights making them much more accessible to shorter riders, however, they aren't as capable on more challenging off-road conditions.
Things To Keep In Mind
The bike may be the key to getting out into the unknown, but you also need to have the correct riding equipment as well.
While any motorcycle helmet will do the trick, once you start huffing and puffing along a track in the back of beyond you'll find you will quickly start to overheat within a road-oriented helmet. An off-road focussed helmet or dedicated ADV helmet (like our Scorpion-Exo ADX1) allows significantly more airflow for those high-intensity situations, BUT you will find they are noisier on the open road and if they feature a peak can catch the wind. The choice is ultimately up to you.
Boots and gloves are also very important safety aids, as once you hit the road less travelled you are much more likely to drop the bike than you are on the road. An off-road boot such as an Enduro boot will offer exceptional protection if the bike should fall on your leg, while an Adventure boot (like our Forma Adventure boots) offers decent protection with enough mobility to remain comfortable all day long.
So You've Got Your Bike, What Next?
After you have secured yourself a good starting point, you're going to want to get your riding skills in order. Here we're going to to be assuming that you have no prior off-road riding experience.
Luckily for many Kiwis, there are plenty of options to improve your off-road riding skills through the many coaches working around the country and we highly recommend joining up with a coach in your local area.
A riding coach will be able to set you off with all the basic skills you need to comfortably ride on gravel and mud, as well as how to correctly pick up your motorcycle without hurting yourself.
A quick Google search brings up plenty of coaches in New Zealand, so take your pick and go sharpen those skills.
So that's our basic guide to getting started in Adventure Riding. Did we miss anything? Let us know either via social media or flick us an email. We'd love to hear your feedback.