It’s no coincidence that the Montreal Moto Show falls at the end of February. The sky has been overcast for months, there’s still a mound of snow 8’ high on your front lawn (and dirty, brownish-grey snow everywhere else) and, despite your magical thinking, wearing your spring jacket without gloves is not bringing any warmer weather. To add insult to injury, potholes begin to emerge on the still half-frozen streets, making driving treacherous. In short, if you’re a motorcyclist, the February blues still have a good grip on you, and any light at the end of the winter tunnel comes from the LED Christmas lights you still haven’t taken down.
So just walking around a showroom with our moto-buddies is therapeutic. It gets you over the hump and into March, which is really just a month away from the month when we can start to get our bikes out. Some people go to the show with chequebook in hand, ready to buy a bike, and the ample salespeople who circulate around the bikes know this. One guy at Honda I spoke with said, when I expressed an interest in the Africa Twin, that he could knock $500 off the price this weekend only. That’s $500 I could put towards the divorce lawyer, I replied, if I came home with a new bike. But it’s still nice to dream, touch the bikes, heck, sit on them and imagine what you would do if you had an extra $13,000 floating around.
This year I went looking for gear, having still to get some body armor to complete my off-road ensemble. But I had in mind also the possibility that my son might be in the market sometime in the not-too-distant future. He’s talked about doing the course this summer, and the Quebec government is dropping the stupid regulation for learners to ride accompanied, so in theory he could be on the road this summer. That’s a thought that brings mixed feelings for me, as any parent can imagine. I’m trying to steer him away from the street and onto the dirt, at least for now. There are so many crappy drivers in Quebec, especially downtown Montreal, where he lives, that unless you have a lot of experience with defensive driving, you’re going inevitably to have an accident, and better to have it in a cage than on a bike. The first time someone drifts into your lane, or starts backing into you, or cuts you off, or turns left in front of you, you’re going to be surprised and incredulous and angry and quite possibly injured, God-forbid seriously. So my preference, if I have any say in the matter, is that he ride off-road with me and on-road in a car. But I digress. We are at the Moto Show considering which bike to get.
He’s always been attracted to naked bikes. Yeah, they’re nice, fun, practical, fast. But they can’t go to Purdue Bay, and an adventure bike is not much different from a naked, right? Both have reduced fairings; both have a small windscreen; both have an upright position; both come in a starter 650cc size; both look really cool to attract the chicks, which is important when you’re 23. Oh yeah, and both get good mileage, because you want that when you’re two-up on a student budget. But first dad gets to look at his dream bike, the Africa Twin. I’ve always said I love my little thumper, but if it’s done one thing for me it’s to get the off-road hook sunk deep. My first two years of riding have been a slow gravitation toward off-roading simply because the challenge and possibilities are endless. It’s also pretty exhilarating when you slide out the back end going around a corner on a gravel road, or charge up a rocky hill climb, or feel the bike slide around beneath you through some mud. The Africa Twin is the off-roader’s adventure bike. I sat on the Triumph Tiger 1200 and you know what? I wouldn’t want to be taking that beast off-road. I imagine the BMW 1200 is the same. There’s just no room for error with all the weight. And don’t try to tell me you don’t feel the weight because it’s so nicely balanced. The first time you and the bike get kicked sideways off a large rock that rolls away from under you, you’ll feel the weight, all 580 lbs. of it as you lift it up. The Africa Twin, on the other hand, is 507 lbs., a full 73 lbs. lighter thanks to it’s smaller 999cc engine—more than enough to get you to the Timmies of your choice. But where the Africa Twin really shows its off-road colours is with the wheel size: 21” front and 18” rear. Compare that to 19” front and 17” rear in the R1200GSA and you know why the ground clearance is 9.8” compared to 8.5”. As far as I’m concerned, the 12000GSA is the bike for long adventures in remote areas, but I wouldn’t want to take it anywhere more remote than a dirt road. The 800GS is the true BMW adventure bike.
But back to the Africa Twin for a moment. The graphics on it will attract a few chicks to dad, too. While I’m intrigued by the dual-clutch system and have heard it significantly improves your ability (since you don’t have to think about gearing and can devote you’re entire attention to other stuff), once I sat on it and tried to imagine that left lever as anything but a clutch lever, I knew I could never do it. Besides, I’ve read, as good as the dual-clutch system is, it falters in certain scenarios. And then there’s the traditional argument that half the fun is controlling the power transmission from the engine. I still prefer to drive the snot out of my wife’s old manual Corolla than cruise in my less-old automatic Saturn.
While we were at Honda, we checked out the 250 Rally. Only 250cc., you say? This easily does 120 km/hr. on the highway and tops out at 140, but if you’re riding a 250 you probably aren’t riding the highway anyway. Only as much as necessary. You can put a tail rack on this baby, some soft panniers, and hit the Trans-Am Trail, or The Great Trail in Canada, for that matter. This little bike is a dirt-bike on steroids, capable of adventure too if you’re not in a hurry. And at only 235 lbs., it would be a fun and safe starter bike. The other option at Honda is the “adventure styled” CB500X. With cast wheels and a lowish ground clearance, this is clearly a street bike. But with the Rally-Raid Products additions, including larger, spoked wheels and a new rear shock with an extra 2” of travel and adjustable damping, you can create a kind of “Africa Twin Lite.” The final option if you’re interested in a small displacement adventure bike from Honda is the XR650L. I’ve just discovered this bike online at Cycle World, but unfortunately they didn’t have any at the show.
Three other bikes they didn’t have, much to my disappointment, where the new BMW 750GS, the 850GS, and the new for 2018 Royal Enfield Himalayan. The new Beamers get an extra 50cc, the old 800 clearly feeling the market pinch of the Africa Twin. They’ve both been completely redesigned with the chain on the other side and a repositioning of the gas tank, although one of the things I love about my 650GS is the low centre of gravity with the tank under the seat. The new models move it to the traditional location in the hump. I guess they needed the room down low for that extra 50cc. I also didn’t see the 310GS, which would have been a contender. Come on BMW; get your sh*t together! The 310 has been out for over a year and the GS was supposed to follow a few months later. But then again, here in Canada, we always get treated second to our big brother south of the 49th parallel.
What did impress me at BMW is the R nineT. I remember the first time I saw one in the showroom on my way to the parts counter. It literally stopped me in my tracks. I’ve never been much interested in poser bikes, but if I were going to allow myself one, this would be it. BMW nailed the styling on this bike, especially the Scrambler with the gunmetal tank and brown leather saddle. But then the silver, brushed metal tank is pretty cool too, harkening back to those old Norton tanks. Or the one with black and gold highlights. But my favourite, if we are posing, is the Racer with the retro colours and bubble cockpit. This would definitely turn some heads.
The cafe racer craze is still alive and well, according to BMW. Speaking of poser bikes, don’t get me started on the Triumph Bobber. It tries too hard. The whole secret of a poser bike is getting one that looks great but not too great, if you know what I mean. It’s a sign of desperation. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never been drawn to Harley Davidson, and you’ll notice there are no photos here of them. The only photos I took at the Harley display was of the entire display, complete with rock music, large-screen video, lots of leather, and Harley chicks in skimpy skirts. They are clearly selling a lifestyle. It’s a sight to behold. But if I were forced to chose another bike, less practical than my adventure bike, but that looks great, I’d be more inclined to go with something like the Triumph T100 or the Street Twin. Classic, classy, and modern, all in one package. Triumph should be applauded for bringing back these classic bikes but seamlessly incorporating all the benefits of modern technology. And they get it right with the analog display, round headlight, and fork gaiters.
Next we headed over to Kawasaki and looked at the iconic KLR. If there’s one bike that epitomizes the starter adventure market it’s the KLR. Having said that, I’ll add that Bill Dutcher, founder of Americade and 50-year veteran of riding, was on a KLR when he lead our group at the Dirt Daze Rally last June. Okay, he’d geared it up, but still found it plenty capable for his needs, and he is no slow-poke, as I discovered. Gabriel sat on the KLR and immediately realized why it has been so popular over many years. The ergonomics are perfect and the seat is wide and comfy. Unlike BMW, Kawasaki have designed their way out of the comfort saddle aftermarket, to their credit. They know their clientele. Then he looked at the price: a little over $7,000. Compare that to the “comparable” 750GS at almost $11,000. That’s about $4,000 more, a lot of money when you are a student. Okay, the 310R, wherever it is, is $6,450, but has half the power and cast rather than spoke wheels. I’d take the KLR any day, but God-forbid not that ugly Camo version. What were they thinking? Are we in Maine? The only serious consideration with the KLR is the charging system, which is weak. So put some of that leftover 4G’s into a relay and be cognizant of how many accessories you add.
While there, we had to cruise past the H2R because, well, it’s the H2R.
I’m not going to own this beast in this lifetime, not if I want to live a little longer, but one sure can marvel at the aesthetics of speed. Speaking of which, then we wandered back over to BMW to compare the track-only HP4. Designed by a small, very specialized team, the bike is BMW’s pure-bred racer, and here was one of only 750 made. No wonder we were not allowed to sit on it. Back down on earth, we looped back around to Honda to look at the new Gold Wing.
The Gold Wing has been the, well, gold-standard superslab touring bike for a long time, but some of the guys in my club have said Honda has become complacent and the market has dwindled. The 2018 model is a massive redesign and meant to address that. But Honda wanted to get this right, so it’s been working on this for over four years instead of the usual two and a half year timeframe for new motorcycles at Honda. This is a slimmer, trimmer, lighter, and faster Gold Wing with a radically new front suspension and optional 7-speed DCT tranny. Don’t ask me about the new suspension because, even after reading about it in the latest Cycle World, I still can’t visualize it. All I know is that it involves an A-frame that pivots outward instead of the telescopic forks that compress downward. Apparently it’s silky smooth, even smoother, if that is possible, than a “normal” luxury touring bike. It also apparently prevents the front diving in braking that is found with telescopic suspension; instead, the front wheel travels perfectly up and down over bumps.
The engine and the rider have moved forward about an inch and a half, and since the rider is now closer to the fairing, the fairing can be smaller. According to Honda, the new fairing produces 11 percent less drag, which is significant because from what I know about the Gold Wing, its liability is that it’s a parachute in high winds. A buddy of mine got hit with a cross wind on his and was pushed all the way across the road onto the opposite shoulder. In fact, if there hadn’t by chance been a lookout there to pull off to, he would have been in trouble. His guardian angel was looking out for him that day. And less drag means more fuel efficiency, a full 20% better. Transmission is tweaked with a higher top-gear ratio enabling 2,500 rpm at 75 mph. By comparison, my thumper hits 5,500 rpm at that speed, or over twice the rpm’s. Of course I’m comparing apples and oranges, but it’s clear that the new Gold Wing is meant to traverse large distances comfortably. To Honda’s credit, the engine isn’t bigger, which bucks the trend. Why do all upgrades have to involve more power? They focused instead on rideability, producing a luxury tourer that, according to reviews, is flickable and fun. And yes, borrowing from it’s adventure bike market, Honda has offered a 7-speed dual-clutch option for a true luxury experience.
Finally, we headed over to the custom bikes. Here are a few favourites.
There was also an R90, beautifully restored. I love these old bikes and can see myself one day doing some restoration, although I have a lot to learn first.
And then there was this thing which, although not my cup of tea (see above re. trying too hard), I have to admit was pretty impressive in its craftsmanship.
We also checked out the Slingshot and a Timbersled, or Timbersled-inspired accessory.
Canadian winters are long, and it sure would be fun to be able to ride through those months. I don’t know if I would bother while living in Montreal. I’d have to trailer the bike to the mountains. But I can see perhaps getting one of these when I retire to the BC interior at the base of The Rockies. Yeah, dirt bike in the summer, Timbersled in the winter. No more February blues.
What bike are you excited about this year? What would you get if you traded up?
The season is just around the corner and I’ll be posting again more frequently, so click Follow if you’re interested in motorcycles, off-roading, adventure touring, gear, and other riding-related stuff.