Review: Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special

The story of Harley-Davidson has been a soap opera in recent years. The fully electric Livewire that was revealed in 2014? Quite the plot twist for a brand that’s usually linked to classic choppers and rumbling exhausts. And if that wasn’t already hard enough to swallow for the average Harley rider, they had to stomach an adventure bike and a streetfighter a couple of years later. Or at least the announcement. Preproduction models of both bikes (the Pan America and the Bronx) were shown at the 2020 Brussels Motor Show. Shortly afterwards the storyline spiraled even further with a new CEO who immediately decided to ditch the Bronx. Just to quickly give you an idea of a few plot lines.

The announced adventure bike did appear in showrooms this year, so I took the Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special on a little trip to Germany to discover how it rides.

The Special version of the Pan America differs from the standard version with a range of extras: semi-active suspension, tire pressure monitoring, crashbars, handguards, heated grips, steering damper, centerstand, bash plate, radiator guard, cornering lights and a brake pedal that can be easily adjusted to two different heights. Starting prices: $17,319 for the standard Pan, $19,999 for the Special. My version also had the optional spoked wheels and the adaptive seat height.

If you don’t like the design of the Pan America: it looks a lot better in real life than it does in the pictures. The striking front will probably be the pitfall for this model even though owners will think of it as ‘different’ or ‘original’. After one week, Continue reading

Review: KTM 390 Adventure

For years, KTM has been building the most offroad-worthy bikes. They make use of the knowledge they’ve gained in the rally world to build a production bike with – just like any brand nowadays – the pieces they have in stock.

This way they’ve constructed a full 1290 line-up: from The Beast all the way up to the Super Adventure. The engine of the 790 Duke was the base for one of the most praised adventure bikes of recent years, the KTM 790 Adventure. Recently they repeated the trick with the 890 Duke.

Downsizing is a popular trend in the motorcycling world as well, because not everyone can afford an expensive motorcycle. Especially European constructors want to get a piece of the cake that we know as ‘growth markets’. When you’re present in one of those BRIC-countries, you’ll want to have the bike built over there to reduce costs. So KTM took the engine and the frame of the Duke 390 platform to India where the Bajaj factories gave birth to the KTM 390 Adventure.

For the last test ride of this year, I went out for a ride on this smallest adventurer from Mattighofen. During a staycation I travelled from the Ardennes to the coast, wondering how much of an adventure one could experience on this Indian Austrian. After all it’s “but a four hundred”.

I’m pretty confused when I stand next to it for the first time: is this the 390 or the 790? The 390 isn’t at all as small as I expected. The standard seat height measures 855 mm, half a centimeter higher than the 790 Adventure. The bodywork looks just as Continue reading

Review: Yamaha Ténéré 700

It was the year 2016 and as the first pictures of the Yamaha T7 Concept came in, I couldn’t stop drooling over them. It was a long wait until the Ténéré 700 finally arrived in 2019 and an even longer wait until I could finally swing my leg over it mid-2020. Enough with the drooling, shall we go for a ride?

Before I turn over the key, let’s have a look at what I’m dealing with. A middleweight adventure bike. That’s a very crowded segment with all the usual suspects and mavericks. It’s not hard to find some ten competitors once you start listing them up. BMW F 850 GS, Triumph Tiger 900, KTM 790 Adventure, Suzuki V-Strom 650, Moto Guzzi V85 TT, Ducati Multistrada 950, Kawasaki Versys 650, Benelli TRK 502, Royal Enfield Himalayan, Honda CB500X … almost all brands have got one in their model range. What added value can Yamaha offer?

The looks and equipment clearly state which side the Ténéré 700 is choosing. Offroad? Yes, please! It turns its back on more road-focused adventure bikes, thereby shortening the list of competitors.

The high, slim figure, the rally-inspired face, the long suspension travel (8.3 inch front and 7.9 inch rear), block pattern Pirelli’s, aluminum engine guard: it all looks pretty tough. The seat matches the adventurous appearance: Continue reading

Long-distance test: KTM 790 Adventure

The longest Team Throttle test ever brought me from the Black Forest via the Dolomites to the French Alps. Then I circled the Gorges du Verdon and zigzagged through the Pyrenees. All together I covered 7042 km in 17 riding days.

I rode the most hyped bike of 2019: the KTM 790 Adventure. It turned into a story of love and hate, of rejection and attraction. But also a story of sheer ecstasy and high climaxes. And finally a story of regret. Regret that I had to say goodbye to this polarizing bike.

First impression

It didn’t start well, my relationship with this KTM. I had been eagerly looking forward to meet this new Austrian in person, but during our first rendezvous at the Brussels Motor Show early 2019, I was disappointed: I didn’t find it attractive and the bulging tank looked weird, like man-boobs. Was this the bike that would turn the adventure class upside down?

Luggage

My purpose during the trip was to camp as often as possible and cook myself on a regular basis. So I needed to take quite a bit of luggage.

KTM had equipped the 790 with plastic panniers. They look quite slick and are easy to install on the nicely integrated pannier racks. Unfortunately they open from the side and have a weirdly shaped interior, making it difficult to use their full capacity (35 liters on the left and 27 liters on the right).

Aluminum cases that open from the top may need a separate rack, but they’re much more convenient to use and you can tie stuff to the rack too. If you tie things to the passenger grips of the 790, it better be your lucky day. They’re open on one side, so a stretcher or strap slips off easily. Apart from that, they’re well designed and made of a pleasant non-slip material. Perfect for your duo or to maneuver the bike.

After some puzzling, three roll bags with camping material ended up on top of the passenger seat and the panniers were filled with lighter things.

Second impression

I got my second impression of the 790 Adventure during 400 kilometers of highway that marked the start of my trip. Together with Jean I rode from Luxembourg to the Black Forest in Germany. Biker buddy Tony joined us there for four riding days.

That stretch of highway didn’t make my second impression Continue reading

Quick test: BMW R 1250 GS Adventure

BMW’s biggest GS and its even bigger brother, the GSA, always do extremely well in the sales charts. Which surprises me every time. Not in the least because of the steep price, but also because of the dimensions of both bikes. The R 1250 GS Adventure in particular seems colossal. It’s high, wide and has a wet weight of 268 kg: that’s a lot of motorcycle for someone with an average physique.

When BMW unexpectedly asked if I wanted to test a 1250 GSA, I didn’t hesitate for a second and replied, “Of course!” It was only afterwards that I realized that I was about to ride that mastodon of a GSA. Exciting!

The GS Adventure which BMW provided was one in beautiful Style HP set-up. In addition to golden cross-spoked wheels and a rally seat, it has the BMW Motorsport colors which in my opinion is the nicest version there is.

Before hopping on the seat, the explanation of all setting possibilities took a while: BMW had equipped the bike with just about every possible optional pack. The Comfort pack consists of a chrome exhaust, heated grips and tire pressure control. In the Touring pack you’ll find Dynamic ESA suspension, keyless ride, navigation preparation, cruise control, fog lights and the luggage rack. The Dynamic pack includes a quickshifter (up and down), Pro riding modes, DRL and white direction indicators.

Changing the settings is easy thanks to a few buttons on the handlebars and the well-known rotary wheel. The beautiful (and standard) 6.5” full-color TFT display tells you which settings you’ve selected. There was also an Continue reading

Review: Benelli TRK 502

The history of Benelli is an eventful one. In 1911, Mamma Benelli opened a workshop for her six sons in Pesaro, Italy, so they could earn a living doing car and motorbike repairs. They often made parts themselves, so in 1921 they took it a step further and built the first Benelli motorcycle from the ground up.

The factory was bombed during WWII but the brothers didn’t give up. In the 1950s Benelli gained a name thanks to several racing successes, highlighted by winning the 250 cc world championship with pilot Dario Ambrosini.

In the 60s and 70s, Benelli did well, but the strong Japanese competition brought the brand to its knees in 1988. In the 90s, Benelli came into the hands of the Merloni group and released legendary bikes such as the Tornado and the TnT 1130. But again the success didn’t last.

The Chinese group Qianjiang took over Benelli in 2005 and the brand disappeared off the radar. At least, in Europe. Benelli focused on growth markets such as India and even Iran. At EICMA 2015, Benelli unveiled the Leoncini and the TRK 502. The beginning of Continue reading

Review: Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin Adventure Sports

In 2016 I tested the Africa Twin and I wasn’t exactly wild about it. Three years later I have to revise my opinion. But first, let’s look at the bigger picture.

In the late 1980s the Honda XRV650 started the Africa Twin story. The discontinuation of the XRV750 production in 2003 interrupted that story, but Honda breathed new life into the Africa Twin: in 2016 the CRF1000L saw the light of day, after a few years of rumors and speculation.

First update

In 2018, the CRF1000L Africa Twin got its first update and an adventure-oriented variant was revealed: the CRF1000L Africa Twin Adventure Sports.

That update made the Africa Twin 2 kg lighter. It got a ride-by-wire throttle and a new, more extensive LCD display. The engine gained mid-range torque thanks to a lighter balance shaft and a revised inlet and exhaust system. The DCT (automatic gearbox in normal human language) also got an update.

Even more than the Africa Twin, the Adventure Sports is built for long, adventurous journeys. It has a larger tank (24.2 liters compared to 18.8 on the Africa Twin), a higher windshield, a taller fairing, tough-looking crash bars, slightly higher positioned handlebars and 2 cm more ground clearance than the Africa Twin. The adjustable seat can be set at 900 or 920 mm (on the Africa Twin: 850 or 870 mm). There’s also a lower seat available (60 mm lower).

Oh no, DCT!

I spent a few days with the Africa Twin Adventure Sports in Germany’s Black Forest to find out if Honda’s big adventure bike really improved. I hoped to get one with a manual gearbox, because in 2016 my first experience with Honda’s DCT absolutely hadn’t convinced me. So I was slightly disappointed when I discovered that the Adventure Sports I got to test was one with automatic transmission.

I knew that I had to skip the D-mode of the gearbox (due to its sleep-inducing slow shift pattern) and immediately chose the S3 mode, the most extreme of the three sportive shift modes. Very quickly my initial disappointment Continue reading