Off-road specialist Vijay Parmar looks back at what might have been the start point of adventure motorcycling.
I cannot for the life of me figure out when adventure motorcycling was born. Helge Pedersen, the world famous explorer who crossed the Sahara and all of Africa in 1982 on ‘Olga’ his R 80 GS, answered my question easily.
‘Adventure motorcycling was born with the first motorcycle – Adventure bikes, more recently’.
In 1977, a friend of mine forked a leg across a Jawa and rode it from Chandigarh to Nordkapp in Norway. On the way back he crossed the Zagros mountains in the winter, riding through snowed under passes, to Iran. Dealing with a rear flat was simple. You swapped the deflated rear wheel with the inflated front one and rode sitting as far back as possible. The bike did 100km without even damaging the nozzle. You rode to the ends of the world and came back without a single person trying to slot it into a niche – Enduro, Dual-Sport, Adventure – all the terms of today’s hard sell. Then, it was just a Jawa, with its gene pool germinated in a factory in the Czech Republic.
The desire to explore the unknown deserts and jungles of this planet fired the imagination of many. Barring Steve McQueen’s leap into a German barbed wire fence, a motorcycle was, for a long time, the most unlikely and last choice with which to undertake a mad adventure.
It really changed with Africa, the Dakar and the R 80 GS. Gaston Rahier, the Belgian, who won the epic rally in 1985 on a BMW R 80 GS was only 5ft 4 inches tall. He piloted the 260-kilo mile muncher through the sands of the Tenere with amazing skill. Not to belittle his wins but small credit was given at that time to the motorcycle that had begun what was to become the mount for some of the greatest adventures on two wheels. The Adventure Bike. Respect came later. Honda would call their magnum opus the Africa Twin, Yamaha named their Dakar winner The Tenere, Cagiva's moniker was the Elephant and BMW called their winning F650 bike – the Dakar!
Off-road. The word itself is evocative. It defies the straight and narrow, conjures up pictures of unlimited options and gives every red blooded traveller the goosebumps. Gengis Khan comes to mind. The vast steppes of Mongolia, the Taklamakan and Gobi deserts, all appear do-able. And they are. It involves learning though – skills to handle the big, powerful bike, a temperament to manage the daily challenges and the patience to record the events with the dedication of the chief librarian at Nineveh.
A plethora of paradoxes – these adventure motorcycles. Too tall. Too heavy. Too expensive. A compromise between the low slung crotch rocket and the high seated, super light, super strong, enduro machines that boast over a foot of suspension travel. Yet despite the towering and oft ungainly looks, the ADV bike can munch the miles over tar and dirt alike, deliver you across three countries without breaking a sweat, all in the same day.
You can ride one of these over the horizon. But to do that you also need the knowledge to ride one. We aim to give you just that over the months ahead!