When BMW launched its R80GS in 1980, it was regarded as an oddball motorcycle despite its infinite practicality - being part roadster and part dirt-bike. It was a ground-breaking motorcycle, becoming the first of a new genre of two-wheelers designed for "adventure touring": a beastie which can be fun when the blacktop is winding, and more fun when it turns to gravel.
Given the tyranny of distance which defines our great continent, and the poorly maintained country roads which cover it, the dual-purpose genre is ideally suited for Australian conditions: enough power and grunt to satisfy sports riders on the tarmac and enough feel from the usually twin-cylinder motors to control wheelspin when the surface is loose.
Fortunately, BMW's pioneering of the concept caught on, and within a few weeks there will be eight contenders in this class, making it the most competitive genre in motorcycling. Five of the eight are powered by V-twin engines, and a sixth, Yamaha's TDM900, is a parallel twin with a 270 degree crankshaft which effectively gives it the character of a V-twin. The class will become even more competitive next year when Ducati releases the Multistrada 1000 concept bike it showed in December in Milan - another v-twin.
The current focus is on the newcomers - Yamaha's TDM900 has just arrived in Australia and has been priced very competitively at $14,999 while Suzuki is planning an April release for its VStrom, a dual-purpose machine powered by the liquid-cooled, fuel-injected TL1000S sports bike donk - the same engine which powers Cagiva's Navigator. Suzuki has not yet put a dollar figure on the V-Strom but has forecast it will be sharply priced, making this market a buyer's paradise over coming months as these almost all-new machines will obviously compete to drive sales in the segment upwards.
In 2001, the BMW R1150GS was the top selling bike in this category by a huge margin, followed by Honda's Varedero 1000, Yamaha's TDM850 and Triumph's three-cylinder Tiger, the most powerful in the class. In April, the R1150GS will be available in a second, more off-road, overland tourer guise - the Adventure model, which offers a range of standard features suitable for real outback adventure. With its models splitting the buyers, and a raft of competition, it will be interesting indeed to see which bike sells the most in 2002.