"Adventure" bikes are about as practical and unglamorous as motorcycling gets. They're fairly ugly to look at, they're often ridden hard and put away wet, they're taken to dirty places and they have dirty things done to them. Which to my mind has always made them a preserve of the hardcore rider - these are not ridden by Harley polishers or leather-clad latte sippers, they're ridden by folks that like to get out and throw motorcycles around out where it's tough.
So it's encouraging to see that the adventure class is heating up more than ever in 2011 - and two new middleweight all-roaders from Suzuki and Honda now come into a mix that's becoming almost saturated with bikes like the Kawasaki Versys, the BMW F800GS, the Yamaha Tenere and Triumph's Tiger 800.
2012 Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABSLet's start with the Suzi, because I'm a huge fan of the old model. Last year's wee-strom shares the dubious honurs of being just about the ugliest motorcycle on the market, and one of the most practical too. If you could put up with its horrific looks, the 650 was even better than its 1000cc brother in many ways - lighter, more comfortable, easier to ride - and it was an effortless tourer, fun scratcher, built to carry luggage and passengers, and a very capable all-rounder. Since its release in 2004, it's been my #1 choice for a bike to take around the country if I ever get off my butt and do it.
So the all-new 2012 bike has a fair bit to live up to. Let's have a look. With the valve timing and gearbox lightly revised, the new 650 is said to be a little grunter down low, a little reviver up high and geared for a sportier riding style in first through fifth (sixth gear is purely for highway efficiency). The engine dimensions are exactly the same as the familiar donk that has powered the V-Strom, the SV and the Gladius in the past, so we can assume it will be as smooth and reliable here as ever.
The new bike is six kilos lighter at 214 kg wet and full of fuel - although this is assisted by the fact that the fuel tank is two liters smaller than the old strom's 22 liters. Still, you're looking at a healthy 350km+ (220 mile) range.
The bike has been completely restyled - most notably at the front end, which looks unmistakably like a faired version of the Gladius nakedbike. Nifty little plastic ducts move air away out of the radiator. The rear end looks familiar, comfy and long - hopefully it's built to take plenty of luggage. Overall, the new wee-strom looks damn near presentable, not far off the silhouette of the Tiger 800.
The screen has apparently been completely revised after a lot of hours in wind tunnels. You'd hope so, the old bike's screen was one of its worst features. Here's hoping the new bike gets it right.
ABS comes standard - it might as well, given that mandatory ABS is being discussed by government bodies all over the world as a means of making our favorite danger machines safer.
In all, the new V-Strom 650 ABS looks like it will sit roughly where the old one has - roughly in the middle of the pack in terms of its focus. It's still a road bike more than anything else, and it should be a killer mile muncher to boot - but with long-travel soft suspension and semi-offroad tires it should be comfortable on the loose stuff too.
2012 Honda CrossrunnerThe Crossrunner is an all-new model from Honda, presumably built to replace the rather tired Transalp and uninspiring Varadero. These two bikes have sold very successfully, particularly in Europe, but my brief experiences with each left me pretty cold. Suspension felt sloppy, brakes were uninspiring, riding positions were okay and the engines were probably as practical as the Suzuki's, but ... kind of boring.
Honda could have chosen the reliable NT700V Deauville as the base to build from in designing a new adventure machine - but instead, it made the curious decision to use the V-4 engine out of the old VFR800, a high-speed sports touring machine. This makes the Crossrunner the only 4-cylinder bike in its class.
That's an interesting choice - twins are usually lighter, torquier and the greater gaps between their power pulses are understood to be an advantage where grip is uncertain - like it is 100% of the time you're riding offroad. So on the one hand, the design of the bike with its motard-peaked nosecone seems to scream off-roader, but the engine seems much more road focused - sports focused, even. It's a good 30% more powerful than the V-Strom, and anyone who's ever ridden a VFR800 in anger will know how beautifully this creature lives above the old imperial tonne. It loves to run.
The Crossrunner's design is in keeping with the direction Honda has taken with all its recent roadbikes - sharp tail, deep glossy paint, single sided rear swingarm with sexy star-shaped hub, stacked headlights - in fact if anything, this looks like a beefed-up, overgrown CB1000R - despite the fact that it's actually quite compact when seen in person.
ABS is again standard here - this time using Honda's superb Combined ABS system. That means that an onboard braking computer will not only correct loss of traction under brakes, it also actively proportions stopping power between the front and rear wheels to prevent unnecessary weight transfer and guard against poor rider choices like deciding to stop using only the rear brake. It's a great system and it works - unless you like doing skids or stoppies. Sigh.
An optional pannier/top box kit will presumably make the Crossrunner an effective and comfy tourer, and again plenty of time has been spent in the wind tunnel developing a touring screen. I've heard this a lot before though, and there's an awful lot of shockingly bad screens going around. Either way, there's a strong aftermarket that doesn't want to put up with bad aerodynamics any more than you and I do.
Road-sized rims and tires that give only the barest nod to offroad capability are pretty much the icing on the cake when it comes time to work out where the Crossrunner is targeted - it's one of the most road-focused adventure bikes on the market. It will also live on the sporty end of the spectrum - if its suspension is up to the task of quick progress. The Crossrunner is an interesting looking bike, and a fresh chance for Honda to get a certain sort of "Adventure" done right.
At the end of the day, both these bikes are probably fairly well pitched - the road is where they're likely to spend most of their time, and when it comes time to go party in the dirt, smaller middleweight engines are probably much more appropriate than the big 1200cc-class behemoths for the majority of riders. You can take any bike off road - these aren't going to trouble dedicated dirt machines, but they'll handle things better than most roadbikes.
Lots more pictures in the gallery.