Recently, I joined a small group of riders to attend BMW Motorrad’s 100th year celebration at Grotto to Gravel. Appropriately, this is a biker-friendly luxury tented camp not far from Magaliesberg, and home to a small bike museum that houses, among others, a BM R1100 S, a BMW K100 “The Flying Brick” and a 1980 BMW R100RS.
I hadn’t gone out beyond the Joburg city streets on my 2015 R1200R in a while and figured it was a good opportunity for both of us to stretch ourselves a bit. I pulled up to the meeting spot and was immediately dwarfed by the various iterations of the BMW adventure bike, the GS, and when we pulled up to the parking at the venue, this was again the dominant motorcycle. While there were other motorcycles on display, including my favourite, the R nineT racer, the only test riding facility at the event was an adventure course.
In the small WhatsApp group I have been part of for some years, everyone seems to be on an adventure motorcycle. Out of a group of ten, only three of us don’t ride adventure bikes and I think one of the guys has since bought one. And the statistics seem to reinforce this trend in my very small circle.
According to Arnold Olivier, National Director for the Association of Motorcycle Distributors (AMID), “adventure motorcycles make up 60% of the leisure road motorcycle market, and this has been relatively consistent for the past 10 years or so, varying from 53% to as much as 65%. The variations are more to do with when new models are introduced, causing spikes in particular years. So, 60% is a good average.”
From the GS and Triumph’s Tiger to Honda’s Africa Twin and KTM’s Adventure, this category of motorcycles is dominating the streets, and beyond.
I have been fascinated by this growing adventure motorcycle trend and have been trying to figure out why the bug hasn’t bitten me in the same way as it has so many of my fellow motorcycle enthusiasts. Don’t get me wrong though. I have had the pleasure of riding a BMW R1200GS, the Africa Twin and the Triumph Tiger 900, and enjoyed riding all of them. And I definitely plan to explore the category more in my quest to be proficient in all riding styles, but going on adventure rides are more of an occasion for me, rather than the norm.
Talking to a friend who started on a superbike and is now firmly in the GS world, having just bought his second one, something he said was a “penny drop” moment for me. Basically, while for some it is all about the dirt and gravel — which he does enjoy to a degree — he leans towards touring, which makes the adventure motorcycle, for him, three bikes in one - comfortable on the open road, in the dirt and in the city.
What I also realised following this conversation was that what I enjoy most is the visceral, technical aspect of riding. Even on shorter distances around the city, I am constantly recalling the things learned on the various riding courses, like foot, arm and knee positions when cornering. I do find that the bigger adventure motorcycles are a lot more forgiving and allow you to zone out a bit when on longer rides.
On the ride out to Magaliesberg, while I was constantly shifting in my saddle as we navigated the bends, flipping the motorcycle left and right, concentrating on apexes and gears, my companions were sitting upright, leaning in comfortably. Their heart rates were probably much lower than mine but I wouldn’t trade that for the exhilaration I felt.
But, we weren’t riding on gravel or dirt which is where an adventure motorcycle definitely comes into its own. The last time I rode on gravel, all I ended up with was stress from trying to stay upright in the sandy patches and a broken headlight from a rock spit up by the tyre of the GS in front of me.