When it comes to big adventures a smaller bike is actually better

When it comes to big adventures a smaller bike is actually better

Presenter of The Bike Show, Mat Durrans, ponders his bucket list road trip and explains why he’d pick something small and nimble over something hefty and fast.

They were giving us clothes,” explains Manuel of their ascent of Beyik pass in Tajikistan. “This is a fantastic mountain that is very famous for bikers. But not at this time of year.”

It was December, the temperature was well below freezing, it was snowing, Ivana, his girlfriend, didn’t even have gloves, and she was wearing an open-face helmet.

At this point in the interview I couldn’t stifle a bit of a laugh. I’m all for spontaneity, but giving yourself hypothermia and altitude sickness on a deadly mountain range during a winter storm without a proper jacket and gloves is going too far.

Most travellers who embark on a round-the-world trip have spent months, if not years, deciding on routes, researching locations and preparing for the unexpected.

Not this couple: Manuel bought his Yamaha XTZ 660 with a planetary expedition in mind, even though he couldn’t really ride a bike. He sorted out that inconvenient detail by putting Ivana on the back and heading off from his home in southern Spain to Morocco for a couple of weeks. Surviving desert and mountains and more certain than ever that this was something they simply had to do, the couple rode home, quit their jobs and headed off in an easterly direction.

No planning, no timetable and, perhaps most surprising of all, no GPS. They navigated with the help of a small map and word of mouth. This isn’t because they have anything against GPS: instead they decided they wanted to be forced to interact more with the locals. Know where you’re heading — roughly — and then ask anyone and everyone what the best route should be.

Manuel and Ivana have taken this philosophy to the extreme with their self-imposed rule of never paying for accommodation. They either camp in the wild in their tiny two-man tent, or they hook up with people they meet on the road. “We’ve spent nights in temples, fire and police stations, community centres, churches, but most of all in people’s homes. It is amazing how generous most people are, and we’ve made so many great friends this way”, says Ivana.

G310 GS

The new lightweight BMW G310 GS would be the author’s road trip whip of choice

They’ve been on the road for three years already, and Africa represents their last continent. After experiencing the abundant South African hospitality for a couple of weeks, they hit the road once again with a vague idea that they should be heading north. “I think it should take about a year,” reckons Manuel, in a statement that passes for a detailed plan for this extraordinary couple.

We’ve met several such inspirational travellers on The Bike Show this year, and each time my own long-dormant plan for a similar adventure rises to the surface again. It’s not quite as involved as traversing the entire planet, but there are still some proper distances involved.

From the bottom of South America to the top of North America is on my bucket list, and one of these days I’ll actually get round to finding the time. You might imagine that I’d choose one of the popular tools for this kind of job, something like KTM’s 1190 Adventure or the equivalent from BMW.

But those big beasts are not for me, at least not for a journey that will require decent off-road skills, of which I have none. Like Manuel, I reckon a smaller, lighter bike is the way to go.

I’ve ridden big adventure bikes through everything from rocky mountain trails to sweeping dunes and the overriding concern by the end of the day is whether I’ll have the strength to pick the bike up. Again.

When you’re trundling through the scenery on your journey of a lifetime, you don’t need big power or an impressive top speed. You need a dual-purpose bike that will sit at 100-120km/h, has a decent-sized tank and can carry your luggage.

BMW is about to release a new model, an important addition to its GS range of off-roaders. It will be 300cc, make modest power and be, I presume, less than half the price of its bigger, more glamorous cousins. It will also be significantly lighter, and that’s the dealmaker for me.

Many “serious” adventure riders will no doubt scoff at the idea, but fortunately I’m not a serious off-road rider.

I will also make my own rules for adventure and they will, wherever possible, include the use of a credit card on decent hotels and excellent food. Unlike Manuel and Ivana, my adventure involves roughing it only when absolutely necessary.

Whatever way you want to go about your own adventure, for however long, alone or with friends, Manuel and Ivana made me realise that there was no excuse for not giving it a go. They spend very little money, are never in a hurry and began their epic expedition with virtually no riding experience and even less riding kit.

Next year they will return home, four years after their journey began. Plans after that? “Keep going,” they both say.