“Mate, if I’d been by myself I might have pushed the thing over and set fire to it — but all my mates were having the same problems.”

I was talking to a bloke I’ve known for decades about his adventure bike and how it wasn’t performing the way he’d hoped during a 4500km trip through Far North Queensland. “At one stage, roadworks had closed the main road, so we ended up on
a detour which was soft, bumpy and as tiring as hell — unless you were doing around 100km/h, when the bike was basically skimming across the top — but it was downright scary to slow down. A mate had a tank slapper so bad he needed a time-out to gather his wits about him. I was thinking my bike was an absolute piece of shit until I realised the people riding fancier, more expensive machines were having the same troubles.”

Turns out it wasn’t the bike, it was a combination of the conditions and expectations — the whole group were dirtbike riders who had caught the adventure bike bug and gone out and bought a bunch of twin-cylinder machines, only to be shocked they didn’t handle the tough conditions like an enduro bike would. They are all on the market now,
the whole group choosing to move back
to singles.

This led me to the question: what’s an adventure? What’s an adventure bike? Here at Road Rider we occasionally receive feedback from readers who say we’re publishing too many tests of adventure bikes and how we should focus on road bikes… but as far as I’m concerned, most adventure bikes are really road bikes that are designed to be awesome on dirt roads in addition to bitumen. Dirtbikes are only to be ridden on bitumen if it’s getting you to the dirt, as far as I’m concerned.

The manufacturers aren’t helping; they show off their adventure bikes being flown though the air, power-sliding at full lock, going up steep rocky inclines and doing massive wheelies through the bush. Which might be fine if you’re a Chris Birch, Adam Riemann or Shane Booth. 

If you’re a gumby like me, riding like that will put you in hospital rather than on YouTube (or maybe both, but not for the right reasons).

At Road Rider we test most adventure bikes for their suitability as adventure tourers. We ask for them with panniers, we try to take them on long rides, we take them across dirt roads and bad country roads and mountain passes and maybe down a snotty hill or two… but if you want to know how they perform in really tough terrain, ask Andrew ‘Clubby’ Clubb, the editor of Australian Adventure Bike.

I’m all for people riding
the bikes they love — the machine which stirs your soul, which you like to see in the garage, a motorcycle you’re happy to polish. If that’s a 250cc cruiser, great. If it’s a 40-year-old two-stroke, ring-ding joyously. If it’s a brand-new 200hp rocket ship, respect. If it’s a tired old trailie, I’m sure there are many memories of great rides.

However, if you’re looking for transport to take you around the countryside of this vast land with most unsealed roads going to interesting places, a bike with a tall front wheel, dual-purpose tyres and long suspension travel will take you places road or enduro machines can’t go, at least
as easily.

My mate is selling his adventure bike, but I think that’s because he’s completed the trip he bought it for and is going back to his roots. He’s a dirtbike rider at heart and needs something light and clickable underneath him… but I’m also sure if he’d tried to do a 4500km two-week Far North Queensland odyssey on a single, he’d have discovered a few drawbacks too, for no bike does everything.

Which is why you need more than one.

– Nigel Paterson