Welcome 2010 and the Age of Adventure

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Near bald, the Hypermotard 1100S’s Pirelli Diablo III is spinning in the damp dirt, while fellow rider Mark pushes it from behind. Not because anything is wrong, but because ridden the bike partway up an embankment of single-track and the grade has outstripped traction. Despite the enduro looks the road-going Hypermotard was never meant for this, but some thrown dirt, pushing, shoving, and smoking tire later, the Ducati crests the hill, enters the Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) and creates a definitive ride of 2009.

It is representative that I’d classify this ride as adventure, the hot motorcycle meme for this year, and perhaps decade.

The adventure and dual sport market, even after 2009’s economic implosion, has plowed onwards through the economic wasteland. Much as the Ducati Hypermotard’s front end is plowing through the gravel on the “whoops” of the Kettle Valley Railway. The former track bed, stripped of ties and rails, is now peaked and dipped with use. Cory, on a Kawasaki KLX250 slows off, the dirt bike’s long travel suspension is easily handling with the constant undulations, and looks across at me quizzically. The Hypermotard is coping surprisingly well though, but in a dualsport flock finds itself trailing the pack.

We shouldn’t be here, but the area isn’t specifically or legally designated as motor vehicle restricted. It’s just deeply discouraged.

There are challenges ahead for adventure riding in the next decade too. At a recent event at Sun Peaks Resort, former top Canadian Ski racer, Senator Nancy Greene, who won gold and silver medals at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics, quizzes Kevin and I on shared trail usage throughout Canada. The model of vehicular usage mixing with self-propelled travelers isn’t working. Hikers, bikers and walkers are complaining, in part due to the few “yahoos” who can’t be bothered to respect this self-propelled set. In return those on bicycle and foot are displaying equal selfishness when it comes to sharing these trails with vehicular users as they look down from an environmental moral high ground.

At each official entry for the KVR, sits clutches of parked SUVs, trucks and RVs. Few “self propelled” users seem struck by the irony of the fuel consumed by leviathan four-wheelers to reach the trailheads.

At a trestle crossing, there is a scowl from a hiker with long gray hair, until Gandalf the scornful realizes that this trailing red apparition is not like the other off-roaders leading the pack. In doubt he mouths, “Ducati?”

Sometimes exotic cache is useful.

This won’t be as rare a sight, as the flying-D joins the adventure fray with the upcoming Multistrada, but this decade the trend was kickstarted in the popular imagination by a BMW marketing coup. Ewan McGregor, Charlie Boorman and BMW solidified this market with the 2004’s Long Way Round and 2007’s follow-up Long Way Down, two series seemingly tailored to the road rider wanting to see more, go further and do more on their rides. Adventure, it seemed, had arrived and broke through the bounds of the motorcycle genre into the popular consciousness.

The one question you will always field when riding an adventure bike from non-riders is, “Did you see Long Way Round.”

BMW reaped the reward; the promotion of their R1200GS and R1150GS Adventure bikes to iconic status and the near default choice of the well-heeled adventurer. There were cracks though, in the Long Way Down cameraman Claudio Von Planta’s BMW broke down in Mongolia, and he was forced to proceed on a Russian made bike, which he preferred to the BMW as it was considerably lighter and therefore easier to maneuver. Quietly off-screen, Von Planta’s bike begged the question, “Does it matter if you’re not on an adventure bike?”

At the moment, tobogganing the Hypermotard nose first down an bank towards a water crossing, foot down, heart in throat, only releasing the brakes’ lock on the front and rear tires enough to gain a vestige of grip, I think not. Then I look up, across the river, as the Kawasaki KLX250 decides to take a little nap on its side while exiting the ford.

My confidence is shaken. I’m not even sure the air intake on L-Twin’s the front cylinder will clear the water, as the California Cycleworks Extended Range Tank has replaced the air box with filters near mounted to the cylinders. I pause a moment and contemplate the crossing.

In taking a road bike beyond pavement, this ride is a minor footnote and even less of an accomplishment. It is the equivalent of one footstep left in series around the planet by motorcycling giants. There’s Yamaha R1 rider Nick Sanders, noted for circumnavigating the planet on the supersport litre bike. Predating Sanders are adventure riding’s archetypes – Nebraska natives, James Wilson and Francis Flood. In their Flood-Wilson Trans-African Expedition the two rode 3,800 miles from Lagos, Nigeria to the Red Sea on 5-hp Triumph singles equipped with sidecars. The first recorded motorcyclists to cross Africa, and the subject of an upcoming 2010 OneWheelDrive.Net feature.

Thoughts of these riders cross my mind as I survey the “stream”. Kevin has crossed on the KTM 640 Adventure without incident and Mark likewise on his KTM 525 EXC; they are now looping back to assist me. I ask if there are any other options, and Mark responds that I could turn back. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t, the Hypermotard and I take the plunge, my thumb hovering over the kill switch.

The water is clear, quick, but not particularly deep. If I strategically place my feet on the larger boulders of the streambed, I can just keep the water from overflowing the top of my Alpinestar touring boots – a more thorough test of the Gortex lining the brand could not hope for. The catalytic is well submerged; the water around it steams, adding visual drama. At it’s deepest the Hypermotard’s clutch cover is submerged.

I would kill for a photo, or video, but don’t dare stop. The Hypermotard and I have to maintain our inertia, lest the Corsa’s begin to spin on the algae covered rocks, and Kevin hasn’t had time to set up the video camera. It’s a minor regret, and in some ways memories shared with coconspirators and witnesses are a more precious self-indulgence.

“You are invincible!”, Mark seems a bit excited by the water crossing.

I can’t help but grin, then demure – the Hypermotard can take the credit for performing well beyond reasonable expectations. If there’s a reason for the increasing themes of adventure found on OneWheelDrive.Net’s pages and videos, that grin is it. There is a sense of victory in overcoming obstacles; even if to other riders they minor ones.

Aptly, one of the best rides of the decade charges ahead on a wave of adrenaline and triumph. The Hypermotard and I slide, foot-dab, and power through a brief section of dark-soiled single-track, trail ripping through the forest parallel the river. Ahead there is one final obstacle, an embankment carrying us up from our excursion on the KVR and onto the pavement.

Looking back, the last decade may be the “Dawn of Adventure”, but the pinnacle is yet to come. What will define that peak remains to be seen, but reviewing our works and the multitude of rider reports across a variety of web forums, motorcycle adventure is prime overcome the self indulgent, “Look at me! I did this ride, aren’t I hardcore?” mindset obstacle. That done Adventure riders can mature into meaningful exploration of our world.

What our precursors have missed is that motorcycle adventurers are uniquely capable of photographing, videoing and writing about places where few dare to travel. We are across the world, amid Mexico in political turmoil, riding across deserts where people skirmish over water and resources, watching Australian droughts… we just need to stop, talk to locals and take note of the world – acts that only enrich the ride. Do that, and as adventurers holding the romantic pop cultural gaze, we could save the world – even if it’s only in a CTRL-S sort of way.

That would make a great era of riding. Be well and do great things in 2010 my friends, the Adventure is just beginning.

Special Thanks to Ducati for providing our ever dependable Hypermotard 1100 S. For those interested in owning the first Hypermotard to ride the KVR, the bike is now for sale at John Valk Ducati/BMW in Vancouver. There are virtually no signs of water damage.

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