California : A Light Bike Adventure Ride

Text: Jon Beck • Photography: Jon Beck

The southwestern corner of the United States is arguably both an adventure bike paradise and an ideal testing ground. Seemingly endless deserts stretch in all directions, containing virtually every type of terrain imaginable. However, the difficulty of this terrain comes in large doses at times. Where the fuel range and luggage capacity of larger adventure touring motorcycles is well suited to this environment, the heavy weight can become less than ideal when the going gets exceptionally rough. Planning a ride through the history and natural wonders this part of the country contains requires navigating deep sand, steep and rocky roads, and, in the upper elevations, potentially snowy conditions. The choice of what machine to ride can play nearly as big a part in the experience as the route itself.

The New Twin

As the adventure bike segment grows, so does the size of the machines in many cases. While Honda’s Africa Twin and BMW’s GS had been in the big twin dual sport realm since the 1980s, KTM arguably reignited the sub-1000cc dual sport trend in 1992 when it combined two LC4 engines into one twin-cylinder monster. Dubbed “the Bepono,” this unusual one-off machine would remain a quirky V-twin hard enduro experiment for over 10 years until the KTM 950 Adventure was officially announced as a production machine at the Intermot German trade show in 2003. BMW later came along with the F 800 GS, Triumph with the Tiger 800, and so on. History’s slowly turning pages began to cast shadows on single-cylinder adventure travel bikes such as the KTM 640 Adventure, Kawasaki KLR 650, and BMW F 650. Enter machines such as the Husqvarna 701 and KTM 690 to help fill this void, but to what degree? Sheer performance and long-haul travel compatibility are not necessarily in the same camp at all times.

Hypothetically swinging the pendulum wide toward the opposite end of the spectrum, what of adventure travel on sub-650cc machines? Any dirt bike can be traveled on, but whether that is practical or not is debatable. This was a question explored recently when three ultralight bikes joined a group of middleweight and heavyweight adventure touring machines on a journey across Southern California, venturing briefly into Nevada. A Beta 500 RR-S, Husqvarna TE350, and Suzuki DRZ-250 would be joined by a Husqvarna 701, BMW F 650 GS, and BMW F 800 GS—all packed for an approximately 1,204-mile ride from the southeastern corner of California to the middle of the state and back.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the January/February 2020 back issue.