1st Service is nigh …

Mike’s CRF250 Rally

Just in from another winter evening ride, now got 575 miles on the clock, another 25 miles needed before Saturday for the first service. This little bike goes incredibly well, you’d never think it’s only 250cc. Cruising at 70MPH is easy and it still returns 89MPG. Can’t wait until I can open it up a bit as it really starts to get exciting over 6000RPM.

Adventure Travel Show

I took the unusual step to take the train down to London and visit the Adventure and Travel Show at Olympia.

I didn’t really know what to expect and so I went completely open minded.

Panoramic View of the show entrance

The show was made up of many interesting little booths each selling their adventures or providing information. There were a number of different sized seminar rooms where well known individuals were giving talks on a wide variety of subjects.

I was particularly interested in the seminar by the the now famous Austin Vince and his wife Lois Pryce. Two intrepid adventure motorcyclists in their own rights.

There were a number of representatives at the show from various Embassies providing information on visas and travel arrangements. This was of particular interest as it is great to be able to ask questions directly to the people who really know what the rules are.

Kazakhstan was of particular interest to me as this is one of the countries on my route. I spent some time at the booth and eventually left with the contact details of one of the visa processing team at the Kazakhstan embassy in London.

Another booth of interest was the Fleet Street Clinic where the extremely well information nurses were able to advise us on what vaccinations we needed for each country.

The very helpful nursing team from the Fleet Street Clinic

It wasn’t long before I had a tick sheet detailing exactly what vaccinations I needed and detailed information why they were so necessary. Some of the nurses were also seasoned travellers so it was interesting to hear their experiences too.

The highlight of the show was of course the 2 hour seminar by Austin Vince and his wife Lois Pryce. Two extremely interesting people to listen to who are very experienced adventure motorcyclists in their own right.

Austin’s CRF250L Adventure Bike

Austin has ridden around the world taking the longest route possible and crossed the Sahara desert whilst Lois has travelled Alaska to the southern tip of south America and all the way down through Africa, both trips solo.

Routes that can be accomplished in 6 months

The two hour seminar soon went by with Austin and Lois sharing information on why they recommend using small capacity bikes, the type of luggage to use and why, clothing, food, routes, off road training and more.

It was a fun day meeting lots of people from so many different countries albeit a long day with a very early start. It’s certainly well worth anyone who is thinking of going on pretty much any kind of adventure around the world visiting the show as there is something there for everyone.

Booking seminars in advance is highly recommended as they sell out fast!

Honda CRF250 Rally

Today marked the first big step of my adventure.

After 3 months of research, watching videos, test rides, bike shows, conversations and disagreement, we finally collected the bikes that we both agreed were ideal for our trip.

To say we were like two young lads getting their first ever bike is an understatement. The excitement of getting a new bike always puts more than a smile on every biker’s face but for us it was more than that, it was about us taking the first big step into our adventure.

Out of the blue came a bike that caught our imagination the moment we sat on it. The feeling of the long legged suspension, the feather weight, the ruggedness of design, the ground clearance, comfort and simplicity of function was everything we had been looking for and yet it had never made our list for consideration. How had we missed such a pearl?

Honda have a long history of building trail and adventure bikes and with the launch of the new Africa Twin bringing such technology as DCT to the adventure bike market they have once again moved into one of the top spots in the sector.

Unfortunately as much as we both loved riding the Africa Twin, especially the DCT model, it wasn’t within our budget, weight limits or Mike’s short legs.

So we needed something smaller, lower and much lighter but just as functional and capable and that’s where the Honda CRF250 Rally comes in.

The featherweight Honda CRF 250 Rally

Weighing in at 157KG this bike is light, its peppy little 250cc single cylinder engine only makes 25hp but it’s ample, torquey from way down low in the rev range but eager to please. The 6 speed transmission is a peach, no false neutrals, lovely clutchless changes and a good spread of gear ratios, everything we need and to top it off Mike can touch the ground, with both feet … at the same time!

TOTU Honda CRF250 Rally
Black or Red?

The bike comes with ABS as standard but the great thing is it can be turned off for off-road use with the press of a button, no hunting through menus, no selecting modes, no trying to find the right setting just a simple on/off button, just what us old boys love!

So after parting with our hard earned cash, the signing of documents and shaking of hands we were finally on the road. Initially it was a bit of a shock, the bikes were so light, turned in so easily and the knobbly tyres so strange compared to what we’re used to but we persevered and soon found ourselves on the coast at Aldeburgh.

David, Tom, Mark and Mike at Lings Ipswich (Photo by Millie)

Some 70 miles later the tyres had settled down and were much more confident on the wet salty roads, we’d both started to get to know the bikes and how they behaved, stopping frequently to chat with excitement in our voices.

This is the beginning and it is good!

A huge thanks to Tom, Mark, Steph and Millie at Lings Ipswich for putting up with us, we’re not the easiest of customers and we know we go on a bit but this has been a big thing for us and it had to be right.

Kawasaki Versys 300 Test

Following our continued search for the ideal bike for our trip we decided to take the Kawasaki Versys 300X out for a test ride after having a look at one at our local dealer.

There are many reviews on this little bike on YouTube some of which claimed that it really does make an ideal lightweight adventure bike. Coming from the factory with spoked wheels (19in/17in), a good sized seat and panniers it certainly seems to have potential.

We arranged with our local Kawasaki dealer Orwell Motorcycles in Ipswich to take the bike out for a few hours and give it a good ride.

I went first whilst David followed on his Triumph 800. Throwing a leg over it and planting my pert cheeks on the seat the very first thing to strike me was how hard the seat was, it’s beyond firm and well and truly into the realms of hard to the point where I even wondered if they’d forgotten to put the padding in it. Initial shock over, the handle bars are exactly where my hands naturally fall and the foot pegs are a good distance down and back to be comfy.

Pressing the start button the little 300cc parallel twin bursts into life and purrs quietly out of the rather large exhaust can.

Dropping it into 1st gear we were off and before I knew it I was up into 3rd gear and already hunting for 4th. The first 3 gears are so short that you are looking for 4th gear by the time you reach 15mph, by 30mph I was into 6th gear and from then on it was rev, rev, rev!

The little twin cylinder engine revs incredibly freely, in fact the more you rev it the more excited it gets!
There is very little in the way of torque at the bottom end but once rolling it revs out all the way up to 13000RPM making 40hp. It’s not a huge amount of power but it’s enough to have a lot of fun.

The only problem we both had with the bike is the amount of buzzing through the handle bars and foot pegs that’s present when up in the high revs, it really is bad and after sometime makes your hands go numb, not something we want on a long trip. The suspension is also firm to hard which added to the hard seat makes for quite a hard ride.

The bike isn’t light either, coming in at 175kg and being tall it feels much bigger than it really is. The front brake isn’t bad but the rear doesn’t do much at all and so I found myself dropping gears and leaning on the front brake to bring the bike to a stop smartly.

Since there is no low down torque the engine really wouldn’t be suited to off-road adventures and lends itself purely to road use, which it does well however, the really surprising thing is that the most comfortable way to ride the Versys 300 is stood up! In the standing position the ergonomics really are very good with the bars and switch gear being perfectly placed as are the foot pegs. Such a shame the engine, gearing and suspension aren’t more adventure oriented.

Overall it is a fun ride, buzzy and sure footed it’s more like a sports bike than a serious adventure/touring bike and would suit a taller younger rider looking for some fun in the twisties.

For me it’s not the bike I want to take on a 20,000 mile trip and Dave’s overall response was pretty much the same.

Thanks to Orwell Motorcycles for letting us take the bike out for a few hours.


It’s really happening!

Welcome to the new blog site of Trails of the Unexpected.

Trails of the Unexpected
Trails of the Unexpected

This is where I will be blogging in almost realtime my “Once in a lifetime” motorcycle adventure trip.

Who I am, where I’m going, what routes I’ll be taking, what bike I will be riding, equipment and more will all be appearing on this site as soon as I can get the articles written.

I’ll be covering every aspect of the trip, from the initial ideas, planning, equipment, bike test rides, purchases and shake down trips, it’s all going to be here.

So if your an adventure bike enthusiast then add my site to your favourites and drop by regularly to see what I’m up to!

MotorcycleLive NEC Birmingham

Phil, David and I went to the MotorcycleLive show at the NEC Birmingham this week to have a look at the new bikes coming onto the market next year, in particular the new adventure bikes.

Royal Enfield 838 KX Concept
Royal Enfield 838 KX Concept

There were a lot of exciting motorcycles there, the new CCM range of modern retro bikes look particularly interesting as does the new Royal Enfield 838 Concept KX.

The first of the new adventure bikes that we took a look at was the new 700cc Tenere from Yamaha. It looked really well put together in its blue, white and matt black livery.
The new upside down forks are an improvement on the old 660 Tenere as is the MT-07 derived 700cc parallel twin engine. Climbing onto it, and it is a climb, the seat is firm but comfy with great presence. The new LCD dash looks interesting but wasn’t on so we have no idea what the display actually looks like.
Ground clearance is excellent as is pretty much every thing else on the bike with the only problem being seat height. Once on board my feet were a good 6in from the ground, much to everyone’s amusement. My XT660z Tenere was tall but I could get to the ground, just, but this new Tenere is considerably taller making it impossible for me to ride. A theme that kept coming up throughout the show.

Fantic Cabellero 500
Fantic Cabellero 500

We stumbled across the Fantic stand where we spotted the new Caballero 500, a 450cc single cylinder scrambler type bike. It’s well spec’d and looks really cool with it’s twin pipes, upside forks and retro scrambler styling that seems to be the rage at the moment.

The BMW stand was of particular interest to me as the new F850GS is one of the bikes I was looking forward to seeing for the first time.

There was also an excellent riding demo of the new R1250GS, I’ve no idea who the rider was but he had total control of the machine and made it look a breeze to ride.

BMW F850GS
BMW F850GS

Getting back to the F850GS the first thing that surprised me was the sheer presence of the bike. From the front it looks huge with a vast amount of plastic that would almost certainly get smashed to bits in no time on my travels.

Plastic galore seems to be the thing on a lot of adventure bikes today, all of which would require some pretty hefty crash bars to protect. Once again I struggled to touch the ground on the 850GS and certainly wouldn’t consider taking it off-road as I could never get my feet planted on the trails should the need arise.

As always, the build quality of the BMW was excellent, seat was firm but comfy and overall riding position was excellent, such a shame it was so tall.

Moto Guzzi V85TT
Moto Guzzi V85TT

Next up was the Moto Guzzi V85TT, not a bike I liked the look of until I saw it in the flesh. In it’s bright red livery with yellow rear shock and black engine the V85TT looked stunning in the flesh. Weighing in at 207kg dry in standard guise with a lovely looking 850cc transverse V-Twin the V85TT really does make an interesting adventure bike. With all the kit fitted on the bike at the show the price was £15000 which takes it into the somewhat expensive end of the mid-range adventure bike spectrum. Once again, height was an issue, no contact with the ground for me once again and so another bike off the potential list.

Honda Monkey Bike in Red
Honda Monkey Bike in Red

Passing by the Honda stand we made a beeline for the Monkey Bikes! These great looking little machines have a huge following globally and you can see why. Beautifully put together, retro styling and the most amazingly comfy seat in a tiny format that just makes you smile.

With wide tyres, high mudguards and good ground clearance

Honda Monkey Bike in Yellow
Honda Monkey Bike in Yellow

these little bikes would be a scream off-road. Coming in a multitude of colours, there really is one for everyone!

Could this be a potential bike for the trip? I certainly think so!

Next we made a beeline for the KTM stand and the new 790 Adventure. The stand was busy, probably one of the busiest we came across and the 790R was centre of attention.

KTM 790R
KTM 790R

The striking colour and overall design of the new mid-weight adventure bike is breath taking. With its WP suspension, radially mounted brake callipers and futuristic headlamp the 790 has all the right components that I’ve been looking for. Climbing on the bike (more on this later) the seating position is perfect, bars are exactly where your hands fall naturally with a spacious seating position. Standing on the pegs the controls fall perfectly to hand with the tank providing a good knee grip stance. Overall I absolutely loved the bike and would dearly love to test ride one except for one deal breaking problem, yup you’ve guessed it, I couldn’t touch the ground!
It seems to be the case now that unless you are 6ft tall with legs in the 34in+ department it’s impossible ride these new adventure motorcycles. Is the world really now full of people over 6 foot and I’m actually a 5ft8in midget?

To say I left the KTM stand disappointed was an understatement.

Nathan Millward
Nathan Millward

We dropped by to have a chat with Nathan Millward who rode his 105cc Honda CT110 from Australia to the UK and founded The Garbage Run Tours.
Nathan is a really nice chap full of useful information, so I took the opportunity to pick his brain on the Royal Enfield Himalayan. Nathan had a well equipped example at the show which gave me plenty of ideas when it came to carrying all my kit. After a good 45mins I’d gleaned a lot of very useful information and tips from Nathan with his parting gift being “just get on and do it!”.

We also bumped into Sam Manicom at the Adventure Bike Shop stand, another extremely nice chap who again is extremely knowledgable when it comes to adventure riding. He also recommended reading “In Search of Greener Grass” by Graham Field so I’ve ordered a copy and will be making my way through it later this week.

Royal Enfield Himalayan
Royal Enfield Himalayan

Of course we had to visit the Royal Enfield stand. This is one adventure bike on which I can get two feet securely planted on the ground whilst sitting comfortably. The 411cc air cooled single cylinder bike weighs in at a hefty 190KG but on my recent 30min test ride the little long stroke engine pulled it along well. My only concern is build quality and reliability, other than that I do agree  that it has the potential to be the ideal bike for the trip.

Benelli TRK500
Benelli TRK500

The last bike I want to mention in this post is one that I hadn’t even considered, in fact I’m not sure I even knew of its existence. Benelli isn’t a brand synonymous with adventure bike riding but the TRK500 certainly looks the part. With it’s spoked wheels, 17in/19in combination, low sweat height and adventure styling the bike certainly looks the part. On closer inspection there is a lot of plastic up front that would be extremely vulnerable in a fall with rubber coolant pipes dangerously exposed to the elements on the left side. Sitting on the bike it was extremely comfortable and I made good contact with the ground, something of a rarity on new bikes these days. The switch gear felt a little on the cheap side but the rear rack was one of the most solid I’ve seen in ages.

Benelli TRK500
Benelli TRK500

Could it be a potential bike for the trip? Well if the MCN write up is anything to go by I doubt it very much, a shame because it is a good looking machine that has potential.

Mash 400 Adventure

Mash 400 Adventure
Mash 400 Adventure

The Mash 400 Adventure is a bike that I have never seen in the flesh. Based on the Sinis serious of bikes out of China the 400 Adventure has a Honda XBR400cc single cylinder engine built under licence in China.

The XBR400 platform is known to be a good solid, reliable power plant and so if this has been built to the same standards then it could have potential.

Coming in at around 150kg this bike would certainly meet our weight considerations but how it would hold up on a 20,000 mile trip is an unknown.

The bike is cheap, at £3999.00 including luggage, it’s hard to beat price wise.

As for parts and dealer backup on a long trip we’ve no idea what to expect.

I’m seeking out a Mash dealer that actually has one in the showroom for me to have a look at and maybe even a test ride.

If you own one or have first hand experience leave me a comment below as I’d like to know more about this good looking little bike.

Yamaha XT660z Tenere

Yamaha XT660z Tenere
Yamaha XT660z Tenere

The Yamaha XT660z Tenere isn’t just my favourite adventure bike but a bike that has a world wide reputation for being one of the most reliable, go anywhere machines ever built. Coming from a long line of Tenere bikes it’s pedigree speaks for itself and thus it has to be on my list of bikes to consider.

Unfortunately I sold my Tenere (pictured) before this trip became a reality and I’ve been kicking myself ever since!

There are a good number of these machines on the market for sale however, many have been abused and so finding a good one is really difficult. It took me 12 months of searching to find this lovely example in Desert Sand colour and so finding another one that has been looked after isn’t going to be easy.

Royal Enfield Himalayan

Royal Enfield Himalayan
Royal Enfield Himalayan

The Royal Enfield Himalayan is a fairly new bike to the adventure scene and as yet fairly unproven.

The reason I am considering this bike is mainly due to it’s low seat height. Not being blessed in the leg department, getting my feet down flat for off-roading is an important consideration.

The Himalayan is a 411cc adventure bike weighing in at around 200KG, so it’s not light by any means and probably one of the heaviest 400cc bikes around.

Reliability is a big concern with this bike as it’s still fairly new to the adventure scene and as yet unproven.

If you own a Himalayan please do leave me a comment below detailing your experience so far as it would be great to hear from people who are actually riding the bike.

I’m hoping to get one for a day to see how it performs, just need to find a dealer willing to let me try one for a day, any offers?

More to follow …..