Markets and marketing aside, what are the real-world benefits of small-capacity adventure bikes for actual users?
In the last decade or so, we’ve seen the constant growth of adventure motorcycles in the global motorcycle market. Large capacity adventure bikes gradually overran the big bike market. Leading the sales for most manufacturers. Every brand had to enter the segment and have a competitive offering to stay relevant.
As with most things’ motorcycles, the market grew in more ways than one. Mostly in terms of engine capacity, adventure bikes kept getting bigger. It was bound to eventually reach a point where increasing the motorcycle capacity was no longer an attraction. The bikes were becoming too big, bulky and unwieldy, the polar opposite of having an adventure!
Which has led to the rebirth of small capacity adventure bikes. These bikes were fuelled by markets like India and other southeast Asian countries. Price sensitive markets where large capacity bikes sell in limited numbers. The upside to these bikes is that it can be sold to A2 licence holders in Europe.
Markets and marketing aside, what are the real-world benefits of small capacity adventure bikes for actual users?
Why Buy Adventure?
Here’s why you should buy a small bike with big adventure capabilities:
Light Weight: Small capacity adventure bikes are significantly lighter than their larger capacity counterparts. Anybody who has ridden on dirt trails will tell you that, falling is mandatory! At some point of time, you will drop your bike while riding in the dirt. Lifting a small bike is much easier than a big bike. Especially if you are riding solo.
Better Manoeuvrability: Basic physics we all learnt in school tells us, that heavier objects need more force to change direction. Lighter bikes are not just easier to manoeuvre when out riding the trails, but also much better for city commuting. No matter what bike we ride, we end up using it to commute quite a bit.
Pocket Friendly: Smaller bikes are not just much cheaper to buy, but also to maintain. And with spiralling fuel prices, the better fuel economy is the perfect bonus!
Designed to Fall: The designers of adventure bikes know these bikes get dropped regularly. It is therefore designed in a manner to incur minimal damage in a fall.
Go Anywhere: Adventure bikes are designed to go beyond the end of the asphalt. Where others will take a U-turn, you can go farther along your adventure. These bikes are also good with their highway manners. It does give you the best of both worlds.
Increased Saddle Time: Built to travel long distance, the ergonomics, suspension setup and engine tune are all geared to allow you to spend longer hours in the saddle in reasonable comfort. This is one of the big reasons why older riders, end up preferring adventure bikes to fast looking sport motorcycles!
Handling: Earlier adventure or dirt focussed motorcycles were terrible to ride on asphalt. With the chassis and suspension tuned for dirt, it would become a pogo stick on the road. With improved metallurgy tech being used in chassis, better suspension systems available and greatly improved dual-purpose tyres, modern Adventure bikes handle incredibly well. A skilled rider can do some serious canyon carving with these bikes. Not quite the scalpel, new adventure bikes are still quite the sharpened knife!
Design: Looks are always subjective and adventure motorcycles are no different. But unlike street nakeds or sports bikes, in which looks play a dominant role. Adventure motorcycles are built to function flawlessly. Around this functionality the design is born. Functional designs are much easier to live with on a day-to-day basis for owners, rather than designs based on form.
How Big or Small?
Which brings us to the next question. Within the small capacity bikes available in the Indian market, the range starts from 200 cc all the way to 500 cc motorcycles. Which should you choose? Some adventure bikes are more trail biased, compromising on road capabilities. While others are more road biased, comprising trail capabilities. Choosing a ballpark capacity is more subjective rather than objective. It depends on each rider’s requirements.
We answer this with a titbit of information from Dakar, the mother of all adventures. Dakar motorcycles are limited to 450 cc engines. Infer what you will from that information!
Choices of Life…
The Indian motorcycle market is currently teeming with options to choose from within the adventure segment. Here’s the list of bikes for the ardent adventure lover:
Honda CB 200X | Price: INR 1,47,535 Ex-Showroom Delhi.
The bike which doesn’t entirely belong in this list. It finds itself here more because of its ADV inspired looks than its usage. Even Honda positions this bike as a smart commuter rather than an adventure bike. It has a 184.4 cc engine, which puts out a 12.7 kw and weighs 147 kg. Buy this if your maximum usage is going to be commuting with infrequent spirited rides off-road.
Positives: Lightweight, tubeless tyres, sorted suspension and great handling.
Negatives: Insufficient power for highways or trails, 17-inch wheels aren’t great on trail, just 167 mm of ground clearance.
Hero Xpulse 200 4V | Price: INR 1,36,378 Ex-Showroom Delhi.
The Hero Xpulse, is a small and economical adventure motorcycle in the market currently. The bike is equipped with a 199.6 cc engine producing 19.1 PS of power and weighs 158 kg. It also sports a 21-inch wheel at the front. This bike is good for people who will spend more time on the trails rather than long highway runs.
Positives: Lightweight, good suspension, large front wheel will easily go over obstacles and good ground clearance.
Negatives: Small tank, less power for modern Indian highways, tube type tyres.
BMW G 310 GS | Price: INR 3,10,000 Ex-Showroom
If you want the iconic Bavarian brand parked in your garage, then the G 310 GS makes a lot of sense. This motorcycle is powered by a 313 cc engine producing 34 hp and weighs 175 kg. This bike is great for riders who want the BMW brand and a capable highway muncher.
Positives: Solid build with a refined engine, good suspension and neutral handling. This road biased machine is okay on gravel roads, but not quite on trails, even though the 19-inch front wheel helps on the rough patches.
Negatives: 11 litre fuel tank is small for highway distances. Price is on the higher side; you are paying a premium for the brand.
Yezdi Adventure | Price: INR 2,12,900 Ex- Showroom Delhi.
This adventure bike comes from the brand which was recently reborn with the Jawa Yezdi classics. It now also offers an Adventure motorcycle. For better or worse, the bike looks far too similar to the Royal Enfield Himalayan, which has somewhat become the benchmark in the Indian adventure market. This Adventure has a 334 cc engine which produces 30.2 PS of power and weighs a relatively high 188 kg.
Positives: 21-inch front spoke wheel means this bike is made to tackle some seriously gnarly terrain. A generous 15.5 litre tank also helps with longer rides before being forced to stop.
Negatives: Fewer customer support points in comparison to other brands present in India.
KTM 390 Adventure | Price: INR 3,37,043 Ex-Showroom Delhi.
Big brother to the 250, the 390 Adventure takes the action up a few notches. It is one of the quickest bikes in this list and is a weapon for commuting and highway munching as well. It is also quite the handful when playing in the dirt. The 373.27 cc engine on this Adventure puts out 43.5 PS power and weighs 177 kg. A great machine for people looking for raw power along with sophisticated electronics to tame it all.
Positives: Excellent power to weight ratio. Decent ground clearance at 200 mm. Excellent suspension and chassis setup gives incredible handling capabilities. Stellar braking performance from the 320 mm front disc. A 14.5 litre fuel tank gives decent range, but not great.
Negatives: 855 mm saddle height can be problematic for some riders. Extra electronics means additional complications. Pricey!
KTM 250 Adventure | Price: INR 2,44,205 Ex-Showroom Delhi.
A power packed orange machine sporting its Austrian genes with flamboyance. The 248.76 cc engine on this bike produces 30 PS and weighs 177 kg. A great option for people who want a motorcycle than will be at home on the highways, trails and in city commutes as well!
Positives: Great power, decent weight, decent fuel capacity, slipper clutch, liquid cooled, fantastic handling and braking. 200 mm ground clearance is decent without being great.
Negatives: 855 mm seat height would make it uncomfortable for many Indian riders.
Benelli TRK 251 | Price: INR 2,79,000 Ex-Showroom Delhi (Approx.)
This bike is, as the company claims, your ‘entry to adventure’. The TRK 251 has a 249 cc engine which belts out 19 kw and weighs 164 kg unladen, which be closer to 185 kg with all liquids filled. It looks the part of an adventure machine and is great for people looking for something different to buy.
Positives: Good looking machine which would be more comfortable on highways rather than trails. 18 litres fuel tank.
Negatives: Fewer service centres and dealerships as compared to other brands in India. Also, a bit heavy to throw around the trails with confidence.
Suzuki V-Strom SX | Price: INR 2,11,600 Ex-Showroom Delhi.
This little adventure tourer from the house of Suzuki has an oil-cooled 249 cc engine powering it to 26.5 PS and weighs just 167 kg. The bike is a perfect offering from the Japanese manufacturer for people who want a ‘do it all’ motorcycle.
Positives: Decent power to handle highway and trail rides. 19-inch from wheel for decent off-road capabilities. 205 mm ground clearance to clear most obstacles. Tubeless tyres.
Negatives: Small fuel tank of just 12 litres.
Royal Enfield Himalayan | Price: INR 2,14,000 Ex-Showroom Delhi.
A trendsetter, the first motorcycle to break cover in the Indian market and give the junta a taste of adventure motorcycling. One of the reasons other brands flocked to Indian shores was the success of the Himalayan. A motorcycle immediately identifiable with adventure, it comes equipped with a 411 cc engine belting out 24.3 bhp and weighs in at 199 kg. A great all-rounder motorcycle at a fantastic price.
Positives: The price makes it extreme value for money. Fantastic for trail riding. Decent for highway cruising. 21-inch front wheel and 220 mm of ground clearance makes it ideal for rough terrain. Just 800 mm seat height is useful for shorter riders.
Negatives: Heavy at 199 kg. Long stroke engine means it isn’t as quick off the blocks as the competition. Tube type tyres. Brakes aren’t as great as some of the competition.
Honda CB 500X | Price: INR 5,79,952 Ex-Showroom Delhi.
The only motorcycle on this list which houses a twin cylinder engine. This 471 cc parallel twin produces 35 kw and weighs 199 kg. A motorcycle in a different league compared to the rest because of its price point and engine configuration. Get it to feel the finesse of a Honda while you go adventure touring around the country.
Positives: Smooth parallel twin engine. Enough power and torque for trails and highways. 17.7 litre fuel tank to keep you munching miles without stopping frequently. 19-inch front wheel will roll over most bumps without a problem.
Negatives: Ground clearance of 181 mm is not great on the trails.
Each motorcycle has its selling points and what you buy depends entirely on your requirements. For pocket friendly adventure, the Hero Xpulse is a fantastic machine. If you are looking at overall capabilities of a machine, then the KTM 390 Adventure makes a lot of sense. There is no machine to beat the value for money that the Royal Enfield Himalayan is offering. And if you want the joys and experience of owning a twin cylinder bike, then the Honda CB 500X makes perfect sense.
We, Indian tourers and adventure riders, are lucky to have a market with a number of options of varying size, capability and price, so that each one of us can fully enjoy our quest for adventure…