Reviews
Real People's Roadtests

Last Update : 15/10/04

Finding it difficult to get non-hyped information on the merits of all of the multi-cyclinder genre of "trail bikes" (a.k.a. "big chookies" in Australia), I have thrown a leg over as many as possible to make my own judgement. Now after returning from Europe, I have discovered the motorcycle industry in some countries do not subscribe to the "demo bike" concept, and it is in fact difficult to get rides on new bikes. We are priviledged.

Together with my like-minded friends, I have had the chance to try out the following bikes on the road, and in the dirt. Our group consists of riders with varying skill and experience as dirt riders, so the following tests contain opinions from all of us, with emphasis on ease of control, sense of security, and most important of all - the fun factor! You might notice certain predjudices, but in these roadtest I promise no-one will complain about the colour or disposition of the switchgear!

By the way, we know "light is right" as far as a real dirt bike is concerned, but we're trying to make the really easy roads we travel on a challenge! After all, we're old guys between 40 and 60, and can't be bothered with the really rough stuff anymore.

The Twins:

The singles:

The late starter...

The Capo Nord (north cape) was a comfortable big bike that reminded me of the Honda Varadero, except it worked much better and was more enjoyable to ride. I rode the Capo thinking Aprilia should have got it right being a late entry to the field, but it didn't take long to realise this was just the road bike with a few mods and more stuff (read "weight"). The engine was really fast, and sounded great with the factory special exhaust, but there were just too many bits hanging off this bike to make it a sensible choice for dirt work. It could have been executed better - and lighter, but it did feel happier in the dirt than some of the others. I'd rate it similarly to the new tiger, but unfortunately it costs a lot more. I see this bike as aAn excellent tourer in the vein of the Ducati ST2, but I'd wait around for a mark II model, and see if they take it more seriously. Look at the Suzuki-engined Gran Canyon before you buy this one.

The classic Dakar relived...

I remember when the BMW G/S 800 came out; I thought it was huge then, but it's all relative, isn't it? Now I own one, and consider it a nice low, light bike, with a comfortable seat and riding position. The old boxer is a sweet motor with plenty of character, and a nice state of tune for the dirt. But you need to tell yourself it's 1981 when you hop aboard - and prepare for some compromises in brakes and suspension.

On road the bike is just like its road bretheren, it cruises at anything over 120 kp/h, and can be wound up to about 170 kp/h. Any handling deficiencies relate to the dirt suspension letting the bike wallow. Here too, the dirt brakes show up as just adequate.

Off-road the GS certainly reminds you it's a shaft drive bike - any set of washboard ripples in the road create a loud clatter, and you laugh at the effort the back end is making to stay in contact with the ground - it's pre-paralever, after all. Then there's the front end, a pair of forks held to the rest of bike by a bit of pressed metal and an alloy clamp... rudimentary is a good word for it. The front forks are the weakest part of the bike's suspension, even though my bike is fitted with a fork brace and special springs, the forks only just cope with the job. The worst aspect of the G/S handling is the tendency for the bike to keep going in a straight line when you really want to go around the dirt corner - the old "snow plough" we call it. Riding this bike calls for a lot of body movement, particularly in getting your weight over the back wheel for traction. You need to tell this bike who's boss, if you want to go quick. Naturally, it handles a lot better with a pillion aboard - a real flashback to the '70s! But I have had moments of brilliance, and found the bike can be pushed, for as long as I am prepared to be Gaston Rahier!

Despite all its negative points, this is a bike I'd ride from one side of this continent to the other - it would get there, and sometimes slower is better. Everyone else gives it an affectionate pat, but ride something else.

The yardstick

The R100 G/S is yet another of those model transitions which is deceptive. Placing the R80 G/S next to the R100 G/S reveals two different bikes. Notably, the change in suspension to both ends of the bike answers the prayers of any R80 G/S owner. However, the little bike feel has been sacrificed, and the bigger engine doesn't seem to add any extra pleasure. The bike is comfortable, and well set up for carrying loads of stuff, which Marty does with aplomb - thanks Marty for being my pack mule!

This G/S is the yardstick by which others were judged in the '80s. It was the first bike I felt comfortable riding fast while sitting down - as most bike's dirt handling improves when you stand up, and I regularly ride this way - though some of my cruel companions tell me they can't tell the difference between me standing and sitting - and they don't mean by riding quality!

The welcome BMW qualities are the low centre of gravity and the low seat height, which make this a secure bike for a learner. But, the BMW is still a character bike that tends to polarise riders - the old love/hate thing. Most of us will happily throw a leg over this bike, particularly since Marty's Whitepower suspension upgrade turned a 91 bike into a workable unit that can still hold its own today.

GS Saves...

When the big G/S hit the streets in 1995 I couldn't believe what BMW had done. It took me while appreciate the radical G/S, but now I admire it.

My first ride on this bike was together with Marty on the BMW G/S 100 PD. Ordinarily, I'd be on the R80 G/S and trailing some minutes behind Marty, but on the bigger G/S it was a case of "everywhere Marty went I was sure to follow".

As a road bike, it's difficult to fault - my own problems are with the engine vibration, and general feel of the motor. The only other bother for me being the stretch to the ground. I have had more falls in and out of driveways on this bike than any of my others. Unfortunately it always costs an indicator, and proves those rocker box cover crash bars need to be on the top of the cover too! I'm not going to tell you how good a sports bike it is, plenty of other road tests have done that.

On the dirt, the capability of the big G/S is never in any doubt, it all comes down to the size of your testicles. Unfortunately, mine aren't big enough, and I have to steel myself before I twist the throttle. Once you build confidence in the bike, you find the kph climbing. It's simply a bike you have to trust, because it does feel heavy, and you know there's no saving it if it goes. Our resident gun G/S rider, Peter, can demonstrate the bike will do unbelievable speed on the dirt in any conditions. I've never known him to back off.

The much-questioned ABS provides some interesting feedback; when it comes into play the levers oscillate, giving you a little spanking for being naughty and losing grip. While all the serious riders tell you it's wasted on the dirt, my experiences of running the bike down very steep and rocky inlines with the rear brake locking and unlocking automatically as my foot holds the lever down show it to be a practical system. I can see why you might turn it off in these situations, but I have never bothered to. This is a bike I can only recommend.

More Religious Fervour

A quick lap of the freeway on the new GS 1150 shows you can take a good design and improve it. The most obvious change is the 6 speed gearbox, which provides an overdrive that drops the revs to 2900 at 100 kph. Certainly a worthwhile change for rider comfort, as it moves the vibration at 4000 up to 140 kph. The engine apparently has more torque and horsepower, but I didn't notice. Apart from the styling of the front end, the other big change is the hydraulic clutch and new switchgear. On the dirt, it's hard to pick any difference, and it's also hard not to follow the pack and simply say it's the best big dual purpose mount, until now - the new GS 1200 arrives!

PS. I haven't ridden the "Adventure" variant of the 1150 yet, but it must be better than the stock 1150....all my friends who own them say so!

The fourth Reich

It's immediately obvious that this new model is a NEW model. Just righting the bike to vertical position from the sidestand had me thinking the fuel tank was empty, it was so light. However, it had a full tank, and proved the 30 KG had indeed fallen off the bike as advertised. So it was with a modicum of excitement I headed around the test track to see what a revelation they had wrought. Yes, it is better...no doubt, - they have revised the suspension and reduced the weight of the wheels, and it does handle the bumps better for it. However, I had trouble adjusting to the new brakes, and new engine. A longer ride will probably settle me into the "new order" of things. Stay tuned...

Phil's Big Adventure

Oh Boy! Yes, this one got me firing...the KTM twin is a pearler! If you close your eyes while riding you swear it was a Cagiva Elefant, but it has horsepower! This puppy meets the expectations you'd have of this kind of bike, except for the fuel capacity - the tank seems a bit small, and on top of that I've heard it consumes petrol when thrashed... I was very surprised it didn't tip the scales a bit less than the Cagiva Elefants, but it still feels manageable despite the height and weight. And the suspension....need I say more? I could happily have this in the garage. Let's see, 3 X Moto Guzzi + 1 Cagiva = 1 X KTM...I'll work on it...

The Ugly Duck

Perhaps I'm being harsh in calling the Bifaro ("two headlight") ugly, I really don't mind the styling of the early 750. It's somewhat like the 650, and substantially different to the later bikes. On the up side, it is light (claimed 184 KG dry - and i reckon at least 10 KG lighter than the later 750), has a 21 inch front wheel, and simple bodywork. On the down side, it has the Pantah engine, which doesn't feel as strong or reliable as the later engines - though it may be just my bike and in its defence, though I have held it at 180 KPH for hours at a time on the autostrada, it hasn't gone bang! I used the Bifaro in Italy as transport, and found it tuned very lean, doubtless for fuel economy, and consequently difficult to start cold. Otherwise, it runs well, and despite any mechanical misgivings I have about the engine it didn't need touching. So, as a road bike, it proved OK, being fitted with a WP rear shock (instead of the Ohlins I suspect) and having a reasonable front end and brake standard. I had one moment on a roundabout which may have been due to the 21 inch front wheel, but otherwise it seemed to handle well. So, as a dirt bike, it's another story. It is as lacking in suspension travel as the later E750, but the WP does a good job.

The Duck's Guts

Oh yeah! This one does it for me. The elefant is such a poor choice for a model name. Every time I get aboard, this bike just shouts: "I am the lightest bike in the capacity class". Here is a bike that could be brilliant, which is handicapped by being set up for the Dakar, by that I mean it steers, rather than auto-pilots around corners - which is probably great for deep sand. Ah, the BMW has spoilt me forever! The big white elefant provides good rear suspension thanks to a single Ohlins unit, and mediocre front suspension thanks to Marzocchi - you take a buffetting through the handlebars on the rough stuff, but praise the stiffness on the fast road bits. Everyone who copes with a big modern dirt bike likes the Cagiva, despite its age. It feels nimble. The only problem that shows up occasionally in windy weather is the bikes capacity to act as a sail, and jump the front around.

After riding the Guzzi "tractors", the engine took a bit of getting used to because it needs to be revved to work properly. It has been perfect, and can see 180 kph, but I am tempted to gear the bike up, as it obviously can do better.

The motor sounds good, and even though it doesn't have blitzing power on the road, the 65 HP seems plenty when that back wheel is sending up rooster tails in the dirt. I have fitted a floating Brembo cast iron disc and braided line and a Staintune muffler. Changing these items got big improvements, and luckily the Explorer doesn't punch holes in the Staintune with its rear brake caliper bleed nipple.

P.S. - weighed in at 221 KG with full fuel tank

Viewing the Gran Canyon

The new Cagiva is a departure from its Dakar Elefant lineage, abandoning the large petrol tank and fairing for a smaller road-styled setup that offers similar styling to many other brands currently in the large road/trail arena. It harkens back to the earlier 650 Elefant, which was more spartan. It's the motor you'd die for, with abundant torque, and a smoothness which suggests a four cylinder motor. I had the pleasure of it's company for a full day, seeing some freeway use and a hard run over my dirt test track. Surprisingly, the bigger rear tyre, and doubtless shorter travel rear suspension performed very, very well in the dirt section, staying on the ground and getting traction - even better than the 750 elefant. However, the front suspension - well, that was a real pain - literally. The 200mm or so travel meant a hammering. And what is worse, the redesign of the ergonomics of the bike means you can't ride standing up! Well, if you are going uphill, you can, otherwise you feel like you are going to nose-dive over the handlebars. Still, I'd have to consider buying one and swapping a few Elefant parts...it looks like the main frame is similar, and hopefully a hybrid can be created. That's all it would need to improve it.

Japanese Elefant

So, what happens when you run out of Ducati engines? You switch to Suzuki. The TL1000 is a bike I have never ridden (unlike the VTR1000 and Varadero pair), so I had no yardstick for this day out - mainly city commuting, with a quick thrash in the dirt. It is taller than the Gran Canyon, and has an 18 inch front wheel instead of the Gran Canyon's 19 inch version, which serves to quicken up the steering. Well, I have to say I liked it. A quick blast on my test track showed it wasn't any worse than a Gran Canyon, in fact, the revised handlebar position made it easier to ride standing. The horsepower was fun, putting it in the same league as the late-model Triumph Tiger as an over-the-top dirt squirt. Again, the same old beefs about lack of suspension travel - but hey, it's not an Elefant. A definate contender, as it is not as heavy as it looks.

The Big Blue

The '96 Elefant is another breed. Truly deserving of the name, this behemoth lumbered after its other siblings, unable to cut the mustard in the handling department either on or off road. The torque and power of the carb'ed 900 were seriously better than either the 750 or 900IE, but it didn't make a difference where it really counts - in the dirt.

. The Showa forks and steering geometry are what I expected, providing a better ride than the Marzocchi, and retaining the quick steering of the 750. Not so the double Brembo discs however, which didn't have a lot of power or feel. We preferred the (non-standard) single floating cast iron Brembo on the 900IE which could be operated with one finger.

This particular bike wasn't well set up, so like the Varadero, we shook our heads sadly, and hoped all of them weren't like this one. Another ride is called for. They can't be this bad...?

Out Elefant Hunting

Oh yeah! This one does it for me....again... and more! The smaller Elefant (does that make it female? - is that why I ride like a girl?) is better! The rumours are true!- the steering on the 750 ('96 model anyway) is quicker than the older 900. The other benefit is the smoother engine which only lacks that mid-range punch I'm accustomed to. The top speed is the same on all the bikes it seems, because of the same undergearing. I find the change to carbs on this engine less rewarding than I expected, as it suffers from a bit of low down jerkiness.

Strangely, the bike feels lots of kilos lighter, which is hard to account for - requiring a trip to the scales to determine the truth of it. The rest of the package is nearly identical to the older IE900, but it is equipped with a better seat that is both lower (a big plus for me) and more rounded. Lots of points won for this change. And lots of point lost for the naff suspension. I really appreciate the IE900's Ohlins and mediocre forks because the 750 is really badly set up. I'll be sending it off to get fixed. Another mandatory change is swapping the stainless front rotor for a cast iron floating brembo disc. Some of the quality fittings from the 900 are missing too - the adjustable levers, the clock and the oil temperature gauge. All said and done, this one will be my weapon from now on...unless the 650 Elefant is better...

P.S - just dyno'd the standard bike: 54 HP at rear wheel, and weighed in at 214 KG with a full fuel tank. Stuck on another exhaust system, and rejetted the carbs, and "voila", no more jerkiness, and more power to boot!

Baby Elefant

Coming soon. Still haven't fixed the engine...

The Terrific TransAlp

Tony's Alp really proves that size doesn't count. I've heard Tony is more proof to that addage, but that's another story. The Little Honda regularly wipes the floor with all manner of comers.

It's fast, and the Whitepower suspension upgrade has really set it apart from all of the rest of the pack. It handles like a dream in the dirt (except when overloaded with pillion and luggage) and is a good first bike in this genre for those interested in a true all-rounder.

It's a bike that not everyone likes immediately, mainly due to the riding postion. I find it too like riding a horse, with a longish reach to the footpegs for a small bike, but it is comfortable. No-one faults its operation - how can you when it's always in front. It's a pity only one model generation was imported into Oz, because the 'Alp must be close to the most popular bike in Europe, and some of the post '87 models look much better. My only gripe with this bike is it is a little under-braked for a machine that is capable of over 160 kph - perhaps the later disk rear brakes help the situation?

The Little Africa Twin

At first glance, the 650 A/T seems to be identical to the 750 A/T. But it is not so, according to the experts (I have yet to put the two bikes side-by-side). It seems the early A/T sits somewhere between the Alp and the 750 A/T in size, and it is physically a good fit for me. Hopefully I'll get to compare it to Greg's 750 sometime (see below). It certainly feels a different bike to the 'Alp, but it's hard to tell why, as it seems to weigh about the same. The first ride says it has softer suspension (maybe a shade taller), and a bit more grunt in the motor. After a long ride you realise it handles really well, and has much better brakes. The engine provides a lot more mid-range torque from that extra 50-something ccs, and not much more top end. So much extra grunt I had to change my riding style from "thrashing to the red-line" to up-changing as soon as possible in order to keep the 900 Cagiva in sight. The motor is quiet and smooth - the same at all revs, and satisfying to ride, even if the exhaust could be a trifle louder. I found the handling off-road to be very acceptable once the suspension was softened up, and I would have to rate this as one of my preferred mounts. I must try some more 750 A/Ts, as I would like to think they are as good as this.

Africa where did you go?

A quick run on this bike told me it wasn't the Varadero or the TransAlp. It felt remarkably like my Moto Guzzi NTX in the way it handled; which is to say much slower steering than I expected. The motor felt a little soft, but i'm sure it runs hard if you rev it out. It was taller than anything I had ridden before, but that is probably due to the suspension being jacked up to accomodate the owner's size. I didn't have an opportunity to get out on the dirt, but the bike sparked enough interest to want to ride it again.

The Courier

The early XLV, seen many times, but not ridden. Coming soon.

Varadero - Spanish for Vanilla?

This was a bike I was looking forward to riding. The VTR is an impressive little twin, so I was taken by surprise to see how big it had grown to fit the dual purpose role. Even so, the seat height was low, and the bike didn't feel as huge as it looks. The view from the cockpit is a bit daunting, because the expanse of the fairing takes up the picture - and it squeaked badly too.

The engine is not what you'd expect from Honda, because it carburetted badly at low revs; it felt like a fuel-injected bike, with vicious on-off throttle control. We all felt this demo bike might be a bad example of the breed.

Without riding it back-to-back with the R1100GS, it's hard to say who leads in the dirt. I know I am more comfortable riding the G/S, but that may only be familiarity. I didn't try for top speed, but expect it to be around the 200+ kp/h mark.

I'd summarise this Varadero ride by telling you no one put their hand up for a second spin on it....

The Gutless TT

Guessed already how this test is going to read? Well, you'd have a right to be skeptical if I rated all my bikes as "fantastic". The TT was the first pass at the enduro style for Guzzi, and they really weren't interested in going in at the deep end. Take a V65 roadbike, take off the body work, put in longer forks and pop on trail handlebars, then re-clothe the bike in a new suit that has a tiny 10 litre fuel capacity, and you've got it. A high-level rust-prone exhaust and a big drop in gear ratio are the finishing touches. Only the change-over to the fully floating rear brake shows a designer took the enduro brief slightly seriously. As a plus point to this makeover, the seat height remained low like the road bike.

Out on the dirt the bike does every thing happily and safely, but the lack of suspension penalises what could be a light, nimble toy. As a road bike, it is lovely, except the fuel capacity and ultra-low gearing really hobble its performance as a tourer with a limit of 150kph both in speed and distance!. I think the brakes are disappointing too, but it might just be my example - what appears to be the equivalent brakes on the NTX work well.

I rate this Guzzi as a nice ride to work bike if you have an unsealed driveway.

The Privateer's Mount

The "Baja" as the TTC is badged, was created for privateers who, presumably, wanted to compete in events like the Baja California off-road races. The is the progenitor of all the subsequent factory competition bikes made for the likes of the Paris-Dakar, Egypt's Pharoah Rally, and even our own Wynn's Safari. It is a derivation of the TT, but owes more to the NTX, as far as body parts are concerned. It

The Gutsy NTX

What a surprise this baby turned out to be! The NTX is one of those model evolutions that on the surface looks to be just cosmetic; indeed, just a stylistic update of the TT, but when you really start to look, it's only the wheels that are shared. In the engine a different cam gives extra horsepower, which provides a reliable 160+ kph, with plenty of mid-range punch from 5000, lasting all the way to the red-line, another 2500 revs away. On the road this bike keeps up with anything out of a corner, and simply runs out of revs when doing the high speed chase. I do have some concerns about the engine longevity, as this bike just begs for thrashing.

Longer suspension and wheel base transform the handling into the stable, sure-footed feel of the bigger series Lemans, albeit accompanied by that traditional slow steering I've come to know and hate. Taller in the saddle than the TT, the bike weighs in at around 180 KG dry but feels lighter than the lower R80 G/S. It certainly behaves better in the dirt than any of the other shaft-drive bikes and even though the back end still gets totally out of shape in the rough, the bike remains on track, allowing you to travel a lot faster than is probably good for you (yes, I crashed!). The front suspension/steering geometry and braking power are the most limiting factors on this unit.

That earlier complaint about fuel capacity? - Guzzi went to the other extreme this time - 30 litres worth. Now you might be thinking it's top heavy when a full load of go-juice is aboard, but I swear on a stack of Guzzi workshop manuals, you just don't notice.

The NTX feels much more professional than the TT or R80 G/S BMW, and that tractor motor has made this bike a firm favourite on the road, as it doesn't embarrass one with a lack of power or puny exhaust note that can be found on some of the singles we occasionally ride. Laurent and I love this thing, and no-one else minds getting stuck with the old dunger once in a while.

On Safari

So what do you do when you want a real dirt Guzzi - not buy the Quota, that's for sure! Buy the old factory bike sent out here for the Wynn's Safari - what else? Just look at the factory mods - all the stuff you hate on the standard NTX has been changed!

The boys in the race shop have done a workman-like (read ugly) job of "fixing" the traditional dilemma of shaft-drive bikes - no rear end travel and poor control of all that extra weight. To provide a stronger, longer swing arm, a Lemans series steel unit is mated to the late 650/750 final drive unit To get the control over this assembly, a pair of Ohlins shock are attached to a point way in front of the final drive, rather than onto it. To make attachment points for the top of the shocks, the hacksaw was brought into play at the rear of the frame, creating that "factory" look. What a bunch of cheapskates! - where's my magnesium castings! Lots of small changes reflect the bikes previous life as a desert hack - the extra frame bracing, the oil cooler, the airbox setup, the GPS! Now for its new role as a weekend play bike I have to add all the road compliant bits, and a set of decent brakes as the former owner figured deserts didn't have stop signs.

So what about the motor I hear you say? Yep - it's a good'un. That extra capacity means more grunt - serious grunt. But remarkably, the motor is smoother than the 650. That engine has caused me to go searching through the parts lists for a higher final drive ratio, as it gets to the top speed of 160 kph mighty quick, and I don't dare let the motor go into the red zone. I suspect the motor is good for more rpm, as the bike didn't come with a tacho and it was clocked at around 200 kph in the Safari.

My problems with this bike are the poor brakes, the Honda front end, and lack of electricals - all of which need to be changed to get it in some kind of road/dirt trim. It hasn't been out in anger. Stay tuned.

To the Dakar we go...

This factory Guzzi is basically the Wynn's Safari bike fitted with a 750 Lario engine. It was built for the French Guzzi importer to do the Dakar, and actually pre-dates the Wynn's Safari bike - it may even be its father. In its current form, it has been made roadworthy, and passes as a NTX to the untrained eye. However, it still has the goods! It uses the MX Marzocchi forks, Ohlins shocks, Goldline Brembo parts, and a really responsive engine to make a bloody tall, comfortable and fast machine. It revs and it pulls, so the motor is hard to fault, and makes you wonder why they didn't continue with it (I'm ignoring all the cries of "what about all the broken valves?"), as it hasn't let me down - yet. I have thrown on a set of indicators, and a tachometer, because I reckon it revs too hard for comfort (it will go to 9000 rpm!). Out on the dirt it shows a remarkable ability to find traction, even over washboard sections that send the other shaft-drives totally crazy, however, it still isn't in the running with a conventional chain-driven rear end. It certainly has horsepower, and it's the motor that makes it a joy to ride. The on-road handling is superb, particularly when loaded, but a major evil is revealed when you hit a cross-wind - the tank (all 40 litres worth) and lack of substantial fairing make this the biggest windsock on wheels I think I've ridden.

Mis- Quota'd

The original Quota was a really bad attempt from Guzzi to meet BMW head on. They went to all the trouble to build a frame with a mono-shock back end, and then made the new package so tall, only Texans need apply for the job of rider. I rode one of the first bikes in the Country, but that was only around the block. I liked the idea, loved the Fuel Injection, but really struggled with the height. I don't think I'll get the chance to sample one in the dirt, and maybe that's a good thing! The only owner I knew suggested it shoudn't be taken off-road.

UPDATE: well, one of my friends bought one, and loves it. He is tall, and forgives the bike for all the things that have broken....

The Full Quota

This new Quota was a bike I didn't have any good vibes about. I rode the original quota some years ago, and apart from the delightful fuel injection (it was Guzzi's first model with FI) novelty, I was instantly put off because it was way too high off the ground. However, enough people complained, because this bike has dropped a couple of inches, putting it on par with the BMW.

But unlike the BMW, it has a motor to be reckoned with! - it pulls like a schoolboy, and provides the smooth delivery a Guzzi is famous for. Much more satisfying than the modern Beemer flat twin. I had the pleasure (sort of) of riding my mate's new 1100 recently, and felt it was a big improvement over the 1000. Remarkably, now that they have stopped making this model everyone wants one.

Moto Morini 350 Kanguro

Coming Soon.

Moto Morini 500 Camel

Well, this 1982 bike comes up better than expected. A good look over it shows Morini were serious. It is light weight compared to all the other bikes I own, it even cuts under some of the singles. It has long travel suspension - (read "crappy italian way too-hard marzocchi" ) and small drum brakes, and fiberglass bodywork, and a bare minimum electrical system - Great stuff on paper....and, bugger me! - it works well (except for the shocks), providing good handling and adequate stopping power. The bike is very competent for it's age, but needs better suspension and brakes to mix it with the big boys today.

Moto Morini 501 Camel

Ok, this is a Camel made by Cagiva. It is a "modernisation" of the trusty 500 camel, giving an upgrade to disc brakes, monoshock, and more horsepower. What a nice little unit! The motor revs like a 2 stroke, and certainly has more poke than the earlier 500 engine thanks to bigger carbs and a few more CC's. The suspension works well this time, and I expect to have a lot of fun chasing the bigger bikes. The only drawback is the left side kickstart, and the sidestand made from spaghetti.

Hardy, fetch me my brown trousers...

Ah, it turned out to be a bold move borrowing the 1993 Tiger for my first ride on the dirt in 20-odd years. Especially as it was a 2 day ride with hundreds of kilometers of trail to be crossed. A real laxative of a weekend.

I liked the look of the borrowed blue Trumpet; it drew a crowd with its noise, and mean, brutish looks. Fairly tall in the saddle, but managable and comfortable. I immediately enjoyed whipping through the traffic on the way to the dirt. The Triumph worked well on the tarmac, having all the necessary pommie ponies on tap to blast past anyone else, and road-style braking performance. Through all of the twisty roads the bike could be worked hard, which involved muscling it around the corners and giving it heaps on the exit. After a while I realised I was working hard because the bike is a bit top-heavy and needs to be picked up and thrown over, with the rider hanging off. However, I felt confident, and could get along pretty quickly. We all agreed it was a bundle of fun on the road, and its only detriment was the weight up high which eventually became noticable as you tired.

It was the first few moments of barrelling onto the dirt road that alerted me to all might not be scones and tea...

You would have laughed had you been following - I tried slowing down... and locked the rear wheel - then the rear wheel immediately tried to catch up with the front wheel; I think I did a 10 metre slide before coming to rest. So much for road brakes in the dirt, I thought.

It was my first exposure to the 90s concept of putting all the braking, steering and weight of the bike on to the front wheel. The dirt bikes of my youth favoured a weight bias which allowed the front to come up easily, and relied on power steering using the back end horsepower.

By the end of the ride that front wheel was my best friend. I went where I pointed it, and it magically stopped the bike without falling over. The rest of the bike did whatever it felt like; for example, try stopping - the bike goes sideways, try and put the power on - the bike goes sideways. As long as you can stay on, these attributes are guaranteed to excite or scare you - depending on your tastes. After a day I could enjoy the lunacy of trying to get 85 HP to accelerate you on the dirt, but I was pretty cautious about pulling up in time for the corners - I still wasn't 100% sure about this front wheel thing...

As a final proof of the Tiger's deficiencies, I had an encounter on the dirt while riding my GS1100 BMW, and soundly whipped the Tiger's arse in all respects, simply because the Tiger couldn't get its power or brakes to the ground. On the road it was pretty even.

So, don't buy the old Tiger for the dirt, just as a fun roadie.

Tiger, Tiger, burning bright...

The new Tiger is just that - all new, forget what you know about the old model - it only shares the name.

Tony and I picked up the Honda Varadero and the Tiger and headed off to a known trail for some serious comparisons.

The Tiger impresses immediately because it is relatively low, lower than the previous model, the Cagiva Elefant and the BMW G/S1100. A low seat confers the feeling that you are riding a lighter bike - in a word - confidence.

On the road I felt it needed some suspension adjustment; it didn't track or handle bumps in the "on rails" manner of the G/S1100, but it wouldn't deter me from going quickly. All other aspects of its road manners were typically 1999 - great brakes and quick steering.

I guess you like the triple engine or not. Neil accused it of vibrating, but I can't remember that aspect... amazing how fun affects the memory.

Fortunately, this engine can be made to sound great, which I always find helps sooth away any other misgivings, and 85 HP doesn't go astray either. The fuel injection behaved impeccably on the dirt, providing progressive power on demand.

On the road it stormed away from the competition because of the horsepower and gearing, but had a surprisingly low top speed just over the 170 kp/h.

Some points were dropped for: an altenator that has exposed innards - on bike that will get covered in mud, and no crash protection for the oil cooler or water hoses. Tony and I are impressed to the point of ownership.

Oh, what a beauty - the tiger!

Tiger with more growl

The new new Tiger is just MORE. All those horses from the Daytona motor just waiting to get out for a run.

Yankee Doodle Dandy

Way back when, in the days when a 250 was a superbike, an American had the idea of building a performance trailie. Take two 250 Ossa motors, and give them a common crankcase to create a 500cc twin. Make all the cycles parts possible in the USA, and then use Spanish bits for the leftovers. The result? the incredible Yankee. Nobody said it was a good idea...

Stu's Super

The Super Tenere is probably the best value big chookie on the second hand market. You can spend between 5 and 7 thousand dollars and get a bike that is proven winner. Stu's Super is a grunty twin in the best Japanese tradition - power and torque are ever on hand, and the engine is smooth from top to bottom. I found the bike to be bulky - you always know you have big twin tucked in between your ankles, I guess because the engine placement is fairly high, and the reach to the ground is a long one. It handles really well, thanks to Stu's Whitepower upgrade, but it isn't a bike I like to take to the limit. It feels somewhat similar to the E900 Cagiva, which shouldn't be taken as a compliment!. I find the height and weight makes me cautious about cornering too fast, where on the Cagiva 900IE which is a similar size, I don't get the same level of panic.

Mike and Tony can hammer it along, and report the faster you go, the better it gets! - while the rest of us take it a little easier. It is a bike that suits experienced riders in the dirt, and just about anyone on the road. The only serious criticism I can level is at the front brake - it needs one! Amazingly, the twin Nissin setup works as if it is using wooden brake pads. In summary, a fast, comfortable, and very capable in the right hands, kind of bike. P.S - Stu has just lowered the suspension an inch, and we're waiting for the results...

Ten Points

This Super Ten was built from left-overs from the factory Dakar bikes, and it showed! A stock-ish engine wrapped in a standard-ish frame with all the good gear at either end. What a revelation. It's hard to work out what bits made the difference to the handling, but it tracks beautifully, and is a joy to throw around in the dirt. And then there's the front forks - probably cost a million dollars, but now I know exactly what front suspension is supposed to do. Then there's the back suspension, and the brakes, and...the list goes on.

Overall, the bike is a stunner, and only puts you off by being the tallest thing in creation. The only depressing points with this machine are it shows what the factories could be selling us - and I don't own it!

The Horse

Finally got to throw a leg over the 5 valve "Funduro" - and guess what? It is nicer than the BMW! I could go one of these...though I didn't get to thrash it in the dirt, it felt well suspended and the motor performed. Could be a good cheap single on day.

The Black Dog

I had the good fortune to ride a Black Funduro with a pillion passenger, and suddenly discovered you can do it in the dirt with a woman and enjoy it! We were riding in poor weather, and the Transalp and 900IE Cagiva proved to be a little tricky to ride in mud with a passenger aboard, so as a last resort, we tried the Funduro. It lives up to its name! - total fun! We gamely followed the boys like the proverbial "black dog", and all the while we were extremely comfortable and fast on the dirt, due to the low seat height and good ergonomics of the bike. I wasn't expecting a lot of poke from the engine, but as long as you revved it hard, it held its own with the 'Alp and the 900. I went away more impressed than I had expected to be - it is nicer than the other singles i've ridden, except for the Tenere, and probably only has its weight and limited travel suspension as negatives. On the whole, a bike I would now consider as a good buy, assuming they are as reliable as the twins.

The Transformer

I rode this tiddler two-stroke during the same test ride day as the big 610 single. I had punted the 610 and then the Cagiva 900IE through a test track and then thought I'd throw predjudice to the wind and try a modern two-stroke. It turned out to be about the most fun you can have with your pants on, I reckon. Certainly nothing like the old ring-a-dings of my youth. For a start, it was powerful and tourquey for a 125, allowing me to putter around without a zillion revs or stalling.... then when you turn on the tap, and all hell breaks loose - and the little thing transforms itself into a 250! - or a least it feels like it. Obviously, it weighs nothing as well, so you can throw it anywhere, anyway, any time. It was so easy and simple to ride, that it would be hard to justify a bigger capacity bike if you want to do the serious trail ride thing.

Cagiva Porridge

I got tired of everyone telling to buy a "real" trail bike - and bought this single. They're still telling me to buy a real trail bike, so it has to be a KTM next time.

The W16 is a cooking model, and doesn't distinguish itself with any feature above and beyond the rest of the flock. I picked it because it was Cagiva, and is lighter than the Tenere or Dominator. Its redeeming quality is the engine, which is a solid feeling, torquey unit, unlike the fragile, high-revving Husky that is typical of the high performance single these days.

High gearing means it pulls a comfortable 100 kph on the road without flogging itself to death, and the rest of the ratios suit the low-stress trail riding we do. I have had to gear it down for the odd competition ride, and it has also revealed in these moments it's too heavy for a serious enduro. I tend to use it for learner dirt riders, as it handles and brakes well in the dirt. It is an easy to ride bike, without the extremes of the KTM or Husky, and a nice punchy motor, which can travel at freeway speeds without feeling overworked.

Husqvarna TE610

I rode this almost-a-Cagiva briefly, and was left with the thought "where will these things stop in development?" - it was so unlike any single I have ever ridden. The motor makes rivers of power, but sounds like it is going to explode (and vibrates in sympathy), though it never did, and I sort of got used to it. The chassis was another new challenge, as it positioned me right over the front wheel, making me feel as though I was riding a plank with handlebars attached. It all made sense when you stood up, and put pedal to metal!

It is one of those bikes that undeniably works, but doesn't feel good while doing it, and I wonder if I could become accustomed to this new style. I guess if you are in front on this bike, then you will get to like it.

KTM 640 Rallye

Mike has upped the ante, bringing into the fold the newest KTM PD bike. All I can say at this stage, is it's bloody tall, and beautiful - like a good woman. My initial ride revealed an engine that kind of left you wondering if something wasn't about to explode internally, and it was only the visions of people low flying in the Paris-Dakar kept me believing this was "truly a good thing". But as time has progressed, Mike has lowered the ride height and run in the engine, and demonstrated it is "truly a good thing" and he is happy. I look forward to spending a bit more time aboard to be shown how a dirt bike should ride and handle, because those qualities are definately present, as we see it every time he passes us.

Yamaha 660 Tenere

Mike's Yamaha is a good example of what the modern single can do. The brakes and suspension on this unit work so well they inspire confidence in any rider, and turn our trail rides into an effortless affair like riding down a freeway. This bike is comfortable and fast, and has only the motor to blame for any minus points from any of us. After hopping off, there's always the question: "why didn't they put an engine in this thing?". This motor is a soft, fluffy number, that requires some serious exhaust and tuning to liberate the monster within. If Mike gets around to it, he'll have a bike capable of whipping the Transalp and anyone else. Currently, it runs out of steam before 160 kph on the road, but feels comfortable doing it - it kind of tells you it could do better. A winner.

Old Timer

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