That adventure thing

22 Mar 2018

Like a lot of Aussie country kids I grew up on dirt bikes, so when I finally got my licence and my first street bike gravel roads were just another road. But for my city mates gravel was something to be avoided at all costs – ride up a dirt road and they’d be wobbling around corners, locking up wheels, and arriving at the pub cussing and complaining.

Sometime around 2004 that all began to change. People who had never busted a berm or wailed over the whoop-dees started to look at maps and plan routes that took in large stretches of gravel – riding over dirt roads had somehow morphed from a pain into an adventure.

2004 was, of course, the year Long Way Round first went to air. Messrs Boorman and McGregor obviously didn’t invent adventure riding (there are tales of epic trips dating back to the early 1900s) but doing it on television certainly brought it into the mainstream.

There were always people who’d ride long distances and have a bit of fun in the dirt, those who’d take fully-laden touring bikes up near impassable tracks to get to rally campsites, and intrepid souls who’d head off around the world astride their motorcycle, but I’d argue that it wasn’t until Long Way Round that the idea of owning a dirt-capable continent crusher really fired the public’s imagination.

Consider this. BMW’s iconic GS – surely the original, and now definitive, adventure bike – was introduced way back in 1980. At a time when ‘good’ dirt bikes were lightweight two-strokes and ‘good’ road bikes had four beefy cylinders, a lot of people couldn’t see the point. A series of wins in the fledgling Dakar Rally quickly convinced them otherwise, but while the GS immediately boosted BMW’s flagging sales figures it took a while for the overall concept to really catch on.

Today just about every manufacturer offers some sort of GS equivalent. The Gelande/Strasser (off-road/road) bias tilts in a variety of different ways, but even BMW can’t resist adding the ‘Adventure’ tag to the more hardcore models. ADV bikes are now most definitely a thing…and that’s good, isn’t it.

Well, maybe not for everyone. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion it’s hurting Harley-Davidson, not because HD no longer has a dog in the fight (remember the Ulysses Buell … no, thought not) but because it’s eating into their ‘lifestyle’ market.

Next time you come across a bunch of big BMWs parked up in some country main street take a closer look. If they’re newish bikes loaded with with BMW accessories, the rider’s are of a certain age, and there’s a disproportionate number of BMW jackets and helmets, you’ve probably struck a bunch of cashed-up returned-to-riding types who (if not for Ewan and Charlie) might otherwise be riding a Hog and wearing a bandana.

Good on ‘em I say. Some of them might be wobbling through the corners when they hit the rough stuff, but with ABS they’re not locking their wheels up, and they’re most definitely arriving at the pub smiling and laughing!