The unicorn motorcycle
While searching for that perfect unicorn motorcycle, I’ve changed motorcycles like I’ve changed socks! I owned more motorcycles over the years then I care to remember.
So, what do I want? Easy! I want a motorcycle that is…
- as comfortable on the highway as a GoldWing,
- as nimble in the twisties as a Ninja 400,
- as manageable offroad as a WR250,
- as easy to push around as a bicycle, and
- as reliable as a Toyota pickup truck
My friends tell me I will never find it, and I know they are right. But still I keep searching, hoping that one day I will find that perfect bike. That unicorn.
There’s just one problem. The characteristics from my list can’t co-exist in one motorcycle. It’s simply impossible, physically! My mother already told me about this when I was a little boy: Unicorns don’t exits!
To be comfortable and stable on the road, you need weight so you’re not blown around. You need power to comfortably cruise at highway speeds. And you need a big windscreen and fairing to protect you from the elements. However, weight is our enemy off-road and doesn’t help when pushing the bike around. And a big windscreen and fairing is not ideal offroad nor in the twisties.
To be nimble and flickable in the twisties you need small wheels, not too much weight, and be close to the ground. However small wheels and low ground clearance are not good for clearing obstacles off road. And less weight reduces stability on the highway.
To be manageable offroad you need less weight too, and too much power just gets in the way of traction. However, as we already established, less weight is not good on the highway and too little power can diminish your canyon carving experience and definitely doesn’t help on the highway.
Technology to the rescue
Technology has helped in getting closer to that unicorn motorcycle. Riding modes, ABS and Traction Control levels have made heavy powered bikes more manageable offroad. Suspension technology can make a 21 inch front wheel feel like a 17 inch on the road. But still there are things that just can’t be changed by technology. A BMW 1250 GS or KTM 1290 is still a heavy beast offroad, heavy to push around and heavy to pick up. A little bit of wind gust can still blow your Ninja from side to side. And even though technology can make a 21 inch wheel feel good… an actual 17 inch feels even better in the twisties.
The compromised unicorn motorcycle
In the last 5 years or so, the middle weight adventure category has become hugely popular. Some bikes in this category have even been called Unicorns, like the KTM 890 Adventure (R), the Yamaha Tenere 700 and now the Husqvarna Norden 901 and the Aprilia Tuareg. Are they really unicorns though?
No. They are compromises! A motorcycle that wants to be and do everything is always a compromise.
These middle weight bikes do a very good job at compromising though. They are immensely popular for a reason. Engines powerful enough for the highway, with technology to tame it when going offroad. Adjustable suspension that’s good onroad and offroad. 19 inch or 21 inch front wheels that don’t feel like you’re turning a container ship around in the twisties.
Is a middle weight adventure bike as comfortable on the highway as a GoldWing? No it’s not! Is it as nimble in the twisties as a Ninja 400? No it’s not! Is it as manageable offroad as a WR250? No it’s not! It is as easy to push around as a bicycle? No it’s not! Is it as reliable as a Toyota pickup truck? Well, the T7 comes pretty close 🙂.
If you’d like to know more about them, have a look at this quick and easy comparison on all of the middle weight adventure bikes.
Should you get one?
Should you get one of those compromised unicorns? One of those middle weight adventure bikes? Only you can answer that, but here are a few considerations. You’ve probably all heard them before, but maybe it will help when I list them here.
- Think long, hard and honest about the kind of riding you do. How many miles were canyon carving last year? How many miles were highway? How many miles were city / commuting? How many miles were unpaved? Was that gnarly single track or easy gravel roads?
- Do you have enough financial space? If yes, go for it. If in doubt, continue with number 3 and 4.
- Do you really need a new motorcycle? I’ve ridden pretty bad offroad stretches on a 20 year old Yamaha Diversion 600. Not ideal, not easy, but I had just as much fun as my buddies, and perhaps even a greater feeling of accomplishment.
- There are cheaper options* if you’re willing to compromise less – or should I say more? – and set aside ‘ego’ for some. Think motorcycles like the Versys X-300, Versys 650, V-Strom 650, DR 650, KLR 650, KTM 390 Adv, the CB500X and more.
Great article! I’ve done some awesome canyon carving in Mexico, and honestly, I think it is great on any bike. Whatever you have at your disposal works, as long as your tires have some life left.