We put some Mid-range adventure bikes up to the test but which one will be victorious?
Honda XL750 Transalp v Suzuki V-Strom 800 v Aprilia Tuareg 660
Honda XL750 Transalp
Motorcycles are like women – fabulous curves, endlessly exciting and inspiring a lifetime of passion in spite of occasional disastrous crashes.
And like women, some are instantly thrilling, but difficult to live with long-term, whereas others take a while for the flame to burst into life, like a winter fire of damp wood.
And so it was with the Transalp. Starting out on a damp Portuguese morning, the combination of slippery roads, light steering caused by that 21in front wheel and the soft long-travel suspension which is a given on any adventure bike with off-road aspirations made progress such a sluggish and nervous affair that I was all for giving up this biking lark and becoming a writer for Tiddlywinks Monthly magazine.
The weird thing was that I’d loved the Hornet, which has the same engine, but this was a different kettle of ball games altogether.
It’s taller, with a bigger front wheel, more relaxed geometry and softer suspension, so if the Hornet is a taut, fit jockey, this is a slightly lazy basketball player.
I was still trying to work things out when we stopped for a coffee, so I sat down and gave myself a good talking to.
And then things changed quite quickly for the better. The roads dried out, and I went back to the basics of leaning forward, dropping my elbows to take the weight off the bars, and looking up to where I wanted to go.
And it soon became obvious that this wasn’t a bike for dashing about on like a sportsbike, but a machine for a day of smooth, flowing and relaxed touring.
For a start, the seating position is classic adventure tourer – upright and neutral, with good wind protection, decent mirrors and a nifty little 5in TFT screen which has Bluetooth connectivity and all the info you need displayed clearly, including which mode you’re in – Rain, Standard, Sport, Gravel or User, the latter for bespoke tweaking.
The best bit about the bike, as in the Hornet, is that gem of an engine, with such a flat torque curve from basement revs that even in Standard mode on the mountain roads of the launch, helped by the bike only weighting 208kg wet, it pulled seamlessly in third gear on everything from uphill hairpins to 85mph straights.
A brief shower was a good excuse to try Rain mode, which like all the others gives maximum power, but more gently, whereas Sport allows you to hustle on a bit and Standard is best for touring, especially with a passenger.
I didn’t get to try Gravel, since Alex the lead rider, who rides everywhere effortlessly at 200mph, came back from the wet off-road section and pronounced it slippier than the Sarejevo ice rink where Torvill and Dean won that gold medal in 1984.
So after a dodgy start, the more I rode it the more I liked it. It’s £3,550 cheaper than Honda’s own Africa Twin, which is 18kg heavier and only 10bhp more powerful. It can also be restricted for A2 licence holders.
Accessories include a taller screen, although I’m 6ft 7ins and found the standard one, fine, and 100 litres of luggage, and the range is a useful 250 miles or so.
Suzuki V-Strom 800
There’s only one logical explanation for the V-Strom’s name, and that’s this: 20 years ago, the CEO of Suzuki was wandering through the factory when he came across a line of the company’s latest middleweight adventure bikes, each one displaying on the tank the letters V-Strom.
Sucking in his breath sharply in the way that Japanese people do to express extreme annoyance, he strode to the office of Tanaka-san, the Honourable Head of Naming Motorcycles, to point out that it should be Storm.
Only to see on Tanaka-san’s door letters in gold saying Takana-san.
Realising that he had just suffered death by dyslexia, he sighed and made his way to the nearest karaoke bar to drown his sorrows with several glasses of Johnnie Walker Blue Label.
And so, two decades after he woke with an expensive hangover, I found myself riding the latest version of his popular midrange adventure machine.
Even more confusingly than the name, unlike previous versions, this has a parallel twin for more smoothness in a smaller package than a V-twin.
Suzuki could have taken this opportunity to rename it a P-Storm, but then again, maybe not…
Climb aboard, and you’re instantly in adventure bike world, with a tall, comfy seat, decent mirrors, simple and easy-to-read 5in TFT dash and a screen which, although small and only adjustable using Allen keys, would prove entirely adequate at speed.
The front wheel, too, is the standard 21in for any bike with off-road aspirations, as is the long-travel suspension which I tested using the approved technique of bouncing up and down in the seat while going: “Boing, boing”, until I noticed a passer-by giving me a strange look, and desisted.
Ride off, and although it’s a surprisingly hefty 230kg compared to the 208kg of the Honda Transalp, the handling is actually lighter and more precise, both at low speed and in the local twisties.
It’s also down a bit on power, with 83bhp compared to the Transalp’s 91bhp, but progress is more than brisk enough to be first away from the lights and for overtaking anything on four wheels.
The engine’s entirely new, and Suzuki’s also using it in the new GSX-8, but I predict we’ll see it in other models, since it’s a peach. Although it’s 8bhp less powerful than the Transalp, it makes max power at 1000rpm less, so powering out of corners is very satisfying indeed.
Fans of loud pipes will be disappointed, since progress is done without sound and fury, but it’s no less enjoyable for that.
If you do need more oomph, A mode gives a more aggressive power delivery, while C is softer if it’s chucking it down.
The quickshifter which comes as standard is firm but precise except in first and second, where it’s a bit clunky and you’re better using the clutch, but then, only Triumph’s Speed and Street Triples, and the Ducati Multistrada V4, have mastered smooth quickshifters in the bottom two gears.
Aprilia Tuareg 660
The Tuareg, as you’ll know, are the nomadic people of the Sahara, also known as The Blue Men because of the blue headdresses which dye their skin.
I don’t know how many times I’ve told them to use salt as a fixative, but I once walked across the Sahara with a Tuareg guide to raise money for charity.
Every morning at dawn, I’d crawl out of my tent to find him rustling up a perfect omelette for breakfast.
“A salaam aleikum, Mohammed,” I would mutter sleepily.
“Wa alaikum salaam, Moustache!” he would reply brightly, handing me a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.
He always called me Moustache, being impressed that like most Arabs I had one, since one of the worst curses in Arabic is: “May Allah steal your moustache.”
After breakfast, I would wind my length of blue cloth into a headdress as he’d taught me, and we would set off across the burning sands.
Which brings me, naturally, to the Aprilia Tuareg 660, a midrange adventure bike which uses the fabulous engine from the RS 660, basically the front half of the one from that ballistic missile the Aprilia RSV4.
Where the RS 660 is compact and muscular, the Tuareg is its lanky brother who plays basketball – tall and slim, with a narrow seat to make standing on the pegs for off-road hooliganism easier.
Even though I’m 6ft 7ins, it took a bit of a swing to get my leg over the saddle, so any leprechauns out there can stop reading now and have a nice pint of Guinness.
On board, the seat’s as firm as it looks, more of which later, the mirrors are brilliant and the TFT screen is small compared with the 10.25in ones on some bigger BMWs these days, but more than adequate, with all the info you need at a glance, including what riding mode you’re in.
Rather weirdly, these are called Urban, Explore, Individual for bespoke tweaking and Off-Road, which turns off the traction control and rear ABS to let your back end go wild. As it were.
Although the engine’s been tuned down from the 100bhp of the RS 660 to 80bhp for more user-friendly off-road use, and the Tuareg is 204kg compared with the183kg of the RS, acceleration is still brisk in Urban mode, and gloriously satisfying in Explore, accompanied by a fabulous visceral growl from that peach of an engine.
But the best bit is the brilliant handling. With that light weight, slim profile and high, wide bars, I was carving corners like Valentino Rossi, except older and less Italian.
The clutch is featherlight, the six-speed gearbox firm and precise, and braking, with two big discs up front, as brutally smooth as Sean Connery in Dr No.
Since there was a handy piece of waste ground on my route, a quick blast around that proved it to be as capable off-road as on. Heavens, I even felt my back end go a couple of times, although it might have been the bike’s. Either way, aspiring Dakar riders will have a blast on it.
Only two minor complaints – after only half an hour, my tender buns were asking politely for a break from that firm, narrow seat, and I kept switching on main beam every time I used the clutch. Same as I had on the RS 660, funnily enough, so I’d like to apologise to every driver in front of me.
So this isn’t a bike for touring on road. It’s for riders who love a blast on the road during the week, and an even bigger blast off-road at weekends.
If that’s you, just sign here.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just see if I can still remember how to wind a Tuareg headdress.
Honda XL750 Transalp
Engine: 755cc liquid-cooled parallel twin
Power: 91bhp @ 9,500rpm
Torque: 55 ft lb @ 7,250rpm
Colours: Black; grey; white/red/blue
Suzuki V-Strom 800
Engine: 776cc liquid-cooled parallel twin
Power: 83bhp @ 8,500rpm
Torque: 58 ft lb @ 6,800rpm
Colours: Grey; yellow; black
Aprilia Tuareg 660
Engine: 659cc liquid-cooled parallel twin
Power: 80bhp @ 9,250rpm
Torque: 52 ft lb @ 6,500rpm
Colours: Gold; red; blue
Price: From £9,950
For the V-Strom, the only slight fly in the proverbial is that Suzuki’s modus operandi has always been value for money, but at £10,499 it’s 8bhp less powerful and a grand more than the 91bhp Transalp, and £549 more than the 80bhp Tuareg 660 after Aprilia cut the price from £10,600.
However, the V-Strom is the one I’d pick. It handles better than the Transalp, and although the Tuareg’s handling is just as sharp as the V-Strom’s, the saddle isn’t as comfortable, and the Suzuki has noticeably more grunt.
About Geoff Hill
Geoff Hill is a critically acclaimed author and journalist who’s won multiple national and international awards for feature and travel writing.
He’s written weekly motorbike columns for the Irish Times, Sunday Times and Daily Mirror which are desperate attempts to disguise the fact that he knows bugger all about motorbikes.
He’s also the editor of Microlight Flying magazine, in spite of the fact that he knows even less about aeroplanes than he does about motorbikes.
He’s the author of 19 books, including accounts of epic motorbike journeys from Delhi to Belfast and Route 66 (Way to Go), Chile to Alaska (The Road to Gobblers Knob), around Australia (Oz) and In Clancy’s Boots, recreating the journey of Carl Stearns Clancy, the first person to take a motorbike around the world 100 years ago – complete with Clancy’s original boots.
His novels are Angel Street, Smith and The Butler’s Son, and the best of his collected travel stories are in Where was I again?