“Who woulda thunk it,” as my dad would say. A KTM adventure bike that costs less and makes more power than a Kawasaki KLR650, has fuel injection, electronic rider aids and weighs nearly 50 fewer pounds to boot? What mythical beast is this? It’s the 2020 KTM 390 Adventure, and it’s no myth. In fact I’ve spent the last few days on one, cruising the urban streets, farm roads and mountain highways near my home (taking a rain check on the hard core off-road stuff in these unusual times — see our “To Ride, or Not to Ride…?” editorial here).
With a base price of just $6,199, the new 390 Adventure is a lot of bike for the money, with an impressive list of standard features that make it a serious threat to value-oriented Japanese competitors like the Honda CB500X and Kawasaki Versys-X 300, as well as BMW’s G 310 GS. Adjustable front and rear WP suspension, a full-color TFT display, lean-angle sensitive traction control and Bosch 2-channel cornering ABS are all standard, with a quickshifter offered as an option.
Powering the 390 Adventure is the same 373cc, 4-valve, DOHC, liquid-cooled single used in the popular RC 390 and 390 Duke sport bikes, which generated 44 horsepower at 8,800 rpm and 27 lb-ft of torque at 7,000 rpm when we last put it on the Jett Tuning dyno — that’s nearly as much as the Honda CB500X’s larger parallel twin. It’s fitted with a gear-driven counterbalancer to tame the worst of the vibes, although we noticed a fair amount in the grips and the cleated footpegs (rubber inserts are included but were removed from our test bike). Passing at freeway speeds, especially on hills, requires either a little patience or a downshift, but the 390 cruises at the SoCal traffic standard of 75 mph without complaint. The feisty single is mated to a 6-speed gearbox fitted with a slipper clutch and, in the case of our test bike, KTM’s excellent up/down Quickshifter+.
Up front is a 43mm WP Apex USD fork with 6.7 inches of travel and adjustable compression and rebound damping; in the back is a WP Apex shock with 7 inches of travel and adjustable spring preload and rebound damping. Brakes are BYBRE, Brembo’s Indian subsidiary, with a 4-piston radial caliper gripping a single 320mm disc up front and a single-piston floating caliper/230mm disc combo in the rear.
Bosch 9.1MP cornering ABS has two settings: on and off-road, which disables it in back (it cannot be completely disabled). Lean-angle sensitive MTC (traction control), on the other hand, is either on or off (there are no special modes) and can be changed on the fly, although you’ll have to hold a button on the left switchgear and release the throttle for several seconds to do so. Off-road enthusiasts take note: the MTC will revert to the on position when you shut the bike off using the ignition key, but as far as we can tell it stays off if you only use the kill switch. Like its larger siblings, the 390 Adventure includes a 12V power socket as standard, located front and center underneath the TFT display, so mounting a phone for use as a GPS or just keeping it charged in a strap-on tank bag atop the plastic fuel tank is easy.
With its 19-inch front/17-inch rear cast wheels, 70/30 Continental TKC 70 tires, plastic skid plate (augmented with metal in front of and below the exhaust pipe), and modest suspension travel and ground clearance (we measured seven inches), straight off the showroom floor the 390 Adventure is best suited to gravel and fire roads. While the WP suspension is stiff enough to perform well on smooth, sporty rides and soaks up gnarly pavement and rough dirt roads, I would want to keep extended rocky encounters to a minimum. On the plus side, bikes for the U.S. market come standard with tipover bars that protect the sides of the engine and radiator. Spoon on some knobbier tires, bolt on KTM’s accessory aluminum skid plate and you’re ready for some hard-core adventure.
For a bike of such modest size, power and entry-level pretensions, we were somewhat surprised by the height of the 390 Adventure’s seat. On paper it’s not so bad, listed at 33.6 inches, but the seat is hard and fairly flat, with sharp edges that make it difficult to get your feet on the ground. It narrows a bit toward the front, but at that point it also slopes up and gets even taller. Even with my 34-inch inseam, if I’m wearing stiff ADV-style boots I’m on my tiptoes at a stop, and forget about backing up even the slightest of inclines while seated on the bike. Fortunately the 390 is a featherweight, tipping the scales at just 387 pounds fully fueled, adding confidence to one-footed stops and making it easy to push around. And there’s another upshot: the long reach from seat to footpegs leads to a relaxed bend in the knees and makes standing up for off-road riding a cinch.
Elemental protection from the short, non-adjustable windscreen isn’t bad, although I definitely experienced some windblast, especially at freeway speeds, on my upper chest, shoulders and helmet. Ergonomics are smaller-frame-friendly (well, apart from that tall seat), with a short reach across the 3.8-gallon tank to the handlebar and its backlit switchgear. At 5 feet, 9 inches, I found the handlebar to be too low for stand-up riding, requiring a pronounced forward lean; a bar riser would be on my must-have list.
Romping through a set of corners is a joy, with the 390 exhibiting a taut, stable character that might surprise those who expect less from a small, “entry level” motorcycle. Brakes are above average for a bike in this price range, with solid bite and good feedback in front, though the back feels a bit wooden initially. Combined with a stiff chassis and firm but compliant suspension, this is a truly fun to ride machine, and those riders who pick up a 390 Adventure with no aspirations of ever touching dirt, perhaps drawn primarily to the upright, commanding “ADV” riding position, can look forward to miles of curvy smiles. The bike responds best to a firm hand, especially off idle; too gentle with the throttle and the fueling cuts out, threatening a stall — possibly the price paid for Euro 5 certification on such a high-strung motor. Once underway it still prefers to be wrung out a bit, and doesn’t respond with much below about 4,000 rpm; keep it north of that and you’ll have a ball. It’s also worth noting that even with a heavy throttle hand, fuel economy averaged 53 mpg, for an estimated range of 202 miles.
KTM already has a laundry list of accessories for its 390 Adventure, including a slip-on Akrapovič silencer that shaves off another 2.2 pounds, Ergo rider and passenger seats, hard and soft side bags and more. A centerstand, unfortunately, is not on the list. Other than that, though, it wouldn’t take much to turn the 390 Adventure into a capable on- or off-road adventurer, and even in stock form it’s a fantastic commuter that’s ready for just about anything.
2020 KTM 390 Adventure Specs
Base Price: $6,199 Price as Tested: $6,559 (Quickshifter+) Warranty: 2 yrs., 24,000 Miles Website:ktm.com
Type: Liquid-cooled single Displacement: 373cc Bore x Stroke: 89.0 x 60.0mm Compression Ratio: 12.6:1 Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl. Valve Insp. Interval: 9,300 miles Fuel Delivery: Bosch EFI w/ 46mm throttle body Lubrication System: Wet sump, 1.8-qt. cap. Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet slipper clutch Final Drive: X-ring chain
Remember UJMs? If you were a motorcyclist in the ’70s, or have a soft spot for bikes from that era, then you remember them well. Honda kicked it off in 1969 with its groundbreaking CB750, the first mass-produced motorcycle with a transverse in-line four-cylinder engine and an overhead camshaft. It was an air-cooled four-stroke with a five-speed transmission, a front disc brake, an electric starter and an upright seating position.
Honda created the formula and other Japanese manufacturers followed it. Kawasaki launched the mighty 903cc Z1 for 1973, Suzuki introduced the GS750 for 1976 and, late to the party but the biggest reveler in the room, Yamaha brought out the XS1100 for 1978. Similarities among these and other Japanese models of varying displacements led “Cycle” magazine, in its November 1976 test of the Kawasaki KZ650, to coin what became a widely used term: “In the hard world of commerce, achievers get imitated and the imitators get imitated. There is developing, after all, a kind of Universal Japanese Motorcycle…conceived in sameness, executed with precision, and produced by the thousands.”
Those UJMs, and the standards of performance and reliability they established, revolutionized the world of motorcycling. Decades later, descendants of those progenitors carry their DNA into the modern era. To see how well the formula holds up in the 21st century, we gathered examples from Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki for a neo-retro comparo. (As much as we would have loved to include Yamaha for a proper battle of the Big Four, its contemporary XSR900 is powered by an in-line triple that colors too far outside the lines of the UJM formula.)
Honda’s CB1000R, like its granddaddy, has a transverse in-line four, but it’s a more highly evolved one featuring liquid cooling and dual overhead cams with four valves per cylinder — a configuration shared by all three bikes in this comparison. Derived from the pre-2008 CBR1000RR sportbike, the CB’s 998cc engine has been tuned for low- to midrange power and its 6-speed transmission has an assist-and-slipper clutch. Like the others, the CB1000R’s standard equipment includes ABS and traction control, but it’s the only one here with throttle-by-wire and riding modes (Sport, Street, Rain and customizable User), which adjust throttle response, engine braking and traction control.
A round headlight and an exposed engine are about the only styling traits shared by the “Neo-Sports Café” CB1000R and the CB750. Kawasaki’s Z900RS, on the other hand, is a spitting image of its forebear. Round mirrors on long stalks, bullet-shaped analog gauges, a teardrop tank, a bench seat, a sculpted tail and gorgeous Candytone Green paint with yellow stripes are all inspired by the original Z1. Even the flat spokes of its cast wheels are designed to look like spoked wheels of yore. Derived from the Z900 streetfighter, the Kawasaki’s 948cc DOHC in-line four has revised cam profiles, lower compression, a heavier flywheel, a second gear-driven balancer and narrower exhaust headers for a mellower feel, and its stainless steel 4-into-1 exhaust has been tuned to deliver an old-school four-banger growl.
Jenny’s Gear Helmet: Shoei RF-1200 Jacket: AGV Sport Helen Pants: Joe Rocket Alter Ego Boots: Sidi Gavia Gore-Tex Tail Bag: Nelson-Rigg
Suzuki’s entry in this contest is the new-for-2020 Katana, a modern interpretation of the iconic 1981 GSX1100S Katana, which revolutionized motorcycle design by treating the bike as a whole rather than a collection of parts. Originally conceived by Hans Muth and reimagined by Rodolfo Frascoli, the Katana has a small fairing and windscreen, and, like the CB1000R, a stubby tail section. Based on the GSX-S1000 naked sportbike, the Katana is powered by a 999cc DOHC in-line four derived from the 2005-2008 GSX-R1000, tuned for street duty with milder cam profiles and valve timing, steel rather than titanium valves, lighter pistons, a stainless steel exhaust and a 6-speed transmission with an assist-and-slipper clutch.
Three bikes, three editors, two days. Before hitting the road, we strapped on soft luggage. None have centerstands, and only the Kawasaki has a steel gas tank that accommodates a magnetic tank bag, which carried our tools, flat repair kit and air pump. Its long, wide bench seat also has room for a good-sized tail bag. With their short tails and small pillions, the Honda and Suzuki only have space for small tail bags. Because the Suzuki’s bodywork is more stylish than functional, the Honda and Kawasaki are completely nude and none have hand guards or heated grips, we were exposed to the elements. We bundled up in layers for our mid-January test and pointed our wheels north, taking freeways and back roads up California’s Central Coast.
With their refined, Swiss watch-like in-line fours, these modern-day UJMs are impeccably smooth. Snicking their transmissions into sixth gear and cruising at a steady speed is a sublime experience, with minimal vibration or unwanted perturbations. None have cruise control, but with fuel capacities ranging from 3.2 gallons on the Suzuki to 4.5 gallons on the Kawasaki and as-tested fuel ranges between 130 and 173 miles, the need for gas will likely precede the need for wrist relief. Upright seating positions and windblast on the chest keep weight off the wrists on all three, but there are notable differences in legroom. The Honda and Suzuki have the tallest seat heights (32.7 and 32.5 inches, respectively) as well as the highest footpegs, putting much more bend in the knees — especially on the Honda — than the comparatively spacious Kawasaki. Even though the Kawi has the lowest seat height (31.5 inches) and lowest pegs, on none of these bikes did we find ourselves dragging pegs in tight corners.
It’s in those tight corners that these bikes further distinguish themselves. With only 10 pounds separating their curb weights and modest differences in chassis geometry, their engine performance, brakes and suspension are what set these bikes apart. In terms of outright horsepower and torque, the Honda and Suzuki, both of which have sportbike-derived engines, come out on top. The Suzuki is the strongest, churning out 142.1 rear-wheel horsepower at 10,300 rpm and 75.9 lb-ft of torque at 9,200 rpm on Jett Tuning’s dyno, though its advantage over the others is mostly above 8,500 rpm. The Honda peaks at 125.5 horsepower at 9,800 rpm and 70.6 lb-ft at 8,300 rpm, but it’s much weaker than the Suzuki and Kawasaki below 7,500 rpm, a deficiency that’s obvious on corner exits and roll-on passes. Although the Kawasaki generates only 100.1 horsepower at 8,500 rpm and 67.5 lb-ft at 8,500 rpm, in the midrange it gives the Suzuki a run for its money and leaves the Honda in the dust.
With their more compact cockpits and high-revving power, the Honda and Suzuki lean more toward the sport end of the sport standard spectrum. Their smoothness makes them sneaky fast, and their stock suspension settings are firmer than the Kawasaki’s. All of these bikes have fully adjustable upside-down forks and preload- and rebound-adjustable single rear shocks (KYB on the Kawasaki and Suzuki, Showa on the Honda), but the Honda’s suspension, especially its Separate Function-Big Piston fork, is the most compliant. Sportbike-caliber front brakes, with pairs of radial-mount monoblock 4-piston opposed calipers clamping large discs, deliver serious stopping power across the board, but the Honda has a slight edge in feel. Adding to a sense of confidence on the Honda are its Bridgestone Battlax Hypersport S21 radials, which have noticeably more grip (but likely less mileage in the long run) than the Dunlop radials on the Kawasaki and Suzuki.
Despite being down on peak power and more softly sprung, the Kawasaki is by no means a boat anchor or a couch on wheels. It’s plenty fast, but its mission is clearly different than that of the Honda and Suzuki. The Z900RS stokes the flames of nostalgia while providing a more spacious, relaxed and comfortable riding experience, with every potentially rough edge sanded smooth. The Katana, on the other hand, is essentially a GSX-S1000 with plastic bodywork and a more upright riding position. In isolation there’s little to complain about when riding the Suzuki, but compared to the Honda and Kawasaki, it feels less refined, with more driveline lash and less precision during gear changes.
UJMs were the first motorcycles to be called “superbikes,” a name that came to be more appropriately applied to the racer replicas that proliferated in the late ’80s. These modern-day UJMs fall into the more mundane-sounding “sport standard” category, but there’s nothing mundane about 100-plus rear-wheel horsepower, high-spec brakes and suspension, standard ABS and TC, and a level of capability that’s truly impressive. For sheer power and sporting prowess, the Suzuki gets top marks, but its small 3.2-gallon gas tank and high price ($13,499) make it a tough sell. Priced a bit lower at $12,999, the ultra-smooth Honda has a strong top end as well as throttle-by-wire, riding modes and the best suspension and tires, but its weak midrange and high footpegs limit its overall appeal. A relative bargain at $11,199, the Kawasaki won us over with its throwback styling, spacious and comfortable seating, strong midrange, seductive sound and decent fuel range. If you do what we did — strap on some luggage and explore some of your favorite roads for a couple of days — you’re guaranteed to have a good time. Isn’t that why we ride?
It’s here, and for the most part it looks exactly how we hoped it would: like a classic BMW. The 2021 BMW R 18 “Big Boxer” cruiser has finally been unveiled in complete production form, with a look reminiscent of the R 5 model of the 1930s.
Powered by a massive 1,802cc OHV air/oil-cooled 4-valve opposed twin, the largest “boxer” engine BMW has ever produced for a motorcycle, that generates a claimed 91 horsepower at 4,750 rpm and 116 lb-ft of torque at 3,000, the new R 18 certainly seems to talk the talk, ready to go toe to toe with the established cruiser brands. It sports modern rider aids like partially integrated braking (the hand lever activates both front and rear brakes, the foot pedal only the rear) with ABS, a six-speed transmission with anti-hop (slipper) dry clutch, standard ASC (stability control) and MSR (engine drag torque control), and three ride modes: Rain, Roll (for regular riding) and Rock (for sportier riding). Hill Hold Control and Reverse Assist are optional.
The R 18’s classic lines come courtesy of a double loop tubular steel frame with easily removable rear subframe for easy customization, a double-sided swingarm with exposed driveshaft on the right side, a telescopic 49mm fork with 4.7 inches of travel and a hidden, preload-adjustable cantilever rear shock with 3.5 inches of travel for a hardtail look. Three brake discs, two up front and one in the rear, are 300mm in diameter and are squeezed by 4-piston calipers.
Spoked wheels are 19 inches up front, 16 at the rear, and appear to be tube-type, although that is not specified in the information we’ve received. Lighting is all-LED, and the R 18 can be fitted with an optional Adaptive Headlight (lean-angle sensitive cornering lights). Keyless Ride is standard.
The 2021 R 18 will be available worldwide in a special First Edition model, which includes the signature black paint with white pin striping, chrome details, “First Edition” badging and more. A base model will also be available in the U.S. and other select markets. Pricing starts at $17,495 for the base model and $19,870 for the First Edition.
This is, after all, a cruiser, and so BMW will also be offering two customization packages from Roland Sands Design, the “Machined” and the “Two-Tone Black.” BMW will also offer an extensive list of customization parts and accessories so buyers can make their R 18 uniquely their own.
A behind-the-scenes look at how Gore-Tex apparel is made and tested.
W.L. Gore & Associates is one of those success stories of American ingenuity and innovation. Founded in 1958 by the husband-and-wife team of Wilbert (Bill) Lee — who had spent 16 years with DuPont — and Genevieve Walton Gore, the company got its start making wire and cable insulation before the couple’s son, Bob, made an accidental and extremely fortuitous discovery. In 1969, he was trying to stretch extruded polytetraflouroethylene (PTFE, otherwise known as Teflon) for use in plumbers’ tape, but no matter how gently he pulled it always broke. Frustrated and down to his last few samples of test material, he grabbed one of the heated rods and gave it a hard yank — and to his astonishment it didn’t snap, it expanded. The company called it “expanded PTFE,” or ePTFE.
Today ePTFE is at the heart of Gore’s $3.7 billion-per-year business, with uses in everything from laptop computers to prosthetic arteries to astronaut suits…and, of course, waterproof motorcycle gear. We were invited to tour several of Gore’s facilities near its headquarters in Newark, Delaware, as guests of Idaho-based Klim, a Gore-Tex partner that’s been making motorcycle gear since 2004, and it was a unique opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at everything that goes into creating a piece of Gore-Tex apparel.
Because Gore manufactures technical fabrics for the U.S. military and first responders, security was tight and we were limited as to when and where we could take photos, but in many places Klim gear had been set up so we could witness firsthand the testing and quality control that goes into every piece that carries the Gore or Gore-Tex name.
Gore makes more than 300 different membrane types, and each finished product goes through more than 600 quality control tests — that’s before it goes to the manufacturer, which in the case of Klim means motorcycle-specific testing, including CE certification.
There’s a biophysics lab that tests for comfort and acoustics (important for hunting and military gear), six rain rooms for waterproofness and an environmental room that goes from -50 to 50 degrees C (-58 to 122 F), 5% to 98% humidity and zero to 22 mph wind speed. Upstairs is a huge room full of washing machines that are used for wet flex and abrasion testing; they are stopped and the material tested every eight hours until it fails. (The washing machine brand of choice for durability: Kenmore.)
At the Elk Creek facility we got a look at the glove and boot test labs, where Gore-Tex membrane booties are tested for leaks. A big machine in the corner subjects finished boots to a submerged wet flex test; Klim boots must pass at least 200,000 flexes without a leak before hitting the market.
Gloves are probably the toughest item to waterproof, and every Gore-approved factory (which apparel partners must use) has a whole glove leak test machine. Klim uses a special Gore-Tex membrane insert with glue on one side that bonds it directly to the outer shell, and a soft Trica liner bonded to the other side for optimum control feel. Still, gloves are where most riders will say they’ve experienced waterproofing failure (I’m no different).
The folks at Gore suggested that what we often think is a leak is actually either a lack of breathability causing moisture buildup or the waterlogged outer shell feeling cold against our skin, which our brain interprets as “wet.” (Our sensory system has no “wet” register, only temperature, and if the water is cooler or warmer than our skin we perceive it as “wet.” This is how sensory deprivation chambers work: by floating in saline water that’s exactly our body temperature, our brain registers no contact at all.)
To be comfortable, a piece of waterproof apparel needs to breathe and shed water. “Breathability” doesn’t mean airflow, however; it means the removal of warm, moist air from the body. This is what makes Gore-Tex apparel more comfortable than, say, wearing a plastic bag — it “breathes” while keeping you dry. As our Gore guide put it, “it’s not magic, it’s physics.” But as we noted above, if the fabric outside the Gore-Tex membrane is waterlogged your skin thinks it’s wet, so a DWR (durable water-repellant) coating is important.
Every Gore-Tex-branded item comes from the factory with a DWR coating, and the instructions for keeping it in good shape might surprise you: throw it in the dryer. Yep, you should be washing and tumble-drying your Gore-Tex. The heat reactivates the DWR, so water will bead rather than soaking in. You’ll still need to reapply a new coating every few years, just make sure it’s silicone-free.
When properly cared for — and assuming they don’t have an unfortunate meeting with the pavement — Gore-Tex products should remain waterproof for life, and Gore will replace, repair or refund any of its products that fail. It’s that commitment to quality that’s given Gore its well-earned reputation and made Gore-Tex the gold standard of apparel waterproofing.
And if your Gore-Tex gear is Klim, you can send it back to them after an accident for free replacement (see website for details). Now that’s what we call a commitment to performance.
This is not an April Fools joke…. American Honda has announced that the ADV150 “adventure scooter” will be coming to the U.S. market as early as June 2020, as a 2021 model year machine. The unique scooter has a rugged look, with Showa suspension, aggressive tires, an adjustable windscreen, under-seat storage and a Smart-Key system with built-in theft deterrents. U.S. retail pricing is $4,299.
To quote Chris Cox, American Honda’s Manager of Experiential Marketing/Public Relations, “What do you get when you combine an Africa Twin and a PCX150? We weren’t sure, but we knew it sounded like fun!”
We agree, Chris. We could use a little fun right now, and we can’t wait to get a ride on one.
We needed some good news, and KTM North America has delivered, announcing the early availability of the brand new 890 Duke R, unveiled in Milan last November and originally intended to launch in late 2020 as a MY2021 machine. Instead, KTM will be bringing in a “very limited number” of 890 Duke R models this spring as 2020 models.
Basically a more powerful and aggressive version of the impressive-in-its-own-right 790 Duke, the 2020 890 Duke R features a new 890cc parallel twin with an increased bore and stroke, higher compression ratio and redline, larger valves, a new piston design with new connecting rods and a new crankshaft, new individual mapping adjustment on each cylinder, a knock sensor and new engine cases. The new mill churns out more horsepower and torque, and KTM also says it provides better rideability due to increased rotating mass.
Brakes are by Brembo, with larger discs and Bosch ABS that includes a Supermoto setting, suspension is fully-adjustable WP Apex front and rear, and electronic rider aids include new-generation traction control and ride modes with optional Track mode and Quickshifter+, all aided by a new 6D lean angle sensor.
Befitting its “super scalpel” mission, the 890 Duke R has a lower, flatter handlebar and footpegs that are higher and more rear-set for a sportier riding position and greater lean angle. It makes no pretensions at being anything other than a twisty-munching or track-attacking machine, with a solo seat and no pillion footpegs. It’s you and Mr. Duke, that’s it.
Pricing has yet to be announced, but barring any supply chain disruptions we should see the bike in dealerships sometime this spring.
Since the launch of the BMW F 800 model family with the F 800 S and F 800 ST in 2006, these middleweight, parallel twin-powered motorcycles have been offered in a wide variety of models as lower-priced alternatives to BMW’s larger bikes. As with the R 1200 boxer twins, the most popular parallel twins have been the F 800 GS and GSA adventure bikes, with the more street-oriented F 650 GS/F 700 GS close behind. No surprise, really, since adventure and ADV-styled bikes have done well for some time now.
Conversely the F 800 ST and later GT sport-touring versions were short-lived, leaving the F 800 R streetfighter introduced in 2009 as the sole non-GS model in the lineup as of 2019. No doubt the bike’s entry-level price and the showmanship of four-time world-champion freestyle rider Christian Pfeiffer — who helped develop the naked bike he spun, slid and nose wheelied to victory — extended the F 800 R’s longevity.
We applauded BMW’s move toward a simpler, less expensive entry-level twin with the F 800s, which had telescopic forks in place of pricier Telelever or Duolever front ends and belt or chain final drive versus a shaft. But their BMW-designed, Austrian Rotax-built engine, even with its innovative counterbalancer, never really earned our admiration. It was buzzy and raspy sounding and just didn’t deliver the satisfying, torquey throb we expect from a twin.
The F 800s performed well, but it wasn’t until BMW redesigned the engine for the 2019 F 850 GS and F 750 GS (and engine production moved to Loncin in China) that the 853cc engine they share finally came to life. The larger displacement helped, but it was mostly the switch from a balanced 360-degree firing interval with 0-degree crankpin offset to an imbalanced 270/450-degree interval and 90-degree offset that woke the powerplant up, giving it an almost boxer-like twin-cylinder growl and feel. Swapping the central connecting rod-style balancer for dual balancer shafts also tamed the vibes.
Fast-forward one year and the new parallel twin has been enlarged once again and slapped into a pair of dynamic new middleweights, the F 900 R and F 900 XR, roadster and sport-adventure bikes again priced as alternatives to BMW’s larger machines. Updates to the shared DOHC, 4-valve per cylinder engine for more performance and torque from F 850 status include a bump to 895cc, a new cylinder head, forged pistons instead of cast and a higher 13.1:1 compression ratio.
On the Jett Tuning dyno our F 900 R test bike churned out 88.2 horsepower at 8,400 rpm and 58.1 lb-ft of torque at 6,400 rpm, an improvement of about 3 horsepower and 3 lb-ft of torque over our 2019 F 850 GS test bike. Compared curve to curve, more torque is available across more of the F 900’s powerband, too, especially between 4,000-7,000 rpm (redline is at 9,300). All of this grunt reaches the rear wheel via chain final drive through a slick-shifting 6-speed gearbox with a cable-actuated slipper clutch that has a light pull and broad engagement band (an up/down quickshifter is available as an option).
In addition to their engines, both bikes share an aluminum bridge-type frame, aluminum double-sided cast swingarm and bolt-on steel subframe (presumably to provide enough strength for the optional soft side cases and a luggage rack/top trunk). There’s a 43mm USD fork with no adjustments up front, and a single shock with rebound damping and spring preload adjustment in back — I do wish the remote knob for the latter was easier to access.
Cast wheels are shod with high-performance sport- or sport-touring tires in the same sizes, and both shed velocity with triple disc brakes that include radial-mount opposed 4-piston calipers up front and ABS. LED headlights and taillights are standard, and front and center is a large, bright 6.5-inch TFT display with a wealth of ride and vehicle information accessible via the Multi-Controller wheel and menu button on the left bar.
In typical BMW fashion, though the whole idea of the F 900s is a ton of fun at a lower cost, you can boost their prices considerably with a slew of nifty accessories like multiple seat options, Keyless Ride, heated grips, cruise control, a centerstand and more, as well as advanced optional electronic enhancements. These include Dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment (D-ESA) with Dynamic and softer Road modes and electronic preload; Ride Modes Pro, which adds Dynamic and Dynamic Pro modes to the standard Rain and Road engine modes, and enables cornering ABS, MSR and Dynamic Brake Control (DBC), which detects emergency braking and reduces torque output to counter unintentional opening of the throttle. The Ride Modes Pro plug-in dongle also upgrades the standard traction control to Dynamic, and of course all of this stuff is infinitely adjustable six ways from Sunday.
Fortunately both bikes work just fine without spending a moment playing with settings or one might never leave the garage. The F 900 R is the sportier of the two, with a light wet weight of 471 pounds, shorter suspension travel and steering geometry that make it quite a ripper in the corners. It also has a lower seat, higher footpegs and flatter bar for sport riding and to help it accommodate shorter riders, yet the seating position is still quite comfortable, and while the suspension is set firm for sport riding it still soaks up the bumps quite well. Overall it should appeal to a broad range of riders looking for great handling and some techy stuff at a lower price.
To justify its higher cost, the F 900 XR adds a substantial fairing and small adjustable windscreen that together provides a fair amount of wind protection (I do recommend the optional taller windscreen) and contributes to its higher wet weight of 486 pounds. It also has a taller handlebar, significantly more suspension travel, lower pegs and slightly higher seat in keeping with its adventure-influenced design, yet I could still support it adequately at stops with my 29-inch inseam. Add a pair of side cases and it would make a very nice light tourer with a good balance of handling and power.
Although the light, plastic-welded fuel tanks on the R and XR have capacities of just 3.4 and 4.1 gallons respectively, I never saw fuel economy below 37 mpg from the required 91 octane, and that was after nearly 250 miles with a heavy throttle hand — they are capable of much better. Although the BMW R 1200 boxer engine makes more power and torque, in many ways the F 900 parallel twin’s character is equally satisfying, especially its growl and ripping-velvet feel that comes with a smooth rushing surge of torque in the midrange. Paired with either the R roadster or XR sport-adventure platforms, the combination creates a very fun and functional middleweight for whatever sort of ride you care to enjoy.
“Though she be but little, she be fierce!” — William Shakespeare
Consider for a moment that the best-selling Yamaha motorcycles for the past several years — across all categories — are the 321cc YZF-R3 sport bike and the 689cc MT-07 “hyper naked” sport standard, and you can understand why Yamaha is launching the newest (and smallest) member of the MT family with hopes for an army of future Yama-loyalists pinned to the MT-03’s pointy nose. The 2020 MT-03, essentially a YZF-R3 given the streetfighter treatment — no fairings, a flat handlebar and slightly revised front suspension — is an unapologetic gateway drug to the larger MT-07, MT-09 and beyond, a bike that will draw young, female and/or first-time buyers into dealerships, attracted to its aggressive styling, accessible size and $4,599 price tag.
Unlike some other naked sport bikes, there’s nothing dumbed-down about the MT-03. Its 321cc offset parallel-twin, DOHC engine with 180-degree crank and single counterbalance shaft, 6-speed gearbox, steel frame and swingarm, cast aluminum wheels, LCD display and single-disc front and rear brakes are all identical to the R3 (read the review here). Even its throttle mapping and gear ratios, with 5th and 6th both functioning as overdrives for comfortable freeway cruising, are unchanged. Apart from the flatter handlebar vs. the R3’s clip-ons and the lack of fairings, the biggest change to the MT-03 is its revised front suspension. Inside the 37mm inverted KYB fork is a slightly longer, softer spring with 6mm more preload and reduced compression damping (rebound is unchanged) that better suits the MT’s more upright riding position. The rear KYB shock is identical to the R3’s, with 7-step preload adjustment. Seat height remains a low 30.7 inches and wet weight is a claimed 373 pounds (our R3 tester weighed in at 379 pounds). Unlike the R3, all 2020 MT-03s have ABS as standard, making it $700 less expensive than the ABS-equipped YZF-R3.
Our first ride on the littlest MT took place at the press launch in Austin, Texas, which — despite the cancellation of the SXSW tech conference scheduled to take place concurrent to our event — was still choked with local commuter traffic as we made our way out of the city in search of curvy delights in the nearby Hill Country. The MT-03 lacks a slip and/or assist clutch, but lever pull is still fairly easy (though neither the clutch nor brake levers are adjustable) and the low first gear makes starting out a cinch. Around town the parallel twin, which generated 35 peak horsepower at 10,600 rpm and 19 lb-ft of torque at 9,200 when we last tested it in 2017, is pretty tame and drama-free, but those Jett Tuning dyno figures hint at the rest of the story: when the roads open up, spinning the little MT’s mill past 6,000 rpm rewards the rider with a noticeable boost. This equates to a need to maintain higher rpm through twisty, technical terrain, otherwise even a generous handful of throttle is only just enough to pull you out of the corner.
The upshot of course is that the MT-03 is extremely forgiving, ideal for first-time riders. It also reduces the risk of overcooking it into a turn, where I found the 289mm/2-piston front disc and 220mm/1-piston rear disc brakes to be a bit on the vague side, requiring a solid pull on the lever and offering little feedback. This may have been by design, again aimed at a newer rider’s potential tendency to panic and squeeze/stomp a bit too hard; Yamaha says the MT-03’s brakes were tuned to feel “controllable,” but as an experienced rider I wished for a more aggressive bite. A pair of aftermarket sintered pads would likely solve the problem.
Other than the brakes, I found little else to complain about as we transitioned from city to twisties and back to the city, now in the throes of the evening rush hour. Despite a low seat that folded my 34-inch-inseam legs into a sporty bend, I never felt cramped, although there were some grumbles from other, taller testers (I am 5 feet, 9 inches). The flat handlebar, which is some 1 ½ inches higher and ¾-inch farther back than the R3’s clip-ons, created a comfortable riding position, though the deeply-dished seat kept me feeling somewhat locked in place. And the slightly softer fork suited my size and riding style quite well, compliant enough to not jar my fillings loose over bumps but stiff enough to hold up to aggressive cornering.
Of course, for an entry-price-point machine like the MT-03, specs and performance are often not the primary focus for potential buyers — it’s important the bike looks the part, and the MT-03 delivers. Unlike its R3 cousin, the MT gets full LED lighting, including newly sleek turn signals and a futuristic-looking headlight with slanted position markers. When lit, the effect is something like an angry robotic Cyclops. Perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, but I actually think it’s pretty cool. Whether in sinister Midnight Black or eye-catching Ice Fluo, the 2020 MT-03 is a shining example of how far today’s “entry level” bikes have come, proving once again that even little bikes can be big fun.
2020 Yamaha MT-03
Base Price: $4,599 Website:yamahamotorsports.com Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse parallel twin, DOHC, 4 valves per cyl. Displacement: 321cc Bore x Stroke: 68.0mm x 44.1mm Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch Final Drive: O-ring chain Wheelbase: 54.3 in. Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/3.74 in. Seat Height: 30.7 in. Claimed Wet Weight: 373 lbs. Fuel Capacity: 3.7 gals., last 0.8 gal. warning light on MPG: 86 AKI min, NA
V-twin baggers are as American as baseball and apple pie. Big, stylish and built for our wide-open highways, they embody the self-expression and freedom that make motorcycles objects of obsession rather than just vehicles. America’s two major bagger manufacturers — Harley-Davidson and Indian — are well-known brands from coast to coast, even among folks who’ve never ridden one, and their histories and rivalries stretch back more than a century. Being so steeped in tradition, Harley and Indian take great pains to satisfy their base, building motorcycles that conform to the expectations of loyal cruiser riders.
Modern baggers must strike a delicate balance. On the outside they need to look a certain way — a big V-twin front and center, a long, low profile and muscular styling with bodywork covered in rich paint. But on the inside they need to meet increasingly stringent emissions, sound and safety standards, provide modern levels of comfort and reliability and deliver an engaging riding experience in terms of performance, technology and features.
These two 2020 baggers, Harley-Davidson’s Road Glide Special and Indian’s Challenger Limited, strike that balance remarkably well. Being the latest incarnation of a model family that’s been in Harley’s lineup for 40 years — starting with the 1980 FLT, then known as the Tour Glide — the Road Glide is the seasoned veteran in this comparison, and its signature feature is a frame-mounted sharknose fairing with dual headlights. Powering the Road Glide Special is the air-cooled, 114ci (1,868cc) version of Harley’s Milwaukee-Eight 45-degree V-twin with pushrod-actuated overhead valves. The Challenger is Indian’s newest model platform and the first to be powered by the PowerPlus 108 (1,768cc), a liquid-cooled, 60-degree V-twin with valves actuated by single overhead cams. Like the Road Glide, the Challenger has a frame-mounted fairing, a first for Indian.
As head-to-head competitors, the Road Glide Special and Challenger Limited are similar in many ways. Their fixed fairings have bright LED headlights and large vents that bring fresh air into the cockpit, and both have long floorboards and protective highway bars. Their rumbling V-twins have hydraulic valve adjusters, throttle-by-wire and rear-cylinder deactivation, and both send power to their rear wheels through 6-speed transmissions with assist clutches and belt final drive. Both have cruise control, electronic rider aids (cornering ABS, cornering traction control and drag torque slip control — standard on the Indian, optional on the Harley), keyless ignition and touchscreen infotainment systems with audio, navigation, Bluetooth and USB ports. They have low seat heights, 6-gallon fuel tanks, cast wheels with tire pressure monitoring, top-loading lockable saddlebags and a pair of non-locking fairing pockets. Even their as-tested prices are separated by just $45 and their curb weights differ by a single pound—the Road Glide Special costs $28,794 and weighs 847 pounds; the Challenger Limited costs $28,749 and weighs 848 pounds.
Despite so many similarities, these bikes are anything but clones. Specs and features are one thing, style and personality are quite another. With nearly every component bathed in black, a tinted shorty windscreen, minimal badging and foregoing traditional metal flake and gloss in favor of matte Barracuda Silver Denim paint, the Road Glide Special is dark and brooding. (The FLTRXS is available in five other colors, all with gloss finishes.) The Challenger Limited, on the other hand, grabs your attention with Ruby Metallic paint, plenty of chrome and multiple Indian logos visible from every angle. (It’s also available in two other gloss colors, while the Challenger Dark Horse comes in three matte colors.)
More differences between the Harley and Indian emerged after logging hundreds of miles in their saddles. Cruisers are tuned for low-end torque, helping heavy bikes — especially those loaded two-up with full saddlebags — pull away quickly from stops and make brisk passes. These baggers deliver ample torque, sending more than 100 lb-ft to the rear wheel, but they go about it in different ways. The Road Glide has great engine feel, with crisp throttle response, right-now thrust and a deeply satisfying V-twin pulse. The impressive refinement that went into the Milwaukee-Eight V-twin — more power and torque, less heat, less vibration at idle and smoother operation — is why we selected the entire M8-equipped Touring family as our 2017 Motorcycle of the Year. On Jett Tuning’s dyno, the Harley generated smooth power curves with nary a dip or blip, torque rising to 104.5 lb-ft at 2,900 rpm and dropping off thereafter while horsepower increases linearly to 78.5 at 4,800 rpm. Due to its low rev ceiling (5,100 rpm) and narrow torque spread, short shifting the Harley helps it stay in its meaty midrange.
With its liquid cooling, oversquare bore/stroke and SOHC valve layout, Indian’s PowerPlus generates more output with less displacement and revs higher than the M8. Starting at 2,400 rpm, the Indian’s advantage over the Harley increases steadily, the gap widening to 28 lb-ft of torque and 27 horsepower by the time the Harley’s rev limiter kicks in. The Indian keeps going, hitting a peak of 108 horsepower at 5,600 rpm before finally signing off at 6,300 rpm. With a broader spread of torque — more than 100 lb-ft are on tap from 2,400-5,600 rpm, reaching 113.3 lb-ft at 3,300 rpm — and much higher peak power than the Harley, the Indian likes to be revved. The Challenger has three ride modes that adjust throttle response, with Standard mode being fairly soft (Rain mode is even softer) and Sport mode delivering the goods immediately without abruptness.
These heavy machines can be a handful when pushing them around the garage or negotiating parking lots, but they feel well balanced and easy to maneuver at speed. With much of their weight carried low they roll in and out of curves gracefully, and their generous torque propels them out of corners with authority. About 31 degrees of cornering clearance on either side means they can be heeled way over before anything starts to scrape, especially with some extra preload dialed into the rear suspension. Despite having “race-spec” radial-mount Brembo calipers up front, the Indian’s front brake lever feels vague and requires a firm pull to generate full stopping power. In contrast, the Harley’s front brakes have the perfect amount of initial bite and better response at the lever.
If you’re ready to lay down some serious miles, these baggers have nearly everything you need (except heated grips — a curious omission for premium models costing nearly $29,000). But they’re not created equal when it comes to touring comfort. With a lower laden seat height (25.9 inches vs. 26.5 inches on the Indian), you sit deeper in the Harley’s cockpit, with hips rolled back in the dished seat. Because the seat is U-shaped front to back and has a slick finish, it’s difficult to sit farther back; hit one bump and you slide back down.
And bumps can be a problem on the Harley. Most of the time the Road Glide Special provides a comfortable, compliant ride, but its rear shock, which is firmly damped and allows only 2.1 inches of travel, responds harshly to pavement ripples, cracks and seams. Big bumps and potholes send shock waves right up the spine and can bounce a rider out of the seat. Also, the Harley’s fairing sits much farther forward (it’s a long reach to the infotainment screen), its windscreen offers no adjustment and the two large vents flanking the headlights cannot be closed so a high volume of air always flows into the cockpit. This comparison took place in December, and testers always felt colder and more buffeted by the wind on the Harley than on the Indian.
The Challenger Limited provides a more comfortable and enjoyable riding experience. Its seat is flatter and has more grip and support, its long tank is narrower between the knees and its fairing provides more wind protection. The Indian’s fairing is closer to the rider and its windscreen is electrically adjustable over a 3-inch range — raising the screen all the way up and closing the fairing vents creates a calm, quiet space for the rider. With 5.1 inches of suspension travel in the front and 4.5 inches in the rear — 0.5 inch and 2.4 inches more than the Harley, respectively — and more compliant damping, the Indian is much better at insulating the rider and passenger from rough roads. Even at a sporting pace with riders well over 200 pounds in the saddle, the Indian never bottomed out nor reacted harshly.
The Road Glide Special was clearly Indian’s benchmark for the Challenger Limited. At the press launch last October, Indian provided a side-by-side comparison of their performance and features as well as a Road Glide Special for us to ride. With Indian’s sales being about one-tenth of Harley’s, one way to improve its market share is to offer more bang for the buck on competing models. Indian has done so in terms of performance with an all-new, liquid-cooled engine that makes more power and torque and offers the flexibility of throttle-response modes. It has done so in terms of convenience with a more modern and user-friendly infotainment system with higher audio output (100W vs. 50W on the Harley) as well as extra features like central saddlebag locks and a keyless locking fuel cap. And it has done so in terms of comfort with a more supportive seat, better wind protection and superior ride quality, all in a package that costs and weighs nearly the same.
Healthy competition is good for the industry and good for riders because it provides us with better motorcycles. Since the launch of Project Rushmore for 2014, Harley-Davidson has continuously raised the bar with improvements to its engines, chassis, comfort, convenience and other features. The 2014 model year also happens to be when Indian launched its all-new Thunder Stroke V-twin and Chief lineup, reigniting an old rivalry and spurring a feverish pace of innovation from both companies. The 2020 Road Glide Special is better than ever, but the Challenger Limited surpasses it.
Keep scrolling for more detailed photos after the spec charts….
2020 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special Specs
Base Price: $27,299 Price as Tested: $28,794 (RDRS, color) Warranty: 2 yrs., unltd. miles Website: harley-davidson.com
Type: Air-cooled, transverse 45-degree V-twin Displacement: 1,868cc (114ci) Bore x Stroke: 102.0 x 114.0mm Compression Ratio: 10.5:1 Valve Train: OHV, 4 valves per cyl. Valve Insp. Interval: NA (self-adjusting) Fuel Delivery: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection Lubrication System: Dry sump, 5.2-qt. cap. Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated wet assist-and-slipper clutch Final Drive: Belt
After announcing two new Scouts in its 2020 lineup back in September, Indian Motorcycle has dropped yet another new model, the 2020 Scout Bobber Sixty. Powered by the same 78 horsepower, 999cc, liquid cooled twin as that used in the Scout Sixty, but with the Scout Bobber’s stripped-down, blacked-out stying, the new Scout Bobber Sixty is a claimed 24 pounds lighter than the regular Scout Bobber and is priced starting at just $8,999.
The Scout Bobber Sixty maintains the stripped-down styling of the Scout Bobber, including chopped fenders and a confident riding position, while adding several cues that give the model a look of its own.
It features a blacked-out engine, a modern tank badge, perch mount mirrors, a stripped down headlight, an all-black seat and all new five-spoke all black wheels. Riders looking to customize their Scout Bobber Sixty can do so by selecting from more than 140 authentic Indian Motorcycle accessories.