As the champion off-roader, the KTM was the most adept in dirt conditions, the best bike to ride in a standing position, and its motor is more than capable of providing plenty of power.
By this time, almost noon, we had expected to be about 60 miles away from Bar 10. Instead we were scrambling to find a way to mount the GS's left saddlebag after a mounting bolt had fallen off during our morning sojourn. Thankfully, Dean "McGyver" was able to fab up a solution with baling wire. Later, he would rip it off.
We backtracked away from the ranch, then splitting off the path to head northeast. The road, such as it was, ranged from graded gravel to tricky and twisting ascents to fun whoop-de-doos. The speed of each rider/bike combo was dictated mostly by the skill of the pilot, though it must be said that the bikes with the larger front tires tracked better through the loose stuff.
Over the 100 miles or so of off-road conditions, however, one bike reigned supreme: the KTM. In any sort of tricky conditions, the Adventure is the bike to be on. While the other bikes demand careful line selection when riding in the dirt, the KTM has multiple choices, its long-travel suspension swallowing all in its path. It's slim and purposeful, and it's the best bike to ride standing up.
And the raves continue. Clutch effort is light and the tranny is the slickest of the group, allowing clutchless shifts both up and down. The revvy engine isn't quite as tractable as the Buell and BMW, but a long-turn throttle makes it fairly easy to mete out appropriate power. It's a little too tall for short guys like me (5'8") to dab, but it's rarely necessary to do so because it's so capable. After riding the Adventure along a fast off-road section that occasionally saw 70-plus-mph, I had time to stop and smoke two cigarettes before anyone caught up. No wonder whoever is riding it in the dirt never wants to stop and risk a bike swap. Looking microscopically for nits, I guess the grand Katoom could have a bit more steering lock.
The GS can more than hold its own off-road, with a smooth power delivery out of the Boxer engine and comfy off-road ergos.
The vice-champion in off-roadability, the GS, performed better than its appearance would suggest. The Boxer motor lays down power as smooth as anything - even with a race-compound tire. Its wide handlebar is placed high enough that riding while standing doesn't make you look like Quasimodo. And next to the KTM, this is the machine that will give a rider the confidence to be able to ride out a potentially tricky situation.
Both the Suzuki and Aprilia twins felt top-heavy in the slow-going, and the slightly abrupt throttle response from each isn't ideal for dirt work. High handlebars relative to their seats result in what some of us termed a "dorky" riding position. The Suzook's transmission was nearly as buttery as the Caponord's early in our tour but became difficult to shift as the trip came to its end.
Kenny took it upon himself to log the most miles on the Multistrada, as most of us dreaded the idea of having to tell MCUSA's president, "The Don," we were responsible for skidding the lustrous Ducati down a gravel road. Say what you want about our Baja boy, but Kenny can seriously hustle a Duc off-road. Its nimble and lightweight feel made it more manageable in the dirt than you might imagine.
The top-heavy feel of the V-Strom combined with its street-oriented handlebar position made us realize that the dirt wasn't its forte.
"You will be pleasantly surprised at how fun it is to ride on dirt roads," says Hutch about the Duc. "The smallish stature of the bike makes it easy to handle in the dirt, and being able to tell tales of hill-climbing a Ducati go a long way towards attaining bench-racing immortality among your circle of friends."
The Ulysses offers a similar experience to the Duc, though it does it with less agility and a more torque-biased powerplant. "The Buell felt a lot like the Ducati on the dirt," Kenny continues. "The combination of a short wheelbase and torquey motor makes it a blast on dirt roads. Any further off the road than that and it starts to be a bit of a handful."
All this off-roadin' had further sapped time away from our schedule, so it was actually quite a relief to finally see a multi-lane paved road on the horizon as we neared Colorado City, Arizona. Crosswinds had blown sand onto the gravely road we traveled on, and a few of us were nearly caught out by deep sandy sections. The Ulysses I was riding got into a slowly weaving tankslapper that seemed to last an eternity, but we all emerged unscathed.
Unscathed, that is, until we had to ride through a couple of wet patches less than one mile from the highway.
Our luck ran out only 2 miles from the pavement. A disgraced Dean assesses the damage he inflicted on the GS while Duke begins formulating a plan for explaining it to the BMW press fleet manager.
It all seemed a bit surreal. There was BC, perhaps our most talented dirt rider, piloting the indomitable KTM after having already passed the first mud bog, while Dean was entering the first puddle on the dirt-capable GS. Then, like they'd been rehearsing it for a week, both riders lost the back ends of their bikes in the slick-as-snot mud, pirouetting in brilliantly choreographed 180s that resulted in both bikes looking like dead horses shot in the middle of the road.
Both riders were mostly unscathed; the bikes a little less so. One side of the KTM's low-mounted dual fuel tanks got scuffed, and one of its handy saddlebags no longer seated snugly inside its mounting bracket. The GS's trick, expandable saddlebag, meanwhile, fared worse. One of its plastic tab mounts sheared off in the impact, so we were forced to bungee-net it to the luggage rack for the remainder of the day.
At this point we were clustered in a five-man group. Meanwhile, Roderick was patiently waiting at the end of the road - on the street-biased Ducati, no less.