Times were much simpler in the 19th century; this Hildebrand & Wolfmüller was the only motorcycle available to the general public in the late 1890s.
One of my favorite sentences to summarize just how far we’ve come along as a species goes a little something like this: Each time we step into the supermarket, we are confronted with more choices than a caveman would have had to make in his entire lifetime. Think about that for a moment next time you’re deciding between honey glazed ham and smokehouse ham with brown sugar. Of course what this adage overlooks is that mankind cannot live on groceries alone; well perhaps we could but that would leave an awful big emptiness that we have evolved to fill with motorcycle riding, researching, and web surfing. In other words, food shopping is only a small fraction of the option paralysis each of us faces in daily life.
Now if you’re like me, and for the sake of your credit card statement, I certainly hope not, a lot of your particular decision-making responsibility comes directly from your local motorcycle dealership where options like brand, style, engine displacement, paint color and optional accessories threaten to overwhelm and stifle.
Now there’s no need to worry if you find comparing yourself to a caveman a wee bit unrelatable… Even compared to merely a few decades back we’re living in an era of unparalleled motorcycle diversity. Things were much easier for would-be riders in the mid 1800s where securing a steam engine powered safety bicycle was a matter of having your local blacksmith do a little fabricating. Had you the presence of mind to hold out for the promise of petrol, 1894 would have witnessed the Hildebrand & Wolfmüller; the first motorcycle available to the general public for purchase.
This 1948 Vincent-HRD 998cc Series B-Rapide was just one motorcycle on the market after WWII, but was still a long way from the modern bikes that currently populate the market.
Fast forward to the World War II era and you find a much more refined definition of the motorcycle concept and a whole lot more brands and configurations from which to choose. Still the type of specialization we’re accustomed to today was a long way off! One need only watch any one of a dozen movies from the 1960s to realize a single motorcycle served as a rider’s street classic, back-road ripper, off-roader and weekend racer.
Today it wouldn’t be uncommon to require over a half a dozen purpose-built motorcycles to fill so many roles and unless you happen to be Warren Buffet, that can be a bit of a budget crusher.
I’ve been thinking about such things a bit more than usual of late because in an act of seeming counter-progression, I’ve been using the wide variety of specialization the industry has to offer in effort to return to a more multi-purpose mentality. It’s a motorcycle genre I’ve certainly visited in the past and seem to find extremely fitting each time I come back to it: dual sporting.
As recent columns attest, I’ve recently slimmed off a portion of my own quiver of toys so as to purchase a leftover Husqvarna TE449 (when the 511 I had been ogling disappeared from the sales floor just prior to my deciding to pull the trigger). Not only was the move meditated to downsize an oft-neglected fleet of single-purpose road and trial equipment, it was the fulfillment of a personal vow that dates back to the fall of 2006 when I sold off a beloved Honda XR650L.
The 2012 Husqvarna TE449, Giacchino’s ride of choice these days thanks to modern upgrades to dual-sport bikes.
I’ve come to the simple conclusion that a lot has changed in my six-year hiatus from the dual sport scene! It seemed like for the longest time dual sport entries from the Japanese OEMs were synonymous with outdated technology, outrageous weights, and suspension settings just a tad stiffer than say, a stack of marshmallows on a hot summer night.
While I found my XR a massive improvement on the trails to the first-generation KTM Adventure 950 it replaced, I find I’m equally awed with the Husky’s off-road abilities compared to that of the Honda. Perhaps the biggest improvement, in my opinion anyway, derives via the modern Kayaba suspension and the plethora of settings that comes with it. Fuel injection and liquid cooling have proven pretty beneficial as well in what has been a summer rife with huge temperature swings and riding destinations as far from home as the mountains crossing the Pennsylvanian border.
From what I’ve been reading, the TE449 isn’t even considered the upper echelon of the current crop of European race-ready dual sport bikes finding their way to the US from the likes of KTM. Additionally the TE apparently owes much of its pedigree to Husqvarna’s parent company, BMW. (So that’s what happened to the G450X).
While my apparent logic of resorting to an earlier place in time when a single motorcycle could be used for a variety of purposes has proven sound, it doesn’t look like potential buyers will be getting any breaks as far as decision-making is concerned. Zero Motorcycles is poised to drop a host of all-electric dual sports into the fray and the latest word coming out of Husqvarna is that a street-legal, direct-injected two-stroke is in the works. Decisions, decisions. It’s all enough to make a rider want to steer clear of the supermarket altogether.