Putting the Adventure in Adventure Touring
The KTM 950 Adventure has the necessary tools for off-roading but didn't top Giacchino's charts when it came time for some two-up riding through gnarly single-track.
I would love to fill my monthly column space with rich tales of life on the road and the hardships and adventures of traveling long distances on two wheels but I suspect most readers would feel slighted if I resorted to writing fiction. The truth of the matter is I've never been much of a tourer even during summers as absolutely perfect as this one has been. I've always considered myself more of a jaunt rider; the guy who comes up with pretty shallow destinations as an excuse to take the bike out for a few hours. This lifestyle has catered to my undying attraction to uncomfortable but addicting repli-racers and strange collectibles (see my article devoted to the Kawasaki KE100 for further proof). So you could imagine my initial reluctance when a couple of my riding buddies convinced me to join them on a weekend-long adventure touring expedition.
The plan was to set off early Saturday morning after breakfast, head to the Allegheny mountains where we would rough it in a tent and then to return Sunday afternoon. Fresh out of excuses and postponements, I reluctantly agreed to join in the action despite a pretty serious snag: I don't have an Adventure Touring bike and since parting with my trusty 2001 XR650L last year, I couldn't even wing it. I was basically presented with two choices since staying home simply isn't an option when dealing with my friends:
1) Purchase a new bike within two days.
2) Ride on back of Steve's KTM Adventure.
A little short on the $10,000 required to jump into the new bike scene, I suspect you can imagine what I chose.
For those of you out there who have yet to experience the sensation of climbing onto the back of a KTM 950 Adventure
, allow me to compare it to trying to straddle a teeter-totter while it is in the up position. It requires some steady balance, the flexibility of an Olympic level gymnast, and a good deal of confidence in the driver. For the record, my confidence in Steve isn't too great, and I really don't like the lack of control that comes with being a passenger.
I was mounted up by 11:30 a.m. Saturday when we hit the open road still bloated from pancakes and coffee. On the
Though the KTM 950 Adventure isn't the ideal machine to be a passenger on, its got plenty of space for camping essentials. It's got room for a half-rack at least.
road, the KTM is a surprisingly capable two-up transporter despite dealing with a pretty steady head-wind. Since neither Steve nor I quite reach the 6 foot mark in height, stops at intersections and on hills were a bit nerve racking. I fought the constant desire to put a foot down each time, which was only enhanced by the fact that on the rear of a 950, you can't.
I had pretty well adapted to the rigors of passenger road travel as we arrived, unbeknownst to me, to a trail-head about 45 minutes south of the camp grounds. Word of advice to anyone considering off-roading as passenger on a KTM 950: Don't do it.
The trail began as a gravely secondary road with some gradual elevation. I was all smiles beneath my Shoei at that point. Once we passed some kind of tower with red flashing lights, the road, like my smile, suddenly disappeared. All that remained ahead was a slim opening of heavily weeded single track that vanished into the shade of the mountainous forest ahead. A few of the other guys studied a map for a minute than shrugged collectively. Lucas was first in the formation, leading on his black DRZ400 SM of all things (that's Supermoto in case you didn't instantly recognize the SM) then Charlie on a BMW with Steve and his hostage (me) holding the rear of the line. The trail, if you could call it that, began by snaking around a tight patch of tall maples and pines then opened up to a large field in which there was absolutely no evidence of a path. The ground was pretty soupy despite the fact that it hadn't rained for about two straight months prior. The tall grass and weeds did their best to claw at my Thor MX boots as we slowly clawed ahead but could only leave a series of chlorophyll remnants on the sections of white leather.
We went on at a steady 10 mph through the blind of head-height weeds that rained a steady stream of buds and briers onto our helmets. The line of a thicket of trees opposite of where we entered the field finally came into view and Lucas powered forward into the shade. Again there was very little trace of any sort of path or trail to follow. We descended a thin rut which had my helmet's visor audibly clanking against the back of Steve's lid. The group wound around in the grass then back and through the foliage before coming to a single-file halt that had me literally laying on Steve's back. No sooner had we stopped did Steve lose his footing and set the bike down on its side. Fortunately I managed to land on my feet that time. Everyone dismounted to get a closer look at the thirty foot gorge a few inches in front of Lucas' slick little road tire. It was instantly agreed that we had no choice but to turn back.
After a day of trailblazing through the Alleghenys as a passenger on board a KTM 950 Adventure, our Rambling Man had his fill of the pioneering spirit.
The way back through the endless field was slightly easier on account of the path of weeds we laid down in coming through the first time. It still wasn't enough to stop Steve from high siding and dumping us both off to tumble into the brush though. By the time we made it back to the road, the air was eerily calm and the sky ominous with dark rolling clouds. It looked like nature was about to make up for two months without rain. The consensus (which included my vote) was to head back home immediately as we were roughly at the halfway point to our destination. We rocketed along under the flashing black clouds and even felt ice cold sprinkles on our shoulders on several occasions. Somehow we made it back just before the storm hit. Later that evening, as the rain angrily pounded on the road outside, we gathered again at the diner where we started our day to gripe about the failed voyage.
"That was fantastic," Lucas announced, to which everyone quickly agreed.
"Let's grab the GPS and try again next weekend," Steve added.
I kept quiet this time, realizing that I had only seven days to come up with a great excuse or $10 large. I wonder what its new owner would say to my begging to buy back the XR.