ATV Television's Blog

The Latest News and Doug's Ramblings & Ravings.
Including Doug's "Here's what I think!" and "What were they thinking!"

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Could A Low & Slow Motorcycle Really be the Answer to an Environmentally-Friendly Backcountry Exploration Vehicle?

The Continuing Trail to Low & Slow Adventures

Well, let's see here, where to start? I suppose the best thing to do is just dive right in - so here goes. Racing machines belong in racing environments, i.e. race tracks. Pseudo racers and their race-inspired machines belong in designated open riding areas like the sand dunes or OHV parks. Trails belong to trail machines. And just to be clear about what I believe trail machines are, they are slow moving and moving along without much spinning of the tires.

Fast-moving machines can be quite a hazard to the slower machines on the trail. Simply  put, fast and slow don't mix well together. I also struggle with the abuse that scenic backcountry trails get from spinning tires. A trip through scenic back country should be enjoyed and the trail through it should be as nice to look at as the scenery it goes through. Fast machines and spinning tires tear these trails up and make them look more like a racetrack than a scenic trail. If you enjoy speeding through terrain stick to the racetracks….

So now I'll move on to the primary focus of this article; What makes a good machine to explore the scenic back country?

Of primary importance it needs to be something quiet and something slow. And perhaps something as narrow and as agile as possible. That's why a 50" RZR would work better than an XP simply because the more narrow the trails the better they are. A 4-wheel drive ATV works better than a 2-wheel drive simply because you need traction rather than speed to climb up the difficult sections of trail. But now I am exploring the other options for low and slow exploration - motorcycles!

Not any motorcycle mind you. Most modern motorcycles are tall and designed with speed over rough terrain as their primary focus. They are either built to race or built to go fast on trails! And it is perhaps that, above all that gives trail users a bad rap - fast motorcycles. Speeding motorcycles flying along the trails, fitted with loud exhaust systems, big knobbies, and the rider dressed as some sort of a Star Wars warrior after riding through a car wash filled with multi-colored paint do absolutely nothing to enamor us off-roaders to either the public or the authorities charged with maintaining our trail systems.

But not all motorcycles are like this…..There are a few, but only a few motorcycles that are so perfect as use for exploring the scenic back country trails that they may indeed be the perfect solution to traveling the trails.

The original dual-purpose trail bike, the Honda CT ( or Trail 90 /110 ) is one. Built from the early 60s through the mid 80s, the Honda CT is low enough that you can sit on the seat and still put both feet on the ground. The machine is light, as it weights less than 200 pounds ready to ride. It has a 2-speed sub transmission that allows for slow going over rough terrain. And there's even a small rack over the rear fender to haul a few supplies.

There may be a few other older motorcycles that could also work as well as the little Honda but none are as popular nor as readily available.

There are even fewer new motorcycles that can fill the requirements for a modern-day trail explorer. These requirements being something that's low and slow, and capable….. But there are a few.

One we'll look at in the near future is the Suzuki DR200SE, an often over-looked modern motorcycle perhaps because it is indeed something that could work better for exploring the tight scenic trails than blasting through the whoops. It's relatively light at just under 300 pounds. It's low, with a seat height around 32 inches, which should put it in the category of being able to sit on it and still be able to put both of your feet on the ground. It's quiet, but lacks any rack or ability to carry any supplies without requiring you to wear a pack on your back.

There is also the Yamaha TW200, a low and fat-tired motorcycle that's been around for a while now. Looking like a motorcycle that's been squashed in Photoshop, the TW has a seat height of less than 32" and sites on tires much wider than a typical 2-wheeler. And at under 300 pounds could still be considered a lightweight. The 200cc engine supposedly gets almost 80 miles per gallon! Now that's something I'd like to see you get on an ATV.

And yet another new machine that I am excited to try on the trail is the new Gas Gas Randonne. The Randonne is basically a trials motorcycle with a bit larger fuel capacity and a real seat that you can sit on. If you are unfamiliar with trails bikes, shame on you! Whoops, that just came out…… Trials bikes are designed to traverse the most difficult of terrain possible, and some of the professional trials riders do indeed do the impossible ;-) Unfortunately the newer models take that capability to such extremes that they are horrifyingly light and with only enough fuel to climb a pile of rocks or two. I exaggerate but only slightly.

In the past, trials machines were made to also be ridden on more regular trails so they did indeed have fuel tanks and seats. And like them, the newer Randonne seems to bridge the two periods of time with an extremely capable motorcycle for traversing unbelievably difficult terrain, yet with the capability of traveling for longer distances and in more comfort.

And then there's a very unique 2-wheeler that's been around a long time that just may well be a good alternative for this type of adventure, the two-wheel drive Rokon. It is low, it is slow, and with both its wheels being driven it could provide some really serious go-anywhere capability. The Rokon also has a rack capable of carrying the extras needed for an all-day adventure.

Then there's the issue of cost - most of our Low & Slow machines do cost considerably less to purchase and to operate than other forms of back country exploration vehicles. If the initial cost is an issue of the highest importance, then perhaps a Pitster Pro Sherpa might be a good solution. It is basically a Chinese-made replica of the hugely popular Honda CT70. Although it seems small - or should I say 'extra' Low & Slow, perhaps we need to consider the many happy miles the original CT70 owners had.

So, the plan is to start with a test of the old Honda CT 110. We'll look at the specifics and then see how it compares to an ATV for exploring the back country. Then we'll try to test a couple of the newer machines, the Suzuki DR200SE and the Yamaha TW200 to see how they measure up to both an ATV as well as to the older, tried and true Honda Trail bike. And we'll also hopefully test two of the more extreme alternatives in 2 wheel explorers. First, the Gas Gas Randonne to see if perhaps a modern day trials bike with a bit larger fuel tank and 'an almost real' seat can take us to places we never imagined we can go on a wheeled machine. And then there's the 2wd Rokon. Although the Rokon lacks suspension, it provides what must be incredible capability with its 2 wheel drive. 

The things I'm most curious about is how these machines compare to an ATV in these day-long adventures. Are they more agile? Can they go more places? Are they more fun? Can they carry enough? And can they go comfortably as far as we want, as we are used to spending all day on an ATV exploring the trails. Oh, and one final, and perhaps very important thing - how will they work if carried on the back of our 4x4s (our project Land Cruisers we use on 4x4TV) for use in exploring the trails once we pitch camp.

And that is a whole 'nuther way that I see huge advantages in low and slow motorcycles over ATVs and UTVs. A small and lightweight motorcycle could be easily hauled on the back of a 4-wheeler and then used to extend you exploration into even more interesting country once you stop and park the full-size rig.

I know one thing they can all do better than an ATV already - go a lot further on a gallon of fuel. If the price of fuel continues to rise to levels never before seen, these forms of travel may be the only way we have left to get out and explore the trails we love.

So I anxiously await the discovery of whether they will really work as I think. If so, then I question if an avid ATVer really can find happiness on a motorcycle?

Stay tuned as I head out on the trail to find out. 


Monday, January 14, 2013

Where it All Began

While I'm not sure just how that word really applies to these sort of things, it is one well used for such and so it shall be by me as well…Or perhaps I should just say, "and in the beginning!"
One of the machines that helped to start the off-road craze was a tiny little Honda motorcycle called the Trail… I won't really go into its full history here but it all started back in 1961 with the introduction of the Trail 50. This lawn mower-sized little 4-stroke engine was mated to a 3-speed automatic clutch transmission. The engine and trans were hung in a unique step-through frame design much like that typically found on girl's bicycles. With the small 17" diameter wheels and minimal suspension travel this little motorcycle proved to be incredibly easy to ride and remarkably adept at tackling dirt roads and trails - albeit slowly, and perhaps, just perhaps that was a big part of the charm;-)

The Honda Trail was a hit and soon spawned improved models in the Trail 90 and eventually the Trail 110 that was available in the U.S. until the end of 1986. The Honda Trail received some upgrades through the years in addition to the larger engine displacement. It received better suspension, a 4-speed transmission, and even a spare fuel tank. One of the most notable trademarks for the Honda Trail 90s and 110s is their unique 2-speed transfer case, so-to-speak. The little trail bikes had a small sub-transmission rather than a single primary sprocket that gave the rider the ability to switch from the normal set of gears to a low set of gears. Combine the ability to quickly engage low range with a flip of a lever with the low seat height, low overall weight (less than 200 pounds!) and the convenient step-trough frame and you have a little motorcycle with an uncanny ability to tackle dirt roads and backcountry trails. 

In addition to being capable of traversing difficult trails at comfortable speeds, the small size and step-through frame design made it a friendly machine to new users. Suddenly ranchers and farmers were using them to check their fields and livestock, and hunters and fishermen were using them to access the best back country spots. It wasn't long before people found the simple joy in just exploring the dirt roads and trails on this little machine. And in this it helped to bring about the huge off-road motorcycle craze in the 60s and 70s that turned into the ATC craze of the 80s and the ATV craze we are in now.

So with all that said I will digress to my own Honda Trail story. Being fortunate enough to grow up out in the sparsely populated deserts of California during this time, I got to be one of those early off-road enthusiasts. Because we were surrounded by a lot of vast spaces linked by nothing but a lot of old dirt roads, many left from the long-gone mining days, it was only natural to need something to explore all these trails!

Here's where I'd like to say that my first motorcycle was a Honda Trail, but it wasn't. It was a Suzuki Trail 80 in 1964, which became a Honda Super 90 and that became a Honda Scrambler, and that - well you get the picture. Besides, by 1965 we had gotten our first Meyers Manx as that phenomenon was also beginning to change the way people explored the back country. The first Trail 90 to enter my life was when my family purchased a 67 for my Mom and Dad to do a little exploring on. Well, like so many things in life, you really can't have just one Trail 90, so in 68 we brought another one home.

Sure, they were my Mom and Dads machines, and during this time I was doing more and more racing, but there was just something about the Trail 90s. As I mentioned before, they were easy and they were friendly. So, while other motorcycles were meant to go fast, and ridden with that as the end, those two simple ingredients that made the Trail 90 unique resulted in me putting several thousand miles on those little motorcycles. It was those Trail 90s that helped to develop in me a love in simply exploring the backcountry rather than racing through it. Because of that, the Honda Trail 90 will always be one of the two vehicles that had the most influence on my life. 

And so that brings me (full circle?) to something I haven't owned in something like 25 years, and something I haven't swung a leg over in at least 10, a motorcycle…And to be more specific, a Honda Trail 110.

Next up I'll explain where this Trail is leading…..