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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. 



  1. maybe youll inspire kawasaki to bring back the super sherpa

  2. I'm curious to see the review on the Pitster Pro- followed up with a long term review. There's no doubt the Honda's have been tried and proven at this point. I tried to go in to the Pitster showroom in Lindon, Utah, but they happened to be closed. Pitster offers some fun looking models, but it would be difficult for me to ever buy a "Chinese" brand (wherever it may actually be built).

    I do take issue with your remarks about speed on trails. I can lug my "pseudo racer" fairly slow. On the other hand, I don't think a brisk pace on these racers are as bad as you'd have readers believe. I've been riding some of the same single track for years in Idaho, and not much has ever changed.

    Finally, I don't think your comments about riders looking like a "Star Wars warrior after riding through a car wash filled with multi-colored paint" is fair. I do agree that image might not help stereo types with certain groups. But, people buy what the industry sells (or is it that the industry sells what people will buy?). Either way, looking like a star wars character is okay in my book. It means people are taking safety into consideration and wearing proper safety gear. If wearing the proper safety gear makes me look like a star wars character, call me "Stormtrooper" and I'll be fine with that.

  3. Me too! A lot of the Chinese/and other companies don't want use to do any reviews - especially long term reviews as they are knowledgable of their product's reliability and service issues. I am hopeful that Pitster Pro is confident of their products.

    Yes, you can indeed just tour on your motorcycle, but I rarely see that happening on the trails. Does anyone else ride in Idaho? I'm only partially joking, but in the more populated areas the traffic and destruction on the trails is a bit different.

    I am from the "On Any Sunday" generation where you ride looking about how you look. But then I also don't think tattoos and piercings enhance anyone's appearance either ;-)

    Just put me in the category of 'old fashioned'.........

  4. I am also in favor of it but the thrill and excitement will be gone if we do that.Biking is something which is speed and fun.

  5. And that is precisely my point here - a good motorcycle ride does not have to be about speed to be fun!

  6. Doug, I just remembered a trip we took to Chadron State Park here in Nebraska several year ago. We had heard that the locals held an annual enduro across from the Park in the area known as The Nebraska National Forest. We trailered our atv's there and could not find the 'start' of this trail that the enduro riders had used. We found out it was because no one rode the area except during the race! When we finally found the 'trail' it was mostly 1 track but not because of the bikes. It was a genuine critter path! You know, cows, deer, and whatever else roams the area. We followed as best we could and came upon some very narrow lines of travel along a rocky ridge. What an incredible ride this would have been on a 'low & slow' machine! Thanks for persuing this avenue of exploration!

    Tim Leinart

  7. Sounds like a good trail to return on with a 'low & slow' machine ;-)

  8. I like the way you think. I always like to think utilitarian as a back country trail enthusiast and I think you have that as well. For myself one thing that would hinder me from wanting to go with a smaller motorcycle on back country trails is the inability to carry gear like an ATV can. You are limited to carrying what you can fit in a backpack, but do you want to throw your balance off while riding because you have a 25 lb backpack full of gear on.

    You could get a smaller trail enduro bike and put expedition saddle bags on it to carry gear, but with such a small engine hauling any amount of gear and a rider can lack the power needed to get up steeper grades, especially in extremely rocky environments like here in Southern Nevada.

    I will always prefer an ATV in the 500cc range due to its ability to haul gear, they have enough power in the instances when you need it, and come in 4x4 models for extra traction and even a winch for added surety.

    I just like having the means to get out of every situation possible thinkable, considering I mostly ride and explore alone.

  9. I can't view the 1984 Honda CT (Trail) 110 Test.

  10. It won't be up until tomorrow......3-29-13

  11. The 50" trails are no place for The side by side because they are way to long to do the switch backs with out having problems. They also wear the trails because are heavy and are not a true 4x4 until the back tires slip 20% so they are slipping all the time.

  12. That's a really intereting bike design. I'd love to try it out!

    Click Here

  13. Great blog...... Thanks for sharing..