Time to roll out your preferences and tell everyone else about them!
The best-looking adventure bike. Hmm. On what basis? Is it form follows function so that a bike superbly designed for its role (see the image above) is automatically beautiful? Is it function follows form, so that motorcycles which make good adventure bikes are turned to that role even if they weren’t designed for it? Or is it a simple matter of aesthetics, where something beautiful is… well, beautiful, no matter how it was designed or what it does?
I’m going to propose a few motorcycles here that I find beautiful for one reason or another, and I’d like you to take up the challenge: what, in your opinion, is the best-looking adventure bike ever? Of course, I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder; but can the owner of that eye, that beholder, explain why? Give it a go, please.
I have always admired motorcycles that are spare and basic, built for their purpose and for very little else. The Harley-Davidson WLA is a good example of that. Its utilitarian look is attractive because it’s there to do a job, and every nut and bolt reflect that. The fact that its proportions look just right might be intentional or it might be an accident, but it’s definitely true. The bike in the photo has one unnecessary part, the rifle scabbard – few if any WLAs actually saw combat; they were used mainly for courier duties and by the MPs, so few would have had this scabbard. It’s no accident, to my mind, that it detracts from the sparse elegance of the bike.
The BMW R75 with its sidecar does not perhaps look especially spare, but like the H-D it only carries what it needs. From the almost helmet-shaped air filter on the tank to the almost modern-looking ammunition boxes, everything has a purpose. Not everything is in open sight; that’s the two-wheel drive, for instance. These motorcycles were highly effective, crossing terrain that very few other wheeled vehicles could manage. They impressed the Gestapo so much that they wanted to commission their own version from Ferdinand Porsche – but he talked them into the Kuebelwagen instead.
Ducati saw the potential for a factory-built dual sport bike well before most other manufacturers. Not without a bit of push from their American importer, where Michael Berliner began to convert Diana road bikes to dirt track racers in the early 1960s. By 1962 he had convinced the factory to start masking purpose-built 250cc Scramblers. The first series, from 1962 to 1968, were still based on the Diana and were known as ‘narrow-case’ Scramblers. At the time, someone suggested that they were “Ducatis built for hippies” and there is some truth in that; many of them saw the deserts of the American West with a bedroll tied to the carrier and a rider on the lookout for peyote buds.
One of the prettiest Japanese bikes ever was the Yamaha DT-1. An absolute back-to-basics two stroke, the DT-1 inspired many a road rider to sample the joys of dirt, and even dirt touring. A friend of mine bought one right after they came out, and (accidentally, I hope) dumped me off the back at the traffic lights when he decided to demonstrate the bottom end torque. There were DT-1s in various liveries, but nothing ever suited them as well as the original black and white with the red tank badge, echoing the taillight. I believe there is a factory in Taiwan that still makes these; I’d love to have one, although you’d never get it through emission controls now.
Which brings us to the daddy of the modern adventure bike-per-se, the BMW R 80 G/S. The photo is of the Dakar version, which I prefer to the standard one; the tank suits it better. The bike has a kind of brutal take-it-or-leave-it look, eased by the bright colour scheme. It’s no accident that this is one of the early models with the twin-lobe cylinder cover. The breadbox-style that replaced it is one of the worst styling mistakes the Bavarians ever made. I’m not entirely sure about the orange seat, and on my bike it discoloured so quickly that I had sprayed it black by the time the bike was six months old. I loved my G/S, and who knows – if I had managed to find a Dakar myself, I might still own it.
Here’s another one I’ve owned myself. The BMW G 650X Country is another back-to-basics machine, but it also has a kind of toy-like buzz. The colour scheme adds to that. The bike itself is light and handles beautifully both on the tar and in light gravel or dirt; not so well in sand. That might be me, though. The muffler is out of proportion, but everything else looks just right. I rode m ine a third of the way around Australia. Remind me why I sold it, again?
A photo of my bike out in the middle of nowhere. The Tanami Road used to be called the Tanami Track and is unsealed for almost all of its thousand kilometer length. I think there are two opportunities to fuel up. Google Maps tells me it takes 35 hours to ride it ‘without traffic’. As if.
So there you go; a short selection of the adventure (or maybe dual sport) bikes I consider the most beautiful. Over to you..