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IS THIS A MEME?
Two motorsports journalists and an automotive photographer walk into a bar…
No joke. This happened every night once the motorbikes were safely stowed away for the evening. What makes this significant is all three of us, Torontonians, are having a well-deserved beer in “la belle provence” in french Canada’s jewel of a city: Montreal. What brought us here? Well, motorcycles; literally.
Three ADV style machines: the Yamaha Super Ténéré, BMW S1000 XR, KTM Adventure and the fabulously comfortable touring BMW R1200 RT. We are here in Quebec for 5 days to ride them all. Anyway, back to the bar…
Journalist Ian Kelso, photographer Steve Moretti and I, are waist deep in a heated discussion about the events of the past three days. The topic? That fine line between improving one’s skills by riding with faster riders, and the slippery slope of pushing up to and past one’s own personal comfort levels. All three of us are reasonably skilled riders yet we all agree that there is a phenomenon that involves ego and bravado that at times challenges the various angels of our better judgment.
In short we are asking ourselves: do you think we ought to slow down a bit?
All very heady stuff, yet this is very much in the spirit of the entire trip: three thoughtful middle aged men test-riding motorcycles for a week are bound to get philosophical at the end of the day. Somehow I can’t imagine a bunch of 20 year olds having the same conversation.
The exchange moves on to exploring how the brain bonds with machines. One of the real advantages of testing motorcycles as a moto-journalist is getting multi-day access to the same bike. Manufacture demo rides, as fun as they are, give you about 30 minutes to sample the bike, only enough time to barely scratch the surface of understanding an unfamiliar motorcycle.
The human mind’s ability to adapt to the nuanced differences between motorcycles does not kick in fully until at least two hours of constant riding. A funny thing happens after that. A kind of body/machine link happens that suddenly makes you feel like you have owned the bike for a long time: a feeling of bonding very similar to pride of ownership. This phenomenon was never more apparent then when swapping bikes every morning to then spend an entire day on just the one machine. Like clockwork we seemed to find the initial reaction to the new motorcycle negative. Somehow it just “feels” wrong. Invariably after 2 hours of riding, at the next rest stop, our minds would change and we could speak with delight about the positive aspects of our new ride. This happened virtually every time. Interesting?
Of course by end of our second beer the chatter would shift to normal topics like how exceptionally beautiful the women of Montreal are with their comfortable eye contact and je ne sais quoi. Plus heated debates over which famous Montreal bagel is better: Fairmont or Saint Viateur? After all… we are not dead yet.
THREE RIDERS, FOUR BIKES
The original plan was to compare and contrast three ADV-style bikes in the twisty roads north of Montreal: the Yamaha Super Ténéré, the KTM 1190 Adventure R and the BMW S1000XR. Problem was that two of the bikes were already in Toronto, but the third is at KTM’s Canadian head office in Montreal, so someone would have to ride their own bike on the 550km (340 mile) highway journey. Then BMW Motorrad kindly offered the R1200RT, so who were we to argue.
With only three of us riders the matrix of acquiring four motorcycles went something like this:
In Toronto, Ian and I arrive at BMW Canada and leave our own bikes for an R1200RT and a S1000 XR.We then meet Steve at Yamaha Canada where he picks up the Super Ténéré.We ride to Montreal and the next day and pick up the 1190 Adventure R.
I rode the R1200RT to Montreal that first day. I can’t stress how blissful it was to be riding at highway speeds with the adjustable windscreen set to allow me to ride with my visor fully up, Beethoven and Malher blasting from the robust sound system, enjoying its plentiful torque to keep up with the other fellows. The R1200RT is simply the most plush and comfortable motorbike I have ever been on. I would cast glances over at the other two tucking into the headwinds and just giggle to myself. Now, if I wanted to I could lower the windscreen, turn off the music and enjoy that 'desk job in a hurricane' feeling we all love so much on the slab. Yet with a touch of a couple of buttons, six seconds later, I could enjoy the 'cocoon of dignity' this marvelous bike allows.
That evening three large motorcycles are parked off the sidewalk tucked around the front entrance of our AirBnB on Rue Saint Denis. The three of us then walk to one of many great meals and bars that would define our evenings in town.
The following morning we are off to KTM Canada headquarters in Saint Bruno, on the south shore of Montreal to drop off the R1200 RT and replace it with the KTM 1200 Adventure R. While we waited for the bike to be ready, Claudie Lapointe and Marc Brunet of KTM Canada took us on a great tour of the facilities and even let us in on some of the future plans for the company which I promised not to disclose in this article. I will say that it is exciting times for both KTM and Husqvarna.
RIDING THE LAURENTIANS
Now complete with three ADV style machines we head off to the twisties of the Laurentian mountains to compare and contrast the merits and pitfalls of these competing designs.
Day one had me on the BMW S1000 XR: day two the KTM 1190 Adventure R and day three on the Yamaha Super Ténéré. We had discussed the idea of trading bikes three times a day but that overwhelming feeling of bonding with each bike was so strong that we quickly decided that didn’t make sense. Instead we would completely give over to the strengths and weaknesses of each machine like a real owner.
I will admit that I thought I would have to measure the Yamaha Super Ténéré with a different metric because it’s price point is so much lower then the KTM and BMW. Yet aside from a few minor complaints I think it more then held it’s own against the more expensive machines.
I could realistically see myself in South America or Africa on this machine.It’s weight and ergonomics would translate perfectly to real world needs.It’s also a surprisingly fast and agile motorcycle for its category.
My main complaints are that the designers have not included a way to turn off the ABS. I find this surprising seeing as one needs to lock the back wheel occasionally on very steep downhills etc. The other complaint is the general layout of the computer console. There is a certain clunkiness to the interface that I probably would not have noticed had I not immediately had a chance to compare it to KTM and BMW. The text and graphics display could definitely be a little more elegant.
This trip was my first chance to ride the KTM 1190 Adventure and to be honest it broke my heart... It is a wonderful machine. The power band and handling, even with panniers, were inspiring and frankly would have made this my favourite bike of the three except I found it to much to tall for my stature. U-turns on tight gravel roads and parking lot manoeuvres had me on my very tippy tippy toes. The seat was set as low as it goes without lowering the shocks and the long suspension was one of it’s great strengths. That said, holy cow what a great motorcycle. It will make taller gals and dudes happy indeed.
The BMW S-1000 XR is a very different creature. A sport bike engine mounted into a ADV/Multistrada frame. Check out my previous review of this fascinating motorcycle for my detailed thoughts. I will say that as an ADV bike it is an oddity but it is undeniably a monster of a machine. On the mountain roads north of Montreal this was my favourite for the fast, precise riding we were engaged in.
IN THE MOUNTAINS
Photographer Steve Moretti would be scouting for visually interesting locations to shoot the bikes. Every once in while he might zoom to the front and signal a U-turn. We would then spend an hour or so taking direction from him modeling for photos. The only tough part was convincing him to be a subject as well, being more comfortable behind the camera. In the end he was a good sport about it and did his duty.
We came upon a large, empty parking lot adjacent to a rural church filled with deep loose gravel. It was here that I got lessons from Steve on drifting the back wheel and dirt bike braking. I did have to switch from the Super Ténéré to the KTM to try it: it requiring a bike that allows the disengagement of the ABS system. It had been a while since I’ve done anything that had my hands trembling with adrenaline. So much fun!
DON’T STOP THE MUSIC
Back in the early 1990’s I produced the Barenaked Ladies debut album ‘Gordon’ at Le Studio in Morin Heights, Quebec. From 1974 until 2008 Le Studio was one of Canada’s most iconic recording facilities playing host to such luminaries as the Police, David Bowie, Cat Stevens, the Bee Gees and Canadian acts like Rush and Celine Dion. I only mention this because part of our journey took us to the abandoned and vandalized hulk that was once that great recording studio.
It took a while to locate the facility off of the main highway that runs south of Morin Heights, and we had to explore a few gravel roads in our quest to find it. After about an hour of exploration and re-checking the GPS marker on the Google Map, we finally found the wooden structure still standing, perched on a hill at the dead-end of a narrow dirt road, overgrown by vegetation like an ancient Mayan ruin.
We grabbed flashlights and spelunked into this historic structure, broken glass and graffiti everywhere, finally coming across the control room and studio made famous in videos like “Tom Sawyer” by Rush. In the sweltering heat if felt more like some depressing corner of a William Faulkner novel.
As we left the building Ian suggested that it was a perfect metaphor for the collapsed music industry. An overly romantic a notion perhaps, but had to concede: essentially true.
Riding back to Toronto other fella’s are are experiencing the BMW R1200 RT and coming to similar conclusions as me.
The balmy evening twilight has turned to night as we roll into our own city.
Motorcycle therapy has never felt so good.
Michael Wojewoda is a record producer, film maker and motorcyclist based in Toronto, Canada.
All photographs by Steve Moretti except photo's of Steve Moretti by Ian Kelso.