Welcome to the first-ever BikeWale Off-road day. It is as much a celebration of great things off-road as it is a test. So, the bikes you see here have been carefully picked because, well, they have impressed us with their off-roading capabilities during the course of our regular testing and reviews.
But, we wanted to do something more serious, something more scientific, and something more challenging to better understand their off-roading prowess. Not to mention, have some fun doing it as well.
And so, here we are at India’s biggest, best laid out, and truly well designed off-Road or dirt park, which as it turns out, is a fantastic training ground for all and sundry looking to polish their off-roading skills as well. Welcome to the BigRock Dirt Park.
A little outside Bangalore, it is run by one CS Santosh. Yes, the same guy who was the first Indian at the Dakar, and is still doing wonders at the world’s most gruesome rally event. And he just finished in the top five at the recently concluded Pan Africa Rally.
The motorcycles in question, meanwhile, come with all sorts of engine capacities. Like we said at the start, these are the bikes that impressed us the most off road in their respective classes.
In order of their increasing engine capacity, we first have the Hero Xpulse200. The things that make the Xpulse wonderful off-road are its lack of weight, its ergonomics, which work wonderfully well when standing up and riding, and its big wheels. It does run a 21-inch front wheel after all. It also has enough torque to propel you over jumps, spin its way out of sticky situations, and slide for kicks.
Next up is the BMW G 310 GS. It has alloy wheels and the front is a 19-inch one at that. So, it doesn’t look as hard-core an off-road junkie as the others. But, it is a GS, and it has the cycle parts to back that up. The suspension has both travel and good bump absorption; it has good ergonomics for standing up and riding, and it has enough grunt to take off of a log as if it were a jumping ramp! But most of all, it feels built to take the pounding an off-road ride dishes out.
Speaking of taking a pounding, if there ever was a motorcycle in India that looked like it was designed for it, the Royal Enfield Himalayan would be it. Its minimalist styling speaks volumes in this regard. But, it also has the engine grunt to get its rear to fishtail at will. It has the suspension and wheels that would laugh in the face to a rock strewn off-road trail. And, it is one the easiest motorcycles to stand up and ride.
Next up, we have the Suzuki V-Strom. And with it, we are now moving into the wonderful world of multi-cylinder engines. And yes, electronic riding aids. The V-Strom is the only motorcycle here to run tubeless tyres on spoked rims, a feature we absolutely love and adore. It also comes with two traction control system, which can be turned off for some showboating slides. It has strong - but not overwhelmingly so - low and mid-range engine torque too.
The Triumph Tiger 800, especially in this XCX trim, takes the electronic riding modes to a new level. It comes with two riding modes dedicated to off-road - Off-road and Off-road Pro. One can play around with the traction control and ABS settings on the bike to get better purchase in changing conditions. And of course, it has a 21-inch front spoked wheel, crash protection, and has loads of ground clearance and suspension travel.
Finally, we have our litre class hero - the Honda Africa Twin. It’s not called a large dirt bike without reason. The weight distribution on the bike is outstanding which hides its 200kg kerb weight exceedingly well. Its suspension travel allows you to go over almost anything. It has electronic riding aids, large wheels, and though it’s almost 1000cc, its power is manageable and linear. And the fact that it is an automatic, well, believe it or not, makes it outstanding off-road.
But, these motorcycles aren’t competing against each other. These would be going up against a set of tests. Now these might seem basic, but these are things one will use every time they ride off the road. And here’s the thing, the better the motorcycles do on these tests, the easier and more comfortable these would feel off road; especially when the going gets tight or difficult.
All one has to do here is walk through some cones with the motorcycle alongside. But, the rider doesn’t push the bike; he or she instead needs to modulate the clutch so as to control the speed of the bike to help make it through the slalom cleanly. A motorcycle with a light clutch pull, easy clutch modulation, and of course a low and centralised weight distribution, will have the upper hand. After all, it’s these things that will make it easy to move the bike around off road when situation doesn’t allow you to ride saddle.
No, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Yes, you do squeeze the front brake and stamp on the rear as hard as you can when you get it to the cones. But it’s the before and after that’s crucial here. Step one, turn off the rear ABS. Then get to 60kmph before you hit the cones. Then brake as hard as you can. But now, even though the front is pulsating away courtesy the ABS, the rear may or may not be sliding all over the place. And so, for a bike to do well here, it needs to have tyres that grip well on dirt and it needs to have sound ABS calibration that actually works in dirt. And, it should be able to track straight even with its rear locked. Like we said, it’s not as simple as it sounds.
The Slow Slalom
As was the case with ‘The Walk’, here too, a motorcycle clutch modulation and the bike’s weight distribution plays an important role. However, the speeds are higher here and there’s more throttle application as well. And so to achieve the goal of going through the Slalom as fast and as cleanly as one can, the motorcycle’s throttle response, weight distribution, and of course, the ergonomics to allow freedom of movement, will be key.
The Log Hop
Natural obstacles are as much a part of riding off-road as dropping the bike. Now these could be rocks, mud mounds, logs or even your friend’s fallen bike. So, to get past such obstructions with the least amount of fuss, a motorcycle must have some attributes. A well setup front suspension with lots of travel helps. As does good low end grunt to help pop the wheel up just before hitting the obstacles. It’s also crucial to have a well damped rear suspension with enough travel because, if you get the hop wrong, a poor rear suspension on contact with the blockade will throw you in the air like an angry bucking bull.
Be it on the road, on a race track, or on a dirt trail, if you like riding motorcycles, chances are you like going around a corner as well. On dirt, the same rules of cornering apply. Slow down, make the corner as fast as possible with as little lean as possible. Then, when you know you are pointing in the direction you want to go, get on the throttle. Only on dirt, the front loves to slide once you start leaning the bike over. And then the rear - in a bad case of FOMO - gets all loose and sideways as soon as you get on the throttle. So, for a bike to do well in this test, not only should it have tyres that work on dirt, it should have good suspension and throttle control, and enough feedback to give you an early warning if you begin to overcook it.
The results, of course. Not to mention, a detailed account of how each of these bikes fared in the respective tests would be a good add-on as well. And we have all that for you in articles dedicated to each of the bikes. So, go ahead, give it a read.