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What’s in a Motorcycle Brand & Style?

What’s in a Motorcycle Brand & Style?

Honda, Kawasaki, Harley Davidson… there are many motorcycle brands these days with lots of models to choose from. In fact, there’s enough variety out there to make enthusiasts feel overwhelmed. However, despite the turnover in designs from manufacturers, many bikers remain loyal to a particular brand, model or style of motorcycle for reasons that can be interesting to explore.

Feelings, good ones…

Marketing professionals tell us that successful brands (not only motorcycle brands) are connected to feelings, positive feelings, feelings of empowerment and fun. Good warm “vibes” of thrilled satisfaction are what we crave for on the machines we own. So, the owner of a Hayabusa knows the rush he can expect when he opens up on a highway. Similarly, a scooter aficionado no doubt loves the buzz of pulling away the quickest at the lights, leaving the traffic in its tracks. 

Piaggio’s Vespas have been a scootering classic for over half a century.

Image…oooh, so cool…

For some, the choice of a brand or style of a motorcycle involves buying into an image. Design, speed, power, ruggedness, adventure, fashion…. most motorbikes promise something from this mixed bag of desirables. As a result, the bikes we own reflect some of our personal values, what we consider virtuous, appealing, attractive, even manly (or womanly), perhaps. Our machines are often symbols of who we aspire to be. The owner of a GS probably tours or wants to tour and appreciates some degree of off road adventure. The owner of a Gold-Wing is the same but has no intention of ever leaving the paved path.

Many bikers get hooked on a bike brand and style because they are active in communities that value them. The Moto Guzzi clan, the Cafe Racer scene, and the Lambretta and Vespa “die hards” are examples of this. There are enthusiast clubs like these in almost every country. It seems like the desire to belong to something bigger than ourselves as individuals is what keeps them going.

Yamaha, enough said…

Partners, like a pal?

Most riders would agree that they choose a motorcycle like they would a partner, a buddy to take care of and with whom to share adventures. We grow to appreciate the quirks of our two wheel friends, sometimes become flag carriers for a model, be this a sports-bike, cruiser, adventure bike or other. Eventually the idea of changing becomes alien and disruptive.

Of course, we trade our old machines for newer models. However, more often than not, some element of style persists in our choices, in the same way our values and tastes remain unchanged.

A friend of mine started biking at a young age on a Honda XR 650. He then moved on through the years to a Harley 883, a Suzuki Katana, a BMW K1300R, a Kawasaki Ninja, a KTM 990. What’s his ride these days, now that he’s in his fifties? An old, beat up Honda XR 650. He says, with a smile, that he should never have left the first one he owned.

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5 Bikes that made me smile, and not.

5 Bikes that made me smile, and not.

Bikers all belong to one loving motorcycle family within which there are tribes, divisions and boundaries. So, there are sports bikers, touring bikers, adventure bikers, hog lovers, off-roaders and maybe a couple more groups, too. Each category has it’s own vision of what a motorbike should look like and what motorcycling should be. It’s no secret that sometiomes views clash with more than just the exchange of polite banter.

Also true is that some riders fail to figure out where they belong. They roam from one group to another, uneasy, clearly confused and viewed with suspicion by friends, family and other bikers, too.

There are also those, maybe the most troubled of all, who ride a sports bike or a Harley by day but secretly cherish a motocross machine they keep hidden in a shed out of sight.

Of course, none of this really matters. What counts is enjoying our rides regardless of what our bikes look like.

An Old Twin Shock

Motorbikes never interested me until the age of twelve. It was then that a school buddy of mine received a “hand me down” battered 80cc motocrosser from an older brother. As a result, I was at his home one afternoon, invited to check out his new two wheel toy.

For sure, the old twin shock scrambler had seen better days. I remember it leaked fluids from tank and engine and stank of Castrol fuel mix. It had worn tyres, the suspension groaned, the handlebars were out of square. But, despite her shabby appearance, the note from the old girl’s exhaust made it clear there was life in her yet.

That afternoon I took my first steps into handling clutch, gears and throttle. I fell, got bruised and grazed. I tore my sweater and stained my jeans with oil and mud. I lost control of the bike more than once and convinced myself the thing had a mind of it’s own. It behaved like cornered animal that just wanted to flee or be left alone. By the end of the day I was aching all over but had a grin on my face none the less. I was hooked, I was a budding biker, I had found my tribe, I was and off roader.

Over the years I’ve owned a few bikes and ridden plenty more. Some I liked, others not so much. Of course, things change as you age but that off road edge has always influenced my choices of brand and style when it comes to motorcycles. Here’s a list of the machines that made the biggest impact.

Italjet 50T

After promising results at school I managed to persuade my father to shed some cash on my fourteenth birthday and became the proud owner of a second hand 50cc trials bike. Completely different to a motocrosser (and not much more than a moped), the Italjet was heaps of fun for a kid of my age and didn’t pass unnoticed with its wacky colour scheme either.

Italjet trial 50 T
Italjet trial 50 T

I rode the small bike for years and learned a thing or two about balance, clutch control and riding over obstacles though the lack of real power from the small Minarelli engine never got me to any competitive might.

Kawasaki KLX650

When my working days arrived and after a spell without a motorbike at all, I hunted for a machine with some sort of off-road flavour. I hoped to find a second hand Kawasaki KLR 650 but then stumbled upon a rarely seen KLX, the KLR’s beefed up cousin. As soon as I saw the bike I knew it had to have it. It was just over ten years old with less than twenty thousand kilometres on the dial, only one owner. The bike looked clean and I bought it on impulse there and then.  

KLX 650 and owner on a ferry boat
The KLX and I, island hopping in Greece

I loved the KLX very much. It’s torque, reliability and upright riding position were fun on any day. Once again I owned an eccentric machine not many people recognised. In fact, the only KLX 650C I saw on the road was the one I owned for five years. 

Of course, it wasn’t perfect. Vibrations at over 110km/h annoyed me at times and the big bore single craved for oil especially during the warmer season. But, it did the job and the bike also introduced me to the world of motorcycle travel. It took me to France, Greece, Turkey and to the dunes of North Africa and back, albeit only just. 

The Sahara, In Tunisia
The Sahara, In Tunisia

KTM 525 EXC

My North African trip on the KLX fuelled an appetite for further off road adventure. Still with the Sahara in mind I went for the kill and bought a third hand KTM 525. I thought this might be the best tool for mud, white top roads and whatever off road adventure I fancied. It was however, a big mistake. The 525 was a beast of a machine with way more power than anyone, other than a professional, could hope to manage sensibly. There was no compromise with this Austrian behemoth. It was either a full white knuckle ride, battling to keep rubber on the ground or nothing at all. 

The 525....a beast.
The 525….a beast.

Needless to say the 525 filled me with anxiety every time I rode her and in the long run, I avoided anything to do with the bike entirely.

KTM 250 EXC

A second hand KTM 250 two stroke was a by far a more sensible approach to green lanes and track events. Above all, the engine was manageable, light and didn’t tire me the way the 525 did. Unfortunately though I found the 250 maintenance hungry. Piston rings, electrics, oil leaks, just got too much for me.

KTM 250 two stroke
KTM 250 two stroke

BMW F800 GS

The F800 was love at first sight. To me it remains one of the most appealing designs in enduro adventure bike segment. By no means perfect, the baby GS nonetheless ticks all the boxes adequately. It’s reliable, robust, great on fuel economy and can, within reason, handle most easy dirt tracks pretty well.

My first F800 GS, on The Pyrenees in Spain
My first BMW F800 GS, on The Pyrenees in Spain

I’ve travelled extensively on the F800GS, all over Europe and Asia and have come to know the bike’s merits and flaws, well enough. The steering head bearings, the dodgy fuel pump and its flimsy front rim are its immediate issues. These, however are easy to fix. The F8 isn’t suited for long highway runs nor for sustained speeds above 150km/h, either. None of this bothers me. I believe the bike remains a good compromise as far as adventure bikes go. I’ve actually owned two of these and still ride one today.

Looking ahead

What bikes would I like to own? Well, it’s an on going joke that motorbikes unlike a girlfriend/boyfriend don’t mind if you dream of newer models or skim through motorbike magazines.  So… I like the Ducati Multistrada and although I’m not sure how this Italian prima donna handles it’s a stunner in and looks the part. We shall see, perhaps one day I’ll own one or maybe not. Maybe I’ll be enjoying something completely different instead, could even be something electric. 

Sign board at Italian border

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Five Sites not to miss in the Dolomites

Five Sites not to miss in the Dolomites

The Dolomites are without doubt one of the most picturesque and exciting mountain ranges in Europe. They belong to the Italian Alps, and are set in north east corner of “the boot” just south of the border with Austria.

The entire area offers inspiring vistas and heaps of outdoor fun. Above all, there are rocky peaks to climb, endless trails to hike and beautiful lakes to relax by. The Dolomites also offer extraordinary switchback roads to ride on a motorbike with countless mountain passes to reach and enjoy.

This part of Italy, with its Sud Tirolese culture, also offers interesting cuisine, beer and wine. As a result, with all the above, it’s no wonder the Dolomites are a favorite destination holiday makers from all over Europe.

What are the most iconic sites of the Dolomites? Here are five that should be on everyone’s list:

1. The Three Peaks of Lavaredo (Tre Cime di Lavaredo)

Placed at the northern most part of the Sexten Dolomite complex, just south of Val Pusteria, the Peaks of Lavaredo consist three craggy pinnacles that tower, each at over three thousand meters in elevation. They offer some great climbing thrills and are also a haven for hikers as well.

On route to the Cimone di LAvaredo
On the way to the Tre Cime

The foot of the western most peak (Cima Ovest) can be reached from lake Misurina along the “strada panoramica” (toll road). Rifugio Auronzo next to the car park at the end of the road serves hot meals and provides lodging for overnight stays. The big rifugio is also the starting point for hikers that come to explore the trails around the peaks. It can get crowded here, especially during the warmer months of the year.

The views around the Lavaredo peaks are amazing and the photo opportunities are not to be missed.

2. Lake Braies 

If you’ve browsed Instagram in search of mountain landscape scenery then Lake Braies is probably a familiar site. This idyllic little lake is one of the best known tarns of the Dolomites and hundreds of keen photographers go there to capture the lake’s magic. Braies’s green water creates a stunning contrast with the surrounding dolomite outcrops especially at dawn and dusk.

Lake Braies
Placid and green waters of Lake Braies

At dusk especially is when the crimson sunlight bounces soft colors of pink and yellow on the dolomite outcrops by the water’s edge.

There are old style wooden rowing boats available for hire on the lake and there’s also a lovely lake side walk, a loop by the water’s edge that takes the better part of two hours to finish. Lake Braies is a definite must.

3. The Gardena and Sella Passes

The Sella and Gardena passes are within a short ride of each other and are extremely popular with bikers and cyclists alike. Jaw dropping views, steep inclines and challenging twisty roads offer heaps of motorcycle entertainment. Of course there are great food stops at the rifugios on the way. Plenty of hiking on offer for those fit for the task, too.  

Stunning Dolomite Scenery
Scenery around the Gardena Pass

At the peak of the tourist season, between July and August, there are traffic restrictions to Passo Sella. On some week days only a couple of hundred vehicles per hour are allowed beyond the road side check points. However, the curb on traffic isn’t enforced on weekends and the restrictions are unpopular with locals who thrive on tourism. It’s unclear for how long traffic limitations will hold. As of 2018, access to the pass involves buying a permit online here.

4. Passo Giau (Giau Pass)

Passo Giau
Passo Giau is definitely a favourite with bikers and day trippers alike. Occasionally hard to find a space to park a bike.

Possibly the most inspiring of all Dolomite passes, Passo Giau has it all. At the top of there pass there are awesome views of mountain massifs and valleys near and far to admire. Time spent at the local rifugio is usually a memorable experience as well. The food is good and there are bikers from all over Europe to befriend.

Perched on the hills around the pass it’s not unusual to see photographers with cameras and tripods. Likewise these days, there are drones humming and hovering, as well. 

5. Lake Levico 

Lake Levico is on the southern most fringes of the Dolomites in Val Sugana, just a few kilometers from Trento. On a hot summer’s day the banks of the small lake offer highly sought after shade. Well manicured lawns provide perfect bedding for a beach towel and the mountain scenery around the water offers plenty to admire.

Lake Levico
Lake Levico

The lake’s water is fresh all the year round and ideal to cool off from the harsh Italian sun. Camping is available for an overnight stay and of course restaurants are abundant in the area with Levico Terme, the local village, at a twenty minute walk from the water’s edge.

More info on touring the Dolomites here.

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