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More Small Displacement Adventure Motorcycles Announced this Week

Many of you may remember Noah Horak’s opinion piece we published in 2014 titled: An open Letter to the Motorcycle Industry. As unassuming as the header was, his rant roused the rabble and stirred up a heated debate making it one of our most frequently read articles––ever. At the root of his letter was the assertion that the motorcycle industry had jumped the shark and was fixated on selling bikes which were too big, overly complicated, and wildly unnecessary.


Noah was advocating for smaller bikes and two years later, here they come.


Almost simultaneously with the release of Noah’s plea, we started to see smaller displacement motorcycles enter the marketplace, but not many of them fit into the adventure segment. Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, and recently BMW started selling sub 500cc bikes, most of them aimed at the urban rider hoping to cut their teeth in motorcycling. It makes sense. Travel the world and you will see the most ubiquitous two-wheeled machines are tiny things. In some countries, 500cc is actually––a gigantic bike.

The first small displacement motorcycle to hit our shores targeted to the adventure rider was the CSC 300cc RX3. Made in Asia, distributed through a mostly unknown scooter importer, and selling for under $4,000 fully loaded, it raised a lot of eyebrows. But, I don’t necessarily see scads of them running about. That doesn’t mean we won’t in the future.

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On the heels of this year’s international motorcycle shows, several brands have released entries into the wee adventure bike category. The motorcycle to spark the most attention is the new Honda CRF250L Rally. And yes, you had me at Rally. 

Built around Honda’s updated CRF250L, the adventure-prepped model comes with a new floating windscreen, larger tank offering solid wind protection, and a digitized gauge cluster with asymmetric LED headlights out front. It’s all very adventure themed, but it’s not just a cosmetic package. The engine has received a new ECU and is promised to produce more torque at the low end, and more power at the top. As befits a bike invoking rally mojo, it has a longer travel suspension with leggy ride height, switchable ABS in the rear, floating disc brakes, and a lightweight exhaust system. Best of all, it boasts of an approachable purchase price of under $6,000. This is going to be a popular bike, I can already tell. I see it chewing into KLR turf.



Another bike to drop this month is one we had been anticipating, but not sure was coming. Last year BMW announced they were entering the small displacement sector with a 300cc motorcycle best suited to compete with similar bikes from Honda and Kawasaki. Many of us hoped the rumors were true that a more adventure ready bike was forthcoming, and it appears that bike is the 2017 BMW G 310 GS.


Like the R badged street variant currently sold in world markets, the GS will use the same 313cc four-valve thumper engine. With a curb weight well under 400 pounds, a six-speed gearbox, and 19-inch front wheel, there is decent adventure potential here, but it is by no means going to follow Honda’s new Rally inspired bike into the rough stuff. Made in India but designed to fit into all markets including our own, this could be a fun bike for riders of all skill levels. Pricing is still unpublished and we won’t know if we will get the little GS here in the US for some time to come.


While we’re on the subject of small dirt touring motorcycles, we’re still waiting to hear more details about KTM’s 390 Adventure which has been teased for quite some time. The 390 Duke, the street biased model, has been a very popular alternative to the brand’s more expensive, and far more powerful motorcycles. Not everyone wants break-neck horsepower or the price that goes with it.


It appears Noah was onto something when he chided the motorcycle industry for their excess. This isn’t to say the beastly liter bike, and those far larger, are not worthy steeds, but not everyone needs or wants them. I must admit, high on my bucket list of things to do is ride the length of Nepal. I don’t want to do it in hipster-tourist fashion atop a Royal Enfield. I want to do it on a bike common to the locals. A hulking 125cc Honda or Yamaha. Bigger is decidedly not always better.



 An Open Letter to the Motorcycle Industry, Noah Horak

Click on the image below to read Noah’s plea to the motorcycle industry for smaller bikes. Looks as if his wishes have come true.

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Christophe Noel is a journalist from Prescott, Arizona. Born into a family of backcountry enthusiasts, Christophe grew up backpacking the mountains and deserts of the American West. An avid cyclist and bikepacker, he also has a passion for motorcycles, travel, food and overlanding.

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