Slew of new adventure tourers point to growing trend

Publish Date: 
Apr 24, 2012
By Dennis Johnson

It seems as if the Honda TransAlp’s North American debut in the 1980s was a little premature. The Golden Age of dual-sport motorcycling is upon us, and it is called adventure touring.

If only Honda’s dualie had survived America’s fickle taste it could have thrived to exist in a broad range of models that includes everything from Kawasaki’s diehard KLR650 and Yamaha’s freshly christened Super Tenere to the grand-daddy of the segment, the BMW GS series. It’s a range that includes multiple displacements and various levels of tech, each suited to the particular wants of the rider.

As a testament to just how popular the segment has grown, just about every OEM is producing a bike that fits in what is now called the adventure touring market, and that segment is growing. In 2011, the Motorcycle Industry Council’s Retail Sales Report shows that dual-sport bikes were up 14.2 percent for the 12 reporting brands.

While numbers may paint a portion of the picture and an assortment of magazine reviews on ADV bikes (as goes the lingo) may point to a trend, it’s really the aftermarket that reflects what’s happening on the highways and byways and dirt roads of America. These are bikes that people really ride, and they want stuff on them.

“The numbers are showing a huge surge in the growth of the adventure-touring and sport-touring markets. Dealers are seeing this, and now they’re actually seeing the OEMs addressing it by building more adventure bikes,” says Adam Redford, sales and marketing manager for Twisted Throttle, one of the bigger players in the segment. “The manufacturers are paying attention, and the dealers need to do the same.”

Rising gas prices. Changing consumer taste. More commuters riding motorcycles. Whatever the case, more people are opting for bikes that can (or at least look like they can) get them to work during the week, hit some trails on the weekend or be loaded up for a long trip into the outback. “The way we look at it is, any time you get on your bike and go somewhere where you’ve never been or are exploring the back-country, that’s adventure touring,” Redford says.

This is good news for Twisted Throttle, a manufacturer and distributor of parts and accessories that is celebrating its 10th anniversary by moving into a new 27,000 sq. ft. facility on six acres. This is growth that can be directly related to the rise of the adventure market, Redford notes. The company started by providing accessories for Suzuki’s stalwart V-Strom and now makes or distributes several different brands.

The company’s goal is to be a one-stop shop for touring and/or adventure touring enthusiasts by offering a broad range of aftermarket products that gives dealers a good margin.

“If you’re looking to make a bike more practical to get out there, we want to make sure you have what you need, whether it’s saddlebags, a tank bag or a top case,” Redford says. “When it comes to custom cruisers, every dealer in the world has something for those bikes. But, right now, the dealers are not able to service their customers at the adventure end of the market.”

RIDERS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN TRAVELING
While what is now called the adventure touring market might be relatively new, dual-sport bikes like the KLR650 have been around for years, as have the people who want to load them up and start blazing trails. Take a look at ADVRider.com, an online forum with a dirt-centric flavor — tales abound of transcontinental crossings and around-the-world trips.

Progressive Suspension’s David Zemla says that while the company always has operated in that space — one of its best-selling monoshocks is for the KLR — recent growth has drawn the company deeper into the market. But it’s not going full-throttle developing suspensions for the new breed of bikes; among its more recent products is an adjustable monoshock for the BMW F800 GS — a bike growing in popularity among ADV riders.

Zemla says the bikes in this market tend to get really loaded up, which forces the machine to sit lower in the travel — the last configuration you want when you hit a bump while traveling a pass on the Continental Divide. The company also get requests for lowering kits for the bigger and taller motorcycles.

Progressive Suspension markets to the masses by advertising in all of the BMW-specific magazines and some of the online ADV sites. It also participates with the RawHyde Adventures touring company and with MotoQuest Tours, partnerships that have led directly to product development based on real-world feedback, Zemla says.

But it’s not just the wearable parts like suspension and tires that feature high on the rotation of the serious adventure rider, it’s also all about luggage capacity and comfort — the latter, especially. Nobody wants to feel a rear-end that’s seen the seated portion of a cold ride from Mexico to Canada.

At Dealer Expo this year, Saddlemen introduced a new heated seat for the BMW GS, a product that the company’s director of sales and marketing, Ron Benfield, says has been greeted with enthusiasm by BMW dealers who predict strong sales.

“I think the cool thing about this is we’re seeing a huge demand for these products,” Benfield says. “What’s happening is people are realizing that you can get one motorcycle to do a lot of things. You can get yourself a nice adventure bike and get in the wind, go out into the dirt, and then commute to work on it.”

Benfield says Saddlemen is looking to fill all the needs of the growing adventure market, including those for riders who use the bikes for long-distance riding and those who do it to beat the blues of the everyday commute.

ESCAPE THE DAILY ROUTINE
Another big player in the ADV aftermarket segment is Touratech USA, the U.S. arm of its 20-year-old parent company located in Germany’s Black Forest. The company has a retail store in Seattle, but also offers dealer pricing on its lineup of specialty products.

The store’s general manager, Paul Guillien, says the rise of the ADV market and the jump in new vehicle offerings from the OEMs validates the category that BMW pioneered years ago with its big GS bikes. It’s made people realize that they can get a motorcycle that is as practical as it is fun to ride, he says.

He offers that most ADV bikes are quite simply “function-first” motorcycles.

“I think they’ve got a real appeal. Just the aesthetics of the bikes: when you see the photos of these rugged motorcycles and you see them in these places where you don’t normally see big motorcycles,” Guillien says. “They realize they can pack up their gear and go out for weekend, a week a year. It’s totally liberating to know you can pack up your bike and head out on the road.”

Touratech makes or carries all the parts and accessories to fully outfit a bike for the road, from hard bags and skid plates, to crash bars and navigation accessories. All of this designed for a customer base that includes riders who come from heavy off-road racing and riding to those won over by the earthy appeal of the category.

“It’s kind of an escape from the daily routine,” Guillien says. “You can escape just by getting on these motorcycles.”

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews May 2012 issue.