The enduring appeal of Adventure Bikes

One of the standout motorcycle trends of 2014 has been the rise and rise of the Adventure Bike. Even in the US, a country typically immune to European biking trends, they're being welcomed with open arms. Therefore expect them to be one of the standout categories at this year's Intermot International Bike fair, in October.

Much of the myth of Harley-Davidson is built on the promise of the open road, of cruising down the highway along a route less travelled. It's what made the brand a US phenomenon and is why traditionally, American bikers find it hard to consider anything other than a Harley or a Harley-style bike when choosing a ride.

But what happens when the road runs out but the urge to keep traveling remains? The answer appears to be, for an increasing number of bikers on both sides of the Atlantic, to ditch their current ride for an adventure bike and to carry on going.

An adventure bike, sometimes called a large enduro, is the closest the average motorcyclist gets to owning a Range Rover. Designed to be comfortable and easy to ride for long distances on or off-road they have integrated bags or aluminum luggage and tool cases; engine guards; a low riding position and low center of gravity despite being big bikes; greater suspension travel; and usually a huge fuel tank.

BMW claims to have invented the category with the GS or Gelände/Straße (German for off-road/road), which debuted back in 1980 and to this day is the company's best-selling bike. In 2013 alone it sold 47,000 GS bikes globally, of which 25,000 were its range topping, water-cooled R 1200 GS. A model that was only launched that year.

And despite coming at a massive financial premium and requiring some degree of biking experience to be able to really handle one, it is now one of the biggest selling bikes in every major European country. It's also selling very well in the US, with America now BMW's second biggest market.

But BMW isn't the only bike manufacturer with an Adventure bike in its range -- Honda has the Africa Twin and Suzuki the V-Strom, even KTM has joined the party in recent years. And in all cases, the bikes are proving a hit with US customers as well as their European counterparts.

But why is that? When asked, BMW's Renate Heim puts it down to practicality. Serious American riders tend to travel very long distances: "[US customers] especially like the touring comfort of the GS, which has increased with the introduction of the new GS in 2013, plus the bigger [fuel] tank that offers a bigger range," she says.

Genevieve Schmitt, editor of Women Riders Now, thinks that, like Harley-Davidson, the Adventure bike is appealing to riders that really want to get away from it all. "Adventure touring motorcycles, those that enable a rider to go "off the beaten path," i.e., can be ridden off road, on gravel, allow a rider to seek solace and be one with nature in a way that is unique to the motorcycling experience," she says, pointing to the fact that such an urge is most strong in the Baby Boomer generation in the US, also the market segment with the most time and money to spare.

Suzuki's Luke Palmer agrees. It's the first time that he can remember European and US motorcycling trends being in sync and while he is full of praise for the BMW GS that helped to create interest in the category, he believes that Scottish film star Ewan McGregor is also in some way responsible for the increase in sales.

In 2004 he and his friend Charley Boorman drove from the UK to the US on two BMW GS bikes for a documentary series called "Long Way Round." The show proved a huge international success and so the pair followed it up with a drive from northern Scotland to South Africa three years later for a second documentary called "Long Way Down."

"The BMW has a lot of history, the GS has been the longest standing adventure bike but to be honest I think most people would agree that the whole ‘Long Way Down' thing has captured the imagination of a lot of people and because of that, BMW has done quite well," says Palmer.

But whatever the reason, the Adventure bike appears to be the must-have motorcycle for 2014 and expect new models to be on show, in force at this year's Intermot bike fair, scheduled to get underway on October 1 in Cologne, Germany.

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