Heading off into the Aussie bush on a couple of motorcycles to track down the amazing stories that helped create what we now know as the "Aussie Culture" seemed like a pretty simple kind of idea. Well, besides the snakes, and spiders, and Goannas, and Drop Bears. But then the planning started. And we soon realised we'd screwed up. We now think undertaking the trips and filming everything may well be the easy part of the project, because trying to make decisions about what gear we will use, and what preparations we need to make is proving supremely difficult.
The first job was to choose the bikes. Stephen and I agonised over this for months. Numerous emails were emailed. Phones were phoned. Road tests were road tested. We went back and forth weighing up the pros and cons of the various bikes on the market to try and decide which one we wanted.
Our requirements were, we thought, pretty simple.
* Ability to cover big miles in comfort.
* Must be able to carry a stack of gear.
* Must perform very well off-road.
* Must perform pretty well on-road
* Needs to have a very good fuel range.
* One person needs to be able to drag it out of the mud when it's fallen over.
* Has to be reliable.
* Not too much electronic wizardry (for simplicity).
* Needs to have some hope of being fixed by a bush mechanic at Birdsville.
* Must do good wheelies.
* Not too expensive.
We looked at simple bikes, like Suzuki's DR650 and the Yamaha Tenere. Both fairly basic 650/600cc bikes with a reputation for good reliable bush bashing performance and the ability to tour well (with some mods). While both bikes would have done the job, we decided we wanted something with a bit more power to handle the weight of the gear we would be carrying and to help in smashing out the huge highway miles we would occasionally have to cover to get anywhere from our Sydney base camp. 1000km days will be a thing. Best be ready.
So then we were onto looking at BMW's excellent GS Adventure range (both 800 & 1200), KTM's range of 1050/1190 Adventure bikes, Triumph's Tiger range, Yamaha's Super Tenere and Honda's new CRF1000L Africa Twin.
The two big things that began to loom large in our minds once we started looking at the big bangers were cost and weight. All of the bikes in this category are excellent pieces of kit, and even the big heavy suckers like the Super Tenere and the 1200GSA are very capable dirt blasters in the right hands. But neither Stephen nor I possess "the right hands". Neither of us have spent much time on the dirt in the last 10 years, and especially not on a big girl like those two. Drop a 1200GS Adventure with 50kg of luggage in the mud by yourself and you're camping there until it dries out. Not an option. We have families and jobs to get home to.
The KTMs were ruled out purely on a cost basis, despite being awesome and possibly more suited to the task than the Yamaha and the BMW. There's also the ever-present concerns over reliability and parts availability from KTM if you're stuck in the middle of nowhere. You could die of old age in Alice Springs waiting for an oil filter to be delivered. The Triumph was too complex, and didn't seem like good value compared to the others, and the BMW 800 GSA started looking good for a while there, being a good mix of quality parts, lighter weight and reasonable power. But for the cost of the BMW 800 GSA, we could buy the last remaining bike of the group and have thousands left over for luggage, bash plates, crash bars, etc.. We thought we should go check that last bike out.
So we test rode the Africa Twin, and within minutes, I was sold. This bike feels like an old XR600 with an apoplectic bout of Roid Rage. It literally feels like a dirt bike, yet with the refinement Honda is known for. It has enough power to handle the big miles on the road comfortably, can carry all our luggage and video gear, and despite being not too much lighter than the KTM, it feels much lighter, which shows how well Honda's engineers have done in creating a beautifully balanced bike.
It is also by far the best value of the bunch, at only around $17k on road for a base model. We chose to go with the base model for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the price is better than any of its rivals, secondly it has less electronic stuff that can break and leave you stranded, and thirdly, that's all we could get. An earthquake that affected the Honda factory in Japan had shut down production, and if we wanted an Africa Twin, then it would be the silver base models or nothing. We didn't even consider the DCT auto gearbox model because it was dearer, heavier and more complex. More shit to break. We are quite capable of breaking all the shit on the base model, so no need to make things worse. Besides, the base model is just fine thank you very much. It doesn't have traction control, or ABS, but we didn't see that as a problem. I've only ever owned one bike that had ABS, and I've never owned a bike with traction control. To hell with your preposterous safety aids, we bravely spouted. More on that in a later blog...
The only box the Honda didn't tick on our wish list was the fuel range one, and the 19 litre tank, despite being good for 300+km due to the bike's excellent fuel efficiency, wasn't going to be big enough for a couple of the trips we have planned. We decided that could be fixed pretty simply by carrying extra fuel when necessary in a fuel bladder, which are easy to store when not in use, giving us an extra 20 litres, so that will suffice as a solution for now.
So here they are, our new Honda Africa Twins. By the way, Honda has not helped us at all with the bikes. They didn't offer, and we didn't ask. We own them, we paid for them, and if we want to say bad shit about them down the track, we can. So you know whatever we report back about the bikes in the months ahead will be an honest evaluation of them.
Now the real work commences... prepping the bikes for serious outback fun.