June 18, 2016
I attended my first Horizons Unlimited meet in British Columbia in 2014. Since I was already planning this trip, it was a worthwhile experience. While most of the attendees are motorcyclists who only dream of a trip like this, many have already done it, and the presenters at the various seminars offered a wealth of information about things like what to pack, border crossing etiquette, things to see in different countries, etc.
Campground at 2016 Horizons Unlimited UK meet.
Two years later, I am attending my second HUBB meeting, this time in Wales. The clientele is much the same, although obviously most are British. The seminars are the same, but I see them in a different light now; they tend to sound more like “what I did on my summer vacation”. There seems to be less good information and more braggadocio, but I’m sure a lot of that is just my perspective having just come from South America and Africa and no longer feeling like a “newbie”.
Europe and North Africa are fairly easily accessed from here, so there are more people who have traveled through many countries. For the Brits, Morocco seems to be the equivalent of a trip to Mexico for those from the States: exotic but close enough to home to be done on a normal vacation schedule.
Out of curiosity, I attended a seminar on South America, presented by a gentleman who was there just six months ago (the same time I was). Mostly I wanted to see if I could gain any insights on what I might have missed, so I could add it to my notes for “Lap 2”.
The presenter and his friend had shipped their bikes from London to Buenos Aires, with the intent of “following the Dakar route”. One of the first slides that came up was on bike choice. The slide read “BMW 1200GS. What else?”
The rest of the hour was mostly a slideshow of BMWs lying on their side, and a discussion of “we thought the road was going to be paved, but it turned out to be dirt. It was hard!”, and “then we got to a steep hill, and fell over” and “This was much more difficult than we thought.”
My first thought in looking at the photos was that this was obviously not where the Dakar race goes. It was mostly highway, or well groomed dirt and gravel roads, and towns. My second and more obvious thought was “why did you take a 1200 to do this? None of this is difficult terrain on a smaller bike. There is no reason to fall over here, except that you are carrying too much weight.”
It didn’t help that they had spare tires strapped to the bikes in addition to a huge amount of gear. I wanted to scream “Why??!?”
It seemed clear to me that at no time did the thought ever cross their minds that they might not have fallen over so much on a smaller motorcycle, and it might not have been difficult at all. For what it cost them to ship the 1200s to South America and back, they could have bought two Honda XR250s, ridden them for six weeks, sold them again, and had money left over.
On the other hand, I will again say that everyone’s trip is different, and as Sjaak Lucassen (who rode an R1 around the world, through some really nasty terrain) says, “It’s most important that your heart is in what you ride.” There really is no reason you can’t ride a 1200 anywhere, if that is what you want to do. I suppose I’m just getting old enough that I don’t enjoy the thought of picking up an 800 pound motorcycle multiple times a day, or having to bring someone else along to help me pick it up.
In the past year I have become more of an advocate for small bikes than I was when I left on this trip. Certainly spending the last year on a 250 has changed my outlook considerably. I still believe there is a place for the 1200, but that place is becoming a smaller niche all the time.
And I believe the overall attendance at these shows is proving that point as well. As I walked around the campground, I saw many 125, 225, 250 and 400cc bikes. The vendors mostly had 500 and 700cc bikes in their booths.
I had many people approach me and ask about my travels on the 250. Many of them said “I had a 1200, but it was too heavy. I sold it and bought an 800, but it’s still too big.” It seems like, at least at an event like this, when people finally shift their thinking from highway-only to real utilitarian on and off-road use, the light comes on, and they realize that bigger is definitely not better.
In the past year I’ve been asked many times what my “ideal bike” would be for this trip. Since the beginning, my response has been the same: it depends on what trip you’re going to take. A two-up trip on mostly paved highways may call for a different bike than solo on backroads and trails. For the type of trip of I’m taking, my ideal bike has always been and still is a 450cc dual-sport bike. But I’ve argued that nobody makes my ideal bike. Most 450cc-range bikes are tailored to off-road trail and competition use, like the WR450 and the KTMs, and thus tend to be designed more for ultimate power output and less for long-range durability or hours of riding at 50mph day in and day out. Or else they are older, overweight models that are more street-oriented, like the DR-Z400.
But things are changing, if slowly. At the HUBB UK meet, I saw a dozen CCM 450 Adventure models. This bike has true possibilities.
CCM GP450 Adventure bike. I was told that it weighs only 2 pounds more than my stock XT250.
Keith, the guy camped next to me, had Metal Mule aluminum panniers on his CCM, and I’m pretty sure I would have ridden off on it towards Russia today.
I met Darren Soothill of CCM at the meet, and he was kind enough to let me take a ride on his 450. Darren is a former Isle of Man TT competitor, road racer and off-road racer. And a genuinely nice guy. I enjoyed chatting with him, and riding his bike.
Darren loved that I was doing my trip on a 250. I think he “gets” the small bike concept.
For now, the CCM GP450 is not being sold in the US, but they recently shipped their first batch to Canada, so it’s getting closer.
The HUBB UK meet was three days of jam-packed events, and there were seminars on border crossing etiquette, trip planning, tire changing, bike setup, etc. All of the things a person planning a trip like this might want to hear. There was even an off-road riding school, featuring multi-time World Enduro Champion David Knight himself. And if nothing else, just walking the campground and looking at how and what others pack is a great learning experience. Would I attend another Horizons Unlimited meet? Absolutely. Especially the UK meet. It’s a great experience.
Rally Raid’s Honda CB500 Adventure bike
Husqvarna 701 dual sport model with pannier racks.
One of Sjaak Lucassen’s R1 projects. It looks like something built with Legos, with the huge tires. He actually pulled a large aluminum trailer on skids filled with 300 liters of fuel, in order to cross the polar ice in very northern Canada. He’s now working on a new bike with a plan to ride to the North Pole on an R1.
One of my favorite long-distance tourers. This C90 is obviously built for English touring: the all-important umbrella carrier mounted as standard equipment.