What to look for when buying an adventure motorcycle.
(A review and torture test on the White Rim Trail by Randy Reek)
“Adventure bikes” are the fastest growing segment of the motorcycle market. An adventure bike is defined as a motorcycle that can take you across the country, or around the world. It needs to be able to carry gear for a few days. It must handle both paved and unpaved roads.
That is as much as anyone can agree on. Beyond these characteristics, there are countless opinions as to what is the BEST adventure bike, if such an animal even exists…
Let me give you some of my opinions. My requirements for the IDEAL adventure bike are based on many thousands of miles ridden on several drastically different adventure bikes on dirt roads and highways, as well as the Trans-America Trail, several “Backcountry Discovery Routes” and over 7,000 miles to Alaska.
First, a real adventure bike needs to be comfortable on the highway and keep up with the traffic.
By definition, an adventure bike is a motorcycle that you can pull out of the garage and head down the highway to your chosen trail. Then you can explore the countryside on the dirt roads beyond where street motorcycles turn around. After your dirt ride (an afternoon, a week, month, or more), you rejoin the pavement and mix it up with cars and trucks on the way back home.
As an example of an adventure ride, three RX3 riders (rbrADV, GSC, and 3banger) recently left Moab, Utah for a ride on the White Rim Trail. We rode our bikes down the highway about 30 miles at 60 mph+ to the start of the unpaved section of the trail. Because the RX3 has a powerful 250cc motor, liquid-cooling, and a 6-speed transmission it was no problem to maintain the speed limit and even pass slower vehicles on the highway while climbing the bluffs heading away from Moab. We then rode the demanding 90-mile White Rim Trail, and after hopped back on the highway for the return trip to Moab.
To provide comfort at highway speeds, the RX3 comes equipped with both a great windshield and wide, rubber-topped foot pegs. The windshield minimizes rider fatigue and the foot pegs isolate engine vibration.
Not to be overlooked, the RX3 also includes a wide, comfortable saddle. And, while it is a small bike compared to 1,000cc and 1,200cc behemoths, it has just enough weight to NOT get blown around by oncoming traffic. The bike is not cramped for tall riders, and it can be lower for shorter riders.
I learned the importance of these features while riding across the western U.S. while following the route of the Trans-America Trail. I had outfitted a Yamaha WR250R (a street-legal dirt bike) for this extended dual-sport adventure. Even after adding a foam pad and a sheepskin cover, the seat was miserable for all day riding. When we hit the pavement sections of the route, oncoming semi-trucks nearly blew me off the road on the tall, light bike. I tried adding a windshield to cut down on wind buffeting, but it was only a moderate success – and an expensive after-market option for the dirt bike. I also replaced the stock tiny foot pegs on the Yamaha with larger pegs for another $100. All these modifications are unnecessary on the well-equipped RX3.
Second, an adventure bike needs to seamlessly transition to unpaved roads.
When we reached the end of the pavement in Canyonlands National Park and the start of the White Rim Trail, all we needed to do was reduce the pressure in our knobby tires on the RX3’s to provide more cushioning and better traction.
Of course, this means that an adventure bike needs to accommodate knobby tires. The RX3 includes a popular option for a larger 19-inch front wheel. This size provides many options for knobby tires. Note that “adventure bikes” are not the same as motocross bikes. We are going to be riding unpaved ROADS – not dirt bike trails. For this reason, it is not necessary to have the standard 21-inch front wheel found on dirt bikes. In fact, the slightly smaller and wider 19-inch front wheel provides more stability on both paved and unpaved roads.
The RX3 has simple and proven spoked wheels with steel rims. Tubeless tires on cast wheels are not repairable in the boonies. I used to own a DL650 Vee-Strom and when riding on extended trips I still carried a spare inner tube and bailing wire to repair damaged tubeless tires. Standard knobby tires with inner tubes are by far the most dependable at lower psi and easiest to repair.
The RX3 includes the features required of a good adventure bike that is designed to be ridden off the pavement. Engine guards are included as standard equipment. I spent hundreds of dollars adding protective guards to my previous bikes. The RX3 has wide fenders spaced properly above the knobby tires. My expensive Triumph Tiger 800XC that I used to own had minimal spacing above the front tire. Even after adding more space - at additional cost - I still broke off the $250 front plastic fender in the sticky Utah mud when the tires clogged. The RX3 also includes a base steel skid plate, with a larger and more protective aluminum skid plate available as an option – shown above.
This is a different set of requirements than a rider who is looking for a “dual sport bike”. If you want a motorcycle that you can take on short trips AND race single track and do hill climbs you are not going to want a CSC RX3. If you want a street-legal bike that can double as a woods bike for jumping logs you should consider the CSC TT250. Most lightweight dirt bikes simply don’t meet the comfort requirements of a true adventure motorcycle designed for 100’s of miles in the saddle.
Third, a great adventure bike should be designed for multi-day extended travel.
Every other “adventure bike” that I have owned required hundreds, even thousands of dollars to outfit for long distance, self-sufficient travel. My single biggest complaint related to dirt bikes converted into dual sport bikes is the cost to add a larger gas tank. It should be obvious that when a motorcycle is equipped with a gas tank of TWO gallons (or less) that it was never designed for extended touring.
Many dirt bikes have been converted to “adventure bikes” with a new gas tank, typically costing $400 or $500. You sacrifice the original tank for a plastic accessory tank. Your gas gauge (if you had one) no longer works and you never know how much fuel you have – unless you choose the ugly translucent plastic version.
In contrast, the RX3 Adventure comes equipped with a 4.2-gallon steel gas tank with a locking gas cap AND a fuel gauge on the dash! This is just right for an adventure bike, providing well over a 200-mile range between refills. The right-sized gas tank on the RX3 also means we don’t need to buy extra gas cans and mounting brackets, nor add extra weight to the bikes when refills are spaced within 200-miles.
Virtually all “dual sport” motorcycles also require that you spend lots of money adding racks and luggage. You can’t add a rear top case until you first buy the accessory rear rack. Before you can mount your expensive side cases, you need to spend several hundred more dollars to buy the supporting side rack system. There are multiple suppliers who have built profitable businesses just selling the necessary hardware to properly outfit your “adventure bike” – over and above the cost of the motorcycle, not including hours of installation labor!
Once again, the CSC RX3 Adventure comes equipped – as standard equipment – with a rear rack and top case and side racks and side cases. This luggage is designed for the motorcycle, and is not added on. In fact, the three cases even use the ignition key to lock! You could literally spend over $1,000 to outfit any other motorcycle with comparable luggage and racks.
Note: the standard cases on the RX3 are not large. Larger cases are available as an option from CSC. But I see most adventurers carrying WAY too much stuff. I would recommend trying to carry everything you REALLY need in the standard cases provided PLUS a small duffel bag across the passenger seat. You can also add loops for a second stuff sack on the lid of the top case, as I did. But overall you will find that smaller is better, especially when traveling light on the 250cc RX3.
Finally, an adventure bike needs to be light, simple and dependable.
The trend today is for new motorcycles to be big, heavy and complicated. This is the opposite of what you want for trouble-free, extended travel. A motorcycle that has 1,200 cc’s and weighs 600 pounds – BEFORE you add gas, gear and the rider is NOT a realistic adventure bike (despite what Ewan and Charlie have popularized in Long Way Round.)
You want a bike that you can pick up by yourself! You want a bike that you can manage if no one else is around, or if your riding partners are around the bend or over the next hill. The CSC RX3 is not a featherweight at 385 pounds, but that also includes all the equipment that would need to be added to other bikes that start out weighing less.
You also don’t really NEED three different traction modes, four shift patterns and multiple braking options to enjoy an adventure. Keep it simple and ride! Besides, no dealer is going to have the part in stock when these finicky components fail so you are setting yourself up for delays and frustration.
The RX3 has a dependable Delphi fuel-injection system and electronic ignition. Beyond that, the simple 250cc single cylinder 4-stroke engine can be repaired by most shade-tree mechanics. In fact, parts are covered by the CSC warranty for 2 years and labor is covered for 1 year – and you can go anywhere for repairs since there are no restrictions due to designated dealers. There are NO dealers – you deal directly with ONE company, the sole importer, CSC Motorcycles. The engine manufacturer, Zongshen, builds over 1 MILLION motorcycles per year, including private-labelling many well-known name brands. These motorcycles are sold worldwide, including hundreds of thousands in markets where the bike is the sole means of transportation and not just for recreation!
Simple doesn’t mean that the RX3 Adventure is stripped down. It also includes features not found on many motorcycles at any price! The bike has a 300-watt alternator to accommodate electrical accessories. It also has two accessory switches already installed on the handlebars. There is an analog speedometer and a digital tachometer, a fuel gauge, trip meter, and temperature gauge on the dash. Accessory 12-volt and USB outlets are also available and are designed to be added to the dash, not tacked on.
One more thing: an adventure bike needs to be FUN to ride!
Many of us have more than one motorcycle. If you could have only one motorcycle, I can make a strong argument that you can’t go wrong with a CSC RX3 Adventure. But - if you have more than one bike - there is always one gets the most attention. This is the case with the CSC RX3 Adventure. It is just plain fun. Get on, rev it up, and simply ride it anywhere and everywhere.
The RX3 Adventure is comfortable to ride for long distances. It is lightweight and maneuverable. It sits lower than dirt bikes so it instills confidence on sketchy surfaces. Compared to bigger adventure and street bikes, the RX3 feels “flickable” on the road and in the dirt.
Of course, you can always make modifications and further customize your RX3 Adventure. For example, I removed the rear cases and racks for trail riding and lost over 30 pounds. I added a guard to protect the headlight from rocks. I am happy to report that both replacement parts and a wide selection of accessories are great values from CSC. You do not need to pay exorbitant prices elsewhere!
Here is the bottom line: you can spend A LOT more for an adventure bike. But you are not going to have more fun, go farther, or create better memories of your adventures. In fact, at the low cost of ownership for an RX3 Adventure, you can start NOW and use the money you save to rack up more miles! The fun is riding.
There are endless arguments as to what is the perfect bike for adventure riding, including the many options of planned routes like the Backcountry Discovery series and the Trans-America Trail. Having ridden these on other motorcycles, I would now choose the CSC RX3 Adventure. I would give up nothing over the bigger and more expensive bikes that I have ridden. I would gain comfort and capacity over the small bikes I have ridden. And I would have spent one-half to one-fourth as much to log the same exact miles!
If we can ride the White Rim Trail, you can ride any of the BDR’s or the TAT on your own RX3 Adventure!
See my videos of the White Rim Trail on my YouTube Channel: rbrADV
For more information on CSC Motorcycles, see: www.cscmotorcycles.com