Horse Trading

A fictitious Texan who lives somewhere up inside my head once said, “Wayell, comes a tahm in lahf when ev’r man has to part with his horse. Ain’t no use wellin’ up or gittin’ all senimenal ov’r’ it. Jes’ a fact a lahf. S’why the Good Lord invenned horse-tradin’.


Obviously, the Good Lord hates an empty stable. Which is why, when the time comes for one horse to go, the time also comes for a fresh horse to take its place.

And not just in the stable. In that sacred space in a man’s chest-cavity reserved for corn dogs, Porsches, and Harold Ramis films.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 9.09.59 PM

In other words, his heart.

So it came to pass with me this spring, as I bid farewell to one trusty steed, and sought another. I suppose it was a form of  “horse-trading,” but a modern, internally-combustible version. I’d been riding a matte-gray, 2009 BMW F800GS for the past four years, and while she was hardly long in the tooth. I think we were both ready to explore greener pastures.

I’d acquired my F8 from the original owner, who only rode her for a few hundred miles before determining that the ergos were so unbearable for her own size and frame, that she (yes, she was a she) wanted to unload it to move on to a less tall-shouldered beast.

At the start, I had no quarrel with the F8’s height, or ergonomics. It felt more than fine to me, and quickly became my trusty New-England-exploring steed. Pretty much every (non-Vespa) ride I’ve written about here unfolded with my hands on her bars, and my butt in her saddle.

Comparatively speaking, I found the F8 to be a genuine improvement over my first adventure bike, this ice-silver, single-cylinder BMW F650GS.

She, too, held a corn-dog-level place of love in my heart. She was pretty, Teutonic, unfussy, and reliably fun. But also not without limits. Any attempt at adventuring farther afield than back roads (i.e. super-slab) was an adventure in harshness, because at speed, she felt a bit like riding a hyperactive German sewing machine.


The F650’s motor strained under throttle, that lonely single cylinder plunging up and down furiously to make even modest highway speed under my 210-pound human curb weight. She had plenty of power for back-road toodling, and was probably adequate for a mini-er version of me. But the sewing-machine effect is why I horse-traded-up to an F800GS in the first place.

Even still, that extra cylinder in the F8 didn’t entirely help to haul my ass up the road. I don’t mean this in an adrenaline-junkie, speed-monkey way (I’m wayyy more interested in safety and comfort than speed. I just mean in a practical, open-road way.

The fact of the matter is that in the dense, exurban area where I live (the CT corner of the NYC metro area), you have to get on a highway to get out of dodge, and away to places where there are more trees, kinder roads, fewer cars, and less idiots driving them.

So “slabability” is a necessary bike feature, even just for quick jaunts north. While the F8 excelled at two-lane and dirt road exploring, it was also not a very highway-friendly machine. Maybe not quite the sewing-machine histrionics of my previous F650, but kind of like a high-speed blender set to puree: 

Tall, loud, and a little mechanically angry.

Lastly (and this became noticeable after I added the BMW Adventure panniers to her), my F8 was a genuine pain in the ass to mount and dismount. I’m not short (6’1), but man, she was tall. And with panniers, she had an ass the width of a Subaru Outback. Every time I tried to get on or off the F8 in full ATGATT, my boot would get hung up on those upper-deck side cases, leaving me frozen in maximum kung foo kick position, like an idiotic, half-sideways, earthbound astronaut.



Not so cool. So I decided to do some horse-trading.

I listed my F8 on ADV Rider, and within a few days had several inquiries. One came from a super nice guy from Burlington, VT who like me had (coincidentally) gone to UVM. And he just so happened to be looking for a lightly used F8 to farkle into a dedicated trail bike. He also (coincidentally) grew up a few towns north of here, and plotted a weekend trip down to CT to buy the bike. The transaction couldn’t have been more pleasant, and my old horse couldn’t have gone to a nicer home. She’s now roaming Vermont trails and fire-roads under the reigns of a fellow Catamount.

Instant Karma. Enjoy her, Chris!


Thus, my empty stable. And as we all know, the Good Lord hates that.

I’d obviously been deep in the BMW fold for years (hey, my mom’s German). And I’d long thought the next logical step would be der grosser Gelande-Strasse, the venerable BMW R1200GS. It’s the bike that defined the ADV category, the weapon of choice for Ewan and Charlie in their category-defining video exploits, Long Way Round and Long Way Down. I’d serviced (and farkled) two bikes at Max BMW in Brookfield CT (formerly Cliff’s Cycle Revolution), and found myself a frequent inventory-grazer on their website. What’s more, I’d visited BMW Welt in Munich this past winter on a business trip, and didn’t have an any real intention to leave the Welt, where I snapped these:

The newest iteration of the R1200GS (that’s my friend and business partner big Ed on one, in Munich) has been out for about a year now, with a new liquid-cooled set up  It’s an extremely sharp machine, and I thought I had my heart set on an Alpine White one.

But while I craved it, read about it, and even test-drove it, there was something about it that was also bugging me.

There’d been an inordinate amount of online chatter about early problems with the bike. Everything from the need for a steering dampener, to leaking seals, clutch problems, final drive issues, and several recalls. This, from a $20,000 bike. But this was also not without precedent.

My former F800GS was the first or second year of US production, and it too had a litany of recalls that bordered on the unsettling. Front axle, chain and sprocket, drive chain, plastic gas tank separation, front disc brakes, fuel pump electronics…not exactly confidence-inspiring, or what vaunted German engineering is supposed to be.

To be fair, each and every recall was dealer-addressed under warranty (so you’re all good, Chris!). And during more than 4 years of service, my F8 never had so much as a hiccup when it came to reliability or performance. But the sheer volume of issues and complaints surrounding the new R1200GS were hard to ignore. You can’t read the G-Spot section of ADV Rider without noticing them. And the idea of dropping 20 large on, well, a recall-machine left me a little cool.

At the same time, the horse-trading market for larger ADV bikes has become a lot more crowded. So rather than just blindly following BMW’s model-upgrade strategy, I decided to check out a few other full-sized ADV bikes. Starting with three other Teutonic initials.

I’d always liked the look and vibe of KTM. It’s Austrian, orange, and pretty committed to the ADV segment. I’d read tons about the 1190’s precursor, the 990, and took a ride up to Danbury to check out the new 1190 /1190 Adventure.

What I’d failed to appreciate was that many riders love KTMs for their horsepower; and while I was looking to horse trade, I wasn’t exactly looking for a race horse.

I visited the nice guys up at MotoFit in Danbury CT, and took a regular 1190 out for a test ride. The bike makes 150 HP, about 50 more than I’d ever need. Heading up a fairly steep hill, I managed to give the Katoom enough throttle to actually spin the rear wheel. On pavement. Zoinks.

The power felt (to me, at least) somewhere between petrifying and totally irresponsible. I really liked the ergonomics, the styling, and even the KTM dealership. But it was wayyyy too much bike for me.

Next up, I contemplated, the Ducati Multistrada:

There happens to be a Duc dealer a few blocks from where I work in Soho, so I walked over to check it out over lunch. The Multistrada is an undeniably pretty machine, but it seemed more like a tall, two-wheeled ADV-Ferrari than something you’d want to putter around New England dirt roads. I was looking for a two-wheeled Land Cruiser, Defender or Jeep; this was more like a Porsche Cayenne. And like the KTM, it too was motivated by a blistering 150 horsepower for what is ultimately a large-ish dirt bike.

So, onwards through the bazaar.

The Aprilia Caponord and the Moto Guzzi Stelvio were also neat looking variants on the large, upright ADV-theme. But I found them to both be a little, well, outré. The first seemed like a close sibling to the Multistrada, just as pretty and Euro-exotic, with those sculpted, body-matched panniers. But I found it to be what some in the fashion biz might call too matchy-match.


The second outré-cycle also had a little bit of Italian supermodel to it, and while there was something weirdly charming about the idea of a horizontally-mounted V-twin (the Italian engineers must have been like “amakeita likea BM-dahble-yoo aboxa, but a-witha leetle tweest“) it was just a little too out there for me.

I’m not so sure how I felt about riding hundreds of miles with searing hot cylinder heads pressing up against my thighs. It also didn’t help that Branchville Motors—where I bought my Vespa and also the only Moto Guzzi dealer in the vicinity—folded its tent last year. and went out of business.

So still searching.

And then, there in the background, calling quietly but insistently, was this:

Fa fa fa fa fa fa…(that’s the onomatopoeic sound of desire, dudes).

I’d been eyeballing the Yamaha Super Ténéré for a while, and I guess you could say that it was eyeballing me. But I didn’t quite know what to make of it.

From what I could tell, the Ténéré had much of what I was after.

Bigger, stable, and slab-worthy? Check.

Reasonable horsepower and torque (90 and 74 ft-lbs @ 5600 RPM)? Check.

Giant tank for better range? Check.

And a reputation as a bullet-proof, utterly hassle-free companion with a huge dealer network and easy-to-get, affordable parts that you rarely need?

Check. Check. Check.

Optically, it seemed every bit as cool as the BMW GS, but rarer. Coming (as I had) from BMW land, the absence of a front mounted “beak” made it look a little blunt and forehead-heavy to me, not unlike this:

But the more I stared at it, the more it called me. (Weren’t ancient mariners beckoned by  supposed “mermaids” that were likely, um, Manatees?).

And the more I read about it, the better it seemed. Every one of the motorbike mags did a “comparo” with the new liquid-cooled GS, and they invariably sided with the Bavarian beast. But what they characterized as flaws or shortcomings, I saw as virtues. A little less horsepower? Fine! A staid, “unexciting,” predictable road manner? Great! A bit of a porker? So am I!

From the outset, I didn’t have any particular brand affinity for—or against —Yamaha. I’ve had experience with Yamaha marine engines on boats, and they’re an engineering wet dream, literally. To appropriate some BMW promo-language, they are simply and truly unstoppable motors, thriving in the worst saltwater environments.

So I figured if Yammy can make an engine that lasts and lasts while bathing in saline, chances are they can dial-in a bulletproof motorbike, too.

Yamaha has also built a reputation as dedicated to the dirt bike and ADV classes. They’ve competed at the Paris-Dakar since the early eighties, with rides like this (fa fa fa fa fa fa…there I go again):

And they’re still at it today:

So looks, reputation, reliability, and cred. Now I just had to see a goddamned Super-T in person.

I took another drive north to Danbury Power Sports, which happened to have a white 2013 Ténéré still sitting on the showroom floor well into 2014, taking up approximately 1.75 bike spaces (it’s a big boy for sure).

Its seat was still wrapped in plastic. Gathering from what I could observe on the showroom floor, I was probably the only guy who’d ever been even remotely interested in it (folks seemed to be there to buy cruisers, quads, dirt bikes or jetskis…not ADV manatees). The first sales guy I spoke with didn’t seem to know what to make of it (he confessed he was a Harley rider, and it was his first week on the job).

But for me, it was love at first sight.

This Spring, the new 2014 Ténéré was released, but aside from electronic suspension and some other minor refinements, I had a hard time telling it apart from the 2013 (other than the fact that it wasn’t available in white yet). And given that the particular white 2013 I was looking at was a leftover, I thought they’d be willing to deal (they were).

I had a few final questions I wanted to satisfy, so I turned to the crew on the Super Ténéré forum with this thread on my GS vs SuperTen internal debate. When everything came back positive, and with cash in pocket from the sale of my old F8, I embarked on Project Ténéré-haggle, like I was camel-trading at a souk in Chad (where part of the actual Ténéré desert is). After a series of posturing phone calls (my original low-ball offer was snubbed), I achieved what I felt was a super-reasonable, all-in deal on the Super-T, working the Yamaha panniers and OEM handwarmers into the final kit.

Here, some honeymoon shots taken over the past 2 weekends (and 300 miles):

Here’s the big baby with just two miles on her (plus a coating of spring pollen)…

And that, my friends, was that. Horses traded, and a new one in the barn.

Here’s the evolution of my stable, since 2007 (my beloved Vespa GT being the constant):

 I heard again from that fictitious Texan who lives somewhere up inside my head. This time, he said “Son, ah reckon we-all gonna have a good’ol tahme tughethah…”

2 responses to “Horse Trading”

    • Sure do, and can’t wait for the thaw to finish so I can stretch her legs. She’s a keeper! Thanks for reading.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: