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Old 10-05-2012, 09:31 AM   #1
MotorCade OP
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Explorer vs Tenere vs Stelvio vs Elefant: a review

Well... I've been itching to replace a Mazda RX-7 that's been mostly not getting driven for the last 6 months, and I've been thinking about putting the Elefants on 'special occasion' duty and getting something more 'practical' for my daily 120 mile roundtrip commute.

Thus, when I got a call from my friend Ric at Simi Valley Cycles, who's had me on the list to test drive an Explorer when a unit became available for that purpose, I jumped at it. He'd had an Explorer come in on trade, with 4500 miles on it. I scheduled to get to SVC early on a saturday, as they opened, and take the helm of the mighty Triumph for a short spin. My route would take me first on city streets, then some mild turns of Santa Susana pass, and then onto the freeway back to the shop. No dirt. Once I got back to the shop, I would swap right over to their Super Tenere and run the same route, back to back.

Seeing as how it was Friday and I was antsy for Saturday to arrive, I figured I'd go ahead and call my local Aprilia/Vespa/MotoGuzzi dealer in Thousand Oaks and see if I couldn't schedule to follow up the ride with a trial run of the 2012 Moto Guzzi Stelvio. Monica at TO Vespa was kind enough to schedule me in!

Sweet! I would now get to try out the three bikes on the top of my list back to back to back and see the differences for myself. These bikes made my list for these reasons: Adventure credibility and ergonomics, two up capacity, good fuel mileage and range, shaft drive, and low maintenance. I use my bike for daily commuting, picking up my son from school/soccer/AWANA and for camping trips. I don't plan to sell my Elefants, so camping would be reserved for those, with any new bike being thought of as backup if needed. All of these bikes seemed capable of meeting those needs. I was primarily interested in the tactile sensations of each of the bikes - how would they feel to ride? Comfortable? Manueverable? Powerful? Wind? Noise? etc. I didn't bother with electronics and modes and such. It simply takes a back seat to the rest, as far as I'm concerned.

Saturday morning arrived and I got myself over to Simi Valley Cycles to meet with Ric. Ric is a great guy, no pressure, and an avid rider. We looked over the Explorer, wheeled it out, and started it up. I like this bike. I don't think it's the prettiest of the three, as the front end looks to me like the designer was trying to cross “Big Bird” with “Optimus Prime”. It seems very big in the showroom, but sits at about the same height and width as the Tiger 800XC right next to it. I sat on the 800 for reference, and it does feel slightly narrower through the seat than the Explorer. All that said, the Explorer looks the business.

Pulling the Explorer out of the parking lot onto surface streets, the first thing I notice is the throttle. With ‘fly-by-wire’ linkage, there is nearly no resistance to twisting the grip. Rather than judging throttle opening by the resistance offered from a return spring, I have to judge throttle opening nearly purely on the position of my hand. It means a lot less ‘feel,’ but probably goes a long way to reduce fatigue and wrist cramp in all-day riding.

The next thing I notice is how quiet this thing is. It purrs along almost like an electric bike. It idles so low and so quietly that I can hear the fan belts and engine noise of cars waiting at stoplights next to me. And it pulls strongly at all engine speeds, with no effort or drama.

I can feel the bulk of this bike, but it’s benign and doesn’t detract from the ride. I reach the twisty portion of my route and begin to bend the bike into the curves. I feel some hesitance to turn in for the first few turns before I realize that it’s my position relative to the bars. I drop my elbows more and steer it like a sport bike, and the bike responds immediately to any steering input.

And there is my biggest complaint about the bike – it doesn’t fit me well. Maybe some experimentation with seat height and bar position would fix that, but at least for the test ride, my legs were cramped and my body leaned forward more onto my wrists than I’d expect for a long-haul tourer.

Everything else about the bike was lovely. It delivers huge power more smoothly and linear than anything I’ve ever ridden. The gauge cluster is intuitive, easy to read, and full of information. Having a gear indicator is a nice plus for a guy on a test ride and helped me have no missed shifts, especially with such a quiet bike. The transmission fit the character of the bike perfectly – buttery smooth with nice positive engagement. The seat is very comfortable – the most comfortable of any bike I’d ride today.

Trying to characterize the Explorer is difficult – other than the ergonomics, it was a bit too perfect, too refined, too comfortable. Because I felt like I was on a big scooter, I couldn’t really envision myself taking this bike off the pavement. Triumph has built such a nice bike that they may have boiled the soul out of it. I pulled back into the lot at SVC feeling like the bike had left me wanting for nothing, and yet not leaving me wanting more. I felt a little disappointed, because I really wanted to like this bike. I loved the reviews, the videos, the write-ups, the technical specs. Reality is bland, a very well executed bland. It was as if Toyota had built a motorcycle.

And so, without much fanfare, I switched to the Super Tenere. The ergos were a welcome relief, and fit me more similarly to my beloved Elefant. Despite nearly no size or weight difference between the Explorer and the Tenere, the big Yamaha allowed me to stretch my legs down a touch more, and lift my hands up an inch or two. I could tell that this bike would fit well both seated and standing. The motor had a nice rasp to it that was more “motorcycle” than the Explorer had been, though still very quiet at low engine speeds. Throttle resistance was a touch heavier, which is to say that it was still quite light. The seat was the worst I’d test today, harder and more uncomfortable by far than any of the other bikes, including my old Elefant with a stock seat. I began the butt-shift-dance on the saddle after only 5 minutes of riding. This bike should be included as part of any Iron Butt Rider’s training regimen.

I didn’t care much for the instrumentation on the Yamaha, and thinking back, it seemed it was placed rather low and out of the line of sight. It wasn’t particularly intuitive at first glance like the Explorer had been, but not hard to learn, either.

This bike moved into and through the corners really well. It was easy to lean and easy to bring back up. The motor felt torque-rich, and it helped on corner exits. I did feel that the rear suspension was a bit soft, and would compress heavily even under mild acceleration. That was a little disconcerting at first, but it bothered me more than it seemed to bother the bike.

At freeway speeds, the best feature was the low level of helmet buffeting. The Explorer had been impressive in this regard, and the Tenere matched it, or nearly so. Like the Explorer, there was plenty of power for overtaking in any gear, while high speed felt stable and predictable.

Pulling into the lot at SVC, I put one last test to the Tenere, mainly because Ric had become occupied with other customers. I dismounted and had to push the bike back into its parking spot – backing it in up a very slight uphill grade. Ric may have planned it this way on purpose, as the thing weighs roughly the same as the full front row of my rugby team. The vision of backing this thing up my steep driveway into the garage every night flashed alarmingly through my brain. This is one motorcycle you don’t want to move anywhere unless under power – and I say this as a 210 lb rugby player.

I thanked Ric for his time, and hopped back onto my bike to head over to TO Vespa to meet up with Monica and the Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX. While enroute, I had some time to compare my old Elefant in light of new experiences with modern motorcycles.

I have two Elefants, and this one is farkled up pretty well. With electrical and lighting upgrades, crashbars, and pannier racks, it probably weighs in around 450 lbs. I’ve recently been through the bike completely. For those not familiar with ‘Fants, it is mostly stock mechanically with a 900cc V-Twin ‘desmodue’ fed by twin 38mm Mikuni carbs, mildly rejetted, with an Akrapovic exhaust, altogether making about 65-70 horsepower. Seat height on this one is about 33 inches, and still pretty hard on the butt despite the softening of 18 years and 35K kilometers. I’m currently running on Continental TKC-80s. At idle, the bike is noisy, though not loud. The clutch clatters, the engine lopes along, and the valves clack. Under heavy acceleration, she roars. Steering is direct and requires a little firmness. The throttle has heavy return springs and resists twisting unless you’re sure you mean it. Power is barely there under 3000 rpm, where it comes on hard and then harder up to 7K, where it holds near peak or even drops slightly until 11K. It’s a stable bike on the freeway, up until about 90 mph, when it wants to shimmy a little with the wind or the grooves in the asphalt. It’ll still pull hard well past 100, though you’ll be doing math in your head the whole way up there, because the speedometer is delineated in kilometers. The windscreen is mostly inconsequential, though it does provide a little protection for my torso. I may try a high screen to resolve this, but I’ve gotten used to it. I was surprised to find that the modern bikes didn’t feel significantly more powerful than mine. They were definitely faster, and clearly had a lot more left to go up top, but at mortal speeds, the Elefant doesn’t lose a lot to them. I chalk that up to the weight advantage. Similarly, the Elefant feels far more maneuverable than the new bikes. Again, probably due to the weight advantage as well as rider experience on the bike. The ‘Fant gives up a lot in terms of maintenance schedule to the modern bikes. Parts availability is abysmal, and the chain requires frequent cleaning and lubing compared to a shaft drive.

I arrived at Thousand Oaks Vespa (Piaggio/Aprilia/MotoGuzzi) and met with Monica the sales manager, and Nick, who would accompany me on a test ride. He aired out their Piaggio MP3 while I would be on the new Stelvio NTX.

The Stelvio fit me similarly to the Tenere, nice easy and comfortable seating position and good reach to the bars. It has a nice v-twin rumble that made me feel at home, and was the first of the new bikes to not feel completely like a ‘big scooter’ as a result. It was just enough noise to remind me I was on a bike. I’d never ridden a guzzi before, and it was somewhat amusing to rev the engine at the light and feel the bike torque to the right. I didn’t notice the effect on the road, but hey, it’s the small things. The giant fuel tank has some obvious advantages, too. We rode some city streets, and a little bit of hidden valley’s twisties, but it was a nice easy lope to allow Nick to stay with me. We did do a little bit of freeway on the way back, and it was clear the NTX was slightly down on power compared to the first two bikes, but not so much that it would be a differentiator, at least for me. All in all, the Stelvio was probably my favorite bike, but for two things.

First of all, the windscreen – on the positive side, it was very easy to adjust quickly from the cockpit. Simply turn the thumbwheels and move the screen. But the range of adjustment would not allow me to stand the screen more upright. In the highest position, the top of the screen was pointed at my neck, and all the wind directed at my helmet. Buffeting was worse by far than even my Elefant. In the lowest position, buffeting was reduced, but not eliminated, and the screen still pointed at my neck ominously. Changing the windscreen angle and position would be my first mod if I were to own one of these.

My second complaint is that the bike just isn’t pretty anymore. The first iteration of the Stelvio was, in my opinion, one of the more inspired designs to come from Italian manufacturers in a while. This recent update to the line seems almost a caricature of the previous style. It’s too soft, too rounded, too Piaggio.

If I had to buy one, with my stated goal of a commuter bike – It’s not an easy decision. Every one of these bikes is really really good. It's a good time to be a two-wheel enthusiast. If I leaned practical, I’d probably go with the Triumph. If I needed another off-roader, I’d take the Tenere. While the Tenere was a little less polished compared to the Explorer, it also felt as if it would be a better choice for true adventure duty. And the funny thing is, less polished is still a relative term. I couldn’t help feeling like both motorcycles, once mounted, felt an awful lot like scooters. They seem smaller than they are and are truly devoid of any catastrophic faults, at least in terms of driveability. Smooth and quiet, they lack drama, seem to have traded a little piece of their soul for what they gain in refinement. But for what I’m looking for, I think the Stelvio would be my bike, but perhaps an earlier model with the styling I prefer.

On the other hand, I came away from this test with a much greater appreciation for what Cagiva/Ducati had accomplished 20 years ago with the Elefant. Yes, it’s more raw. Yes, there are better technologies out now, giving more power, better reliability, and more comfort. It beats only the Tenere for seat comfort. It is dead-last in power. But the Elefant is near enough to the new bikes in every category, and likely with greater off-road capabilities than the others in the test. I had fully expected to conclude this test with a lust for a new bike and a plan to trade in the Mazda. Instead, despite having enjoyed each of the bikes, I didn’t feel compelled to own any of them. The Stelvio came closest – purely based on more closely embodying the elements of what a motorcycle should be, at least for me.

I highly encourage anyone on the fence to give Ric at Simi Valley Cycles, or Monica at TO Vespa a call and go find out for yourself.

MotorCade screwed with this post 10-05-2012 at 10:21 AM Reason: font change
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Old 10-05-2012, 09:45 AM   #2
nedodjija
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Too long, I am not sure I want to read it
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Old 10-05-2012, 09:47 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by nedodjija View Post
Too long, I am not sure I want to read it
Yeah, I wasn't sure I wanted to write it. Just trying to add to the communal level of knowledge here.

Cheers.
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Old 10-05-2012, 10:02 AM   #4
Animo
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Change the font and you might stand a chance.

Know what I mean?
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Old 10-05-2012, 10:16 AM   #5
merkava
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Good write-up! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

If you people feel the text is too long, the problem is you're not interested in the subject
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Old 10-05-2012, 10:21 AM   #6
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Change the font and you might stand a chance.

Know what I mean?
better?
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Old 10-05-2012, 10:43 AM   #7
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Thank you
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Old 10-05-2012, 10:44 AM   #8
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Thank you
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Old 10-05-2012, 10:59 AM   #9
Mr. Canoehead
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Great write up. Thanks.

I recently rented a Tiger 800XC for long weekend and my comments mirror yours on the Explorer. I loved the engine but it needs an aftermarket pipe. The windshield worked best when removed and put in my Wolfman Duffle. I thought the legroom would be a problem (I am 6'3") but it didn't bother me. The bike sucked off road, though.

No interest in the Tenare.

The Stelvio is sweet. I keep coming back to that as the bike that could replace my 1150GSA but the GSA is set up perfectly for me. If I had to buy a replacement tomorrow, the Stelvio would probably be the one.
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Old 10-05-2012, 11:57 AM   #10
Ham
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I am with you on my Stelvio screen. I picked up the pieces I need to adjust it...but then I have to do that with all of them. I did not find the Explorer and Yamaha one bit different though.

Looks are very personal. I never like it when motor magazines give the nod to a particular vehicle because they liked the look better.

I bought my Orange Stelvio from Empire in Spokane and sitting next to it was the old style...no comparison...the new is vastly better, and as you watch people walk up to them both they always go to the 2012 after a few seconds. As I ride this puppy around Montana the number of people who come up and talk about it is silly...and they think its gorgeous. Its Italian for crying out loud.

But that being said...there is no explaining taste.

In the plainest of terms for me the Stelvio has soul, the others....not so much. Its power band is different and until you ride it alot you won't figure that out....particularly with a scooter trying to keep up. Down low it burbles, up high its a Ferrari. You better go back and ride that thing again.
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Old 10-05-2012, 12:33 PM   #11
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I am with you on my Stelvio screen. I picked up the pieces I need to adjust it...but then I have to do that with all of them. I did not find the Explorer and Yamaha one bit different though.

Looks are very personal. I never like it when motor magazines give the nod to a particular vehicle because they liked the look better.

But that being said...there is no explaining taste.

In the plainest of terms for me the Stelvio has soul, the others....not so much. Its power band is different and until you ride it alot you won't figure that out....particularly with a scooter trying to keep up. Down low it burbles, up high its a Ferrari. You better go back and ride that thing again.
Cant' disagree on the taste thing. We all have preferences. (I see Scion XBs around here all the time. I think they're heinous. Someone likes them.) I personally prefer the earlier styling, and I do like the Stelvio (even in current iteration) better from a looks standpoint than the other two bikes. I can see that in my tiredness writing this, I was a little harsher than I intended. I like that it still has the soul part. I did get on it a little - didn't want to be too hard on someone's future baby. It does sound wonderful, and I love Italian bikes. My last three bikes have all been Italian - they must be doing something right. But I think Triumph and Yamaha have built bikes that are just as good here, though in different ways.

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Old 10-05-2012, 02:28 PM   #12
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Motorcade,
Just curious why there is no consideration for the R1200GS?

Oh, and I thought the write up was great!
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Old 10-05-2012, 03:04 PM   #13
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Mainly lack of time. I had to get to my son's soccer game in the afternoon, too.

However, other than that, there are two other things that put it at the back of the list up till now: I am not sure I want to pay the extra $5K premium for the BMW name. It's also a VERY wide bike, and I lane split a lot, usually somewhere between 15-45 minutes of lane splitting a day. But, I am probably going to give them a fair shake and try it out, too.

If I could make one tweak to a bike to get what I want, I'd take either the F800GS or the Tiger 800XC and stick a shaft drive on it. If they did that, they'd have my business.

and thanks for the kind words!

Cade
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Old 10-05-2012, 09:21 PM   #14
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Thanks for the effort, I'm not too far from Thousand Oaks and the Stelvio has been on my radar, may try to test it out next week if schedule works out.
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Old 10-05-2012, 10:25 PM   #15
2tallnwide
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Originally Posted by MotorCade View Post
I am not sure I want to pay the extra $5K premium for the BMW name. It's also a VERY wide bike, and I lane split a lot, usually somewhere between 15-45 minutes of lane splitting a day. But, I am probably going to give them a fair shake and try it out, too.
If cylinders stick out far enough past your legs to make lane splitting uncomfortable, you're doing it wrong....

I'd love having the cylinders there if I started lane splitting in Mississippi...

When I bought my GS in '05 it was the only choice for a shaft driven adventure bike, times they are a changin'. I haven't ridden any of the ones you tested yet, but have sat on all of them. None felt as good as the GS to me, but the Yamaha felt the closest ergo wise.

The one thing that bothered me about the Stelvio was the side case placement, much too high making getting on and off a PITA. I can't imagine riding one 2up with them on the bike either. Maybe they can be altered though. Loved the Vario top & side cases on the BMW.

Don't have enough time to ride these days to justify getting rid of the '05 Tiger I have now for another shaft drive. But it's great to have more shaft driven bikes to choose from when I am ready for another bike.
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