Lieback’s Lounge: Attracting Young Riders to the ‘Ugly’ ADV Scene

Lieback's Lounge: Attracting Young Riders to the 'Ugly' ADV Scene

When I opened the garage door and pushed my KTM 1190 Adventure R onto the driveway, I noticed a few clumps of ice-over snow piles throughout the backyard.

Siri told me that the temperature was 26 degrees that Sunday morning in late March as the sun peeked through the game lands adjoining my property. Not too bad for this time of the year in Northeast Pennsylvania, especially since the temps were expected to hit the mid-60s by noon.

The Austrian barbarian was the cleanest it’ll be all year. The Q-tips come out for my others, but not my ADV machine. The only thing that’s cleaned religiously throughout the year is the chain, forks, and air filter.

I may hose it off or wipe off the muck from the gauges, but otherwise, the KTM gets cleaned once a year before some winter downtime, or if it’s grimed with salt from some winter riding. Adventure riding should be about just that—adventure, not good looks. This may be one answer to my yearly question: Why isn’t the ADV genre attracting younger riders? Maybe I was about to find out.

With the heated grips and seat at max, I was off on time to leave for my first group ADV ride of 2021 hosted by a friend at Hermy’s, a BMW and Triumph dealer in Port Clinton, Penn., the tiny snowflake on my gauges reassuring me that it was cold.

I can directly attribute my timeliness to the mental/physical reset I was midway through, basically a four-week schedule of sporadic, intermittent fasts—a few as long as 48 hours—a specific diet, and no booze. Fasting is simple. No wine with a meal sucks.

A few days after the reset began, I’m out of bed and roaring by 6 a.m. The previous night before this ride, the bike’s chain was adjusted and lubed, the tire pressure was set, the suspension tuned for both on- and off-road performance and the TomTom Rider repositioned.

Ducati multistrada 1260 Enduro riding Lieback

Though the grips were cranking, and I wore my Racer Elevate winter gloves, it’s hard to take the chill out of triple-digit winds for sustained periods of slab riding. I only had one desolate stretch of highway for about 20 minutes, which takes me to a higher elevation where temps dropped to around 20 degrees. Ice patches were everywhere on the country roads leading to the meeting point at the dealership.

Upon arrival, nearly a half-hour early instead of my usual 10, I was surprised at the turnout. Once the lid came off, the conversations immediately began, certain groups discussing the latest farkles on the bikes or others’ riding techniques. Altogether 32 riders showed, an excellent turnout for a ride starting in sub-freezing temperatures.

Also, I knew the group was dedicated; almost everyone rode an hour or more to Hermy’s from every direction. The experience varied widely, from first-time big bike ADV riders to enduro racers.

Following some riding tips and demonstrations by Bobby Brown—who sold me my Ducati 1198 and Ducati Multistrada years ago—of how to pick up a BMW R 1200 GS that was on its side, we were off.

Due to my arrival time, I was near the back of the pack. Within a half-hour, I passed about 20 bikes to get up front. The pace was tame—perfect for the first ride of the season. Most riders kept their bikes in off-road modes for the entire journey, which was around 125 miles and included a 70/30 mix of road and gravel roads.

I complain about Pennsylvania’s winters often, although the off-riding months help keep me productive in all other areas of my life, from writing to running my marketing agency. But I can never complain about the woods’ beauty within my area, whether on blacktop or gravel.

The initial ADV group ride of 2021 went well. Nobody crashed. Hell, nobody even dropped a bike, something that rarely happens at these events. Brown preempted the ride saying, “If you’re afraid of dropping your bike, go home now.”

For some, this is devastating due to spending $20k on a new BMW R 1250 GS, or having that much cash into their older GS models. (GSes accounted for likely 80-percent of the bikes there!)

Because it was the first ride of the season and a mix of skill levels, I expected less turnout— maybe 15 riders. I was proved wrong. I also expected a more diverse crowd regarding age groups.

Unfortunately, I was also proven wrong here. At least, in my area, the ADV scene does not stir the emotions of riders in their 20s or 30s. They are mostly attracted to sport bikes, pure off-road, cruisers, or the custom hip bikes, such as cafe racers, trackers, or street scramblers.

I didn’t discover ADV riding until I was 32, although I wish I had earlier. These bikes, especially the larger displacement rides, can do it all, from comfortable cross-country touring to single track to a relaxing in-town ride to the local wine store (ahh, this reset is getting to me!).

A decade ago, it all came down to tire choice in regards to your situation. Continental claimed the market with its TKC 80 as the go-to rubber for both on- and off-road, but the on-road portions, especially at speed, it’s not the best tire choice. Plus, I was burning through a rear in 1500 miles due to my love of spirited riding.

Nowadays, the ADV tire selections keep you comfortably and safely in control regardless of the terrain. A few favorites are the Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR, the Bridgestone Battlax Adventurecross AX41, and Dunlop Trailmax Mission. Though you may have to work harder on the slick stuff with many of these, they are more than capable off-road while providing all the comfort on-road.

What’s holding the younger crowd back? Is it the looks? I admit that all adventure bikes, except the Multistrada, lack sexiness. And ADV gear makes most of us look like characters from Halo video games, which also lacks sexiness. And those metal bags and endless standing on the pegs to stretch on the highways…very attractive, let me tell you.

Looks aside, though, adventure motorcycles are seriously do-all bikes. If you’re into nature, riding fast both on- and off-road, and riding regardless of temperature or weather conditions, there’s nothing better. All it would take for most of the younger riders to understand is a ride—not just around the dealership’s block but also on some gravel roads.

KTM 1190 adventure R off-road

Then again, I didn’t discover big ADV riding until my early 30s. I spent 95 percent of my previous riding experiences aboard sportbikes and sport-touring bikes, from traveling cross-country on a VFR to track days on R6s to lower-back aching 200+ mile days on full sportbikes. Since I’m also passionate about wandering endlessly in the woods, I’m surprised I didn’t engage with ADV riding earlier.

I didn’t discover ADV early, but at least I did find it. And cheap. You don’t need a new $16K+ bike. I began on the “El Mule,” a 2002 V-Strom DL1000 that I bought for like $2500 and modded with some TKCs and Touratech protection.

These ADV machines have helped me ride more often across various temperatures and wet conditions, keeping me focused on the ride over anything else, such as looks.

They provide more value for one of motorcycling’s greatest achievements—battling the stresses of everyday life. I’m now on a mission to help younger riders discover the benefits of ADV both on and off the pavement, regardless if they may look like a two-wheeled stormtrooper.