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Rolling jewellery

(Travels with Guido series #310, by Guy ‘Guido’ Allen, Apr 2021)


The joys of simplicity in an age of power

                motorcycle tour

It's sold in Asia as an XR200, but over here we'd regard the single-pot Honda trailie as an XL - a soft-roader with electric start - and I'd like to nominate it as the perfect motorcycle. Yeah alright, before you get on the nearest soapbox and give me a hard time for playing favourites with Honda, bear with me.

I've been idly flicking through some photos and tripped over a random nest of images from Vietnam, 2014. North of Ha Noi is the preferred holiday playground of the Lemmings MC (motto: death before courtesy) and we try to get up there every couple of years. We use a mob called Offroad Vietnam for a guided 10-ish day tour, which means someone else deals with the hard questions (such as, where are we?). Your biggest decision is what to drink or eat next. It's a proper stress-free holiday and I've yet to discover a better way or place to spend your time.

You have to figure the choice of machine by a company that depends on them day in and day out is no accident. They have to be reliable, cheap to run and strong enough to carry around a bunch of lumpy westerners without complaint. Plus, they need to be user-friendly enough to satisfy a wide range of riding skill levels. From what I've seen they vary from barely able to reach the end of a suburban street without killing themselves, through to someone who makes you wonder if this is all a bad dream and you're gridding up for the Ha Noi Grand Prix.

With a top speed of around 110km/h, these things are never going to set the tarmac alight, which is about right for Vietnam. It's not far off here, either, given how draconian speed limit enforcement has become over recent years. Oh, and how congested our roads have become.

Much of the appeal is just how flexible these things are. I've ridden from sloppy mud at one end of the day through to slick bitumen at night (the headlights aren't great - unless you go mad and get the big brother XR250 with the flash dual headlamp) and walked away pretty happy. Okay, there was one night when we arrived with eyes like dinners plates having ducked and weaved through the fog, spending the last hour dodging neon-lit tourist buses that lurched out of the gloom like rocket-propelled nightclubs.

That aside, the little XRs were perfect for getting out of the city snarl (a contrast to commuting back here on Hannibal the Hayabusa) and flitted along the B-roads with the engine happily chattering away to itself. It didn't really matter if the road became unsealed, or there was a water crossing, because you knew they'd get through. And highways? No problem - the XRs would hold their own, though the dark limos of senior party folk, and the rich, would whistle past.

You walk away from experiences like that seriously wondering whether we've got it badly wrong with the Hayabusas, the Goldwings, the R 1200 GSs and the Fat Boys of this world. Are they really just expensive rolling jewellery?

Sure they do certain things better, more comfortably and faster. But that much better? Maybe not. I've ridden all the bikes mentioned and own several equivalents and am not at all convinced they represent nirvana. Sure, there is a joy in walking out to the shed and scoping your latest hard-earned transport of delight, perhaps gloating a little and imagining all the wonderful trips it can take you on. I get it. But if I stack up all the best rides I've had on premium motorcycles against those on little battlers like XR200s, there's absolutely no guarantee that the expensive gear wins. Quite the opposite.

Of course I'm a hypocrite. While I have a little battler in the shed - a TS185 - the fleet is dominated by rolling jewellery. Go figure...

Hayabusa pic by Lou Martin

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