Grand adventures come easily to the wealthy. These are the people who can afford the Himalayan trip of a lifetime with chase trucks and caravans every single summer. They don’t blink at $30,000 motorcycles and satellite phones. We do, though. Luckily, there are adventures that aren’t restricted to the elite and their checkbooks, and they come aboard bikes like the new Honda XL750 Transalp.

The Transalp is a bike designed with the solitary goal of opening up modest adventure rides to people who work for a living. It’s all about the price; the Transalp has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $9,999. That’s actually less than the CRF450RL dual-sport bike. It’s still a 749cc parallel twin that puts out around 80 horsepower and offers a number of electronic riding aides. It’s the type of bike that you ride to your adventure and then ride home afterwards.

The Transalp name is recycled from a very similar bike that was offered in 1987. That was a 600cc V-twin with a concept that baffled most Americans. We saw it as a tribute to an obscure stage race that started in Paris, France, and finished in Dakar, Senegal. No one knew it was an adventure bike—that term hadn’t been coined yet. That bike quietly disappeared in the U.S. but remained in Europe, morphing through several configurations. Now, it’s a different world. Honda estimates that the market for adventure bikes grew 400 percent in the last five years. It isn’t necessarily because street riders found a new love for riding in the dirt. Most of the ADV bikes in the real world present riders with a comfortable means for touring and commuting. They buy into the image and the maybe-one-day possibility of adventure rides.

Today’s Transalp is designed to appeal to that rider, and then if and when maybe-one-day arrives, it can deliver on the promise. It has an inline two-cylinder motor with a single overhead cam using Honda’s Unicam configuration. The crank pins are offset at 270 degrees for the purpose of providing an uneven pulse, similar to that of a V-twin. The suspension is Showa with adjustable preload and just under 8 inches of travel. What really sets the Transalp apart from other adventure bikes in this price range is its electronic portfolio. The bike has four predetermined “ride modes.” A handlebar switch allows you to cycle through Standard, Sport, Rain and Gravel settings. Each has its own levels of power output, traction control, engine braking and antilock braking. In addition to those user-defined position where you set your own values. The power setting doesn’t actually adjust peak power as much as throttle sensitivity. Traction control has five levels to choose from, engine braking has four, and there are three ways to set ABS: road, off-road and off. Even when turned off, front wheel anti-lock remains active.

Honda gave the Transalp a fairly sophisticated electronics portfolio. The motor has a sweet nature, even without any electronic intervention.
Honda’s press department introduced the Transalp in a particularly blue-collar manner. They planned out a Backroads Discovery Route in rural Pennsylvania called the “PA Wilds BDR-X.” In case you don’t already know about Backroads Discovery Routes, this is the perfect means to make epic rides accessible to virtually anyone. BDR is a non-profit organization that posts track logs and resources for dirt rides all over America. There are over a dozen point-to-point rides posted with gas stops and mileages all figured out. There are also a few loops that begin and end in the same location. These are called “BDR-X” routes, and PA Wilds is one of those. It wasn’t quite the alps, but we did it in October and got the very best that autumn in Pennsylvania has to offer.

If anything defines an adventure bike, it’s the rider position. The Transalp positions you more or less upright, with your knees just past 90 degrees and your heels well in front of your hips. You sit in a pocket to keep the seat height down, but that limits mobility for off-road riding. Very typical of the breed, and all the more reason to stand up when you get into the dirt. Once you get your butt off the seat, the layout feels about perfect. The bars are reasonably high, and the foot controls are all positioned well (once you remove the standard footpeg rubbers).

As you might expect, Honda will be happy to equip the Transalp with a number of accessories. This one has the travel cases. Our test bike had engine guards and a skid plate. We also installed full knobby tires before we rode.

The dirt roads on PA Wilds range from perfectly smooth and level to sections of two-track with rocks and hills that would be challenging for a full-fledged dirt bike. Even without any of the electronic aides in play, the Transalp has a smooth power delivery that starts just above idle. At superlow speed, the bike doesn’t chug or stall. It has excellent torque and is perfectly happy running at low rpm for long stretches. Then, when the road straightens out, it has plenty of power all the way up to over 10,000 rpm. To dirt bike guys, the Transalp might as well be a top-fuel dragster. It has all the power that you would ever need off-road. By street bike standards, though, it’s actually pretty modest. A 750 sport bike has a peak output around 40 horsepower greater and revs a good 3,000 rpm higher. No one wants that in the dirt.

With such an even, smooth power delivery, the need for any electronic means to control it, frankly, isn’t that big of a deal for even an intermediate rider. If you have a fair amount of experience, then the best setting for most situations is to go into the user-defined settings and turn power up, traction control down and antilock braking off. Toning down the throttle sensitivity is only useful in rolling, loose rocks, but the Honda has such a pleasant nature that you might not even notice. Traction control is a more complicated subject. It’s primarily designed to keep inexperienced riders out of trouble. In its most aggressive state, it makes the motor stumble any time it senses wheelspin. That’s useful on wet pavement, but can actually cause you to lose valuable momentum off-road. If you turn it down to one-third power, it’s more effective. In that setting it will actually let you drift the rear end slightly. Still, it’s not effective at low speeds where you are simply trying to maintain forward movement. For that, the best setting is to turn it all the way off. You can only do this in the user-defined settings, and even then, it resets if you turn off the key. It needs to be set up again every time you start. Same goes for turning off the rear-wheel anti-lock.

The Transalp takes its name from a 600cc V-twin in the ’80s. No one was ready for it then.

Of the four predetermined maps, the best for off-road riding is Sport. That turns down traction control and engine braking, turns up throttle response, and leaves anti-lock in full street mode. Gravel mode has too much traction control and not enough throttle response. Rain mode is only for the very worst weather. Our advice in that situation is to find a McDonald’s and wait it out.

One electronic feature that Honda couldn’t offer in this price range was suspension adjustability. The Showa suspension is what it is with only preload adjustment. It’s actually very good for low-speed rock sections. It’s cushy and doesn’t do anything weird. When you get on fast roads around 40 mph, you have to keep your eyes open. If there’s a big ditch or a rut, the Honda will take it, but it’s not pretty.

Most of the dark adventure that comes on adventure rides is unnecessary and the result of poor planning and set up. If you are going to go on real off-road trips, you will have to get a number of accessories. Our bike was equipped with non-stock tires—Bridgestone Battlax Adventurecross front and rear. It also had Honda’s accessory skid plate and engine guards. To come in at this price, the Transalp is basically stripped, and you have to make it a little more dirt-worthy on your own. That’s appropriate, but Honda will sell a ton of these to those weekenders who are waiting for that maybe-some-day ride. Whether or not that day comes, the Transalp is perfectly willing and capable.

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