First it was the Dakar…
The Dakar is, maybe, the toughest race on Earth. The riders are becoming legends, the bikes are inspiring people to go further away and explore. The Dakar legacy is the foundation for many of today's adventure bikes. Prototypes such as the R80GS in the 80s or the NXR 750 inspired future production models such as the GS or the Africa Twin.
Meet the first GS. Built from 1980 to 1987, the R80G/S is BMW’s first model fitted with the monolever suspension. The configuration featured a combined single-sided swingarm, driveshaft and a single shock absorber. That was a new suspension setup back in the ‘80s, stiffer and lighter, and proved to be successful for BMW in the Dakar Rally. The R80G/S won the famous offroad race four times (’81, ’83, ’84, ‘85).
It had a 797.5cc boxer making 50hp which was good enough to reach a top speed of 104 mph (167 kph). Also, it was fitted with a telescopic fork with 200mm travel, 21-inch front wheel, 19.5-litre fuel tank providing a range of up to 500km.
BMW offered an option to add a 32-litre fuel tank. The price tag back then was $2,500 (€2,180) and now a well maintained R80G/S can cost $10,000 (€8,730).
The German brand sold 6,000 units in ’81 and by the end, the total production reached 21,864 units. The successor was the R80GS, followed by the R100GS.
Honda NXR 750
Meet the Africa Twin (XRV750) prototype. The Honda NXR 750 was built by Honda Racing Corporation (HRC) from 1986 to 1989 and the bike was renowned for its handling and high-speed stability.
Thanks to its characteristics, the bike dominated the Dakar Rally in the late ‘80s four years in a row (’86 – ‘89) and received the Desert Queen nickname. In the ‘80s the Dakar Rally started in Paris and ended in Dakar/Senegal crossing nearly 15,000km of African desert.
The Honda NXR 750 was fitted with a 45° 779,1cc V-twin engine making 75hp. It had a kick-starter, a large 59-litre fuel tank and could go 177kph.
It was a tall bike with a high seat set at 990mm. Other features included a telescopic fork with 300mm of travel, pro-link shock with 270mm of travel and a 21-inch front wheel. The NXR 750 was heavy too for offroad racing with a dry weight of 185 kg.
Yamaha XT 500 (TT500)
The XT 500 Dakar Rally bike was the starting point for the XT660Z Ténéré model. Production started in ’75 and ended in ’89.
It was a small bike with a twin-valve 499cc 4-stroke single-cylinder engine. Back in ’81, Yamaha decided to upgrade the bike and fit a 558cc power plant making 38 hp and a top speed of 100 mph (162 kph).
Other features included an air-assisted fork with 201 mm travel, a rear mono-shock with adjustable preload. The original 8.8-litre fuel tank was small and Yamaha decided to update its capacity to 14 litres which allowed a range of 280 km.
Also, it had a kick-starter, 250 mm ground clearance, a 21-inch front wheel and drum brakes.
The Yamaha XT 550 won the first two editions of the Dakar Rally back in ’79 and ’80 ridden by the Frenchman Cyril Neveu. The bike was the platform used to develop the XT 125 version and later the XT660Z Ténéré.
Yamaha YZE 750T
This is the first Super Ténéré model Yamaha built. The YZE 750T was produced between 1988 to 1991.
The adventure bike has a 749cc parallel-twin engine fitted with five-valves per cylinder. Power output stands at 69hp which helps the bike reach a top speed of 119 mph (192 kph).
The engine was mounted on a single cradle steel frame while the suspension featured a telescopic fork with 235 mm travel and a preload-adjustable mono-shock on the rear.
On the front end, the Iwata engineers equipped the YZE 750T with a 21-inch wheel. The YZE 750T had a 26-litres fuel tank offering a range of 429 km. Wet weight was 236 kg.
The motorcycle won the Dakar Rally in ’91 and Yamaha decided to introduce an updated model in ’92, the YZE 850T with increased engine capacity to 850cc.
The YZE 850T was produced from 1992 to 1998 to win the Dakar Rally which it did six times in seven years of racing with the help of Stéphane Peterhansel and Edi Orioli.
Its predecessor is the XT1200Z Super Ténéré model.
KTM 950 Adventure
The story of the KTM 950 Adventure began in 1992 when the Austrian brand built a one-off special for the German BoTT series. It was built by two engineering students by combining a pair of cylinders from a KTM LC4 single on a special crankcase.
Back in ’96, KTM wanted to expand its engine range and develop a V-twin engine. They had to ditch the 60-degree V-twin RSV900 Rotax engine of Aprilia and the Swedish Folan 60-degree V-twin.
So, KTM developed their engine configuration in ’98 – a 942cc 75-degree V-twin making 102 hp.
After they designed a frame for the engine and the final version of the 950 Adventure was presented in 2003. Production lasted three years, ending in 2006.
The 950 Adventure was fitted with a 22-litres fuel tank, Brembo brakes and the dry weight was 206 kg.
In 2002, the bike was ridden to victory by Fabrizio Meoni in the Dakar Rally.