I See No Ships
We couldn't take a historical trip through North Norfolk without stopping-by the birthplace of the county's most famous son. No, not Stephen Fry. Nor Alan Partridge. But as the roadsigns say as you enter Norfolk, this is Nelson's county, and the admiral was born in the achingly tranquil village of Burnham Thorpe.
Babbling brook? Check. Quaint cottages bordering the road? Check. Pub opposite cricket pitch? Check. Compared to the hubbub of nearby Burnham Market - winner of the Britain’s Most Pretentious Village award many years running - it’s paradise.
The plaque marking Nelson’s birthplace takes some finding, being on the outskirts of the village, and it marks the spot where the village parsonage USED to stand. The building was torn down a couple of centuries ago but if you’re looking for longer-lasting memorials to Horatio then the pub where he drank and the church where his father was the rector offer plenty of authentic relics.
Back onto the coast road, and with dry tarmac to play on we can at last enjoy the snaking blacktop, where short straights link each section of turns.
Typically GS, the new 1200 rewards a smooth approach. Size-up the turn, tip-it-in, and the Beemer ploughs on through without fuss or fluster. Blatting down the straights, battered by a gusty wind, it does feel slightly more frisky than its predecessor as the bars gentle sway, though with the nigh-on diveless front-end it’s stable on the brakes and rock-solid mid-turn. On bumpy roads with an unpredictable surface it’s incredibly reassuring.
The KTM’s sharper and more nimble. It’ll carve a tighter line and is more eager to drop into turns. The steering damper tucked deep down inside the fairing prevents the 1190 from getting in a flap, and that’s pretty crucial when the front is barely grazing the tarmac in fourth gear, skipping the tops of the bumps like a powerboat on choppy ocean waves.
With both bikes running radially-mounted, four-pot calipers matched to big twin discs, stopping power isn’t brought into question. Perhaps a little more initial bite would be welcome from the KTM, though if you’ve just jumped off an old Adventure you’ll certainly not find it wanting. Get the lever span-adjustment right and one finger is all you need to get both bikes hauled-up in a hurry.
We’re riding that bit harder now, so I switch the 1190’s suspension to the harder ‘sport’ setting… and immediately regret it. It’s just too firm for these roads, and every straight gives my kidneys a good kicking. Within a mile I’m back in the far more supple ‘street’ mode. The BM doesn’t feel quite so harsh in its firmest setting, though, likewise, we leave set on its middle setting for most of the ride.
At times I find the GS’s traction control to be a great safety net. Much of Norfolk's road network is polished so smooth you can see your face in it, and mixed with the dirt washed/blown off the fields, the entrails of pheasants and a few squished sugar beet, it can take much of your concentration just figuring out the road surface. Knowing hat it's got your back (-end) means you can devote more brainpower to reading the road and looking out for other hazards: deer, John Deere, and that old dear out for a bimble.
Yet at other times it's a safety harness that's fastened too tight, restricting your natural movement. On the 'road' setting you might expect it to allow the front-end to rise slightly under acceleration and the back-end to squirm as it fights for grip in the wet. It does neither. Try to effect a fast getaway, and if it senses the front wheel lifting even the smallest amount it'll cut the power in an instant, slapping the tyre back into the tarmac and your plums into the back of the tank! And just to give you an extra kick in the goolies, if you haven’t backed-off enough it then lurches away like you're back doing your CBT again. Even under modest acceleration out of a dry, bumpy, turn you can set the warning light flashing on the dash.
In comparison, the KTM set-up allows you more leeway. In ‘street’ mode it will allow the bike to carry the front-end without instantly cutting the power. I discover this, quite unexpectedly, whilst powering out of a third gear turn up a gentle rise. Before snicking fourth, the front starts to lift and it stays up for longer than expected. ‘Sport’ mode takes things a step further, as ‘dynamic’ does on the BM, or you could go the whole hog and switch it off completely.
Incidentally, both machines feature a ‘rain’ mode which really softens the power delivery and, certainly in the case of the KTM, cuts the available peak power. Given that both bikes’ traction control works well enough in the normal riding mode, I can’t really see the need to strangle them further.
To fully understand the various traction control and throttle response modes you really need to read the bikes’ manuals. Off-road settings offer less power and more slide, plus you can switch off the ABS or leave it engaged and, certainly in the case of the Katosh, you’ll still be able to skid the back-end. As long as you can match the level of control you want to a mode on the dash then the control is at your fingertips.