There’s something strangely satisfying about sitting in a field with just a thin piece of canvas, a few poles, a bike, some beers and a throwaway barbecue for company.
Maybe it appeals to the part of us that thinks we’re a rugged explorer type roughing it in the wilderness – or perhaps it just feels good to get away from the missus for a bit
Whatever the case, heading off into the wild blue yonder for a couple of days with only a spare pair of kecks and a couple of mates is just the thing to get the stresses and frustrations of the daily rat race out of the system.
So it seems strange to choose bikes that are more likely to be spotted on the commute to work or in the oily hands of a London courier. Surely the urban jungle is the natural realm of BMW’s F650GS, Yamaha’s Tmax and Honda Deauville, not dual-carriageways and leafy lanes along the coast?
You’d be surprised. Loaded up with luggage, these little beauties show they’re more than capable of taking in a weekend away and having a good laugh doing it.
They’re all very different, but bizarrely they all add up to the same kind of bike. The Tmax is an oversize scooter with a fuel-injected 500cc flat-twin engine capable of a genuine 100mph. There’s no gearbox or clutch, just a twistgrip, two brakes and a pair of footboards.
The F650GS is BMW’s learner favourite, a big, thumping 650cc single-cylinder lump with fuel injection and trailie styling. So that means squidgy suspension and a strangely low seat.
And the Deauville is Honda’s upmarket NTV650. Same engine, pretty much the same frame, but fully enclosed bodywork and built-in panniers, giving it a top speed of around 110mph.
Speed-wise, there’s nothing in it, but only a long day’s ride will reveal which one you’d actually want to live with. In terms of price there’s little to distinguish them, either. The Beemer is £4995, the Yamaha £5899 and the Honda £5999.
The Pinewoods campsite in Wells-next-the-Sea, on the north Norfolk coast, might not be the most exotic of locations, but on these bikes you don’t want to go too far. Just far enough to know you’ve done some distance, put the bikes through their paces and can get home without getting too wet once you’ve spent a night on the cold, damp earth.
For the first part of the journey, I want the bike I reckon will be the biggest laugh rather than the most comfortable, so I eye up the BMW, leaving fellow testers Chris Butcher and Neil Tomlinson with the oversized scooter and the mini Pan-European.
The only problem with the Beemer comes when you try to strap enough luggage on to it for a weekend away. Though there’s a nice big pillion seat and a small rack, you don’t want anything coming into contact with those big under-seat pipes or you might end up camping under something with more holes than Jeffrey Archer’s alibi. This bike has BMW’s optional panniers, but there isn’t much room left over once you’ve shoved a sleeping bag and a pair of trainers in. Still, with a bit of careful planning I manage to get everything on.
Butcher gets most of his stuff under the monstrous seat of the Tmax and Tomlinson takes my wife on the back of the Deauville as it looks like the best pillion option and has plenty of room once the luggage is neatly stowed in the built-in panniers.
Fuelled and loaded up on our slow, but hopefully entertaining, weekend tourers, we head out of Peterborough on the A47 into the Fen country of East Anglia – land of the Great Cabbage Washers.
It’s bizarre, but put three riders on three bikes that all do about the same kind of speed and it’s amazing how much fun you can have. The road that cuts out of the Peterborough suburbs through Gatso-laden 60mph limits is actually a lot more fun on these than on a bike that can break that speed limit in seconds, in first gear.
You have to work the BMW to get the best from it and even then it’s hardly thrilling, but those wide bars mean you can really throw it around roundabouts. It also revs quickly and gets up to a decent cruising speed of 90mph fairly rapidly. It’s a bit vibey at speed, but then it is a single.
Thirty miles later we pull up for a drink and swop bikes. After the BMW, the Deauville feels big, heavy and slow and isn’t as easy to flick around as the Beemer – but it’s so comfortable. The motor is less vibey and the whole package is better for long distances. The screen’s so good barely any wind gets to you and the seat is so plush you feel like it should be in front of your telly.
The Honda gets a lot of stick for its name – the Dullville anyone? – but while it may be a tame ride, it’s also so competent I even thought at one point it would be worth buying this for a winter all-rounder. Bung the missus on the back, chuck your stuff in the panniers and you could go touring around Europe on it – if you’re not in a hurry.
En-route we stop off in Hunstanton and park up on the seafront. Here, unlike most seaside towns, the council actually encourages motorcyclists to stop on the seafront.
By now everyone is slowly falling in love with the bikes. Tomlinson is enthusing about what a laugh the BMW is, even though it weaves a bit at speed, while Butcher can’t believe how good the Tmax is. And the Deauville? It’s an absolutely brilliant bike. There, I said it.
We refuel and grab some scampi and chips before heading off on the final part of our journey to Wells. The road changes from a wide A-road to a bumpy B-road and it’s my turn on the Tmax.
The first thing that annoys me about the Tmax is the screen. On the straights when you’re not moving around in corners, it’s a centimetre or two too low and buffets my head. It’s not just my lanky frame, either, as the stumpier Butcher notices it, too.
But apart from that, the Yamaha is an absolute scream. The riding position is comfortable and the seat large and spacious. Though you’re riding a scooter with your feet splayed apart in front of you, you tend to move your boots back for bends like you would on a sports bike.
However much the road twists and turns, you can stay in front of the two " real " bikes. The best way of riding it fast is to balance the front and rear brakes to steady the suspension as you pitch it in.
The BMW is the happiest on roads like this as it’s more flickable, but the suspension on the Honda is a bit stiffer and you feel like you know where the tyres are a bit more than the BMW’s block tyres.
Eventually we pull up to the campsite and Tomlinson volunteers for the barbie and grub run while the rest of us pitch the tents. Twenty minutes later he comes back on the Tmax and it looks like he’s had a failed mission – until he opens the underseat compartment.
Under the seat is an array of burgers, sausages, beer and a couple of disposable barbie trays to feed and make merry four people. So the obvious thing is to cook a feast, kick back and talk about bikes some more with a chilled Stella. Or 17.
The next morning, hungover and slightly the worse for wear, there’s no fight for which bike to ride home on. I take the Deauville because it has the best pillion seat, Tomlinson takes the F650GS because it makes him laugh and Butcher opts for the Tmax. There is no winner. All three serve very similar roles and are more than capable of taking on a much bigger trip than this.
OK, they’re not as exciting as sports bikes, but what else can you have this much fun on without breaking 100mph, and still carry all the stuff you need for a weekend under canvas