SWM has entered the competitive world of adventure with a bike that draws from a solid era to offer something new that aims to stand apart from the crowd
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HOW IT BEGAN
Let’s start this feature with a tiny history lesson on how the SWM name came to be resurrected.
Remember when BMW wanted to get into the dirtbike market so they built the G 450X? It was a bit shit but they were keen to appeal to a younger, ‘sportier’ crowd so not long after in 2007 they bought Husqvarna. This was a rare move for BMW, which hadn’t acquired another motoring brand since its ill-fated Rover buyout from Honda in 1994. Ask a Rover owner about this now and they’ll drop their scone.
BMW’s ownership of Husqvarna was essentially a financial disaster and after six years without producing many motorcycles worthy of high praise, they sold it off to KTM (technically Pierer Industrie AG), in 2013.
KTM moved manufacturing to Austria which left a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility (courtesy of generous upgrades by BMW), sitting idle in Verase, Italy and a heap of workers now out of jobs.
So, with backing from the massive Chinese based Shineray Group as well as the Italian government and with access to pre-BMW era Husqvarna parts and engines, a handful of engineers went to work in building bikes again in 2014 and they chose the bring back name SWM to front the new machines.
SWM was an Italian manufacturer that started building offroad bikes back in 1971. It all ended in 1984 but not before they won an Italian motocross title, a Spanish enduro championship as well as an Australian Four Day Enduro title with Norm Watts (father of Shane) behind the ‘bars.
So SWM is of 2018, a joint Chinese/Italian venture based in Verase with a kick-arse factory and a view to grow steadily without over-reaching.
X MARKS THE SPOT
With the backstory told, let’s move on to the bike itself, specifically the 2018 SWM Adventure Superdual X 650. The Superdual X was launched in Australia from the base of Mount Buller in Victoria on a ride guided by Dave Marsicano and the more than capable crew from Mt Buller Motorcycle Adventures.
I’d been able to get a quick look at the bike at the Touratech Challenge event just a few days prior where the guys were run off their feet handling test rides. It certainly seemed to be striking a chord amongst the adventure crowd there.
The X is the offroad specific Superdual and not to be confused with the more road-oriented T model. The most relevant difference is in the 21/18 wheel set that graces the X while the most striking difference is the bright red colour scheme that the X runs compared to the sedate grey of the T.
The aesthetics of the Superdual are hard to categorize. In the past I’ve ridden Italian bikes that looked like sex on wheels but rode like shit on clay. The SWM looks a bit like if a Royal Enfield Himalayan developed a crush on a chick that only liked buff guys so it pumped iron hard, but along the way built muscle in some unusual areas. It’s honesty not my vision of adventure splender, but mostly because of the strange cut of the fuel tank.
What’s not hard to pin down though is the effort made to offer value for money. The bike is $10,490 plus on-road costs and comes with a two year, 20,000 kilometre warranty. For a time it will be available with a set of Givi panniers and LED riding lights. It’s LAMS approved (can be delivered as a full power non-LAMS too), has Brembo brakes front and rear, switchable ABS (at the rear), a centre stand, Mikuni fuel injection, a hydraulic clutch, handguards, protection bars and a bashplate. I list these things specifically for those wondering why they should buy this over a DR or KLR, which are both cheaper.
SWM knows it has to win people over and it’s trying to make the package seem as enticing as possible and you have to admit that on paper, that’s an appealing list of inclusions.
UP THE MOUNTAIN
Our test day began with a glorious Victorian alpine sunrise and the very low rumble of a bike that makes bugger-all noise out of the dual exhausts. We got accustomed to the feel of our bikes on a ride straight up to the Mount Buller ski resort on a twisty road. The SWM immediately felt cramped for me. I’m about 180 centimetres tall and the ‘bars were too close to my knees which felt too high. It had me enough out of whack that it made me keep the pace down till I could acclimatize to the feel. I noticed the shorter guys weren’t bothered at all and I could put both my feet flat on the ground which would hint at a later conclusion that I shall get to … later.
We soon hit the dirt and didn’t leave it again all day.
If the engine looks familiar that’s because it’s from the old, pre-BMW Husky TE 630. In this guise it puts out around 58 horsepower but it’s geared incredibly high and so it meanders off low revs, but on fire trails it’s happy humming along all day, barely breaking a sweat and using hardly any fuel (claimed range is between 400-450kms). It has an impressive top speed as a result but a brave man would poke that bear given the number of trail-crossing kangaroos we’d seen on the ride.
After a climb to the famous Craig’s Hut, built as a set piece for the movie, The Man from Snowy River, I took the opportunity to both take in the amazing scenery and to move the ‘bars on the Superdual forward via the adjustable clamps. This made an immediate and substantial positive difference to both the ergos and the behaviour of the bike. The footpegs can also be moved down but that takes more time and tools and to be honest I was in a pretty happy place with the ‘bars moved.
This brings us to the seat. It’s not an attractive nor practical seat but I ran the higher bend and I didn’t find it uncomfortable. I would prefer a straight bench seat so I could move around more freely but as odd as it looks I didn’t find the higher bend to be all that bad. The bike doesn’t feel like it wants you to stand and I can’t quite peg why that is except that I felt more connected to the front end whilst seated. I wasn’t alone in feeling this and so a straight seat would be the best option. The bike feels thin at the tank/seat juncture when you’re standing but for some reason your weight on that seat makes it work better.
The suspension was something of a revelation. The fork is Fastace which I’ve never heard of and the shock is Sachs which I’ve never much liked. In fact both worked quite well. I left both the shock and forks alone all day and honestly they both did a fine job. The caveat is that they aren’t built to smash and carve. They soak up small stuff well and keep a decent balanced feel but this isn’t the set-up you want to try and keep pace with a raging DR650 on. But that’s not what this bike is about.
About three-quarters through the day we did a very tight single track loop for a photo opportunity. It was pretty bloody hot and this wasn’t the first choice of bike to be running on a full-spec enduro track but I ended up doing a few extra laps because the bike was actually pretty fun in there. Over geared yes, and those mirrors were begging to be smashed, but I kept going in because I kept having fun.
The ABS on the front was a bit trigger happy on that slower, lose stuff but I found it to be good on the faster stretches. There wasn’t a lot of excessive fork-dive when you hit the anchors hard either. The rear brake was decent just without a lot of feel.
The SWM Superdual X is a good bike, offered as a great package at a decent price. It’s a fine option for the rider looking to explore on reasonable-to-shitty dirt roads but doesn’t want to be brought to a halt if the terrain gets trickier for a bit. It’s a great option for a rider who has trouble finding a bike that has a low-ish seat height but wants a fair sized engine. It weighs in at a claimed 167kgs which isn’t bad and comparable to an adventure ready DR650 (147kg stock), so you get a bike with a 600cc engine that weighs I well under 200kgs, with a good fuel range and low seat and nothing to immediately add on from the showroom floor. There aren’t many of these kinds of deals about and it all hits the wallet at less than $11,000 (plus ORC).
Buy it if you want to explore but not conquer. Buy it if you want to enter the adventure market with a complete package without spending $15,000. Buy it if you value civility over utility. The SWM isn’t for everyone but no adventure bike is and yet the Superdual will suit a hell of a lot of people. It’s a bike that fills a hole in the market as either a stepping stone or a more accessible option that offers excellent bang for the buck.