Back in 2014, I went to Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa to ride motorcycle and test watches with Bremont’s Nick English and “Long Way Round” veteran Charley Boorman. My roommate during this trip, and now my lifelong friend, was British biker Mike Kirkham.

Mike recently came over to Switzerland for a weekend visit, riding his new Honda Africa Twin, so I took advantage of him being here to arrange a test ride of the new Triumph Tiger Explorer XCx to contrast with the Africa Twin, and secured two watches to wear on the ride.

I planned out a day ride to the Interlaken area, one of Switzerland’s most glorious regions, with mountains, lakes, gorgeous vistas, quaint villages and great restaurants.

The Motorcycles – Honda Africa Twin

Honda turned the motorcycle world on its head when it re-introduced the Africa Twin in 2016. Bucking a trend where adventure bikes kept getting heavier, bigger. with more gizmos and gadgets, and more road-focused, Honda went the other way, paring everything down for a lighter, slimmer bike that was skewed more for the dirt, while still being brilliant on the tarmac.

Sales have been fantastic and I really enjoyed riding the Africa Twin. Honda took the bold step of introducing a Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) version, which is basically an automatic transmission. DCT is seen by some as the wave of the future, a “twist and go” motorcycle that allows more people to join the fold. On road, the DCT is fantastic, doing all the shifting for you. It’s still possible to shift yourself, using a trigger and thumb button on the left handlebar, but there is no clutch and no shifter on the bike. There are four modes for the DCT (D for cruising around town and three S modes, with the highest S mode holding the gear as long as possible for greater acceleration). You can also put the bike in manual mode and shift yourself.

Honda Africa Twin

One great thing about the DCT is that you can’t stall it, even if you are in the dirt. Come to a stop and it downshifts automatically for you. It’s a triumph of engineering and really fun to play around with. I really love the sensation of shifting on a motorcycle, and I take pride in my ability to ride and control a motorcycle with the clutch, but honestly, during my time on the Africa Twin, I didn’t miss shifting. Not even a little bit.

The Africa Twin feels light and maneuverable, thin and sporty yet still very comfortable on the highway. On the mountain roads is where the Africa Twin really came into its own, flickable in the corners, and then able to sit up and charge down the straights.

The 998cc liquid-cooled 4-stroke 8-valve parallel twin is up for just about anything, and I never felt that the motor was letting me down, whether it was climbing up a steep Alpine incline or overtaking on the highway. We didn’t really take the bike off-road, other than the odd green lane or gravel path, but it has off-road modes and has been reported to be very capable.

The Africa Twin DCT version is $13,699 while the standard shifting model is $12,999.

Honda Africa Twin

Triumph Tiger Explorer XCx ABS

I picked up the Tiger Explorer from Triumph’s office outside of Geneva, Switzerland. I saw the Crystal White bike when I pulled in to park, and it was love at first sight. I signed all the test forms and took the keys and headed for the bike. I swung my leg over it and was impressed immediately. It was lower than I expected, which inspired confidence from the jump, and when I fired up the 1215 cc Triple engine, the sound was fantastic, like my favorite music being piped straight into my veins. This was my first time riding a bike with Triumph’s signature triple power plant, and I was definitely smitten.

The XCx version of the Explorer is called by Triumph “the ultimate go anywhere, do anything transcontinental motorcycle.” Too often brochure quotes are misleading and impossible to meet, but in this case, Triumph’s words weren’t hyperbole. On my first ride back to the Revolution offices, I felt I could just keep going, not stopping until my front wheel touched the warm water of the French Riviera.

Triumph Tiger Explorer XCx ABS

The engine was really powerful, eager to rev and incredible fun to run through its paces. It has several modes, Road, Rain and Off-Road, which change the settings for the ABS, traction control and throttle maps. As the weather was pretty good while I had the bike, with only one day of rain, I kept it mostly in the Road mode. On the day it did rain, I eagerly went out to see how it handled and it was flawless in Rain mode. The Explorer went where I asked it to go, stopped when I wanted it to, and never slid or changed line during my ride in a full downpour.

In the area around Interlaken, I couldn’t have asked for a better steed, as the bike’s upright riding position was perfect for sightseeing the amazing natural beauty we were riding through, but when the going got fast and I had to chase Mike down, I had no trouble twisting the throttle and blurring the scenery.

Triumph Tiger Explorer XCx ABS
Bell & Ross Burning Skull

The Watches

When considering which watches to choose, I knew that I had to pick watches that were rough and rugged, but also good looking enough to match these beautiful bikes.

I had wanted to wear the Bell & Ross Burning Skull for a long time, ever since it was introduced. It’s really a stunning watch, a visual statement on the wrist. I was worried that it would be uncomfortable to wear, due to its large, square shape, but I was pleasantly surprised, because it was one of the most comfortable watches I have ever worn. And, I looked forward to checking the time. While we were riding, I couldn’t see the watch as it was under my riding jacket, but every time we stopped, the first thing I did was sneak a peek at the Burning Skull.

The tattoo-themed watch really fits in with the motorcycle lifestyle, where ink is very popular. Neither Mike nor I have tattoos, but wearing this watch made me feel a bit more like a badass. The skull on the dial, created from stamped metal, and enhanced with “tattoo” lines in bold black, stands out and demands attention. The fact that the Burning Skull is a limited edition of 500 makes it even more special.

The second watch had to be rugged as well, so I chose the Hamilton Frogman. Available in two sizes, 46mm and 42mm, the Frogman is inspired by the first diver watches made for World War II frogmen, and both include a distinctive crown protector designed just for these models. The 46mm version is water-resistant to 1000 meters and has a great looking red unidirectional rotating bezel. The 42mm version, which is the watch we tested, comes with either a blue or black bezel, and is water-resistant to 300 meters.

The Frogman is a bold watch, promising all sorts of adventures when strapped onto the wrist. The timepiece is rugged enough for just about anything we wanted to do, and motorcycling does put quite a bit of strain on a timepiece, with acceleration, braking and bumps stressing the watch continuously. The Frogman performed admirably on our ride, keeping flawless time and looking good while doing it. The movement powering the Frogman is the Hamilton H-10, which has a very usable power reserve of 80 hours, perfect for a long weekend and just about everything else (since that is almost four whole days of power).

Hamilton Frogman

The Verdicts

Both motorcycles performed admirably. My Harley Road King Classic was stolen from my driveway last year, so I’m in the market for a new motorcycle (I still have my trusty Suzuki DL1000 V-Strom, though it’s getting a bit long in the tooth). I’d be happy with either the Triumph or the Honda.

The Honda would be the best choice if I did a lot of off-road riding, as it’s lighter and better when the going gets dirty. The Triumph is probably the better choice for real world riding, which, in my case, is 95% on-road.

My ultimate solution for motorcycles, and my dream scenario, is to have a fleet of bikes, for all different kinds of riding: one tourer for trips to watch companies (Harley-Davidson), one sport bike for going fast (BMW or Ducati or KTM), one adventure bike (the Triumph or the Honda) and one “town bike” for running errands (vintage or the Suzuki VanVan).

The choice is way easier for the watches. I’d definitely buy and wear them both. They aren’t so expensive and they are so different, I’d take them both. I’d rock the Burning Skull when riding or any time I’d want to be a bit edgy. I was amazed at how comfortable it was–it just fit, felt solid and it made me smile every time I checked the time.

The Frogman, on the other hand, is a tool watch that looks really cool. It’s rugged and bold, big and hefty, with a beautiful blue unidirectional rotating bezel (red on the bigger size). I know that the watch can take anything I dish out, so I’d wear the Frogman to the office, then to the beach, and I wouldn’t have to worry about it at all.

I definitely recommend both of these bikes and watches. The timepieces suited the biker lifestyle really well, yet can go anywhere and look good doing it.

Mike and I had a fantastic time riding in one of the most majestically beautiful parts of Switzerland, putting these watches and bikes to the test.

Now, the only question is: where are we going next?

We’re open for ideas.

Mike and Keith

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