Motorcycles and adventure, two words that have always been synonymous with each other. From the days when we were kids and would hop onto our Piwi 80s trying to jump over the biggest ant-hill that we could find. Then, as we got older, our bikes grew to the massive size of 125 ccs. This was when we discovered speed and the adrenalin pumping-pleasure it would produce. Once the latter teenage years were upon us, we discovered names like Triumph, Moto-Guzzi, BMW, BSA, and, of course, Harley Davidson.
Then in our early 20s, we started to watch this amazing thing called the Paris to Dakar rally, and our imaginations stated to run wild with thoughts of our own off-road adventures. If those thoughts are still spinning around your head today, then maybe we can help. Here is a list of the 10 best adventure bikes on the market today. If you are teetering on the edge of a life-changing decision, then these insights to the different machines that you can choose from will help. Good luck, and good adventures.
The Suzuki V-Strom is what is classed as a mid-weight, sport touring motorcycle, and it first hit the world marketplace in 2004. The name itself is somewhat fascinating. The V is obviously for the configuration of the engine, while the word “strom” is German for stream or current, giving the impression of a smooth flowing machine that can suddenly become a torrent should it be needed.
The V-Strom is equipped with the latest in Suzuki’s arsenal of six-speed gearboxes; some say this is the best so far, and it is coupled to their 90-degree, liquid-cooled 645cc fuel-injected engine, the same powerplant that their SV650 sport machine uses. Now, our friends at Suzuki have become pretty tricky by throwing away the conventional cast iron cylinder sleeves for their own SCEM plated cylinders. SCEM stands for “Suzuki Composite Electro-chemical Material.” Now, I’m not sure what that means except that it allows for reduced weight and superior heat transfer within the cylinders.
The riding position is what is commonly known as the standard riding posture, which is being supported by a full aluminum frame. The claim to fame of the V-Strom is its adaptability. This bike is ideal for cruising the world best highways, city commuting, and adventure touring, but when taken off-road it doesn’t quite come up to the standard of some of its competition.
Suzuki has marketed the V-Strom as an entry-level Sport Enduro Tourer and has kept the price down to suit the rider on a budget. This machine has sold extremely well worldwide, and it is easy to see why. Suzuki’s commitment to making this more of a touring bike than an off-road bike means that they have not compromised on power or handling. If you are a first-time trailblaze, looking for a starting point to your adventures, then the Suzuki V-Strom is the machine for you.
The Kawasaki Versys (versatile system) has been on the available list since its introduction to the European and Canadian markets in 2007, not hitting US shores until the following year. Interestingly, a Californian emissions compliant version wasn’t released until 2009. This adventure tourer is based on the highly successful Ninja 650R machine, using the same liquid-cooled, parallel twin four stroke motivator.
The clever engineers at Kawasaki have re-tuned this highly popular engine, giving it more bottom end and mid-range torque than its street sibling. Technically, this has been achieved by replacing the camshafts and re-mapping the fuel injection system. These subtle engine refinements, along with an improved exhaust system, adding a balance tube between the side-by-side headers, make for an exhilarating ride with enough power for even the most experienced rider.
Those who have ridden this impressive machine have noted that the braking system will feel a little different than its competitors’; this is due to the design of the suspension. There is a high degree of adjustability in the front telescopic forks, and the rear swing-arm configuration has an external adjuster, making any set-up a breeze. Once you become accustomed to this arrangement, your confidence in the machine will have you heading off the highway in no time at all.
Most enthusiasts will tell you that the Kawasaki Versys is one of the best adventure motorcycles available, but it does come at a price that seems just a little excessive compared to the other choices that are accessible to the modern-day adventurer.
Honda Africa Twin
Named in honor of one of the greatest off-road challenges known to man, the Paris-Dakar rally, this extreme machine, designed with long distances in mind, is the adventurer’s perfect choice. If it is highway miles that you are looking at clocking up, then the Africa Twin is probably one of the most reliable machines on the road today.
Like its big brother, the Goldwing, this techno-advanced machine has all the bells and whistles available to the rider at a glance. At the touch of a button, you can control the braking power and rear wheel locking variants. Adjust the traction-control sensitivity, making your journey a pleasure, not a chore. Even though the Africa does not perform like a sports bike and seems to be lacking a little in power, its 998 ccs will get you to 7500 rpm easily, making the ride the enjoyment that it is supposed to be. There is a little thing called urban mode that will set the machine up for inner city riding, but should you encounter rougher terrain, such as gravel, then its performance levels really come into play.
Honda has made some interesting changes on the Africa since the original version came out in the late 80s. It has gone from a V twin 650 to the 90s 750 V twin version. Now the generation 3, introduced in 2015, has taken on the form of a parallel twin 1000 ccs with the option of the state-of-the-art DCT 6-speed transmission.
Honda is the first manufacturer of adventure motorcycles to offer this high-tech gearbox. DCT stands for dual clutch transmission and is unique to the Honda stable. It is an automatic gearbox specifically programmed and developed for off-road use. One could say that Honda is a trendsetter for the adventure category motorcycle, and the Africa Twin is certainly the benchmark for all other manufacturers to follow.
Yamaha Super Tenere
Power, punch, and get-up-an-go: that’s what the Yamaha Super Tenere offers the adventurer with a taste for adrenalin and excitement. Another bike with a name that incites the enthusiast to take to the rough and ready playgrounds that the world has to offer. This machine is named after the Ténéré region of the Sahara desert, a place that any motorcycle adventurer would like to push the limits of their machine of choice. The 1199 cc engine, coupled to a 6-speed gearbox and shaft-driven rear wheel will give you all the acceleration and motivation that you will ever need. But the design of this aesthetically pleasing bike also guarantees a level of rider comfort that some of its competitors are yet to achieve. Whatever the environment you find yourself in, the Super Tenere will handle it without missing a beat.
The combined ABS braking system coupled to its advanced traction control abilities allows the rider the luxury of full control over the machine at any given time. The very clever electronics on this bike will regulate the timing and fuel injection, as well as the throttle valve movement, all in conjunction with the ABS to maintain a smooth and functional journey, no matter what the terrain. Since 2010, this adventure touring classified machine has been taking on mountains, deserts, and highways with ease and comfort. The Yamaha logo consists of three tuning forks that represent technology, production, and sales, so maybe the Tenere has set the tone for the ultimate machine that you are looking for?
Don’t let the sheer size of this bike put you off. Yes, it can be a little daunting, but once you have saddled up and hit the road, you will find that the BMW name lives up to its extremely healthy reputation. Of all the adventure touring machines available, the BMW is probably the most iconic and recognizable. The R series GS bikes were first launched in 2004 and have seen many changes over the years. Its predecessor, the R1150GS, was a massive 66 pounds heavier, making it somewhat of a handful. The R1200GS produces an extra 19% horsepower, so the performance and handling levels improved overnight. Even though the adventure tourer class is not known for its straight-line acceleration performances, this BMW will go from 0 to 60 mph in less than 4 seconds, unheard of for this type of machine.
Like all of its predecessors, the R1200GS features the Twin Boxer engine, a horizontally opposed two-cylinder, 1170 cc power plant, with four valves per cylinder, which delivers its torque through a 6 speed transmission and a drive shaft to the 19-inch rubber under the paralever rear suspension. The bike also features a large 7.9-gallon fuel tank, so long distances are not a problem.
From 2017, the bike has undergone significant changes, including meeting the stringent European EU4 regulations and has had the on-board diagnostic indicator light added to the instrumentation panel alerting the rider of any malfunctions that may occur. The GS series of machines have also featured heavily on television in recent times and have appeared in such programs as “Long Way Round’ and “Long Way Down” staring Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman, as well as the BBC cooking travelogue called “The Hairy Bikers Cookbook.” So, why not be your own superstar and hit the adventure trail on board one of the most popular bikes in the world?
The name Ducati is synonymous with performance and power, but in some ways, it is the “Harley Davidson” of Europe; you either love them or you hate them. In this case, Ducati’s foray into the world of adventure touring has certainly been a successful one. The original Multistrada sold over 10,000 units in the first 12 months of production, an unheard of feat for a European motorcycle company. The latest model, the 1260 S, has had any misgivings that past models may have created well and truly ironed out. A good percentage of the engine internals have been upgraded, giving this beast the performance and agility that most adventurers expect from the top bikes in this class. Like most Ducatis the throttle response is instantaneous; all Ducatis now use “Throttle by Wire,” the electronic throttle control that eliminates any mechanical linkages or cables.
In typical Ducati fashion, the motivation for this machine is supplied by a 1262 cc, L-twin cylinder, liquid-cooled engine that utilizes a 4 valve desmodromic system, eliminating the use of valve springs. At the touch of a switch, the turn-signal cancel button, the rider can choose between 4 engine power modes. Sport, Touring, Urban, and Enduro; these can be selected while in motion. With their ABS and DES, Ducati Electronic Suspension, the Multistrada offers amazing handling, both on-road and off. The DTC (Ducati Traction Control) system also give you 8 levels of adjustment, giving even the novice the confidence to handle any terrain. One other little feature that the Multistrada gives the rider is the extra-broad saddle, which allows you to comfortably ride for long distances. Whether you love them or hate them, you certainly can’t ignore the Ducati Multistrada 1260 S.
KTM Adventure 990
KTM, the Austrian company that has taken on the world of off-road and enduro motorcycles, has done themselves proud with their range of Adventure models. The smaller 990 machine was produced from 2006 until 2013 and featured a 999 cc V-twin engine that was capable of producing 105 horsepower, propelling the bike to a top speed of 123 mph. This motorcycle is basically an off-road vehicle that makes even the most difficult of terrains seem like a walk in the park. The tall front wheel, 21 inches, will pretty much guarantee that the machine stays well and truly glued to any surface that you choose to tackle.
Most riders of this machine will tell you that it produces enough power to see your adventure through but not to expect extraordinary performances from it. But even though it may lack a little in grunt, it is one of the most durable bikes on the road today and is ideal for the lone rider who wants to see the world through solo-eyes.
KTM Adventure 1290
Now, the big brother of the KTM Adventure 990, the Adventure 1290, is a whole different kettle-of-fish. Launched in 2015, this 1301 cc V-twin was immediately selected as “Cycle World” best adventure bike of 2015, an accolade that just can’t be ignored. Aesthetically, this bike is very pleasing to the eye, and this feeling carries through to its comfort and performance levels. It has the obligatory traction control and anti-lock braking systems, but in a first for KTM, this bike also comes with cruise control. This beast will produce 160 horsepower and has 4 engine modes that make riding a breeze. In fact, those who have ridden this machine will tell you that the more you are on it, the more you realize just how well it is suited for the requirements it was designed for. If you are an adventurer who is looking for the ultimate machine to take you over long distances, then the KTM Adventure 1290 might well be the machine for you.
Triumph Tiger 800 XC
Sometime in 1983, the Triumph Engineering Company went into receivership, casting doubts over the future of this most famous of British corporations. Then, a man by the name of John Bloor came to the rescue and bought the rights to the Triumph name. But it would be 4 years before a new Triumph machine would hit the market.
The name Triumph brings back so many fond memories to all that have loved and respected motorcycles throughout their lives, and the Tiger 800XC brings back all of those nostalgic feelings associated with this icon of a bygone era. This machine hit the market back in 2010 but has certainly improved throughout its generational process. The latest is the 2018 third generation series that Triumph boasts has 200 modifications since the previous model. These modifications are a secret that Triumph is keeping very close to their chests.
The Tiger 800 XC is given it driving force via a 799 cc in-line 3 cylinder 12 valve double overhead cam engine. Unlike its sibling the XR version, this bike has been designed specifically to be taken off the blacktop and into the unknown. Weighing in at 432 pounds and with an impressive 9-inch front suspension travel and 8.5-inch rear travel, this extremely well-built machine is not only a lovely bike to look at but also a joy to ride.
The pedigree on this bike stands up for itself, shortly after first being introduced into the world market, it was awarded Cycle World’s “Best Dual Sport” bike for 2011. If you are reading this, then it is assumed that you are in the market for an adventure motorcycle, but what better way to say, “I’m a Rider” than have the word Triumph between your legs.
BMW G 650 GS Sertao
Another stallion from the BMW stable, the G 650 GS Sertao, stands apart from a lot of its competitors by one single difference. This 652 cc beast is powered by a single cylinder water-cooled 4 stroke engine that will propel you up to 106 mph should you ever need to. This bike is designed to take you anywhere you desire off the beaten track as well as a casual ride down to your local supermarket. First introduced in 2012, primarily to bridge the void left by the discontinuation of the F650GS Dakar machine in 2008, this machine features all of the standard BMW hardware that we are used to. There is the state-of-the-art ABS braking system that will stop you on any surface, wet or dry. And for those cold mornings, heated grips are now a standard fitting instead of an option.
Due to changing times, the engines for these machines are assembled in China rather than Austria, but the finished bike is still put together in Germany, BMW’s home base. BMW has always been known for its extremely high-quality products, and the G 650 GS Sertao is another one of their stalwarts that this historic company is proud to have their logo emblazoned on. Adventure touring probably doesn’t get much better than this, so why not try it for yourself?