When it comes to choosing the right adventure bike for you, there are a number of factors you need to address. These differ from beginner to intermediate to advanced level. Our three examples per category will help you to discover the best bike for you.
The highways are getting more clogged, and moving through any downtown area is a nightmare of one-way streets and gridlocks. So is it any wonder that adventure biking is so popular?
A dual sport bike gives you the option to get off the blacktop and explore the less beaten path. Not everyone has experience of life on the loose stuff, or is a dyed in the wool dirt rider, so if this is you, read on.
We'll be taking a look at three adventure bikes for the beginner, followed by three for the intermediate rider, and finally three for the advanced motorcyclist.
By intermediate, we are typically speaking of someone with a few years of road riding under their belt and looking to make the transition to dual sport.
Advanced dual-sport enthusiasts aren’t left out either, as we are turning the spotlight on three top of the range world-shrinking adventure bikes. Sit back and get comfy, all the best adventures start with a good read.
The best way to learn real-world road skills is on the dirt. So it makes sense to look in the direction of our three learner-friendly adventure bikes when you’re ready for your first set of wheels.
Kawasaki Versys-X 300
Every time they suspect they’ve spotted a new gap in the market, Kawasaki seems to extend their Versys range and the X 300 is the latest dualy.
Now don't expect a full-on adventure bike. It comes as standard with no bash plate, crash bars or knobby tires. What you do get though, is a 300cc parallel twin engine pushing out 39hp in an elegant little package.
The engine will give you around 65+ to the gallon, thanks to the 6-speed box and a curb weight of only 173kg. This latter feature is of particular interest to the newbie adventurer as the bike’s lack of bulk makes it wonderfully maneuverable.
The 2018 model gets ABS, and although there’s plenty of room for a pillion, the seat is pretty hard, so expect plenty of stops. Kawasaki obviously listened to criticism about the seat and offered a more thickly padded version in their extensive accessories list.
Seat height comes in at 32” so most riders will be able to plant both feet on the ground. The screen is a decent height, keeping most of the wind off the rider. Bend swinging ability is very impressive, and its nimbleness on the trail makes it very user-friendly
Entering the market at the end of 2017, the baby GS is the result of collaboration between BMW and TVS, which means the bikes are built in India. Don't let this put you off though, quality is the usual BMW standard and if no-one told you its origins, you would never guess. Moving production to the sub-continent has kept pricing competitive.
The engine is a single cylinder 313cc, four valve, liquid-cooled unit, and if you take a good look, you might just notice the reverse cylinder and head. This clever piece of engineering allows for more direct induction and a shorter exhaust pipe.
The 310 gets the trademark GS beak, and although the screen is only just high enough to cover the instruments, it does manage to deflect a decent amount of wind.
As for the saddle, at a fraction under 33’’, it’s the same height as the GS 1200 so you’re going to get a good view of the road in urban environments. Weighing in at 5kg lighter than the Versys, you would expect the engine’s single cylinder to make it slimmer, but the 310 feels substantial.
The GS 310 may be a budget model but it still comes with some nice touches, such as KYB front and rear suspension, Brembo ABS brakes (even if they are the Indian equivalents), a decent size bash plate, and large luggage rack.
Royal Enfield Himalayan
Image credit: Loz Blain
The Royal Enfield brand can trace its lineage way back to 1893. This branch of the family tree, though, comes from India. Enfield's have been built there since 1955, and the Himalayan comes from their brand new state of the art plant in Chennai.
Royal Enfield’s 350cc Bullet roadster has plodded around the world’s most famous mountain range for decades, but the Himalayan is the company’s first attempt at a real adventure bike.
Designed by Ducati’s former head designer, Pierre Terblanche, everything about the 411cc single cylinder bike is new. The Himalayan looks nothing like the rest of the company’s ‘genuine retro’ line-up of roadsters. Instead, it has a welcoming and very useable look, reminiscent of an early Japanese trail bike such as the Honda SL125.
Everything is on display, rather than hiding behind panels and plastic, even the five-speed, 24.5hp engine has an old-school carb. The engine is revvy and smooth-feeling, without needing to be wrung to five-figure rpm's, with peak torque coming in at a leisurely 4,500rpm.
As for physical dimensions, a seat height of 31” makes it the lowest of the group, but interestingly it is also the heaviest by 20lb. Fortunately, the weight is carried low down, which gives it predictability and easy maneuverability making it a real dual sport bike.
These three motorcycles are perfect for those riders making the transition from roadsters to a machine capable of the occasional off-road adventure. User friendliness is a common theme in all of these competent bikes.
The Honda may have big-bike looks, but the moment you throw a leg over it, the slim tank and frame make it easy to plant your feet.
Featuring a twin cylinder, fuel-injected, counterbalanced, DOHC engine, the Honda’s 48hp deliver impeccably. You'll get around 65mpg, and with a 4.5-gallon fuel tank, you’re going to forget where your local gas station is.
Accommodation is comfortable enough for two-up rides and suspension consists of 41mm teles and a Pro-link monoshock at the rear. Both are adjustable for pre-load. This gives added flexibility.
Seventeen-inch tires front and back look chunky, but give away the Honda’s road bias. That’s not to say it can’t handle the dirt, just make sure your adventures involve a long road, and a short trail.
Being a budget model for Honda, the 500 X is gizmo-free in terms of traction control and slipper clutch, etc. Linked ABS on the brakes is about the only onboard tech you’ll find but it’s none the worse for it.
Suzuki V-Strom 650
The V-Strom has been around for a few years now, and the bike has a loyal following due to its reliability and bulletproof nature.
The V-twin, fuel injected engine got an update for 2017 and now delivers its power slightly lower down the rev range which is exactly what you want from a V-twin.
The smallest Strom in the line-up still feels like a big solid bike, but the new model gets a narrower gas tank at the rear to allow easier paddling. The fairing shape is new too, with Suzuki going for the beak look, first brought out in 1991.
The adjustable screen is now slightly taller to make those longs rides that little bit easier. The 650 borrows the instrument layout from its one-liter big brother and consists of a large central analog rev counter with the LCD information consul to the right.
This bike also introduces the intermediate rider to the joys of electronic rider aids with two levels of traction control, which can also be switched off. You get the choice of two different models in the range; the standard, and the slightly more trail orientated XT.
Yamaha XT660Z Tenere
Image Credit: adventure-motorcycling.com
The only single cylinder engine bike of our intermediate group is also the most off-road capable. Pushing out around the same power as the Honda, the water-cooled Yamaha unit is almost more of a dirt bike with road qualities than the other way around.
Other pointers to its dirt credentials are the 35” seat height (yes I did say 35”) and the 21” front wheel. The Tenere also gets some very well thought-out extras too, like the front tow hoop and crash panels on the gas tank.
Being a single cylinder bike, highway speeds can make the engine feel buzzy. Grabbing a handful of brake also makes those long travel forks take a nose-dive, but that’s not really what the Tenere is all about.
The Yamaha Tenere XT660Z is more than capable on the road. It is comfortable enough to test the 200 miles plus tank range, and the view from that commanding perch would be brilliant for cutting through rush hour traffic.
Get off the road and on to the loose stuff though, and the seat height, long travel suspension, and ground clearance, all make much more sense than the Honda or the Suzuki.
Ok, now we get to the big boy's toys, (or girls for that matter). These three bikes represent the top of the range adventure motorcycles currently on the market. They’re huge, not only regarding physical size, but also specification and price.
KTM 1290 Super Adventure R
The KTM is a monster in every sense of the word, and the factory's racing heritage shows in every strand of DNA in the 1290. You'll get the choice of three variations, the street-biased ‘S,' touring friendly ‘T’, and the more off-road capable ‘R.'
The Adventure R gets KTM's trusty LC-8 V twin engine. Thankfully, internal mods like a heavier flywheel and less peaky cams have tamed the beast to a user-friendly 160hp!
To keep all those horses on a tight rein, the R has a chrome molybdenum trellis frame using the power plant as a stressed member. This ladder design is a direct copy of the factory's all-conquering work’s enduro bikes, so it's more than up to the job.
As you would expect, electronic rider aids feature very heavily on the KTM and include motorcycle stability control, lean angle sensitive ABS, cornering traction control four traction control modes.
The 6.5" TFT screen does away with conventional style clocks and from it, you can also link via Bluetooth to your Smartphone or switch to the onboard sat nav.
The KTM will give most sports bikes a run for their money on the road.
The only bike that out-monsters the KTM, is the BMW GSA. On paper, the big BM looks a little feeble and flabby compared to the KTM. The Boxer twin engine pushes out 125hp and carries an extra 50lb of unsprung weight.
As we all know, spec sheets very seldom tell the full story and once underway, the GSA handles on the road and off it in a way that no 550lb bike has a right to.
The front suspension is BMW's tried and tested telelever front fork, which gives over 8" of travel. While at the back, another of the German manufacturer's specialties, the single-sided Paralever with monoshock.
Like the KTM, the GSA uses a trellis type two-piece frame that exploits the rigidity of the engine. If you thought that the KTM’s electronic package was extensive, the BMW can cover that bet and raise the stakes, with Dynamic ESA.
This smart piece of software automatically adjusts the rear suspension to cope with whatever conditions it finds itself traversing. If that weren’t enough, damping and pre-load can also be changed on the fly thanks to a control on the left handlebar switch.
The final card up the GSA’s sleeve, is its ECS facility. This software can be enabled to operate the Emergency Call System, which automatically sends an SOS message with your GPS co-ordinates in the event of a crash, now that’s what I call fancy!
Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sport
Having dominated the whole adventure bike game way back in 1988 with their original Africa Twin, it was surprising that the big H didn’t have one in their current line-up.
This situation was corrected two years ago though, when Honda resurrected the name for their all-new singing and dancing 1000cc Africa Twin. The world voted on the bike’s success with their wallets, and in the two years since its launch, 50,000 units have been sold worldwide.
Although the Honda is probably the least powerful of all the liter-plus adventure bikes, it uses its 94hp to good advantage, even having a firing order that gives it an almost V -twin feel.
Like its original namesake, Honda decided to give the new Africa Twin some genuine off-road capability. They have achieved this by keeping weight to a minimum and going for a 21” front and relatively narrow 150-18 rear tire.
As good as it was however, the Honda did come in for some criticism. Ground clearance, tank range, and suspension were found lacking. Thankfully, this is no longer a problem in the 2018 model.
The latest model is called the Africa Twin Adventure Sport. Fuel capacity is increased to give a tank range of around 300 miles. The Showa suspension has an inch extra travel front and back, and the seat height increased to a lofty 36"
The latest additions to an already great bike have turned the Honda into a true go-anywhere, do-anything bike worthy of its ‘adventure’ name tag.
There is a reason why adventure/dual sports bikes have become so popular. You can cut a swathe through the urban jungle, while enjoying a commanding view over the traffic, and at the weekend, head for the hills.
Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or advanced rider, choosing the right adventure bike for you has never been easier. So what are you waiting for people? There’s an adventure out there with your name on it.