Rugged Rides – Top 10 Adventure Motorcycles
Going exploring? Here are our best adventure motorcycle options!
Updated August 28, 2018
The problem with trying to write up a Top List for adventure motorcycles is that everyone has a different opinion of what an adventure bike truly is. Different people have different ideas about what an “adventure” even is, so it’s hardly surprising that the segment is hard to define. For some riders, an adventure involves a long slog on the highway broken up by a couple of dirt roads they know on the other side of the interstate. For others, it means standing on the pegs for hours at a time, weaving through pot holes and churning up mud every step of the way.
Another major issue is that a lot of the major manufacturers are quite happy to put the word “adventure” across the tank of something in their line up and market it as something that’s capable of traversing deserts and jungles without a hiccup. And that’s not really true for a lot of those so-called adventure bikes out there.
For a start, you’ve got that category of motorcycles that look like an adventure tourer should look – an upright riding position, longer suspension travel, a front screen – but they’re really far more at home in urban environments. Next, you’ve got the other extreme: utilitarian dirt bikes that really can scale mountains and cross rivers, but they’re not much fun when you’re trying to clock serious mileage on decent roads with your camping gear strapped across the non-existent seat. The ideal adventure motorcycle needs to take the best elements of both of those worlds and fuse them together in a usable package.
Since there’s no real clear consensus on what an adventure motorcycle truly is, this list is going to cover all bases. We’ve got a few themed adventure motorcycles into the mix, but for the most part we’ve decided opt for motorcycles that can actually handle off-road terrain. And by off-road terrain, we mean real off-road terrain – not a sandy path or a slightly muddy puddle. So let’s start with the more urban focused adventure machines:
Intrepid Rides: Top 10 Adventure Motorcycles
First up we’ve got Kawasaki Versys. There’s no denying that the Versys is an exceptional motorcycle – it’s ideal for commuting, highway riding, and long distance touring. However, as an adventure motorcycle, it’s not as good as it could be. You see, it’s more of an adventure themed bike than a real adventure motorcycle but it’s more than capable of getting the job done providing that you know the bike’s limitations and respect them. Will it allow you to explore a few good off road trails? Yes. Will it successfully take you across the Gobi Desert? Unlikely.
If you’re looking for a versatile motorbike that you’re mainly going to be riding on the roads, then this is a great choice for an adventure motorcycle. The parallel twin engine has nice, smooth power delivery and offers exceptional mileage. Couple that with the practicality of a comfortable seat for long distance riding, and other rider comforts such as a tall windscreen and a relaxed riding position, and you’ve got a great package on your hands – just don’t expect it to win many off-road races while you’re riding it.
Next up, we’ve got the Suzuki V-Strom 650. The V-Strom is very much like the Kawasaki Versys in that it is more of a themed bike rather than a true adventure motorcycle. However, it scores a little higher than the Kawasaki thanks to the fact that it comes armed with a more off-road oriented 19 inch front wheel – which does go a long way when you’re trying to navigate a rocky trail. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to put it further up the list but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t deserve a mention. The fuel-injected, 645cc V-twin engine boasts a healthy 62 hp at 8,900 rpm and around 41.5 lb-ft of torque at 6,400 rpm – and it’s an absolute dream to ride on the road.
Again, it’s a better adventure motorcycle for those who prefer to adventure on paved roads but are easily persuaded to have a look where that overgrown trail goes every now and again – provided that they know when enough is enough though. It’s not particularly great off-road if you’re not an experienced bush whacker. However, if you’re looking for a versatile ride with great mileage to help you tame the urban jungle, then this is an ideal weapon of choice.
Triumph Tiger 800 XCx
While the Versys and V-Strom were obvious choices to kick-start the list, the addition of the Triumph Tiger 800 XCx so early on might upset some people. There’s no denying that the Tiger 800 is a fantastic model. Thanks to that fun triple cylinder engine, it makes for a great sized machine that has enough grunt for a wide range of riding styles but keeps the whole package nice and light and nimble at the same time. Boasting 95 hp at 9,250 rpm and 58 lb-ft of torque at 7,850 rpm, it does exactly what it says on the tin. To make matters even more appealing, Triumph treated the Tiger 800 XCx with proper off-road ABS and traction control making it very easy to ride over rough terrain.
But it doesn’t score higher on our list because of a few things. Firstly, we’re going to feature another 800 next which is just better. Secondly, the suspension on the Triumph is a notorious problem and plenty of reviewers have had a hard time with it – and adventure bike suspension is a fairly crucial thing. And there have been other problems too. Rattling fixtures, a temperamental gearbox, oil leaks, and fuel issues are all regularly reported problems. Now, none of them are major – but if you’re going to be munching miles or heading into the unknown, these minor irritations can either drive you insane or develop into even bigger problems. And that’s the only reason that we’ve bumped it down a little.
In our battle of the 800s, we had one clear winner. Between the Triumph Tiger and the BMW F800GS, it had to be the BMW. As fun and exotic as a triple cylinder engine is, there’s nothing wrong with a good old fashioned parallel twin. With 85hp, 60 lb-ft of torque and boasting a respectable top speed of 130 mph, the BMW is great fun on the roads but it’s even more fun in the dirt. Believe it or not, it’s lighter and more manageable than the Triumph and it feels very sturdy and stable on the rough. As an adventure motorcycle, it is a fantastic option and the F800GS comes with a whole host of luggage options and bolt on additions that you’d expect from a BMW adventure machine.
Like with any motorcycle, there are a few downsides. The BMW F800GS doesn’t score higher on our list because: it’s not the most exciting of motorcycles on the market, the seat isn’t the most comfortable, and there are a lot of ergonomic irritations like the screen being too low, or the footpegs not wide enough for normal human feet. Small problems, true, but problems nonetheless.
Yamaha XT1200Z Super Tenere
The 1,119cc Yamaha Super Tenere is a bit of a wildcard here on the list, since Yamaha aren’t really the most famous manufacturer of adventure motorcycles, are they? That being said, there’s something about the Super Tenere that makes it worthy of note. It’s got a nice and powerful engine, a nice 22.2 inch saddle height, and seems to tick all of the relevant adventure motorcycle boxes – but this is really a road motorcycle wearing off-road clothing. Sure, it can off-road, and it will, but the Yamaha Super Tenere really lends itself to sealed road voyaging rather than hacking its way along an unbeaten path.
And since most adventures require a good deal of road riding, we felt that the Super Tenere deserved a place on the list. Since a lot of the most respected adventure motorcycles on the market are essentially dirt-focused machines that have been re-jigged to accommodate for rider comfort and sensible road riding, we thought it would be nice to add something different: a road motorcycle that has been essentially modified for a bit of off-road exploration. Armed with 108.5 hp at 7,250 rpm and 84.2 lb-torque at 6,000 rpm, the Super Tenere is a great adventure motorcycle for those who need to clock a lot of miles on the road in between off-road excursions.
The Kawasaki KLR650 rarely gets a mention when it comes to lists about adventure motorcycles, and that’s a shame. What we have here is one of the best adventure bikes on the market – and if you’re looking to have a serious adventure, riding one of these will pay dividends. It’s not the most technologically advanced bike out there, and that is one of its best features. No ABS. No fuel injection. No real rider aids. And nothing that can really go wrong. In fact, since the engine is a rather simple single cylinder arrangement, it’s a nice and basic motorcycle that you can fix with whatever you’ve got in your tool kit.
The KLR650’s simplicity might be its appeal, but it also comes with the usual touring and adventure accessories like a front screen, a decent sized gas tank and luggage racks, and of course, it’s an absolute joy to ride. You’re not going to win any prizes for acceleration on the road, but for scrambling up dry river beds or fishtailing in the sand dunes, the KLR650 is a handy companion. And you can pick them up for very good prices, too.
Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro
Yeah, the Ducati Multistrada – but only on the condition that it’s the new Enduro model. While the Ducati Multistrada might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you’re trying to think of potential adventure motorcycles, it’s time to change that mindset. Before, the Multistrada was very much a comfy 160 hp road bike – but thanks to some successful re-engineering from Ducati, the new Enduro model is a ferocious off-roader that can genuinely tackle off-road trails…and with remarkable ease.
Somehow, Ducati have managed to turn it into a nimble machine that can handle technical, slow speed maneuvers on difficult surfaces as well as being an unrestrained animal on the highway. The new dynamic for the Multistrada Enduro comes thanks to revised frame geometry, practical suspension, and a tweaked engine. If you thought that the Multistrada Enduro was just a regular Multi with a few poser bits added to it, you would be 100% wrong. Book a test ride if you’re still not convinced. You will change your mind!
KTM 1290 Super Adventure R
KTM are undoubtedly one of the leading lights in the adventure motorcycles department, and their 2017 updates to the Super Adventure line are incredible. Specifically, we like the 1290 Super Adventure R – it’s a revised machine that comes with so many top-of-the-range bells, whistles and riding aids, it’s hard to know who’s riding who when you take it one for a spin. This is a motorcycle that has been built for real adventure. If you just want to pretend that you’re an adventure motorcyclist, then this is a colossal waste of money. This is the real deal, you see.
Heavily off-road biased, the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R features more than just the 21 and 18 inch spoked front and rear wheels, and much more than the fully adjustable WP suspension package. We don’t need to wax lyrical about how good KTM’s adventure motorcycles are, because the company’s trophy cabinet can do all the talking. However, the 2017 edition comes with some very nice additional options, such as a bi-directional quickshifter, Motor Slip Regulation, Hill Hold Control, and the ability to turn the ABS off on the rear. All great things for when you’re out on the trail.
BMW R1200GS Rallye
It had to be on the list, didn’t it? While it’s fun to poke fun at the big boy of the GS range, and the riders that insist upon wearing their Long Way Round themed adventure suits on their arduous voyage down to the grocery store, let’s not forget that it is an incredibly well engineered motorcycle – bar the recent suspension recall issues, of course. The GS range accounts for a huge portion of BMW Motorrad’s sales, and it’s not hard to see why. At its heart there’s an amazing 1200cc boxer twin that pushes out a fearsome 125 hp at 7,700 rpm and a peak torque figure of 92.2 lb-ft at 6,500 rpm – and that hefty boxer unit actually does more than just power the bike, because it also helps to keep your gravity low and manageable.
Couple that engine with new modern features such as electronic suspension and dynamic traction control and you’ve got a motorcycle that handle exceptionally well at very slow speed, which is very important when you’re navigating across difficult terrain. The handling is absolutely effortless – but it works best in slow conditions, you ain’t gonna be thrashing this one through the dirt at speed. And you wouldn’t want to either, because it’s an expensive toy to drop. That’s why we’re not going to be awarding the BMW R1200GS Rallye the top spot on our list of the best adventure motorcycles.
Honda Africa Twin
Honda have put a lot of effort into their new style Africa Twin, and to be honest, it’s hard to find fault with this motorcycle. Producing 94 hp at 7,500 rpm and 72 lb-ft of torque at 6,000 rpm from its 8-valve parallel twin motor, the Africa Twin is a force to be reckoned with on the highway. In the right hands it can keep up with some of the swiftest sportsbikes on the market, and it handles perfectly on the asphalt. It’s pretty good on the road, but it truly excels in the dirt. Thanks to its compact design, decent ground clearance, and impressive suspension travel, there aren’t many obstacles that the Africa Twin can’t traverse. Coupled with a slipper clutch, it makes riding it off-road an absolute pleasure.
While most modern adventure motorcycles are treated with a bevy of riding aids, the new Africa Twin comes the bare essentials. There’s no ride by wire, there’s no fuel maps, and the traction control options are very limited. To some riders, this is an issue, but if you’re really into adventure riding, the less things that can go wrong, the better. And it’s this stripped down nature that really makes the Africa Twin on of the greatest adventure motorcycles ever made.