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Why are adventure bikes getting bigger?

Harley plans adventure, streetfighters and electric bicycles missing
Pan America 1250

When Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor rode around the world in 2004 on BMW R 1150 GS Adventure bikes we saw how difficult the bigger bikes were in tough terrain.

Since then, BMW has gone to an R 1200 GS and now an even bigger R 1250 GS.

BMW boxer R models all get Shiftcam technology
BMW R 1250 GS Adventure HP

Meanwhile, Ducati from a Multistrada 1200 to 1260 and KTM Super Adventure from 1190 to 1290.

Now Harley-Davidson is promising a 1250cc Pan America adventure bike in the next couple of years.

Do we really need bigger and more powerful adventure bikes?

Sure, the new bikes come with a host of electronics that make them easier to ride in tough terrain.

But even a Harley-Davidson cruiser in the right hands can do some adventure work.

Just check out this video where a BMW R 1200 GS has a hard time keeping up with a female cruiser rider!

How embarrassing!

But does that mean we should be buying bigger bikes to go adventure riding?

Is bigger better?

No doubt Charley and Ewan played a big part in the popularity of BMW’s 1200cc GS models and the advent of similar-sized models from Ducati, KTM, Yamaha, Triumph and Moto Guzzi.

Charley Boorman big adventurer
Charley in the Flinders Ranges

Most are a tour de force of electronic wizardry that allow riders to adventure further and further off piste.

But if there is one thing any off-road rider will tell you is that they expect to crash.

That’s fine on a small bike, but on a tall and heavy behemoth like this new crop of adventure bikes, even a small crash can have big consequences.

Even if your bike survive the crash, you may not. And there may still be a 230kg+ bike to wrestle back to its vertical position.Bigger adventure bikes

But in recent years, adventure riders and adventure bikes are downsizing.

The slightly smaller 998cc Honda Africa Twin quickly became a top-selling adventure bike in Australia. Honda is also rumoured to be making a smaller version.

And Moto Guzzi is replacing its 1150cc Stelvio next year with an 853cc V85 TT.

Moto Guzzi V85 TT arrives mid-2019 season
V85 TT

The new generation of scramblers are now adding more off-road oriented versions to appeal to those wishing to downsize from behemoth adventurers.

There is also now a baby adventure sector for novice adventurers. The include the Kawasaki Versys-X 300, BMW G 310 GS, 400cc Royal Enfield Himalayan, Honda CB500X, Honda 190cc Night Hawk and Suzuki “Baby-Strom” DL250.

Kawasaki Versys-X 300 available light bulb
Kawasaki Versys-X 300

While we don’t expect riders to head off into the single trails on their Harleys, we should be seeing more smaller adventure bikes in the outback.

  1. Thanks for this review. I dont agree with the use of words like ‘baby’ to describe adv. bikes and also the suggestion they are for novice riders. It just promotes the concept that you aren’t an accomplished adv. rider until you are on a ‘real’ bike as opposed to a baby one.

  2. The mistake you make with the “bigger” R1200GS and 1250GS is that they are actually smaller than the 1150GS. Sure, the engine is bigger (slightly), but the bike isn’t. The 1150GS ADV was the heaviest GS BMW ever made. As for the female Harley-Ferguson rider out-riding the GS rider, I’d like to make two points: 1) gender is not relevant to ability (I’ve been riding almost fifty years and plenty of women leave me in their dust off-road) and 2) she probably knows what she’s doing and he doesn’t, so the type of bike is probably not relevant. Harley-Fergusons are so over-weight to begin with that I think the size comparison is largely invalid anyway. Having said that, I think your overall point is valid, to a point. I’ve been riding an F800GS for the last several years and with my short legs do find it a handful from time-to-time off-road, but adventure riding includes a lot of bitumen between the dirty bits and smaller bikes are just too damn slow and uncomfortable, as well as having limited carrying capacity and often limited fuel range.

  3. TO MENTION the SWM Suprdual 650 as this would be the only reasonable bike (Euro 4 compliant and not discontinued like DR or KLR) doing everything well incl freeway/highway mile munching where the 4-500cc sometimes lack a bit of grunt – and at a reasonable weight.

  4. I read an article in a British Magazine a couple of years ago where Ewan McGregor stated that there first choice of machines was KTM, however they would not back them. BMW came along and they guy’s preferred machine was the 650 cc singles, however BMW insisted on the ‘big GS’s. Ewan further stated that given the size and weight of the GS’S, they could not have made the trip without the back-up crew.

  5. I agree with Liz, in rough conditions a light agile bike always wins,has way more options and deployable skills(ever seen a 1200cc trials bike). If you come across rain ruts\trenches on a small,light bike you can either hop them or ride straight through,but not on a massive heavy bike. Range due to fuel consumption is usually better on a small machine with a big tank. IMO the only practical call for big machines really is carrying capacity.

  6. the places the New South Wales and other Australian BMW touring clubs ventured to with the /5 in the old days is legendary. The new nine T GS and Nine T /5 will prove to be wonderful adventure bikes in theory

    1. on the off camber, slippery clay sections, single figures km down from the Dargo HighPlains rd turnoff on Mt Hotham, (part one of the alpine tours that the BMW clubs ride), I found when it was raining/drizzling Ive had to watch it (even on a postie). I have heard and seen that people doing these organised tours have fallen and broken wrists and arms there(not a judgement of the BMW brand as it would happen easily on any heavier machine,if I was to choose one for this and similar roads/ones with different but equal challenges, it would be their smallest enduro single). Basically, Id have it that there are mutually exclusive weight requirements for great road and great offroad bikes,(offroad,light) (on road,200kg or more/ high speed stability/control authority in small bumps etc). Many manufacturers do tend to drift towards road bias over time as universal attributes, but in reality i think they are-only some of the time. People who are attracted by ktms performance and light weight can overlook the smaller oil capacity, and lower long term rendundancy that is provided with BMW,KLR/DR and others like them.

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