Just hearing someone say BMW adventure motorcycles conjures up images of twisty mountain highways, steep dusty trails, vast deserts, and dense forest roads. BMW is the company that pioneered the adventure motorcycle segment, and it’s the first that comes to mind for most riders when adventure touring is concerned.
The Bavarian company has been expanding its adventure lineup lately, and it now has a robust list of bikes that can satisfy basically any rider out there who has a penchant for taking a motorcycle where Harley folks wouldn’t dare. While there’s plenty of great options, choosing the best BMW adventure motorcycle has never been tougher. That’s why I thought it best to take a detailed look at the lineup and make some recommendations.
You might not agree with my selections, but dear reader, I want you to know that I have your best interest at heart. Below you’ll find what I think is the best BMW adventure motorcycle overall and what I think is the best for specific scenarios or buyers. Before we get into that, though, let’s touch on the history of BMW adventure bikes and the full current lineup.
A Brief History of BMW Adventure Motorcycles
It all started with the 1981 BMW R80 G/S. BMW wanted to build a dual-sport machine that could do more than just tear up the trail and be street legal. It wanted to build a motorcycle that you could tour with, off-road with, commute with, and do basically everything you can think of. The bike that the company created was the machine you see above.
When the bike came out, people didn’t really know what to do with it. Many thought it was simply an enduro with far too much weight. Others found it awkward and unmanageable. What only a few moto-journalists realized was that by compromising a bit in the dirt, they gained so much. The BMW R80 G/S is a motorcycle that really could do everything.
Once the first G/S hit the street, the game was afoot. BMW had opened the adventure motorcycle pandora’s box, and it managed to win the third-edition Dakar rally with Hubert Auriol in the saddle in 1981. It did the same in ‘83, ‘84, and ‘85. Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, BMW continued to refine this design. The early GS bikes are known as airheads.
In the mid-1990s, BMW revised the bike and produced what became known as the oilheads. These bikes served the company well until the end of the 1990s, and the 2000s birthed further design evolutions such as the R 1150 GS and the R 850 GS. This is also when BMW started producing models with the Adventure name attached, which added additional equipment for more extreme adventuring.
Smaller single-cylinder models, like the F 650 GS also became available. These single-cylinder models are often held up as the best off-roaders from this era. BMW was also offering larger adventure bikes like the R 1150 GS.
After that came the parallel-twin models in 2007. BMW started with the F 800 GS and a new F 650 GS. Around that same time, the company improved its big-bike offering, creating the R 1200 GS and R 1200 GS Adventure. Things evolved from there both in the middleweight adventure category and on the higher end, which essentially gets us close to today.
BMW continues to innovate here, and what started with a bike that was called awkward and was misunderstood has become an extremely popular machine that birthed an entirely new segment of the motorcycle market.
What Makes BMW Adventure Motorcycles Special?
In two words: culture and capability. BMW adventure motorcycles have achieved legendary status thanks to years of successful, well-made, durable, and ultimately enjoyable motorcycles.
The simple fact of the matter is that the capabilities BMW built into its GS motorcycles have developed a specific rider culture for the brand. This is a very good thing for BMW, and something other brands will always have a tough time competing with.
Similar to the way there’s an entire culture around Harley-Davidson motorcycles in general or Honda Gold Wings for styling-challenged, comfort-seeking touring riders, the GS line of BMW adventure motorcycles has bred its own kind of rider, one that is always looking for a bigger and better adventure—at least in most cases.
There’s also the posers. We’ve all seen these guys. The ones who buy the most expensive BMW R 1250 GS Adventure only ever ride it to Starbucks and talk about the adventures they’re planning to take. The funny thing about them is, it doesn’t matter. They’re a part of the club whether other BMW adventure riders like it or not. They’re also proving that a GS can and should be used for absolutely anything.
I guess what I’m saying is that the bikes are good, really good, and because they’re so good, they’ve developed a near cult following that has loyalists who won’t be shaken. Perhaps the biggest feat that BMW has pulled off with these bikes is that its adventure motorcycles will fully satisfy you no matter where or how you ride. They’re designed to do everything and do it well.
All BMW Adventure Motorcycles for 2021
If you jump on BMW’s website today to look at the models available in North America, you’ll find eight bikes. The first two I’ve listed below are certainly more sport-touring machines than adventure touring, but you can certainly take them down a dirt road without them dragging their bellies around in the dust.
Otherwise, you have six motorcycles that are designed to go anywhere, whether it be around town or out to the farthest reaches of the toughest trails. It’s important to keep in mind that these machines aren’t dual sportbikes. If you want to do the kinds of things dirt bike riders do, then a dual-sport or enduro is the bike for you. That said, if you want to do a lot of riding with a mixture of pavement and dirt terrain, these BMW adventure motorcycles will thoroughly satisfy you.
- 2021 F 900 XR
- 2021 S 1000 XR
- 2021 G 310 GS
- 2021 F 750 GS
- 2021 F 850 GS
- 2021 F 850 GS Adventure
- 2021 R 1250 GS
- 2021 R 1250 GS Adventure
As you can see, that’s quite the lineup, and there should be something there for everyone. However, if you’re looking for the best BMW adventure motorcycle, you should check out the selections I’ve made below.
The Overall Best BMW Adventure Motorcycle
BMW F 850 GS
Some folks who think bigger equals better will fight me here. I think the BMW F 850 GS is a better motorcycle than the R 1250 GS. The bike is simply a more manageable machine, and it still offers plenty of power and good features. If you wanted a more hardcore off-roader, then the F 850 GS Adventure is a good choice, and I talk more about that below.
The standard F 850 GS offers a lot of value for the money. At a $13,345 starting price, the motorcycle is one of the best middleweight adventure bikes in the world. It’s also the sweet spot in my eyes for the BMW lineup. The bike features a strong 853cc liquid-cooled twin-cylinder inline engine that makes 90 hp and 63 lb-ft of torque. That’s enough power for comfortable highway riding and enough grunt to get you through tough situations in the dirt.
I chose this one over the R 1250 GS because it’s about $4,500 less expensive and can do pretty much everything the R 1250 GS can. It’s nimbler, thinner between the thighs, and just generally a little easier to handle. The R 1250 GS is still an amazing bike, but I’d rather save the money and get the F 850 GS.
The Best Value BMW Adventure Motorcycle
BMW G 310 GS
Honestly, the BMW F 850 GS is a great value for the money, but, the best value is the BMW G 310 GS. It’s a motorcycle that can do a whole heck of a lot for a low MSRP of only $5,795. The motorcycle is a great all-around little workhorse. It has real off-road capability and it’s equally at home on the street.
The bike gets a 313cc liquid-cooled single-cylinder engine that makes 34 hp and 21 lb-ft of torque. That engine is mated to a six-speed transmission. It’s a good bike for a lot of different riders from the newbie to the veteran adventure rider who doesn’t want to have to deal with much weight.
When I was thinking of the best value option in BMW’s adventure motorcycle lineup, I almost settled on the F 750 GS, which is a great bike. I didn’t select it because it’s quite a bit more expensive than this bike and offers less suspension travel. It’ll be more at home at high speeds, but is less of a good all-around motorcycle.
The Best BMW Adventure Motorcycle for the Dirt
BMW F 850 GS Adventure
When it comes to the best BMW adventure motorcycle for the rider who wants to spend a lot of time on the dirt, I’d point to the BMW F 850 GS Adventure. The reasons listed above for the motorcycle to be the top pick overall, count here, too.
What makes this an even better off-road bike is that the Adventure model comes with a larger fuel tank—23 liters (6 gallons) instead of 15—additional protection for the engine and drivetrain components, height-adjustable windscreen, riding modes, and improved electronics.
This motorcycle is designed to take the extremely competent F 850 GS and turn it into a machine that can handle any terrain with ease. If you’re going to go pretty far off the beaten track, and you want a BMW motorcycle, this is the one I’d buy.
The Best BMW Adventure Motorcycle for Touring
BMW R 1250 GS
Adventure touring is about finding those trails and dirt roads, but it’s also about touring across the country or around the world. While the bikes listed above will let you do that, if you’re really into the touring side of things, you can do no better than the BMW R 1250 GS.
The model is built to gobble up the miles. It features a 1,254cc twin-cylinder boxer engine that makes 136 hp and 105 lb-ft of torque. It’s a good engine with smooth power that is right at home at touring speeds.
The R 1250 GS will handle situations off the pavement well, but it can also be a fantastic bike to take on long road trips. The saddle is extremely comfortable, the ride smooth, and there is good wind protection and plenty of technology features to keep you happy. It’s not cheap, though. The bike has a starting price of $17,895, and while that money gets you quite a lot, you’ve got to have somewhat deep pockets to make it happen.
Best Used BMW Adventure Motorcycles
BMW F 800 GS
If you’re after a good BMW adventure motorcycle that’s used, then your first look should be to the BMW F 800 GS. It’s the bike that preceded the F 850 GS, and it’s nearly as good. The fact of the matter is that the BMW F 850 GS is just a better version of this bike, so if you need to save a few bucks and buy a used machine, you won’t do much better than this.
This motorcycle is a veritable do-it-all machine designed to put a grin on your face. Ask anyone who owns one of these, and you’re bound to get that rider fawning over their bike. The F 800 GS features an inline two-cylinder, liquid-cooled engine with a displacement of 798cc. That engine makes about 85 hp, which is enough for pretty much everything.
The F 800 GS comes with rain and road riding modes and ABS. Electronic suspension adjustment and electronic stability control are options. In general, this is a motorcycle that was designed to be the best adventure bike on earth, and it’s still a top-quality machine today. Keep an eye out for these on the used market. You should be able to find one under $10,000, which is a steal in my mind.
Read more about this bike.
BMW R 1200 GS Adventure
I listed the BMW R 1250 GS as the best new adventure touring motorcycle for touring, but the equivalent generation before it, the R 1200 GS is still a fantastic motorcycle and one way for you to get the big adventure bike from BMW without paying such a high price tag.
The BMW R 1200 GS might not be the newest and most advanced bike out there, but it still offers a whole heck of a lot in terms of power, abilities, and features. The motorcycle comes with a flat-twin 1,170cc engine that manages to churn out right around 100 hp, which when paired with the R 1200 GS’s fantastic suspension and chassis is enough to get you basically anywhere on the earth comfortably.
The R 1200 GS can be found everywhere. BMW sold loads of them, so there are plenty of well-maintained options out there. Prices will vary depending on mileage and condition, but you should be able to find one for just over $10,000 that’s ready to roll.
Read more about this bike.