Modern adventure motorcycles are incredibly versatile machines. They can lean into curves and corners with ease, comfortably cruise across continental highways, and tear it up in the dirt without a fuss. More often than not, the greatest adventure that these motorcycles see is a pothole or a deep puddle on the way to and from the office—but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t up to the task of crossing deserts and slamming around mountain passes.
Whether they’re used for casual commuting or hardcore touring, one thing is for sure: everyone loves adventure bikes. But before we go about cataloging a list of our favorites, we’d better take a look at what an adventure bike really is, because the term is used fairly liberally these days.
What Defines an Adventure Motorcycle?
Generally speaking, a real adventure motorcycle should be equipped with long travel suspension, a front wheel with a diameter of at least 19” (21” is better) and be capable of tackling unsealed roads and rough terrain. It should also be comfortable for long-distance road riding and equipped with luggage options or mounting points for optional bags. In short: it needs to be something that won’t fall over at the first sight of sand, can handle well on the road, and is a joy to ride.
In our opinion, these are the best adventure motorcycles ever made—but since there is no universal metric to measure “best” we fully expect (and welcome) some staunch disagreement.
Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro
The Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro is the updated version of the Tiger 800 XC, and even though we loved the outgoing Tiger, the new one is even better. It has now been optimized for real off-road riding. And the secret to its success is the new engine.
Using an 888cc inline 3, the Tiger now features a new crankshaft that allows for an unorthodox firing order that sees two cylinders fire close together, giving the Tiger a kind of thumping twin feel. The result makes it responsive to trails, and smooth on roads. Plus, it has a dedicated off-road riding mode that eases the ABS and traction control and keeps an eye on the power. There’s a mode that disables all electronic interference too, for purists.
It can go the distance off-road, but it’s also packed with comfort-focused goodies for long days in the saddle. These include heated grips, multiple riding modes, traction control cruise control, advanced cornering ABS, and a big TFT display. The Pro version also includes heated seats, tire pressure monitoring, Bluetooth connectivity, and a quickshifter!
The only stumbling block is the price. It isn’t the cheapest on the market, but you do get a lot of bang for your buck.
Aprilia Caponord 1200
This one is a bit of a cheat. Why? Because it’s an adventure tourer with a definite road bias. Adventure motorcycle lists tend to feature a lot of road-biased tourers like the Ducati Multistrada, Suzuki V-Strom, and Kawasaki Versys, and that’s fine. However, if you want to talk about the best adventure motorcycle for journeying predominantly on roads, then you need to talk about the Aprilia Caponord 1200.
The Aprilia Caponord 1200 was an adventure touring motorcycle that was manufactured between 2013 and 2017. During those years it had some of the best specs in the segment—specs that still impress owners to this day. With the full “Travel Pack” accessory kit, the Caponord had semi-active suspension, which provided excellent damping for two-up travel, even in challenging conditions.
Aprilia’s 90-degree 1,187cc V-twin engine also received acclaim. Boasting 125 horsepower and 85 lb-ft of torque, with a nice power spread in the mid-range, this V-twin also had a number of riding aids that made it a pleasure to ride. These included selectable traction control options, ABS, and smartphone connectivity. Plus, the bike also came with panniers, a giant fuel tank, and a list of optional accessories as long as your arm.
All for a price that undercuts most of the premium competition.
Moto Guzzi Stelvio 1200 NTX
Photo Credit: motorcyclespecs.co.za
The Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX is an often over-looked and under-appreciated adventure motorcycle. Named after the legendary Stelvio Pass, the Moto Guzzi Stelvio was the brand’s attempt at taking on the likes of the BMW R 1200 GS. The result was a heavy-duty adventure motorcycle that ticked all of the right boxes—with a very attractive price tag too. The North American market was given the NTX model, which came with all the bells and whistles as standard.
Aside from the prerequisite large spoked front wheel and long travel suspension, the Stelvio was equipped with a big gas tank, hard luggage, handguards, and a tall windscreen. It also included top-level technology, such as ABS (that can be disabled) and traction control too.
Using Moto Guzzi’s air and oil-cooled 1151 cc V-twin engine, the Stelvio was able to produce a handsome 103 horsepower and 83 lb-ft of torque. It was great on sealed roads, though a little sketchy on rougher surfaces. Like all Guzzis, the whole package felt a little agricultural in nature, but for an off-roading adventure machine, that is no bad thing.
Plus, it undercut the price tag of its competition by a significant margin.
The Moto Guzzi V85 TT is the Stelvio’s spiritual successor, and by all accounts, it seems to be another stellar adventure machine from the Italian manufacturer.
Kawasaki KLR 650
For those who consider an “adventure” to be more of an off-road affair, then something like the Kawasaki KLR 650 is an obvious choice. While it lacks the wow-factor and the shopping list of accessories and bolt-on bits and pieces, it arguably one of the best overland adventure machines available. What it lacks in charisma and bling it more than makes up for in practicality.
If you’re off on an adventure, there are a few things that should be priorities: reliability, comfort, and durability. The Kawasaki KLR 650 has all of those things. It’s powered by a rock-solid 651cc liquid-cooled single-cylinder engine that produces 37 horsepower and 33.4 lb-ft of torque. It’s got the power, it’s reliable, and it’s comfortable too. In fact, it’s even been used on a few global circumnavigation adventures.
What’s the secret to its success? It’s affordable and simple. You don’t have to re-mortgage your home to own one or buy all the branded gear to pretend you’re a part of a club either. And if anything goes wrong on your adventure, fixing the problem won’t require a trip to a specialist technician with fancy computer readouts and tools. A simple toolkit will get you unstuck most of the time.
Royal Enfield Himalayan
The Royal Enfield Himalayan is another adventure motorcycle that we’ve chosen because of its rugged simplicity and outright affordability. Brand new, you can buy a Himalayan directly from the dealership for under $5000. In return, you’re given a budget-friendly, no-frills touring machine that you can take deep into the unknown. It didn’t get the Himalayan name for no reason.
It’s not without its shortcomings. It lacks in horsepower and that can be frustrating if you’ve got to cover a lot of miles on roads. It also lacks any modern features that many riders have come to rely on, such as traction control.
What you do get is an unbelievably simple 411 cc single-cylinder, oil-cooled 4-stroke engine that produces 24.5 horses and 23.6 lb-ft of torque. The engine is wrapped in a modern, adventure-focused package, with plenty of ground clearance, long travel suspension, and luggage racks.
If you break it, you can fix it. If you drop it, for starting prices of around $5,000, it’s not a big deal. Putting a scratch on your Himalayan is more like a cool battle scar. Putting a similar scratch on your Multistrada, however, is a costly mistake.
For riders who prefer a “less is more” approach to adventuring, then the simple Royal Enfield Himalayan is exactly what you need.
Honda XRV750 Africa Twin
The older African Twin models are classics. The earlier 650s were great fun, but here to talk about the XRV750 versions. Made between 1990 and 2003, the XRV750 Africa Twin was a very special motorcycle. Inspired by the Paris-Dakar desert racing machines, the XRV750 is a tough dual sport model that ticks all the right boxes.
It’s got long travel suspension, bold twin headlights, a large windscreen, a dual-sport seat, wide handlebars, and a very comfortable upright riding position. Power is provided by a 742cc V-twin engine that produces 61 horsepower and 46.2 lb-ft of torque. It’s not overly powerful, but the abundance of torque makes up for the underwhelming horsepower rating. It’s a V-twin after all.
It’s not a sports tourer. Instead, it’s an enduro bike that you can tour on. There are many who would say that it’s not really up to the task of crossing deserts. But then again, if you were to enter the XRV750 into the Dakar Rally, it would make it to the finish line. It certainly won’t win though.
The newer CRF1000L Africa Twin is an amazing adventure motorcycle, but the old-school models have something special about them. And you can pick the older generation Africa Twins up for a fraction of the price.
Yamaha Super Tenere
The Super Tenere: you either call it an adventure bike or you don’t. It has a lot of adventure touring DNA, but it definitely leans towards sealed road cruising rather than sincere off-road riding. But that’s ok. Adventure riding means different things to different riders. Some riders prefer to stay on sealed roads and rarely venture off-road.
But even then, the Super Tenere isn’t bad. Since it comes with long-travel suspension and a large diameter front wheel, it can handle rough roads. Its downfall is the low ground clearance—this makes it an unattractive option for hardcore off-road adventurers. On-road, however, the Super Tenere is an absolute dream.
The current Yamaha XT1200Z Super Tenere ES draws power from a potent 1,199cc parallel-twin engine. It produces 108.5 horsepower and 84.2 lb-ft of torque, delivered to the wheel using a six-speed gearbox and a shaft drive.
The engine is great, but the electronics suite and other goodies are even better. Yamaha’s traction control (with off-road mode), electronically adjustable suspension, ABS, and cruise control make road touring an absolute breeze. Add in a comfortable seat, a tall windscreen, hand protectors, a skid plate, and luggage attachments, and you have a formidable adventure motorcycle.
BMW R 1200 GS
The big BMW GS is an inescapable feature on any list about adventure motorcycles. It has to be included, whether you love it or hate it. While many will argue that the GS is an overpriced poser bike, the GS single-handedly helped to define the segment. Ever since Ewan and Charley propelled the R 1150 GS tourer into the mainstream, it’s been BMW’s best-selling motorcycle and one of the most popular motorcycles in the world, year after year, in whatever engine configuration.
For this list, we’re focusing on the liquid-cooled R 1200 GS. The first liquid-cooled GS arrived in 2013 before being replaced by the larger displacement R 1250 GS in 2019. In its best form, the 1200 GS featured a 1,170cc boxer-twin engine that can make about 117 horsepower and 84 lb-ft of torque. Fast on the roads, the GS could hit 60 mph from a standstill in 2.9 seconds and reach top speeds of up to 137 mph.
While these BMWs are great on roads for long-distance rides, they also excel off-road too. Well, within reason. Given their bulk, you won’t be bundling over boulders and scrambling up dry river beds in a hurry, but on a bumpy unsealed road, these things can fly.
Great on highways, capable over loose gravel, and packed full of technology and riding aids: the R 1200 GS is a great adventure bike. But unfortunately for the 1200 GS, BMW makes something better.
BMW F 850 GS
The big boy GS always grabs the headlines. It’s always on these lists as the best BMW adventure motorcycle, but in reality—and if we had to choose something to take us on an adventure—we’d choose the F 850 GS instead.
This middle-weight GS isn’t a scaled-down R 1250 GS. It uses an 853cc parallel-twin engine, it has different frame geometry and offers a different ride experience. It would be easy to say that it’s smaller and therefore handles better off-road than a lot of bigger adventure bikes, but that’s not actually true. Fully fuelled, the 850 GS isn’t that light. It also has a shorter travel suspension than similar machinery too…but that doesn’t seem to matter. Off-road, it handles like a dream.
On-road, it’s just as capable. Armed with 90 horsepower, 63 lb-ft of torque, and a top speed hovering around the 125 mph marker, it’s a please to ride on the road. Plus, it features a range of practical BMW riding aids, luggage mounts, and everything you’d need for full-blown adventure.
It will never replace a real dirt bike for off-road riding, but it can handle the bumps and the loose stuff with ease. Out on the highways, it feels smooth and comfortable, putting many dedicated sports tourers to shame. The BMW F 850 GS is exactly what you expect from an adventure motorcycle—but with zero compromises.
KTM 790 Adventure R
KTM knows a thing or two about making formidable off-road motorcycle and adventure machines. The 1290 Super Adventure is a great adventure machine, the 1290 Super Duke GT is an amazing sports-touring machine, and the 500 EXC-F is a trail-riding wonder machine. But there’s one model in their current line-up that takes the best features of the above models, and rolls it into one very capable machine: the KTM 790 Adventure R.
Built around KTM’s celebrated 799cc LC8 engine, the 790 Adventure R is a motorcycle that’s designed specifically for adventure riding. It features real off-roading hardware, from the beefy tires to the longer travel WP suspension, as standard—all in a lightweight, nimble, and dirt-ready package. To make it a real adventurer, KTM also focused on delivering a potent road riding experience too.
To do this, KTM treated the Adventure R to a whole host of advanced riding aids that help make blacktop riding a joy. These include advanced cornering and off-road ABS, traction control, selectable riding modes, and KTM’s connected MY RIDE smartphone integration system. Add in a windscreen, luggage, and a comfortable riding seat, and you’ve got a motorcycle that you can confidently ride across the globe, in almost any situation.