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What’s the best adventure bike?

What's the best adventure bike

The adventure bike market has exploded since Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman rode around the world on 1150cc juggernauts across rivers, down highways and through sand, mud and gravel.

Today there are adventure bikes from 500cc with nothing more advanced than electric start through to 1200cc with more electronic gadgets than James Bond and Maxwell Smart combined.

Disregarding enduro bikes, I have counted 55 adventure models available in Australia, from Aprilia to Zero!

If you count the Ural Ranger outfit, it’s 56, and if you just want some light dirt road riding, you should probably also include scramblers which brings the total above 60 and rising!

Soon there will be a couple of new adventure niches when Honda introduces its adventure scooter and when the sub-500 category arrives, led by the 400cc Royal Enfield Himalayan and the rumoured BMW G 310 GS.

These bikes will make the adventure market skyrocket as they will appeal to less-skilled off-road riders, women and shorter people who are currently disenfranchised by most tall, heavy and powerful adventure bikes.

So what’s the best adventure bike?

The bad news is the answer is not easy, but the good news is there is a bike available that will fit your exact needs.

However, you should first seriously examine your off-road skills and your needs before walking into a dealer and thumping down the hard-earned simply because Charley rode one or you’ve always wanted that brand.

Charley Boorman adventure bike
Charley Boorman

Interestingly, BMW admits that about 90% of R 1200 GS owners never put knobby tyres on the bike and never even venture on to a dirt road, except for roadworks.

Many of the bigger-capacity adventure bikes that come from Europe are really designed for riders to tackle cobblestone streets, rather than off-road conditions.

In fact, when London recently established a quick-response anti-terrorism group, they mounted them on BMW F 800 GS bikes to plough through the gridlock, over kerbs and down cobbled streets!

Adventure bikes are a mixture of road and off-road with varying degrees of ability in each situation.

If you want to go hard-core dirt riding, get a ute and an enduro bike.

But that’s not adventure riding. The essence of adventure riding is that you can tour to interesting places on the road less travelled.What's the best adventure bike

Adventure bike riding was created for riders who didn’t want the hassle of servicing their bike every few hours and transporting it on a ute.

Adventurers want to be able to walk out to their garage, hop on a bike and ride hundreds of kilometres on a highway in comfort and style, then hit the forestry roads and outback tracks before turning around and riding back down the highway, or maybe camping out overnight thanks to the generous luggage capacity of the bike.

To determine the best bike for you, make a true confession to yourself about your off-road riding skills. The less experienced you are, the lighter the bike should be.

In fact, buy the lightest bike you can that will do all what you need. Do NOT be peer-pressured into buying a 1200 juggernaut!

There are many riders who bought a 1200 and are now down-sizing because they can’t handle the weight. That’s why BMW has nine GS models from 650cc to 1200cc.

What's the best adventure bike
Big versus small

But it’s difficult to get former road riders to go down in capacity because they think a smaller bike will be uncomfortable on the tar transport stages to the dirty weekend fun.

However, many of the smaller-capacity, single-cylinder bikes have comfortable seats, wind protection and balancers in the engine.

More than proving their off-road ability, bikes like the new Himalayan have to prove they are comfortable on the highway!

Work out what percentage of the time you will be on the tar and what percentage you will be on the dirt and then go find the bike that is best suited to that mix.

Don’t worry, there is one out there to suit your needs. That’s the best adventure bike for you!

What's the best adventure bike
Even a Bonneville will do some light off-road work!
  1. A 1985 KLR600B1 was my ideal adventure bike. It did everything: commuting, racetrack ride days, advanced riding courses, interstate touring, weekend firetrail exploration etc etc.

  2. I just love my Suzuki V-strom 650. Fabulous all-round sports adventure bike and it’s reliability, durability and great value for money is a good reason why it remains among the most popular bikes in its category.

    1. I agree .I sold a 1050 Tiger to get on a 800 XCSE Tiger , then was asked to ride a new 2016 Dl 650 and guess what I have now ?

      I ripper DL650 the one I demo`d on .

      Its great .plenty of grunt ,wire rims ,plenty big enough for a 73 year old .

      1. I also bought a new DL650 last year, and yes it has a comfortable seat and it’s reliable, but at highway speeds the helmet buffeting becomes so intolerable I have to stop every 50-100 km distance. When pressed, dealers will concede that the yes, the DL650 does have issues. I’m 180 cm tall, I wear an expensive well rated helmet, and I’ve fitted an after market GIVI Airflow screen which is supposed to fix the problem, but it hasn’t. I feel the buffeting on the top, sides and back of my head, and is completely random, on both calm and windy days. I’ll probably sell the bike and find an alternative.

  3. I still have a Husky TR650 Terra…Yep its a bastard child but it sadly had its production stopped by others who were frightened of its status. Cost ability was way underestimated. Yes there were a few teething issues but to stop production a few months after aquisition by KTM must tell you something.
    It is powerful for its capacity..more than any equal BMW. Same Rotax but on steroids.
    It can handle loads and is frugal with fuel.
    I love it. Yep tested 650s Kawas,Beemers, Suzies and Yammies etc For the money unbelievable.
    Pickit up loaded as easy as.

  4. I have a KLR650 and love it. An adventure bike to me should be capable enough without breaking the bank.
    You drop a BMW in the dirt and cry. You drop a KLR AND LAUGH.

  5. I’ve just sold my GS i did 40,000k on to buy the new gs adventure – but thought I’d test ride the Trumpy and the Super Tenere . Went of the Trump early as the weight put me off.

    To my surprise I found the Super Tenere the best of the three. Am privileged to have been able to spend a day riding the BM and the Super Ten on the same tracks. This was my criteria in order to go for the Super Ten.

    1) Dirt roads and some single track – I could predict the Super Ten handling better, and therefore rode faster with more confidence. (was the suspension better on the Super Ten?). Maybe its Yamaha’s unprecedented reputation with dirt bike design coming through.
    2) On road – I found they were on par with each other. The Super maybe needs a different seat – could just be me though.
    3) Power and torque favoured the BM but I could not really notice this on dirt or road. On the dirt we had about a dozen “off the line drags” The Super Ten generally edged out the BM. The Yam just felt more low down torquey. We judged the tyres to be of fairly equal off capability too.
    4) Electronics – generally on par with each bike. Couldn’t turn ABS off on the Super Ten but the 10’s abs seems to be set up still to skid and dig in, so I felt the ABS actually worked on dirt. Both have heaps of on the fly suspension settings heated grips, cruise control etc etc etc.

    I have a lot of off road experience, and feel the Super ten is better off road. Are we stuck in a rut where we just keep buying the GS cause thats what we do?? I almost did until I rode the Super Ten hard in the Aussie bush.

  6. Hi. I come from Vietnam . We usualy use Honda XR 150 250, or CRF 150 250. Because You don’t need more than a 250cc . The roads are out of this world! So small and twisty, .This motorbike tour offers a great ride on many beautiful mountain passes and stunning winding roads, chance to see breathtaking landscapes and friendly people

  7. Just rode a Tiger 800 xcx around Australia. Mostly on Tar. On the same trip my mate rode a BMW 1200GS (2010 model). We camped every night and were away for 4 months averaging about 500km per day. The bikes had vastly different feel and we had no problems carting our gear on our bikes. The BMW was noticeably heavier but more relaxed on the road. In the dirt the Tigers lighter weight was welcomed but essentially both bikes were more than capable of dirt roads. We would often dump our gear at a camp site and venture into the dirt with no gear. This made dirt riding fun. With these sorts of bikes when you venture into the dirt you need to be in a group. Otherwise you would never pick the bike up when you drop it. We both agree that we would have done more dirt riding if we were on lighter bikes but for the loop around Australia both these bikes were great.

  8. Amazing road trip. Everyday adventures. Be spontaneous, break with the routine, make everyday life into your experience. Everyday, the adventure is right outside your front door – make it yours with the G 310 GS

  9. Hi just after some feed back, I am looking at buying an adventure bike which will do more on road than off road work, I am looking at vstrom 1000 and Africa twin. has anyone ridden both? would like your views if you have .

    1. Hi dave,
      It depends on a lot of things: your mix of road to off-road, big distances, touring, luggage, pillion, your ability, etc.
      Can’t beat the V-Strom 650 and 1000 for value. If you really don’t need the extra power, the 650 is fine.
      If you are not considering anything bigger (which is a good idea), you should also consider the BMW F 850 GS, KTM 790 and 950 Adventure and the Yamaha 700 Tenere.

  10. Thanks for a thoughtful article. Returning to biking after 20 years road and trail. I agree with lighter is better. My issue is being 192 cm with a 90 cm inseam. This makes taller more appealing. Looking at mostly weekend to week long road riding with say 30% off road/camping. Thus the gs 1200 appeals. I’d appreciate other thoughts on this. Thanks.

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