Adventure Touring sounds awesome, right? Ride somewhere far away, somewhere most other people never go. Somewhere exciting and remote. Somewhere dangerous. Trouble is, most bikes that claim to be capable of this are just too heavy, too complicated, too luxurious or too road focussed to hang on with the going gets truly rough. Here’s eight bikes that back up their image with genuine capability.
What it takes to go off-road
Well, we suppose that should be more about what it doesn’t take: weight and complication. Ask yourself two questions: Can you pick the bike up? On a slope? In the mud? With all your luggage? With a broken body party? And, once you’ve gotten it up, will you need to fix it and can you? If the answer to any of that is “no,” then you’re not looking at a bike you can trust a million miles from nowhere. Or one that could simply spoil that quick Sunday fire road ride with your buddies.
Oh, and the other thing about ADV bikes is that none of them, none of them, are capable of doing the things you see them doing in ads, in catalogs, in action videos or even here on RideApart without being on the right tires. Our favorites for taking big heavy bikes into places they shouldn’t go? Continental TKC80s. You’ll be surprised at how good they are on-road too, just don’t expect a rear to last more than 3,000 miles.
The little Honda that could. Where most ADV bikes are impossibly tall, it has a low seat height of just 32.1 inches. Conversely, it’s one of the few ADV bikes that also tall person compatible for standing, with completely stock equipment. Just rotate the bars a bit forward to suit.
The magic here lies in the NC’s engine. Its cylinders are canted forward at 62 degrees which combines with the under seat fuel tank to drastically lower the center of gravity. Based on the Honda Fit hatchback’s motor, it also develops pretty much all of its torque just above idle. Both those things make the Honda exceptionally easy to ride, on road or off. No, you’re not going to jumping it down 50-foot step downs or whipping table tops, but for the vast majority of riders who just want to travel to somewhere remote through some difficult terrain, it’ll prove easier and more fun to ride than most of the bigger bikes.
Necessary ADV upgrades: tires, radiator protection, sump guard, lever guards.
Wait, this is a dual sport, isn’t it? Well, it’s also capable of carrying you a long ways in some semblance of comfort and is actually decent off-road. Those two factors are what should describe the ADV segment, right?
Introduced wayyyy back in 1990, the big DR is as simple as it gets — air-cooled single, a double-cradle frame, decent suspension. That 46bhp, 644cc single is equipped with a counter balancer, so it’s less vibey than you might think, and also an electric starter. Suspension isn’t bad with cartridge forks and a linkage shock, but stock tires and ergos are far from dirt friendly. At 366lbs (wet) it’s reasonably light for a bike that’s also comfy over distance, but you’ll need to spend money on bars, pegs, tires and a larger fuel tank before getting to serious on it.
Necessary ADV Upgrades: Ergonomics, Seat, Luggage, Tank, Tires.
Another one for the guys that actually want to enjoy riding off road once they get where they’re going. Yamaha’s revvy little single is surprisingly smooth and frugal, making it as happy on the highway as the big singles. And, once you’ve left dirt behind, you’re rewarded with one of the more capable dual sports available. That capability is reflected in its spec — fancy motor, fancy suspension, aluminum frame — and then predictably its price.
Necessary ADV Upgrades: Seat, Seat, Seat, Seat, Seat, Tank, Luggage.
The KLR is old as dirt, but capable on it as a result. Pre-dating the modern heavyweight ADV craze, Kawasaki basically bolted a big seat, big fairing and big tank onto a dual-sport and called it a day. That approach, and the subsequent lack of updates over the years (introduced in 1987, only moderate changes since) keeps the price down, but you’ll find the outright capability of important stuff like its suspension to be lacking. Oh, and the motor makes just 37bhp.
Necessary ADV Upgrades: Suspension, Protection, Tires, Motor.
Like a DR650 with a few more vibes and a little less weight. And much less fuel capacity — just 2.5 gallons. The stock ergonomics are bizarre; a 37-inch seat combines with pegs so high and bars so low so that, if you’re tall enough to ride one, you’re too tall to stand on one. D’oh. Fix that and you’re rewarded with a capable, bulletproof bike that even manages to be comfy. Like the DR, any mechanic or mechanically inclined person you find anywhere in the world will be able to help you fix one and you may even be able to find parts too.
Necessary ADV Upgrades: Tank, Ergos, Luggage, Subframe, Tires.
Like a highway-legal quad bike, the Ural can go places no other vehicle can. A locking rear differential engages 2WD and will plow the rig through deep mud, snow or nearly any other terrain you can imagine. It’ll do that while carrying a spare tire, a foot pump, jerry can, a complete tool kit (and we mean complete, it’s everything you need) and, should everything go really bad, an oar. There’s room in the passenger compartment for well, a passenger, a dog or enough luggage to keep you totally self-sustained for months at a time. And that’s before you get to the locking trunk. Mechanicals are dead simple and easy to repair yourself, while you’ll find a surprisingly complete knowledge base of these bikes in remote parts of the world, where they’ve likely served as military vehicles. The downside? They’re slow and difficult to ride. Just ask Wes’s crooked left arm.
Necessary ADV Upgrades: a spirit of adventure.
BMW G650GS Sertao
Basically an old F650GS in new clothes, the G650GS is relatively light at 390lbs (dry), dead simple, proven and reliable. Yes, that’s in complete contrast to the company’s other “Adventure” models. Oh, and unlike bigger GS’s, it’s affordable too.
The Sertao — named after the hinterlands of South America — brings a 21-inch front wheel, longer travel suspension, hand guards and a larger screen. Upgrades that make it both more capable and more comfortable. Don’t expect much speed from the 47bhp single-cylinder, but it should, at least, be dead reliable.
Necessary ADV Upgrades: Tires, Protection.
KTM 990 Adventure
The one big ADV bike that actually lives up to the class’s promise. Rides like a big enduro bike off-road, is all-day comfy, good around town and, on reasonable road rubber, capable of keeping up with sport bikes on mountain roads. This Baja edition — an end-of-model special before the more complicated 1190 hits US shores — comes with everything you need to really get out there too, including luggage and tires. Some will worry about the maintenance requirements of the relatively high-strung, liquid-cooled V-Twin, but the overbuilt nature of the KTM means that if you arm yourself with knowledge of how to work on it, and keep it serviced, nothing should really go wrong.
Clever design features abound on the 990 Adventure. Where other ADV bikes move their tanks under the seat in an effort to lower the center of gravity, KTM uses a saddle-style arrangement right up at the front of the bike, where the weight is actually needed. As an added bonus, those extremely heavy-duty plastic tanks double as crash protection. More talented riders than we have successfully put these things around motocross tracks.
Necessary ADV Upgrades: If you get the Baja, nothing. Otherwise you’re looking at tires and luggage.