Best On-Off-Road / Adventure Motorcycle of 2014

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On-Off-Road / Adventure Motorcycle of the Year Winner:

BMW R1200GS and KTM 1190 Adventure (tie)

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Yeah, we know, calling a tie seems a cop out and a way to avoid pissing off one of these two manufacturers. The truth is, we haven’t yet been able to compare these adventure models directly. But one thing is clear: There are no better bikes for exploring far-flung roads regardless of their surfaces, paved or not.

We’ve tested the BMW R1200GS and KTM 1190 Adventure separately (2014 KTM 1190 Adventure Review & 2013 BMW R1200GS Review). From those individual reviews we know that both are highly enticing globetrotters, with potent 1200cc twin-cylinder engines, electronic rider aids including traction control, ride modes and ABS, accommodating riding positions, and similarly priced. They are so closely matched that the results of a head-to-head shootout will likely be determined mostly by the terrain chosen to test them on.

On paved roads, the BMW’s comfort and all-around versatility will be balanced by similar capabilities from the KTM but with a motor that pumps out nearly 15 extra horses. Output from BMW’s new wasser-Boxer is delivered lower in the rev range and boasts a slight torque advantage, again, at a lower rpm. The 1190 Adventure is faster, but the power of the GS is more accessible.

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A GS rider benefits from shaft drive, while a Katoom pilot will be saddled with chain maintenance. The Paralever shaft also contributes to the BMW’s weight penalty over its rival, scaling in at 525 pounds to the 1190’s 507 pounds. So, the comfy GS (and its simpler to adjust windscreen) might be preferable on highways and byways, but the lighter KTM will likely have a slight advantage when ridden off-road. The BMW’s tractoring ability and balance at a crawl will be counterbalanced by the Adventure’s outstanding performance on faster, rougher terrain.

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Price may also be a key factor in a final verdict, and various levels of trim makes direct comparisons murky. The base GS, if you can find one, retails for $16,100, while the 1190 Adventure starts at $16,499. However, for the BMW to have an electronically adjustable suspension like the base KTM, it’ll require BMW’s poorly titled Standard Package which adds $1,495 and includes heated grips and cruise control that’ll cost extra or is unavailable, respectively, on the Adventure.

Regardless of which you or we choose, the runner-up will be a winner in its own right. Overgrown dirtbikes with transcontinental capabilities have never been better.

Motorcycle.com Best of 2014 Categories

Best Motorcycles of 2014 Best Value Motorcycle Best Sport Bike
Best Cruiser Motorcycle Best Touring Motorcycle Best Standard Motorcycle
Best Sport Touring Motorcycle Best Dirt Bike Best On-Off Road Adventure Motorcycle
Best Streetfighter/Hooligan Motorcycle Best Scooter Best Electric Motorcycle
Best New Motorcycle Technology Best Motorcycle Product
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  • Vrooom

    That does seem like a copout! I think I’d lean towards getting a Tiger 800 if I ever sell my V-Strom. Those Smaller Tigers seem to have plenty of power for touring and handle great offroad. I have a hard time getting used to the lack of flywheel feel of the KTM in slow challenging terrain. The BMW would require a second mortgage by the time you price all the options they seem to have on the bikes they stock. Both the 1190 and 1200GS are nice bikes though, no question.

    • VeganLondonMan

      After riding the new BMW R1200GS, the new V-Strom 1000 and the KTM Adv (R), I second your opinion about flywheel effect. Interesting because BMW has added the heavier flywheel to both versions of the R1200GS for 2015, so you don’t need to pay extra for the GS(A) to get that heavy flywheel anymore.

    • TonyCarlos

      You can order the BMW you want with your options, rather than take what’s in stock.

  • ChainsawCharlie

    Would have been interesting to see/know how far off the new Super Tenere was from these two.

    • dustysquito .

      I’ve seen the Super Tenere handle terrain that my buddy was doing on his Tiger 800XC. They’re surprisingly capable off the pavement. I wouldn’t go single tracking with one, but I would put the Tenere against the 1200GSA any day.

  • Donnie

    Don’t kid yourself, these are street bikes, not dirt bikes. I’ve figured out that most big adventure bike riders think that a gravel road is offroad. Sorry, If I can drive my wife’s car down the same trail you are riding on, it isn’t offroad.
    I own a GSA, but I don’t kid myself in thinking that it is anything but a comfortable street bike.

    • dustysquito .

      Was it this site or motorcycle-usa that made the remark that the 1200GS is a contender for “BMW’s best street bike.” I’ve test ridden a 2014 GS when they had one of their “dealer days,” and it was easily the fastest, most comfortable street bike I had ridden, but I would never consider it an adventure bike like my DR650. That kind of weight is for cruising down the highway and hitting twisties, not picking up off your leg when you wipe out in the dirt.

  • John B.

    A tie in this category constitutes a great win for KTM. In fact, it would seem KTM has the inside track for manufacturer of the year.

  • GSA RiDeR 4 Lyfe

    Donnie, I have personally rode mine up Genoa Peak Road on the east shore of Lake Tahoe many times and my friend Dr.George Hendy the plastic surgeon in my neighbor hood come with me too. These are dirt bikes with street capabilies.

    • Chris Winter

      That might just depend on the tires, load and notion of “off-roading”. I can do a gravel path with a Bonnie, my roadie Tiger 800 (which now has full road/rain tires) or a Honda CBR if need be, so I second earlier comments here: A gravel road does not off-roading make.

      Having said that, I would rather use a Tiger 800 of Beamer 800 for the Adventure bit: More nimble, easier to pick up if need be. Or a Honda NC 750X. They are truly cool, fun and easy to pick up.

  • hvmnl

    These are street bikes with offroad capabilities, not the other way around. Take a look at a Suzuki DRZ400 or a KTM 350 Freeride for the other thing.