Not having saddlebags on your ADV bike is good for at least one thing: a good excuse not to camp out – and since these three all clock in at around $13,000, the occasional cheap hotel or Airbnb cabin won’t break the bank. Ducati, in fact, offers a Touring Pack for its new Multistrada 950 that includes (really good) sidebags, Suzuki offers same-key hard bags too on the V-Strom 1000 – but we left them behind because we’re going bare-bones with this little less-is-more test.

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What at first seemed to us like a pretty disparate threesome actually turns out to have a lot in common: The wet weight spread is only 28 pounds, the horsepower spread is just 6 – and all three bikes stroke their 19-inch-front / 17-rear wheel combos through a decent amount of wheel travel, even if the BMW R nineT Urban G/S has least and is the lowest of the three. That seems fitting since it’s also the hipsterish mount here, more suited for taking your best gal to a picnic of organic wine and kale salad (though there’s no place to carry the basket, really) than crashing manfully through the underbrush like the other two bikes.

Which is why it finished last in this group, but maybe only because we had no flower children pillions along on this ride? In any case, when you’re shopping down here in the discount ADV bin, you’re probably only having one bike, which means that one has to do it all: Short hop, commute, sport ride, weekends away. Here’s how we rank them after a fair bit of each.

BMW R nineT Urban G/S – 85.3%

The Urban G/S actually does have a bit more suspension stroke than the original R nineT, but only a bit – 5mm more stroke in its right-way-up 43mm fork, and 20mm more stroke in its rear Paralever – for grand totals of 4.9 and 5.5 inches of wheel travel. That places it at a slight disadvantage when it’s time to follow the other bikes down the rock-strewn dirt road we chose for part of our test loop this time. Though it’s the lightest bike here, at six pounds under the quarter-ton mark, it’s also the closest one to the ground, which causes prudent riders to pick their lines a bit more carefully and take a little more time. (Okay, just me maybe. Sean and Scott left me in their dust whichever bike I was on.) It’s also got a lower handlebar, which makes standing up on the pegs not nearly as natural as on the other two bikes.

R nineT First Ride Review

In slashing the price tag to $12,995, one of the things BMW did was to use cheaper suspension units with no adjustability save rear preload, and what you see is what you feel as you carry as much speed as you dare along yon rocky mountain road. She’s pretty short of wheelbase, too, and letting your speed creep up can result in a handful of plunging, bucking Beemer if you should hit an unexpected pothole or two in between a couple of large rocks, whoa Nellie…

V-Stom 1000 vs Urban GS vs Multistrada 950

Mild wall rides are perfectly appropriate for some softcore ADV fun.

All you have to do to make it all good, though, is take it a bit slower. For short people, it’s nice that they can touch the ground when they need to. Being able to turn the ABS off is a good thing, and the short gearing, light clutch, and torquey Boxer make picking your way along feel safe and sure-footed in mostly second gear. On a smooth dirt trail, its low cg would make the low, grunty Urban a hoot. If you want to go fast off-road, BMW makes a few other motorcycles for that.

The wire spoke wheels are actually a $500 option, but we’re pretending the Urban doesn’t have them for this test.

Our man Scott Rousseau from is also down with the Urban program, agreeing that in spite of its limited travel, the BMW (and the other two bikes) work surprisingly well off-road given their intended usage. We assumed the Urban was more styling homage to the original 1980 GS, but its performance is more than skin deep.

Back on pavement, it’s just as big a hoot to ride as the other R nineTs. In fact, if your intended usage is Urban runabout (which its name doesn’t just imply but states), the Urban maybe wins this thing, thanks to its light-ish weight, off-idle grunt and short stature. For some reason it seems to take up less garage space, and of these three it’s the one you naturally hop on for a quick blat to the beach or to pick up a couple items at the H.E.B.

The BMW is kind of the Walden Pond Special. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles, but heated grips are standard and so is switchable ABS.

For longer overnight jaunts like the one we went on, though, the BMW’s vestigial beak and snout give the least wind protection, its handlebar makes you compress your intestines the most to reach the grips, it’s got the least legroom, and its seat is the least comfortable after an hour.

Also as we’ve mentioned before, any time cruising speed gets much past 75 mph, short overall gearing introduces quite a bit of Boxer rumble into the grips and footpegs. Where the V-Strom and Multistrada just seem to be hitting their 80-mph stride, the Urban’s big 1170cc Boxer is busier than it needs to be.

Ducati Multistrada 950 – 89.0%

We’ve loved us some Multistrada 1200s in the past, but the 1200 S that came close to winning our Epic Eight-Bike comparo two years ago is a $21k-plus, 567-pound (with bags) rig. Then there was the 647-pound, $24k Multistrada Enduro Pro that finished second in last year’s Wire-Wheel Adventure Deal. Great bike if you can deal with all that weight from a 34.3-inch seat. I’m sure I speak for many of us who love the idea of a Ducati ADV bike of more manageable proportions.

Multistrada 950 Preview

Well, here it is. The official MO scales have the 950 at 522 pounds all topped up with 5.3 gallons of Premium (no bags), with a 33.1-inch seat height, and lower and taller ones available. Instead of the big 1200 V-Twin with Desmodromic Variable Timing, you’re getting a 937cc 11-degree Testastretta unit which is almost as lovable. Other things you won’t be getting include the 1200 Multi’s TFT display, electronic suspension, cruise control… personally, the only thing I really miss is CC.

The Ducati’s clean lines are impressive, especially around the rear. It looks as good without its hard bags as it does with them.

Just like the bigger-engined Multi, Rousseau was impressed (all of us were) by the 950’s ability to run smoothly along at 2000-4000 rpm, in first or second gear, through miles of rocky switchbacks. Last year, Scott said of the 1200, “I would never have believed that an engine designed primarily for road use can be so capable in the dirt,” and the 950 upholds that tradition. With it’s light slip/assist clutch, you can pretty much leave it in second gear and trail ride happily along at any speed from 10 to 30 mph, first gear’s good for crawling along through tough sections.

It’s a pretty comfy cockpit in there, and a plush ride that sucks up big bumps when it needs to. No more electronic suspension for you, though, and no more cruise control.

Switching the Duc into Enduro mode dials the power back a bit and adjusts the ABS and TC (you can go in and adjust them independently as well), and 6.7 inches of suspension travel at either end seems like almost enough most of the time – the Multi maintaining its composure pretty well through all kinds of semi-big hits and g-outs. (With cast wheels on two of the bikes, street tires and no real engine guards on any of them, we took it slightly easier than we would’ve if we’d been wearing protection, as none of us are big on hiking.)

The biggest complaint concerned engine heat. In slow going, the Ducati puts out a bit more around the rider’s lower legs and feet – and this was on a day where temps at 6000 feet never exceeded about 80 degrees. The Duc’s sit-down-in-it ergos feel really natural for most riders whether sitting or standing, and popping the rubber inserts out of the footpegs turns them into large, knurled platforms if needed for snotty conditions.

Some complain it puts out a bit more heat in fast going on the road too; Rousseau thinks the engine should be called Testaroasta. But I think that was more the ambient 109-degree temp we encountered when life intruded and forced us down to the base of the San Bernardino Mountains. Luckily, right when the heat was beginning to suck, a cloudburst provided us with a nice cooling shower.

On the freeway, the 950’s got plenty of smooth power, a compliant ride, and a comfy saddle. Its narrowish windshield has an excellent one-hand mechanism for sliding up and down, and in the taller position it provides a quiet still-air pocket for most of us.

On the Dynojet, we’re looking at 100 rear-wheel horsepower, which is more than enough, and the fact we’re producing really good torque at just 3500 rpm makes the 10,000-rpm redline even sweeter: You’ll seldom rev the Multi that hard, but that’s 2000 rpm more headroom than the other two bikes, and it sounds as fantastic as any Ducati. It’s a miracle of modern electronic control that the thing can be such an animal on top and plonk so easily along at jogging speed.

The Ducati makes the most horsepower, but its smallest engine produces the least torque. Even with 133 fewer cc, the Suzuki traces a smoother, cleaner line than the Boxer that you can feel on the road, though both make nearly identical numbers.

In street-racer mode, for 170-pound me, the ride is almost too compliant. Even after I stiffened up the all-adjustable suspension, I was feeling more fore-and-aft pitching on the brakes and gas than on other Multis. Sean and Scott, who both outweigh me and must’ve been riding lower in the bike’s stroke, said they were having none of it.

Again, the slip/assist clutch is light but with a narrow engagement band that can be a little awkward. The gearbox is good, but not great; some riders find the occasional false neutral.

End of complaints.

Suzuki V-Strom 1000 – 89.9%

I don’t remember the last time a Suzuki won a comparison, and I don’t remember the last time it was the most expensive bike compared to a BMW and a Ducati. But the new V-Strom 1000 has achieved both things here, if only by $4 over the BMW. Maybe it was unfair of us to throw the big V-Strom 1000 in with all those other bigger, more expensive ADV bikes two years ago? This lighter, smaller group is really where it belongs – and the subtle but significant upgrades Suzuki gave it for 2018 make it even sweeter.

2018 V-Strom 1000 and 1000 XT First Ride

While they were making the 1037cc V-Twin Euro 4-compliant, they were also able to make it more user-friendly; there’s very little off-idle abruptness anymore, though Sean A. did remark upon a bit of low-rpm surge in the slowest parts of our rocky off-road section. I frankly didn’t notice as I was busy target fixating on the largest rocks, but I do love that this engine’s torque peak happens at just 4000 rpm, and that that peak is damn near 70 lb-ft. The whole package, at 511 lbs, is 10 less than the Ducati (and exactly what Suzuki claims).

Concentrate on how well the bike fits Big Dirty Sean and ignore the Kawasaki jacket.

For off-road, we all liked the Suzuki’s suspension best; I think somebody said “magic carpet,” and a proficient rider on this thing can motor down rocky fire roads at speeds that appear semi-foolhardy. That excellent suspension tuning had it easily winning both Suspension and our Ergonomics/Comfort categories. She’s sprung a bit stiffer than the Ducati and can be flung down the road like the old TL1000S this engine first saw daylight in, but much more comfortably and controllably. Sean felt like what niggling suspension problems he had could be fixed with a flat-blade screwdriver, but none of them were serious enough that we bothered.

Big guys fit the V-Strom better than the other bikes, and most small ones do also. Sean, who’s the biggest of us all, complained about a little helmet buffeting, but for the rest of us, the slipperier and svelter plastic and the taller, more aero windscreen make the V-Strom the most serene of these three for sucking up long stretches.

Everybody likes the Suzuki’s clean, easy-read instruments best – and the 12v outlet is right there too.

The ’Strom doesn’t have a bunch of different ride modes like the Ducati, and we don’t really miss them. What it does have is three-level TC that’s super easy to adjust on the fly: Level 1 is good for most off-road situations, 2 is good when it’s slick and slippery, and 0 is good for guys who don’t like TC. You’re not allowed to turn off the ABS, but the good news is that the new IMU-controlled lean-sensitive system also works pretty well in loose off-road conditions. And if you really insist, you can just pop the fuse to disarm the system.

On the road in maniac mode, those brakes are the strongest ones here, and the V-Strom feels like it needs its TC powering out of tight corners in the lower gears, thanks again to that bull moose of a grunty engine. Funny, it’s all done at 94.1 horsepower at 8000 rpm, just like the BMW, but somehow the Suzuki’s V-Twin feels more satisfying. For one thing, it’s got a broader spread from torque peak to power peak, and the Suzuki’s geared taller for a much more relaxing 80-mph cruise. Its light clutch and six-speed gearbox easily won that category also.

Almost military looking in its basic, rugged design, but purposeful with it. Note the big rear rack and grab handles and plenty of places for bungee hooks. Still a shame about that exhaust valve right before the muffler, though.

Sean and Scott both rated the Ducati’s handling higher, and I’m with them on dirt roads. On pavement, for me, the Suzuki is the most planted and confident – feeling more like a tall sportbike than the other two. Once back on the freeway home and registering 109 degrees ambient air temp on its easy-to-read and inclusive instrument panel, the Suzuki’s excellent ergos and heat control also make it the ride of choice. Add all that stuff up and it’s an easy win for the V-Strom 1000. Better still, for just $300 more you can get the 1000 XT, which comes with tubeless wire-spoke wheels and an aluminum handlebar.

This is a great class of motorcycle for people who want to go adventuring without breaking the bank, and this one might be MO’s favorite Suzuki of them all. Very nice.

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  • Jon Jones

    Hard to beat the Suzuki. Love my ’06.

    • Terry DeVerona

      My ’06 too.
      But, the ’14 changes made a great bike better, so the owners of both all agree.

      • Jon Jones

        Indeed, will have to score a nice used ’14-’17 when one heads my way.


    As much as I wanted to like the Ducati best I find myself liking the VStrom better.

    • Born to Ride

      The V-Strom is simply mechanical perfection. If someone told me I had to buy one bike today to last me the rest of my life, it’d be the good ol DL1000.

      • Jon Jones

        Brings tears to my eyes…

        • Born to Ride

          I’ll buy one some day. Wish they had a sport version with lumpier cams and 17″ wheels. A diet would help too.

          • Jon Jones

            Indeed, an updated and lightened TLR would be wonderful.

    • Jon Jones

      Very easy to maintain the V-Strom, doesn’t need much at all.

      Ducati service prices are scary.

  • SerSamsquamsh

    I wouldn’t pick any of these over an Africa Twin is also $13K. With winter coming up and you can pick up a V-strom with a giant discount. It’s not super exciting but it’s very competent. The one with gold wire wheels looks pretty good in person actually.

    • Stuki Moi

      The ‘Strom is a MUCH better sport bike impersonator than the AT. The AT turns into a chopper, once you start getting some lean on. And TC on the ‘Strom is much better calibrated for pavement. On the AT, it will spin up the rear just enough to startle, then cut power too abruptly. The ‘Strom’s system is more like the ones on sport bikes and BMW/KTM Advs.

      As a straight up tourer, the AT has it all over the rest of the field. It’s implausibly comfortable, serene and composed for just droning along. Coddles like a Gold Wing on stilts. The ‘Strom is comfortable as well, but the more sport bike like suspension, starts taking it’s toll quicker on bumpier roads. And the engine is less smooth.

      • SerSamsquamsh

        “Gold wing on stilts” – I like that:)

        • Stuki Moi

          I’m not exaggerating. It’s by far the most comfortable mile eating ADV bike out there, since at least the late 1150GS kitted out with an Aeroflow half fairing. Heck, the Honda is even more comfortable, due to the suppler suspension and less vibey engine.

          And compared to that massive GS, the Honda feels like you are riding a mountain bike. Just one that stands comparison with pure tourers in the comfort, stability and serenity department.

          • SerSamsquamsh

            I took one for a spin and didn’t want to give it back. I think it’s the best looking ADV as well. I’d probably ride more if I had one.

      • WalterFeldman

        First thing I do when I start my AT is turn the traction control off or level 1 if the roads are wet. No idea why Honda chose the crap default TC setting but this solves the problem.

        Didn’t notice much chopper action while twisty strafing but if that’s the price of the 10″ suspension travel, I’ll happily pay it. I can still go way too fast on public roads.

        But the DCT is the real reason I got the AT. Amazing tech that really allows the motor to punch above its weight. Can’t wait till more makers offer it.

        The one feature I really miss is cruise control. If Suzuki added it to the Strom they’d steal some sales for sure….

        • Stuki Moi

          The AT handles fine enough. It’s just a bit less buttoned down than the ‘Strom. And a lot less so than the 636 (not fair, I know….) Particularly in side to side transitions and on the brakes.

          And it doesn’t reward treating it like a big supermoto, the way the ‘Strom does. Even though the ‘Strom is more tourer than SuMo as well, the stiff alu frame and suspension lets you be much more forceful with the bars, without having it all disappear in a mush of frame flex and wallowing suspension. The ‘Strom seems purpose tuned to be a “sport bike” when one-up, and a softer and smoother tourer when 2 up.

          I would assume Honda did their TC calibration in the dirt. On the street, it’s at best a safety net. Definitely not a rider aid allowing one to go faster, the way sportbike systems are.

          McCruise in Australia sells a well reviewed aftermarket cruise control, for both the ‘Strom and AT, I believe. I would want factory cruise as well, but based on my experience with RBW throttles, not if it means ditching the throttle cables for that particular dullification technology.

  • Old MOron

    Hooray for the bike from Hamamatsu!
    Most agree it’s not the prettiest bike, but look at what a favorable scene and lighting can do. I wish my appearance was improved so easily!×519.jpg

    • BDan75

      I’ve noticed that most people appreciate my looks more when they’re blinded by the sun, too…

  • Sentinel

    Great job guys, I really enjoyed it all. I’m really interested in the V-Strom 1000. My problem is I have about a 29″ inseam. I’d have to find a way of getting my feet closer to the ground on it. I’ve seen there are a few lower seats available for it, one of which knocks it down about 1″. I’ve also seen lowering links available that will knock it down 1″ as well. I’ll be looking for a test ride on one before too long here, but I’ll be on my tip-toes when I do. I’m not sure which route would be better, either the lower seat or the lowering links, or both? What do yo guys think?

    • john burns

      I’d try the lower seat. My inseam’s only 30 and I think Scott’s is shorter.

    • Born to Ride

      Get the low seat first. You’d be surprised how quickly you get used to putting down one foot or being on the balls of your feet. My Multi has something like a 33-34″ saddle and I make due with my 30″ inseam.

      • Sentinel

        I’m also thinking worst-case-scenario, such as loaded top and side cases
        (much of the time), add a passenger to that (sometimes), and also the
        occasional wet weather to that mix. The more foot I can get down the
        better. I wonder if I could get a test ride, or at least a chance to sit
        on one with the low seat installed? I’ll look into that when I’m ready.

        • Born to Ride

          I usually have my saddlebags installed and loaded but seldom do I have a passenger. I could imagine some anxiety in that scenario but I have become so accustomed to counterbalanced steering with my inside boot off the peg and skimming the ground that I don’t think about the ride height anymore.

    • sgray44444

      If the 1000 is anything like the 650, it’s cake to put on lowering links.

      • Sentinel

        I’m very seriously considering 7/8 lower links and a lower seat. I think it’s an unbeatable bike for all around use without real world limitations. The only bike that may surpass it is a BMW R1200GS, but then you’re spending another 7-8 thousand dollars. I just don’t have that kind of money.

        • sgray44444

          I hear you about the $$. I’ve owned 2 different DL650’s and I can tell you they are also great bikes… maybe even the perfect compromise. I would think that the 1K is more of everything.

  • Born to Ride

    I am saddened that the fashion exercise GS made it into this comparison and not the burly and capable desert sled. I have been waiting for a moronic shakedown of that bike on home turf for a while now. Sigh…

  • Mad4TheCrest

    I know you can’t have every bike that might fit in every comparo, but I’m curious how the Triumph Tiger 800 might stand up against these three. The power and torque figures are only down a bit from these three, and the weight I would think would make it competitive. The electronics seem just about as good (though not quite up to the Strom’s lean-sensitive goodness), and I think the 19″ front wheel version fits shorter riders pretty well.

    By way of a disclaimer and also an ode to the pleasures of the long travel suspension found in this class: I own an older, less electricky Tiger 800 and though bought for boring commuter duty (at which it excelled) I have found I enjoy riding it over our deteriorating mountain roads in ‘sportbike’ mode. That longer travel suspension, though bum-basic as it is, makes washboard ripples almost disappear, where my fillings would be rattling out when on my lighter, sportier bike. I somehow forget the long wheelbase and less than truesport-sticky tires when serenely bombing along the paved (poorly) backroads. Who cares about dirt? These things are the future of weekend sport riding if our roads keep falling apart …

    • Born to Ride

      That’s exactly how I feel about my Multi 1100S. I find myself pushing harder because of that extra travel soaking up all the confidence sapping bumps at full lean. I find myself wondering if I’d be quicker on a Streetie or a decked out old Hyper for half the money.

    • hipsabad

      yup! I think of them as heavy supermotos

    • I think the 800s are probably the ideal size for ADV, but it seems the biggest market and most attention are to the open-classers.

  • Bmwclay

    What happened to BMW’s 3 year, 36,000 mile warranty? When did that go away?

    • john burns

      whoops! spec chart error. Let me fix that…

  • Why are open-class ADV’s so heavy when such amazing strides have been made with sportbikes like the BMW S1000RR and Ducati Panigale and middleweight standards like the FZ-07?

    • sgray44444

      Good question. I would guess that it comes down to having a backbone strong enough to support all of the massive cases everyone wants to attach to these bikes. I like light bikes, but I would usually be willing to add some poundage to make sure the durability is there on any bike with off-road pretensions. Heck, forget off road… try Ohio roads! Could they make a light dual sport that would handle massive amounts of gear? That said, over 600 lbs. is just too heavy for ANY bike, in my opinion.

    • Born to Ride

      The FZ07 is a tiny bike and the Panigale is literally an engine with bare minimum structural components bolted on. Try plowing down some washboard roads all day every day and see if those cases don’t crack. Not only do the subframes on these ADV bikes need to be beefy enough to handle 100lbs+ of additional load, but it can’t fail under inevitable tipovers and harsh terrain. I’d love to see a 400lb DL1000 too, but not at the cost of functionality.