If we wanted to spend our existence living in pampered luxury like Fran Drescher's Pomeranian, we would reject dangerous, hot, dirty motorcycles and buy Lincoln Towncars to transport us from air-conditioned office to shag-carpeted home theatre. But we crave danger, adversity and adventure. A thousand miles is just around the corner to us, and just because a road is a broken line on a map doesn't make it an insurmountable obstacle.
We need a motorcycle that can take us and our camping equipment, luggage and maybe a reluctant spouse on the freeway and twisty paved roads, roads that might lead to the previously mentioned broken lines on the map. This all means we need a motor powerful enough to pass at freeway speeds fully loaded, a chassis and tires that can handle twisty paved roads, and enough dirt capability to get us to our campsite in one unscuffed, unfatigued piece.
That is what we here at MO think an Adventure Tourer is.
We all know the benchmark of this genre of motorcycle is the original BMW R80GS. Introduced in 1982, the GS combined a smooth, powerful and torquey motor with a chassis and suspension that could handle either smooth dirt roads or the torturous Paris-Dakar rally with sufficient modification. Instantly a hit in Europe, this niche wasn't exploited by most manufacturers in the United States until very recently.
But with aging baby boomers looking for powerful, fun to ride bikes that serve as commuters, tourers or Sunday morning hooligan tools, there is suddenly a plethora of choices. Your faithful MOrons enjoy these bikes as well, and the response to our June, 2005 "It Ain't the Tool" shootout showed us you are interested, too.
There are more choices out there than the five bikes we selected for our test, but we found four bikes we knew you'd be interested in, plus one you should be interested in.
First we have the Suzuki DL1000 V-Strom. You can read the technical details in the "Tool" shootout, but it follows the Adventure Tourer formula nicely: big two-cylinder motor, long travel suspension, dirt bike handlebars, off road wheel sizes and a small fairing. As a Suzuki, it's widely available, reliable and priced reasonably at just $8,999. Can it hang with the more expensive European competition?
Next is the Suzuki's sister in spirit, the Triumph Tiger. The Tiger has been reviewed in MO as part of our last adventure tourer shootout and alone here. It was liked back then for having a comfortable seat and an easy-to-use, powerful motor.
To appease our readers who want Paris-Dakar credibility in their daily driver, we present two of the top competitors, the KTM 950 Adventurer and BMW R1200GS.
The KTM is a landmark machine from the Austrian company. The 942cc, 75 degree four-valve liquid-cooled V-twin engine was a first for KTM when introduced in 2003. It's good for 91 HP and 61 foot-pounds of torque and one of the lightest V-twin powerplants on the market.
It's bolted into a tubular chromoly space frame and uses 48mm WP forks up front and an elegant aluminum swingarm in the back, clamping real dual-sport sized spoked wheels. The wheels are protected by Pirelli dual-sport tires; the front is a 90/90-21 and the rear is a meaty 150/70-18. Braking is covered by a pair of 310 mm front discs and a 240mm rear disc. KTM topped it off with a 5.8 gallon fuel tank, a futuristic windshield and a halfway decent seat. Locking hard luggage is included on all 2005 950 Adventurers sourced through Hepco & Becker, and looks like it will survive the apocalypse.
An adventure tour without a BMW GS-series would be like opera without large singing women. We therefore present a 2005 R 1200 GS. We've already discussed this latest in the GS series last year. Sean makes it clear that he loves this bike, which is significantly lighter, faster and better handling than the slightly lardy model it replaced.
There we have over $46,000 worth of motorcycles, but do you need to spend big money to have big fun? We also had a 2005 Kawasaki KLR 650 in the MO garage, so we decided to send it along too.
After all, the KLR is also an adventure-tourer, if a budget one. Introduced in 1987, the liquid-cooled 650cc single is mostly the same, with just a few upgrades. We have tested it a few times now, most recently this month for our "It Ain't the Tool: The Shootout" story.
For riders, we drafted our usual MO crew: Publisher Sean "Dirty" Alexander with his high level of both dirt and pavement riding expertise, Feature Editor Gabe "Gabezilla" Ets-Hokin and Managing Editor Pete "Petey" Brissette to give the perspective of experienced street riders with minimal dirt skills, and our friend Jack "Strawman" Straw, owner of a 1988 BMW GS and experienced street and dirt rider. Jack came along so we could hear what a real-world motorcyclist thinks of these bikes in actual use. Photographer Alfonse "Fonzie" Palaima also came, transporting the fifth bike and playing caboose when not being the engineer.
For our destination, we assaulted the area around Big Bear Lake in Southern California. Just 100 miles from MO's Torrance, CA headquarters, Big Bear offers campgrounds, graded fire roads, lakes, twisty roads, liquor stores and Mexican restaurants: everything needed for serious evaluation.
Mix it all together and what do you get? Many gallons of burned fuel, dusty Aerostiches, sore backs and knees, a jumbo Wal-Mart tent full of farting and snoring, and plenty of notes about what works - and doesn't - in Adventure touring.
5th - Triumph
Let's make one thing clear about the Tiger: this is no enduro. It's a sport tourer with a big gas tank.
We all agreed that it has a great motor. The only triple in the bunch let us know what it was every time we rode it with a distinctive exhaust note that turned into a Ferrari-like howl. Even "tuned for torque", the docile and smooth motor still packs a punch at high rpms, while turning in a very decent 40.6 mpg average fuel economy. With a comfortable, adjustable seat and a decent windscreen that doesn't buffet too badly, the Triumph makes an excellent tourer. The bags are narrow enough for lane splitting, if not as high quality as the KTM's, but they lock and are included in the bike's $10,499 MSRP.
The smooth motor, decent luggage and wind protection make the Tiger Gabe's favorite on the freeway and twisty roads. Pete liked the Tiger on two-lane blacktop as well, but both he and Sean had other favorites. This shows that if the Tiger has a flaw on the street, it's that it doesn't have the edgy attitude that makes adventure bikes fun to own. As Petey says, "El Tigre is generally uninspiring." But the good suspension, ergonomics and solid feel won Gabe over to the British approach to touring and sporting riding.
But just as Gabe was prepared to buy vinegar for his French Fries and neglect his oral hygiene, he got his turn on the "improved" fire roads with the Tiger. At first, it was OK: the Tiger's low seat, manageable power and low center of gravity made it OK on dirt roads, as long as the surface was firmly packed.
The trouble started on a seemingly endless stretch of road deep with sand and dust. The Tiger's heavy front end wanted to "push" on soft surfaces, and Gabe found himself going into long, slow tank-slappers and speed wobbles. Gabe reported "an eight MPH tank-slapper isn't as terrifying as an 80MPH one, but you do get more sympathy from the 80 MPH crash." As it was, dumping the Tiger in that turn made us realize it's not a dual-sport either. An R1 would probably have been just as good for that stretch of the journey, and we would have had a better story.
The other testers were no more impressed. Jack felt like he was "beating up" the street-oriented Tiger, and Sean called the hapless triple "completely hopeless" in the dirt, as he did the V-Strom. Petey stoically endured his time on the Tiger and V-Strom, anticipating the fun he would have on the more dirt-oriented machines. Because of the failed experiment in the dirt, the Tiger was next to last in the fire-road competition.
4th - V-Strom
If adventure touring was all on paved roads, the V-Strom would be king. It has everything you need to be king of the road: smooth, torquey motor, firm yet compliant suspension, comfortable, upright seating and an overall feeling of purpose and quality.
On the freeway, the Suzuki is one of the better bikes here, with the only problem being the turbulence whipped up by that smallish windscreen way out in front of the rider. But even that can be mitigated by adjusting the windscreen in any one of three positions. If you can set the screen properly for your preferences, the comfortable seat and 40 mpg fuel economy (average) means you can go a long way without getting sore. We would like to applaud Suzuki's engineers for adding a slick remote preload adjuster knob for the rear shock, something which should be on every motorcycle big enough to carry a passenger. On many modern bikes adjusting the spring preload is a 20-minute job: with the V-Strom it's a snap.
When you get to the twisty roads, that flexible motor and good quality suspension allow you to keep anybody on anything in sight, as long as you are a competent rider. You get the joys of a big V-twin engine, without the sorrows of torture-rack sportbike ergonomics. It has great stability, is very easy to point into corners, and the commanding seating position gives confidence. The V-Strom was Sean's choice on twisty pavement: the neutral handling enables your riding to flow and gives good feedback, and the rest of us liked the V-Strom enough to vote it second best on twisty roads and interstates alike.
The party ends for Herr V-Strom when the pavement does. Even though ground clearance is not a problem on graded fire roads, its weight, tall gearing, and street tires keep it from being manageable in the dirt. Too much weight on the front end makes the front tire get stuck into ruts in sand and deep dust. Jack said it "was the worst in the dirt." because it had stiff suspension and is over-braked. Sean had fun riding it in the dirt (because if you're Sean, everything is fun to ride in the dirt), but acknowledged it was no dirt bike. Pete called it a "big loser" in the dirt, and as an inexperienced dirt rider, Gabe just gritted his teeth and plugged along on the V-Strom on fire roads, praying he wouldn't dump that bike as well before his turn on the KLR. It's no surprise the V-Strom was voted least favorite on fire roads, although it's more than competent doing anything involving pavement.
3rd - KLR
If the GS is James Brown, the KLR is Little Richard. But maybe the KLR should be James Brown? It is, after all, much harder working.
For instance, the KLR is pretty much using every last one of its 38 HP on the freeway where the other bikes are just loping along in top gear. The KLR can cruise at 90, but it's straining to do it with its buzzy, industrial motor. Also, the seat foam squashes down until you feel like you're sitting almost on the pan. Fortunately, the seat is big and wide enough to allow the rider to move around enough to drain the six-gallon fuel tank. With an average of 44.9 mpg, that's 269 miles to empty. Unfortunately, Pete found that "freeway time in excess of more than half an hour would be unpleasant with all that vibration", although nobody else complained about 60-mile humps on the KLR's buzzing backside.
On twisty roads, the KLR is light and fun to toss around, but the weak brakes and motor mean you have to work hard and use your skills to keep up with faster bikes. When the corners get a little wider and more open, the KLR rider will watch the faster bikes pull away, no matter how hard she works. However, as long as the speeds are kept below 90, a moderately skilled rider can do miraculous things on the KLR. The wide handlebar and light weight make direction changes easy, the upright seating position helps the rider see through the corners, and the soft motor encourages greater corner speeds. For 90% of your riding needs, the KLR does it all with utility beyond what you'd expect from a $5,199 motorcycle.
The value was so great that Jack Straw even made the comment that he'd "probably buy a KLR to replace [his] BMW." And that's not really surprising; the KLR's stone-axe simplicity and honesty keeps it the closest of all these bikes to the original BMW GS' bare-bones approach to touring. It also makes about the same amount of horsepower as the old air-cooled GS. And he's not the only one seriously considering adding a KLR to his stable: "At 18 years old, it's fully legal for any tomfoolery you'd care to dream up", said Sean, who knows a lot about tomfoolery with 18-year olds and has the stay-away orders to prove it.
You already know we liked the KLR on the twisties and tolerated it on the freeway. But it was on the dirt roads that the KLR shows its competence. As novice dirt riders, Gabe and to a lesser degree Pete, really needed a bike that was light, forgiving and not too fast. And that's what the KLR does well: instead of just resembling a dirt bike, the KLR is a dirt bike. Even though it doesn't have anywhere near the sophistication of the KTM or BMW, the light weight and manageable seat height make it more relevant at slower speeds for smaller, novice dirt riders. Sean would "recommend this bike first in this group to anybody with less than advanced dirt-riding skills," and Gabe said he "didn't really feel comfortable on anything else when the pavement ended."
We'd recommend this bike first in this group to anybody with less than advanced dirt-riding skills, if a large portion of a journey would be off the pavement. Sean said it would be better for adventures less than 100 miles from home as equipped, but he hinted that the massive savings could be used to modify the KLR, making it much better suited to long distance riding. This seems very logical: the $7,000 or more you'd save over buying the KTM or BMW will buy a lot of suspension, luggage, brake upgrades, tires, fuel tanks, GPS systems, exhausts, cylinder porting, light automatic weapons or whatever else you need to realize your circumnavigational fantasies.
Page 22nd - BMW
Look out, here comes the James Brown of Adventure Tourers: the BMW R 1200 GS. The KLR will hold the Godfather's cape as it proceeds to get funky in three dimensions.
First: the freeway, or as Herr Boxer might say, "Ze Autobahn." The BMW flat-twin motor was conceived for smooth, long-distance travel, so it should be no surprise that the R-Bike was the freeway mount of choice for Sean, and a close second for Petey and Gabe. It has a broad, comfortable seat and great wind protection, plus a large-capacity fuel tank and decent fuel economy, returning an average of 42.5mpg. The sophisticated suspension gives the rider a smooth and pleasant freeway ride. BMW's own the open road, and this big adventurer carries on that tradition.
To quote Petey, "It's the bike I could easily commute on daily, due in part to near perfect ergonomics and the powerful, smooth mill. It seems to love cruising at anywhere between 80 and 100 MPH. The five speed tranny with overdrive is a plus when humming down endless paved miles. Throw in the little nicety of heated hand grips and the GS is the clear cut winner for me." This is high praise from a guy who practically lives on a motorcycle.
On the tight, two-lane roads surrounding Big Bear Lake, the big Beemer does OK, but it's in some tough company. The servo-assisted brakes work fine; better than the K1200S we just tested, but they still have an odd feel. The knobbie tires that make the BMW work so well in the dirt give a squirmy feel and transmit vibration to the rider at lower speeds. And the weight saps a bit of confidence on twisty canyon roads. "It tends to get a bit rough and vague feeling" said Sean, critically, referring to the optional spoked wheels and knobbies.
It's very good on-road as a general-purpose motorcycle. It's comfortable and confident, but plagued with some "funky vibrations", according to Sean. It could be a great sport or touring bike with street tires. As it is, the tire choice is a good compromise. Sean said he could ride it "all day, every day; it has great ergonomics." Still, the BMW is kind of a handful on winding roads and was voted last in that category by all three of the voting testers.
But the fire roads are where this big machine really shines. With an amazingly easy to use clutch, torquey motor and low gearing, Sean likens the GS to a Jeep... once we're off pavement. Jack said his 1988 R1000GS felt more dirt-oriented, but Sean raved about the 1200: "It really pulls in low gears on loose dirt and is happy to crawl along at 1/2mph: that bike is just a freakin' tractor". Petey also found it easy to ride in the dirt, calling it "agile" off-road, and quickly pulling ahead of Gabe no matter what he was riding. Jack said it was easy for him to get comfortable on it. For the considerable size and weight of it, the BMW is surprisingly easy to ride in the dirt and can do way more than a 500 pound motorcycle should be able to do.
The BMW has a large collection of innovative features. For instance, the luggage is versatile if a little gimmicky with the sliding extensions. Fonzie, our intrepid photographer and Sherpa, much appreciated this feature and quickly appropriated the GS for his carrying needs. However, it's not waterproof like the KTM's luggage, and we noticed that grit got in between the sliding panels, making their movement a bit too noisy.
Another feature, besides the anti-lock brakes (which can be switched off) is the Telelever suspension, which Sean says "actually works", with "not a bad feel to it". Unlike some other Telelever-equipped bikes, low speed handling is OK; "it's a big heavy bike, but it does do well in the dirt" once you're used to it. You also get heated grips,(a $200 option) which Sean hogged whenever the temperature dropped, adjustable windscreen, a height-adjustable seat, and low-maintenance shaft drive.
Sure, it's expensive at $16,935 as tested, but you do get a lot. However, one thing we didn't get was an accurate measurement of fuel in the tank, thanks to lingering bugs with BMW's single-wire "CAN" electrics. This caused no fewer than four sudden pushing sessions as different testers stared at a gauge claiming the tank was half full. Aside from that, the BMW's combination of carrying capacity and creature comforts means you're likely to spend long days in the saddle. You're also likely to keep the bike a long time: Jack Straw's trusty 1988 R1000GS has over 100,000 miles on it, and he's just starting to think about replacing it. BMW's are expensive, but like a well-built watch, it's something you're likely to use for many, many years, making the total cost of ownership more in line with lesser offerings.
1st - KTM
The Adventurer is one of the more intimidating bikes we've met, if only for the high seat. But the reality is that you do have three seats to choose from this year, in various heights and softness. The seat we had was lower than the 2004 Adventurer's, but very firm. Everybody except Sean agreed: "It needs a softer seat." But it isn't so hard that it's impossible to ride for 100 or more miles at a stretch. Toss in a powerful, free-revving motor, and freeway cruising is way nicer than we expected from a Paris-Dakar replica. The wind protection on the freeway isn't bad, although the shield causes a bit of buffeting at high speeds. Fuel economy was the worst of the bunch at an average of 36.3 mpg.
But we don't buy futuristic Paris-Dakar replicas for fuel economy, do we? The KTM attacks twisty roads with aplomb. The engine feels great, with good fuel injection and nice response. Working the smooth-shifting gearbox and listening to the carefully-engineered V-twin, you can really hear and feel how much effort and energy went into the motor of this bike. It really feels like a 90 HP thumper engine in the way it makes power - all those horses feel like they are instantly accessible, but you never fear losing control.
Pete might be a little coy when he said, "My guess is that in the right hands it would terrorize any number of sportbikes in the canyons", but there was no disagreement from any of our testers. With street-biased tires, a KTM 950 Adventurer would be as good on pavement as any sportbike out there on a canyon road, although Sean said there was a little too much torsional bending in the chassis on the road. "It's got fantastic controls and instruments. It's too tall and gangly for serious sportbike use, but fast enough to hang with anything if you're committed (or should be committed-Gabe)".
And when the pavement ends, the KTM rips off its orange rayon shirt to reveal its rippling off-road capabilities. For a bike this size, the KTM has amazing off-road capability - for a confident, competent rider. Petey bared his claws on the big machine, reporting that "sliding the rear end around was never unnerving and in fact it felt quite natural." We also appreciated the grippy tires, solid suspension feel and smooth controls. Quality-wise, it's a world (and two decades) apart from the KLR, and that reflects in everything about it, from the expensive-looking wheels to the classy, easy to read instruments and solid controls.
Overall, the KTM was Sean's favorite bike. He loved the exotic look and feel, its prowess in canyons and fire roads, and the way it runs "like a scalded cat." But what we all really appreciated was the sweet luggage. The huge Hepco & Becker panniers are waterproof and insulated, so when we needed to get our victuals back to the campsite, we didn't see a way to safely transport your laptop and digital camera across the Darien Gap; we saw a pair of ready-to-use beer coolers. This feature alone should sell thousands of motorcycles for KTM. The insulated walls are actually designed to hold a few quarts of drinking water in each bag. You can even freeze them to keep your contents icy on hot days. Spigots in the bottoms of the bags let you drain the water off if you can't stand the sloshing sounds.
Honda's New Ridgeline
Now for something completely different! Kinda. The motorcycling community finally gets a motorcycle hauler from a company that actually makes motorcycles. Honda's new Ridgeline may look like another funky SUV, but it is actually a full-fledged pickup, complete with a bed large enough to carry two motorcycles, plus all your riding gear. "What's this got to do with an Adventure Touring Shootout?" you ask. Hmm, not a whole lot, except that the Ridgeline offers a way to cover highways and fire roads in complete comfort, while toting all your luggage and a pair of high performance off road bikes (Honda CRF 450Xs in this case) anywhere you want to go, and when you get there, you'll have the luxury of a real dirt bike that's capable of covering ground that would make the average adventure tourer turn tail and head for home.
Sean took Ashley to the Hungry Valley OHV area (Gorman, CA) for a long day of blasting through the trails on Honda CRF 450Xs. The trip involved about 150 miles of freeway driving, 20 miles of surface streets, three canyon roads and some extra curricular off-road driving. Most of you don't know this, but Sean is a championship winning shifter kart racer and ex-Porsche and BMW club racer, so his driving prowess are similar to his motorcycling skills. Needless to say, he's a bit skeptical about trucks and SUVs in general, so he paid close attention to the Ridgeline's dynamic capabilities and came away impressed, considering this truck's size and weight. These are his test notes:
The Ridgeline's large four-wheel disc brakes are excellent, with a medium-firm pedal feel and moderate pedal travel. Fade resistance is quite good, with the huge discs delivering short stopping distances with consistent pedal feel, this is truly outstanding for an SUV. Cornering is a bit lazy at turn-in as the chassis and tires work to establish their slip-angle, but once settled, the Ridgeline tracks well with remarkably little body-roll for such a high center of gravity. With one passenger and about 650Lbs of payload in the rear seats and truck bed, the Ridgeline's four-wheel independent suspension offers a smooth and well-damped ride, with no trace of wallow. The Honda corners much flatter than Ashley's Mercedes ML 350 and better than some sedans that I've driven. Acceleration is acceptable, with smooth shifts from the 5-speed slush-o-matic and acceptable levels of engine and road noise. As loaded, the Ridgeline was more than happy to haul us up the steep "Grapevine" grade at 85+mph and top speed is somewhere north of 105mph, but what's the point in SUV top speed, really?
From behind the wheel, the Ridgeline offers the typical "commanding view of the road", though the interior view is a touch too busy, with lots of plasticy faux aluminum trim and leather that is a bit too shiny and slick looking for my taste.
Overall tough, the interior is highly functional, with Honda's typically logical and easy to read/operate gauges and controls. The GPS navigation system is very nice to use, with better software logic and programming than most other OEM nav units. When you opt for the nav system, you also get built-in XM radio and a decent sound system that makes long trips seem short and short trips a cussin and swearin good time (comedy channel XL150... if you like that sort of thing.) On the safety side; the Ridgeline offers standard four-wheel drive, stability control, ABS brakes, brake assist, front and side air bags and it earned 5 star ratings for both frontal and side impacts. On the practical side, the Ridgeline can haul 1,100 lbs in its bed and tow a 5,000Lb trailer. Along with the typical new car options, Honda also offers a full line of adventure equipment from kayak holders and motorcycle wheel guides, to trailer hitches and running boards. As equipped, our fully loaded tester comes to $35,155, though you can skip the fancy options and get a base Ridgeline starting at: $28,215.
Which bike is best? It all comes down to how much adventure you like with your touring. Gabe is ready for bed after 10 or 15 miles of fire roads. Petey loves to take an occasional blast on the fire roads near his house. Sean will ride any bike (probably sideways) up to 100 miles in the dirt, if the right fried foods await him at the end. But a guy like Jack will go 100 miles, with his wife on the back, on dirt roads in a day.
Also, you should consider how many freeway miles you will be doing before you reach your dirt roads or campsite. For less than 100 or 200 miles from home, it's hard to beat the value, simplicity and all-around fun that the venerable KLR has to offer. If you need to go across several state lines, with plenty of dirt roads along the way, the BMW has an amazing level of long-distance comfort tempered by genuine off-road competence.
The Tiger just didn't excel enough in any one area to appeal to any of our testers except for Gabe, but he isn't a dirt bike guy and seems to like Triumph's motor, simplicity and sporty feel. But 'Photographer Phonzie' summed it up for the more sensible testers when he said, "it didn't wow me in any way beside the motor - Get a Daytona!" But if you want a charismatic, sensible and well-built sporty tourer that might be manageable on dirt roads with proper dirt tires, you should go look at the Tiger.
If you think you are going to stay on the freeways mostly, and do a lot of commuting, but also want a fun bike for jaunts on your favorite two-lane roads, the V-Strom will be a willing and entertaining partner. We liked its predictable handling, smooth engine and a fun factor as high as the seat.
But if you have to have a hard-core off-road bike, are skilled enough -- and strong enough -- to wrestle a real off-road rally bike across the barren landscape to your final destination, then the KTM is the winner here. It was first pick for three of our testers and a close second for a fourth. It's a real competition-level machine that has a tough, modern look and is as competent on a canyon road as it is blasting across the desert or stretching its legs on a straight and lonely interstate. The available luggage is the best around, build quality, suspension and engineering are top notch, and it just has the look that an adventure tourer needs to have. It's even comfortable to ride and a real value compared to the BMW or the Triumph.
We hope we've adequately informed you of the capabilities of these machines. Most of you will never want to take your steeds off the pavement anyway - and we can't blame you, as there's no better way to ensure that you damage your bike. If that's the case, the Tiger and V-Strom are great bikes, and either would be a stellar mount for any kind of two-wheeled activity on the blacktop. You just have to decide if you like a twin better than a triple. If you spend most of the time in the dirt, than the KLR would be great, and the KTM even better, if you can part with the extra dough.
And if you want a BMW, well, there's nothing we could say here to change your mind anyway - but it's a terrific bike that represents solid value and a nicely engineered, competent touring weapon.
But the KTM's wonderful motor, great brakes and handling, off-road prowess, trophy-winning lineage and stunning looks made it a pretty clear winner in our 2005 Adventure Tour shootout. The killer bags didn't hurt either. It's like a souped-up KLR, purposeful and tough without being crude.
However you choose, it's a great time to be a moto-tourist. We have plenty of choices for our adventure mounts, and they all work well, given the right job. Pack light, plan carefully, and have fun, no matter what you ride.
|"Put My Money On The Table" Table|
How the testers ranked the bikes overall.
Rankings: Motorcycles are given six points for first place, four points for second, three points for third, two for fourth and one for fifth.
|Pete Brissette||Sean Alexander||Jack Straw||Alfonse||Gabe Ets-Hokin||Points|
|BMW R 1200 GS||1st||2nd||2nd||2nd||5th||19|
|Kawasaki KLR 650||3rd||3rd||3rd||3rd||2nd||16|
|KTM 950 Adventure||2nd||1st||1st||1st||4th||24|
|Suzuki V-Strom DL1000||4th||4th||4th||4th||3rd||11|
Deep Thoughts: Second Opinions
Ok, let's be honest, shall we? There are three Adventure Tourers in this test and two other street bikes that like to put on adventurous airs. Sure, Adventure Touring and Sport Touring are closely related, but this ain't no Sport Touring Contest! If you can't hack it on a simple fire road, then you can't hack it in this test, damnit.
The KTM is everything an adventure tourer should be. It has the looks, the skills and the credibility to cover any other bike here on anything other than a 1,500-mile interstate drone. Unfortunately, it costs about what a bike this competent should cost, meaning most of us can't afford one. The good news is that the KLR 650 steps-in and does a fine job of "adventuring", for less than half the cost of the 950 Adventure.
Unfortunately, it also matches the Wal Mart riding gear you just bought and makes you glad your face is hidden behind a helmet when bystanders glance in your direction. If I was a slow old fart, I'd love to have the BMW GS as my personal escape pod. However, I can eat shoe leather faster than the BMW covers rough ground, so I guess I'm still too young to fully appreciate it in the company of a 950 Adventure. Never the less, these three bikes are true Adventure Tourers and they hold a warm place in my heart. -Sean
It's funny that motorcycles marketed for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure are actually very well suited to everyday riding. With the four bigger bikes at least, the torquey motors, comfortable seating, wind protection and decent-to-very good handling make them versatile Universal Motorcycles, able to handle trips to the corner store or trips to Four Corners with equal proficiency. That makes them all desirable.
However I don't think I'd want to select either the BMW or KTM as my own bike, given my lack of off-road skill. The KTM is a hardcore competition bike that I just could never do justice to, and the BMW has more alien technology than Areas 51-54, inclusive. They are both fantastic techno-marvels and I understand why they cost so much money; but I just don't have the need for such capability.
The Suzuki is a pretty tempting bike, and I know many happy V-Strom owners. It's great on the highway and fun on a two-lane road. But I never felt comfortable while lane-splitting on it; it's just a bit big for little ol' me.
The KLR would be a great choice used, but paying $5199 for 20 year-old technology makes me cringe. I know you could throw a couple grand at it and make it perform more like a modern dual-sport, but for $800 more MZ makes the Baghira dual sport with adjustable suspension, killer brakes and a much more modern, smoother Yamaha motor. Given the company, the KLR is absolutely the best value, but I just don't see it.
That leaves us with the Tiger. Sure it's a bit bland, but like many of Triumph's products, it seems to be designed for real-world riding. It worked well on almost every kind of road, while feeling much smaller and more user-friendly than such a big bike had a right to. At $10,499 it's a good value, especially when you consider that the hard luggage and mounts get tossed in for free to sweeten the deal. I know the KTM and BMW are better bikes; I just think the Tiger would just be a better choice for most riders. -Gabe
When I contemplate the term "Adventure Touring" I get starry eyed by the word 'adventure.' I envision the Serengeti or the tundra of the Artic Circle. So straightaway I'll get my overall winner out of the way: BMW 1200GS.
Of the five it combines everything I need and expect of a motorcycle in this category: the ability to go over just about any terrain; the refinement to drone down the freeway without feeling like a narrowly focused machine; a reliable and proven motor; top-shelf suspension (or as close as one can get in the general price range of these bikes); responsive steering; all day ergos; plenty of storage capacity or at least the ability to add storage; and reasonable passenger accommodations. The Beemer seems to cover all these bases well.
It's the bike I could easily commute on daily due in part to near perfect ergonomics and the powerful and smooth mill. It seems to love cruising at anywhere between 80 and 100mph. The five speed tranny with overdrive is a plus when humming down endless paved miles. Throw in the little nicety of heated hand grips and the GS is the clear cut winner for me. -Pete
As the guy that gets to haul all the media gear, my riding the bikes in just about any shootout is about getting to the next stopping point without incident to my bike or my gear. Thoughts about the minutia of each bike take days to weeks of riding for me. Surely, the real obvious stuff gets through to my puny brain, like "that's a big 'un" and "she sure is fast." Sometimes I have the capacity to write a few of these thoughts down, but this time I have to recall it all from memory, as I was too busy carrying a larger than normal backpack and picking up other fallen riders. (Once! -Gabe)
Not officially given the opportunity to ride these bikes on my own adventure before returning them, I think votes are slightly biased by my wants. I want the KTM to be my top choice because it's proven to be a true adventure touring motorcycle to the public, not necessarily to me, and I know that's not a proper way to test a bike. So take my votes with a grain of salt. I did ride the motorcycle and did really like it, but the point is that I didn't ride all the bikes with freedom and joy. The only motorcycle I did get to ride and enjoy the piss outta is the KLR.
The KTM is Dakar-proven, comes in a sweet color scheme, has those rockin' cooler bags that store dry and wet goods (or both at once). And before you rub your eyes in disbelief of the amount of traffic when you hit civilization again, you can flip the spigot open and quickly rinse the dirt off your hands before you freak out. And although they don't carry as much gear as the luggage on the BMW, they win with coolness. Plus they're easier to remove and have a balanced capacity not available to the GS and Tiger due to exhaust routing.
I have always loved the look of a motorcycle covered in luggage and dirt. It reminds me of the same dirt and experience-laden Xterra I had toured the trails of Moab with years ago. Like any Harley-riding biker out there, you want to be seen as cool, unique, perhaps even experienced or that is to say, well traveled. A traveled rider is an intelligent rider in my book, and seeing a GS that has just hit pavement for the first time is days is a beautiful sight to me. Too bad both these bikes and the freedom to ride them as far as they can doesn't come cheap. -Fonzie