2005 Adventure Touring Comparo

Adventure Touring Single, Twin, Triple

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Conclusion

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.

Would you believe that a $13,898 dirt bike is a bargain?

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.

However you choose, it's a great time to be a moto-tourist. Well, Gabe, your opinon would matter more if you could actually ride in the dirt.
"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
Triumph Tiger 5th 5th 5th 5th 1st 10


Deep Thoughts: Second Opinions

SEAN:

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.

This is why they make one pound bags of marshmallows.

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

GABE:

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.

Gabe, overjoyed at the thought of seeing pavement again.

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.

MO Redneck-a-thon 2005.

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

PETE:

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

FONZIE:

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)

High altitude goes to Al's head like cheap whiskey. Oh, wait, that is the cheap whiskey.

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


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