2012 Adventure-Touring Shootout - Video

BMW R1200GS vs KTM 990 Adventure vs Moto Guzzi Stelvio vs Triumph Explorer vs Yamaha Super Ténéré

story by Tom Roderick, Photograph by Mike Maez, Created Oct. 10, 2012
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BMW’s R1200GS has long been the cock of the walk when it comes to big-bore Adventure-Touring bikes, but with unit sales in the A-T segment increasing by double-digit percentages (the most of any class of motorcycles in the U.S.), OEMs, like wily hedge fund managers, are buying into the sector.

The Triumph Explorer and Yamaha Super Ténéré are the newest combatants in this increasingly competitive market, while both KTM and Moto Guzzi have held positions in this category with models of their own, shall we say, eccentricities. What these five bikes represent, though, are the disparate avenues manufacturers are traveling to attain a similar goal. Which begs the question: Have any of these Johnny-come-lately A-T bikes succeeded in surpassing the mighty GS to become the new benchmark model?

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Achieving the answer to that question was fraught with scorching temperatures and mind-numbing freeway miles, but also ribbony two-laners, gravelly fire roads and dusty singletracks, all the while loaded down with an assortment of clothing and camping gear. Sentiments ranged from surprised to disparaged, and in the end consensus, but not absolute agreement.

2012 Adventure Touring Shootout Group

From the most expensive base model MSRP, BMW at $16,149, to the least expensive, Yamaha at $14,899, the bikes are all within a $1,700 price range. Because of its least expensive price, the Ténéré scored a perfect 100% in the Price/Value category of our ScoreCard, with the KTM coming in a close second. Each manufacturer produces an array of accessories to outfit their model which increases the price you’ll pay accordingly, but BMW, with its longevity in this category, is backed by the strongest selection of accessory components.

Five Adventure-Tourers
Model MSRP MPG Range
BMW R1200GS $16,149 (19,045.00 Rally Edition) 32.5 172 miles
KTM Adventure 990 $14,899 33.1 175 miles
Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX $15,990 36.6 311 miles
Triumph Tiger Explorer $15,699 35.1 186 miles
Yamaha Super Ténéré $14,499 39.4 236 miles

Of special interest is the fact that engine configuration among these five motorcycles is never duplicated. Besides Triumph’s inline-Triple, Twins are the cylinder count of choice, but their arrangement varies from opposed to parallel and from inline-V to transverse-V. So, unlike testing a brood of Japanese 600cc supersports with nearly identical inline four-cylinders, each bike here presents unique engine characteristics.

With 1215cc and 111.7 horsepower the Triumph Explorer boasts the greatest displacement and peak horsepower among this group. “The engine is very strong, with a ton of stomp,” notes editor-at-large, Troy Siahaan. And besides Guzzi (whose graph resembles a sound wave more than a torque curve) with its 74.9 ft-lb of torque, the Triumph also exhibits the best torque figure (74.6 ft-lb). But it’s not the peak torque that’s impressive, it’s the ability of the Explorer engine to deliver 60+ ft-lb of torque beginning at 2500 rpm and continuing all the way to 9300 rpm.

Adventure Touring Shootout Dyno Horsepower

It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that the Triumph earned a category-winning 92.5% among all testers in the Engine section on the Adventure-Touring ScoreCard. What did raise some eyebrows was third-place finisher, KTM’s Adventure model and its smallest-of-the-bunch 999cc V-Twin with a score of 71.25%.

“Although it’s out-cubed by the other engines in this group, its responsiveness due to the Adventure’s light weight makes one wonder about the need to go bigger,” says Chief Editor, Kevin Duke.

BMW’s Boxer engine (it and the Guzzi being the only two air-cooled models) took second-place honors with a score of 80%. “I thought the BMW engine would get outclassed, but it held its own just fine,” says Siahaan, “it stayed right with the Triumph during sixth gear roll-ons!”

Adventure Touring Shootout Dyno Torque

Leaving the Ténéré and Stelvio fighting to not be last, it was our second surprise to learn that the Guzzi narrowly defeated the Yamaha by a scant margin of 1.25% (66.25% vs 65%). “It’s not fast, but the Guzzi’s 90-degree V-Twin grunts like a John Deere 9400,” says guest tester Dean Hight.

Owning the lowest engine score of the group the Ténéré was repeatedly condemned by testers with words such as “neutered,” “uninspiring” and “lacking character.” It’s especially disappointing that a fresh liquid-cooled, double-overhead-cam design can’t match the grunt from BMW’s air-cooled Boxer motor, a powerplant that surely must’ve been benchmarked while the Ténéré was being developed.

Hight sums up our general opinion saying, “Where the Guzzi is slow and torquey, the Yamaha is just slow.”

But don’t jump the gun assuming the Yamaha loses this shootout just because of its subpar engine performance. There’s a lot more to this comparison where the Ténéré exacts retribution and the early leader Triumph falters under pressure from our testers.

2012 Adventure Touring Shootout Triumph Explorer Action Right

Next Page...In The Dirt

 

In The Dirt

“To boldly go where these other Adventure-Tourers won’t” should be the KTM Adventure’s mantra. No matter how adventurous our ride became the KTM was always out front, tackling obstacles until forced to stop and collect the laggards.

With 21-inch front and 18-inch rear wheels, 8.25 inches of suspension travel (front and rear), and a wet weight of approximately 505 pounds, it’s no wonder the KTM doesn’t shy away from the adventure side of its A-T classification. Also helping the KTM is its use of a chain drive compared to the shaft drives of the other models.

2012 Adventure Touring Shootout KTM 990 Adventure Action Dirt

“The KTM 990 Adventure is the only real choice if your idea of adventure takes you far away from the pavement,” says Hight.

Even the KTM’s saddlebags are more off-road worthy than the other’s in this group. “Protection wise, they're tough and sturdy,” says Siahaan, “I didn't worry at all about my stuff when Tom tipped it over in the woods. They’re kind of small but come with accessory inner liners and they’re water tight - perfect for turning into a makeshift ice chest for beer while camping!”

The bike most able to hang with the KTM in the dirt was the second lightest motorcycle of the group. BMW’s GS, with a claimed wet weight of 516 pounds, bests the next closest wet weight by 54 pounds (Claimed wet weights: Explorer = 570 lbs, Ténéré = 575 lbs, Stelvio = 598 lbs).

2012 Adventure Touring Shootout BMW R1200GS Action Dirt

Garnering a 95% in the braking department of our ScoreCard, the BMW also boasts the most user-friendly ABS system. Switching off the KTM’s ABS is marginally more difficult, but the Triumph (87.5%) requires a sequence of button pushes, whereas you have to trick the Ténéré’s (80%) ABS into turning off.

Testers scored the Stelvio’s brakes (also ABS) with a third-place-tying-score of 80%, leaving KTM’s score of 78.75% at the bottom of the heap. “KTM’s front brakes require a considerable amount of travel,” says Duke, adding they’re actually preferable (less touchy) when riding in low-traction situations.

Coming in a very close third to the BMW in the dirt is the Yamaha Ténéré. All of the testers commended the Ténéré’s off-road handling manners generally saying it was a toss-up between it and the BMW. “Off road the Ténéré seems like a decently balanced motorcycle,” says Siahaan. “I'd pick it or the BMW as my second choice in the dirt.”

2012 Adventure Touring Shootout Yamaha Super Tenere Action Dirt

Turning off-road is where things really fell apart for the Triumph Explorer. Although it’s not the heaviest of the group, the Explorer carries its weight high, and top-heaviness is severely exacerbated when riding in the dirt.

“The Explorer’s top-heavy feel, extremely touchy ride-by-wire throttle, and low ground clearance made the Tiger the worst handling bike off-pavement of the group,” says Hight, the contrarian who ranked the Triumph below the Moto Guzzi in his overall scoring.

But Hight wasn’t alone in preferring the Guzzi over the Triumph during our off-road riding. Tipping the wet-weight scales more than the other models by way of its cavernous 8.5-gallon fuel tank, the Stelvio carries much of its heft lower in the chassis, making it more maneuverable and better balanced, thus more confidence-inspiring in the dirt.

2012 Adventure Touring Shootout Moto Guzzi Stelvio Action Dirt

Next Page...On The Pavement

 

On The Pavement

‘Round-the-world aspirations aside, asphalt is the surface these bikes will be most familiar with during their lifetimes. Visions of emulating Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman are what Adventure-Touring bikes are all about, but reality suggests more sedate existences.

All the attributes elevating the KTM above the others in off-road performance now relegates the Adventure from first to last: a wandering front end in fast sweepers from its 21-inch front wheel and more knobbyish tire, to severe fork dive under hard braking. "Its seat is quite firm,” says Duke, “but I wouldn't say it was uncomfortable during the length of our longer stints. However, shorter riders will dislike its tallest-in-class 34.7-inch seat height."

2012 Adventure Touring Shootout Action Road

It’s the more well-balanced handling attributes of the BMW and Yamaha that have them battling for first-place rankings.

“The R1200GS continues to impress us when fired down a twisty road. Its wide handlebars enable quick steering transitions, and it is sure-footed once leaned over in a corner. Front-end feel from the Telelever is minimal, but it works well once you learn to trust it. In addition, the Telelever’s anti-dive design results in far less chassis pitching than the other bikes,” says Duke.

2012 Adventure Touring Shootout Yamaha Super Tenere Action Road

The Beemer and its ergonomics are quite comfortable over long distances. Wind flow over the front of the BMW hits a six-foot rider about chest level, allowing air into jacket vents on hot days without undue buffeting. Hight provided one of the few negative comments, explaining the seat’s lip limited his ability to adjust his riding position.

If it weren’t for the Ténéré’s lackluster engine performance it may very well have bested the BMW due to its sublime handling qualities. Duke says he became impressed with the Super Ten’s handling when riding the sinuous Highway 58. “It delivers solid front-end feel for an adventure bike, and it’s able to be confidently thrown into corners.”

2012 Adventure Touring Shootout Triumph Tiger Explorer Wheelie

Troy gave the Yamaha props for the ability of its gripper-style seat to hold its rider in place. Hight complained of wind buffeting no matter which height of the adjustable windshield it was set to. Other testers didn’t experience the same problem.

As it was in the dirt, so it remains on the pavement, the Triumph’s top-heaviness and touchy R-b-W throttle impeding an otherwise proficient chassis and the hands-down best engine of the group.

“Twelve-hundred-fifteen cc’s of smooth, stomping inline-Triple power and a smooth-shifting gearbox hampered by limited ground clearance and a weight problem,” laments Hight. But the Triumph does have a great rear rack for attaching a bungee net, camping gear, etc., to the bike.

2012 Adventure Touring Shootout Moto Guzzi Stelvio Cornering

And what about the Stelvio? While MO staffers busied themselves attending MotoGP matters, Hight took the Guzzi for a solo day ride.

"I cruised south on Highway 1 to Nacimiento-Fergusson Rd,” relates Hight. “After scraping the center stand numerous times, I tractored over some of the forest roads, through sand, over ruts and rocks along the forest road, and the Guzzi was surprisingly stable. “At the end of the day, I was very happy with my selection. The Guzzi was very comfortable with an excellent seat and adjustable windscreen, and its cruiser character encouraged me to stop often and enjoy the scenery.”

In the Ergonomics/Comfort category scoring overall layout, adjustability (seat, levers, footpegs, etc.), and wind protection the Guzzi came in second with 83.75% to the BMW’s 86.25% with the KTM third at 82.5% while the Triumph and Yamaha tied for last with 77.5%.

Next Page...Conclusion

 

Conclusion

Earlier in the article we mentioned consensus among our testers but not absolute agreement regarding the winner of this five-way shootout. While Troy and I both chose the BMW as the best all-around A-T motorcycle with scores of 86.43% and 89.64%, respectively, Duke was in favor of the Yamaha and Hight the KTM, the two men equally scoring their respective favorite at 86.43%. Had one of the two chosen the opposite’s bike, a tie might have ensued.

The beauty of our ScoreCard is that it provides an unbiased grade by combining results of all scores and determining an overall winner. And with an Overall score of 86.16% the BMW maintains its supremacy as world’s best Adventure-Touring motorcycle.

Adventure-Touringn Scorecard
Model Kevin Tom Dean Troy Total Score
BMW R1200GS 85.00% 89.64% 83.57% 86.43% 86.16%
KTM Adventure 990 78.93% 78.57% 86.43% 85.71% 82.41%
Yamaha Super Ténéré 86.43% 80.36% 70.71% 77.14% 79.20%
Triumph Tiger Explorer 79.64% 82.86% 68.57% 78.57% 77.41%
Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX 74.29% 75.71% 69.29% 73.93% 73.30%

“All things considered,” Duke sums up, “it just seems to be the best-engineered and well-rounded machine of this group. I’d feel confident going nearly anywhere on this icon of the adventure-touring segment. ”

2012 Adventure Touring Shootout BMW R1200GS

The GS’s win in the midst of increasing competition speaks to the years of refinement BMW’s invested in its GS model. With a new GS set to launch next year BMW will most probably widen the gap other manufacturers must make up before producing an A-T bike worthy of taking the crown away from BMW.

The KTM Adventure earned our runner-up spot overall (82.41%) and highlights another disparity among our testers. The off-road-eager Hight clearly preferred the KTM’s dirt-focused nature and light weight, giving the Austrian-made bike his individual top score of 86.43%.

“The edgy Paris-Dakar styling and ‘Ready to Race’ design philosophy appeal to me on all levels,” notes Hight. “The ergonomics of the Adventure fit my body perfectly, while the bar position and bend is the most natural and comfortable of the bunch.”

2012 Adventure Touring Shootout KTM 990 Adventure

Troy’s 85.71% score for the Adventure was just behind what he gave the GS. But Kevin and I placed the KTM fourth in our individual scorings, with nearly identical marks of 78.93% and 78.57%, respectively.

“The Adventure gives up a bit in terms of street manners, comfort and maintenance (with its chain drive),” Duke notes, “but it gains it all back and more if you’re truly interested in exploring rugged off-road adventures.”

On the third step of the podium stands Yamaha’s Super Ténéré with a score of 79.20%. But even its stellar handling couldn’t overcome its lackluster performance in the heavily weighted engine category where the Yamaha garnered only a 65% score.

“Aside from its top-notch fit and finish quality, the Super Ténéré doesn’t stand out in any category,” Duke comments, “but its all-’round competence and least-expensive price make it a viable player in this competitive category.”

2012 Adventure Touring Shootout Yamaha Super Tenere Front

Within 8% of this shootout’s winner, but still coming in fourth, Triumph’s Explorer represents an excellent attempt by the British manufacturer to produce a serious and competent big-bore A-T bike. Triumph fixed the manically abrupt throttle response in the new 2013 Trophy model (which uses the same engine), but whether they reproduced that feat on the 2013 Explorer remains to be seen.

“I came to this test expecting the Explorer to be my favorite of all the bikes,” says Hight, a Tiger 800 XC owner. “It was a big disappointment for me to rank it last of the bunch.”

2012 Adventure Touring Shootout Triumph Tiger Explorer Right Side

Which brings us to the Guzzi Stelvio NTX – the workhorse, the anomaly, the downtrodden. As always, eschewing convention for traditionalism, the gift of Guzzi is creating its own niche within a niche. On the ScoreCard, the Guzzi is the only motorcycle below the 75th percentile, scoring only a 73.30%. In our hearts, however, the Guzzi remains unsurpassed in regards to charisma and charm.

2012 Adventure Touring Shootout Moto Guzzi Stelvio Cornering

With testing and scoring complete we conclude this shootout with the knowledge of things to come. In 2013 BMW brings a new liquid-cooled R1200GS to market, while KTM stacks the deck in its favor by launching a new 1190 Adventure. Meanwhile, Triumph piles on with an XC version of its 2013 Explorer.

Traditional airheads may lament the new GS’s new water jacket and increased complexity, but with the current model maintaining its supremacy as the best all-around Adventure-Touring motorcycle available, it may behoove the hidebounds to purchase the last of the air-cooled GS models before they expire from dealership showrooms.

Related Reading
2013 KTM 1190 Adventure Introduced in Cologne
2013 BMW R120GS Breaks Cover
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2013 Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Touring Review
KTM Adventure 1290 Spied Testing
2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer Review
2012 Yamaha Super Tenere Review
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