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Listen, if you think it’s easy to arrange borrowing nine Sports-Adventure-Touring motorcycles from seven manufacturers and clearing a week in nine guys’ schedules, you should apply for work as some kind of General at the Pentagon or someplace. We’re keeping our jobs. We’re not complaining, but it’s not all a bed of roses. Ducati made us wait a long time to get our hands on its new 2015 Multistrada S, and our only slight disappointment is that Yamaha couldn’t come through with a Super Ténéré. It’s doubtful the Yamaha would’ve won in this company, but we could’ve come up with some great headlines if we’d had a nice even 10 bikes.

We do what we can do, and what we did was one of the finest MO adventures of all time. The temptation with these bikes is to go all Lawrence of Arabia and set out eastward across the burning sands of the Mojave. This time, cooler heads – and cooler climes – prevailed. We live near the Pacific Ocean, hello. And the further north you go along it from down here in SoCal, the better it gets.

It’s impossible to ignore the S1000XR’s peak numbers, more than even a CBR1000RR. The V-Strom is the other outlier, unable to crack the 100-horse hurdle. The big KTM has gobs of power everywhere, but the Ducati cranks out more up top. The Aprilia’s peak number is almost identical to the Versys and GS, but its lower-rpm numbers are soft and jagged while the GS’s are robust throughout its rev range.

T. Roderick used his Jobs-like computer skills to come up with an itinerary that would get us almost to Oregon while allowing time for photography and Unknown Unknowns. Temperatures ranged from a bone-chilling mid-50s F at night to a broiling mid-70s during the days. A monotonous scenery of crashing ocean surf, old-growth redwood forests and giant plates of food greeted us day after day without respite, along with mile after mile of lightly traveled twisting two-lane and dirt roads.

To fill seats, we called upon MOrespondent and columnist Gabe Ets-Hokin, along with MO alumnus Pete Brissette, and even former online rival Ken Hutchison, from a site that dare not speak its name. Hutch’s fireside tales were just what we needed to make it six days without the civilizing feminine influence. Former Honda PR guy turned private detective/retiree Rick Mitchell completed our ninesome. At 64 years young, Rick saved Burns from being the Designated Old Guy.

Torque production is always tied closely to displacement, so it’s no surprise to see KTM’s 1290 roosting on the others. But look how well BMW’s GS competes despite 131 fewer cc’s. Also notable is the 1198cc Ducati, its new variable valve timing delivering good grunt down low and up top. The Suzuki is clearly tuned for torque, churning out its highest reading at just 3100 rpm.

2012 Adventure-Touring Shootout – Video

We wound up staying in cheap motels about half the time and sleeping under the stars the other half, in order to see how these bikes would do loaded down with camping gear and clean undies, heavy camera gear in Evans’ case and his portable espresso maker. Not bad, as it turned out. Not bad at all — even the last-placed bike achieved a score of more than 80%, and the group was separated by just 8.4% from top to bottom. Let us observe a moment of silence for the Cargo Net and the Bungee Cord. Without further ado:

Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS – 80.2%

By Evans Brasfield

In every competition, someone has to finish last. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good. Rather, it simply states that on any given day, in a discrete set of circumstances, they finished last. The final man to cross the line at last weekend’s MotoGP race at Misano could wipe the floor with the top riders in any given national series. The same can be said of the Suzuki V-Strom, a bike with many admirable qualities. Still, it lacks something (or somethings) that keep it from rising to the top of the heap on our epic ride. Yet, it has adventure-touring creds that allow it to perform surprisingly well.

2014 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS Review – First Ride

First, let’s talk about where the V-Strom excelled. The Suzuki tips the scale 62 lb lighter than our heaviest bike, the Triumph Explorer XC. The second lightest bike, the BMW S1000XR, weighs just four pounds more. Still, being the lightest bike carries some weight on our scorecard. The Strom also scores well on the value scale, where it places second to the Versys 1000LT – although the $1,700 difference between the two feels larger than it should be.

Sez the Dukester: The Strom did well off-road, with its smaller size feeling more manageable than bikes like the Explorer, Capo and Versys, and its clutch provides a wide take-up zone to maneuver smoothly at slow speeds.

However, we need to note that the V-Strom we tested was a standard version with accessory bags, resulting in a $14,509 price. If a V-Strom 1000 ABS Adventure had been available, it would have dropped the price to a more reasonable $13,999 (a $1,200 difference with the Kawi). Although that’s still a bit high, the Adventure includes extra features like saddlebags and rear rack, crash bars, hand guards, and a chin fairing to protect the exposed oil filter which anti-blowhard editor Burns says “sticks out like Trump’s uvula.” Both the Strom’s practical and perceived value would jump considerably in this form.

The Strom is equipped with ABS and TC, plus a gear indicator, thermometer and trip computer, but it’s well short of features and instrumentation seen on its rivals.

When riding the Suzuki, all testers noted it was the narrowest and lightest bike of the group, making it surprisingly competent off-road. (For this reason, this was the bike I selected to regain my mojo after my muddy face-plant on our dirt ride.) Off-road crash recovery instructor, Ken Hutchison, called the V-Strom “the ugly duckling of the group” but added that it was “surprisingly good at everything, although it’s not great at anything…except surviving dirt roads. Since the V-Strom is thin and light compared to these other behemoths in the test, it is very easy to toss around in the dirt by comparison. The V-Twin is well suited to a slow pace, picking its way through tough obstacles, too.”

Light steering and fairly well-composed in the twisties, the Suzuki gained fans during our six days on the road.

That sentiment was shared by Burns who opined that the V-Strom would make a great urban mount, too: “For short adventures and around town, this is a great bike; skinniest and lightest, and the fact that its torque peak happens really low makes it a literal blast to ride.”

Even though the V-Strom came in last in both torque (69.1 lb-ft) and horsepower (91.6 hp), Kevin still had kind words for the Strom’s surprising power delivery, noting that while “its peak horsepower number is very modest, the Suzi’s 90-degree V-Twin feels stronger than the dyno indicates. With little ol’ me aboard, it out-pulled the Triumph (with T-Rod) in a 70-mph roll-on, and it nearly kept up with KTM’s 1190 with Gabe on the Katoom.” “The Strom surprised everyone with its ability to hang with the crowd,” concurred RC213V-S stud, Tom Roderick, “while being the least powerful bike of the bunch.”

Although down on power, the proven 1037cc 90° V-Twin has the chops to hang with the other bikes. However, it does suffer from some herky-jerky throttle response in the bottom end. The Adventure version of the V-Strom 1000 has a chin fairing to protect the vulnerable oil filter from rocks.

In this field, crowded with electro-whiz-gadgetry, the Suzuki stood out in its reliance on old-school componentry. Well, so it is the first production Suzuki with traction control, and the TC performs way quicker than a right wrist in slippery stuff. Still, the plucky V-S remains more than a bit behind the curve electronically, lacking things like cruise control, electrically adjustable suspension and ride-by-wire throttle. All of this led Burns to ponder, “Why is this almost as expensive as some really sophisticated motorcycles here?”

Twentieth-century technology notwithstanding, after riding a section of road we dubbed 22 Miles of Heaven aboard the Strom, E-i-C Duke gushed that he wished the curves would go on for another 8 hours. “The 22-mile stretch of curving and snaking road would be a challenge for any bike,” enthused Duke, ”but the Strom proved itself quite capable of impersonating a sportbike, with a solid chassis and suspension better composed than expected.” Burns agreed “the fork can get a bit divey up front when ridden hard,” he added that “no electronic suspension doesn’t feel like much of a sacrifice.” He then brought us back to reality, noting that “other things like lack of CC really is.”

Although the bags could use a few more cubes and the price could drop a few bills, the Suzuki V-Strom proved to be a competent and easy-to-ride adventure bike worth a look. If your dealer’s dealin’, it could be a real bargain.

That’s what the V-Strom comes down to. If you’re looking for a budget adventure-tourer and care more about a broad dealer network than technological innovation, the Suzuki steps in with the necessities.

“Unlike the Versys’ mainly on-road designation,” sums up Roderick, ”the Strom, with its 19-inch front, 17-inch rear wheel setup makes it the better option if you’re desiring more off-road performance than what the Versys supplies.” Gabe, however, states the harsh truth about this class of motorcycles and the passage of time: “If it were $9,999 and this were 1999, it would be the winner by a mile. But it isn’t, and it isn’t, so the V-Strom just doesn’t make it.”

Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS
+ Highs
  • Lightest in test
  • Good off-road performance for the price
  • Engine punches out of its weight class on the road
– Sighs
  • Short on modern electronics
  • MSRP isn’t $11,999
  • Looks cheap

Triumph Tiger Explorer XC – 81.1%

By Sean Alexander

Triumph initially told us they didn’t have an Explorer in the press fleet. After much whining and stomping of feet from us, the fine folks at Triumph scared up this high-mileage, somewhat rough around the edges example of the breed. That means it was at a disadvantage to the relatively fresh units provided by the other manufacturers. So, what did we do to it?

2012 Triumph Tiger Explorer Review

“First,” says Evans, “I overloaded the Explorer with camera gear (including batteries, chargers, a computer, and external hard disks). When I initially packed the saddlebags, I noticed the lawyer’s note affixed to the inside of the left bag reminding me not to carry more than 11 pounds in it. Being curious, I stepped on the scale: 41 lb. After some repacking, each bag carried about 30 lbs, but then I tossed my camera bag and tripod and sleeping bag and tent plus a bag of onboard video cameras on the back. Oh, did I mention the tank bag that was set up as the portable charging station for all the MO phones and other small electronics? The power port at the front edge of the tank was perfect for this arrangement.”

While it isn’t as sporty or as off-roady as the others, the Explorer proved to be a capable mount in a variety of conditions, and it is the only bike besides the GS with shaft drive.

Clearly, this was not going to be an easy trip for the Explorer. Still, it soldiered on with impressive resolve. Its 113-hp 1215cc Triple and ride-by-wire throttle work together seamlessly, albeit lacking the outright urge of the newer, lighter and/or more powerful bikes in our extended group. In addition to its signature three-cylinder howl, the Explorer XC delivers an unexpected bonus: it crawls through the mud and chugs up rocky inclines better than we anticipated. Seriously, this thing can do the low-speed shuffle like an old Willys Jeep, even if Duke bitched about how it picked up revs in the dirt a little too quickly for his taste.

Then again, I loved it, and Evans agreed, saying: “The Triumph was my favorite mount in the toughest section of ruts and rocks. The engine reached down deep and just chugged its way through the sections of road that I had no right to be riding.”

We didn’t expect it to be such a tractable off-road powerplant, but there it was making all mountain-goat-like. Indeed, the Tiger surprises in several ways. It sounds great under load, although it’s a bit too quiet to express its full character in sporting situations. Still, the Tiger earned points for its signature sound and tractability of its three-cylinder engine.

The engine in our Explorer had taken a licking but kept on ticking and never let us down. Notice the metal bash plate shielding the header pipes and the engine guards protecting the cases.

“The Explorer’s Triple is really exciting to ride,” says guest tester Hutchison. “The sound, the feel and the performance are at the upper end of the spectrum in this test. The howling three-cylinder begs to be uncorked at the end of every corner, so its strong brakes are a good thing. More than a few times I came into corners on this bike with my eyes bugging out because it’s so dang fast.”

Moving on to the chassis, we have something of a mixed bag. Sensible ergonomics and decent chassis rigidity make it comfortable for long distances and relatively easy to ride fast on smooth flowing pavement. It’s only at truly elevated paces, when its Kayaba suspension was overwhelmed, that its adventure-oriented 110/80-19 front tire squirmed disconcertingly mid-corner, all while its relatively low pegs began to scrape. Then again, with our Tiger being loaded with extra gear and saddled with a heavy and aggressive (aggressively heavy?) test rider, it’s really no surprise the dirt-oriented suspension and tires moved around more than a sportbike’s would.

We know from experience that the saddlebags on the Triumph can be torn from the bike during even mild crashes. Consequently, we opted not to throw the Explorer down the road.

The Tiger Explorer’s heaviest-in-class curb weight and its high center of gravity can also make it disconcerting to lean at low speeds and even quite difficult to lift off its sidestand when parked leaning downhill.

The windshield’s height adjustment altered both the cooling wind and turbulence. Unfortunately, the bracketry looks like a high school shop project.

Cruising down the interstate, the Tiger provides a relatively smooth environment, a relaxed riding position and an extremely comfortable seat from which to view the world. Its cruise control also worked extremely well, with easy on-the-fly individual mile-per-hour adjustments and accurate speed holding.

“When, in 2012, the Explorer was a new model motorcycle, it was the first bike I’d ridden equipped with cruise control,” Roderick commented. “Now, the poor Explorer is somewhere near the bottom of the technology heap, lacking electronic niceties such as electronic suspension.”

Buffeting and wind noise are pleasantly moderate, so if you’re looking for something for sweeping vistas and long distances, the Tiger Explorer makes a fine contender. Evans noticed that the height of the windshield largely determines the amount of turbulence a 5-ft 11-ish rider receives. In the low position, the cooling wind comes through along with a minimum of wind noise. However, when the temps drop, raising the screen provides additional still air around the torso at the expense of increased buffeting.

To correct for the unfair handicaps, try to imagine a newer Tiger without all of Evans’ cameras, charging equipment, and camping gear (If you drink coffee, you’ll understand the importance of the espresso maker. –Ed.). The Explorer makes for a pleasant traveling companion, especially when ridden at a moderate pace.

The Explorer was our beast of burden (shown here partially unladen, BTW). Check out the high-tech tankbag stability system.

“The Explorer was an ideal mount during the leg from the drive-through Redwood tree to our campground,” Duke notes. “It proved exemplary on the open, flowing two-lane and some four-lane highway, demonstrating its comfy ergos and plush seat.” Former MO staffer, Gabe Ets-Hokin, looked to even further horizons: “It is very comfortable for long rides, with soft suspension and a big, soft seat. A big pair of people should consider this or the Versys for their dream vacation.”

At $17,499 without bags and $18,494 as tested, the Tiger isn’t the absolute bargain of the group, but it marches to the beat of a different drummer and seems to have a long-term charm that would make it quite easy to love for a lucky owner.

Triumph Tiger Explorer XC
+ Highs
  • Comfortable accommodations
  • Three-cylinder grunt and song
  • Rugged good looks
– Sighs
  • Heaviest bike (even without Evans’ unconscionable load)
  • Front-end squirm in aggressive riding
  • Electronically behind the times

Aprilia Caponord Rally – 83.7%

by John Burns

Er, everybody liked the Caponord so much at the time (it tied the KTM 1290 for 2nd place overall on Sean’s card), it’s hard to understand how it wound up way down in 7th place? The mighty MO ScoreCard does not lie; the competition is fierce. The Capo finished a close third in Ergonomics/Comfort, and its shockingly good (get it?) new ADD (Aprilia Dynamic Damping) semi-electronic suspension came in 2nd in that category, just 0.5% behind the BMW XR. The Capo, in fact, beat all comers in the Handling portion of the Scorecard, thanks to Sean’s giving it his highest mark, a 9, and in spite of its being the 2nd heaviest bike in the test, at 604 pounds (it would be heaviest if it had a centerstand like the Triumph does). The Capo’s handling is even more impressive given that it’s one of the 19-inch front wheeled bikes, a choice more biased toward off-road performance.

Gabe Ets-Hokin himself: I was always happy to get back on the Capo, as it felt polished and well-engineered. Suspension seemed to be spot-on at all times, in all manner of roads. I liked the brakes—strong but manageable—and the seat height wasn’t so crazy that I felt like I would drop the bike turning it around in a parking lot.

Me, JB: I keep being pleasantly surprised by Aprilias. This one’s only two pounds lighter than the Triumph, which means it was one of two bikes I was trying to avoid on our dirt leg, but I was surprised to float pretty serenely above a couple of spots that got Evans’ tires off the ground on the Triumph; your Aprilia Dynamic Damping at work. On the pavement and switched back into Sport mode, the suspension’s equally surprisingly good — good enough that the bike’s mid-pack 109 horses seem to be plenty to keep it hanging with the fastest members of the pack; its six-speed shifts nicely up and down with no clutch and no damn autoshifter either; 5000 rpm brings up almost 90 mph on the autostrada, nice, smooth and almost vibe free… Great brakes too. Meanwhile, its seat is one of my faves here and the ergos are perfect (like most of these bikes). I could live with this one happily ever after.

Duke notes: The conversion to Rally regalia includes a taller (19-inch) front wheel, which, combined with its wire-spoke design (heavier than cast-aluminum 17s), blunts some of the agility of the non-Rally version we tested last summer.

Tom says: From its semi-active suspension being way too squishy when we tested it last year in our Middleweight Sport-Touring Shootout, the 2015 Rally model impressed me with its new damping, transforming the Capo into a bike I enjoyed pushing to the limits both on the road and off it.

Ken Hutchison: Great power, no quirks, no weird vibrations, just exciting power delivery. The riding position is great and the rear brake and pedal were excellent when navigating this beast off-road.

The bags are slightly wonky like many things Italian, but perfectly okay when you learn the drill, and solidly mounted. Neither one will take a helmet, but there is a clever system that lets you open each bag normally from the bottom hinge, or just open the top outer half so all your stuff doesn’t fall out every time. There’s a 12V socket up front in the dash and a USB one under the back seat for keeping your cursed phone charged up.

The drill that’s hard to learn on the Aprilia, and a significant reason for its lousy finish, is how difficult it is to work everything else on the Capo’s monochrome LCD panel through its various buttons: You’ll need to master the two on its dashboard along with the Mode one on the left handlebar before you can accomplish anything. In fairness, it’s easy to switch from Rain to Sport to Enduro once you remember to use the starter button (after the engine’s running). It can be really frustrating when you’re swapping between nine bikes to do something as simple as reset the bike’s tripmeter.

As a matter of fact, the Aprilia’s dismal score in Instruments/Controls is the only thing that kept it from finishing far higher, and if you owned the thing you’d figure it all out within a decade. This bike could be the sleeper bargain of the whole deal, really, at $15,695.

The fact that it comes with electronic cruise control is a major plus, but it’s a bit of a PITA too compared to the others. It’s a hard-to-thumb one-button affair whose only adjustment is on or off. Annoyingly, when cruise is on but not activated, a green light on the gauges flashes continuously, as if the turn signal has been left on.

On the other, less whiney hand, you get the whole enchilada including the saddlebags and what feels like a reasonably tough plastic skidplate, in a lovely militaristic not-quite olive drab, for a mere $15,695.

Aprilia Caponord Rally
+ Highs
  • Italian V-Twin, slick gearbox
  • Great value for an Italian ADV
  • Nice place to spend the day
– Sighs
  • Exasperating user interface
  • Those wheels are hard to clean
  • She could lose a few pounds

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