The “Best” bike in this category could be quite an elusive target. Who is asking? Is “best” the best bike in hardcore eastern Enduro settings? The best two-up on the interstate? Best at hitting some sweet jumps? Best at attacking a twisty mountain road? You see, every observer is going to mix their pavement and dirt a little differently, so no single on-off-road capable bike could really be the best for everyone. Understanding that, the ultimate “BEST!” On-Off-Road/Adventure motorcycle available in 2017 is unquestionably the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R! (Your mileage may vary, void where inhabited by short people, consult a Dr. for erections lasting more than five or six years.)
Despite its formidable middle-500-pounds curb weight and a rear rack that is somewhat unfortunately shaped like a leg-chopping knife along its right and left edges (ouch!), the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R delivers an almost unbelievable amount of comfort and power in an eminently controllable and refined package. Its closest competitor in the open-class travel enduro category is Ducati’s Multistrada Enduro, but that bike costs a lot more than the KTM and still cannot match the KTM’s overall rideability in some fairly serious off-road settings.
The big KTM simply executes just about any mission you could task it with, on or off road, and it does it all while offering an amazing mix of mega power and easy manageability, thanks to its comprehensive suite of rider aids, supremely well-integrated and seemingly transparent electronics, and those excellent Continental TKC 80 tires. It’s a machine that actually delivers on all of the promises implied by its aggressive styling and premium branding. It’s the real deal.
The littlest Versys earns its runner-up spot here not for its incredible off-road worthiness, but rather for what it represents for the hotted-up adventure category. We may snicker when we see GS BMWs and KTM Adventures parked around the neighborhood Starbucks, but let’s not forget all the desirable qualities of an ADV bike aside from the ability to traverse unpaved terrain. They offer excellent visibility from their high perches, a comfortably upright riding position with some of the roomiest places for long legs, and the adaptability to perform well in duties as varied as commuting, touring and canyon carving. And off-road, of course.
The Versys-X stands out for bringing a highly versatile platform at a remarkably inexpensive price, which is why it also received the Honorable Mention in the Lightweight/Entry-Level category of our MOBOs. Starting at just $5,399 (plus $300 for ABS), the V-X brings a surprisingly wide range of abilities at a bargain price. Plus, it’s one of the lightest adventure bikes on the market, which helps give its pilot a secure sense of control whether aiming it to work or down an unpaved road.
“The simple fact you know you can pick your bike back up without assist by itself increases my personal adventurousness by about 1000%,” noted the wise John Burns from the Versys-X’s launch event in Utah.
Frankly, there are many riders out there who are intimidated by 550-plus-lb ADV machines, and they’d feel a lot more confident on the 359-lb Versys (plus up to 27 lbs of fuel in its 4.5-gallon tank). With a bit more than 7 inches of ground clearance and its 19/17 wire-spoke wheels (that’ll accept knobbier tires), the Versys is fully capable tearing along fire-roads and other semi-adventurous tracks off-road. Just don’t get too greedy with it, especially in rocky terrain, until you bolt on defensive measures beginning with a real skid plate.
The Versys-X 300 is an easy way to get into the ADV world, with a 32.1-inch seat height that is manageable for short legs and fairly roomy for all legs. Short gearing and an ultra-light clutch pull allow for easy getaways on both dirt and street, and it’s super agile around town. It has decent wind protection on the highway, and a counterbalancer keeps objectionable vibes mostly at bay. Its speedometer continues to read at velocities above 100 mph, I can verify, which is something Honda’s nice CRF250L Rally is unable to do.
The Versys-X tempts riders of all skill sets and sizes into a world of adventure like no other bike on the market, earning this category’s runner-up spot. If you think it’s not off-roady enough, scroll back up to our category winner.