2015 Ultimate Sports-Adventure-Touring Shootout

Motorcycle.com Staff
by Motorcycle.com Staff

MOs Epic Going Postal California Coastal 9-Adventure Bike Comparo

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

Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT – 83.8%

by John Burns

When we last left the big Versys at the end of last February’s much-less-epic Land of the Roosting Sun comparo, we concluded “this is the one you want if you’re a big guy with a big passenger and want to carry lots of stuff.” This time we set out to see if that’s true; turns out it sort of is, but the competition was much fiercer on this journey.

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

Our biggest guy, Sean, gave the Versys a solid 9 in Ergonomics/Comfort, but it wound up overall in a tie for 6th place (with the BMW XR). Its 109-horsepower, which seemed so stout last time, winds up in a dead heat for 6th with two other bikes that spun the dyno that hard (Caponord and BMW GS), but in the torque department, the once-mighty Kawi only barely beats the V-Strom 1000.

2015 Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT First Ride Review + Video

Our big guy Sean looks almost to scale on the Versys, which he rated 2nd only to the Caponord in the Comfort category.

E-i-C Duke has this to say: Abrupt throttle response and the heaviest throttle spring makes this my least favorite grip to grab. Its suspension works well but can get overwhelmed when ridden aggressively over bumpy roads. Pillowy seat.

Roderick had nice things to say: The Versys proved itself to be a comfortable, nimble, corner-scarfing bike that held its own against much more expensive and technologically superior competitors.

T-Rod also dissed the Kawasaki’s throttle abruption, and so did Evans, but then EB does have nice things to say about the Versys too: In many ways the Versys is the BMW XR Lite, providing a less expensive inline-Four experience for those who want a sporty adventure tourer with far less buzz. The engine’s power is mid-pack on the dyno, but if you give it the extra time to spool up, it’ll provide an open class wallop and a reminder why 1000cc Fours are so popular. In addition to being slower to wind out, the EFI is the balkiest of the nine bikes, delivering abrupt throttle reapplication at just about every engine speed. Once the rider accepts this issue, it can be ridden around, but it’s still kind of a drag. The Versys’ backroad manners are fine on smoother pavement, but the suspension gets overwhelmed when pushed on bumpier stuff. The suspension is a great example of the Versys as a whole. It simply lacks refinement. Don’t look for electronically adjusted suspension or heated grips or cruise control – hell, don’t even look for a gear indicator. Once I got over my momentary outrage at that little tidbit, I realized that going old school and counting my shifts wasn’t that tough and that I’d just gotten lazy.

The big Versys didn’t seem to mind being ridden on fire roads, even though it wouldn’t be the first choice for serious off-road adventuring.

The Versys appears least likely to travel off-road, but in the actual event, it wasn’t that bad at all. It overcame the same dirt hurdles on our trip as the more adventure-minded bikes, but hardcore ADV riders will be looking elsewhere for a bike with more ground clearance, more suspension travel and a 19-inch front wheel.

Overall, there’s not much not to like about the Kawasaki – it’s bulletproof, straightforward and honest. However, it stands out in this fast company only for its utter smoothness (front rubber engine mounts greatly reduce four-cylinder vibration) and its exceptional value: $12,799 including luggage. Its low price, in fact, led it to victory in the Objective portion of the scorecard, and helped it inch past the Caponord in our rankings.

It really is a lot of moto for $12,799, saddlebags included.

My problem with both Japanese entrants is, now that we’ve seen the big city in the form of the Multistrada, GS, KTM, etc., how you gonna keep us down on the farm with no cruise control, electronic suspension or WiFi? If you crave the simple life and, again, have a dealer who will haggle, I could see it. For you, not me.

Kawasaki Versys 1000 LT

+ Highs

  • Definitely the value leader of the bunch
  • The smoothest, comfiest Kawi to use this engine
  • Perhaps the most reliable motorcycle here

– Sighs

  • In the modern era, any bike with “touring” in its descriptor needs cruise control
  • The bike in the gray flannel suit; it’s a little nondescript next to the others
  • Less happy on dirt roads than some others

BMW R1200GS – 86.1%

By Evans Brasfield

The old saying goes that every generation hopes to be surpassed by the one that follows it. If any bike deserves to be called the granddaddy of adventure touring, it’s the BMW R1200GS. The GS was, for the longest time, the leader in a class of one. However, the bike that started it all, despite relentless improvements by BMW, can’t rise to the top of this scorecard. It’s a clear indication of how far the challengers have come in recent years. So, while the GS may not be exactly sitting back to enjoy its golden years (because it’s still busy chasing horizons – both on road and off), it has, during this six-day excursion, shown that it can still give the kids a run for the money, thus keeping them honest.

2013 BMW R1200GS Review – Second Ride

So, what does keeping the challengers to the throne honest look like? Well, how does placing first in five of the subjective categories in MO’s famed scorecard sound? Let’s take a look at them, shall we?

The BMW R1200GS is the granddaddy of this class of motorcycle, but with its liquid-cooled engine and a plethora of other updates, the GS isn’t ready to be put out to pasture.

Scoring the win in the Ergonomics/Comfort classification should come as no surprise. Anyone who has previously ridden a GS can attest to its comfort, balance, and ease of operation in all environments. One of only two bikes to crack 90% in a category that is vital for a successful touring bike (second went to the KTM 1290), the Boxer proved to be an ideal mount for racking up the miles. In fact, it’s so capable that it makes the task look easy.

Still, designated old fart Burns found a couple things to complain about: “The seat’s not quite as plush as it once was. Even so, the GS is still the gold standard and impossible to seriously criticize. For more mature riders, okay geezers, the thing is nearly an orthopedic device that’s actually a reasonable alternative to the couch.” But a couch can’t take you across the continent on both paved and dirt roadways.

The ability to carry gear is another place that a touring bike needs to excel to be a serious contender. On its way to garnering another category win, the GS includes some really cool saddlebags. BMW’s Vario cases have the unique ability to expand when needed for travel but narrow the bike by 4.7 in. when the extra carrying capacity is not required. When in the narrow mode, the rider sacrifices just 2.6 gallons per bag. A nice nod towards urban utility. However, this coolness comes at a $1,074 premium.

The cross-laced wheels, allowing tubeless tires, are a $500 option. Duke points out, “The strong front brakes work well with the Telelever front end to effortlessly scrub speed without upsetting the chassis, even when the bike is loaded.”

When it comes to fit and finish, the mighty GS topped the list again. Perhaps Sir Duke summed it up best when he pointed out that even the “cast-aluminum screen bracketry is engineering to admire, a huge contrast to the Explorer’s crude design.” However, this attention to detail doesn’t mean that nothing slipped past the designers. Roderick wasn’t the only one to complain about the small numbers on the analog speedo: “The current dial is too small with too many integers to easily read what speed you’re traveling.” Burns agreed – sort of – when he said, “The numbers are even big enough to read, except for the unimportant ones on the tach and speedo.”

Additionally, over the years, opinions have largely been split concerning the Telelever front end. “The front Telelever suspension remains vague feeling compared to the others with standard front fork suspensions,” reminded Roderick, ”but you get used to trusting the BMW, and once that trust is established, it’ll go around a corner with the best of them.”

Gabe says he loves the GS’ trademark stability: Nothing is as stable as the GS, and I mean nothing. Corners, high speeds, whatever, the GS is unflappable, even on the brakes in one of those bumpy, tight downhill corners through the gullies of the California Coast that terrified me on other bikes.

The GS acquainted itself to the undulating topography of the California coast – both on pavement and in the dirt. The Beemer’s LED headlight proved to be a boon during nighttime rides. “It’s probably the best headlight I’ve ever used,” raves Mitchell. “It was pretty exceptional.”

In our dirt excursion, the GS garnered tons of praise. Duke had much to say about the Boxer: “Enduro mode disconnects the rear brake from ABS, which is a real boon when aggressively descending hills in the dirt. Enduro mode also allows wheelies and some tire-spin, but not as much as the optional Enduro Pro mode (not equipped on our tester), which really loosens up the reins. Finally, Enduro mode softens up the D-ESA suspension to better absorb repetitive bumps.”

Hutchison notes the GS has always felt big, “But now with the other massive machines offered by the competition, it doesn’t seem as gigantic.” However he still found nits to pick: “The rear brake pedal was so low and required a long reach to activate it that it took away from the otherwise fine off-road experience.”

The GS is also notable for its shaft final drive; all others but the Triumph are chain-driven. A shaft eliminates chain maintenance, a real boon when racking up big miles. However, a shaft comes at the cost of a weight penalty and some axle tramp when accelerating over serrated off-road terrain.

The venerable GS is at home in the dirt.

Similarly, the engine garnered both praise and criticism. “Twisting the loud handle on grippy pavement shows the wasser-Boxer’s newfound vigor, revving out excitedly unlike the previous air-cooled Boxers,” Duke reports, noting also that ”power can be meted out off-road pony by pony, applying motion in exact dollops no matter the speed.”

Ever to the point, Roderick said, “The newish Boxer Twin certainly provides the Beemer with better pep compared to older GS modes, but in this company of more powerful engines it actually feels a little underpowered.” Although Burns liked the new mill, ”the price you pay is a bit more vibration all over the place, a thing that was mostly absent from the older, heavier, longer-legged GS of yore.”

Get me my reading glasses! The instruments need to be updated to the easier-to-read-at-a-glance digital speedo.

With all this to love about the R1200GS, how did it finish off the podium? Perhaps it’s suffering from a malady usually reserved for criticizing Hondas. “The GS goes about doing everything you ask of it with mechanical precision,” says staff complainer Roderick, ”For many riders, its steadfast reliability to perform without much enthusiasm, though, may be viewed as kind of boring. It’s really hard to fault this bike, but then again it’s really hard to get enthusiastic about it either.”

Ouch! Tough words, but that’s the point of this kind of shootout. The R1200GS is a great bike with a loyal following – for good reason – but the hooves of the competition are no longer merely approaching.


+ Highs

  • Adventure-touring heritage
  • Among the best off-road
  • Expandable saddlebags

– Sighs

  • Hard to read speedo
  • Pricey when optioned up
  • So functional it’s sometimes bland

KTM 1190 Adventure – 86.3%

By Kevin Duke

KTM’s reputation has been built upon its specialty of engineering off-road motorcycles, so it’s no surprise the Austrian company’s adventure-touring mainstay performs so adeptly when the asphalt ends and the dirt begins.

“I’ve always liked the KTM Adventure series, and they have the recipe just about right with the 1190,” says Hutchison, an off-road veteran. “Factor in the fact that it is the most off-road capable bike in this segment, and choosing it seems like a no-brainer to me.”

Indeed, all testers lauded the 1190’s off-road performance, which gave us the confidence to go fastest in any dirt section. Its motor smoothly picks up revs at low rpm to aid crawling around obstacles, and its chassis feels the most capable over the rough stuff, with the best off-road suspension of the group that, particularly in the rear, is plusher than the BMW GS’s, which is saddled with the additional weight of its shaft final-drive.

KTM’s 1190 Adventure strikes a pleasing balance between over-the-road and off-road adventuring. It boasts more horsepower (124 hp) than five bikes in this test, has reasonable long-haul wind protection and comfort, and is impossible to beat in fast dirt sections.

Despite its considerable dirt prowess, the 1190 does a fine job at keeping up on almost any paved road. Steering effort is relatively light, and communication from the front end during sport riding is exemplary for a bike with a 19-inch front wheel.

“When it comes to the sporty side of the equation, the 1190 has that attribute in spades both on and off the pavement,” says Chief KTM Tank-bagger, Roderick. “The 1190 has more than enough stonk for off-roading and to keep pace with XR and Multi once you get used to the front-end dive from the long-travel fork, even with the electronically adjustable suspension set to Sport. A light clutch pull coupled with smooth transmission shifts helps the 1190 maintain a good pace, as does its wide spread of smooth, easily manageable power.”

“The engine is awesome, even if it isn’t as gnarly as the Super-A,” adds Hutchison, “and it works great on the road or the dirt. It is quite comfortable over the long haul thanks to a relaxed riding position, great seat and a footpeg-to-seat ratio that fits my 30-inch inseam just right.”

The 1190 ticks most of the boxes for what we look for in an adventure-tourer, including voluminous luggage capacity (73 liters, best in class), roomy ergonomics, height-adjustable windscreen, and handy tire-pressure monitor. Its only obvious omission is cruise control.

As for Gabe, he says he wishes his 30-inch inseam was a bit longer so he fit the 1190 more comfortably, but he credits the KTM for being easy and fun to ride, with great electronics and instrumentation. “Comfy, too,” he says, “A far cry from the 950 I tested years ago.”

Gabe wasn’t the only one to praise the KTM’s instrumentation. Its twin monochrome LCD screens look archaic next to the Ducati’s lush gauges, but they are remarkably effective at conveying necessary info.

“The 1190’s dash isn’t a full-color TFT display like the Multistrada’s, but it’s my second favorite of this group,” rates Roderick. “Easy to read and even easier to manipulate the variety of settings, including ride modes, suspension settings, ABS, TC, etc.”

KTM Super crasher Brasfield says the ease of changing modes on the 1190 made him more prone to switching through them to test them out. “I also like the user-adjustable Favorites screen,” he notes, “since we all want to track different things on our bikes.”

Also receiving kudos was the KTM’s saddlebags. The smart and convenient design allows opening and closing without needing a key, and the hinge tops provide easy access to contents. Four bungee hooks on top of each bag supply lash points for securing extra luggage items. Their only issue was sticky latches that were reluctant to relatch when closed – they needed some Arthur Fonzarelli-like taps and raps to properly latch shut until we finally just squirted in some WD40, after which they latched much smoother. The bags showed a durable mounting design after its Super Adventure brother’s crash experience.

The 1190 Adventure’s list of negatives is fairly short. It’s V-Twin engine transmits a fair amount of vibration – a throbby buzz or a buzzy throb – but it’s at a frequency that doesn’t seem to numb fingers. I also noticed an abundance of play in the front brake lever, which, oddly, didn’t afflict its 1290 Adventure brother. Otherwise, the radial-mount Brembos work very well at shedding speed whether on road or off.

The 1190’s windscreen is nicely protective, but its height adjustability requires two hands, therefore not easy to accomplish without stopping. Its headlight is decent at illuminating the darkness, but it’s not as good as the brilliant white LED lights of the Duc and GS.

The KTM’s other faux pas is a tendency to “weave at speeds you don’t want to tell your family about,” according to Evans Mudface, who acknowledges the weave only happens at triple-digit velocities and doesn’t feel like it’s leading to impending doom. “I just grew to accept it and then ignore it, like tires wandering over rain grooves.”

Overall, we believe the 1190 Adventure ($17,899 as tested) strikes an excellent balance for riders who relish taking their adventure bikes off the beaten path, earning the respect of several of our riders.

“If you plan to travel the world,” Hutch advises, “then remember that the places covered by dirt are way more exciting than asphalt, so be sure to have a bike beneath you that is capable of conquering any obstacle. This is the adventure bike for me.”

“I love this damn thing,” Burnsie cheers. “The seat’s great, the electronics are great, the motor is powerful and linear. In fact, I don’t know why I’m not ranking it higher? For six days on the road, I suppose, the lack of cruise control in this price range takes it out of the running for me.” Sean counters with “I rarely use cruise control, so its omission is no big deal to me, besides, the 1190’s comfy seat and ergonomics, and its generally “sporty” nature easily compensate for the missing feature.

KTM 1190 Adventure

+ Highs

  • Balance
  • Dirt cred
  • Feels sporty

– Sighs

  • High-speed weave
  • All those electronics and no cruise control
  • Throbby engine

Ducati Multistrada 1200 S – 87.7%

Going into this thing, the new for `15 Multi was definitely a contender and it’s definitely a winner in some eyes even if it didn’t win the Overall. The fact that its new Twin is nearly 20 horses down on the #1 BMW XR didn’t keep it from winning the Engine portion of the competition, helped immensely by the broad powerband created by its new variable valve timing. The Multi also won in the Brakes department, thanks to its powerful and tactilely superior Brembos from Ducati’s race department, and it came in second on the Handling portion of our ScoreCard (a tie with the 1190), only behind the Caponord.

What held it to third overall was a somewhat surprising dismal 8th place finish in the Ergonomics/Comfort category. The bigger and taller you are, it seems, the less you’re going to like the Ducati – and our biggest, tallest tester liked it least. At the other end of the scale, 5’8 me gave the Multi my highest comfort ranking, a 9.75.

Multistrada First Ride

Short, hairy Gabe says: I’m not sure why I liked the Multi so much. Maybe because Sean hated it and I started identifying with it as a fellow victim of his torrent of verbal and emotional abuse? More likely, I liked it because as the tied-for-smallest man on the test, it fit me very well in this field of mega-moto-monsters. The seat was comfy, it was low to the ground and very easy to ride at high or low speeds, the instrumentation and controls were easy to figure out, the luggage was quality (if lacking in capacity), and I thought the handling and suspension were very good. I also appreciated the strong and controllable brakes. Power was also great, my second-favorite motor behind the XR: another WSBK for the trail. The wind protection was really good, with minimal buffeting and good coverage — probably because the screen is so close to the rider. I also liked how easy it was to adjust the screen one-handed while moving.

The S model’s cornering lights are reasonably effective on really tight, slow roads, but only illuminate where you just were on faster ones. Overall, its headlight is excellent, and its buffet-free windshield is the easiest to move up and down.

Duke digs the Multi’s engine, and, at 5-foot, 8-inches, doesn’t complain about its ergos: The DVT upgrade makes a great motor fantastic. The fact that it almost spits out the same torque as the 100cc-larger Super Adventure is conclusive evidence to its torque-broadening advancements. The XR’s motor delivers horsepower that will set your eyeballs back in your head, but I prefer the Ducati’s booming and torquey power delivery.

Evans seconds that emotion: The first thing I thought when sitting on the Multistrada was, ‘What’s a Sportster doing in this shootout?’ The Ducati’s seat-to-peg relationship was the most cramped. I’m not saying it was uncomfortable, which it wasn’t for my 5-foot 11-inch and 32-inch inseamed frame. Sitting on the Duc just required a little adjusting to after the more spread out legroom of the other bikes. If you like torque, the Multistrada is the machine to straddle when the road gets twisty. Just grab a handful of brake, bang a downshift or two (if needed), and roll on the throttle to release the Torque Gods to the accompaniment of the engine’s dual trumpets that resonate in your body cavity. Yeah, the XR may provide that huge top-end rush, but the Multistrada grabbed me by my heartstrings and propelled me forward with a huge smile on my face. While some of the big boys complained about the handling, the Multi always felt composed and ready for more when I was riding it.

Tom Roderick didn’t dig the Duc’s handling, complaining he couldn’t get it to finish corners without running wide, but it was our size XL Editorial Director Sean who liked the Ducati’s handling least, and took his vengeance by giving it a 7.5. Sean’s aggressive riding style, combined with his 260-pound mass and two saddlebags full of stuff, were just a bit much for the Ducati even with Sport mode selected and more damping dialed up; to him, the bike just felt too soft and hinged somewhere in the middle.

The S’s TFT display is quite nice and easy-reading, and finished 2nd in the Instrumentation Dept. This is one of the rare times when its low-fuel light wasn’t on.

Alas, even our shortest-legged tester Ken didn’t like the way the Ducati bent his knees. All this is a bummer, because our test unit was in fact missing its seat base and therefore being ridden in the 32.5-inch position; the 0.8-inch removable base the bike comes with would’ve increased the seat-to-pegs relationship by that amount, and might’ve boosted the Ducati’s ergo score a considerable amount.

Another thing that came in for heaps of abuse was the bike’s pessimistic fuel gauge, which would usually turn on its low-fuel light after less than 100 miles; sometimes the light would be on after filling the tank! This appears to be an issue not confined to our tester, as Ducati forums indicate this is a fairly common problem.

That said, to some of us, the wonky gauge is more an annoyance than a deal breaker. The Multi has a 5.3-gallon tank and recorded the best mileage of the nine over our six-day flog – 40.1 mpg. That’s a 200-mile range. All you need to do is remember to set the tripmeter when you fill up and disregard the fuel gauge (along with the low-fuel light, which typically stayed lit on our bike for 10 miles or more after filling the tank).

Another somewhat worrying characteristic of the new Multi is the lethargy with which its starter spins the engine, a thing I also noticed at the bike’s launch. Even on warm days, the bike cranks like a carbureted Dodge Coronet in winter. It never failed to start, but a couple of times it seemed to really struggle to move those two 600cc pistons.

The Duc ties the KTM 1190 for 2nd in Handling, excelling on the road while the KTM liked the dirt. The Multi’s left bag will ingest a full-face helmet though its right will not.

One of the things we tech troglodytes like about the Duc is its easily decipherable user interface. There you are rolling along on the superslab in Touring all nice and floaty. When you get to Highway 1, even I could figure out how to swap to Sport on the fly, instantly feel things firm up, and proceed to take up the cudgels. With my 155 pounds on the thing, on the pavement, I felt like I could do no wrong, with the bike’s firm/compliant electronic Skyhook suspension and new frame providing the perfect level of movement to feed me maximum contact patch feel. I don’t recall seeing anybody in our group pulling away from me when I was on the Duc; in fact it was a simple matter to reel them in whenever I felt the need. Likewise, some of our group who would usually grow small in my mirrors became suddenly difficult to keep up with when they were on the Ducati.

Comfortwise, I would’ve liked the extra 0.8 inches of legroom also, but I gave the Ducati my highest mark in the Comfort column anyway, a 9.75, and it might be the only bike I’ve ever given a perfect 10 for Suspension. Though the Multi wound up third overall, partially for its high price in the Objective section of the Scorecard, two out of five MOrons rated it #1 Subjectively (Duke and myself), while Evans has it in a tie for first with the KTM 1290. This is one fantastic motorcycle for all but really large riders.

Ducati Multistrada 1200 S

+ Highs

  • The electronic motorcycle is coming of age
  • Supercush in Touring, supersporty in Sport
  • First Ducati with Cruise Control (backlit for easy nighttime use)

– Sighs

  • Harder to whine about service costs with valve-inspection interval now up to 18k miles
  • Would’ve finished higher if somebody hadn’t pilfered our 0.8-inch seat base
  • Our unit suffered from a few electronic teething pains, some of which seem to have carried over from previous Ducs (like the erratic fuel-level sensor)

KTM 1290 Super Adventure – 88.1%

by Tom Roderick

We chose the KTM 1290 Super Adventure as MO’s Best On-Off-Road/Adventure Bike of 2015 largely based on my recommendation. I attended the Super Adventure’s press launch and I’ve been on the majority of recent big adventure bike shootouts.

Battle Of The Adventures: BMW Vs. KTM + Video

Now that we’ve tested the Super Adventure against eight of its peers in an epic six-day journey that included thousands of miles of street riding as well as numerous hours spent riding off the pavement, I feel vindicated of any questionable reasoning for the SA winning the 2015 award. My opinion of the Super Adventure’s all-around performance was substantiated by its scores in my ScoreCard, easily besting the others and coming out the winner in my column.

Producing the most torque (86.8 lb.-ft. at 6,800 rpm) and third most horsepower (132.5 hp at 8,400 rpm, only five short of the Multistrada) the S-Adventure definitely isn’t lacking for power. Using the appropriate ride mode helps keep the power delivery appropriate for the current condition such as off-road riding, freeway traveling or attacking a set of paved twisties.

Visually, the S-Adventure seems to be the largest bike here, an impression partially due to its 8-gallon fuel tank, by far the largest capacity of this group. However, the 1290 will impress a rider with its ability to straighten a curvy paved road or navigate a water-rutted fire road.

Most of the taller MOrons liked the 1290 better after the big puddle snapped off its upper windscreen. It normally provides great protection. Its bags carry tons of stuff, and cornering lights are great after dark in the bush.

“Certainly the Super-A was built to dethrone the mighty BMW GS and in most ways, it actually does,” says guest tester and off-road specialist, Hutchison. “The engine is more powerful, it is more capable off-road and it feels smaller, even if it actually isn’t. The KTM is easier to ride in the dirt thanks to it’s super-sized dirt bike design and it proved to be durable after taking a nice digger too.”

The Super Adventure’s electronic package doesn’t include the quickshifter of the BMW or the color TFT display of the Ducati, but in addition to all the expected niceties like heated grips, you also get a heated seat for rider and pillion, hill start control and cornering ABS. And maybe the biggest improvement over the 1190 for travelers is the addition of cruise control. The bike’s novelty cornering lights can be useful in the dark off the pavement, but they’re useless on the pavement at faster speeds.

“The 1290’s cornering lights seem like a clever and simpler alternative solution to BMW’s complicated adaptive headlight, but they shine not far in front of the bike, making them pretty much pointless at speeds above 30 mph,” says Super Chief Editor, Duke.

There’s Lean-Sensitive ABS, Traction Control and Wheelie Control – but there is no Big Puddle Control. The 1290 even warns you of children in crosswalks.

Unlike the 1190 Adventure, which only comes with electronically adjustable suspension, the S-Adventure is outfitted with semi-active dynamic suspension. The WP semi-active fork with its anti-dive function maintains composure when subjected to extreme braking forces, never exhibiting the mushy, squirminess associated with longer-travel suspension. You’ll feel the difference when braking into a corner where the 1190, even in the Sport setting, compresses much further than the dynamic suspension of the S-Adventure.

KTM’s owner’s manual states the 1290 Super Adventure should not be ridden faster than 150 kph (93 mph) when loaded with luggage, and we found out why when we investigated. Our Super ADV, with a substantial load of full saddlebags and camping gear, exhibited an unnerving weave above that speed. The weave never became a tankslapper, but it’s an odd foible for a bike developed in Europe. So, yeah, it does weave, but only when you’re riding it in a way KTM advises against.

Following Over-Confident Editor Evans Brasfield’s mud-bath episode while riding the S-Adventure, we discovered two things. One, that KTM did a wonderful job designing the saddlebag mounts of the 1290 Super Adventure and 1190 Adventure. We were surprised when the right saddlebag clicked right back into place after having been ripped from the bike during EB’s crash.

“Of course, I’d take the most expensive bike on the test and unceremoniously throw it down into the only mud puddle for miles,” Brasfield apologizes. “Perhaps I should blame the SA for the mishap, since it was the bike’s off-road ability that inflated my perceptions of my own.”

Secondly, everyone enjoyed the bike better after the gigantic windscreen was snapped off in the crash. Yes, you sacrifice some wind protection, but we appreciated the unobstructed view and the reduced buffeting experienced by some editors.

“Its tall shield would be nice on cold, wet or insect-ridden rides,” Duke observes, “but it was too obtrusive – even in its low position – for our coastal California environs, and it was also difficult to adjust.”

Our advice is not to crash the Super Adventure to get to the windscreen, but rather remove it with the appropriate tools, and maybe replace it with one that’s more conducive to better viewing.

By Day Six, the Super Adventure was only getting loosened up; one tiny low-speed mud tump-over didn’t even faze it (though it did punch a small hole in the right bag’s leading edge).

Gabe says: Mostly the same observations as the 1190. The motor, which is already too powerful, makes even more power. Yay! I too noted a weave at high speeds, over 90-110 mph. Awful wind buffeting until Brasfield broke the extended screen off. Thanks.

Duke thinks: If you get bored easily by acceleration, the third-gear power wheelies in the SADV can get your attention and hold it. Amazingly good on Usal Road, almost as capable as the 1190. It’s only the bigger (and heavier when filled) fuel tank that makes it feel slightly more ponderous.

The 1290 Super Adventure clearly straddles both the on- and off-road realms better than the other bikes here. The S-Adventure offers all-day comfort, incredible range, awesome engine power, excellent on- and off-road handling, better-than-most saddlebags, and an electronics package that’s truly beneficial to both rider and passenger, all included in a price tag lower than the more one-sided Multistrada.

KTM 1290 Super Adventure

+ Highs

  • Everything we loved about the 1190 and more
  • Great choice for adventurers who spend lots of miles off-pavement
  • Now with cruise control, it’s ready for serious travel

– Sighs

  • She’s large, but holds 8 gallons of fuel so you really can’t complain
  • Good thing there’s a steering damper when you insist upon going fast
  • No Air Conditioning

BMW S1000XR – 88.6%

by John Burns

Winner on the official MO ScoreCard in Grin Factor and the only bike to get into the 90s here with a 92 GF! Winner of Suspension, winner of Transmission/Clutch and #1 in Instruments and Controls categories! A somewhat surprising 4th place finisher in Handling (because it doesn’t handle in dirt as well as it does on pavement); and in spite of being bested by five other bikes (and tied by another) in Ergonomics/Comfort, and even though tallying a disappointing 7th in the Engine category in spite of being the most powerful bike here by 20 horsepower (!)… Ladieeees and gentlemeeeen, the winner of MO’s Favorite Adventure bike of 2015 is the new BMW S1000XRrrrrrr!

2015 BMW S1000XR First Ride Review

Wait. How’s that work? Mathematics, kids. The XR was on top enough in the categories it won, and close enough numerically in the ones it didn’t, to take the Grand Total Cake away from the KTM 1290 Super Adventure. If you remove the Objective portion of the Card (which factors in price, hp and weight), then the Super Adventure wins and the XR finishes third behind the Ducati. But that’s not how we do it. And so the XR wins. Your mileage may vary, largely depending on your off-road aspirations.

Subjectively, here’s what we thought:

Gabe Ets-Hokin: If you’ve ever thought it would be a good idea to make a sport/adventure/naked thingee out of a slightly detuned World SBK racer (and who hasn’t?) here is your dream made flesh. It’s a pretty cool package, well suited to lots of different kinds of riding. Passing cars is not just easy, it’s hilarious, so is passing rented RVs with a 100-mph speed differential, not that I would ever do that. But the vibrations make the XR a lot less desirable and not the clear winner.

Tom R: Simply put, this is the world’s most comfortable sportbike. Insanely flickable, stable through the corners and outfitted with the most powerful engine of the group, the XR is a blast on paved roads. You just gotta love that BMW outfitted the XR with a quickshifter that works going up in gears as well as down. I do anyway. The Multistrada has been a favorite of mine since its introduction but now that the XR has arrived I like it better in every way – except for the engine’s atrocious vibration. The vibes are bad enough to stop me from purchasing this bike. Seriously, take one for a test ride before you purchase to see for yourself if you can live with perpetually numb extremities.

Fitting that the sportiest of these sporty adventurers has the sportiest clocks, with slightly smaller numbers than the GS for younger eyeballs. You’ll want to hold on tight when the tach needle gets past the 8…

Duke: There’s a lot of buzz about this bike, and I’m not referring to advance anticipation. The absence of a counterbalancer creates omnipresent vibration and is the XR’s most obvious – and almost only – flaw. Bars oscillate at various revs, and the pegs buzz so hard at a few rev zones that they feel like the fasteners are coming loose. Mirrors lose clarity from the fuzz and buzz. Its two-position shield is decently effective but not as adaptable as some others. I preferred the Duc’s handling to the XR’s, which wasn’t quite as easy to bend deeply into corners. Suspension is really buttoned down in Dynamic mode. If you were to do a trackday on one of these bikes, the XR would be the one.

Brassnuckles: When the time came to go fast, the BMW XR was the bike to be on. We didn’t need the dyno figures to tell us that it spanked the other bikes with its horsepower output. The throttle response, throughout the rpm range, was spot-on, giving the rider maximum control of the power delivery in every situation. Still, there’s no free lunch, and riding the XR through Friday evening traffic in San Francisco was a chore. With no flywheel effect to speak of, launching the loaded bike at multiple stoplights, often on hills, was more work than I cared for. I’m sure the other guys have commented aplenty about the XR’s annoying engine vibration, so I’ll just keep my complaint to this:

Oh, hey look at the time!

In fact, the only guy who picked the XR numero uno overall was our big man, Sean Alexander. With its most-firm suspension and monster 156-hp motor, SA was willing to overlook any minor flaws for the XR’s ability to fly his 260 pounds over roads at a pace that had him thinking the Ducati might de-trellis itself.

The thinnish seat works best for people who bring their own cushion; at least the shape is great.

As for myself, JB, the XR is the bike for 20-years younger me; the only real difference between it and the S1000RR is that the XR is way more comfortable and takes a millisecond longer to transition from full lean to full lean. I swear this one’s buzzier than the one I rode on the launch a few months ago; I totally think it has to do with some mass-produced engines just being buzzier than others. In any case, it doesn’t bother me much at all: When you’re using it the way BMW intends, I don’t notice it a bit. In drone mode, the buzz peaks at 5000 rpm and 70 mph; by 80 and 6k rpm (my normal cruising speed), things on this unit felt smooth enough to not bug me. Maybe my feet have gone numb? The thing that makes it a non-issue is BMW’s excellent CC system. There is nothing else to complain about with this bike except that unlike the GS, the digits are a tad small on the control panel for middle-aged orbs.

Otherwise, the feel is nice and lithe and most willing to exploit the extra grip its 17-inch front tire provides, especially for big guys. Powerwise, nothing else here can touch it; when the XR wants to leave its troubles behind, it just does. Passing cars is effortless in 6th from as little as 40 mph or so. In the final analysis, this one may be a bit frenetic for 55-year old me to live with long-term, but I definitely recommend it for six days. Somewhat therapeutic for getting the blood recirculating.


+ Highs

  • One horsepower for each 3.5 pounds
  • Seamless electronics make it eminently controllable on pavement or off
  • It’s a superbike with bags you can ride off-road. End of story.

– Sighs

  • One of the buzziest Fours in memory…
  • Encourages irrational exuberance
  • Makes the GS feel like your father’s Oldsmobile (we like Oldsmobiles too)
Yeah, we know one bike is missing. The photo gear had to be carried somewhere.

Shall We Attempt To Make Sense Of It All?

Nine bikes is the biggest assemblage we’ve ever attempted, and keeping track of each one’s failings and strengths taxes our ability to make sense of it all in our ever-more-complex motoworld. Still, the official MO ScoreCard does not lie, and the bike that emerged atop the heap, just barely edging out the all-new KTM 1290 Super Adventure, would be the also all-new BMW S1000XR. Using its most powerful four-cylinder engine and extremely competent chassis, the XR was able to rise above all the complaints about its buzzy engine and decidedly sporty bent to snag the victory.

Meanwhile, the bike it beat by half-a-percent could just as easily be your winner depending on where you live.

All MO adventures begin and end in the SoCal megalopolis, which means we gravitate toward adventure bikes more streetified. If we were based in Durango or Moab or any place where dirt roads begin right outside your garage door and are as common as paved ones, the plush yet purposeful big KTM might’ve easily carried the day with its more off-road orientation and 8-gallon hat. Not that it’s not pretty damn good on pavement, too, and not that the BMW is at all bad off of it. Sort of depends on what you like.

Tom opens the floodgates for his…uh…critiques of the Sport-Adventure Tourers.

Meanwhile, the all-new Ducati Multistrada 1200 S grabs third place, about 0.4% behind the 1290. Without the faulty fuel-level sensor and without its seat stuck in the low position, which caused a lot of whining, it might’ve won the thing.

Followed by the 1190 KTM, another fantastic machine. The fact that the defending champ BMW R1200GS, still really the benchmark but somehow slightly, is dull the right word? Sensible? It finished all the way down in fifth, but if we planned to actually live with one of these for the next few years, the GS would be extremely tough to shop past.

Siblings? Yes, and a fine example of the broad playing field afforded by Adventure Tourers.

We hate to have to say it, but this time it couldn’t be more true: There’s not a bad bike in this bunch. These are the bikes people are buying now (we waved at many, many adventure bikes over six days), and this is where the competition is fiercest. Even the last-place Suzuki, the lightest bike here, is an hellaciously good adventure bike if most of your adventures are not so extended.

And as a class of motorcycles, all we can say is, where’ve you been all our lives? Unless you’re a big person carrying a large passenger, most of these things are almost as comfortable on the straight and narrow as a full-on touring bike. Most of them can turn and burn in the twisties like a hair-on-fire sportbike (sometimes even a little better thanks to the upright ergonomics), and all of them are able to safely traverse unpaved roads you’d never think of going down on your typical sport-tourer, aided by their 21st-century electronics and suspension systems.

For Specs See: Epic Sport-Adventure Spec Sheet Shootout

Then there’s the simple fact that several MOrons aren’t getting any younger, but they’re not ready for the Gold Wing rocking chair either. Basically, these bikes let us ride with the abandon of youth when we feel like it, including in the dirt! Then we can toddle on home, or home on the range, in Cadillac comfort, just in time to retire with a nice warm glass of milk and the latest issue of Boy’s Life next to a warm fire. Bliss, really.

2015 Ultimate Sports-Adventure-Touring Shootout Scorecard

Aprilia Caponord 1200 Rally83.7%
Aprilia Caponord 1200 RallyOverall: 83.7%

MSRP: 81.6%

Weight: 90.1%

lb/hp: 63.6%

lb/lb-ft.: 79.36%

Engine: 87.0%

Transmission: 86.5%

Handling: 87.5%

Brakes: 86.5%

Suspension: 94.0%

Technology: 85.0%

Instruments: 71.0%

Ergonomics: 89.5%

Luggage: 75.0%

Quality: 82.0%

Cool Factor: 85.5%

Grin Factor: 86.5%

BMW R1200GS85.0%
BMW R1200GSOverall: 85.0%

MSRP: 61.6%

Weight: 91.3%

lb/hp: 64.8%

lb/lb-ft.: 87.8%

Engine: 91.5%

Transmission: 81.5%

Handling: 86.5%

Brakes: 86.5%

Suspension: 90.0%

Technology: 87.5%

Instruments: 84.5%

Ergonomics: 91.5%

Luggage: 91.5%

Quality: 91.5%

Cool Factor: 93.0%

Grin Factor: 83.5%

BMW S1000XR88.6%
BMW S1000XROverall: 88.6%

MSRP: 64.4%

Weight: 98.9%

lb/hp: 100%

lb/lb-ft.: 95.6%

Engine: 86.0%

Transmission: 92.0%

Handling: 85.0%

Brakes: 92.5%

Suspension: 94.5%

Technology: 92.5%

Instruments: 90.5%

Ergonomics: 84.5%

Luggage: 86.5%

Quality: 88.5%

Cool Factor: 89.0%

Grin Factor: 92.0%

Ducati Multistrada 1200S87.7%
Ducati Multistrada 1200SOverall: 87.7%

MSRP: 60.7%

Weight: 95.9%

lb/hp: 85.37%

lb/lb-ft.: 97.0%

Engine: 96.0%

Transmission: 88.0%

Handling: 87.0%

Brakes: 94.0%

Suspension: 92.0%

Technology: 90.0%

Instruments: 87.5%

Ergonomics: 84.0%

Luggage: 85.0%

Quality: 89.0%

Cool Factor: 91.5%

Grin Factor: 88.0%

Kawasaki Versys 1000LT83.8%
Kawasaki Versys 1000LTOverall: 83.8%

MSRP: 100%

Weight: 95.8%

lb/hp: 67.3%

lb/lb-ft.: 80.3%

Engine: 85.5%

Transmission: 85.0%

Handling: 85.5%

Brakes: 80.5%

Suspension: 80.5%

Technology: 70.0%

Instruments: 80.0%

Ergonomics: 84.5%

Luggage: 85.0%

Quality: 79.5%

Cool Factor: 75.0%

Grin Factor: 79.5%

KTM 1190 Adventure86.3%
KTM 1190 AdventureOverall: 86.3%

MSRP: 71.5%

Weight: 98.2%

lb/hp: 77.8%

lb/lb-ft.: 90.3%

Engine: 89.3%

Transmission: 87.5%

Handling: 87.0%

Brakes: 86.0%

Suspension: 90.5%

Technology: 80.0%

Instruments: 87.0%

Ergonomics: 86.0%

Luggage: 89.5%

Quality: 86.5%

Cool Factor: 85.5%

Grin Factor: 87.5%

KTM 1290 Super Adventure88.1%
KTM 1290 Super AdventureOverall: 88.1%

MSRP: 62.4%

Weight: 96.8%

lb/hp: 83.3%

lb/lb-ft.: 100%

Engine: 94.5%

Transmission: 87.5%

Handling: 83.0%

Brakes: 87.5%

Suspension: 93.0%

Technology: 94.0%

Instruments: 88.5%

Ergonomics: 90.0%

Luggage: 91.0%

Quality: 87.5%

Cool Factor: 89.5%

Grin Factor: 89.5%

Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS80.2%
Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABSOverall: 80.2%

MSRP: 88.2%

Weight: 100%

lb/hp: 59.3%

lb/lb-ft.: 82.3%

Engine: 80.8%

Transmission: 82.5%

Handling: 82.0%

Brakes: 79.0%

Suspension: 80.0%

Technology: 60.0%

Instruments: 79.0%

Ergonomics: 80.0%

Luggage: 91.0%

Quality: 79.5%

Cool Factor: 71.0%

Grin Factor: 75.0%

Triumph Explorer XC ABS81.1%
Triumph Explorer XC ABSOverall: 81.1%

MSRP: 69.2%

Weight: 89.8%

lb/hp: 64.0%

lb/lb-ft.: 80.3%

Engine: 82.0%

Transmission: 82.0%

Handling: 78.5%

Brakes: 81.5%

Suspension: 82.0%

Technology: 80.0%

Instruments: 82.0%

Ergonomics: 85.0%

Luggage: 91.0%

Quality: 83.0%

Cool Factor: 82.5%

Grin Factor: 79.0%

Hover your mouse over the overall score for individual category ratings.

Motorcycle.com Staff
Motorcycle.com Staff

Motorcycle.com presents an unrivaled combination of bike reviews and news written by industry experts

More by Motorcycle.com Staff

Join the conversation
4 of 151 comments
  • Das auto Das auto on May 25, 2016

    How can you do this review and skip the Yamaha Super Tenere? It is just weird. Not sure it beats the KTM Super Advenuture overall but it is well ahead of most of these bikes, especially for the money. It is a glaring error. No I don't work for Yamaha nor do I own a Super Tenere, but it is on my short list for this class, and I have been gradually riding/testing these bikes.

    • See 1 previous
    • Das auto Das auto on May 27, 2016

      fair enough, thanks for the reply. I haven't ridden all these bikes nor am I the expert you guys are, but at least we agree it should be in the mix if possible. I missed that comment (that they didn't supply), so my bad. This was the best overall review I've seen on this topic and hope you do it again next year. I am on the verge of upgrading my KLR to one of these, so I've been riding them all gradually over the past year, including the 1200 GS A this week. It just so happens that the Super Tenere is on my short list, partially due to value, admittedly, and obviously final decisions are personal tastes based on how a bike feels to an individual...I just thought for the money, it is a good mid-pack contender (in my humble opinion). Thanks again for reply.

  • Brian Brink Plagborg Brian Brink Plagborg on Dec 17, 2017

    This article just makes me love my Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX even more. There's nothing in these other bikes, I'll ever need in real adventure touring and have they got the character of a Guzzi? Think not. Great test, though.