Epic Sport-Adventure Shootout - Kawasaki Versys 1000

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.

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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

Epic Sport-Adventure Shootout - Kawasaki Versys 1000

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.

Epic Sport-Adventure Shootout - Kawasaki Versys 1000

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.

Epic Sport-Adventure Shootout - Kawasaki Versys 1000

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

Epic Sport-Adventure Shootout - BMW R1200GS

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?

Epic Sport-Adventure Shootout - BMW R1200GS

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.

Epic Sport-Adventure Shootout - BMW R1200GS

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.

Epic Sport-Adventure Shootout - BMW R1200GS

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.

Epic Sport-Adventure Shootout - BMW R1200GS

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.”

Epic Sport-Adventure Shootout - BMW R1200GS

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

Epic Sport-Adventure Shootout - KTM 1190 Adventure

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.

Epic Sport-Adventure Shootout - KTM 1190 Adventure

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.”

Epic Sport-Adventure Shootout - KTM 1190 Adventure

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.”

Epic Sport-Adventure Shootout - KTM 1190 Adventure

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.

Epic Sport-Adventure Shootout - KTM 1190 Adventure

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.

Epic Sport-Adventure Shootout - KTM 1190 Adventure

“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

Epic Sport-Adventure Shootout - Ducati Multistrada

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.

Epic Sport-Adventure Shootout - Ducati Multistrada

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.

Epic Sport-Adventure Shootout - Ducati Multistrada

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.

Epic Sport-Adventure Shootout - Ducati Multistrada

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)

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