2018 Big-Bore Adventure Touring Shootout - Part 1: Street

Ryan Adams
by Ryan Adams

BMW R1200GS Adventure vs. Ducati Multistrada 1260 S Tour vs. Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports vs. KTM 1290 Super Adventure R vs. Suzuki V-Strom 1000XT vs. Triumph Tiger 1200 XCa vs. Yamaha Super Tnr ES

On a humid and hazy southern California morning our cast of misfits began to stir to life from all stretches of the LA basin. Showers were had (by some), coffee was made and consumed, gear was donned. We seven fortunate souls set out on what would be our first true challenge of the next 72 hours, the first gauntlet that our machines would be subjected to, weekday traffic in Los Angeles with a destination of none other than Starbucks. The unofficial meeting place of adventure riders the world over, yet, for so many, the journey’s end before it ever even begins.

Since our 2016 Wire Wheel Adventure Shootout, key players in the adventure market have developed new models while others received tweaks, and some only paint jobs. KTM’s flagship big-bore touring range has undergone yet another reorg with two 1290 Super Adventure models, the S for streetier touring and R, included here, for off-road duty. Honda, with the release of the Africa Twin Adventure Sports, plans to come to the fight better equipped to be compared to the other big adventure bikes everyone was already comparing it to. Triumph has also revamped its Tiger 1200 lineup which sees the XCa dripping with accessory parts and new tech. Though it is decidedly not as dirt-oriented as the others, Ducati’s new Multistrada 1260 has also undergone a fair amount of changes, most notably, receiving the DVT 1262 cc engine used in the XDiavel. Unfortunately, there was no Multistrada Enduro, which more closely would have matched the dirt/street ratios of some of the other bikes, available when we needed the bike, although that may have ended up playing to the Ducati’s advantage.

With caffeine pumping through our veins, our merry septet of motorcyclists set off into the scorching and unforgiving lands of San Bernardino county.

We set out on our iron horses, some of which are nearly as tall as horses, into the desert for a long freeway haul in order to get our sweaty selves up into elevation as soon as possible. We chose Kennedy Meadows as our proving ground for these big adventure bikes due to the area’s large trail system which ranges from wide-open gravel roads to fun 4×4 trails, and tight snarky single-track. The fact that the few paved roads in and out of the area also slither their way though beautiful mountainous scenery while opening up into magnificent vistas around nearly every turn also provided ample opportunity to test the handling of our fleet on the pavement.

Evans and I had taken it upon ourselves to do a one day scouting run up to Kennedy Meadows to better familiarize ourselves with the area a couple of weeks prior to bringing the whole crew up. We sampled all of the local faire: backroads, jeep trails, double track, and dead ends, alas, even on the KTM shod with TKC80s I couldn’t convince Evans to taste the single track, probably for the better since I was on the Tiger 1200 with street tires, not to mention the Triumph’s skid plate looks like it would cave quickly under its 632-pound heft. Ultimately, we found a great 4×4 trail that would keep the folks with less of a dirt background comfortable, while allowing those of us with more dirt under our brow to test the capabilities of these machines off-road.

One of the beautiful meadows Evans and I came upon during our scouting trip. Alas, the others would never see it…

Along with the usual suspects of Evans “Dad Jokes” Brasfield, Troy “Trizzle” Siahaan, Sean “Auto” Matic, Brent “@j00py” Jaswinski and myself, we were joined by dirt sensation and former EiC of Dirtbikes.com, Scott “The Frenchman” Rousseau, and special guest John Nave, who started out as a friend of Evans’, and rounded out the trip a friend to us all. It was a special treat to have John along with us for this ride in part because he is planning on purchasing one of these big adventure bikes soon, making his feedback especially pertinent. Not to mention he has plenty of dirt experience and also apparently makes a lot more money than all of us.

We had a successful first day, making it to Kennedy Meadows, setting up camp, and spending the rest of the day shooting and testing. Our content campers dined on dehydrated food, which was rehydrated into mostly soupy messes, and spent time telling ghost stories around the campfire under the moonlight.

Never has Troy looked so happy to be camping.

After some early morning espresso, courtesy of Evans’ camp espresso maker, and videography, it was time to set out on what most of us were looking forward to: testing these big boys in the dirt.

We navigated our way to the trailhead Evans had deemed worthy, and after a wrong turn of whose fault I selectively can’t remember, we paused before leaving the pavement. I gave everyone a speech about staying to the right and being responsible on the trail, and we set off. Approximately an eighth of a mile into the trail Evans and I had scouted all of previously, our dirt test came to a dusty and oily halt courtesy of some sand, a root, and possibly a handful of throttle. I had maimed the Africa Twin.

As the lifeblood of the Honda gushed on to my boots and cascaded down the trail, it was at that point, I knew I had f*cked up. All the careful planning by our acting EiC, who had confessed that placing all of the pieces of this shootout had gone rather smoothly, had suddenly been dashed by one ill-placed root and one eager 20-something who couldn’t wait to test the Africa Twin Adventure Sport’s pogo sticks in the dirt.

After careful trailside deliberation, we decided we would contact Honda and turn this trip into a street only test with a dirt portion to follow. Honda graciously supplied us with a second DCT Africa Twin Adventure Sports which John Burns brought up to us that evening, in order for us to have the bike fully covered for our new street only test. Thank you, Honda.

Wait! Hold that Africa Twin! It would turn out that our rescue AT had a screw in its tube-type tire.
After swapping the rear tires, we once again had one well-working Africa Twin Adventure Sports and John was on his way with the not-so-fortunate AT, to deliver back to Honda.

While taking the full blame for the damage to the Honda, I would also like to take credit for bringing the entire crew together that evening by having John join us – something that happens all too little. I will also take credit for the extra day out of the office we will be using to test these bikes in the dirt with proper dirt tires courtesy of Continental. You get a TKC80, and you get a TKC80!

2015 Ultimate Sports-Adventure-Touring Shootout

2016 Wire-Wheel Adventure Shootout

So how did this do-all bunch of capable adventure bikes handle the new-fangled street-only portion of our test? In ascending order, last but certainly not least, the Yamaha Super Ténéré.

Yamaha Super Ténéré ES – 79.30%

When the Super Ténéré ES received its last major update in 2014, Yamaha was playing catch-up with the big boys in the adventure touring market and, for the most part, succeeded in bringing the Super Ten into the same zip code as the other contenders. Unfortunately, four years is a long time to sit still in a hot market segment, and once again, the Ténéré is showing its age. While that doesn’t keep it from being a competent adventure tourer – the bike’s popularity and the availability of aftermarket items says a lot about how riders feel about it – the Super Ténéré ES’ shortcomings are readily apparent when ridden side-by-side with the rest of the wire wheeled set.

The basis of the Super Ten is its 1199cc parallel-Twin with a 270-degree firing order to improve rear tire grip on slippery surfaces. In order to quell the vibration caused by this firing order, the mill uses two counter-balancers, which do a good job of keeping the rubber-mounted grips buzz-free. However, the inline-Twin has never been a powerhouse, and its 97.6 rear-wheel hp put it in third from last place in this gathering.

Although the EFI is improved from previous versions, our Super Ten had an extremely noisy top end.

When it came time to discuss the engine, our testers all commented on two things. First, the top-end clatter was noisy enough for a couple to ask if the valves needed adjustment. Second was how the exhaust sounded from the saddle (with me as the lone rider who liked it). Friend of MO and former Dirtbikes.com E-i-C, Scott Rousseau provides an example: “The Super Ténéré makes decent power, but its exhaust note is uninspiring, and was I the only one who noticed just how much top-end clatter this particular twin produces?”

One noticeable improvement from the last time we rode the Ténéré was that the throttle response in Sport mode was less abrupt than before. Previously, I’ve kept the ride mode set to Touring to maximize the fluidity of the throttle. Now, riding a series of corners in Sport was a mostly lurch-free affair. Combining the improved EFI with the smooth shifting made running through the gears a fun activity, but the bike still fell short in impromptu drag races.

The engine’s power was adequate, but the Ténéré got left behind in contests of speed. For sporty riding, the wide bar helps to compensate for the 19-inch front wheel. Canyon carving with a full load was surprisingly fun.

The Ténéré’s handling at speed was average for this grouping, and unlike with a couple of the other bikes, the rider always knew what the front tire was up to. “The big wide bar on the Ténéré made it easy to point the bike where I wanted it,” noted Ryan. The ES in the Super Ténéré’s name means that it has an electronic suspension. Changing the damping settings was as easy as pressing a few buttons while you’re riding. If you wanted to change the preload, you’d have to wait until you were at a stop. With the saddlebags loaded with all my camping and camera gear, I bumped the preload to the rider and passenger with bags setting, and the chassis stayed stable in the canyons yet offered a compliant ride on the interstate. Just what you’d expect from a machine designed for touring.

You’d think that by being the third lightest bike in the test, the Ténéré would be easy to maneuver at low speeds, but you’d be wrong. Despite being 63 pounds lighter than the heaviest bike, the Yamaha carries its weight so high that it becomes ponderous at low speeds – and this is on pavement. Said Troy, “It’s only six pounds heavier than the Ducati, but from the saddle it feels like it ate a Ducati for lunch.”

Though eminently functional, the instrumentation looks dated by comparison to the bikes with TFT displays.

Scott shared similar thoughts: “It’s so top-heavy that it feels like the heaviest bike in this comparo, and I know that it isn’t. That high C of G feel makes the Yamaha’s steering more cumbersome… At low speeds, especially in the dirt, it felt too tippy to gain my confidence.”

The Super Ténéré features Yamaha’s Unified Braking System (UBS) along with ABS. The purpose of the the UBS is to minimize the chassis pitch of the bike by applying some of the pressure from the front brake to the rear. However, unlike other linked braking systems, if the rear brake is applied first, the front and rear brakes remain on separate circuits to provide the rider with traditional braking feel. The ABS was not overly intrusive on street riding, but it cannot be disabled for the dirt. The traction control, however, gives the rider three choices, including off for in the dirt.

While the electronics package that the Ténéré comes with is welcome, particularly the heated grips and the easy-to-use cruise control, the other, newer adventure tourers offer more. For example, the LCD display offers plenty of information and can be navigated easily while on the road, but in a category where four of the seven contestants have TFT displays, the Ténéré’s instrumentation feels cheap and dated. Then there is the lack of a quick shifter. While it’s not necessary, its absence creates a clear divide with the top-tier adventure tourers.

The windscreen offers a good combination of protection (in the upper position) and airflow (in the lower), but adjusting the height is unnecessarily complicated.

When it comes to racking up the miles, the Ténéré fares reasonably well. The windscreen offers good weather protection while still allowing a cooling breeze in its lower position. Adjusting the screen, however, is needlessly fidgety. Where I found the seat to be a firm but good platform for racking up the miles, other riders had the opposite opinion. Scott was the most vocal about it, saying, “My biggest complaint lies with the Super Tenere’s saddle, which I wouldn’t want to be in longer than a trip to my local convenience store let alone a long-distance journey. The padding is stiff and the contours are hard-edged, which left me wanting to stand most of the time.”

The optional saddlebags were what made me choose the Ténéré as my camera mule for the trip, and I wasn’t disappointed. Between my camera gear, my camp stove (and pots), and my clothing, I filled both bags to capacity. I liked the two-step locking feature that assured me that the bags were in place. (I lost a saddlebag once on the West Side Highway in New York City, and I never want to experience that again.) The bag mounts also offered solid, easily accessed tie-down points for the gear that didn’t fit in the bags.

When they work well, saddlebags don’t get the credit they deserve. The Ténéré ’s panniers were capacious and well thought out.

When it comes time to sum up the experience of traveling on the $18,134 Super Ténéré ES, I’d say it is a competent adventure tourer that I would be mostly happy with if we weren’t directly comparing it to more recently updated machinery. Of all the shortcomings (and I’m mostly thinking of the newer technology here) the only one that can’t be overlooked is the Ténéré’s top heaviness. For a bike that has even mild off-roading as one of its intended uses, this is a major oversight. The Super Ténéré is a nice bike, but the adventure touring class has moved on.

2018 Yamaha Super Ténéré ES

+ Highs

  • Electronic suspension
  • Improved EFI
  • Decent power

– Sighs

  • Top heavy
  • Dated instrumentation
  • Missing newer technology

Triumph Tiger 1200 XCa – 82.53%

When it comes to adventure touring bikes, defining the word “simple” isn’t so simple, and the 2018 Triumph Tiger 1200 XCa is a perfect case study. Simply put, Triumph’s grandest adventure cat is a very good all-around adventure rig, but it has taken a lot of work and a host of new technology for Triumph to get it there.

Not that the previous model, the Triumph Tiger Explorer, was incompetent, but the new 1200 XCa, the most off-road worthy model in Triumph’s sextet of mammoth-sized three-cylinder adventure bikes, is worlds better thanks to 100 updates that have been implemented to hone its character on the pavement and in the dirt.

Shedding the Tiger platform of about 22 lbs. of weight was a heck of a start, but it was just that – a start. The Tiger also bristles with the latest version of Triumph’s howlin’ and growlin’ 1215cc triple, complete with the requisite liquid-cooling, dual overhead cams and EFI that are standard fare in the modern sporting motorcycle world. However, in a class dominated by twin-cylinder machines, Triumph’s big and beefy three-banger presents some performance challenges when it comes to adapting the mill for dual duty. The key to success lies in maintaining its creamy smooth and exciting on-road character while keeping its 114.6 horses tractable enough to deal with unpredictable terrain in the off-road environment.

To pull it off, Triumph has equipped the Tiger’s ECU with six separate riding modes that are easily accessed via the five-way joystick located just below the turn signal switch on the left handlebar. The modes attenuate the Tiger’s torquey output, traction control and ABS to varying degrees, with Triumph’s Off-Road Pro mode cancelling the traction control and ABS in order to give the rider the most leeway when negotiating off-road obstacles. Fortunately, the riding modes combine with the smooth and abundant power of the Tiger 1200 XCA to haul its heft down the road or up a two-track trail. Triumph’s riding mode system works so well you wouldn’t believe it’s so complicated.

“The Triumph is tech heavy,” Adams proclaimed. “A beautiful TFT display that is easy and intuitive to use, a million-way adjustable electronic suspension, ride modes, electronic windscreen, heated seats and grips, auxiliary lights. Man, I’m getting sweaty just thinking about it.”

The riding modes, along with all of the Tiger 1200 XCa’s vital signs and trip computing functions are housed in that crystal-clear, full-color TFT instrumentation to which Adams alluded. It allows the rider to adjust the info display to suit personal preferences. The TFT also has illumination options that allow it to be set for easy reading in different lighting conditions or set to an auto mode that will adjust the contrast as needed.

The Tiger’s engine has been tuned for quicker response through its ride-by-wire throttle. Changes that include a lighter crankshaft and smaller flywheels help the engine to rev more freely as the Tiger snarls through its Arrow muffler, the latter also contributing to the XCa’s significant weight loss. However, Brent Jaswinski suggested that the XCa could use more snap right off the bottom. Still, the Tiger may be the best-sounding adventure tourer in its class, and it’s a lot of fun to wind it up and make it roar.

Every rider raved about the Tiger 1200’s exhaust note. Criticisms, however, included narrow clutch engagement and a need for a little more power in the bottom end.

“Off the bottom, the Tiger’s triple leaves more to be desired,” Jaswinski said, “but once you get into the upper rpm, that’s when it starts to come alive.”

Troy Siahaan agreed, “The 1215cc triple is a nice engine, but it feels soft on the bottom before it really picks up steam.” Once it does pick up steam, the Tiger 1200 XCa’s engine can provide quite a rush.

“The 1215cc Triple is bitchin,” Adams enthused. “The way it makes power is interesting. While scouting the dirt portion of our ride, I rode the Tiger all over Kennedy Meadows on everything except single-track. The motor will lug deep into the depths of the rev-range while still pulling in a linear fashion while you feather the clutch. Its torque curve is smooth and steep, though the motor does have to be wound up to really start hustling.”

The seat was long-distance comfortable and included separate heat adjustments for both rider and passenger.

The Tiger 1200 XCa’s electronically shift-assisted six-speed transmission and final gearing offer plenty of flexibility for high-speed cruising or low-speed loafing, but all is not well in Tiger-ville. Our main gripe lies with the Tiger’s extremely narrow clutch engagement range, which can’t be massaged into a more acceptable range by adjusting the rotary dial on the Tiger’s clutch lever.

“What doesn’t make me smile is a narrow friction zone that is way out near the end of the lever travel,” Brasfield noted. “If this were the only bike I rode, I’d adapt quickly, but I still wouldn’t be happy about it when performing tight, low-speed maneuvers – or riding in the dirt.”

The Triumph’s quickshifter is a little too sensitive on upshifts for me. I like to always keep enough pressure on the shift lever so that I can feel it but on the Triumph I had to adjust my style to avoid inadvertently grabbing the next gear.

The lack of clutch friction range can make it more difficult to help ease the hefty Tiger into action along a technical trail while attempting to maintain balance before you build enough momentum to nullify its top-heavy feel when at rest. On the plus side, the Tiger 1200 XCa’s electronics contain a Hill Hold feature designed to prevent the bike from rolling backward when you’re trying to get underway on a steep incline.

For such a big bike, the Tiger 1200 XCa handles surprisingly well once you get it moving, with relatively effortless steering that allows the chassis to maintain a precise line through corners on the road. It’s also stable as a supertanker in a straight line. Unfortunately, our test unit exhibited a lack of off-road feel brought on by its Metzeler Tourance Next tires. Even so, Triumph’s Optimized Cornering Traction Control and ABS systems do a good job of feeding the right amount of traction control and braking power based on the Tiger 1200 XCa’s lean angle, making off-road riding less of a chore than it would be otherwise.

Not everyone was sold on the Triumph’s handling character, though – at least not in all riding conditions.

“I’ve always liked the Tiger a lot as a road bike because it rides and handles very well.” Commented Brent, “When compared back-to-back with other bikes in its class, though, it didn’t shine as bright as I originally thought it would. That’s not to say that it did anything poorly, it just felt heavier and a little more sluggish than the rest of the bunch.”

Kudos are also due the Tiger XCa’s WP-built Triumph Semi-Active Suspension – or TSAS – which senses the terrain you’re riding on and makes split-second adjustments to maintain smooth and precise suspension action. The TSAS also offers the rider a choice of two riding modes. There’s Auto mode, and then there is Off-Road mode, which allows manual adjustment of the suspension settings through the TFT display. If you’re not a savvy suspension tuner, leaving the TSAS in Auto Mode is a virtually foolproof way to enjoy the Tiger 1200 XCa’s excellent suspenders.

“I’m impressed with how much Triumph updated on the XCa since our last adventure shootout in 2015. Case-in-point is the TSAS electronically adjustable suspension,” Brasfield said. “With a couple button pushes and careful massaging of the multi-directional toggle on the left control cluster, the ride mode and suspension can be easily adjusted to the rider’s preference.”

And it works well, I think that the Tiger’s WP-manufactured TSAS might be its best feature, delivering a floaty ride with plenty of control through the bumps.

Comfort counts in adventure riding, and the Tiger 1200 XCa delivers nice ergonomics. Its silky triple is vibration-free from idle on up to its 10,000 rpm redline, which keeps rider fatigue to a minimum. Its bars are placed at a comfortable height, and the reach and width should be more than acceptable for a wide range of rider sizes. Likewise, its beautifully sculpted and comfy seat is two-position height-adjustable to accommodate riders of varying inseam lengths.

“The Triumph also has great creature comfort features that allow its rider to lay down long stretches of riding,” Jaswinski said. “It’s a bike I’d be happy to jump on and ride across country in a heartbeat, but maybe not the bike I’d choose to take off-road on anything more than a fire road.”

The Tiger’s electrically adjustable windscreen can be raised or lowered to suit the tastes of most riders, and the XCa also offers heated grips and heated seats for both the rider and the passenger, a big bonus in cold-weather riding. Our test bike was also fitted with Triumph’s accessory Silver Edition panniers, which offer plenty of storage space for long adventures.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the Triumph’s panniers were clearly designed to take the best features of the BMW’s into account.

“The electronic gizmos weren’t the only improvements to the XCa,” Brasfield said. “The saddlebags are much beefier options than the previous generation Tiger 1200. Clearly, Triumph looked the BMW’s luggage for inspiration, and I think Triumph’s designers nailed it.”

But our test crew unanimously agreed that there’s one big hitch in the Tiger’s stride when it comes to comfort, and that’s heat. A lot of heat. MO guest tester John Nave summed it up with one word, in three capital letters: “HOT!” The Tiger’s sexy, tightly sculpted bodywork does nothing to prevent the engine and radiator heat from wafting back onto the rider’s legs, which can make for some sweaty drawers when riding long distances in the summer months. This and the Tiger’s lack of clutch feel are the two issues that Triumph could address in the next model year to make an already very good adventure tourer even better.

But we’re betting that neither the clutch nor the heat nor its $21,750 base MSRP will be enough to dissuade hard-core Triumph fans from taking a good look at the Triumph Tiger 1200 XCa. As big adventure tourers go, it’s a pretty good package that could use just a little more refinement in order to challenge its rivals for top honors on the more road-oriented adventure touring side of the ladder.

Adams ultimately defended the big Triumph’s honor, stating, “There are a lot of haters on the Triumph. Here, in the comments section, wherever. I don’t get it. I’ve spent a ton of time on the Triumph on the street and a good amount off-road. Aside from the relatively small gas tank causing the fuel light to come on around 165 miles and the heat that wafts up onto the rider from the engine (kind of a big deal), I really dig this hepcat.”

2018 Triumph Tiger 1200 XCa

+ Highs

  • Massive tech update
  • That exhaust note!
  • Losing 22 lbs. ain’t easy

– Sighs

  • Second heaviest bike
  • Heat from the engine bay
  • Narrow clutch engagement

Suzuki V-Strom 1000XT – 83.37%

In the stacked field of adventure-touring motorcycles, it’s easy to forget about the Suzuki V-Strom 1000. A staple of Suzuki’s lineup since 2002, the V-Strom 1000 has evolved over the last 16 years to become a highly-capable dual-purpose motorcycle. The big brother to the V-Strom 650, which was introduced two years after the 1000, both motorcycles share V-Twin power from other notable motorcycles in Suzuki’s lineage.

While the smaller Strom repurposes the SV650’s dual cylinders, which have been a hit since the SV’s introduction in 1999, the 1000 borrows its power from the long discontinued TL1000 sportbike. In 2018 trim, two decades of refinement have turned the 1037cc Twin into an engine that doesn’t win any size wars among its competitors, but will still hold its own against anything out there.

The 1037cc 90º V-Twin in the V-Strom 1000 is derived from the 996cc V-Twin first seen in the TL1000R sportbike way back in 1998. Two decades’ worth of refinements and improvements have really paid off.

In addition to the twin throttle bodies, 10-hole injectors, and SCEM (Suzuki Composite Electrochemical Material)-plated cylinder bores, the V-Strom 1000 also adopts the Low-RPM assist function first seen on the current SV650. In short, the system cracks open the throttle butterflies at the first release of the clutch to increase revs just as the bike leaves from a stop to reduce the chance of stalling the motorcycle. It won’t prevent stalling altogether, but it helps the rider focus on clutch modulation if maneuvering through a tight space, for example.

When put on the dyno, the Strom 1000’s rear-wheel output of 92 hp and 67 lb-ft are easily lost in comparison to the competition, but from the rider’s perspective it’s a Goldilocks of a power curve. “Affable” is how Evans described it in his notes, “[It] offers plenty of grunt no matter the rpm. Keep the engine spinning in its mid-range, and you’re in for a fun time on any winding road.” Guest tester, Rousseau, went one step further. “I was blown away by how linear and easy to ride the Vstrom’s 90-degree V-twin engine is,” he said. “It doesn’t feel all that punchy, and yet it is still very exciting to ride whether you’re on the street or in the dirt.”

Earlier iterations of the Strom looked like alien life forms on two wheels (at least in our opinion…). While not a head turner, the current V-Strom’s dirt-inspired look is elegant and clean. In fact, it’s hard not to notice the yellow seat and gold rims…

Apart from the engine, the supporting cast received some touch-ups as part of the bike’s makeover in 2017. The most visually obvious difference is the tweak in its styling to more closely resemble the DR line of dual-sports and off-roaders, with a consistent line from its beak to the fuel tank. Under the bodywork, however, the aluminum twin-spar frame was combed over with FEM analysis to produce a piece that’s stiffer than before while being 13% lighter. The 5.3 gallon fuel tank remains, but has been reshaped to make it narrower at the seat/tank junction – which is particularly useful for shorter riders. New for 2018, the Strom comes in XT trim, seen here, giving it 19-inch front/17-inch rear wire wheels, Motion Track & Combination Braking (Suzuki lingo for cornering ABS and linked brakes), tapered handlebar, and a few other revisions for greater comfort and/or better emissions compliance.

On the road, though, the chassis and revised ergos were both features appreciated from the MO staff and testers, with Rousseau calling the former “unflappable” either on- or off-road. Others, too, enjoyed the handling of the Suzuki, or were perhaps so impressed by its fluidity that it became such an afterthought as to not include it in their notes. However, Ryan did note, “Being able to put both feet on the ground is not overrated.”

Radial-mount Tokico calipers are a nice touch, and stopping power was never a complaint. The complaint came from the initial bite offered by the linked braking system. While never dangerous, it did catch some of us off-guard initially. The addition of a five-axis IMU and cornering-ABS (although Suzuki don’t want to officially call it that) is a nice touch, especially at this price point. You can clearly see the wheel speed sensor, which also serves a function for the three-stage traction control system.

From a tech perspective, the V-Strom loses out to its more esteemed rivals from Germany, Italy, or Austria – but we MOrons weren’t really missing the extra tech (save for cruise control) anyway. “It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles like some of the other bikes in the test, but maybe that’s a good thing – less things to break or malfunction,” says Brent, who packs the “Chevy Fine Tuner” – aka, a large crescent wrench – in his adventure toolkit.

Apart from the Low-RPM assist feature, the V-Strom comes with three level traction control (1, 2, and Off), as well as linked braking and Cornering-ABS, assisted by a five-axis IMU. ABS is always on, though off-road riders who take the dirt more seriously can reach under the seat and pull the ABS fuse very easily. As far as chinks in the Strom’s armor go, abrupt initial brake feel is one of them, as more than one tester pointed out in their notes. This, surely, is a byproduct of the linked braking. Once you adapt to it, though, it’s hardly an issue.

When it comes to bang-for-the-buck, the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 XT is a home run. Sorry Strom owners, your secret’s out.

And while harsh initial brake feel and a lack of technology are the Strom’s biggest downsides (if you can call the latter a downside), perhaps – no, definitely – the Suzuki’s biggest selling point is its price. Starting at $13,299, the V-Strom 1000 XT is an absolute steal of an adventure-touring machine. It doesn’t necessarily excel in any one category, but as a sum of its parts it’s an outstanding performer. Delve into the humongous aftermarket, and any perceived flaw for the V-Strom is easily cured. Every one of our testers jotted down something in their notes about the Suzuki being a sleeper in this category, but now the secret’s out: Don’t sleep on it anymore, the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 XT is a winner, regardless of price.

2018 Suzuki V-Strom 1000XT

+ Highs

  • Great power. Not too much, not too little.
  • Refined to the max
  • Bang-for-the-buck winner. Hands down.

– Sighs

  • Abrupt initial braking
  • No cruise control
  • Uh…

Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports – 86.78%

From the moment the Africa Twin was reintroduced in 2015 for the 2016 model year, and then again this past year with the bigger, badder, more off-road worthy Adventure Sports edition, this Honda ADV bike has had my attention (and apparently a lot of other peoples’ too, according to the response I got on social media). I really, really like this motorcycle. Being a dirt guy, if I were in the market for a big adventure tourer ADV bike, it would have to handle dirt duty really well. The Africa Twin Adventure Sports is equipped to do just that, but it would need a few tweaks here and there to make it a real on/off-road weapon.

Fortunately, the folks over at Honda thought of that and offer the Adventure Sports with a bigger fuel tank, taller windscreen, more bash/crash protection, added suspension travel and ground clearance, and a dirtbike-style seat compared to the regular Africa Twin. Simply put, the Adventure Sports great ADV platform for the rider looking for the best of both worlds.

Straight off the showroom floor, the 2018 Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports comes impressively well equipped to tackle your next adventure ride.

Keeping in mind this first portion of our ADV shootout is focused on the street (with part two in the dirt), the Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports is basically a giant 1000cc-parallel-Twin-powered dirtbike with a bunch of street-oriented creature comforts. Still, at its core, it’s really a rally-winning desert racer. That’s a good thing. Here’s why.

Despite its Paris-Dakar off-road racing heritage, the new Adventure Sports handles road duty with almost sport-touring-like precision, performance, and comfort – save for one standout difference – its 21-inch front wheel. Off-road, the skinny 21-inch front will allow you to roll over just about any obstacle you point it at, but on the street, especially in the twisty stuff at a spirited pace, it’s a little less confidence inspiring. Still, you can push it pretty far – further than you might think. We never exceeded its limits (well, not on the road anyhow). Ultimately, the thinner, 2.15-inch wide front wheel and 90/90-21 tire will start to squirm a bit, letting you know when they get close to their max lean angle and grip availability.

Mounted to the 21-inch front are dual 310mm rotors clamped by radially mounted four pot Nissin calipers with ABS, and they do a great job slowing the 585-pound bike down with little effort and great feel at the lever.

Our Africa Twin is equipped with the DCT transmission, which works great, but for me, nothing beats a manual clutch. With the DCT, you just can’t loft or lighten the front end like you can with a clutch. Whether it be picking the front end up over bumps, potholes or obstacles, or just wheelieing it for fun, the DCT just doesn’t suit my riding style as well as a traditional clutch and shift lever does. However, I was probably the only one of our testers that felt this way. Just about everyone else applauded the DCT transmission for its intuitiveness. Sport mode allows the motor to rev out further into the range and not shift as soon, waiting for rider input. In regular drive mode, however, you might find yourself in fourth gear before you even hit 30 mph – not so intuitive. I wasn’t the only one to notice this, Evans felt the same way, explaining how “the DCT puts the transmission in shockingly high gears.”

Honda’s DCT transmission has created a lot of fans who enjoy its easy and seamless gear-shifting, allowing them to focus on other aspects of riding. However for some, nothing beats a good ol’ fashioned manual clutch.

For performance riding, most of us preferred to shift it ourselves in Manual mode via the upshift/downshift buttons on the left handlebar housing. Our guest test rider, Scott Rousseau tells it how it is: “Apologies to you Mac vs. PC types, but it doesn’t matter to me whether I’m on the DCT or the manual version, the Africa Twin delivers an awesome ride. I actually prefer the DCT model, even in the dirt, where I can select full manual mode and paddle-shift up and down through the transmission to my heart’s content.”

The DCT allows you to shift gears with lightning-quick speed, both up and down, and the auto-blip on downshifts, especially while in the higher revs, is like aural sex.

Mated with the DCT, the Africa Twin Adventure Sports has four ride modes: Tour, Urban, Gravel and User. Each has its own presets that vary engine power output, engine braking, and torque control (essentially traction control) based on various terrain conditions, but we found that we liked messing around in the User mode best. In other words, full power and minimum technological intervention, though the torque control is handy off-road, too. It can be the deciding factor between an epic power slide, or a gnarly high side.

The Adventure Sports’ dash is simple in its layout, and all the info you need is displayed nicely. Currently in the User ride mode, engine power (P) has three levels, engine braking (EB) has six, and torque control (T) has seven, with six levels of intervention and zero for none at all.

In the power department, the Honda’s big 1000cc motor was actually the smallest-displacement motor of the group, delivering the fewest ponies, with 86 hp to the rear wheel. What the Africa Twin gave up in power it more than made up for in engine character. It also has quite an impressive exhaust note for a stock muffler.

Adding to the Honda’s excellent road manners and comfort is its great ergonomics. As mentioned before, the Africa Twin AS is like a big-ass dirtbike, and like a dirtbike, its ergos are very neutral and adept at riding aggressively when needed. However, it’s also comfortable when there’s distance to cover.

From wind and rain to heat and cooler temperatures, the AT AS has great weather protection for its rider that comes standard. The Adventure Sports’ windscreen is 3.1 inches taller than the standard Africa Twin, and the handguards not only look cool, but they offer added safety, too.

Just about every test rider noted how well the Africa Twin steers and how maneuverable it is, especially at slower speeds. This might be thanks in part to the 43 degrees of handlebar motion before reaching the steering lock. This greater steering range will assist the Africa Twin’s maneuverability even more off-road. Despite being an almost 600-pound motorcycle, the Africa Twin’s weight starts to melt away as soon as you start moving.

Compared to the regular Africa Twin, the Adventure Sports has a number of upgrades including: a bigger fuel tank to carry an extra 1.5 gallons of gas, more suspension travel (9.9 inches vs. 9.1 in the front and 9.4 vs. 8.7 out back), and hence a little more ground clearance. A larger skid plate (perhaps not large enough, though), a flatter, more comfortable, more dirtbike-like seat for greater comfort and maneuverability, wider foot pegs, and a 3.1-inch taller windscreen complete the AS package. These upgrades proved to be as valuable on the street as they hopefully will in the dirt, too.

Of all us riders, Scott has probably put the most time on the Africa Twin than just about any bike here but the BMW, and his opinion of the versatile ergos is worth highlighting: “I love the riding position of the Honda whether seated or standing. Its seat is adjustable to suit a wide variety of rider sizes. You should be able to find a nice position for long-distance comfort.”

In its standard position, the Africa Twin AS’ seat stands at 36.2 inches tall, but it has a lower 35.4-inch setting, too (pictured above). If 35.4 inches is still too high for you vertically-challenged ADV riders out there, Honda offers an even lower accessory seat as well.

One thing that can’t go unmentioned when speaking of the Africa Twin is its seat height. I’m 6’1 and I ride dirtbikes regularly. The 36.2-inch seat height doesn’t bother me, but I can totally see how anyone shorter might have their reservations.

“OMFG. As if we needed a taller adventure bike,” laments Ryan. Tell us how you really feel, buddy. “The AT AS sits at a lofty 36.2 inches in its taller setting and 35.4 in its lowest, making it the highest seat height on the market for adventure bikes even in its lowest setting. Thankfully, Honda offers a lower seat as an accessory, in case you’re not a giraffe.”

Troy, another one of our shorter testers, is with Ryan, warning riders new to the ADV game that “this definitely isn’t a beginner bike.”

Still, it’s a very approachable motorcycle that’s very well put together with the quality and attention to detail Honda is famous for, and it’ll get you just about anywhere you need to go – on- or off-road – in style. The Africa Twin Adventure Sports in its red, white and blue paint scheme and gold wheels is a stunner. It’ll get attention and turn heads anywhere you go.

"It's f*cking beautiful," says Ryan, and I couldn't agree with him more. She's a beaut, Clark.

As good of an all-around ADV bike as the Africa Twin is (it really is), we can’t just talk it up without including some of its shortcomings. Fortunately, the latter is much shorter than the former. The first thing I noticed when packing for this trip is that the hard-case luggage is on the flimsier side, and it could definitely benefit from getting beefed up a little bit. The same can be said about the latch/locking/mounting mechanism. If you take a spill (most likely off-road) with the bags mounted, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they somehow broke or cracked off (As happened in our 2016 Wire-Wheel Adventure Shootout. Photo here. – Ed.). Fortunately there’s a healthy aftermarket with plenty of more rugged options.

My second beef with the Africa Twin, and I can’t believe I’m actually saying this (John Burns must be rubbing off on me), is that it doesn’t come with cruise control. What kind of adventure touring bike, with emphasis on the touring part, doesn’t come with cruise control? Sooner or later, you’re going to be laying down the miles on this thing, and it would be nice to set the cruise control to a perfect 85-90 for those longer hauls.

Finally, the Adventure Sports’ added crash/bash protection could be better. The roll bars around the upper portion of the fairing certainly look cool and give the Africa Twin a more rugged look, but do very little when the bike gets knocked over onto its side. Honda actually calls them “light bars,” not crash bars, most likely because they’re designed for lighter duty than their appearance suggests, but also because you can mount accessory lights to them, too. The skid plate is definitely a nice touch as well, but it should probably be thicker and extend a little further to protect crucial parts of the motor, like the stator cover…

If only it extended another inch or so…

Those are the only nitpicks we’ve been able to come up with so far, and truthfully, they’re pretty minor. Okay they’re not. Overall, the Africa Twin Adventure Sports is a bitchin’ bike.

To sum it up nicely, we’ll turn to Scott once more: if you chose to put an Africa Twin in your garage, “you’re going to get one of the best-sorted, do-it-all adventure bikes ever produced.”

2018 Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports

+ Highs

  • Great looking bike
  • Spot on ergonomics both sitting and standing
  • With the right tires, you’ll be able to take this thing just about anywhere. Anywhere…
  • Well balanced chassis offers a super planted feel

– Sighs

  • The hard-luggage setup and mounting mechanism feels a little cheap
  • Cruise control would be nice…
  • It’s pretty tall, that’s for sure. But to some, this could also be a good thing

KTM 1290 Super Adventure R – 87.08%

KTM’s flagship adventure tourer received a heavy revision in 2017, and now for 2018, it seems that KTM has finally settled on an easy-to-understand differentiation of its largest travel enduros. The 1290 Super Adventure S handles more road-focused duties while the Super Adventure R gets dirty. Since our open-class ADV shootout will include both street and dirt components, the gathering wouldn’t be complete without the 1290 SA-R. KTM has placed itself atop the large adventure bike heap for many years with platforms based on decades of off-road championships from enduros to Dakar, starting with the Adventure 950 in 2003 and continuing the trend with models like the 1190 Adventure R in 2013. In our 2016 Wire-Wheel Adventure Shootout, the KTM came away on the top step of the podium. We were eager to see if this new model would provide KTM with a repeat performance.

Its choice of outfitting the R version with DOT knobbies hurt the 1290 in the handling category during our street test, but KTM feels it knows its customers would prefer them.

When the KTM landed in our garage, shod with Original Equipment Continental TKC80s, it was pretty clear that the bike was going to give up handling in the curves, but being the only entry with such dirt-focused tires, it would absolutely dominate off-road. Purpose-built off-road tires make a huge difference when the pavement is left behind, and KTM is willing to sell its SA-R with 50/50 tires to show its dedication to those looking to get their adventure bikes dirty, while being unapologetic about the missing street manners.

“If everything had gone as planned, the KTM’s stock TKC80s would have been the perfect choice – and likely would have eviscerated the other bikes’ more street-focused tires,” says Evans, “However, since we had to break our shootout into separate street and dirt pieces, I think the Super Adv would have done better with fewer knobs and more rubber on the road. Every criticism I have of the bike, from its tendency to fall into corners to its high-speed weave, is a direct result of the dirt-oriented tires.”

Even with the TKC80s, it was still fun to hustle the 1290 through the corners, and knowing how well the tires will do off-road should you decide to desert the asphalt, they’re a welcome inclusion.

Having spent some time on the 1290’s road going brother, the S model, I know just how well the bike will go around a set of corners with 19- and 17-inch cast wheels with street rubber. While Continental’s TKC80s are some of the best tires for pulling double duty, you absolutely give up cornering confidence and capability. Brent echoed the sentiment, but feels exactly the way KTM believes its customers will, “These DOT ADV knobbies definitely don’t work or inspire corner carving confidence as well as streetier tires do, but for someone like me, I’d happily sacrifice some street handling for off-road prowess.”

The attribute we could all agree on was the engine, topping our subjective scores just a few percent over the BMW. KTM’s 1301cc Twin cranked out 121.6 horsepower at 9,500 rpm and 74.9 lb-ft of torque at 7,000 rpm. This is actually down from our previous test of the 1290 mill in our review of the 2018 1290 Super Adventure S, which put out 126.9 hp and 81.4 lb-ft of torque. Maybe it was the knobbier tires or the different dynos, but still, our SA-R didn’t leave anyone complaining about a lack of power.

Evans was smitten with the KTM’s mill, “Man, what an engine! And the growl as the rpm climb and the bike starts to weave trying to put the power to the ground…”

“This Katoom has the motor of doom! It pulls like a train throughout its broad rev range, which allows you to just pick a gear and go. Its EFI and throttle response are awesome,” proclaimed Scott.

Troy dug it too, “That 1301cc V-Twin rips. Even though it doesn’t make more power or torque than the Ducati, it’s hard to tell from the saddle. Plus it sounds way more guttural and aggressive than the Ducati (though some might call it agricultural instead).”

Although those two loved the engine, neither were too impressed with the KTM’s gearbox – Scott describing it as, “not being all that smooth” and Troy noting that the quickshifter seemed to only work well when the revs are kept high, a point I can agree with.

Dual 320mm discs with four-piston radially mounted calipers get the big orange bike slowed as soon as you want it to be.

With DOT knobbies, it was hard to get a good feeling for the brakes’ performance on the 1290, though the Brembo units combined with street tires do a fantastic job of getting things slowed in a hurry. Scott, our resident off-road expert with years of testing the industry’s dirt offerings, praised the brakes for their ease of modulation and dirtbike feel.

“The R’s brakes also remind me of KTM’s off-road bikes. They’re powerful but not grabby, and there is a lot of lever and pedal travel that allows you to dial in just the right amount of stopping power in any terrain,” says Scott… “the ABS is really good, but an experienced rider probably wouldn’t even need it.”

The WP 48mm inverted fork is fully-adjustable and has 8.7-inches of suspension travel. The WP monoshock, also fully-adjustable and also provides 8.7-inches of travel.

The off-road ABS setting on the KTM completely turns the system off on the rear wheel while staying active on the front, a nice safety net for those looking for one.

Otherwise, the 1290 R is devoid of fancy buttons to select suspension settings or semi-active adjustments measuring damping by the millisecond. That’s because KTM knows how performance-oriented folks like their clickers to dial in adjustment to the T and because they trust the WP suspension it’s developed for the 1290 R.

The suspension surely shines off-road, but is a solid choice overall, “The 1290 Super Adventure R’s WP suspension is brilliant, soaking up anything that gets in its way,” declares Scott, “You can definitely ride with a lot of confidence when the pavement ends.”

The 1290 R is a very comfortable bike with a wide handlebar and neutral seating position that left no one complaining, though John Nave did note the heat on his right foot, an issue KTM big Twins have had since 2013.

As Evans hurried to finish up photography at the end of the day, the auto-contrasting screen had changed its background to black for its night setting.

Backlit buttons on the handlebar switchgears allow adjustment to be made easily after dark and the big beautiful TFT display has an auto-contrasting setting that will change the background to suit the ambient light.

“The KTM has the features we expect from a top-shelf adventure touring motorcycle: TFT display, cruise control, and quick shifter,” notes Evans, “Unfortunately, the bags don’t seem to be of the same quality (and we’ve been told that the style we sent are no longer sold). One of the latches failed on our three-day ride. Not a good sign.”

The KTM doesn’t give up much on the road, save for the tire-induced handling issues, which is why it landed third overall in our street portion of this test.

Brent was just happy to be back on a bike with a clutch.

2018 KTM 1290 Super Adventure R

+ Highs

  • Torquey motor that never felt down on power
  • Performance-oriented suspension works better the harder your ride
  • Well-thought out rider aids which can all be turned off completely if desired

– Sighs

  • DOT Knobbies didn’t do the bike any favors on our street test
  • Some didn’t like the gearbox
  • Still pumping out heat onto the rider’s right foot after five years of complaints

Ducati Multistrada 1260S Touring – 87.64%

To preface this for all the naysayers, I’ll let Evans explain the 1260 S Touring’s inclusion in this bunch, “We asked for a Multistrada 1200 Enduro, but it wasn’t available. So, we took the opportunity to sample the newer, bigger 1260 S Tour. While Ducati calls the 1260 an adventure tourer, I’d consider it to be an adventure bike cut from cloth similar to the BMW S1000XR and the Kawasaki Versys 1000. So, we got a very streetable bike with cast wheels instead of the wire ones fitted to the other bikes.”

When life give you lemons, test a new Ducati! Besides, after all, the 1260 S does have an Off-road riding mode and suspension settings that basically turn it into a rally bike! Right…? Well, maybe a Multistrada Enduro will be freed up in time for our off-road portion.

The biggest change for the 2018 Multistrada is the 1262 cc DVT L-Twin engine shared from the XDiavel. When run on our dyno, the Multi 1260 pumped out 140 hp at 9,300 rpm and 86.2 lb-ft of torque at 7,600.

For 2018, the Ducati Multistrada has been upgraded with the Ducati Testastretta DVT (Desmodromic Variable Timing) 1262cc engine previously found in the XDiavel, a new chassis, more advanced electronics, and an aesthetic update that includes new fairing panels and lighter, sportier-looking wheels. It’s a fantastic motorcycle with an immense amount of adjustability within its Skyhook suspension plus a vast electronics suite of rider aids. Of course, if you’re looking for the full review, you could just click here.

2018 Ducati Multistrada 1260 First Ride Review + Video

To be frank, I’m not sure I agree with all the negative flak the Ducati Multistrada 1260 S Touring is getting in this street portion of our shootout. Particularly so when ridden by a bunch of performance-oriented journalists. Since I so graciously threw myself down the trail on the Honda, forcing us to do this shootout in two parts, I honestly believed the Multistrada 1260 would be ranking quite high considering this is a street-only test so far. It was obvious from the beginning that the Multi wouldn’t be taking home a position anywhere close to the podium in the off-road portion, but with our new format I expected more.

Troy couldn’t help leaving darkies throughout Kennedy Meadows paved stretches, backing the Ducati in like it was his job.

Riding the 2018 Multistrada 1260 S Touring in Gran Canaria during its press introduction, I came away mostly impressed aside from abrupt throttle response from Ducati’s new for 2018 ride-by-wire system, a nitpick which the other folks on that ride seemed to dismiss as negligible. Thankfully, my fellow MO staffers echoed my sentiment with Evans being one of the issue’s most vocal critics:

“I loved the engine’s power. When you pull its tail, it flat out hauled ass! However, there were some idiosyncrasies I could have done without. First, it was finicky about neutral throttle, frequently dropping into deceleration instead of neutral. While the quickshifter performed flawlessly on upshifts, the lever required more downward pressure than the other similarly equipped bikes. Also, the rev-matching was more accurate at higher rpm than lower rpm.”

In most of our opinions, the Ducati was hands down the best handling motorcycle on the pavement, though the seat made some of our riders a might uncomfortable.

Troy also viewed the Multistrada in a similar light, “The Multistrada performed like we thought it would. With 17-inch cast wheels, unlike the bigger wire wheels on the others, it was made to chew up pavement, especially twisty pavement. The 1260 engine has power everywhere (and it’s also the most powerful in the group), but in the first three gears power delivery feels like it surges under neutral throttle. It’s manageable in third, and goes away in the higher gears, but it’s annoying otherwise.”

It’s true, the Multistrada is an absolute blast to ride hard on sinuous pavement. In fact, that is precisely where everything works well, under high rpm, hard braking, and ham-fisted throttle. The Multi’s sporting bias is omnipresent in this company.

Guest tester John Nave, had this to say of the Ducati, “Quick reflexes and very fast. Fun riding in 7th position especially when playing catch up. Top three of engine audio tracks.”

“The Ducati’s pinpoint steering accuracy and handling is clearly the lightest-feeling of this heavyweight group,” says our token Frenchman, Scott Rousseau, “Front-end feedback is excellent, and the bike claws around corners like it’s on rails. Its clutch action and shift feel are nice and precise, just like a sportbike’s ought to be.”

The Multi’s new 1262cc Twin is incredibly torquey through its power band and gives the Ducati a leg up on the competition. When run on the dyno, the Multi 1260 put out higher torque and horsepower numbers than any other bike in our test from 3,500 rpm all the way to 10,000 rpm before petering out. With an approximate hp advantage of 19 ponies and 10 lb-ft of torque over its closest competitor, the brawny Italian smoked its rivals on the spec sheet to the tune of 140 hp. The 86 lb-ft. of torque also came in handy while towing the Africa Twin after I had my way with it.

That’s a cramped-looking Trizzle.

In my opinion, and apparently almost everyone else’s opinion in this test, there was one crucial component that caused every rider to complain during our shootout. Interestingly enough, it was a topic of criticism in our 2015 Ultimate Sports Adventure Touring Shootout as well: the ergos, or, more specifically, the seat. I had absolutely no issue with the standard ergonomics of the bike during its press introduction, and quite conversely, I would’ve been happy to spend days on end on in the saddle of that 1260.

That bastard seat ruined a perfectly good motorcycle.

Unfortunately, our Multistrada came with an accessory low seat causing the ergos to feel uncomfortable to riders of every height and size. “The Multi we got had a lower accessory seat which didn’t do my 6-foot-1 frame any favors. Not only did it cramp up my legs, but it also made it feel like you were riding ‘in’ the motorcycle rather than ‘on’ the motorcycle,” says B. Jaswinski, “This didn’t do much for me in the way of inspiring confidence and/or riding the bike fast. It made the bike harder to handle and throw from side to side.”

Troy, Scott and myself, who are all around 5’8”, also found the seat to be a detriment. “It’s too bad our particular test bike was fitted with the optional low seat, as it felt so scalloped that it trapped the rider in the saddle, without much room to move,” says Troy. Though Scott seemed displeased entirely, “I’m not a fan of the Ducat’s ergos. Although this particular Multistrada feels small compared to other bikes in the test, its seat isn’t really all that comfortable when you’re eating a lot of miles in between the twisty bits and, the overall package feels cramped, even for smaller riders. The Ducati is an excellent short-hop adventure tourer (Isn’t that an oxymoron —Ed.), but it suffers in comparison with the others when the miles start to add up.”

The Multistrada 1260 delivered a respectable 42 mpg average during our testing.

The low seat became a point of uniform discontent from our test riders. For me, I was able to look past the poor choice of saddle and see through to the sexy sporty Italian underneath. The fire-breathing performance, laundry list of acronyms describing the electronic adjustability of the Multi, and pant-tightening exhaust note lead it to a second place finish on my scorecard, and a concurrent second place overall after reviewing the entire team’s scores.

2018 Ducati Multistrada 1260S Touring

+ Highs

  • A Juggernaut of power amongst the class
  • Ultra-light handling
  • The ability to be fine tuned

– Sighs

  • The accessory low seat didn’t work for anyone regardless of height or size
  • Cast wheels are no good when the trail or road gets bumpy
  • Abrupt throttle makes for a jerky 1-3rd gears

BMW R1200GS Adventure – 88.60%

“Large, in-charge, and the original gangster of the group, the BMW R1200GS is one hell of a motorcycle. At first, just looking at the bike, I thought it would surely be a heavy pig that I couldn’t wait to hop off of. How wrong I was; despite being the heaviest bike here at nearly 650 lbs, once you let the clutch out you hardly know it. The 1170cc air/liquid-cooled boxer Twin is a dream. It’s not the most powerful, but it has character for days and makes all the right noises. Paired with the factory quickshifter, I thought it shifted in both directions great, with excellent rev matching on downshifts, even from second to first.”

I had to let Troy take it away, because I couldn’t have said it better myself. The R1200GSA is a real pleasure to ride. It truly is. It just does everything on the street so well. It’s also packed with all sorts of technology and creature comfort features. Like Troy mentioned, the boxer motor is great, and not only does it make tremendously usable power, but it also has an exciting engine character – especially as the revs climb. Though it makes solid power downstairs, too – pretty much everywhere really. That paired with its highly addictive, raspy exhaust note and crispy ride-by-wire throttle response makes this bike super fun to ride. It’s smooth, too, with virtually zero transmission lash between your right wrist and the rear wheel.

The heart of the beast, an 1170cc boxer-twin, makes awesome, usable power across the entire powerband.

A BMW wouldn’t be a BMW if it weren’t equipped with top-notch componentry, and the GS Adventure certainly has it all. From four different ride modes (Road, Rain, Dynamic and Enduro), to its Dynamic ESA semi-active suspension monitoring system, which, depending on the ride mode you’re in, adjusts damping automatically and continues to monitor suspension movement for not only optimal ride comfort, but overall optimum traction as well. The mighty GS is ready for any type of terrain you throw at it, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Evans has perhaps been on more long-haul touring trips than anyone else on our team and he was impressed by how well the bike’s suspenders carried its load.

“The R1200GS was the pack mule of the trip, and it was loaded down with all of Sean Matic’s video gear. Once the suspension was dialed in to firmer settings, I was impressed with how well the GS handled during high-speed apex-strafing. Only G-out bumps betrayed the load it was burdened with by causing a brief wallow.”

Even loaded down with gear (pictured above isn’t even the half of it!), the R1200GS Adventure’s suspension adapts via its Dynamic ESA suspension monitoring system to provide a cush ride when you want it and firmer, sportier handling when you need it.

The BMW’s Road mode provides a stiff setting, and Dynamic offers an even stiffer one for sportier riding, while Rain and Enduro modes each uniquely soften suspension action. The Dynamic ESA will even self-adjust its preload to account for a passenger, too – one less thing you have to worry about or fart around with/forget to do. Here’s what Troy had to say about the BMW’s technology:

“While I’m not necessarily a fan of adding tech just for the sake of doing so, the R12GSA’s tech works without taking away from the riding experience. One thing I didn’t expect to be so cool is the TFT display. It’s good enough to hang on my wall and watch a movie on – it’s that clear. The fact it’s on a motorcycle – an adventure-touring motorcycle to boot – is astounding.”

Every one of our test riders, myself included, also tipped our caps to BMW for its TFT instrument gauge.

Ryan adds, “The amount of information that can be accessed through the GSA’s stunning TFT display is staggering. Just as well I suppose, since I could stare into that screen happily for days on end. The navigation wheel is also a fairly intuitive way of navigating menus.”

The Beemer’s TFT and technology offerings surprised even Evans, the most tech-savvy and critical rider on our team:

“I’m a tech geek, and simply sitting on the GS makes me smile. The 6.5-inch TFT display is a sight to behold, and once you’re familiar with BMW’s menu structure, a wide breadth of information and settings are available. The other technology I constantly used was the up/down quick shifter. None of the other bikes could touch its smoothness in rev-matching on downshifts at any speed.”

Another thing keeping the big GS Adventure hustling along smoothly is its Telelever/Paralever front suspension design. Just toodling on down the road you might not notice its effects – or benefits, rather – but when the pace picks up you’ll notice that the front end doesn’t dive under harder braking anywhere near how the other bikes, with their conventional forks, do. At 642 lbs, the BMW R1200GS Adventure is a big bike indeed, but between the front suspension setup, the Dynamic ESA system, and spot-on comfort and ergonomics, the GS is incredibly precise and nimble when slaying corner after corner. Our guest test rider John Nave said, “It handled like the lightest 640-pound bike I’ve ever ridden.”

642 pounds is a lot of moving weight (and that’s not counting you or what you put in the hard cases), but when it’s time to slow down, you can rest assured thanks to a pair of four-piston radially mounted Brembo binders and dual 305mm discs providing a great combination of bite and feel at the lever.

The only time you really feel the GS’ weight is picking it up off the side stand. The faster the wheels start turning, the quicker its heft melts away. Make no mistake, this thing can seriously hustle through a set of curves. As far as I’m concerned, the more curves the better. Sometimes you’ve got distance to cover, and the BMW, with its comfortable (and heated) seat, adjustable windshield, and spot-on ergos make this German ADV bike all-day comfortable for miles on end. Speaking of miles on end, between its 42 MPG average and its 7.9-gallon fuel tank, you could ride over 330 miles before having to stop for gas again. That’s a lot of trips down to your local Starbucks, but with the R1200GS Adventure in your garage, it could take you places where there are no Starbucks, no traffic, or distracted drivers. So, where are we going?

The GS Adventure handles touring duty as well as a two-wheeled Cadillac, but especially likes getting tangled up in the twisty stuff when you ride her aggressively. You’ll run out of gas most likely before she does. Ahhh, a story as old as time.

As far as R1200GS Adventure downsides go, 642 pounds is still 642 pounds, but if you’ve been paying any attention so far, it won’t be an issue unless you find yourself in some tricky slow-speed or technical situations. Another thing to get used to is the boxer engine’s cylinder heads. It’s easy to forget they’re there, until you have to act quick and put a foot down. You’ll be quickly reminded your leg’s range of motion isn’t what it is compared to pretty much any other bike with a non-boxer motor. The GS Adventure’s looks are also subjective. Personally, I dig the way it looks. I think BMW did a good job with the whole insectoid-transformer thing. It says the bike means business – in a post-modern apocalyptic kind of way. To others it might be one of the ugliest bikes they’ve ever seen. They might have to get their eyes checked.

Of all the manufacturers to try their hand at the insectoid-transformer styling exercise, we think BMW nailed it. When you see the mighty GS in your rearview mirror with its wide stance and cyclops headlight, it looks menacing and says, “get outta my way.” And so you oblige.

Evans is one who thinks it errs a little on the funky side: “Yeah, it looks big and bulky – maybe even awkward – but that’s not how it feels from the saddle.” From behind the handlebars the GS Adventure transmits nothing but good vibes, and it’s continually ready for you to crack the whip and ride it harder, but it’s also down to Netflix and chill on the interstate.

Since Troy opened up the discussion, I’ll let him wrap it up, too. Well, because again, I couldn’t have said it better myself:

“When all is said and done, the BMW is simply incredible as a street bike. After riding one I totally get why the R12 is as popular as it is. Combine a stout engine with a great handling chassis and suspension, comfortable ergonomics, and loads of tech, and it’s a winner in my book – which is crazy to say, as a 650-pound motorcycle shouldn’t be spanking a class of 500-pounders. But it does. Plenty of riders have already shown the R12GSA is also plenty capable off-road, too. Definitely a jack of all trades.”

2018 BMW R1200GS Adventure

+ Highs

  • Solid, torquey and exciting motor with an intoxicating exhaust note
  • Great handling chassis and suspension
  • Comfort, ergos, and technology are top-notch

– Sighs

  • She’s a heifer
  • Some people aren’t crazy about its looks, riding it might change their mind
  • All this technology could translate to expensive repair bills

The Big Wrap-up

When all the dust had settled and oil had spilt, it turns out everyone makes awesome adventure bikes these days. Surprise! The bad ol’ days of buying a bike and having to make considerable trips to the aftermarket to get it working properly for the long haul are over, not that I remember those, anyway. All of these bikes have their ideal customers and end users who will be thrilled with them.

A fantastic group of adventure bikes sliced seven ways.
Received from guest tester John Nave on the day this article was set to publish. We like to think we helped John make his decision.

It’s not often you find the heaviest bike with the fourth highest horsepower rating at the top of a motorcycle shootout, a testament to how great of an overall package the BMW is. The GS bested the Ducati Multistrada 1260 S by one percent in our overall scores despite the Duc having immensely higher engine performance numbers and the being the second lightest bike here. The Ducati is a comfortable sportbike for the long haul and despite its awkward low seat, the Multi’s raucous rip-roaring L-Twin and amazingly light handling landed the Italian a solid second place in our street shootout. Also noteworthy, despite being equipped with DOT knobbies, and the handling woes that come with them on the pavement, the 1290 Super Adventure R showed up third in our overall calculations.While we use a scorecard to tabulate all of these motorcycle’s specific strengths and weaknesses to choose an overall winner, the most dependent variable of choosing the best bike is YOU! You’re going to be riding it, you’re going to be choosing how and where you ride it, and you’re going to choose how much you want to spend. At the end of the day, your decision is yours and yours alone.

If you’re the kind of rider who plans on venturing into the backcountry on these big machines, stay tuned for part two of this big adventure bike shootout. I can all but guarantee the outcome and preferences will be different. To level the playing field on SoCal’s dry desert trails, each bike will be shod with Continental TKC80s to really give each bike a shot at the prestigious title of Motorcycle.com’s Ultimate Most Raddest Off-road Adventure bike title. STAY TUNED!

Click to enlarge.
Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams

Ryan’s time in the motorcycle industry has revolved around sales and marketing prior to landing a gig at Motorcycle.com. An avid motorcyclist, interested in all shapes, sizes, and colors of motorized two-wheeled vehicles, Ryan brings a young, passionate enthusiasm to the digital pages of MO.

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6 of 112 comments
  • Mark Mark on Sep 30, 2018

    "Another thing keeping the big GS Adventure hustling along smoothly is its Telelever/Paralever front suspension design."

    The front is Telelever. The rear is Paralever. smh fml omfg etc etc

  • JohnShroe JohnShroe on May 28, 2020

    Popped a hole in my Africa Twin cover in the EXACT same spot as y'all the very first time I laid it down. Softest fluffiest dirt you could imagine, low speed, still left me stranded in the middle of nowhere...

    • See 3 previous
    • Ryan Ryan on May 28, 2020