2021 Middleweight Adventure Motorcycle Shootout

Ryan Adams
by Ryan Adams

BMW F850 GSA v. KTM 890 Adventure R v. Moto Guzzi V85 TT Travel v. Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro v. Yamaha Tenere 700

Remember back in the day of group gatherings how hard it could be to find time in everyone’s busy schedules to congregate? To get together for a week-long ride or some other getaway? Without fail everything would start to slot into place just in time for your best friend to have something come up. You’d try to reschedule and that too would fall apart for one reason or another. The phrase “herding cats” comes to mind. Locking down this group of middleweight adventure bikes was kind of like that. It’s a test we’ve been attempting to schedule for six months. As is always the case, some “friends” are more reliable than others.

But, none of that matters now because here we are with the MVPs of the scorchin’ hot middleweight adventure segment. Never you mind that these “middleweight’s” displacements have continued to swell as is tradition in motorcycling these days. Rather, focus on the real world functionality of these machines. These bikes are lighter, smaller, and more manageable than their 1200cc(+) counterparts, which, at least for me, makes them more enticing to push the envelope off-road.

Thanks to the popularity in this subcategory, riders are now able to get smaller machines with nearly the same level of technology, fit, and finish that was once reserved for larger, more expensive flagship bikes. The quintet of motorcycles featured here shows each manufacturer’s approach to adventure motorcycling. The differences are such that we decided to forgo our scorecard, which puts a bias on outright performance. Instead of telling you which bike is unequivocally numero uno, we’ll focus on comparing and illustrating what type of rider each one of these machines best fits. Everyone gets a participation trophy. No crying.

I’ve had the opportunity to review and log a lot of miles on most of the bikes in this comparison, and it’s clear my intentions for adventure skew toward the dirt. If you’ve read the single bike reviews of these motorcycles, you’re no doubt tired of my blathering. We decided that rather than attempting to ride five motorcycles by myself, I’d invite the rest of our staff to join me for a two-day romp out in the wilds of Southern California.

To level the playing field, we slapped Dunlop’s new Trailmax Mission tires on all five bikes.

Once I had had my fun striking fear into the hearts of my cohorts with promises of bottomless sand and boulder crawling, I decided on a more family friendly route that we all could enjoy. Even my plans for camping at altitude were thwarted after it was discovered that temps would plummet to the low 30s overnight. These guys are making me soft (or they’ve just been around the sun enough times to realize there’s no reason to punish themselves unnecessarily).

A full day of pavement, a night out in the bush, and a full day of dirt would (hopefully) give our merry men the time we needed to come up with something to say about these motorcycles. Perhaps a little camaraderie would be born out of it even.

“Motherf*cker! F*ckin’ Bullsh*t! Stupid f*ckin’. Yeah! Let’s just do a million photo passes through the sand!” The words blasted out of JB’s mouth and into our ears through the Cardo headsets. I watched Sean Matic try to choke laughter so it wouldn’t come over the air while John picked up the KTM for the third time. Like I said, camaraderie!

Now, let’s get to it!

2021 BMW F850GS Adventure

When I initially threw a leg over each of these adventure bikes, I would spend the first couple of minutes pondering what kind of rider the manufacturers designed each one for. With the BMW F850GS Adventure, as I rushed back onto the road, my thoughts were interrupted by the sprightly acceleration provided by the parallel-Twin in the bottom end and midrange. Why my surprise? There’s just no escaping how physically large the BMW is, and having a spec sheet folded up in my pocket, I knew that the F850GSA weighed in at a beefy 552 lbs.

2019 BMW F 850 GS And F 750 GS Review – First Ride

Managing Editor Ryan Adams had a similar reaction to the F850GSA’s engine: Every time I jumped on the F 850 to carve through canyon roads, the motor’s low and mid-range torque surprised me. In dynamic mode, the big girl is pretty spunky. The engine runs out of steam as the revs progress, but it’s no slouch even in Adventure trim.

Sean Matic concurs: I think my expectations were quite low for the motor, and I was pleasantly surprised with its mid-range punch, but I did notice it peters out early on top. The power delivery and the way it spins up doesn’t have the character and zip of the parallel twins in the KTM and Yamaha, however.

Along with that weight, you do get the best wind protection of the bunch (a feature that, due to poor timing in the vehicle rotation, I was not able to enjoy on the 35-degree portion of our ride). Nor was I able to run the full 6.1 gallons through the engine in one sitting the way an owner would be able to on an extended tour. All of this brings me back to the question of who the F850GSA was built for, and the answer would be: someone who wants to rack up long days in the saddle, covering mostly paved roads. The BMW seems ideally suited for this job.

Mr. Burns would appear to agree with me: I was immediately put off by the size of the BMW, but it’s not quite as heavy as it looks, and it’s reasonably low and easy to ride on both gelande and strasse. If you’re mostly sticking to the pavement, it’s the most comfy bike here for a rider and passenger. It’s turning low, smooth revs at 80 mph behind that big aero fairing, and both seats are sweet. Overall, though, its engine is a bit meh, a bit uninspiring next to the other bikes here. The whole bike, in fact, kind of suffers from personality deficit disorder. Something to do with being the little brother of the 1250, I suspect.

John Nave, longtime friend of MO, had slightly different feelings from Burns: Very close to an 8/10s match of my ’18 R1200GSA which is an unbelievably good bike. The Adventure model does offer great wind protection if one is ok with the wide hips at the front. It carries 6.1 gallons, which provides a DTE of 275 miles. Great on-road behavior, and although heavy, it had good off-road manners for a 550-lb dirtbike.

Ryan points out some important details about the BMW’s dimensions: Not only does the 850 GSA have the presence of the company’s larger 1250 models, it’s only 90 pounds lighter than the last 1200 GSA we weighed. In current company, the bike is nearly 50 pounds heavier than all but one of the other contenders in this shootout. Interestingly enough, most of that thicc front end is a series of complex bits of plastic fitting into one another to tie in the GS Adventure’s 6.1-gallon fuel tank that protrudes out high and wide. It isn’t all for naught though. As one might expect, the 850 GSA plows a comforting void through the elements giving it the best wind protection of the bunch. Heated grips help, too.

But we are comparing adventure touring bikes, and while we most assuredly rode more miles on pavement, we did so because we live in the Los Angeles megalopolis and need to travel quite a bit to get to a suitable off-road testing ground. And let’s not forget that there was camping involved, so we wanted to get away from any hint of city lights. The essence of this shootout took place in the dirt, and here is where the players were finally ranked.

An experienced rider can make just about any bike look like it’s got off-road chops, and we had three very qualified riders on this trip. Then there were Burns and myself, who stood in as the regular Joes. He was short of inseam and me, well, short of talent. While Burns has said his piece, I still have a little more to impart about the BMW.

For someone traveling at the speeds I achieved on the less technical dirt sections, the extra weight didn’t prove to be the problem I anticipated it would be. (Though a misplaced foot at a stop almost spelled disaster on one occasion.) The Beemer is well balanced, and the electronic rider aids gave me the confidence to push ahead even after the F850 pitched me into the deep sand less than a quarter mile from our campsite the morning of our second day. The top-heavy nature of the bike with a full tank ascertained that there would be no saving it after the front end tucked. (Although I’m highly skeptical that I could have prevented my fall on any of these bikes, I would have at least momentarily considered the possibility as their handlebars began to twist.)

John Nave: Traction control off/on helps the experienced rider get through tougher terrain, like sand, with less pucker. But Enduro mode (not Enduro Pro when the dongle is installed) allows ideal wheelspin and ABS offering very good control with 50/50 tires like the Dunlop Trailmax Missions (which I run on my GSA).

The BMW features a non-adjustable fork and a Dynamic ESA with continuously adjustable preload and user-adjustable rebound damping at the hand wheel.

The F850GSA also came up short with regards to the suspension. John Nave summed it up nicely with “Heavy but competent bike. The fork had no adjustment, and the front brake makes it dive substantially (I’m biased with a 1200 that doesn’t dive).” With 9.1 in. and 8.5 in. of travel front and rear, respectively, the problem was not absorbing the bumps but rather controlling chassis pitch.

Sean’s thoughts regarding the suspension were: The bike is always game for comfort-filled, relaxed sporting fun. Just don’t try to clear that mini-double jump or blast over those braking bumps and everything will be ok.

The BMW’s TFT display was in a class of its own.

All of which brings me back around to exactly what activities the BMW F850GSA is designed for. If you’re the type of rider who likes to travel long distances on both paved roads and fire roads in maximum comfort with all the rider aids and the best TFT instrumentation in the class, go for it. You’ll love the bike. If you have the skills and also want to include occasional light single track, the BMW can do it, but you’d probably be happier with one of the more dirt-capable bikes in this story.

We’ll give Ryan the final word about the BMW: The engine character is a reminder of the motorcycle’s off-road intentions. Its punchy Parallel Twin is well-equipped to provide low-end power necessary off-road, but the overall largeness of the Adventure model betrays how well the machine can handle duties in the dirt. If one were interested in the 850 GS and had plans of touring all sorts of terra, I would suggest the standard model over the Adventure without hesitation. In fact, we requested the standard model for this test just for that reason, and I think the GSA suffered in terms of off-road competence because of it. For a motorcycle that will spend much of its time on the street and only be tasked with trail work at moderate speed, the 850 GSA will foot the bill nicely, but for any more grand plans, you might consider dropping the A (or what it would be like to pick it up).

KTM 890 Adventure R

Here I am, once again writing about KTM’s middleweight adventure bike. Despite having spent a lot of time on this motorcycle (and the 790 ADV R), I was ecstatic at the chance to ride these five machines – all of which I genuinely enjoy – back-to-back. It’s true that there are some bikes in this group that compete in a more head-to-head fashion, but at the same time, each of these motorcycles have carved out a place for themselves amongst the field. Unsurprisingly, the KTM excels in the dirt.

2021 KTM 890 Adventure R Review – First Ride

After riding all of these motorcycles in succession, nothing has changed in my opinion of the KTM’s off-road performance. The low slung 5.3-gallon fuel tank, WP XPLOR suspension and tubular chromoly steel frame work together to deliver the complete package when it comes to the chassis. And it is the chassis that provides some of the most important differentiators in this group.

The low slung fuel tank – in addition to the compact 889cc LC8c Parallel Twin – keeps the motorcycle’s center of gravity low in a way no other motorcycle here does. I’ve talked about the benefits before, but it’s particularly helpful when riding technical terrain. You don’t get the top-heavy feeling that many adventure motorcycles exhibit. In addition to the low CoG, having that mass out of the way has allowed KTM to keep the motorcycle slim between the knees all the way up past the fuel cap which makes moving around on the machine much easier than the traditional layout.

Even on the street, the KTM is the performance leader.

Johnny B concurs: “The saddlebag gas tank keeps the cg low, which also makes it harder to topple over turning around off-road; I think I only did so twice – once per side. When I was riding it, it was easiest and most confident of all these, with the best suspension and power. If it’s performance you’re after, the KTM is the one. I, personally, don’t like orange. And for some reason, I’m not after outright performance in this category.”

The XPLOR suspension components are fully adjustable and proven after being used not only in the adventure line-up, but also in KTM’s EXC dual-sport motorcycles for some time now. Speaking of EXCs, guest tester John N found some comfort in the shared components, “Highlight for me was the Thursday morning photo session with me on the 890 and Ryan chasing me. I felt nearly as comfortable riding very briskly on an uneven dirt trail as I do on my 450 EXC.”

The 890 Adventure R just barely ekes out the rest of the field in terms of travel, with 9.4 inches at each end, but it’s really the damping that sets its suspenders apart. The WP units feel the most refined when it comes to quick hits from g-outs and bumps or when jumping the motorcycle. The XPLOR units don’t go through their stroke as quickly and offer excellent bottoming resistance.

The steep, 26.3-degree rake helps with the quick handling, but borderlines on twitchy. Ergonomics feel very dirt bike-inspired and aggressive, more so than the Yamaha which I would say is the next closest in terms of layout. The thing about dirtbike ergos though is that they provide a pretty neutral seating position, so no complaints here. The seat is tall and firm at 34.6 inches, and despite the spec sheet showing the Yamaha’s seat at the same height, the Tenere 700 feels lower in part due to its slim midsection and suspension, which compresses slightly more when mounted.

And then there are the electronics. A lot of bikes have ride modes, cruise control, and quickshifter these days, but the level of functionality and real-time usability show that KTM did its homework. The most useful ride mode the KTM has – and where it stands apart in this field – is Rally mode, which allows you to dial in eight levels of traction control on the fly with the left switchgear while also giving the rider three options for throttle response settings. The other motorcycles have ride modes that give you pre-determined ABS, TC, and throttle response settings, but none offer the adjustability of the KTM. The “Rally pack” is now an optional upgrade as is cruise control and Quickshifter+. If you’d like all three, which you will, plan on adding $550 to the $14,200 msrp.

John Nave (whom you might remember from our 2018 Big Bore Shootout) also appreciated the KTM’s electronics package, “Excellent electronics. Off-road ABS and the Rally setting with adjustable on the fly traction control? Wow, one can find a perfect setting for most of the earth’s surfaces! As a street bike it is also very quick and surprising. With its genius fuel tank placement and adequate wind protection it has great potential for a cross-continent ride.”

As far as the engine is concerned, it’s great. We were expecting greatness after riding the 890 Duke R, and KTM delivered. The bike has more torque and horsepower throughout the rev-range than its predecessor. That said, it’s not the only powerplant to shine in this group. I really appreciated the low-end torque of the Yamaha and the smooth power delivery of the Triumph’s Triple. Heck, even the Guzzi has its own muscle car-esque charm to it.

“I managed to be on the KTM for about half a lap down Montezuma Grade (my favorite fast road in the West) and most of a lap up it,” says Burns, “and was hugely impressed; for an ADV bike, it feels really sporty on pavement. If those Dunlops don’t have quite the edge grip of sticky street tires, it barely matters since you’ve got great TC. Just twist the throttle. The 890’s got the most power here along with the parallel-Twin charm Gott didn’t give the BMW as it zings toward redline.”

By far the hardest seat of the bunch.

Even though the KTM has received a lot of praise, particularly for off-road performance and a spicy engine, something’s gotta give. During long days in the saddle, you’ll grow tired of the all-too-firm seat. Probably not helping matters is the sporty pretense of its suspension. Keeping the clickers in the “standard” setting did seem to give us a good baseline, but if you’re touring over bumpy or broken pavement, the suspension starts to feel harsh pretty quickly. I have no doubt this could be adjusted out of the suspension, but if you plan on keeping the pace off-road, you may be making those adjustments more than you’d like. This is a place I feel like the Tiger has once again done a commendable job. The Triumph’s suspension feels fun and sporty on canyon roads and still holds up when the going gets dirty.

For those who aren’t ready to race, the KTM can seem like overkill: “I love the 890 parallel-Twin engine (no surprise), but the honest truth is I am so far outclassed by this motorcycle off-road that I’d be embarrassed to be seen riding it in the dirt without my coworkers around me. Welcome to Poserville. However, get it on pavement with the surprisingly grippy Trailmax Mission tires, and the Adventure R performs like it’s a sibling of the 890 Duke R. Which means it is a kick in the pants. The irony is that off road the 890 Adventure R has so many features that make it easier to ride – you know, things I would really benefit from – which means I probably should ride it when I leave the pavement. The low CoG, the impressive off-road ABS settings, and the grunty power will keep a tarmac-lubber from getting in too far over their head. (Meanwhile, the bike silently scoffs at the feeble attempts at piloting such a craft.) Yeah, the high capabilities of the KTM only serve as a constant reminder to me of how I don’t live up to them,” opines Mr. Brasfield.

We even let our videographer Sean Matic loose on these bikes, a decision that may end up costly for him in the long run. “In a word, the KTM 890 Adventure R rocks! The parallel twin accelerates hard with a delicious raspy brap full of character from its 435° irregular firing order. It doesn’t hurt that it makes the most POWA of the bunch, handily beating even the Trumpet with its extra cylinder. The electronics are top notch and thankfully don’t flip the off-road purists back to nanny road mode every time the bike is shut off (the lawyers must have been on family leave the week they got that approved at KTM). The on-the-fly TC adjustment via the left switchgear buttons is the icing on the delicious modern electronics cake that KTM served up.

The bike handles canyon twisties incredibly well for a bike outfitted with a 21 inch front wheel. As a matter of fact, all five of the bikes offered surprisingly good feedback when leaned over which must be a testament to the Dunlop Trail Mission tires as well. The suspension is definitely the firmest of the lot here and I could feel some bumps on the road transmitted to me, my gut tells me that backing off the preload and compression would have helped with that small niggle. On and off road the bike remained composed and always ready for more with a wry, “is that all you got man?” I ended up doing the two hour slog back home through temperatures as low as 34° on the 890, and while the cush seat and toasty heated grips of the Beemer were missed a little, the KTM was certainly tolerable freeway slogging. Its raucous performance everywhere else put the Adventure in this adventure ride in big heaping servings.

Moto Guzzi V85 TT

The bike that probably wins this contest, performance wise, has to be the KTM. But it’s kind of a hard motorcycle for me to look at. Whatever happened to the nice blue they used on those first 900 Adventures? Things get slightly better in the swimsuit category with the other contestants, but just barely. Overall, this is a utilitarian category of motorcycles designed for long-haulish comfort, the ability to have cargo strapped to them, and the ruggedness to shrug off multiple trail mishaps.

2020 Moto Guzzi V85 TT Review – First Ride

Then there’s the Moto Guzzi V85 TT, Tutto terreno. The original red-framed yellow/white Adventure version from last year was one of the best-looking motorcycles I’ve seen in years, and this Sabbia Namib one we’ve got now isn’t at all shabby either. No doubt, Guzzi can always be counted on to do things a bit differently. Three of these five are adventure bikes for competitive Type-A people, and a good rider can keep up with them on the Guzzi up to a point. But for the more casual or lone adventurer with nothing to prove, possibly with passenger and picnic basket, the Guzzi’s really in a class of one.

For serious off-roading, the Guzzi’s not your first choice, since it doesn’t have the power or the more advanced electronics of the KTM or the Tiger. Then again, all the experts want to turn all the aids completely off anyway, so WTH? The biggest problem the experts have with the Guzzi is that you can’t disable its ABS, which is no bueno for heading down steep rocky trails. I did ride it down some slightly steep sandy hills, though, and both brakes worked well enough to keep my (slow) speed under control. (Supposedly there’s an Off-road mode that turns off rear ABS, but the TFT dash is all in Italian and I couldn’t figure out how at the time; surely you can turn it to English?)

We did, however, figure out how to switch traction control off, and doing that allows the Guzzi to tractor through sand pretty well – made easier by the fact it’s got the lowest seat of the bunch, which for me is a huuge thing offroad. (I suppose it wouldn’t be as big of a deal if your offroad rides don’t include multiple photo passes like ours always do.) The Guzzi, I think, is the only one I didn’t topple over on even once.

Despite having enough power to slow the 540-pound motorcycle, the front brakes feel numb at the lever, says Ryan Adams. I didn’t hear any complaints from anybody else.

For me, it was surprising how not off-the-pace the Guzzi felt off-road, for being a much more street-biased motorcycle than the others – the only one here without a 21-inch front wheel, and with the least suspension travel. It’s also a much simpler, more elemental motorcycle – a pushrod, air-cooled V-twin with shaft drive, for God’s sake. It doesn’t have the convenience of being able to choose ten TC settings on the fly, but it does have the things you require, including the usual three ride modes and the cruise control button, for when it’s time to drone back to civilization. Buying an optional Bluetooth gizmo will also allow its new TFT screen to be used to screen your calls and provide navigation.

Most dirt-road riding around here is all about the low and midrange power, and this is where the Guzzi’s all-new 853 cc engine delivers the goods, with peak torque claimed to occur at just 5000 rpm. Like Ryan Adams said in last year’s First Ride: Guzzi claims the engine pumps out 80 horsepower and 56 lb-ft of torque, but through first, second, and third, you’d think the torque figure was higher.

Sadly, a small, ignominious fecal particle in the punchbowl takes the form of a little flat spot in the fuelling at around 2000 rpm or so, a slight stumble. When you’re flogging the Guzzi on pavement, you’re above that range, but offroad and at parking lot speeds it can be annoying. Maybe there’ll be a fix? It’s never really debilitating and it’s easily worked around – it just detracts from the high polish of the rest of the Guzzi. Speaking of which, the new clunk-free six-speed gearbox and slip/assist clutch are light-years ahead of every other Guzzi we’ve ridden.

Guest tester John Nave, who’s an experienced 60-something motorcyclist and veteran of 19 Barstow-to-Vegas rallies, thinks: I have to concur with the oft-heard comment, “charming bike.” I liked it, even if ours had a part-throttle fueling issue that made dirt a little more challenging. That bike was stinking fun on asphalt, great handling if not terribly quick; maybe it was the sweet, sexy Italian sideways V-twin audio track that made the riding experience fun? It idles like a big-cam, big block Chevy in a slot canyon. The last 40 minutes of dirt spent on this bike with Sean on the KTM chasing me was a lot of fun: Controllable slides, the low seat height and low cG make the Guzzi more fun offroad than you might expect. The dash/electronics were a little more complex than others, with lots of menu searching for TC and ABS controls. But it turned the most heads on the ride (and most comments on my FB page too!)

I’ll say it again: Something about longitudinal-crankshaft bikes makes me feel there’s some kind of self-righting, gyroscopic property at work, maybe even moreso on loose surfaces. But for only having 70-some horsepower, the Guzzi’s also more fun on the asphalt than you’d expect. It’s the only bike here with a 19-inch front tire instead of a 21, which is probably why it feels more snubbed down to Montezuma Grade than any of the others. That, and that it’s got less suspension travel, too, at only 6.7 in. at both ends. That means less fore-and-aft pitching on pavement (as well as surprisingly good bump absorption on the trail). Keep the gas on while in the fat midrange, keep the roll speed up, and the Guzzi can make serious time on Montezuma Grade.

Sean Matic says: If I rode one in isolation in and around the city running errands with my girlfriend on back and the factory luggage holding a lasagna and a nice chianti, I’d really dig this bike. The low seat height compared to the others makes this bike a good choice for everyday getting around. The TFT dash is modern, and the chassis is also surprisingly up to the task in the canyons and even more in the dirt. But chasing the others up and down delightfully twisty Montezuma Grade, I found myself really wringing the old-tech air cooled longitudinal twin motor’s neck for dear life, spending a good deal of time buried to the throttle stop. Following John Nave on the V85 at the end of day two off-road filming, he mentioned a burnt clutch smell coming up from the Guzzi as well. While I can really dig and appreciate the Guzzi’s idiosyncrasies and Old World charm, I had so much fun hammering the KTM and Yamaha – for me, if I was going the adventure route, I wouldn’t want to give that up.

Ryan A says: The V85 is a lot of fun to ride on twisty roads. It’s a bike that many will be able to use to its full potential both on and off-road, and that didn’t stop me from enjoying my time on it. Slow down and enjoy your surroundings on the Moto Guzzi because not every water bar needs jumped.

Plan B, when you’re not in the company of MOrons, then, is to enjoy the Guzzi at a more serene pace. It doesn’t mind drama, but it’s better at la dolce vita than the other bikes here.

Not a bad place to be for an extended period of time.

Brasfield says: Now here’s an adventure bike I could take an extended voyage on. First, it’s got the cool engine characteristics that lope their way through the miles, and while the acceleration might not be as brisk as the other bikes on this ride, keeping the corner speed up can make for a surprisingly good time down a twisty road. However, attacking the corners – or the dirt, for that matter – is not what the V85TT is about. Pull it back a couple of notches, and the enjoyment of the ride becomes the primary experience. The exhaust note is comforting, and the weather protection means that you can travel further without getting worn out.

The weather protection consists of a big non-adjustable plexiglass windshield and handguards which are pretty effective on the motorway with the cc locked in at a smooth 85 mph or so. Both rider and passenger seats are excellent, and the ergonomics transparent as long as your legs are short enough not to bang your knees into the cylinder heads.

Ryan A: Just like the first time I rode the machine in Italy and all of the times since, the Guzzi’s “character” puts a smile on my face every time I hop on it. I am a big fan of the retro styling and chicks (my wife) dig it, too. Passenger comfort was also lauded on the V85 for short jaunts around town by said chick.

It’s also the best looking motorcycle to come along in this class in years (maybe any class), has tons of character… and for those who like to maintain their own motorcycle, it’s again in a class of one thanks to shaft drive and cylinder heads that kind of make you want to adjust the valves (which is good, since the manual says you should do it every 6000 miles). As soon as somebody figures out how to tune out the little flat spot in the EFI and pack a few more horses on top, the V85 will be unpresidented! It already is, and I, JB, picked it as the one of these five bikes I’d most like to call my own.

Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro

I think if we’re being practical, the Triumph wins this thing. But since we’re a group of grown men pooping in catholes in the desert and talking motorcycles, who knows? Practicality has so little to do with it.

2020 Triumph Tiger 900 GT Pro & Rally Pro Review – First Ride

The more youthfully exuberant among us love the KTM for its most horsepower/torque, superior off-road performance and comparable on-road chops. The codger in all of us likes the Triumph for its all-around competence, and most of all for its more regal bearing of the editorial fundament to and from the dirt field of battle: If you have to be in the saddle for a couple of hours, it’s the Triumph or the BMW you want (or the Guzzi…) – and a quick glance at the dyno chart resolves that issue in favor of the Tiger.

John Nave says: I don’t think I’ll ever forget passing the BMW and Guzzi from far behind on a long straight out of Borrego Springs. That 888cc motor is really strong. Love that bike on the road.

Great power on road and rip-roaring off-road, says Ryan.

The Triumph is only 34 pounds heavier than the KTM, but those extra pounds take the form of a cushier (heated) seat for rider and wingperson, an extra cylinder for superior acoustics, a centerstand that should actually be a requirement on a chain-driven ADV bike, and rugged good looks that aren’t derivative of a Playskool product.

Brasscannons concurs: Of these five motorcycles, the Tiger 900 Rally Pro gets my vote as the Goldilocks bike of this shootout. And no, it’s not that I’m getting soft, and the Triumph has just about every touring amenity you could ask for – although the cruise control, wind protection, and heated everything do add to its touring prowess. For me, a street-focused performance rider, the fact that the Triple flat out kicks butt on pavement while still being comfortable on the long haul is a big plus. Then there’s the tidbit of the rider triangle being perfect for my size.

Sean Matic likes it too: The Triumph does it all really well. The dash, menus, and its accompanying left handlebar joystick interface is a thing of beauty. Handlebar bluetooth start/stop of my GoPro too? Genius! The seating position is a nice split between the upright off-road oriented ergonomics of the KTM and Yamaha, and the low-to-the-ground, sit-in urban comfort of the V85 TT. If the brisk desert winter weather gets you and your partner’s hiney chilly, just flick on the only seat warmer in the class. Spinning up the triple on the freeway and twisties is smile-inducing, and just as the MotoGP Werks dyno confirms what my butt dyno says, only the all-conquering KTM can hang with the Trumpet when the revs climb north of 5,000 rpm.

Even young Ryan is on board with the Tiger program: I’ve said it before, and after getting this group of machines together for a back-to-back comparison, my tune hasn’t changed. The Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro is what I would consider to be the most well-rounded middleweight adventure bike on the market. The Tiger boasts plenty of cutting edge technology and touring comfort while also providing exhilarating performance on twisty bits of tarmac that continues when the pavement runs out. The price tag isn’t cheap, nearly topping out in the group, but I would feel like I got my money’s worth with the Tiger Rally Pro.

We made guest tester John Nave ride the Tenere the two hours from Burbank to Anza-Borrego so he’d be properly able to appreciate the Triumph later: Terrific road bike, long distance touring a breeze. Makes lovely sounds when thrust is requested. Coolest dash of the crowd.

Off-road, I made it until the last turn-around for the last photo pass of the gloaming before I finally succumbed and toppled over on the Triumph, busting off the tip of its front brake lever and handguard. Drat. Speaking of handguards, all five of these bikes have at least rudimentary ones, which are crucial for riding through the gangs of vicious armed bushes and cacti which line our desert trails. They’re also nice for keeping your hands warmer. Everybody’s done their homework here.

The Triumph’s seat isn’t terribly tall – 33.5 inches in the low setting – but it still packs 9.5 and 9.1 inches of travel into its front and rear adjustable Showa suspension units. For a thing that goes so well on the road, the Triumph’s not far off the pace on the dusty trail, either.

Ryan thinks: The Triumph’s suspension does a pretty great job of handling all the jobs, and I would say is second only to the WP legs on the KTM when off-road. Back on the pavement, the story is the same as before, the Triumph’s suspension strikes a good balance of sporty stiffness with comfortable bump compliance.

Sean is another hard charger off-road: When the surface turns to dirt the middleweight Tiger is still ready to rip in a way the Guzzi and Beemer just can’t match. It’s only when you approach really rough terrain like deep rain erosion ruts and exposed boulders that the Triumph suspension reaches its limits, unlike the KTM and Yamaha. Hauling the Triumph down from speed in the sand also exposes a slight top-heavy feel compared to the aforementioned off-road champs. I place the Triumph third, but if unlike me, you’re not taking a nostalgic mind trip back to your motocross racing youth, and you no longer get off on pushing you and your bike’s limits, the Triumph surely will be at or near the top of your list. As for me, If I’m gonna buy an adventure bike I wanna have an adventure and I don’t mean in the parking lot at Starbucks.

Though its Triple can’t quite match the KTM’s parallel Twin for peak power production, the Tiger motor runs right with it below 5000 rpm (where the meek nearly always are on winding dirt roads), with instant, linear response to keep your front tire from washing out as needed. When in doubt in the loose stuff, gas it…

The Tiger does feel a tad more top-heavy than the trail-busting KTM and Yamaha, because it is, But at a more prudent pace its excellent electronics are just what the Dr. ordered to keep the less skilled out of trouble. It’s easy to swap into Off-road or Off-road Pro modes.

Ryan registered some ergonomic complaints: At 5’8”, the reach to the bars cants me forward to the point of being just slightly uncomfortable – which increases over time. Rolling the bars back helps though. Larger riders didn’t seem to have any problem with the stock configuration. The Tiger also feels the widest between the knees and ankles in our group. At the knee, the frame rails on either side of the tank were uncomfortable against the inside of my legs while standing. Although the Triple does feel wider than the others near the footpegs as well, it was never a problem for me.

John Nave’s also 5’8”: Off-road the weight, even at 50-ish pounds less than the BMW, still felt unwieldy BUT… I liked it off-road standing up.

Hey! I’m 5’8 too, and I liked the Triumph’s ergonomic triangle fine all the time, and appreciated its cushiest, best-shaped seat, too. Ergonomics are so personal.

The Triumph is good enough to have Brasfield wanting to just chuck it all, and who could blame him?: When it comes to off-road riding, the Tiger has stout enough rider aids to keep dirt duffers like myself from getting hurt. This is a bike I could see myself riding all the way to the Arctic Ocean, like a friend is trying to convince me to do next year. Why? Because aside from racking up ridiculous miles, a trip to this part of the world means never knowing what kind of road is around the next corner, and the Dalton Highway is 414 miles (one way!) of mostly gravel. This is where my mind wanders to when I ride the Tiger 900 Rally Pro. Sign me up!

Um, where do we sign?

Yamaha Tenere 700

As the dark rural highway’s miles flashed by and the relentless countdown from my compatriots crackled over my Cardo, “46 degrees…42…38…36…35!”, I found myself wanting, for the first time in two days of riding the Tenere 700, some electronic intervention. Visions of heated grips danced in my head. But alas, the Tenere has none. Almost freezing weather aside, a large part of the Yamaha Tenere 700’s appeal is its elemental, largely frill-free approach to motorcycling. Oh, and its $9,999 MSRP.

2020 Yamaha Tenere 700 Review – First Ride

In a group of motorcycles where the next closest retail price is more than $3,000 higher and goes all the way up to $7,000 more, the Tenere represents a remarkable value. So, instead of focusing on all the gewgaws that the inexpensive 700 doesn’t have, let’s take a look at what you get for the money.

The 689cc engine is the smallest of the bunch, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it makes less power. The surprise is that the power it does make is delivered in such a way that it feels less down on power than it actually is on the street, and in the dirt that 63.7 hp output means that it doesn’t need the nannies to tame the beast, like with the most technologically-equipped KTM and its 92.5 hp.

Let’s hear Ryan’s opinion: The Tenere 700’s powerplant is great for an adventure bike. It has a smooth torquey low and mid-range while being extremely tractable to the point that TC would do nothing but drive up the cost of the machine. It doesn’t put down the kind of power that the KTM does, but it’s easy to ride off-road. The bike hooks up extremely well and builds speed progressively.

Sean was similarly impressed: The little parallel twin with its uneven 270° firing order is zippy (now I finally understand all the praise lavished on the MT-07) and hooks up and propels you forward very well in the dirt and sand. On a 689cc twin producing 63.7 hp and 44.3 lb-ft of torque, traction control and power modes are superfluous to me – give me the full beans all the time, man! Just hitting one easy to reach button on the dash to disable ABS let’s me lock up the rear in the dirt and I’m ready to party. On the Triumph, BMW, and Guzzi, I’d be fiddling with buttons and submenus trying to turn off intrusive TC for another 5 minutes.

Now, let’s consider the suspension. The Tenere comes with a fully-adjustable fork and a preload- and rebound-adjustable shock, allowing 8.3 and 7.9 in. of travel, respectively, and placing it mid-pack in terms of travel. When combined with the lowest measured weight of the quintet, the 700 becomes a formidable package off road. While it’s not advanced as the class-leading KTM, popular consensus ranked the Yamaha second in this crowd – and that’s saying something.

Let’s check in with John Nave: Holy cow this bike is fun in the dirt. As much fun as the KTM on fast, curvy dirt roads. When standing up I feel like it is as agile as my sporty 450 EXC off-road. I would ride this on LA-Barstow-to-Vegas (I’ve ridden it 19 times) in a heartbeat.

Mr. Matic concurs: Standing in off-road attack mode on the Tenere 700 feels the most like a proper dirt bike, even more so than the KTM thanks to the 700’s wider upright bar shape. 468 pounds fully fueled sure doesn’t hurt either.

Ryan, on the other hand, sees the Tenere as a bike that needs a few changes to reach its full potential: There are a couple of mods that I would make to the Yamaha on day one of ownership: wider “rally” style footpegs and a wider handlebar. After that, I would run out the stock Pirelli Scorpion Rally STRs and spend the time working out a preferred setting for the stock suspension. Even if I were to spend the money on suspension work, I could do that and the aforementioned swaps with money left over compared to the other bikes here.

While we’re looking at dirt capabilities, we need to consider one of the features that makes that 8-inch (roughly) travel front and rear possible. The Tenere’s seat height measures in at a lofty 34.6 inches, tying it with the KTM for the highest of the group. If 5’11”, 32-inch inseamed me struggled with reaching the ground, on occasion, what about shorter riders?

It may be tall, but at least it’s comfortable.

We’ll let Burns share his tale of woe: It’s got one of the highest seats here, which for short-legged me also puts it out of the running. Of all the bikes I dropped turning around for another photo pass, the Yamaha was the only one on the pavement. Which was more cambered than I realized, while I was at a greater altitude than I remembered. I have to admit I mostly avoided riding it in the dirt, mostly for that reason. I take the others’ word that it works great in the dirt.

As the least dirt-experienced rider here, and one who has listed the off-road electronic aids on the other bikes as a positive, it may go against the grain for me to say the Tenere was my second favorite bike in the shootout. It all comes down to the friendliness of the package. The engine is unintimidating with its tractable power delivery – even sans traction control. The light weight makes it easy to maneuver, and what weight it has is well balanced. I was quite happy to ride the Yamaha off road, even with my skill set.

Sean, a rider who cut his teeth in the dirt expounds: Wow! Only $10K can get you cross country on every type of asphalt from five lane freeways to serpentine canyons and then handily take you places off-road formerly reserved for 450cc dirt bikes weighing in well under 300 pounds. Yamaha knocked it out of the park with this one. Sure, the Tenere doesn’t have the power and stellar electronics of the KTM or the hand warming and butt soothing accoutrements of Tiger, but none of that takes away from the little Tenere’s ability to get you there in comfort and keep going when the terrain gets nasty. What the Yami delivers bigtime is smile-inducing fun.

Ryan says it best: The Yamaha Tenere 700 is an approachable bike for new riders with its low price tag and predictable power while simultaneously being a great foundation for experienced riders to exploit.

We know you’ve all been waiting for this, so we’ll let Burns bring it home: As a man of principle, I must stick to my statement that I wouldn’t buy any new motorcycle without cruise control, and I think the (least expensive) Yamaha is the only one without it. Now that I’ve seen electronics and heated seats and things, I can’t go back.

What’s your definition of adventure?

It’s easy to see just how differently each manufacturer has approached the middleweight adventure touring segment. We touched on it during our last ADV three-way in May 2020 with Eric Bostrom, each of these bikes is representative of a specific type of adventurist. It’s not like comparing thousand cc sportbikes where ultimate performance is key.

The spectrum here ranges from off-road performance to touring comfort with the KTM and Yamaha on one end and the Tiger, V85 TT, and F 850 GSA on the other. Sure, there are bits illustrated above that will likely shine as more important to certain riders, like JB writing off the Yamaha entirely due to its lack of cruise control.

On our way home, twisting and turning through the darkness like some sort unstoppable (mostly) LED-lit serpent, we slowed for no bend and passed unsuspecting motorists with the ferocity of Attila and his huns. We had been hardened by miles in the saddle and our single day of fire roads. The bitter 40-degree night we had endured in the desert had turned us from soft-handed journalists to soft-handed journalists with slightly sore backs.

We had done the thing. We were now adventurers. It had been more than 36 hours since we’d been home warming our fingers over a hot keyboard– or in JB’s case, a hot tub. If that doesn’t sound like an adventure to you, maybe you’re right. We all have different ideas of what an adventure ride is. What it should be. Just like these five manufacturers, those ideas vary and the tool to conquer them just as much.

As our chase truck – who had hauled all of our gear the entire time – pulled up at the gas station near the freeway, we decided grabbing a warm meal sounded like a good idea. Over burgers, guest tester John Nave mentioned a comment Sean M had made over our headsets. Along the way we had been sharing the temperature read out of our respective motorcycles which had been dipping into the low 30s during our descent. Not long after hitting our all time low, Sean said it simply, “I love motorcycles.” Nave mentioned he had been thinking the same thing at that same moment. I had been too.

Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my Nespresso.

For a brief period of time, I wasn’t thinking about my packed work schedule – or anything else, really – as we snaked through the shadows, relying only on what turned out to be pretty impressive headlights from the entire group, to light our way. I wasn’t even thinking about how cold I was (perhaps it was the V85’s heated grips, large windscreen and handguards). At that moment, I was very thankful for the last two days. At least three fifths of our crew felt the same thing, at the same time.

If a motorcycle can deliver you through moments, however fleeting, in time and to places around the world and leave you with pure contentment, who’s to say that our measly trip wasn’t an adventure? Adventure is what you make of it and for those wanderlusting souls, these five bikes run the gamut.

2021 Middleweight ADV Specs

BMW F850GS Adventure

KTM 890 Adventure R

Moto Guzzi V85 TT Travel

Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro

Yamaha Tenere 700

MSRP$14,545 (approx $17,500 as tested)$14,199 ($14,750 as tested)$13,390$17,100$9,999
Engine Type853cc, Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke parallel twin engine889cc 2-cylinder, 4-stroke, Parallel-Twin, liquid-cooled with water/oil heat exchanger853cc Air-cooled longitudinally-mounted 90° V-Twin888cc Fuel-injected, liquid-cooled, 12-valve, DOHC, inline 3-cylinder689cc liquid-cooled Parallel Twin
Bore and Stroke84.0 mm x 77 mm90.7 mm x 68.8 mm84.0 mm x 77.0 mm78.0 mm x 61.9 mm80.0 mm x 68.6 mm
Fuel SystemElectronic Fuel InjectionBosch EMS with RbW, 46mm throttle bodiesElectronic injection; 52 mm single throttle body, Ride-by-WireMulti-point sequential electronic fuel injectionEFI
Compression Ratio12.7:113.5:110.5:111.27:111.5:1
Valve Train4 valves per cylinder, DOHC, dry sump lubricationDOHC, four-valveOHC two valves per cylinder (titanium intake)12-valve, DOHCDOHC; 8 valves
Peak HP77.2 hp @ 7700 rpm (measured)92.5 hp @ 8300 rpm (measured)80 hp at 7750 rpm (claimed)85.5 hp @ 8800 rpm (measured)63.7 hp @ 8900 rpm (measured)
Peak Torque56.1 lb-ft @ 5300 rpm (measured)64.1 lb-ft @ 7100 rpm (measured)59 lb-ft. @ 5000 rpm (claimed)58.8 lb-ft. @ 7200 rpm (measured)44.3 lb-ft. @ 6500 rpm (measured)
Final DriveChain520 X-Ring ChainShaftO-Ring ChainChain
Front Suspension43mm upside-down telescopic fork, 9.1 inches of travelFully-adjustable WP XPLOR-USD, 48 mm, 9.4 inches of travel41 mm hydraulic telescopic USD fork, with adjustable spring preload and hydraulic rebound, 6.7 inches travelShowa 45 mm upside down forks, manual preload, rebound damping and compression damping adjustment, 9.45 inches travelKYB 43mm inverted fork, fully-adjustable; 8.3-in travel
Rear SuspensionCast aluminum 2-sided swing arm, WAD strut (travel related damping), spring pre-load hydraulically adjustable (continuously variable) at handwheel, rebound damping adjustable, 8.5 inches of travelFully-adjustable WP XPLOR monoshock, 9.4 inches of travelDouble-sided swingarm in box-type aluminum with a single shock on the right side, with adjustable spring preload and hydraulic rebound, 6.7 inches travelShowa rear suspension unit, manual preload and rebound damping adjustment, 9.06 inches wheel travelKYB Single shock, adjustable preload (w/remote adjuster) and rebound damping; 7.9-in travel
Front BrakeDual floating disc brakes, two-piston floating calipers, diameter 305 mmDual 320 mm discs with radial-mount four-piston calipersDouble 320 mm stainless steel floating discs, Brembo radial-mounted calipers with 4 opposed pistonsTwin 320 mm floating discs, Brembo Stylema 4-piston monobloc calipers. Radial front master cylinder, Optimized Cornering ABSBrembo Dual 282mm hydraulic disc; selectable ABS (on/off)
Rear BrakeSingle disc brake, diameter 265 mm, single-piston floating caliper260 mm disc with two-piston floating caliper260 mm stainless steel disc, floating caliper with 2 pistonsSingle 254 mm disc. Brembo single-piston sliding caliper. Optimized cornering ABSBrembo 245mm hydraulic disc; selectable ABS (on/off)
Front Tire2.15 x 21″ / 90/90 – 2190/90-21 Continental TKC 802.50” x 19” / 110/80-1990/90-2190/90R21 Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR
Rear Tire4.25 x 17″ / 150/70 – 17150/70-18 Continental TKC 804.25” x 17” / 150/70-17150/70R17150/70R18 Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR
Rake/Trail28° / 4.9 in. (124.5mm)26.3° / NA28°/ 5.04 in. (128.0mm)24.4º/5.7 in. (144.8mm)27.0º/4.13 in. (104.9mm)
Wheelbase62.7 in.60.2 in.60.2 in.61.1 in.62.8 in.
Seat Height34.4 in.34.6 in.32.7 in.33.5-34.3 in.34.6 in.
Curb Weight552 lbs.469 lbs.540 lbs.503 lbs.468 lbs.
Fuel Capacity6.1 gal. (23 liters)5.3 gal.5.5 gal (including 1.3-gal reserve)5.3 gal.4.2 gal.
Observed MPG36.5 mpg43.7 mpg38.6 mpg44.2 mpg38.1 mpg
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.

More by Ryan Adams

Join the conversation
2 of 85 comments