Adventure bikes have been on a tear since the start of the pandemic. No other category in motorcycling is hotter. “Adventure,” however, is a loose term. And the best way to understand what it means when applied to bikes would be a moto that can go off-road but that, depending on setup and especially the variable of weight, will be either very capable for the average rider to use when ripping through the grime — or not so much.
Flip that coin over, however, and the bikes that may be a handful in the dirt (if you’re not a world-class rider) will be better and more comfortable on the road.
But whether you care about riding a lot of dirt or barely any, off-road positioning can be super comfy. You sit upright, not bent forward in racing style, and not reclined in the La-Z-Boy arms out/legs out bagger posture. Instead, your feet are underneath you, so you can stand easily to absorb the hit of rolling over a log or a speed bump, and with longer travel suspensions, they soak up the spine pounding that other bikes can’t.
Still, if that description unites adventure motorcycles, a chasm divides the breed. Just like saying you drive an “SUV,” that could be a lifted Jeep Wrangler, or that could be its distant cousin, the Renegade—which happens to share a platform with a Fiat 500L and is no rock-crawling 4x4 Godzilla.
This guide breaks down the adventure category into sections, loosely defined first by weight, with the heavier bikes leading the pack, then moves to progressively lighter models. Note that heft alone isn’t the only decision to think about. A bigger engine (generally) makes a bike more powerful, and twin-cylinder (or triple) configs rattle your body and the bike less than single cylinders. Fairings add weight but also cut through the air, reducing fatigue, and a bike designed to carry luggage might also be a factor in your thought process, as (should be) fuel capacity, which enables more range between fill-ups, and that can be critical if you define adventure as roaming farther from the grid.
We’ve put all of those considerations into our decision tree thingamajig, and it’s spit out the following 11 bikes.
Could the list be even longer? Of course, it could! Because everyone knows the best motorcycle rides are defined not by the roads—but by the laugh session at the coffee stop arguing over which bike is “best,” and why.
Adventure Touring Motorcycles
Pros: Best for reeling in long miles
Cons: Weight can make them hard to handle in off-road, technical terrain
The heaviest beasts of the realm can get you there and back, especially if you define “there” as a distant dot on the globe. The brands in this mix are all fighting BMW’s R1250 GS for a piece of the “serious” ADV space. Serious because: money. None of these bikes comes cheaply, and for a good reason, since you’re getting high-end tech like synced braking actuation, ABS and traction control, at least twin-cylinder engines, and systems you can tune for all sorts of differing conditions. But these bikes are taller and heavier, making them a challenge in the dirt.
Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special
There are two reasons this bike exists. First, Harley-Davidson needed to evolve its engine tech for a world of more onerous emissions restrictions and (eventually) smaller displacement demands. The all-new Revolution Max series of V-Twin engines will address both challenges. Second: Their core buyer is aging out of riding, and the current sales boom in bikes is, as we already mentioned, all about the ADV category where, previously, Harley had nothing to sell. Luckily, the Pan-Am is a smash hit, largely thanks to the muscle of its thrilling, 150 hp liquid-cooled V-Twin. Five ride modes and a suspension that raises for off-road riding add icing to the equation.
Triumph Tiger 1200
Triumph’s latest Tiger ticks all the boxes, in part because Triumph is offering so many versions. You can have it in five different configs: Some with more suspension travel and some with larger fuel tanks for greater range, as well as with either spoked wheels (for off-road) or cast hoops (better for pavement). Triumph also addressed the issue of a too-tall seat height (now down to a very accessible 33.5 inches) and weight: the new 1200 is up to 37 pounds lighter than the BMW GS it’s poised to battle. The kicker, literally, is that you’re getting Triumph’s signature, ultra-free-revving 148 hp triple and off/on-road modes, all to make the Tiger 1200 as versatile and fun as any bike in the segment.
Honda Africa Twin
The Africa Twin checks in just a little lighter than competitors in this segment, thanks to constant tweaking by Honda to make the Africa Twin increasingly competitive, even making it greener (to meet tighter EU regs) while upping the total output of its 1,100 cc engine to 100hp. Honda also lets riders dig into the custom mode sandbox, offering wheelie control, cornering ABS, rear-lift control and DCT cornering detection and three engine-braking levels and seven torque control levels. Honda also manages a reasonable 33.5-inch seat height in the low position but still ekes out a generous 10 inches of ground clearance. Oh, and the Africa Twin is also relatively affordable compared to rivals. The only reason to balk? The rumor mill is rampant that Honda’s coming with a far lighter, 500 cc adventure bike.
BMW R1250 GS Adventure
BMW’s boxer engine design puts the weight lower in the frame, so even though we’re talking about 549 pounds for a 2022 R1250 GS, the king of the realm remains lust-worthy for its legendary low-speed handling on and off-road and incredibly excellent on-pavement cornering. Simply put, a motorcycle isn’t a car: You must use your body weight and movement on the bike as a counterbalance. The higher the engine sits in the chassis, the harder that is to do. You’ll spot GS’s all over the globe precisely because they’re the ultimate touring machines (wink) that, despite their bulk, aren’t as exhausting to ride when the conditions get sketchier, and your brain and body are running on caffeine and fumes. Oh, sure, just like the others, they come with traction control, ABS, and even (if you want) a heated seat. But the core argument for wanting one is about simple physics.
Ducati Desert X
We could just as easily include the excellent Multistrada V4 on this list, but the Desert X is a bit lighter, at 492 pounds, and the latest flavor from Ducati, and it’s a machine that’s cost-competitive, too. Ducati manages to make its 110 hp ramp progressively, rather than zip into warp drive and loop you off the machine. And speaking of friendly, if the stock 34.4-inch seat height doesn’t fit, options let you go up to a higher 35.2 inches or down to 33.3 inches. And while Ducati claims a standard 5.5 gallons nets you 250 miles of range, an optional extra 2.1-gallon rear tank would yield 370 miles of roaming. Oh, and if the 937cc motor seems small compared to the bruisers listed here, its 110hp and 10,000 RPM rev limit are anything but. Plus—not that you didn’t notice—but this bike is gorgeous.
Pros: Balance the want for dirt against the need for street
Cons: Some are more capable in the slop; some are more capable on asphalt
Which side is 60 and which is 40? Is 60 dirt and 40 road—or vice versa? Well, brother, that’s for you to decide. Scroll further down, and you’ll see the “dual-sport” category, which the cognoscenti know are just MX bikes with license plate holders and headlights.By contrast, 60/40 bikes are the multitools of the genre, neither as powerful as the adventure touring machines but also not as porky and far more comfortable on the highway than the dual-sports.
Our picks for the 60/40 segment share a few essential traits: Enough ground clearance to be decent off-road, some sort of fairing and at least partial windshield, and decent luggage hauling and aftermarket parts availability. But sift through this list, and you’ll see some skew better at playing on a dirt trail while others lean toward making your morning commute a joy. Wants? Needs? You’re the arbiter. We’re just relaying the info.
KTM 890 Adventure R
With ten inches of ground clearance, a WP-tuned suspension with 9.4 inches of travel both front and rear, Bosch traction control and ABS systems and weighing a mere 432 pounds, the 890 Adventure R will easily outmaneuver the heavyweights above. And with a sixth gear and 89 hp from its silken parallel twin, it’ll out-muscle the lighter weight 60/40s on this list and run smoother than all those single-cylinder machines. The 890 Adventure R sits right at the happy place sweet spot of ADV bikes, with capability and gravitas but not too much bulk. The rub: Having 14+ bones to afford one—and climbing the ladder to that tall, 34.6-inch seat height.
Yamaha Tenere 700
Twin engines add a lust factor to riding — not only because they’re way more aurally satisfying, but because their balanced operation doesn’t vibrate parts—or you—as much as single cylinders bouncing up and down. They do tend to add weight, however, and at 452 pounds, the Tenere is the heaviest bike of this 60/40 sub-bruiser slot.
Its twin’s 72 hp comes up shy of the KTM 890 Adventure R’s ponies, and the Tenere’s 9.4 inches of ground clearance also don’t quite meet that KTM’s ride height, but you’re not spending nearly as much for the Yamaha.
Also, vs. some of the smaller bikes here, note the 215-mile range between fueling. Add a chassis that’s very well set up for touring, including easy mounting points for bags, decent armoring out of the box, a reasonably-sized fairing and a tank made for leg gripping while standing, and you have the pinnacle of Yamahas.
Speaking of apexes, the 34.4-inch seat height is on par with that of the KTM 890, though fortunately, there are lowering kits for both bikes.
Suzuki DR 650 S
A carbureted bike!! In 2022? Look. Even if trendier, newer bikes in this fold, like the KTM in the next entry, have hewed toward modern tech like fuel injection, ABS and switchable traction control, there are downsides, particularly when it comes to trailside fixes and MacGuyvering said repairs. The DR 650 comes in 15 pounds lighter than that KTM Adventure 390 and produces the same horsepower. It’s on this list as the zag to the KTM 390’s zig because, with a taller seat height (34.8 inches), it could be more comfortable for taller humans, and speaking of that, you’re getting 10.4 inches of ground clearance, too.
All that adds up to a more capable off-roader, though the counter-argument merits your attention, too, since the DR 650’s relatively low, 366-pound weight feels a little top heavy, and it wouldn’t hurt Suzuki to add a sixth gear to make highway riding more comfortable. Still, it’s hard to argue with the approachable price and the dead 50/50 split of application.
KTM Adventure 390
Yeah, yeah, there are two flavors of KTM on this list. This variety skews more toward the pavement, especially because Its smooth, 42 hp single delivers very linear torque from a unit that’s way less buzzy than many engines in this class. So highway miles melt away far more comfortably—and the bonus of a sixth gear helps in that department, too. The 33.6-inch seat height isn’t too tall for most riders, either.
The cons? Not quite eight inches of ground clearance will push you straight toward KTM’s prodigious library of mods, including bolting on a high fender, ditching the stock rubber for more aggressive knobs, and tossing the plastic skid plate for a KTM’s Powerparts aluminum one. That’ll get you closer to a 55/45 machine, if not the monster 890 Adventure R—but we’re talking half the cost, too. Plus: the combination of a 3.8-gallon fuel capacity and about 60 mpg fuel economy delivers more range than you’ll find from alternatives.
Enduro / Dual Sport Motorcycles
Pros: Lightweight, flickable, and agile in the dirt
Cons: You might rattle out your molars at freeway speeds
On the spectrum of adventure bikes, enduros and dual sports are the best ones equipped for tight trail rides rather than long-distance touring. An enduro or dual can handle a few bags and some cargo — but the ideal way to use one of these smaller bikes is to drive to your destination, set up camp, then go exploring.
Due to their smaller fuel tanks, they don’t have a superb range, so trailering them to base camp isn’t uncommon. Likewise, you don’t want to spend days on end in the saddle; they’re not far from road-legal dirtbikes.
At 291 pounds and banging out 42 hp, you’re getting 6.9 hp per pound. If it feels insanely quick, that’s because the CRF450RL is very much an MX ripper with turn signals and a place to mount a license plate. The seat height cranes at an unfriendly (to anyone who isn’t over six feet tall) 37.2 inches, but once aboard. 12.6 inches of ground clearance lets you rollick over every whoop in your way. This bike is an attack dog and will blast holes through almost all off-road terrain.
Downsides? Like the 450R on which it’s based, the seat is rock hard, and the tiny two-gallon fuel tank limits your range.
Kawasaki KLX 300
A mellow, 23 hp single and the low, 302-pound weight makes the KLX the ideal plated dirt bike for learning to mess around off asphalt. It won’t scare you, but with 10.8 inches of ground clearance, it’ll chew through singletrack comfortably. That Honda will eat its shorts, but you’re getting this Kawasaki to play, not to capture a checkered flag. One mod: Its 35.2-inch seat height might be too sky-scrapery for many riders; get an aftermarket lowering kit to address the issue. Like the CRF450RL, the KLX’s two-gallon fuel capacity requires you to pack extra gas or closely watch what’s in the tank.