Sportbikes are great for high speeds and getting low in turns; dirt bikes are right at home slingin’ dirt and threading through dense wooded trails. But if you were to ask either to do the other’s job, they — and you — would quite literally fall flat.
Luckily, there’s something between the two extremes. With the looks and utility of a capable off-roader and the balance and handling of a sport-standard, adventure motorcycles are a jack-of-all-trades way to tackle both paved roads and dirt. With a set of purpose-balanced tires that aren’t too knobby or too slick, an adventure motorcycle can handle a long-haul tour, then confidently set off down a forest road in search of a quality campsite.
Much like the crossover in the four-wheeled world, the adventure motorcycle segment is rapidly expanding, thanks to the combination of sportiness and utility its vehicles provide — and these days, there are now more options than ever to take you wherever. We pulled together eight of them that are absolutely worth considering.
Even in the adventure bike world, there are varying degrees of dedication to getting dirty. If you find yourself off the road more than on it, the “adventure touring” category is where to look. These are the bikes you’ll see teams prepping for the Dakar Rally. In stock trim, though, these bikes are more than capable on asphalt…even if they prefer to be caked in dirt.
KTM 790 Adventure R
KTM long teased a middleweight adventure motorcycle like the 790 Adventure R. Now that the top-tier ADV bikes weigh around 500-600 pounds and boast price tags near $20,000, there’s a segment opening up underneath for a bike like this to slot into the lineup.
Armed with a WP-tuned suspension with 9.4 inches of travel both front and rear and Bosch traction control and ABS systems, this adventure bike will easily outmaneuver the heavyweights and outlast the lightweight dual sports on longer rides. It might be the Goldilocks option of the ADV world…if you have $13,699 to give KTM.
Engine: 799cc parallel-twin
Torque: 66 lb-ft
Weight (dry): 416 pounds
Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE
The Triumph Scrambler 1200 XE is the bike people started asking for the moment someone first took a Street Scrambler off-road. Thankfully, Triumph put some real muscle behind the upgraded Scrambler, making it a genuine off-roader instead of a half-assed wannabe.
With a full suite of electronics, modern connectivity features and rider modes, a lifted suspension and cutting-edge traction and ABS systems, the Scrambler 1200 XE sounds like any other top-rated ADV — but when you consider the package is wrapped in classic Triumph style, it stands out as one of the best bikes in the segment.
Engine: 1,200cc parallel-twin
Torque: 81 lb-ft
Weight (dry): 452 pounds
Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sports ES
The base-level Africa Twin is an incredibly capable bike; the Adventure Sports kicks it up a notch. Regardless if you choose the dual-clutch gearbox or six-speed manual transmission, the Africa Twin is a seriously well-sorted machine, and won’t disappoint adventurers keen on piloting a direct descendant of a Dakar winner down any dusty path.
Engine: 1,084cc parallel twin
Torque: 77 lb-ft
Weight (fully-loaded): 530 pounds
BMW R1250 GS Adventure
The BMW GS is one of the most iconic and recognizable adventure bikes for a reason. The GS spent decades proving its capability in the remote parts of the world, with each generation improving on the last.
For 2019, BMW overhauled its ADV flagship, gave it a larger, more advanced engine and a host of electronic updates for further refinement. You can rest assured the R1250 GS Adventure is the best BMW has to offer, as far as the adventure touring motorcycle experience is concerned.
Engine: 1,254cc air/oil-cooled flat-twin
Torque: 105 lb-ft
Weight (wet): 580 pounds
For the giant piece of the world’s population that has to navigate city blocks before they can reach dirt trails, the adventure sport touring segment makes more sense in the day-to-day. Packing shorter suspension travel than a full-on adventure bike but more utility than a stiffer sport bike, adventure sport touring bikes could live their entire life on the pavement without complaint.
With street tires, they make for decent commuters. But why not slap some knobbies on ’em and hit some backwoods two-tracks to take full advantage of their potential?
Suzuki V-Strom 1000
At a fraction of the price of most of its competitors, the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 makes big-ticket tech attainable. With ABS, two-stage traction control and an adjustable suspension, the V-Strom stands apart at its price point; at $12,999, it’s hard to ask for more. And with proper dirt tires, you can throw an entire mountain range worth of trails at the V-Strom and it’ll take it in stride.
Engine: 1,037cc 90-degree V-twin
Torque: 76 lb-ft
Weight (Wet): 511 pounds
Ducati Multistrada 1260 Enduro
The 1262-cc, 158-horsepower V-Twin hints at superbike performance; there’s no doubting the Multistrada’s track capabilities, but this one has other ideas in mind. It may sit tall, but its balance only lends itself to total versatility; the quirky Italian style is just a plus.
The Testastretta engine with Desmodromic variable timing and dual spark ignition combined with cornering ABS, four ride modes, traction control, double-sided swing arm and semi-active suspension make the Multistrada 1260 one of the most advanced bikes in Ducati’s lineup.
Engine: 1,262cc 90-degree L-twin
Torque: 96 lb-ft
Weight (dry): 496 pounds
Enduro / Dual Sport
On the spectrum of adventure motorcycles, 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.
A tamer engine and less aggressive gearing are the most noticeable changes, but the retuned suspension and hidden rubber mounts and bushings throughout the bike soften up the experience and reduce rider fatigue.
Engine: 449cc single-cylinder
Torque: 28 lb-ft
Weight (Wet): 289 pounds
KTM 690 Enduro R
KTM built its reputation on beastly enduros, so it’s not surprising that there are few factory bikes that can hold a candle to the 690 Enduro R.
The 690 Enduro R tips the scales at a scant 322 pounds — almost half the weight of the BMW R1200 GS — and comes packing similar power stats as the Honda Africa Twin Adventure Sport. To put it in industry terms: this thing rips.
Engine: 690cc single-cylinder
Torque: 54 lb-ft
Weight (Wet): 322 pounds
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