The adventure motorcycle segment has blown up. It’s a huge market of what some people deem overpriced poser-bikes that rarely see non paved roads yet are outfitted like they’re going to cross the Sahara. There’s a gigantic market of companies making hardware that’s tested to sustain extreme abuse off-road for a bike that you’ll see at Starbucks. The king of this segment is BMW’s R1200 GS Adventure. It’s BMW’s highest selling bike but BMW itself has single-digit marketshare in the motorcycle market and every other manufacturer has joined in the fight to take on the GS-Behemoth. Compared to the millions of Harley Davidson bikes sold each year, the GS sold 50,000 bikes last year. A lot for BMW (total sales were around 120K) but small potatoes in the world of motorcycles sales.
Who needs an adventure bike? A lot of the negative PR around these bikes stems from the owners. I’d compare them to 90% of Jeep Wrangler owners. You see a lifted Jeep with a super charger and 20 gallons of extra fuel and loud knobby tires with huge light bars and you’re thinking “why is it so clean? Isn’t that guy heading back from the trail?” No, he’s going to Whole Foods. A motorcycle you can beat up on must be a motorcycle that’s affordable. The GS Adventure is opposite of that. When I do go off road all weekend, people say “I’d never take my GS to trails like that. I’m not done paying it off yet”
When researching my next bike purchase, I went to CycleTrader and asked them to show me the most expensive Dual Sport bike nationally. The first 25 pages were BMW GSAs followed by 25 pages of BMW GS and then the Ducatis and KTMs finally showed up.
The GS Adventure is the most well equipped bike to take on a global trip through mud and dessert but if you want to outfit it even further, expect to pay a premium over a part made for a Yamaha or Honda. In addition, BMW highly recommends you visit their $150 an hour techs for an oil change and every other maintenance item.
One would state that the Ducati Multistrada and KTM 1290 Adventure are $15,000 while the GSA Starts at $18,900 but I’d argue that by the time you beef those bikes up to have the same off-road capabilities as the BMW, you’ll be at the same MSRP on two bikes that still aren’t as capable as the GSA mostly for the suspension and overall reliability of the boxer engine.
The technical specifications in this post I’m linking to (scroll half-way down) show all of the comparisons against today’s post popular adventure bikes: https://www.bennetts.co.uk/bikesocial/reviews/bikes/group-tests/big-adventure-group-test
The Honda Africa Twin, Yamaha Super Tenere and true Dual Sport bikes like the KLR, DRZ and KTM’s EXC-F are obviously missing because those are street legal dirt bikes. They aren’t bikes you tour with two-up with the girlfriend and that’s what the adventure bikes compared in my link are for.
Adventure bikes are expensive like multi-function printers. You could buy a great scanner, printer and copier and together, these 3 bikes errrr printers would do well at their chosen path but you’d pay more in upfront cost, maintenance, insurance and registration to stable the 3 bikes just to have a dedicated sport tourer (R1200RT), Dual Sport (KTM 500 EXC-F) and sport bike (Yamaha R6). I’d have those in my stable in addition to a Honda Goldwing if I was a multi-millionaire but like many ADV riding buddies, we have to pick one bike and adventure bikes are our multi-function printers.
You can sit in the saddle all day on your KTM Super Adventure or traverse Mountains on the GS or Cut up very twisty and technical mountain roads on the Multistrada and go on long dessert roads of packed dirt on the Triumph Tiger. These bikes serve all of those needs. The list is interchangeable with the right set of tires. There’s a reason why tire choice is such a highly discussed topic online. There is no 50/50 tire for on and off road. Knobbies are loud, lower fuel economy and are scary at high speeds or rain but a ‘dual sport’ tire gets caked full of mud on anything but hard packed dirt and down goes your 500 pound motorcycle.
I’ve spent 700 words defending adventure bikes because I looked at all of my options when it came time to replace my bike. I don’t want to lay flat with a tank in my stomach more than 10 miles at a time and I don’t want to lean back with my arms up in the air on a cruiser and a true dual sport would get me to and from work on all of the fun dirt trails but would be painful in 6th gear at 70MPH on the highway with the way they’re geared and designed.
My riding style called for maintaining my place as an adventure rider Yuppy.
Now that we know the style of bike that’s for me, I had to look at my options. There are TONS but the kings as I’ve stated before are made by Ducati, KTM, BMW and Triumph. The Yamaha and Kawasaki offerings are solid but those bikes quickly fell out of running.
The Africa Twin has a 240 mile range only, doesn’t come with the hardware needed to go off road and not fear crashing and the max load capacity wouldn’t allow for 2 up riding or me and a week’s worth of camping and sleeping supplies.The Super Tenere, V-Strom and the like simply were too ill-equipped and lacked the long distance comfort & fuel tank I wanted. Also, these bikes lack the presence of the KTM, Ducati and BMW offerings. Road presence, like my Golf R is important to me. I love feeling a tingle in my stomach when I walk up to the bike as it stances there ready to ride.
The Ducati was my #2 pick. It ticked a lot of my boxes with suspension travel, cool on-board computer, fuel capacity and the aftermarket accessories were pretty in line but not as cheap as KTM’s which the OEM off-road accessories options were plentiful and very cheap. A $250 OEM full-undercarriage engine guard? What??!!
Why did the Ducati get #2? Well, it fell here because it didn’t have what the #1 bike did. In fact, almost every bike I looked at had the exact same list of issues
- Conventional Suspension which makes heavy bikes a bit harder to throw around
- Lack of aftermarket options
- Lack of being equipped from the factory leading to a few weeks of trying a ton of aftermarket options to make sure you buy the right thing that will protect you off road
- Small fuel tank or low MPG
- Non-adjustable Suspension
- Low hauling capacity
- V-twin engine packed under your seat leading to a ton of crotch heat (KTM’s 1290 has a heat-shield under the seat which helps but it’s still very hot)
- High center of gravity
- Exposed header pipes despite an engine guard
- No great crash bar mount points
- Chain instead of shaft drive
- Low Ground clearance
I spent roughly 20 hours reading every review and watching every video review I could find comparing all of the bikes I wanted to love and I ended up back at the GS Adventure again. Literally every review mentions the GS and how this bike isn’t a GS but for the money, it’s close enough.
Unfortunately, the GS price is the major deterrent. Everyone on one of the other bikes I listed mutually agrees the GS is the best but almost all mentioned price being the reason they stayed away. Any reasonable working person would not spend $25,000 USD for a fully equipped bike you plan on sloshing around on muddy trails. It’s irresponsible. Despite this, the GS sells very well except most owners are too afraid to take it off road.
It’s as if every manufacturer knew the GS price point was too high for any sane person who plans on taking their bike off road yet to hit a price point people can afford, they had to add all of these huge compromises that make for a lesser bike. The KTM 1290 Adventure has a hot as hell twin engine that costs $18,000 and requires you to buy a new seat, engine guard, crash bars, off-road mirrors and a ton of extras and that’s before you add a proper windshield for touring. It was my #2 bike until I came across the Multistada. Ignoring the rumors about Ducati reliability, the bike appeared to be an amazing twisties and touring motorcycle that has way too much power for someone like me who’s only on his 2nd year of riding but would be good for 2-up and a lot of luggage. It had a nice on-board computer (the KTM and 2018 GS Adventure also have these) and has a great road-presence but it didn’t seem to hold itself well off-road and needed a lot of extra support to be off-road capable.
…and I get it
Why add 3-5 Grand to the MSRP of your ‘adventure’ bike if the adventure rider segment isn’t going to go on an actual adventure? The GSA is either the only true factory adventure bike that can be taken off road on your way home from the dealership
OR, it’s an overpriced, over designed pig that is only affordable by the elite riders with more money than sense who only use 10% of what the bike is capable of.
I personally have enough photos and videos of my bike side-ways on muddy roads and hills to not be one of those riders who only goes to Starbucks. I also have a lot of photos of my bike on long stretches of boring flat highways, my work parking lot and my driveway. It spends 75% of its time on tarmac but when I do choose to take the long way home through a muddy bog, I don’t need to make sure the 3 grand in aftermarket modifications are affixed to the bike reducing the EPA Fuel Economy rating just so I can take the adventure bike on an adventure. The GS Adventure IS that bike from the start!
Sure the engine guard can be beefed up, you can add some supports to the crash bar and more powerful auxiliary lights and a touring seat but you can just drive the bike in its OEM state and have more capabilities than any other adventure bike in their OEM state.
Before we close, I do have a post of my new bike. I wanted to get a few days with it before putting down my thoughts. If you’re shopping for an adventure bike, there’s a wealth of information here on what’s currently out there: http://www.mensjournal.com/expert-advice/the-20-best-adventure-bikes-to-buy-now-20150506/honda-africa-twin-w203122
I think it’s a good exercise to first set your budget. What can you afford? $10K? 20k? Set your price then finds new bikes in that price range. Then, buy the 1-2 year older model of that to save yourself the depreciation and buy all of the mods to build that bike up to the kind of riding you want to do. That’s the advantage of buying a non GS. You can buy the basics and build up to a SuperMoto, Dual Sport, Sport Touring, etc depending on how you shape the modifications.
Is the GSA the only ADV motorcycle worth buying? No. Is it the best, every single reviewer of adventure bikes remarks that one of the cons of every bike I read about is it’s not a GS. That’s a big statement.