The Adventure Motorcycle Market is older than many people think. There are also more modern bikes that if prepared properly have the ability to take you anywhere any motorcycle could ever ride.
Outside of the BMW R 1250 GS Adventure , KTM 1290 Super Adventure R, Honda Africa Twin, Suzuki V Strom and Yamaha 700 Tenere, there are some hidden gems worth considering. I could never include all Adventure Bikes, but I have included some lesser known bikes with great credentials. They all deserve a place in the History of Adventure Bikes.
King of the Adventure Bikes, this motorcycle made by a small Italian company conquered the world. It triumphed against all of the competition from the big Japanese and European manufacturers to win the legendary Paris Dakar Rally twice.
True Off-Road ability with a fantastic air cooled v twin Ducati engine at its heart. Choosing the Ducati engine was a master stroke. Its low down torque gives you the grunt to get out of tricky situations and the top end power gives you the speed to cover continents with ease.
A forgotten hero of the Adventure Motorcycle market the Gilera RC600 is one of my all time favourite motorbikes. Lucio Masut, Gilera’s chief design engineer, was determined to make this the best 600cc single cylinder engine on the market.
He made the engine liquid cooled, gave it a 4 valve head, double overhead camshafts driven by a toothed belt, water cooling, a balancer shaft, twin carburettors and twin output ports, making it one of the most technologically advanced engines of the day.
It finally gave Gilera the class winning Paris Dakar bike they had been trying to build through the 1980’s.
The factory entered RC600R got its first class win in 1990 and then dominated for the next 2 years.
This bike is possibly everything I could want in an bike, I wish they still made it today.
Laverda built the Atlas around the successful 500cc Montjuic engine. This small light and powerful parallel twin engine was perfect for the job. First built in 1985 the OR600 Atlas went into serious production from 1986 to 1989 with less than 500 built in total.
Increasing the bore size and keeping the short stroke of the engine helped to create a smoother power delivery from the engine. A comfortable seat and 25 litre fuel capacity meant that it was as capable as an overland tourer as it was on the road.
At just 151Kg dry weight it had more ability off road than many of its competition. The newly re-designed parallel twin engine was the perfect reliable power plant that it needed.
Cagiva Gran Canyon/Navigator
These two bikes are very different bikes. I have grouped them together because they they have too much in common to treat them seperately. They were built around the same chassis.
After years of success with the Cagiva Elefant they needed to replace it. The masterful pen of Massimo Tamburini gave us the Cagiva Gran Canyon. Powered by the same 900 Ducati engine as the Elefant it became a favourite ‘Riders’ bike.
More like a high powered super-moto style riding position and sharper more road biased handling won it many fans.
Then the arguments began. The Castiglioni brothers parted ways with Ducati and Ducati then refused to supply them engines.
After considering a 3 cylinder engine they struck a deal with Suzuki to use the fabled liquid cooled engine from the TL1000. So the Navigator was born. It has become a bit of a rarity today. Although in production from 2000 to 2005 it was only produced in small numbers. It was the most powerful adventure motorcycle of its era .
It was a perfect long distance tourer. However the power and sharp steering geometry meant it could turn it into a real hooligan at the slightest twitch of the throttle.
Aprilia Tuareg 600
The Aprilia Tuareg 600 was late to the party in 1988/89 so it needed to do things better. It didnt, so consequently sales were always low.
The Rotax engine was a reliable unit. Unfortunately it was an old design. The lack of power compared to bikes like the Laverda Atlas meant it had difficulty producing sales. However it was a lovely bike to ride with great ground clearance for a big bike. Aprilia used the top grade cycle parts they were known for, which meant everything worked very well. Just not quite well enough.
Moto Guzzi Quota
The Moto Guzzi Quota was the first real shot at the Adventure Bikes market by Moto Guzzi. An all new twin beam perimeter chassis with removable lower engine stays was a real change from the tubular steel chassis that the Mandelo Del Lario factory had used for years.
The Quota would always be a heavyweight because it used the big air cooled V Twin Moto Guzzi engine block. It works really well as an Adventure Touring motorcycle. The tall seat height put many riders off, but it is well balanced bike. It is capable off road although anything this heavy can be a bit of a handful. In real terms it can be compared to the BMW R 1150 GS Adventure and does most things the BMW could do but with a bit of italian style.
Top quality cycle parts meant the price was high and this unfortunately led to poor sales.
Benelli Tre-K Amazonas
Benelli were in trouble. The sportsbike market was failing so they saw the adventure bike market as a possible way to save the company. The only engine they had to work with was the 1000cc 3 cylinder monster that had powered their superbikes.
This meant the Benelli Tre-k had to be aimed at the Sports Touring end of the Adventure Motorcycles market. Over 120hp and 115Nm of torque made this a real handful (think of a Triumph Tiger on steroids with no traction control or other rider aids) and it just didnt have the off road ability to break into the real Adventure Bike market.
Moto Morini GranPasso
Another rare monster of an Adventure Bike is the Moto Morini Gran Paso. The 1200cc V-Twin engine made it too heavy to be capable of anything but light trails. The trellis frame and top grade cycle parts made it a formidable package but a high price and very low production numbers mean it is a rare sight on the roads.
Husqvarna 701 Enduro LR
At just 155Kg dry weight this is the opposite extreme of Adventure riding to the big capacity heavyweight bikes we so often see. An enduro bike adapted for the adventure market more than a true adventure Bike, it will take you beyond the reach of most other motorcycles.
The high ground clearance and long travel suspension push the seat height up to a towering 925mm. Even with the sag of the suspension, that can make it a handful for riders who arent tall.
Husaberg FE650 Enduro
If well looked after the Husaberg engine is a reliable workhorse. Plenty of Rally Accesories are available. It can easily be turned into the sort of Adventure Motorcycle that knows no limits.
Sherco 500 SEF Factory
As it leaves the factory the Sherco is hardly an Adventure bike, but with a long range tank and cush drive as easy mods it can quickly become very capeable as an overlander that really shines off-road.
If what you want a full blown Rally Bike that can be adapted to become an adventure bike. The Sherco 500 SEF Factory is definitely worth a look.
With the Nordwest Gilera took the decision to make their Off-Road oriented RC600R more road friendly. Little did they know it at the time but they made what was to all intent and purposes the very first factory Supermoto.
As an adventure bike it had limitations but the ‘crouching tiger’ like Supermoto riding position made this a great bike to fly along twisty roads. Physically small and agile with more power than the RC600 it was an exciting bike to ride.
Strap on some luggage and it does become tamer, but that hooligan is always there waiting to escape.
Moto Morini 350 Kanguru and 500 Camel
The Moto Morini Camel and Kanguru both have excellent agility off road or on twisty back roads. They also both have the torque to carry a reasonable load of luggage.
The earlier Camel used twin shock rear suspension whereas the later Kanguru used a monoshock rear suspension design. The Camel also had a bigger fuel tank but the extra fuel consumption of the 500cc engine didnt give it that much extra range.
If you were lucky and got a good one they could be great bikes. Unfortunately Moto Morini were plagued by production problems. Poor consistency meant sales were never high.
If you fancy something different from the Ducati Multistrada V4, Triumph Tiger, Honda Africa Twin or Suzuki V Strom, there have been some fantastic adventure motorcycles built over the years. Some are getting increasingly rare. If you are mechanically minded then maybe an older “Classic” Adventure bike could be the bike for you. Or a “Rally Rep” you can adapt to your own needs might also be the way to go?
If you want Traction Control, ABS and all the advantages of a modern bike then you can go for the Ducati Multistrada V4, BMW R1250 GS Adventure or even a Harley Davidson Pan America. This list gives you some great alternatives to think about though. Bigger Isn’t Always Better.
I would really love a V Strom 650 that weighed just 150kg. Why is it that 35 years after the Laverda Atlas most adventure bikes weigh in at almost 200kg?
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Why not take a look around the Adventure Bikes Store You will find the best collection of Adventure Motorcycles products and designs available anywhere. 22 Fantastic designs on T-Shirts Face Masks and Neck Gaiters. From Minimal Logo’s to Original line drawings there is something for every Adventure Rider to celebrate their spirit of adventure.
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