gilera RC600 Adventure Motorcycle

18 Adventure Motorcycle Gems You Might Not Have Heard Of

The Adventure Motorcycle Market is older than many people think. There are also some lesser known modern bikes that if prepared properly have the ability to take you anywhere any motorcycle could ever ride.

Outside of the likes of the BMW R1250GS, KTM 1290 Super Adventure and Yamaha 700 Tenere, there are some fantastic hidden gems worth considering. No list could ever include every motorcycle, but these are some of the lesser known bikes that deserve a place in story of Adventure Motorcycles. Leave a comment below if there is a bike you think I should have included.

Cagiva Elefant

Eddie Orioli - Cagiva Elefant
Eddie Orioli – Cagiva Elefant

King of the Adventure Motorcycles, this adventure bike 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 in the hands of the legend Edi Orioli.

True Off-Road ability with a fantastic air cooled v-twin Ducati engine at its heart meant plenty of power. 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.

Lucky Strike Cagiva Elefant 900
Lucky Strike Cagiva Elefant 900 – Thierry Dodin

Gilera RC600

A forgotten hero of Adventure Motorcycles the Gilera RC600 is one of my all time favourite motorbikes. Design engineer Lucio Masut was determined to make the best 600cc single cylinder engine possible.

He gave the engine water cooling, 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 Adventure Motorcycle, I wish they still made it today.

Laverda Atlas

The Laverda Atlas was built around the successful Laverda 500 Montjuic engine. This small light and powerful parallel twin engine was perfect for the job. First built in 1985 it 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 off road.

At just 151Kg dry weight it had more ability off road than much of its competition and the newly re-designed parallel twin engine was the perfect reliable power plant it needed.

Cagiva Gran Canyon/Navigator

I have grouped these two Adventure Bikes together because they are built around the same chassis, but they are very different bikes.

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 engine from the TL1000. So the navigator was born. It was built from 2000 to 2005 but only ever in small numbers. The increase in power of the TL1000 engine turned it into 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 didn’t, so consequently sales were always low.

The Rotax based engine was a reliable unit but it was an old design with a lack of power compared to bikes like the Laverda Atlas. However it was a lovely bike to ride. The usual top grade cycle parts Aprilia are renowned for using meant everything worked well. Just not quite well enough.

Moto Guzzi Quota

The Quota was the first real shot at the Adventure Motorcycle market by the Moto Guzzi factory. An all new twin beam perimeter chassis with removable lower engine stays was a real change from the tubular steel chassis the Mandelo Del Lario factory had used for years.

Using the big Guzzi engine block it would always be a heavyweight but all In all it was a well balanced bike. The tall seat height put many riders off but it was more capable off road than you might think.

Top quality cycle parts meant the price was high and this was another factor that unfortunately led to poor sales.

Benelli Tre-K Amazonas

Benelli were in trouble. The sportsbike market was failing and they saw an adventure bike 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 and it just didnt have the off road ability to break into the real Adventure Bike market.

Moto Morini GrandPasso

Another rare monster in the Adventure Motorcycle market 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 motorcycle, it will take you beyond the reach of most other bikes.

The high ground clearance and long travel suspension mean seat height is a towering 925mm. Even with the sag of the suspension that can make it a handful for riders who arent tall.

Husaberg FE650 Enduro

The Husaberg gets a bad rap for reliability. They are high on maintenance, but if well looked after the Husaberg engine is a reliable workhorse. With plenty of Rally Accesories it can easily be turned into the sort of Adventure Motorcycle that really knows no limits.

It will never be a highway bike but if your riding is always on back roads between off road adventures it can make an exciting bike.

Gilera Nordwest

With the Nordwest, Gilera took the decision to take their Dakar winning RC600R package and make it 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 get an honourable mention here. *Both have excellent agility off road or on twisty back roads and 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 mono shock rear suspension design. The Camel also had a bigger fuel tank but the extra fuel consumption of the 500cc engine didn’t give it that much extra range.

If you got a good one they could be great bikes, but they were plagued by production problems and poor consistency meant sales were never very high.

Aprilia Pegaso

The Aprilia Pegaso was a great, lightweight Adventure motorcycle that went through several transformations. The early air cooled Rotax engine was quickly replaced by a water-cooled Rotax lump similar to the 650 BMW single. However an all new 5 valve head gave it more power and it revved out more happily. That engine was eventually replaced by Aprilia’s version of the Yamaha 660 engine used in the Tenere 660.

It is still an underrated bike that when stood against the middleweights on today’s market is small by comparison. You still get great ground clearance and the excellent suspension and brakes made it a very capable motorcycle.

Kove 450 Rally

Founded in 2017, Kove are at the cutting edge of Chinese motorcycle design. The 450 rally has been built from the ground up to take on the Paris Dakar, and with an ex Motocross champion as CEO it will be interesting to see the results. The bike is available as 3 options. A low seat rally spec version and a full factory rally race bike with a long range tank. The first bikes are now being shipped to the UK and I imagine they will be showing up very soon in the rest of Europe and the USA but you will have to search for them.

Fantic 450 Rally

Still not on the market, but very close now it seems. The Fantic 450 Rally builds on the reputation of the Fantic Caballero rally with a full race spec bike. This is another factory prepared race bike but it should be available in road trim if reports are correct. We will have to wait and see, and the price might not be as affordable as the Kove.

AJP PR7

AJP hand make their bikes in Portugal and are a seriously off road focussed company. The PR7 is a bike that has won a lot of fans since its introduction and it has filled a niche in the market I hope others will follow. Early bikes had a few teething problems but they were easily remedied and have now been sorted out completely. Based on an engine design that goes back to the Husaberg days of Husqvarna the engine is now made for them by SWM. To all intent and purposes it is a red top Husky engine with a big sump for increased oil capacity giving longer service intervals. What more could you ask for?

KTM LC4 620/640 Adventure

Still considered by some to be the perfect adventure bike, the LC4 engined 640 and 690 Adventure are perhaps one of the most off road focussed true adventure bikes ever built. The LC4 engine is a fantastic high power single and this lightweight bike with a long range tank ticked all the boxes for some. The very high seat height was one of the reasons sales weren’t higher and they are becoming increasingly hard to find now.

CCM GP450

The CCM GP450 is a rare bike on the roads and even fewer come up for sale by their devoted owners. Based on the same Rotax engine used on the BMW’s it is a formidable off road bike. It has the low weight associated with some of the older adventure bikes but with quality new cycle parts. The best of both worlds one might say.

Conclusion

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 perhaps 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 well over 200kg?

Moto Guzzi Stelvio Adventure Motorcycle
Moto Guzzi Stelvio – One Of The Bikes That Didn’t Quite Make The List

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