Adventure motorcycles mean many things to many people, it is this ‘Do It All’ ‘Go Anywhere’ philosophy that I have tried to stick to. There will also be some that didnt make the list. Some have more serious off road ability, others are more road focussed, built to cover long distances in comfort.
There are exceptions but most of the bikes in the list will do almost anything you want them to and there are more articles coming too. I will follow this with an ‘Every Adventure Motorcycle Ever Made’ story that will eventually become ‘The Ultimate guide’ and ‘Best Modern’ and ‘Best Classic Adventure Bikes’ blogs. As well as this there will be model specific posts including many owners reviews.
Remember, many of the more modern motorcycles will have ABS Brakes, Traction Control and Multi Map Electronic Rider Modes, where older models just won’t. Choose the bike that suits you best and just enjoy the ride!
All these bikes have advantages and disadvantages, the right bike for you will depend on many things. This list is to show you the amazing choice of adventure motorcycles available and remember, ANY bike can be an adventure bike!
1. Cagiva Elefant 900
Possible the greatest adventure motorcycle of all time. The Cagiva Elefant 900 was the dominant force in the Dakar Rally during the early 1990’s, with wins in 1990 and 1994 for Edi Orioli.
True off road ability with a fantastic air cooled, V twin, Ducati engine at its heart. This is just pure motorcycle. No traction control, no rider aids, but it has to be included in any list of best adventure motorcycles.
2. Kawasaki KLR650
More miles of adventure riding have been done on a KLR650 than on any other bike. The liquid cooled 650cc single engine is almost indestructible.
It remained in Kawasaki’s range for 31 years and just 3 years after daring to drop it, a new updated version has already been rolled out. This happened because the bike has one of the most devout followings of all motorcycles, and they wanted more.
3. Suzuki V strom DL650 (and DL1000)
More road biased than many on this list the V twin Suzuki V strom 650 has more than managed many adventures across the world. It does everything most people will tackle off road, carry all the luggage 2 people could need and give you a comfortable ride and a 250+ mile tank range. So you can see why it has become a favourite on the adventure motorcycle scene.
The cheap price and bulletproof engine make The Suzuki V strom one of the most popular and reliable bikes of recent years. If you want a little more power then you could always look at the DL1000 V strom which is almost as reliable as the 650.
4. KTM 620/640/690 Adventure
The KTM 640 Adventure was the most off road focussed adventure bike you could buy for many years. Extreme off road focussed long travel suspension and massive ground clearance lifted it above any its competitors at the time. 9 years of Dakar wins make it the most succesful large capacity rally bike ever made. Unfortunately it never sold in great numbers and KTM always put more marketing into its bigger brothers.
The 620cc LC4 engine was first used in 1996, but it is the 640cc bikes made from 1998-2008 that epitomise this model. In 2006 just 45, 660cc Rally specials were built. These are possibly the best Rally bike ever built, but you are unlikely to ever see one never mind get to ride one.
The downside of this bike was its short service intervals and high seat, both put many users off. Unfortunately what made it succesful as a race bike did not turn into sales, and finding a good one second hand can be difficult. It is also getting more expensive, as it has now become a collectors piece with a real cult status.
5. KTM 950/990 Adventure
Perhaps now seen as the Grandfather of the modern KTM family the 950 and 990 Adventure brought a new level of off road ability to big adventure bikes.
There were no compromises made when making these bikes as off-road capable as a big bike could be. The cult following would still argue it is the best bike KTM have ever made. die hard fans will keep riding them to the ends of the earth.
6. KTM 1090/1190/1290 Adventure
Let me be clear, Whichever of the newer V twin KTM Adventure models you look at, you will find it hard to pick faults. They are fantastic bikes. KTM and Ducati are now in an arms race to stay at the top when it comes to the fastest, most powerful adventure bike. Who knows where it will end.
The quality of the components on these motorcycles is unparrallelled. If you want the fastest most powerfull off road capable monster of a motorcycle then you have to consider the KTM 1290 Super Adventure or one of its brothers.
Electronically you get Traction Control, Lean Angle Sensetive Cornering ABS, Multiple Ride Modes, Tire pressure monitoring system, self cancelling indicators, a full TFT Sctreen and USB Ports, so you only have to think about where to go.
7. KTM 790/890 Adventure
As the new kid on the block the KTM 790 Adventure was almost as anticipated as the Yamaha Tenere 700. Everyone wanted to see how far KTM would go with the off road focus of this bike. It is definitely one of the most off road focussed of the middleweight bikes on the market.
Passengers are less complimetary about this bike and it is yet to be seen if its undoubted ability both on and off road will lead to sales, as build quality has already been questioned.
8. BMW F800GS Adventure
Rotax engines and BMW have a long history together and it is the Fantastic Rotax liquid cooled 800cc parallel twin engine that made this slimmed down BMW possible. Narrower, with a shorter wheelbase and less weight than its bigger brother, it meant that BMW could compete in the middleweight sector of the adventure motorcycles market.
When it was released it was well ahead of the opposition. With a 21” front wheel and long travel suspension it made easier work of Fire roads and green lanes than its larger competitors. Until bikes like the Yamaha 700 Tenere and KTM 790 were released it was definitely one of the most off road capable big motorcycles. Even now, for anyone carrying a passenger off road it is simply a better bike than many of its newer competitors.
9. BMW R80GS Dakar
In 1984 BMW brought to market what became for many the first real adventure motorcycle. A combination of power and reliability had already won the Dakar rally for BMW and its ability to carry a rider and passenger anywhere was impossible to beat at the time.
Until the BMW R80GS, the Dakar Rally had only been won by dedicated off road bikes. After this, more manufacturers would pour development money into Dakar bikes knowing that a road going version could be a winner when it came to sales.
Who would have thought that a touring bike weighing over 200kg could be transformed into such an Icon of the motorcycle racing world.
10. Honda Africa Twin XRV650/750
The original Honda XRV650 and XRV750 are possibly the most reliable, versatile adventure touring motorcycles ever built. They were derived from the V twin NXR750 Rally bike. This is the motorcycle that won the Dakar for 4 years in a row from 1986 to 1989, so they would always be a winner.
They were the first liquid cooled motorcycle to win the Dakar and it was built to withstand the harshest of conditions. In 1988 a roadgoing version was launched on the success of the Dakar rally bike.
The early models were a true homage to the NXR race bikes and are one of the best adventure motorcycles of all time. Over the years however, it became softer and heavier with a more road biased ride until it was finally dropped in 2003.
11. Yamaha XTZ660 Tenere
No Adventure Bike list would be complete without the Yamaha XTZ660 Tenere. Yamaha used the same Minarelli designed single cylinder engine as Aprilia had used in the Pegaso.
It proved a little sharper and better performing than the Kawasaki KLR650 which had now grown in weight since its first launch. The XTZ660 was the single cylinder adventure bike option of choice for many years but as with many other companies, customers were always pushed to larger capacity bikes and sales suffered. In Yamaha’s case this was the XTZ1200 Super Tenere, one of the amazing adventure motorcycles that didn’t make this list.
12. Yamaha 700 Tenere
One of the most anticipated bikes of modern years the Yamaha 700 Tenere ticks a lot of boxes and comes in at a price that is hard to criticise. Its modern rally style looks are enough for many people but it does have more than a little, real off road ability.
It would have been better if this sturdy parallel twin had been as light as the prototype claimed, but it still stands as a middleweight among some of the bigger adventure bikes.
13. BMW R 1200/R 1250 GS Adventure
Since their Dakar winning R80GS was made, BMW had produced several larger capacity bikes built around the philosophy of a ‘go anywhere’ motorcycle.
In 2004 The R1200GS was born and slowly began to grow in popularity. It could cover endless miles with a rider, pillion and luggage in comfort and it became the star of the show in 2007, when Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman released the Long Way Down. Since then despite an ever growing list of competitors the BMW R 1250 GS has held its place as the bike to beat in the world of adventure motorcycles.
14. Triumph Tiger 800XCX
The Triumph Tiger 800 has been around for a while. The XCX version has tried to take it to a point where it can seriously be considered an adventure bike with real off road ability rather than a road biased tourer. With a fully loaded electronics pack you get traction control, a full tft screen, 5 ride modes and switchable ABS as standard.
It can finally do more off road but the engine characteristics just suit a road bike better. That surge of torque is just a little higher up the rev range than with most of the twins and singles. This makes the Triumph a joy on open roads and it will eat miles with the best there is, but I cant ever see it being my off road choice. I guess we will see when I get to ride the new Tiger 900 Rally.
15. Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro
The release of the Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro was a challenge to everyone else. Ducati threw everything they could at this bike to make it the fastest most powerful adventure bike on the market. They succeeded and loaded it with electronics to help you stay upright, but you will rarely see them used off road. Traction control performs really well, I needed it more than once.
They are a handful, and even with the power turned down most riders will spend more time holding the bike back than being able to use its unbelievable power. However, on an open road it always has power to spare, so it keeps its place on the list. We are promised a whole new era of Ducati Multistrada’s to come with the release of the Ducati Multistrada V4.
16. Aprilia Pegaso
People overlook the Aprilia Pegaso 660, but it is probably one of the best middleweight Adventure motorcycles ever made. Light and nimble with great ground clearance, it is also comfortable for long journeys.
The early models were more off road focussed. They had more torque, power and longer travel suspension and than the later models, which were strangled by emissions regulations. The Minarelli engine is the same unit used in the Yamaha Tenere 660 and MZ Baghira and Mastiff. A solid reliable engine with a reputation for bombproof reliability if looked after.
17. Moto Guzzi V850TT
One of the latest generation of adventure bikes, the Moto Guzzi V850TT is the smallest, lightest shaft drive adventure motorcycles on the market, which will win it fans. A comfortable touring bike without the added weight of some of its larger competitors will help it off road. Possibly
It is a clever mix of new technology and traditional motorcycle design, which gives it a retro feel without it ever looking old. We will see over the next few years how succesful it will be. Reliability and parts supply will be key to that question.
18. Royal Enfield Himalayan
The simplicity of this bike is refreshing in a world of electronically controlled rider aids. It does nothing special, but it will do everything you need an adventure motorcycle to do.
Carrying a passenger and luggage you will feel the difference in power but it is in a class of its own in many ways. The new air cooled 450 single engine will plod away forever and the ease of maintenance makes a refreshing change.
19. Yamaha Super Tenere XTZ750
Yamaha had a long history at the Dakar Rally. They won the first 2 races in 1979 and 1980 but had achieved little since. In 1988 they decided they had to build a bike to take the title from Honda’s all conquering Africa Twin and those audacious Italians at Cagiva.
4 years later they finally won, with the YZE750 Twin. They continued to win for 6 of the next 7 years, making this the 2nd most succesful Dakar winning bike ever made (outside of the new generation of 450cc rally bikes).
The bike used the new ‘Genesis’ 5 valve head and the road going XTZ750 Super Tenere was made from 1989 to 1996. The XTZ was heavier than its racing counterpart and this made it a comfortable long distance tourer but with a 200kg dry weight it was never going to be as easy to handle off road as some of the lighter bikes.
20. Honda Africa Twin CRF1000
Another eagerly anticipated adventure bike of recent years was the CRF1000. With the Africa Twin name it had a hard act to follow and in some ways could never fill the giant shoes of its older namesake. As it is Honda made a solid, reliable and honest bike.
Like all it’s High Capacity competitors, it is a heavy old beast but does have some ability off road. It outperforms most of its competitors on some levels and as a package, it is hard to beat.
21. CCM GP450 Adventure
This is simply the best adventure bike ever made to it’s loyal following. Its weight sets it apart from almost all of the other bikes on this list. That immediately makes it easier for any off road riding.
Touring with a pillion and luggage it would never be the mile munching tourer that a BMW GS1250 was, but it was never trying to be. Easy to pick up after those inevitable tumbles off road, it makes easy work of anything dirt related.
This motorcycle is definitely a package to be reckoned with. It was put together from the best cycle parts and the BMW/Rotax derived engine was always a fantastic and reliable unit
22. AJP PR7
The first question may be, is this really an adventure bike? That is primarily a question because EU rules would now require it to have ABS to carry a pillion, it doesnt, so it can’t. A pity, as in many ways it does what nothing since the LC4 engined KTM Adventure has done.
Its high seat height and ultra long travel suspension can make it a handful, but it is possibly the best off road adventure bike available today. Only if you are single though.
23. SUZUKI DR650
The ‘Dirt Pig’ is a title the DR650 deserves. It is simple, easy to get along with and will do anything you decide to throw at it.
The air cooled single cylinder engine is an archaic design, but its simplicity is what makes it a great companion on the most challenging adventures. It isn’t the best at anything, but overall it has proven itself over years of use in extreme conditions.
If you were to ask 3 reasons to buy a DR650 they would be simplicity, reliability and ease of maintenance. Don’t expect blistering performance or lightening sharp steering, but it will get you out of trouble when others can’t.
Frequently asked questions
Which is the best adventure motorcycle?
The best adventure motorcycle will be different for every rider. For someone who wants a high speed tourer with real off road ability the best adventure motorcycle could be any of the big KTM Adventure bikes. Someone who wants a really off road focussed motorcycle and doesn’t carry a pillion might choose the AJP PR7. For comfort it is hard to beat the BMW 1250 GS Adventure. I would probably say the original Honda XRV750 Africa Twin would be the best adventure motorcycle of all time.
What is the best adventure bike for the money?
The best adventure bike for the money has to be the Suzuki Vstrom 650. The series one DL650 is especially good. It is lighter, has longer travel suspension and a larger fuel tank. It also has totally bombproof reliability that is impossible to beat on value.
What is the most comfortable adventure motorcycle?
The most comfortable adventure motorcycle today is either the BMW1250GS or the Honda CRF1000 Africa Twin. 2 other bikes renowned for comfort are the Ducati Multistrada Enduro and the Aprilia Caponard. The Aprilia is another one of the amazing adventure motorcycles that didn’t make this list. For passenger comfort, the good old Suzuki V strom is great. Maybe comfort is also the focus of the New Ducati Multistrada V4 and Harley Davidson Pan America.
So What Adventure Motorcycles Are The Best?
I could say many things here but one springs to mind. Often the best adventure bike is the one you have already! Just Ride!
We all need a new bike sometimes though, so I will give you some conclusions. I started riding adventure bikes on a Kawasaki KLE500 and it was a great adventure motorcycle. Today it didnt even make the list, Neither did the Harley Davidson Pan America or the MV Agusta Turismo Veloce. Any of the bikes listed can take you on adventures you would not believe possible.
Bikes like the Ducati Multistrada V4 and KTM 1290 Super Adventure are just too powerful for what I want. Adventure touring is what I love most so Off road ability, comfort and the ability to carry a pillion with full luggage are more important than speed to me. So are fuel range and ground clearance. This means there will always be compromise in my choices.
The F800 GS Adventure is probably my favourite all-round adventure motorcyle of recent years. However, after trying almost everything on the list my trusty 2007 Suzuki Vstrom 650 is still my ‘Go To’ motorcycle.
Since it’s release I am considering the new Moto Guzzi V850TT. I love the shaft drive and think it will do everything i need. Lets face it, it is the best looking adventure motorcycle available today too. Let us see if it has the reliability to make it a real winner.
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