While scramblers and even purpose-built motocrossers had already existed since the ‘50s and ‘60s, it wasn’t until 1980 that BMW Motorrad introduced the world to what’s widely considered to be the first-ever adventure motorcycle with the R80 GS — a ruggedized R80-engined mount that would quickly prove its worth with a victory at the infamous Dakar Rally only a year after its reveal. Since that time, the segment has enormously evolved, ultimately blossoming into one of today’s most popular segments in motorcycling. This enormous interest in the adventure bike class has prompted the majority of major moto manufacturers to toss their respective hats into the ADV ring, resulting in the most diverse and abundant adventure motorcycle market of all time.
While this growing class gives interested buyers more options than ever before, it can also make it difficult to sort through the more than five dozen ADV bikes that currently constitute the market. To help simplify this increasingly complex space, we’ve pored over the segment to highlight the best adventure motorcycles currently in production — counting down our picks for the dozen best across the entire class, while also delving into what defines an adventure motorcycle, what makes each bike on our list unique, how to find the adventure bike that’s right for you, and what to look for when shopping.
Unlimited Travel Traits
So What Exactly Is An Adventure Bike
As the class’s name suggests, adventure motorcycles are versatile machines built for near-unlimited two-wheeled freedom. Like dual-sports and enduros, adventure bikes are purpose-engineered for both on and off-road riding, and, as such, feature long-travel suspension, ruggedized and often fortified frames and powertrains, upright riding positions that are incredibly conducive to standing up on the pegs, (typically) spoked wheels in off-road-oriented sizes (such as 21”/18” or 19”/17”), and full or partial sets of bodywork that almost always sport tall windscreens, navigation towers, and other elements borrowed from Dakar-style rally raid bikes. It’s also common to see more off-road-focused specs of adventure models that come equipped with hard luggage, additional crash protection, auxiliary lighting, and other amenities for when the tarmac ends.
In addition to wearing Dakar-style bodywork in favor of motocross-style plastics, adventure motorcycles tend to be markedly more touring-friendly than their on and off-road-friendly enduro and dual-sport counterparts — usually thanks to bigger, more powerful engines that enable ADV mounts to lend themselves much better to freeway travel. Adventure bikes also frequently feature large, extended-range fuel cells, allowing for ample autonomy between trips to the pump. Because these machines are designed for long-range use, they also tend to be incredibly reliable, with bullet-proof engines that boast services intervals of more than 10,000 miles.
Traditionally, the bikes that we define as adventure motorcycles have been of the big-bore variety, with displacements at or above the one-liter mark — with smaller engines also historically helping to differentiate dual-sports from full-sized adventure bikes — though in more recent years we’ve seen smaller-engined options (as well as a myriad of mid-sized models) with crash protection, long-travel suspension, unmistakable ADV-style bodywork, and other traits that place them squarely into the adventure motorcycle category. And while it makes them substantially more freeway-capable, the larger engines — which then require the bike to have a larger chassis, larger suspension, larger brakes, etc — add a considerable amount of weight, making them more difficult to negotiate off-road terrain compared to lightweight dual-sports or regular dirtbikes.
Often borrowing much of their chassis, powertrain, electronics, and suspension development straight from factory MotoGP and Dakar Rally teams, adventure motorcycles often represent the flagship offerings of major moto marques, and as a result are often bestowed with the latest and greatest, most cutting-edge powertrains and technologies. This makes adventure motorcycles some of the most advanced, high-performance bikes in existence, though state-of-the-art tech like electronically adjustable and/or active suspension coupled with large-displacement multi-cylinder engines also make adventure motorcycles one of the most expensive segments in the two-wheeled realm.
Because of their robust suspension, upright powerful engines, and a suite of protection, adventure motorcycles are also wildly versatile, and lend themselves tremendously well to just about any riding application, from fire trail exploration to cross-continent touring to moto camping. Their upright riding position also makes adventure bikes a stellar choice for urban commuting duties. And, while you may not guess it from looking, when properly set up, adventure motorcycles can offer some shockingly high performance on the road — as evidenced by a mostly-stock Ducati Multistrada 1260 winning the 2018 motorcycle class at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
Selecting Your Steed
How To Find The Adventure Motorcycle That’s Right For You
There are dozens of adventure motorcycles in production right now, which can make finding the right bike intimidating — and that’s before you start factoring in the even more abundant used motorcycle market. To help start your search, begin by narrowing down your selection of bikes based on your skill level and riding experience. If you’re new to riding or have no experience off-road, then you’ll want to steer clear from full-size models, as they’re much harder to wrestle around and control. You can always upgrade to a larger, more powerful model later on down the road.
Next, you’ll want to factor in your intended use. By looking at how much time you plan on riding on-road versus off-road, you should be able to narrow down your search to models designed for your intended riding applications. On top of often sporting elements like sump-guards, crash bars, hard luggage, and auxiliary lighting, the more off-road-focused adventure motorcycles will also feature better ground clearance and markedly longer suspension travel.
You’ll also want to consider how much freeway travel you plan on doing, as this will help determine which engine size will be appropriate (though again, new riders should avoid big-bore models). Mid-sized adventure bikes are also a fantastic option, as they offer a compromise with less weight than big-bore models — and therefore better off-road prowess — while still being plenty free-way travel capable. Likewise, we’d also highly recommending exploring potential used bike options, as it can be a great way to save — especially when dealing with a low-mile example or one that’s still under its factory warranty.
Ideal Qualities For Two-Wheeled Adventure
The 10 Factors To Consider When Shopping For An ADV Bike
Now that you’re clued into what an adventure bike is and have a better sense of how to go about finding the model that’s right for you, let’s delve into the ten main areas to take into consideration before heading down to your local dealership.
Engine: As the heart of the motorcycle, an ADV moto’s engine is of utmost importance. As per usual, you’ll want to look into the engine configuration and the number of cylinders, displacement, cam setup, and fueling and cooling systems. You’ll also want to not only pay attention to how much horsepower and torque a given engine produces but also how much the motorcycle weighs as well — as a motorcycle’s power-to-weight ratio will give a much better sense of real-world abilities than simply seeing its number of ponies on paper.
Technology: Representing some of the most advanced motorcycles on earth, modern adventure bikes must be able to contend with an enormous variety of settings and conditions. In a bid to help make it easier to navigate one of these approximately 500lb machines both on and off-road, manufacturers have routinely started bestowing high-end ADV models with electronically-regulated active/adaptive suspension, live tire pressure monitoring systems, vehicle hill and hold control, adaptive headlights, electronically adjustable windscreens, heated (and sometimes cooled) seats and grips, multiple ride modes, adjustable traction control, and cornering ABS, just to name a few.
Off-Road Readiness: Separating ADV mounts from full-size sport-touring bikes is the former’s off-road prowess. Despite their hefty curb weight, many adventure bikes are capable of affording solid dirt-going capabilities thanks to advanced chassis designs paired with long-travel suspension and a generous amount of ground clearance. Alongside luggage, crash protection, and auxiliary lighting, other elements that point to a given model being more off-road-capable include spoked wheels, knobby tires, tall windscreens, toothed footpegs, and “beak-style” integrated front fenders.
Weight: Though there are smaller displacement exceptions and outliers, most adventure motorcycles tend to be on the heavy side, tipping the scales at or around the 500lb mark. This makes for a wonderfully planted ride in town or on the freeway, though it can make things difficult in the dirt — especially for less experienced off-road riders. We strongly encourage anyone even considering buying an adventure bike to first hit a dealership and experience what it feels like to operate one of these machines before going any further.
Storage: Because adventure bikes are designed for long-range use, it’s frankly unsurprising that manufacturers would opt to bestow many of these models with storage compartments — often under the seat or tank cover — that make life on the road easier. What’s more, there’s an enormous range of aftermarket storage options for practically every ADV model, including tank and tail bags, soft cases, panniers, and so on.
Range: If you plan on taking on long-distance treks or spending much of your time out on the trails, off of the grid, then fuel economy and tank size (aka range) will be an important factor to take into consideration. Fortunately, these freedom machines are built for untethered exploration and as such tend to come equipped with generously sized fuel cells. Some models even sport supplementary tanks under the seat or in other non—traditional locations on the bike.
Style: Though they all have a similar basic shape, adventure bikes can vary pretty hugely aesthetically, with some models taking inspiration from their respective manufacturer’s sport and superbike family, and others going with a more traditional Dakar-style design. It’s also worth mentioning that there are plenty of riders that like the look of adventure bikes, and opt to purchase and ride them despite having little to no intention of ever going off-road. Just like buying a pickup because you dig the aesthetic, there’s nothing wrong with seeking out an ADV bike for this reason, though we’d just recommend considering some of the more road-focused models.
Available Factory Amenities: Again, as the flagship offering from many of their manufacturers, adventure bikes tend to come outfitted with more bells and whistles than any other class of motorcycle. These optional add-ons include heated grips and seats, luggage, auxiliary lighting, crash protection, upgraded pillions, spoked wheel options, and connectivity to smartphone apps, among many, many more.
Aftermarket Availability: Not unlike the aftermarket overland sector has exploded for trucks over the last decade, so too has the aftermarket realm embraced the influx in popularity in the adventure bike market, resulting in an absolutely enormous array of available add-ons and upgrades from third party companies. You can find almost any aftermarket part you could possibly need for just about any ADV bike model, though some of the more popular mounts — like BMW’s GS range and KTM’s top-of-the-line 1290 Super Adventure R — will come with markedly more options. Many of these aftermarket items are more affordable than factory options — and at times better quality, too — though they aren’t backed by a factory warranty like the factory-installed add-ons are.
Servicing Costs & Intervals: In addition to the motorcycle itself, you’ll also want to factor in a given bike’s cost of ownership. This means looking into costs for things like insurance and maintenance, as well as what service intervals there are and what work is required when the time comes. The good news is that now, more than ever, adventure motorcycles — and motorcycles in general — are offering better reliability, fewer emissions, more power, and longer service intervals than ever before.
Two-Wheeled Tickets To Global Exploration
The 12 Best Adventure Motorcycles Currently In Production
With everything else all sorted and out of the way, let’s move on to our choices for the best adventure bikes currently on the market, from entry-level sleds to full-size big-bore adventure mounts. As always, our picks will be listed in order from least to most expensive.
Royal Enfield Himalayan
First launched in 2016, Royal Enfield’s Himalayan represented a rugged yet rudimentary, back-to-basics take on a modern ADV bike, employing a simple air-cooled single-cylinder engine housed in a half-duplex split cradle frame in lieu of the tech-laden big-bore multi-cylinder engines found in the lion’s share of models that comprised the segment. Despite the thumper’s displacement, the Himalayan is still good for freeway travel, and while it is short on tech — a fact that’s reflected in the sub-$5,000 motorcycle’s MSRP — this model does come equipped with Royal Enfield’s new Bluetooth-connected “Tripper” onboard navigation assistant and system.
Engine: Air-Cooled 411cc SOHC Single-Cylinder
Power: 24.3hp & 23.6ft-lbs
Curb Weight: 438lbs
Suspension Travel: 200mm Front / 180mm Rear
Ground Clearance: 220mm
KTM 390 Adventure
After years of the motorcycling public clamoring for an adventure version of KTM’s 390 platform, the Ready To Race brand finally deployed the 390 Adventure, equipping the 373.2cc-engined Austrian moto with more than 170mm of suspension travel front and aft, a skid plate, and sharp Kiska-designed adventure-style bodywork. Additionally, the 390 Adventure also sports a host of other high-end amenities including a slipper clutch, WP suspension, lean-angle-sensitive traction control, off-road and cornering ABS, and multiple ride modes, including a decimated off-road map. And while it isn’t the cheapest option, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better entry-level motorcycle in the ADV class than KTM’s 390.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled DOHC 373.2cc Single-Cylinder
Power: 43hp & 27.3ft-lbs
Curb Weight: 379lbs
Suspension Travel: 170mm Front / 178 Rear
Ground Clearance: 200mm
Yamaha Ténéré 700
Yamaha’s Ténéré 700 is one of the most competent, off-road-capable adventure motorcycles in existence — made all the more impressive by the fact it costs roughly half of the segment’s full-sized class leaders. Born out of a beyond extensive real-world testing and development program, the Ténéré 700 packs the FZ/MT-07’s proven 689cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin, affording it ample power and torque while still weighing around 450lbs. Blurring the line between an adventure bike and dual-sport, the T7 also boasts an MX-style seat, proper off-road ergonomics, and slim bodywork, along with a Dakar-style navigation tower housing premium LED headlights and LCD gauges. This bike doesn’t just look the part, as the Yamaha Ténéré 700 is truly a real-deal hardcore adventure machine.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 689cc DOHC Twin Parallel-Twin
Power: 72.1hp & 50.15ft-lbs
Curb Weight: 452lbs
Suspension Travel: 211mm Front / 200mm Rear
Ground Clearance: 239mm
Suzuki V-Strom 650XT Adventure
The XT Adventure-spec of Suzuki’s V-Strom 650 is a well-farkled mid-sized adventure bike that comes equipped with a host of off-road bits such as a full skid-plate, crash bars, aluminum panniers, brush-guards, auxiliary lighting, gold-anodized tubeless spoked rims with bare spokes and nipples, an adjustable windscreen, and a Champion Yellow race livery inspired by the Japanese moto brand’s DR-BIG rally bike. The mid-sized ‘Strom also gets Suzuki’s Low RPM Assist and Easy Start features, as well as advanced traction control and ABS. It may be down on power compared to its liter-sized competitors, though the V-Strom 650 XT Adventure is nonetheless a true do-it-all adventure bike that’s ready to go right off the lot.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 645cc DOHC 90˚ V-Twin
Power: 70hp & 46ft-lbs
Curb Weight: 528lbs (or 476lbs w/o ADV Accessories)
Suspension Travel: 150mm Front / 160mm Rear
Ground Clearance: 170mm
Moto Guzzi V85 TT Adventure
Moto Guzzi’s V85 TT is undeniably an outlier in the adventure segment, drawing ample and unmistakable influence from retro rally raid bikes. The Guzzi’s Italian-made transverse-mounted V-Twin is an incredibly characterful engine with more than sufficient power, while its shaft-driven final drive system hugely minimizes the maintenance required by belt and chain-driven bikes. Lastly, the V85 TT lacks some of the clearance and suspension travel of the more off-road-focused ADV models, though is still fairly dirt and travel-capable with a stock skid plate, crash bars, and luggage racks. The V85 TT is also a stellar model for two-up riding.
Engine: Air-Cooled 853cc OHV Transversal 90° V-Twin
Power: 75hp & 60ft-lbs
Curb Weight: 505lbs
Suspension Travel: 170mm Front / 170mm Rear
Ground Clearance: 208mm
Honda Africa Twin
For the latest version of the Africa Twin, Honda has squarely taken aim at the AT’s more premium competitors, increasing the stroke and giving the engine an additional 86ccs of displacement and a myriad of new tech. Now kicked along by a 1,084cc parallel-twin with 6% more horsepower, the adventure-ready Africa Twin comes front and rear suspension backed by a six-axis IMU-regulated Showa Electronically Equipped Ride Adjustment (active suspension and damping) system, four preset riding modes, four adjustable damping and spring pre-load modes, and a 6.5” TFT touchscreen, and a number of other top-shelf amenities that are typically reserved for more expensive European motorcycles. Big Red also produces a semi-automatic variant of the Africa Twin with a DCT (i.e. automatic) paddle-shifted transmission.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 1,084cc SOHC Parallel-Twin
Power: 100.5hp & 77.5ft-lbs
Curb Weight: 530lbs
Suspension Travel: 231mm Front / 221mm Rear
Ground Clearance: 250mm
MV Agusta Turismo Veloce 800
If you’re looking for a more high-performance, road-focused motorcycle with a quintessential Italian adventure bike design, then MV Agusta’s Turismo Veloce 800. Currently the Milan police department’s choice of motorcycle for patrolling and chasing down bad guys, the TV800 packs an ultra-potent 798cc three-banger that produces gobs of torque and equally liberal amounts of low and mid-range oomph that makes for an exhilarating street bike. The moto’s over-6” of suspension travel front and back also means it doesn’t have any problems soaking up potholes or other imperfections on the road. The latest model year is also brimming with state-of-the-art technology such as the famed Italian marque’s Motor & Vehicle Integrated Control System, bi-directional quick-shifter, anti-wheelie control, traction control, an integrated immobilizer and GPS, and Bluetooth connectivity — all as standard.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 798cc DOHC Inline-Three
Power: 125hp & 62ft-lbs
Curb Weight: 462lbs
Suspension Travel: 160mm Front / 160mm Rear
Ground Clearance: 140mm
KTM 1290 Super Adventure R
For the 2021 model year, KTM took its already class-leading R-spec 1290 Super Adventure, and treated the Austrian adventure bike to a top-to-bottom redesign, bestowing the V-Twin-engined on/off-roader with a new frame paired with a longer swing-arm, a 7” TFT display, top-shelf Alpina and WP componentry, a revised powertrain with lighter cases, upgraded pistons, and a reworked exhaust, and a suite of cutting-edge rider aides regulated via a new 6-axis lean angle sensor, like motor slip regulation, off-road traction control, and hill hold control. Sporting completely revised bodywork, the lighter and even more capable 2021 1290 Super Adventure R boasts the world-class performance that one would expect from a manufacturer that’s bagged an unprecedented 18 consecutive wins at the Dakar Rally.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 1,301cc DOHC 75° V-Twin
Power: 160hp & 101.8ft-lbs
Dry Weight: 487.2lbs
Suspension Travel: 220mm Front / 220mm Rear
Ground Clearance: 242mm
Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special
A major step in a new direction for the Harley-Davidson Motor Co, the Pan America is the Black and Orange’s first-ever purpose-built adventure model and is powered by a much more potent, modern, and sophisticated V-Twin that pumps out 150hp and 94ft-lbs of torque. On top of 211mm of ground clearance, the Pan America also sports 190.5mm of suspension travel front and back. The $2,680 premium over the base model for the Special-spec of the Pan America (seen above) gets you a slew of off-road-focused hardware and features such as a real-time tire pressure monitoring system, a center stand, a multi-position rear brake pedal, brush Guard, an aluminum Skid Plate, an adaptive Daymaker headlight, hand wind deflectors, heated grips, a steering damper, semi-active front and rear suspension with the Bar and Shield brand’s Vehicle Load Control and an Adaptive Ride Height system, and optional tubeless spoked wheels.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 1,250.3cc DOHC 60˚ V-Twin
Power: 150hp & 94ft-lbs
Curb Weight: 549lbs
Suspension Travel: 190.5mm Front / 190.5mm Rear
Ground Clearance: 211mm
BMW R 1250 GS Adventure
The latest iteration of the adventure motorcycle that kicked off the segment some four decades ago, the 2021 BMW R 1250 GS Adventure is the Bavarian brand’s dirt-ready full-sized GS variant. On top of getting hard cases, crash bars, a skid plate, and a variety of other off-road parts, the big GS retains all of the base model’s mechanical and technological bells and whistles like the BMW’s variable camshaft control system, adaptive headlights, DTC and ABS Pro brakes, an adjustable windscreen, TFT display, 7.9-gallon tank, BMW’s Cruising Light-equipped LED indicators and a heated seat. Benefitting from literally forty years of research and development and real-world high-level competition, there’s a very good reason that BMW’s R 1250 GS and its predecessors are such immensely popular choices among seasoned adventure riders and long-distance tourers.
Engine: Air & Liquid-Cooled 1,254cc DOHC Boxer Twin
Power: 136hp & 105ft-lbs
Curb Weight: 591lbs
Suspension Travel: 210mm Front / 220mm Rear
Ground Clearance: 185mm
Triumph Tiger 1200 XCa
Triumph’s base model Tiger 1200 is already an immensely competent adventure bike, though the British brand’s spare-no-expense, top-of-the-line Tiger 1200 XCa takes the potent triple to new heights. Straight from the factory, the XCa-spec comes with an enormous slew of add-ons and noteworthy features such as a carbon fiber-tipped titanium-construction Arrow silencer, Triumph Shift Assist, a WP fork and mono-shock paired with Triumph’s Semi-Active Suspension system, half-a-dozen ride modes including an Off-Road Pro setup, 5” TFT display, billet machined foot-pegs, hill hold control, heated rider and pillion seats and grips, adaptive LED cornering headlights supplemented via auxiliary LED fog lights, an electronically adjustable windscreen, a full suite of crash protection, cruise control, 32-spoke tubeless wheels, an adjustable, multi-position seat, and a special edition ‘Sandstorm’ paint scheme. More than 20lbs lighter than its predecessor, the newest Tiger 1200 also boasts an engine that’s both more powerful and more responsive.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 1,215cc DOHC Inline-Three
Power: 141hp & 90ft-lbs
Curb Weight: 581lbs
Suspension Travel: 190mm Front / 193mm Rear
Ground Clearance: N/A
Ducati Multistrada V4 S
The final adventure bike on our list is Ducati’s newly-unveiled Multistrada V4 S. Powered by Ducati’s new MotoGP-derived V4-engine platform and constructed around an all-new aluminum monocoque frame paired with top-shelf Marzocchi suspension, the Multistrada V4 is equipped with Brembo brakes, a full electronics suite of rider assists and fuel maps, a 5” standard TFT display, and an ultra-advanced radar-controlled adaptive cruise control system with a smart blind spot detection feature — the latter of which is a moto industry first. The upgraded S-spec also gets a bigger 6.5” TFT display, cruise control, a hands-free ignition, Vehicle Hold Control, Ducati’s smartphone connectivity platform, a USB port and dedicated smartphone compartment, active cornering lights, and a multi-directional quick-shifter. Like the MV Agusta, the Multi V4 is a more high-performance, road-oriented ADV model, though we do expect the Bologna brand to release a dirt-ready Enduro-spec as it did with the previous 1260-gen.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 1,158cc DOHC 90° V4
Power: 170hp & 92ft-lbs
Curb Weight: 529lbs
Suspension Travel: 170mm Front / 180mm Rear
Ground Clearance: 220mm
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Interested in checking out some rugged, on and off-road-capable bikes with some more traditional, vintage styling? Then be sure to cruise on over to our guide to the best scrambler motorcycles you can buy for more than a dozen seriously rad, retro-themed runners.
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