Adventure bikes may be getting bigger and more technically advanced but from just a couple of grand you could snap up a superb secondhand mud-plugging, world-shrinker.
dventure bikes are supposed to have battle scars. They’re meant to be a little rough around the edges; tough, resilient, capable of traversing the globe without a thought and afraid of nothing – least of all a muddy field.
So it’s curious that manufacturers continue to add weight, complex electronics and higher price tags to machines that, logically, should be cheap to buy, run and repair. Spending £17,000 on a new adventure bike is a lovely idea, but it can leave you terrified of dropping it – and make the experience more ownership than riding.
Realistically, adventure riders need something unintimidating and rugged, which can be used for its true purpose. This makes buying a used bike an attractive proposition, so long as it’s in good nick. Hardcore overland travellers reckon adventure bikes that have been loved, lavished with functional extras and are in good condition are not hard to come by, and wise investments for the globe-trotting dreamers.
To test the theory, we’re taking four used adventure bikes for a run around Derbyshire to find out what they’re made of, if they really are a good buy, and if used is actually the way to go.
BMW R1200GS Adventure
The wooden gate swings open to reveal a muddy bog. Well, a rather large puddle – but it’s still not something I want to ride the BMW through on road tyres. Up until now I was feeling pretty good about the BMW R1200GS Adventure. Railing round back roads, swooping through corners and blasting along dual carriageways on the refined, plush and elegant Beemer is easy riding. Now, faced with genuine off-road muck, I want to swap. This 2008 model is up for £8000 and I don’t want to be the guy who lobs it.
Lowering my feet to paddle through, I tip my head to protect my visor as the Africa Twin ahead blasts through, back wheel spinning sideways as it slips on the wet grass. Dave teases the back end out before yanking the clutch, pulling the rear back into line and disappearing over the crest of a hill. He’s followed in hot pursuit by the little Yamaha XT225 Serow and BMW F650GS, but not me.
Despite all of the Beemer’s off-road extras, like Touratech guards and a large sidestand plate, it doesn’t look like it’s seen anything more challenging than a wet dual carriageway. The engine casings and guards are spotless and there’s not even a single scuff on its shiny crash bars, which means the big BM has probably only been used for touring and commuting. The telltale signs are the full luggage system and BMW’s optional electronics package, including electronic suspension, rider modes and traction control.
With 18,000 miles on the clock and seven years under its belt it’s over £7000 cheaper than a new GS of the same spec. That’s a great price for such an iconic machine, even if its sheer size prevents any serious off-roading unless you really know how to handle it. The boxer makes an outstanding road bike first and foremost, coupled with tremendous touring abilities.
But for now I wait by the gate, watching as the Africa Twin twists and grunts its way over rough terrain like an excitable dog let off its leash at the park, its aftermarket can barking as it chases down the smaller Serow.
|How to buy one
||The Dealer view
2008 BMW R1200GS
What you get BMW’s ESA electronic suspension; Touratech handguards, headlight and crash guards; full luggage system. Full service history.
Watch out for Electronics and corrosion. Magnetic fuel gauge strip in the tank can fail. Check final drive, rear wheel bearings and clutch as they are costly to replace.
Dave Busby says “It’s a well-loved machine, but it’s too big to do serious off-roading. It’s a great touring and road bike. If you’re looking to go round the world then give it a thorough check for electrical issues, and expect them.”
Yamaha XT225 Serow
I jump on the little XT Serow, dump the clutch, let the rear break traction and feel my helmet cheek pads tighten. I can’t contain my smile, thanks mainly to the little Yam’s modest 20bhp. But its paltry power output doesn’t matter, it only dares us to squeeze every last drop of go from the air-cooled single. It makes gliding round corners as the back tyre tries to slip away one of life’s most exquisite pleasures. The only downside is that every gravel track or byway sign become serious distractions from the tarmac. It begs to be taken off road.
The Serow (named after an Asian mountain goat and never officially imported into the UK) is an incredibly forgiving machine and exactly what an adventure bike should be: functional, flexible and manageable, ready to fill any rider with the confidence to tackle the unknown. While the plush GS insulates the rider from the ground with clever suspension and bags of electronics, the little single offers a real connection with the terrain.
Jo rode 13,000 miles on this
Serow through South America and reckons it never missed a beat in four years of ownership, praising its 100mpg economy, light weight and mechanical simplicity. The bike’s still in excellent condition and has had just enough modifications to see Jo through South America, including extra-wide footpegs, mounts for a removable centre-stand and a luggage rack. Just £2315 is virtually pennies for a proper, rugged adventure machine that will go anywhere and do anything you ask of it.
|How to buy one
||The Dealer view
1998 Yamaha XT225
What you get Luggage rack, handmade oversize footpegs, padded seat, homemade centrestand fixings. Full service history included.
Watch out for Piston rings can wear out on really high-mileage singles, but that’s very rare. Check the front forks and the clutch. Otherwise, there’s not a lot that can go wrong with them.
Dave Busby says “The Serow is a hardcore adventure rider’s favourite. It’s for those who are looking to go way off the beaten track. Low seat height, lightweight, you can work on them anywhere and they suit any rider.”
While the R1200GS is big, powerful and luxurious, the F650GS is smaller, lighter, more manageable and easier to ride. But like the big GS, our F650 doesn’t look like it’s been off road either. There are no nicks or scratches, but there is a bit of corrosion evident on the engine casing where the paint has peeled – an issue BMWs are known for.
It comes with touring extras like an extended MRA screen, full Givi luggage and a centrestand. It looks like the single-cylinder Beemer has completed its 1500-miles-a-year average on tarmac as a commuter bike, which makes sense as that’s what they’re good at. The F650GS has a low, comfy seat, and the bikes are also cheaper than the bigger twins, simple to maintain and unbelievably easy to ride.
The only negative is that the baby GS’s single-cylinder motor is relatively breathless. You have to continually make sure you’re in the right gear, otherwise it feels juddery low down. There’s no point trying to hunt down the R1200GS or Africa Twin on the baby Beemer – it simply wants to hang back and do its own thing.
|How to buy one
||The Dealer view
2004 BMW F650GS
What you get Full Givi luggage system, centrestand, MRA screen, LED tail light, engine bars. Owners
and service manuals included.
Watch out for The F650 suffers from corrosion, so spend time checking for rust. Fuel injectors can fail, so make sure the bike isn’t misfiring.
Dave Busby says “A fantastic touring commuter bike, low seat height and a good all-rounder. Downside is it’s a bit of a sedate and plain bike to ride.”
Honda XRV750 Africa Twin
I don’t understand how Bruce is edging away from me on a 1997 Africa Twin. He rides around each corner at speed, seemingly forgetting he’s on something built nearly two decades ago. I bide my time until the petrol stop and then make my move and snatch the key. As I settle into the cockpit with more dials, switches, trip computers and gauges than a small aircraft I realise that there’s a lot more to this big twin than meets the eye.
It growls into life and surges forward as I release the sleek, short cut levers. The aftermarket pipe sounds immense. As I throw the twin into the twists it remains surprisingly tight and composed for an older bike, the suspension set-up is near- perfect. Underneath its robust and dogged exterior lies an exceptionally well maintained machine with fully adjustable Wilbers suspension, front and rear. The Africa Twin is purposeful, all its components and extras are there for a reason and everything does a job. It’s dripping in testosterone and about £1200 worth of carefully thought out accessories to make it the ultimate adventure bike. The standard 17in rear wheel has been replaced with an 18in for taller gearing and better fuel economy. The homemade sumpguard, Touratech extras, crash protection and long list of parts are enough to make an adventurer’s mouth water in the Sahara. But despite the
additions it still has a basic, raw feel. It’s unintimidating and can be worked on anywhere from Dover to Mongolia.
It’s is one of the ultimate adventure bikes, 20 years after Honda stopped production they’re still going strong as practical, long distance adventure bikes with proper off-road credibility for £3500.
|How to buy one
||The Dealer view
1997 Honda Africa
What you get Touratech single seat and rack, risers, handguards, touring screen, footpegs, 18in rear wheel conversion, crash protection, Wilbers suspension. Full service history.
Watch out for The fuel pump; it’s a £45 fix and it only fails when there’s no liquid in it, which happens by forgetting to turn the fuel tap to on. Reliability wise there are no problems.
Dave Busby says “The ultimate adventure bike. Everyone’s realised what a practical, fantastic, long distance adventure bike they are, with off-road capabilities.”
Buy used and don’t fear the dirt
Adventure bikes don’t need to be complex, but the current market has pushed them that way by adding extra weight and electronic packages. Serious adventure bikes need to be easy to work on anywhere with the ability to traverse the globe and whack through mud without worrying about crash damage and repair bills. The depreciation of a brand new bike after it’s been used off-road will be staggering and you’ll no doubt end up avoiding trails and rough terrain to preserve its condition. So there’s no point spending a fortune on a new bike. Save the money and buy a reliable much-loved second-hander from a reputable dealer. It will no doubt come fitted with adventure bobbins and the fortune you save on doing it up and the difference between a new model will pay for your trip. Our four test bikes have a few battle scars, but have been well looked after. We’d pick one of these for a round-the-world trip any day.
MCN staff writer
Age 27 Height 5ft 7in
Adventure rider and long-distance traveller
MCN road tester
Age 49 Height 5ft 7in
Tested almost every production bike of the last 20 years
Age 37 Height 5ft 7in
Stafford Motorcycles director. Ridden across Africa
Age 39 Height 5ft 4in
Rode 13,000 miles in South America on a Yamaha Serow
Quick tips for buying used
The BMW F650GS engine paint has flaked a little and there is some very light corrosion. But that’s not a problem because it’s honest. Someone hasn’t tried to cover it up with a bad paint job. It’s to be expected on most bikes that have done a few miles so don’t be put off by it.
Check the chain and sprocket for the teeth, make sure they’re not too pointed and the chain isn’t rattling and moving from side to side. You can get a good idea of how a bike has been treated by the condition of the chain.
Check the fork seals by pushing the handlebars down a couple of times and compressing the forks, then wipe the fork stanchions and check no fork oil is present. If there is, then fork seals need to be replaced. Check the rear shock by pushing the back end down from the rear, the shock should provide damping in compression and return/rebound. Any bouncy or springy action could indicate the shock needs a service.
Check the wheel spokes condition; they should all be intact and tight. Tyres are important, check their condition and that there is reasonable mileage left in them. But also check the tyres’ suitability for the riding you intend to do and make sure you are aware of the tyres’ suitability for your needs.
Check recent MoT paperwork, whether it’s current is important, but check for advisories listed such as tyres worn near to limit, or brake performance/pad wear etc. Then ask or check with the owner if any of these were rectified. Also, collect all service receipts and history.
Adventure bike owners like accessories, which can often be a good thing as the accumulated price of these items doesn’t get reflected in the bike’s price. Ideally you want any standard parts that these accessories have replaced too. For example, the loud aftermarket exhaust sounds fantastic, but could fail future MoT tests.
Stafford Motorcycles for loaning us the bikes, and their expert insight. All the bikes here are for sale: staffordmotorcycles.co.uk
Photos: Jason Critchell