Although adventure bikes such as BMW’s definitive R1250GS were conceived to be capable of conquering continents, as famously portrayed in Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s TV series 'Long Way Round', their enduring popularity is more down to their versatility and style – they’re the two-wheeled equivalents of Range Rovers and SUVs.
Do I need to be an expert rider to manage an adventure bike?
Although admittedly some adventure bikes are imposing and expensive, today there’s a wider variety of sizes, types and prices than ever, ranging from budget A2-licence-compliant offerings to a new breed of off-road-centric middleweights such as Yamaha’s exciting new Ténéré 700 to luxurious, fully-laden heavyweights such as BMW’s new, 'ShiftCam' R1250GSA. Here’s our pick of the best around right now…
Best adventure bikes in 2019
2019 KTM 790 Adventure
Spec: 799cc / 93.8bhp / 189kg / 850mm seat height
Price: £9500 (used) - £11,099 (new)
No motorcycle manufacturer has a better off-road pedigree than Austrian specialists KTM and, following the success of its big bore V-twin adventure bikes, its new middleweight parallel twin has enhanced its reputation further. With the lively engine from the 790 Duke, sophisticated electronics and quality spec including full colour TFT dash it’s a quality offering befitting its price and with off-road ability few rivals can match.
Two versions are available: the base, more road-orientated Adventure and the more hardcore, off-road R with top spec longer suspension, one-piece seat, low screen, high mudguard and extra Rally riding mode for £900 more. Both are brilliant, but if off-roading’s less important there are cheaper options.
BUYING ADVICE So new (it was launched in 2019), few used examples are out there but we’ve seen ex-dealer demos already for as little as £9500. 790 Duke powertrain has no scare stories and KTMs are generally solid but watch out for off-roading scars.
2019 Yamaha Ténéré 700
Spec: 689cc / 73bhp / 205kg / 880mm seat height
Price: £8199 (used) - £8399 (new)
Yamaha’s new-for-2019 take on the middleweight adventure bike theme follows a similar path to KTM’s 790 Adventure in being an off-road-focused machine derived from a road middleweight twin; in this case Yamaha’s brilliant MT-07. Rally styling apart, though, the Yamaha’s a less sophisticated, more affordable option, free of electronics and fancy TFTs but still with engaging road performance and even better off-road ones. If you want an adventure bike with which to genuinely explore off-roading there’s nothing better.
BUYING ADVICE Like its KTM rival, the Ténéré 700 is so new there are few used examples on offer yet... although we have seen a handful. MT-07 mechanicals are proven but watch out for evidence of novice and off-road mishaps.
2019 BMW R1250GS Adventure
Spec: 1254cc / 134bhp / 268kg / 890-910mm seat height
Price: £16,400 (used, loaded) - £14,415 (new, basic)
The big GSA should need little introduction: The first 1150, in 2002, set the big tank/off-road enhancements ‘adventure’ template and found fame via Ewan and Charley’s Long Way Round. It’s been a best-seller ever since, was updated in 2006, 2010 and 2014 and for 2019 gains an extra 84cc, 11bhp and BM’s clever, performance-boosting ShiftCam technology, along with classy colour TFT screen, LED lights and more. A big, comfy, sporty, flexible and classy all-rounder, the improvements are enough to keep it on top – but it is big and, depending on spec, can be pricey, too.
BUYING ADVICE BMW’s famed residual values, owner profiles and dealer experience means used GSAs are a popular (and wise) used buy. If cosmetics are good, there’s little to fear but options are huge so be sure to find one with the spec you want.
Spec: 998cc / 94bhp / 243kg / 900mm seat height
Price: £8750 (used) - £12,599 (new)
The return of Honda’s famous Africa Twin after over 20 years in 2016 was largely a success and, with its 94bhp twin, genuine on/off-road ability and slightly more middleweight proportions compared to some, proved a refreshing, well-positioned option. For 2019 this new Adventure Sports option gave it more presence, range and style thanks to a bigger tank and improved, longer-travel suspension, even if it still lacks some of the electronics and luxuries of some rivals. If you like Honda refinement, quality and the Africa Twin backstory and want a genuine dual-purpose adventure bike, it doesn’t disappoint.
BUYING ADVICE More already available than you might expect – although many are Honda’s clever ‘DCT’ auto version. Quality and mechanicals are class with no concerns, extras such as luggage are always welcome. Don't forget there's a new Honda Africa Twin for 2020, too...
2014 Honda CB500X
Spec: 471cc / 47bhp / 197kg / 830mm seat height
Price: £2750+ (used) - £6069 (new)
First introduced in 2013 as the adventure-style variant of Honda’s all-new, A2-focused, 47bhp CB500 twin (the others being the CB500F roadsters and CBR500R sports), the X was the taller, more upright option, but still a doddle for novices. A refresh came in 2015 followed by a further update this year, including larger 19in front wheel, new bodywork, engine tweaks and smart new clocks. Although no off-roader, it remains probably the best starter adventure bike out there and is affordable, reassuringly easy and unintimidating to ride and decent quality.
BUYING ADVICE Simple, understressed and with no mechanical horror stories in its six-year life, the CB500X is also popular so there’s plenty to choose from. They tend to be looked after but watch for novice-style neglect and possible damage.
2014 Honda NC750X
Spec: 745cc / 54bhp / 229kg / 830mm seat height
Price: £3600 (used) - £6879 (new)
First introduced as the NC700X in 2012 then facelifted and enlarged into 750 form in 2014, the NCX is an adventure-style commuter with more than a little scooter DNA. Novel design gives a luggage compartment in the false tank while a scooter-style twist-n-go DCT automatic version is also available. With just 54bhp it’s not the most exciting adventure bike, admittedly, but it’s effective, charming, easy to ride and impressively cheap to buy and run.
BUYING ADVICE Under-stressed, low-revving twin is solid and frugal, rest of bike is simple and they’re the sort of bike that tends to attract mature, careful owners. Popularity again means there’s plenty out there. Go for the DCT option if you’re feeling brave.
2019 Ducati Multistrada 950 S
Spec: 937cc / 111bhp / 230kg / 840mm seat height
Price: £13,000 (used) - £13,355 (new)
There’s no argument that Ducati’s latest, range-topping Multistrada 1260 S is phenomenally capable and quick, but with 160bhp and a £17k price tag it’s also too much for some. The new 950 S has all of its big brother’s electronic brilliance (including multi modes and semi-active suspension), composure and class but with its 111bhp Hypermoto engine and £13k price is within reach of more. The ‘Strada is arguably the best road performing and sophisticated adventure bike of all. In this 950 S trim it’s more accessible than ever.
BUYING ADVICE So new we’ve yet to see any used examples but the 937cc engine’s proven on the Hypermotard and the rest of the chassis and cycle parts on other ‘Stradas. Condition and proper servicing is key.
2010 Triumph Tiger 800
Spec: 800cc / 94bhp / 205kg / 840-860mm seat height
Price: £6700 (used) - £9200+ (new)
Although a three-cylinder adventure bike sounds odd, the Tiger 800 is a brilliant all-rounder and, in XC (cross-country) rather than XR (road) trim makes a reasonable off-roader, too. Triumph triple is a charismatic gem, handling is typically-triumph good and versatility is peerless. What’s more successive updates, most recently with improved modes, TFT screen and more in 2018 have kept it up to date plus the options list is immense. Get one with the spec you like and you won’t want for anything more.
BUYING ADVICE The Hinckley Tiger has now been around since 2010 and has proved hugely popular and shown up virtually no problems. High mileages are not unusual as they’re a popular commuter but check cosmetics. Quality extras can be a bonus.
2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650 XT
Spec: 645cc / 69bhp / 216kg / 835mm seat height
Price: £4500 (used) - £7999 (new)
Although dating back to 2004 this latest V-Strom 650 was introduced in 2017 and, with fresh looks, an updated version of Suzuki’s brilliant 645cc V-twin and decent manners it’s still the affordable, all-rounder it always was. More off-road XT version adds wires, bash plate and hand guards for £400 extra and it’s neither luxurious or the most durable and up-to-date, but for the price it’s a brilliantly versatile machine at an affordable price.
BUYING ADVICE Although mechanically sound V Strom 650s can get used and abused due to their budget nature and are neither maintained nor cleaned properly. Finishes aren’t the best, either, so check for damage, corrosion and incomplete servicing.
2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure
Spec: 1301cc / 160bhp / 217kg / 890mm seat height
Price: £9500+ (used) - £14,899 (new)
The Austrian endure experts adventure bike flagship has it all: 160bhp performance, class-leading electronics, genuine off-road ability – and the whopping price tag to go with it. As a result it can do it all, too – tour, scratch and go off-road. Whether you actually need all that is a different matter and it certainly lacks the reassurance and residuals of BMW’s GS but if you can handle (and afford) it, the 1290 Super Adventure is surely some kind of ultimate.
BUYING ADVICE There’s a variety of versions (T, S, R), KTM residuals can’t match BMWs and oil leaks and warped discs have been known with hard use. Find a good used one, though, and you could grab yourself a ballistic bargain.
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