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Expert guide to: £5k adventure bikes

Published: 08 July 2018

Adventure bikes are hugely popular now, partly because they are bought by 50-somethings who can’t contort themselves to fit sportsbikes, partly because of the Range Rover Effect (“I could take this thing to Timbuktu, even though I’m going to Tesco”), and partly because they are astonishingly practical.

You get a comfy riding position, good fuel range, luggage and easy handling. The only thing most lack is sheer speed.

The Suzuki V-Strom 650

The easy option: Suzuki V-Strom 650

Statistics: 645cc / 68bhp / 835mm seat height

  • Dealer price £2000-£7000
  • Private £850-£5000
  • This one £3950, private sale

The smaller brother of the V-Strom 1000, this bike uses Suzuki’s torquey 650 engine to good effect. You get the same weather protection, comfort and good on-road manners, plus it’s a bit more usable on unsurfaced roads and trails because it weighs less.

The engine has proved to be astonishingly tough and reliable and there isn’t much to complain about, except that once it’s loaded with luggage and a pillion, you’ll find that 68bhp means you will need to use the gearbox a bit to make progress. There are plenty of used ones about to suit every budget. The XT version is more dirt-oriented, but pricier.

Buyer beware

The engine is as solid as they come and has been in production for years. Any misfires are usually down to water finding its way down the front pot’s spark plug tunnel. Clutch rattle seems endemic and is harmless, so don’t be put off buying. A non-functioning starter motor button is usually caused by burned out contacts in the switch. Pre-2011 models have a little less power and kit than later machines but are cheaper, of course.

The BMW R1150GS

The obvious choice: BMW R1150GS

Statistics: 1130cc / 85bhp / 840mm seat height

  • Dealer price £3000-£6500
  • Private £1800-£5000
  • This one £3999, private sale

It’s a legend: an incredible bike that handles better than you’d believe possible and is truly capable on all roads (surfaced or not). They are usually very well specced with luggage, sat-navs, crash bars, extra lights and so on, meaning hardly any two are ever alike. The engine sounds like an old Tiger Moth biplane (and is about as sophisticated), especially with an aftermarket can. Biggles would have loved one.

Buyer beware

Some go on forever, however some suffer badly. The rear bevel drive seal can fail with disastrous consequences, so check for leaks. Any engine surging is usually eliminated with a proper tune. The alternator belt needs regular replacement, too. Check the ABS works and aim to avoid the servo brake models.

The Yamaha XTZ660 Tenere

The tall guy: Yamaha XTZ660 Tenere

Statistics: 660cc / 46bhp / 895mm seat height

  • Dealer price £3000-£5000
  • Private £2500-£4500
  • This one £3300, private sale

This is the last of the Ténéré thumpers, and what a way to bow out. It has real off-road capability, is well-equipped (there’s even a tow loop on the bottom yoke for hauling it out of swamps) and is very economical with a range of around 200 miles.

It also handles very well on the road and there’s a huge range of aftermarket accessories. Downsides? It isn’t fast (105mph, but a lanky top gear means it will cruise at 75-80 without stressing the engine) and it is very tall indeed.

Buyer beware

Cush drive rubbers wear out fast and should be replaced every 12,000 miles for safety’s sake. Drive side rear wheel bearing, chains and sprockets are also all relatively short-lived. Electrical connections should also be inspected for corrosion. ABS came on Euro 4 models only.

Honda XL1000V Varadero

Reliable road warrior: Honda XL1000V Varadero

Statistics: 996cc / 93bhp / 843mm seat height

  • Dealer price £2250-£3500
  • Private £1600-£3000
  • This one £2850, private sale

Honda tried to take on the BMW GS by dropping its FireStorm engine into a monster trail bike chassis.

As an adventure bike, it flopped. It was too big, too heavy, ridiculously thirsty (as was the FireStorm, of course) and had dull styling. As a road bike, it’s better, especially as used values are lower than those for an equivalent-year BMW.

The 2003 model got fuel injection and an overdrive sixth gear, both of which improved the fuel consumption and range, but by then the world had forgotten about the poor old Varadero anyway.

Buyer beware

There’s not too much to worry about beyond ordinary servicing. Exhausts rust quickly and forks get soggy early, but that’s easily sorted. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to have the camchain woes of the early FireStorms.

KTM 990 Adventure

The hooligan option: KTM 990 Adventure

Statistics: 942cc / 97bhp / 860mm seat height

  • Dealer price £4000-£7000
  • Private £3000-£6000
  • This one £4000, private sale

One of the few genuine challengers to the BMW GS. Sharper styling, better handling (WP suspension) and more off-road ability seduced buyers away from BMW showrooms.

The fuel injected engine is snatchier at low speeds than the earlier 950cc carb-fed lump and it’s more of a hooligan’s bike and much narrower than the GS, although the chain drive is definitely a minus point against the BMW’s shaft. It’s relatively spartan compared to the BMW.

Buyer beware

Look out for chequered reliability and poor(ish) build quality. Some have suffered nasty electrical gremlins, such as the chip in the key failing. The starter clutch can also go, due to a weak battery making it kick back.

Have a browse for your next bike on MCN Bikes For Sale website.