Never in the history of MotorcycleUSA have we undertaken a comparison test of this magnitude. Six bikes and riders, 10,000 total miles, two crashes and 88 pictures in the accompanying photo gallery that tells the tale of our epic road trip. So grab yourself a fresh beverage, kick up your feet and prepare yourself for an adventure the scope of which can't be matched anywhere else!
Our 2006 Adventure Touring Comparo saw us log a total of 10,000 fun-filled miles to the Grand Canyon and back to determine which bike was the best of the lot.
When BMW's R80GS debuted in 1980, the motorcycle world was unsure what to make of this odd contraption. It kinda looked like a dirt bike but had an 800cc flat-Twin motor from a streetbike. Seemed a bit silly at the time.
Fast-forward 25 years and what has become called the Adventure-Touring category is exploding. Riders now enjoy having no less than seven liter-sized A-Ts to choose from.
It's easy to understand the appeal of this class when you have a chance to ride one. A neutral riding position allows for elongated stints in the saddle, long-travel suspension handily soaks up bumps in the road, multi-cylinder powerplants dish out plenty of power, and they're able to devour a set of twisties better than you might imagine.
Including the venerable BMW R1200GS was a no-brainer. From the moment the first GS debuted in 1980, BMW has defined and dominated the genre.
But more than that, the big A-Ts give a traveler the confidence to explore areas where normal streetbikes fear to tread. If you've ever been on a journey away from urban areas, you've probably asked yourself, "I wonder where that road goes?" Well, these long-legged SUVs of the two-wheel world hold few limits to where your next adventure will take you.
Of course, adventure comes in many forms. Some ride to Alaska, others go to Baja. However, some adventures begin closer to home. Our escapade began before we even turned a wheel when attempting to assemble all the players in this class. After giving the manufacturers a two-month notice, Triumph dropped out on the last day possible, so this test doesn't include the Brit's newly revised Tiger.
The absence of the Tiger (which we compared against BMW's R1150GS in 2002
) turned our comparo into a twin-cylinder roundup of machines from Germany, Japan, Austria, America and a pair from Italy. BMW's R1200GS
is an obvious inclusion, since it has been the benchmark in this category.
The Ducati Multistrada is the sportiest of our six adventure-tourers - the real test for this Italian mount would come in the dirt and rocks.
A few years ago the storky Beemer was joined by several imitators. Italy first gave us the Moto Guzzi Quota, a bike that failed to impress and has since been dropped from Guzzi's lineup. Then came Aprilia's EVT1000 Caponord and Ducati's Multistrada - being Italian, they were more street-focused. Japan hit back with the bargain-priced DL1000 V-Strom from Suzuki, followed by a new dirt-worthy rival from KTM in the form of the 950 Adventure
. For 2006, Buell has thrown its entry into the ring with the Harley-powered XB12X Ulysses
For bikes in such a niche category, it's a bit surprising to find a great deal of contrast in what manufacturers believe it takes to make a class winner. The category is book-ended by relative oddballs, the relatively low Multistrada and the sky-high 950 Adventure. The former is a veritable sportbike in this group while the dirt-leaning KTM feels more like a motocrosser, especially in the S version we tested that has 10.4 inches of travel compared to the standard version's 9.1. The rest of the bikes fall somewhere between this disparate duo.
Bikes assembled for battle, we began to put riders into their seats. Three staffers were joined by longtime MCUSA photographer Tom Lavine, himself a GS owner among many other bikes. We enlisted the help of motojournalist (and fellow NSR50 racer) Tom Roderick, as well as Denverite Dean Hight who operates a motorcycle touring company from his Colorado home.
Hutch: "So, the Grand Canyon huh? You sure you know where we're going Duke?"
Duke: "Sure I'm sure - I think..."
Since adventure touring encompasses a vast variety of destinations and terrain, we thought long and hard about our route. Freeway and in-town riding would come inevitably, but we wondered where we could best find a real "adventure."
"How about if we ride around the Grand Canyon?" I proposed.
"Uh, isn't that kind of big," queried Editorial Director Ken Hutchison.
"What, don't think you can handle it?" I shot back, taunting the guy who would race the gnarly Baja 1000 a month later.
Against better judgment, Kenny went along with my ambitious plan. Our journey to one of the most remote areas of the western United States resulted in a few surprises. A flat tire, some machinery problems, two crashed bikes and a hailstorm that turned into snow were factors I didn't give adequate consideration.
We loaded up and headed east from MCUSA's SoCal base, a task made easier by the inclusion of optional hardbags on four of the six bikes; the Caponord and V-Strom, though unadorned with such luggage, also have saddlebags as available options.
Our Adventure-Touring Comparo would have traipsing around the southwest on roads both on the map and off.
Since the KTM 950 Adventure was the only bike of this sextet I hadn't ridden, I chose it for the first stint. Straight-line freeway droning was to be avoided in favor of some dirty and twisty roads, but first we had to get there. I knew the KTM wasn't going to be the Gold Wing of the bunch, but I got a step-ladder and climbed aboard the 36.0-inch perch anyway.
At first the bike's narrow MX-style seat and vibey engine were merely side thoughts, but about an hour on the freeway on the way to the mountain resort of Big Bear brought these two issues to the fore - the Adventure constantly reminds its rider that it's ready to go romp in the dirt, merely tolerating highway riding.
Meanwhile, riders on the Caponord and V-Strom were enjoying cushy suspensions and seats along with a decent amount of wind protection. Indeed, our riders often drew comparisons between the two.