We found the V-Strom and Caponord were quite similar, with the Suzuki taking a decided edge in the performance department.
"The Caponord and V-Strom are two in the same," says Hutchison. "Both bikes are very similar in size, shape and feel, and both have similar limitations. The Suzuki is a great touring bike that offers up the most powerful motor of the bunch, a comfortable riding position and the great wind protection you need on long street rides. The Caponord motor is pretty nice but doesn't provide the sheer power of the V-Strom."
The Aprilia's low seat and relatively high bars makes a rider sit down and in, so the fairing and windscreen are quite protective, but the short seat-to-peg distance can cramp long legs. Its soft seat is perhaps too soft, as it packs down after about an hour, and buffeting and wind noise is worse than from the V-Strom.
The Suzuki gets demerit points for an excess of high-speed compression damping in its fork and for steering that can wander in crosswinds and when passing tractor-trailer rigs.
On the KTM, its fairing proved to be one of the most protective of the group, which was appreciated on the foggy route that ascended the San Bernardino Mountains to 7000 feet. Its long-travel suspension results in a fair amount of pitch when braking and makes it feel a bit unwieldy, so this isn't the first bike you'd pick for humbling sportbike pilots in the canyons.
The sporty Multistrada excelled out on the road. The carbon fiber and Ohlins suspension on the 1000S model we tested are pure moto-jewelry.
Meanwhile, the Ducati asserted its twisty-road prowess over the others, an experience made more enjoyable on the 1000S model we tested. The S adds a smattering of carbon fiber, a tapered aluminum handlebar, and best of all, high-line Ohlins suspension front and rear to the $11,995 Showa-equipped standard version. As much a quarter-faired Monster with long-travel suspension as an authentic adventure-tourer, the Multistrada excels anytime paved swervy bits are ahead. The 17-inch front wheel and dual Brembo brakes are the kinds of components found on sportbikes, and if you had to take any of these bikes to a trackday, the Duc and its sticky Pirelli Scorpion tires would be the one to bring.
"It's a Ducati with Ohlins suspension, for crying out loud!" summarized test rider Dean Hight.
Nipping at the MTS's heeled-over heels is the new Buell. Essentially an XB12Ss "Lightning Long" (also new for '06) with more ground clearance and suspension, the XB12X Ulysses can also rail a corner, aided by its sportbike 17-inch front wheel and the most aggressive steering geometry and wheelbase of the sextet.
Evaluating the "grin factor" is subjective and factors in a rider's preferences. Guess what BC's are?
"Thanks to an extremely torquey motor, a relatively light front end and a short wheelbase, I rated the Ulysses the most exciting bike to ride," says MCUSA's Creative Director Brian Chamberlain. "The grin factor it provided made our grueling seat time a lot more bearable." BC rated the XB's front brake fairly high, but its weak rear brake drew criticism. "It's simply non-existent."
Bikes and riders fuelled up in Big Bear, we headed down the sinuous north side of the mountain on Highway 18. The R1200GS handles this type of carving in its uniquely BMW way. Its lack of front-end dive from the Telelever feels a bit unnatural, and coming back on the throttle mid-corner causes the shaft-drive system (the only one in this test) to torque the rear wheel slightly askew. But as weird as it may feel at first, a GS in the right hands has the ability to humble many a sportbike pilot.
"Although it doesn't corner as well as the Ducati, it's not too far off the pace," BC notes. "Turn-ins are relatively quick and the bike felt very stable at mid corner as well as corner exit."
The Caponord provided good protection with its fairing and windscreen, but its ergos didn't please everyone.
The Caponord, despite Aprilia's hard-edged sportbike heritage, surprises with its lack of composure in the twisties. Dean and T-Rod both noted its top-heavy feeling, a sensation supported by our electronic scales. With a tank-empty weight of 536 pounds, the Priller is nearly 40 pounds heavier than the next portliest of the group - and that's without saddlebag brackets like on the Ducati, Buell and BMW. Abrupt throttle response, a mushy fork, the most conservative steering geometry and the second-longest wheelbase make the job that much harder.
Soon we were at the bottom of the mountain and heading down the unpaved Camp Rock Road, a mixture of soil and gravel that gave our adventurers their first taste of the dirt. Here, the ponderous weight of the Caponord again works against it, especially in the loose stuff. A wandering front end saps confidence, while its suspension packs down during repetitive small bumps in the road. As I was wobbling and paddling my way through the sand, I couldn't wait to switch out to another bike.
In stark contrast, the KTM was plowing through unperturbed. Its 21-inch front wheel is a real boon when the roads turn gnarly, and its slim and purposeful physique makes it the most comfortable when standing on the pegs like a real off-roader.
While the dirt tended to reveal weakness in the others, the more dirt-oriented KTM shined.
"The KTM is the closest thing to a dirt bike in this test and it easily outshines all the others when the pavement ends," notes BC.
Close behind the KTM was the GS, the world's most recognized adventure-tourer that is the Swiss Army Knife of motorcycledom. The wide motocross-style handlebar gives riders plenty of leverage to fight the front wheel out of a rut, and power is present at all points in the rev band.
The GS is also boasts the greatest number of features, such as a height-adjustable seat, a standard centerstand, and a comprehensive tool kit that includes a tire repair kit. The latter two items became important at the end of the dirt road when we discovered the Beemer's rear tire received a bit of acupuncture in the form of a nail. Unfortunately, the kit's plug insertion tool broke when trying to seal the tire. Fortunately, the centerstand and single-sided swingarm made removing the rear wheel a snap.