All of the bikes in this test are terrific adventure touring mounts. Equally impressive is how they all demonstrate unique traits that give them individual personalities. The key is matching the rider with the right bike. That’s easier said than done, as even our testers wanted a particular model for one trip and another for a different ride. Once our epic adventure was finished, gear unloaded and bikes and bodies scrubbed clean, the crop of premier 2011 ADV machines broke down like this.
The Ducati was clearly above the others in the engine category, but all of the bikes have more than enough power to haul rider and gear through difficult terrain.
Triumph Tiger 800 XC – Alternate
The wild card proved to be completely at home in this group of motorcycles. Even though it comes up short on the spec sheet, Triumph has built a bike capable of offering performance, comfort and versatility that is on par or better than the so-called premier bikes. There wasn’t a test rider among us that wasn’t impressed with the Brit. Add in the excellent components such as the fog lamps and panniers and the 800 XC becomes even more attractive. A little customization to make this bike fit the rider and it will be everything they need.
KTM 990 Adventure Dakar – 4th
If going off the beaten path is a necessity then the KTM is tops. Nothing comes close to it in dirt performance and anyone who adventure rides knows that most of the world is unpaved. The Dakar version looks the part of a rally winner and it takes a Spartan approach in regards to wind protection and comfort. The fit and finish is nice, but the engine needs to be pumped up and smoothed out to really run with the other open-class bikes. The factory luggage gives it better touring credentials and the KTM’s thoughtful maintenance features can be appreciated by anyone.
Yamaha Super Tenere – 3rd
Yamaha’s first effort with the Super Tenere is a good one. The only real complaint about this motorcycle is the sheer size and weight. It’s a lot to handle for even larger riders, and the negative effects of added girth are played out on-road and off-road. Stability and top speed are strengths for the Yamaha and it cradles its rider with the most comfort available from ADV bikes. This is the bike that eats up long-range pavement without breaking a sweat. Lots of technology and an affordable entry price will bring riders flocking to Yamaha dealerships.
Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Touring –2nd
Macho riders will have to spring for the Ducati. There’s nothing else like it in the ADV class in terms of sheer performance. The beautiful Duc shreds asphalt with its massive superbike-derived engine, up-spec Ohlins
Each bike has its own personality. The BMW is best at suiting the widest range of riders and adventures.
suspension and perfectly balanced chassis. The big question is whether or not it will hold up over time, and if the owner can afford to purchase and keep up on the maintenance. A rider with deep enough pockets and a bias for pavement has no reason to look anywhere else.
BMW R1200GS – 1st
Once again the BMW grinds down its competition through consistency. The dual-camshaft Boxer puts out plenty of power and engineers have mated it to a chassis that is deceptively agile. A low center of gravity is key and makes the GS the best option for two-up touring. All-day comfort extends onto the dirt and BMW gives its rider the easiest control over the cockpit. There are very few chinks in this German’s armor. There’s no better full-size adventure touring motorcycle for the all-around ADV pilot.
For My Money
We ask our riders to choose which bike they would choose for their own riding needs and interests. More importantly, we ask them to consider the price of these beasts which have a range of nearly $10,000 between them. For some, money is not an option, and for others it’s all about the most bang for the buck. Our riders have varying levels of skill, size, experience and age. After burning through nearly 293 gallons of fuel, these are their personal preferences in the 2011 Adventure Touring Shootout.
Ron Maddox – Age 58 – 6’0” – 145 lbs. – 49 years riding – Triumph Tiger 800 XC
I love the little Triumph, I have no plans to travel more than a thousand miles from home in the near future. That, combined with the low price, would make it an easy choice for me. But keep in mind that I only weigh 145 pounds and I
like to ride 125s in the dirt. This makes me a little bit unique and should help explain why I like the little Triumph so much. Now if someone were going to give me one of the bikes it wouldn’t even be a contest; I’d take the Ducati. I’d sell it and buy two Triumphs!
Dave Riant – Age 55 – 5’11” – 160 lbs. – 40 years riding – Yamaha Super Tenere
The most features and best performance for the money. The Yamaha would fit a niche I have for an ultra-long distance adventure tourer – returning to Newfoundland and riding the full length of the Trans-Canada Highway, including the Labrador Highway. The Tenere’s long legs and superb comfort top all the others for long distance adventure touring.
Justin Dawes – Age 35 – 5’10” – 220 lbs. – 26 years riding – BMW R1200GS
After some serious thought and really being honest with myself, for me the BMW is really the only choice for an adventure touring motorcycle. While every bike here might be able to do one or two things better than the GS, none of them are consistently as good across the whole range of criteria that make up the adventure touring segment. It works
in any situation and has been proven time and time again to be up to the task of going around the world.
Bart Madson – Age 34 – 6’0” – 200 lbs. – 5 years riding – Triumph Tiger 800 XC
Including the Triumph 800 was an experiment, a comparison of how a middleweight holds up to its larger rivals. And I think the Tiger more than holds its own. It feels the lightest, but despite being down on power it has more than enough for touring, even when heavily laden by a touring kit. But the real advantage to me is the MSRP – at three grand less than its nearest competitor and nearly half the price of the Ducati it’s the bargain in this test.
JC Hilderbrand – Age 28 – 5’11” – 185 lbs. – 15 years riding – BMW R1200GS
First I picked the Triumph because it’s so affordable. Then my dirt roots kicked in and I opted for the KTM. Then it was back to the Tiger for its light weight, and back again to KTM because of a strong dealer network. Eventually it dawned on me that I really want the BMW. I tried to ignore it because of its $20,000 pricetag, but there’s no denying that it answers all the needs of an adventure touring bike. If I really want to ride 80% dirt then I’ll get a big dual sport. That’s not really what these bikes are about for me. The comfort of the GS is undeniable whether it’s on pavement or off. I absolutely adore its handling and it’s easily the most refined package. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it seems to be the least difficult to work on. Plus I feel it’s the most solidly built, which means it should take less work in general. I was wooed away by the shiny new toys, but in the end I went back to the tried and true. BMW’s formula works.