A Beginner Guide to Adventure Bikes

Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure Touring
Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure Riding. Photo by Pierce Martin

Adventure motorcycles. Wow, that sounds a little like something Captain America would ride.

Well, don’t let the title intimidate or confuse you. Motorcycles have evolved a long way since their inception shortly after the automobile. Once just a novelty, they now have as many diverse types and uses as any motorized vehicle.

The term “adventure motorcycle” is just a classification, meant only to give you an idea as to it’s primary purpose. This article will explain the definition and offer advise for the first time adventure bike buyer.

So, what exactly is an adventure motorcycle?

Kawasaki Versys Motorbike

Kawasaki Versys Motorbike. Photo by meke

An adventure motorcycle is what is referred to as a “dual purpose” motorcycle. It combines the most relevant aspects of a dirt bike with the rider comfort of a street bike. It’s primary function is to be used as both.

Sounds like a bit of a contradiction? It’s not really, we’ve been doing it for years.

In the early days of motorcycling, people who liked to ride “off road” had to haul their dirt bikes to the places that they wanted to explore. Dirt bikes usually weren’t street legal, and also not very practical to drive for any extended distance. Thus was the creation of the “enduro”, the first real dual purpose motorcycle.

The “adventure motorcycle” is really just a continuation of this same principal, only on a much more ambitious scale. Equally at home on dirt roads or pavement, the adventure class allows you to enjoy both on the same machine, on the same trip.

Typically a 650 c.c. or larger, it has plenty of power to cruise comfortably at highway speeds, yet has the suspension and handling of an off road bike.

Let’s take a look at the features that define this category:

Engine size

Suzuki V-Strom Adventure Bike

Suzuki V-Strom Adventure Bike. Photo by Iain Harper

Similar to the typical street cruiser, the adventure class needs a large enough power plant to be able to cruise at highway speeds for several hours. Pushing a smaller bike at those speeds would be uncomfortable and would wear out the engine prematurely.

Suspension

Like any motorcycle designed for off road use, more travel on the front and rear shocks helps flatten out the bumps, making for a smoother ride on the trails and unpaved roads.

Fuel capacity

These bikes usually have a larger fuel tank than your average enduro; 5 to 9 gallons. Much like a cruiser, they are built to be able to cover large distances. Especially handy when getting way off the beaten track.

Weight

This kind of falls in the middle for the adventure class. The heavier an off road bike is, the more difficult it is to control. True dirt bikes are much lighter.

The size of the engine and the accessories that make it an all day rider, make the adventure motorcycle a bit trickier to ride on the dirt. However, weight is a primary consideration in the design of these machines. They are much lighter than a bike built just for the highway.

Things you should consider when picking your first adventure bike

BMW G650GS Adventure Bike

BMW G650GS Adventure Bike. Photo by Stephen Burns

Ability

How much machine can you handle safely? Although you may have been riding a street bike for years, it’s a whole different world on gravel. And, seasoned dirt bike riders may not truly appreciate what it’s like to fight a side wind at 75 miles an hour.

Consider your riding experience. If you have a lot of time on other types of motorcycles, the transition to this type of riding should not be too difficult. Just don’t get yourself in over your head.

Budget

As with most items, you can spend as much as you can afford and then some. Some of the higher end machines can run close to $20,000, whereas there are many good options available in the $6,000 to $10,000 range.

It’s not really a good idea to go over board with your first adventure class bike. The more you spend, the more complicated it is to ride. Keep it simple until you’ve decided that you’re ready for more, and have a better idea of what is right for you.

Comfort vs. Performance

Especially at the lower price range, you will have to make decisions about what is most important to you. You may have to sacrifice some things to get the best over all machine for you.

Think about what type of adventures you’re hoping to have, and what features best suit you to accomplish them.

Accessories

Like with your budget, there really isn’t a ceiling. You can find an endless assortment of bells and whistles to customize your ride. What you really need to consider are the basic items that make it an adventure motorcycle.

A comfortable seat for yourself and a passenger, a GPS system and a windshield should be high on your list. Some type of storage like panniers (saddle bags) or tank bags are fairly essential from the long ride on a paved road aspect.

Mentionable items from the off road side are things like skid plates, engine guards and hand guards to protect yourself and your bike from flying rocks and gravel.

So, which one should you get?

Honda Varadero Dual Sport Bike

Honda Varadero Dual Sport Bike. Photo by Daniel Levy

That is entirely up to you, the shopping and test riding are essential for you to find the best fit for you.

There are too many options to list all of them, so the following is a list of what are considered to be the top 10:

1. Kawasaki Versys
2. Suzuki V-Strom 650
3. BMW G650GS
4. BMW Sertão
5. Kawasaki KLR650
6. Husqvarna TR650 Terra
7. KTM 640 Adventure
8. Suzuki DR650SE
9. Honda XR650L
10. Suzuki DR-Z400S


Anyone with a fair amount of riding experience knows that anytime you swing your leg over a bike, it’s an adventure. But if you’re looking for some real adventure, get yourself a motorcycle that can take you to the hard to reach places comfortably and safely.

From the coastal regions to the mountains, getting off the highway and onto some dirt roads is what adventure motorcycles are all about. Many people take road trips to see the country. Why not see it all? Many of the most inspiring views can’t be reached by a car or a street cruiser. Get an adventure motorcycle and see the rest of the world.

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