What is an Adventure bike? The debate gets controversial…

In Motorcycle Safety, Motorcycle Trip Packing & Planning by Julian36 Comments

So what is an adventure bike really? With the Adventure Motorcycle sector showing no sign of slowing down, the manufacturers from to Honda to Harley Davidson are keen to get a slice of the action.

But is the name just a clever marketing tool? Can the likes of the mighty KTM1290 or BMW R1200GS really be seen as vehicles that are up to the job of exploring the world on two wheels?

Noah Horak thinks not, and as a man that has visited over forty countries in the last two years on his modified KTM 690 Enduro, he might just know. In an open letter posted on the Expedition Portal, he’s called out the motorcycle industry on the desperate lack of bikes that can really take on adventure travel.

So what is a ‘real’ adventure motorcycle?

What is an adventure bike?

Dear Motorcycle Industry,

With the recent announcement of the KTM 1290 “Adventure” I can not sit quietly anymore and watch the “Adventure” bike grow to obese proportions. I must speak up. Adventure is a word thrown around so freely in the motorcycle industry now, I am not sure you remember what a true adventure actually is.

Who am I? I’m a guy who has spent the last two and a half years riding a KTM 690 around the world. It was not an adventure bike when I bought it, but with some work, it has taken me to hell and back. After 120,000km and 42 countries, she is still going strong. My bike and all my camping gear is about 210 kilo. If you can not pick up your bike fully loaded in any situation, it is not an adventure bike.

Now I see the adventure bike market treading into Harley Davidson territory, which is to say selling an idea or image rather then a capable bike. Sorry to the HD fans out there, but the XR750 is the only HD I drool over. Every year manufacturers pump out more and more street touring bikes and slap an “Adventure” bike name on it. KTM, BMW, Triumph, Suzuki, Aprilia, Ducati, Yamaha, Honda are all doing it. The list of 1-litre behemoths is so long I can not keep up. They sell the image of adventure, but when you try to go off the pavement, you quickly find out the bike was not designed for it. So you search for a smaller bike only to find there is a huge gap in the market that no manufacturer seems to want to cash in on. I’ll call the small adventure bike market what it is, the enduro bike market: 250s, DRZ400, 450 race bikes, and outdated air cooled 650s. 450 race bikes are too highly strung for travel. Most of the air cooled 650s are great bikes, but they are all in desperate need of an update. So there is basically the choice between DRZ400 and KTM 690. Both are very capable off-road bikes and have been ridden around the world many times by many people. The gap between these 2 bikes is huge. What gives?

Now I see the adventure bike market treading into Harley Davidson territory … 

selling an idea or image rather than a capable bike

Noah Horak
a real adventure biker

The formula for a proper adventure bike is easy: less then 150 kilos, good tune-able off-road suspension, around 50 hp, fuel injected, liquid cooled, and at least a 7500 km oil change interval. A 500 km fuel range would be icing on the cake. I challenge the manufacturers to build the adventure bike I described above and I will be the first person in line with a fist full of dollars.

Maybe this is asking too much. Take one of your 450 race bikes and give it a reliable engine. The weekend warriors would love it if they didn’t have to change their oil every 10 hours. I would love to travel on a that bike. As stated before, the gap between the  Suzuki DRZ400 and KTM 690 is huge. So once again, take a minute to let this sink in. We want a reliable lightweight off-road travel bike. We don’t want another 200 + kilo street bike. Adventure comes from the ride and the bikes you are pushing off onto the public are limiting that adventure.

Thank you,

Noah Horak.

WE'RE A MOTORCYCLE TOURING COMPANY

Providing the best motorcycle adventures across Asia, from traversing the winding mountain roads on a thumping Royal Enfield in the Himalayas to bashing through the jungle on a dirt bike in Cambodia…

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KTM 690 in the snow

All images are from Noah’s Facebook site RTW with Noah. You can follow his intrepid adventures – that’s REAL adventures – on his website.

So what do you think is a real adventure motorcycle? Has Noah hit the nail on the head or is he missing why people are buying adventure bikes? Please let us know your comments below.

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Comments

  1. Totally agreed with Noah~ Unfortunately, motorcycle manufacturers nowadays are not exactly focused on utilities of a motorcycle but tried to tab into the lucrative market of lifestyle and extravagant image~~~ To “Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro” Yes, I am talking about you!!!

    1. Author

      The Ducati is a supreme example of the idea gone too far!

      Julian – Ride Expeditions

  2. Agree! I looked around for something smaller but was dissatisfied so I ended up with an F800GS. It was the closest thing I could find. If it could shed 50kg it would be ideal.

    1. Author

      Thanks for your thoughts – is the CCM a serious option? We’re testing it soon ….

      Julian – Ride Expeditions

  3. Noah has left out several capable bikes that fit the gap, but that gap does still exist. For starters, there’s the ever reliable, albeit discontinued BMW g650x-challenge. This is my #1 pick because it’s light enough, rotax durable, parts still available (at BMW price), and very very affordable. It does need suspension upgrades, a seat upgrade, and extra fueling, but these are common basic modifications. I am biased having one strictly as my overseas touring bike (currently in SoCal waiting for me to return to Baja and then continue to TDF). The younger fresher brother of this bike is the Husqvarna TR650 Terra. Same engine, better fueling (both are EFI), and much larger fuel tank stock. It’s heavier at 170kg BUT you can pick up a GPR 2into1 exhaust and you have a 160kg tourer that can tackle the rough. It’s a bit more expensive, but still reasonable 2nd hand…also discontinued. My current local bike for ADV riding is the 2012 Husaberg FE570. What a machine is all i can say, and with a safari tank and custom seat, this bike is reliable and incredibly capable at only 120kg! Dream bike, but you will pay more for it….again also discontinued. Do you see the pattern here? There’s not enough MARKET for the bike real adventure riders pine for (real as in rough off-road, reliable world touring, light, long service interval etc), so bikes that could work don’t make enough money for manufacturers and they fall by the wayside eventually. 690 and 701 are decent, but you will pay a lot for them. Where is the sub 150kg vtwin option?? Slowly coming perhaps but I’m not holding my breath. I won’t go into KLRs and DRs because they are a different kind of reliable, cheap, someone uninspiring and unchanged bike, used successfully globally. But when you want that power, that adrenalin, that lightweight flickability in the rough or no-roads…they are not the go-to bike. But a huge market for cheap and capable exists, so they also continue to not die away. Time will tell with the new AJP450 at 150kg, and perhaps SWM650, but here most of us are still left wanting.

    Adventure is the buzz word and the huge generalisation, but for those who lean towards the technical and the challenging terrain (not just gravel roads or touring), we are a minority that still does not make money for corporate profit interests, so we are left wanting.

    1. Author

      Thanks for the detailed and well reasoned response Jeff. Noah is just keen to see more options, which is a good thing to strive for, even if the reality may not bring on the bikes he might want.

      Julian – Ride Expeditions

  4. I have ridden a R1200GS across Australia and it was perfect for it . Vast distances on and off road. I never went rock hopping on it . But gravel , dirt , mud and sand trails or even just boring motorways didn’t bother it at all . It’s like it was built for this country . Not too sure why people don’t think it suitable? The tenere 660 would be one of the best adventure bikes around and no mention in the article? Any bike that’s takes you on an adventure regardless of cc is all you need. ” Adventure ” is a state of mind and not related to the bikes size or brand type. I say to the manufacturers build all the adventure bikes you can in all shapes and sizes . Let the buyers decide on what’s good or awful with their wallets !! Like the whole adventure thing , it’s about freedom of choice and no boundaries.

    1. Author

      Agree with the idea of choice Paul, as does Noah it would appear – he just wants more options in the mid-range!

      Julian – Ride Expeditions

  5. Yep, I agree completely, Noah! The term ‘adventure’ seems to have been distorted beyond all belief now. After all, I can now buy adventure saucepans, adventure deodorant and even adventure slippers! Mostly, motorcycle manufacturers have realised that if they add the word ‘adventure’, they can churn out massively heavy, gadget stuffed, monoliths that need expensive serving every couple of thousand miles… and they can make a small fortune! The question is…why do people keep buying them? In my view, CCM are the only manufacturer to get anywhere close to what I’d call an ‘adventure ‘ bike, with their 450cc model, but, the cost, is considerably more than most would be willing to pay for such a small bike. The motorcycle industry is not listening to what people want, only to what they can make the most money out of. The first manufacturer to make the right bike at the right price, will make a fortune on mass sales.

    1. The CCM 450 is £7500……..the same price as a bog standard Yamaha WR450. In my book that makes the GP450 excellent value with comparable offroad performance but a 20 litre fuel tank, real travel capability and high quality finish rather than the mass produced stuff.!

  6. Adventure biking/travel is not just for long legged men. There are plenty of women wanting/doing the adventure. And they need a bike that has a eat closer to the ground. Bike manufacturers/designers don’t seem to understand that there are a load of people In the 5ft to 5ft 7ins height range who would like to get both feet on the ground. So lower seats please

    1. Author

      Thanks James – we’ve got the CCM450 soon – maybe that’s the answer …

      Julian – Ride Expeditions

  7. I agree with Noah. Thank you sooooooo much for posting!

    I only passed my m/c test 5 years ago and within a year, realised how much more pleasure I experienced from more Adventure-style riding. I have also learnt how, as with other words in the English language, people adopt the word to broaden it’s definition. For me, Adventure riding is more true to the original definition. Hence why I agree with Noah.

    For my experience, I have considered/tried different bikes for height/durability/manitenance/reliability/loading/fuel range/lighterweight/cost etc and agree with where the gap in the market is. Save to say, I have a modified dr650SE in Oz, but struggle to find something suitable for here to take out from the UK.

    I strongly endorse Noah”s plea for manufacturers to please, please, PLEASE come up with a more suitable true/traditional ‘Advanture’ bike – I, too, would join the queue to purchase such a motorcycle.

    1. Author

      Hi Helen – thanks for your input and enthusiasm. We’ll be trying the CCM 450 soon so will let you know whether it’s a viable option!

      Julian – Ride Expeditions

  8. KTM 690 is too fragile. Noah knows how to take care of his, they require great attention. Some say keep the airfilter immaculate and you’re half way there. Plastic rear sub frame (ie the fuel tank) for a loaded mule is troublesome. Lyndon uses the 450 subframes as its such a risk.

  9. This is either incredibly incorrect, or hysterically amusing. I don’t this man’s travels, but do doubt his math and reasoning abilities. In the second paragraph, he states his bike and gear weigh 210 kilos. Looking up basic specs on the bike, fully fueled it would weigh 148 kilos alone. This leaves 62 kilos for rider and gear. The math is clear, and with his “gear” Athe the extreme minimum, I wouldn’t expect a horse jockey to pick up a BMW, let alone see how his tippy toes reach the ground while riding one. In perspective, I weigh ore than the fully fuels bike when naked, so I don’t need a bantam weight professing what I should ride as an adventure bike.

    1. Author

      Cool your jets fella – this isn’t a personal attack, more a plea for more suitable mid-range bikes to choose from. I’m sure Noah doesn’t care one bit what you choose to ride – trick up a Scott Squirrel if you want! But if Yamaha bought out a 450 Adventure bike we’d be all over it …

      Julian – Ride Expeditions

    2. read it again, he never said rider included.
      his math works out fine, 160kg for a bike with light single pipe and 50kg worth of camping gear

  10. KLR650 seems to match and seems popular.

    The CB500X with the Rally Raid kit looks good,

    Seems like an opportunity for the big manufacturers to supply a better solution and go down market at the same time.

    1. Author

      The 500X has definite potential, but is that motor too sophisticated? Thanks for the input Mark

      Julian – Ride Expeditions

  11. Yes, indeed! I gradually moved from racing enduros, PE400. B rider, to ‘advriding,’ ~ 1983, with my first XL600R. Enough oomph for the freeways, yet capable ehough for exploring, and single track. I even did a 6 week US loop in ’85 on it, doing a lot of NF roads. When I wore that one out, I got an ’87. Moving to the Tengai in ’90, [keeping the XL,] did a CO trip w/ my brother [trucked the bikes to Denver;] rode single track, and even successfully negotiated Radical Hill. A ‘simple,’ ‘light-weight,’ H2O, 500-class thumper would be ideal. Offer the capability for options: serious dirt work, or rally. Such would dominate the [small] market.

    1. Author

      Thanks for your input JT – actually the Royal Enfield Classic did a fairly good job on our recent Himalayan Heights tour!

      Julian – Ride Expeditions

  12. Light is right! Colin Chapman and reliable that’s my favourite bike, KTM 990 adventure R

    1. Author

      It’s a popular choice, but as it’s no longer made then supplies will naturally dwindle!

      Julian – Ride Expeditions

  13. I opted for a 2009 f650 twin. 377 lbs dry- 437 wet. The gas tank being under me rather than on top helps to keep things balanced when on gravel.
    So- in short, I truly hope Noah hasn’t included my bike in that list as not truly Adventure Capable, as I have my heart and mind already set on it being just that!

  14. It does seem that the “Adventure” branding is more about the look factor these days. Shiny new 1000cc+ bikes with nice shiny panniers and riders dressed in all the associated name branded gear are rife on the highways. Mainly the sealed ones. In 6 months of off road travel on our little Honda CT110 Australia post spec bikes, my wife and I have met a total of zero other riders doing the same gravel back roads and dirt tracks. We have travelled over 30 000 kms between Alaska and Los Angeles on these things. You don’t need bigger. You don’t need EFI. You need what you have. You don’t have to look a certain way, or wear a certain brand. Just be safe and be happy. If you’re too scared to drop your bike in case you either can’t pick it up or might scratch it, just maybe you have the wrong bike.

    If we can do it on these thrashed out little under powered things, and others have and still are doing it on similar machines, then you can do it on anything too,

    1. Author

      Not sure what you are driving at fella. Do you think it’s a good adventure machine? If so – tell us why!

      Julian – Ride Expeditions

  15. All I can say is CCM GP450 !!!!! Super lightweight 125kgs, 450cc BMW power plant, 8000klm service intervals, 400klm fuel range, highest of quality parts and now available Down Under !

    1. Author

      WE are hoping to get hold of one next week John, so we’ll let you know!

      Julian – Ride Expeditions

  16. Nice write up. As an owner of a DRZ I can attest to the lack of touring capabilities the bike has. It is neither a perfect off road machine nor a humble highway pilot. I was at a crossroads in August of this year and I retired my DRZ with 55,000km and purchased a new FJ09 instead. It suits the highway riding and sport bike mentality to a “t”, but it is not an adventure bike at all. With the resources of all the manufactures, we could have a capable bike with 65hp and under 375lbs. Someone fill the gap between the 690R(TOO EXPENSIVE) and the DRZ400(OLD, SLOW AND OUTDATED).

  17. A ktm 690 adventure is what is required. Had a 640 and that is in my mind what I would travel the world on. Or a 450 platform in a trellis frame. But hey if you ride an R1 around the world its an adventure bike. The internet makes us feel like there is more people who want this type of bike but market research says people want cruise control to commute to work on (which i also want).

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