What is an Adventure Motorcycle

The phrase adventure motorcycle or adventure touring motorcycle is unfamiliar to anyone outside of motorcycling. In fact, I’d wager that some riders aren’t exactly sure what an adventure motorcycle is or for what tasks it would be used. BMW likes to claim ownership of the adventure motorcycle category development.


BMW has really helped encourage the growth of the adventure touring motorcycle market. This is an old ad of the BMW R80G/S.

The BMW R80G/S began production in 1980, however, many of today’s adventure motorcycles could claim ancestry to bikes from the 1970’s such as the Honda CL450 Scrambler or perhaps the Triumph Bonneville. These bikes were certainly more street oriented than today’s adventure bikes, but many riders used and abused them in off-road adventures. In fact, look back in Harley Davidson’s photography archive and you’ll find many street bikes that took to hill climbs and water crossings more than 80 years ago. Other bikes such as the Honda Trans Alp, Honda Africa Twin and Yamaha TDM850 are well-respected bikes from the late 1980’s to 2000s.

So what exactly is an adventure motorcycle? This is a personal classification and won’t likely be found by opening a dictionary or encyclopedia. An adventure motorcycle is a motorcycle of varied engine displacement that is often used on long rides along paved and unpaved roads. These bikes are capable of carrying one or two passengers and their gear on overnight or multiple day trips miles from civilization. They have longer suspension of six or more inches, to absorb the imperfections of dirt roads, double track trails and perhaps single track trails. They often have increased fuel capacity of five to nine gallons. Typically, adventure bikes will also be fitted with side bags (panniers) and a top case behind the seat of the bike to carry the gear needed for motorcycle trips.

Ducati Multistrada 1200

The Ducati Multistrada 1200 is adventure with a very sporty twist.

Adventure motorcycles can be grouped into the overarching category of dual sport or enduro motorcycles. I am of the opinion that most dual sports are powered using 650 cc or smaller single-cylinder engines, while adventure bikes are typically 650 cc or larger and most often twin cylinder bikes. This is a general rule of thumb and some bikes certainly blend those engine characteristics.

Adventure bikes are utilitarian bikes capable of covering great distances on less than perfect roads. They often have or can be outfitted with hard metal parts to protect the bike from rocks and other objects that could damage the bottom or sides of the bike. These parts include skid plates (also known as rock guards, bash guard/plate or belly pans) for the bottom of the bike, engine guards for side and front of bike and hand guards to protect the riders hands and the clutch and brake levers.

A sampling of current-model adventure touring bikes:

  • BMW F650 GS (detuned 800 cc engine)
  • BMW F800 GS
  • BMW GS 1200
  • Ducati Multistrada 1200 Touring
  • Honda Veradero (not available in USA)
  • Kawasaki KLR 650
  • KTM 990 Adventure
  • KTM 690 Enduro
  • Suzuki DL 650 V-Strom
  • Suzuki DL 1000 V-Strom
  • Suzuki DR 650
  • Triumph Tiger 800 XC
  • Yamaha XT 1200 Super Ténéré (available November, 2011 in USA)
Yamaha XT 1200 Super Ténéré

The Yamaha XT 1200 Super Ténéré is the latest entrant into the USA market. It is due to arrive in November 2011.

An entire accessory industry has sprouted from the slow to start, but now burgeoning adventure motorcycle segment. Accessories include windshields, guards, luggage and GPS devices. A sampling of accessory manufacturers include: Adventure MotoStuff, AltRider, Happy Trail, Jesse Luggage, Micatech, SW-Motech, Touratech and more.

Adventure motorcycles offer riders the opportunity to explore their surroundings, whether across town, country or globe. They are long-distance touring machines capable of burning of pavement or shooting rooster tails on backcountry dirt roads. They are do-all bikes that allow riders the flexibility to accessorize and make the bike what they want. The Americans may have perfected the cruiser-style bikes, but the Germans, Japanese and British own the expanding adventure motorcycle market.

Interested in learning more about adventure riding? Get to know the inmates on the online forums of ADVrider.com (general adventure bike information) and Stromtrooper.com (specific to Suzuki V-Strom) and the bible of adventure touring at Horizons Unlimited. Each holds a wealth of knowledge and experienced riders to answer your questions. The comments section (see link below) is also a good way to learn more.

The adventure begins where the pavement ends. What are you waiting for? Hit the dirt/paved road on an adventure motorcycle.

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7 comments on “What is an Adventure Motorcycle
  1. I am new to the adventure motorcycle. I recently switched from a big-ass 1300cc cruiser to an F650GS. I’ve got a long way to go before I start adventuring. I know this because yesterday, as I was riding on an older blacktop road through a populated area in PA, I thought to myself, “This is a nice road but it’s sort of bumpy.” I immediately realized my error and told myself, “if you’re riding a GS, you aren’t allowed to complain about bumpy asphalt roads!”

  2. Ha! Time to traverse the bumps of a dirt road. The lessened traction makes for fun. I’ll check out your blog and see how the big-ass switch over goes!

  3. D. James Ryan says:

    Sean, you’ve failed to include my adventure bike, the current and venerable Moto Guzzi Stelvio 1200 4V. Released in 2008, the Stelvio is an extremely capable adventure bike. Nice article despite the omission.

  4. Of course, the Stelvio is a fantastic bike. There are other adventure bikes not listed. Hence, the list be a “sampling” and not the end all list. I’m glad that you liked the article.

  5. Harry says:

    Sean, this is still a really good summary of the adventure motorycling bikes. I’m interested in what you think will be next? I think we’d all like to see dedicated smaller and neater machines that can manage long distance without being too imposing on road or heavy off road! Here’s a study of good lightweight options for your reference; http://www.themotojourney.com/category/adventure-motorcycle-lightweight-590-690cc

  6. Thanks for reading the article, Harry. Yes, I also like your article about the middleweight bikes. I have found over time that there is no single bike that does what I want. So I have gone with a lightweight bike (DR350) and heavyweight bike (V-Strom). Your blog is quite nice. I couldn’t find a place to leave a comment. Keep on biking on.

  7. Hmm, what’s next you ask? Well, the American market will continue to push bikes to be even larger, heavier and with more electronic goodies to limit power when traction isn’t available to hold it. These large bikes are for those who, as mentioned in your article, rarely venture off-road. The image is more of what they are after. This is not by all means all-encompassing as there are some people who can do amazing things on big touring bikes.

    I think that you’re right. There will also be a diverging market from the big bikes with small, capable machines such as the CCM 450 Adventure. Strip these bikes of their luggage and they are very capable in the dirt. Add luggage and they will go down pavement, comfortabley, all day long. I am excited to see these bikes arrive in the USA.

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