Adventure motorcycles have seen a resurgence lately, with the popularity of riding on and off-road rising exponentially. The manufacturers have obviously seen this trend, too, with nearly all the players releasing ADVs with big horsepower, big displacement, and big capabilities.
As impressive as those machines were, that left many people alienated. Many folks simply don’t want a motorcycle that big, especially off-road. Enter the middleweight adventure bike market.
Equipped with (slightly) smaller engines, lighter weights, and just as much capability, the middleweights are a much more inviting package and have become the hot topic of 2020 in motorcycling (apart from the coronavirus, of course).
It’s a stacked field, but in this guide, we’ll highlight our picks for the top 5 middleweight adventure bikes of 2020.
BMW F850GS Adventure
When you think of the GS from BMW, you naturally think of the big boxer-twins, now reaching as high as the R 1250 GS, but middleweight ADV fans should pay attention to the F 850 GS Adventure.
It’s still a twin-cylinder, but the two cylinders are parallel and not in a boxer formation. It’s also smaller, at 853cc, which BMW says puts out 90 hp and 63 lb-ft of torque.
Wire-spoke wheels, long-travel suspension (with optional ESA electronic adjustability), standard engine protection, and design cues directly from the 1250GS, make its adventure intentions clear. Some would even argue that, because of its lightweight and maneuverability compared to the 1250, it’s even more capable off-road for a wider variety of riders.
No matter which side of the argument you stand on, we can all agree the F850GS Adventure straddles the line between on-road and off-road performance remarkably well. Its laundry list of optional features like heated grips, cruise control, and luggage make it a nice touring bike and is cemented by the fact it carries a huge 6.1-gallon fuel tank, minimizing your need to search for gas stations.
If there is a downside to the F850GS Adventure, it’s that the list of options can add up quickly, making its value proposition seem less and less so. However, there’s no denying its sheer size – or lack of – make it more inviting than the 1250.
KTM 790 Adventure R
KTM made its name in the off-road world, so it only makes sense the 790 Adventure R leans heavily toward dominating when the pavement turns to dirt. In contrast to the BMW above, the KTM begs to be ridden hard – and when it is, the reward is immensely gratifying.
Power comes from a 799cc parallel-twin, which KTM touts as the “most compact performance engine on the market.” It might be right, too. Rated at 70kW (or roughly 94 hp), that’s a very impressive number for such minimal displacement.
Obviously, adventure riders know power is only one small part of the puzzle. The frame that harnesses it must also be up to the task, and the 790 Adventure R’s orange steel trellis frame most certainly is. Developed to be light yet strong, and able to tackle both touring and off-road duty, it incorporates the engine as a stressed member. The swingarm, too, has been optimized for strength and flex so the rider knows what’s going on underneath them.
WP long-travel suspension at both ends takes up all the unrelenting jolts off-road riding brings, which makes for a slightly sporty on-road ride, though with a company mantra of “Ready to Race” that shouldn’t be much of a surprise. A 21-inch front, 18-inch rear wheel combo give you a ton of tire options depending on how aggressive you want to be. While a bit unconventional, the unique low-slung 5.3-gallon fuel tank may look a little odd, but it keeps the weight low for good handling while also keeping the traditional “tank” area narrow for rider comfort. It’s a clever design that works really well.
All this and we haven’t even begun to talk about the KTM’s electronics. There are many. Numerous rider modes, including a dedicated Off-Road mode, traction control, Cornering-ABS, Off-Road ABS, Rally mode, and even Bluetooth connectivity to your phone with KTM’s MY RIDE function.
If you’re looking for the best of the best in the middleweight adventure bike category, you can stop your search right here.
Suzuki V-Strom 650XT Adventure
The Suzuki V-Strom 650 deserves credit on this list just for its sheer staying power. Even since its inception in the early 2000s it was never the highest rated motorcycle on any list, but fans keep coming back – and Suzuki keeps making them – because, as a sum of its parts, it’s simply a nice bike to ride.
Geared more toward the touring aspect of adventure-touring, the V-Strom 650 is powered by a 645cc V-Twin which can trace its roots to the 1999 SV650. It’s been updated since then to include fuel injection, two spark plugs per cylinder, and a few other minor updates, but it’s basically the same simple motorcycle it’s always been. That’s the appeal.
With the V-Strom 650XT Adventure you get the look of Suzuki’s iconic DR-BIG rally bike, adventure-ready tubeless-spoke wheels measuring 19 inches in the front, 17 inches in the rear, plus a set of Suzuki’s aluminum panniers, a rugged accessory bar, a handlebar cross-brace, and mirror extensions.
Three-level traction control (plus off), makes it passable once you take it off-road, but the reality is the V-Strom is skewed more towards on-road than off. If that describes you, and you want a simple adventure bike with tons of aftermarket support, the V-Strom 650XT Adventure deserves consideration.
Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro
If the all-around nature of the Suzuki appeals to you, but you want something with a little more performance, enter the Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro. Sitting at the top of Triumph’s Tiger 900 ladder, the Rally Pro shares the 888cc three-cylinder like the rest of the line. Triumph says it makes 94 hp and 64 lb-ft of torque. But what you can’t list on a spec chart is how cool the engine sounds and how inspiring its quick-revving nature is.
Otherwise, things you can expect from the Rally Pro are IMU-dependent traction control and cornering ABS, six ride modes, a quickshifter, and a 7-inch TFT display with Bluetooth connectivity.
Adventure-related goods include Showa suspension front and rear. The 45mm inverted cartridge fork is adjustable and provides 9.4 inches of travel. In the rear, the RSU gas-pressurized shock is also adjustable, with travel set at 9.05 inches. Spoked, tubeless wheels make tire swaps and tire repairs easier – and speaking of tires, Pirelli’s Scorpion Rally tires have a clear off-road bias, suiting the Rally Pro’s dirt intentions.
Yamaha Tenere 700
Very few motorcycles have been through the hype machine as much as Yamaha’s Tenere 700. Yamaha’s been teasing this bike for years, and though very few people have ridden it (outside of journalists), we’re including it here because the hype around it is so strong.
There’s a good reason for the hype. Yamaha’s 689cc parallel-twin, first seen in the FZ/MT-07 is a fun engine, offering lots of fun, usable power. Its playful nature makes it well suited for a middleweight adventure bike, but it seems as though Yamaha hasn’t gone the route of street-biased Suzuki V-Strom. Instead, the Tenere 700 leans hard towards being a dirt-focused adventure bike with minimal street accouterments.
The narrow body, slim tank, and flat seat were designed to make it easy to grip the bike with your knees while standing, while the 21-inch/18-inch front/rear wire-spoke wheel combo gives you plenty of options for aggressive tires. A 43mm inverted fork is fully adjustable and offers 8.3 inches of travel. The shock only gets preload adjusting and 7.9 inches of travel, but that should be plenty to have a lot of fun.
Other than switchable ABS, the Tenere represents off-road adventure riding in 2020 in a form that’s about as analog as you can get these days. It’s starting price of $9,999 is the lowest in this field, too. With that in mind, the idea of pure adventure motorcycling, a middleweight engine displacement, minimal electronic rider aids, Yamaha durability, and the least expensive price is awfully appealing.
As you can see, the middleweight adventure motorcycle market is not short for choices, as all five of these models bring something exciting to the table. Whether you want the thinly-disguised dirtbike that is the KTM, or prefer the more road-oriented Suzuki, all five bikes here are well equipped to handle on-road and off-road duties. So plan that long trip you’ve been dying to tackle. There’s no better time than now to give it a shot.