Adventure and off-road motorcycling are two of the hottest markets in the industry today, and the fact that you’re here reading this shows you have some interest in getting involved.
Good for you! The thing is, getting started can be an intimidating process. Don’t worry, we’re here to help. First thing’s first, the motorcycle.
Adventure motorcycles come in all shapes and sizes, but if you’re just starting out then we highly recommend something with a smaller engine size. These bikes are light, maneuverable, inexpensive, and easy to own. Their limited power may not grab headlines, but is more than enough to get you on your way to adventure riding.
On the other hand, there are plenty of experienced riders on bigger bikes who are looking to step down to something smaller and lighter, or maybe grab a second bike to play around with. These are excellent choices as well, that won’t leave you bored.
Today, Lone Rider is going to take you through our pick of the top five lightweight adventure motorcycles of 2020. Now, picking only five bikes means we’ve left some models off the list, but we think you’ll agree all of these deserve to be included.
They are here in alphabetical order, but don’t mistake this for a review of each bike. Rather, consider this a quick guide to get you up to speed on what each model offers (or doesn’t).
1. BMW G 310 GS - starting at $5,795
No discussion about adventure riding is complete without including a BMW GS. Except this time we’re talking about the G 310 GS, or the Baby GS as some people call it. We’ve all gotta start somewhere, and if graduating to the R 1250 GS is your goal someday, learning the ropes on the G 310 GS is a great idea.
Its unmistakable GS styling looks the part, with its upright and commanding riding position. There’s also the front beak, 19-inch front wheel, and aggressive, adventure stance. Powering it all is a 313cc single-cylinder engine with liquid-cooling, four valves, dual overhead camshafts, and finger followers. This likely means nothing to new riders, but those with experience will understand these are impressive specs for a budget-minded motorcycle. BMW says it gets 71 mpg.
Other nice bits include the gold-anodized fork, the windscreen in front to deflect air away from your chest, Metzeler Tourance tires for great on-road or off-road grip, ABS braking, and optional seat choices to suit riders of all shapes and sizes.
2. Honda CRF250L/CRF250L Rally – starting at $5,199
The Honda CRF250L and CRF250L Rally edition lean heavily towards the off-road spectrum of adventure riding while still being street legal, so if you’re thinking you’ll be spending most of your time off-road but still need a little bit of streetability, this one is worth a look.
Both bikes feature long-travel suspension (a must for soaking up bumps, either on-road or off) and an upright seating position to give you a commanding view ahead. Opt for the Rally edition and you get a tall windscreen, a bigger fairing for better protection from the wind and elements, and more aggressive rally-inspired styling.
Powering both bikes is a 250cc, liquid-cooled single-cylinder engine with electronic fuel injection, so all you have to do to start it is push a button. The simple engine delivers a broad spread of torque, gets great gas mileage, and is the perfect place for a newer rider to learn throttle control.
Whether you plan on staying mostly off-road, on-road, or somewhere in between, a 21-inch front wheel and 18-inch rear gives you a wide selection of tires to choose from. The inverted fork and Honda’s Pro-Link rear suspension promise great handling, and the disc brakes at both ends make sure you get slowed down with plenty of power. ABS is also available for a little added safety on the road.
3. Kawasaki Versys-X 300 - starting at $5,899
In stark contrast to the Honda CRF250L, if your idea of adventure riding is predominantly on paved roads, then the Kawasaki Versys-X 300 is worth a look.
The name Versys itself is a clue as to the whole idea of the lineup. Versatile System is what the name stands for, and in the Versys-X 300 you have a 296cc twin-cylinder engine – the only bike on this list with more than one cylinder.
Surrounding that engine is adventure-inspired styling with a low seat height, long-travel suspension, wire-spoke wheels, a tall windscreen to deflect air, and even a platform at the back you can use to attach things to (like a milk crate!).
The 19-inch front wheel and 17-inch rear means you’re slightly limited on off-road worthy tires, but again, if the pavement is where you think you’ll be spending most of your time then this won’t matter too much. ABS comes standard and is a must-have safety feature for road riding.
4. KTM 390 Adventure – starting at $6,199
Aside from BMW, the other big name in the adventure market is KTM. With the 390 Adventure, this is the most extreme adventure bike on this list, perfectly suited for both newer, inexperienced riders and veterans looking to size down.
If you don’t know, KTM’s company mantra is “Ready to Race” and it’s that aggressive, competitive spirit that permeates into its motorcycles, including the 390 Adventure. Powered by the 373cc single-cylinder that’s also found in the 390 Duke, it produces a healthy amount of power and torque, and is definitely the raciest engine on this list.
KTM’s signature trellis frame is used here, tuned to provide great handling and stability both off-road and on. Tapered aluminum handlebars help provide an upright and commanding seating position, and the toggles on the left bar navigate all the different functions the bike is capable of via the impressive TFT screen.
Speaking of electronics, the KTM’s rider aids are the most robust on this list. Featuring traction control, offroad ABS, and cornering ABS. KTM’s My Ride feature also lets you “talk” to your phone via an app on your phone.
5. CSC RX4 Adventure – starting at $4,995
While you may not have heard the name CSC before, the motorcycles are built by Zongshen in China, one of the largest motorcycle manufacturers in the world, producing over one million bikes a year. As far as the CSC RX4 is concerned it’s also the least expensive motorcycle on this list.
Right away you can see its adventure styling, including a tall windscreen, flared shoulders, and the unmistakable beak in the front. Wire-spoke wheels and luggage including side cases and a top box are all standard, making it a remarkable value for the money.
Powering it all is a 450cc single-cylinder engine with fuel injection, four valves, overhead camshaft, liquid-cooling, and a counter-balancer.
It’s mated to a six-speed transmission, with a 5.3-gallon fuel tank meaning you can travel quite a bit off the beaten path before worrying about topping off again. LED lights and 12-volt USB charging outlets are impressive for the price, as is the 300-watt alternator included to power everything.
Both the front and rear suspension have adjustability, while the three brake discs (two up front, one behind) also feature ABS for added safety. The wheels themselves are a 19-inch/17-inch combo, making it not ideal for the serious off-roader, but definitely manageable.
The RX4 does weigh quite a bit for a beginner bike – 450 lbs. – which could prove hefty if you find yourself in an awkward position. Nonetheless, the RX4 comes with a two-year, unlimited-mile warranty to help soothe any fears you may have.
We said it before and we’ll say it again: 2020 is an amazing time to be an adventure rider. With so many choices to pick from, there’s sure to be something that’s your flavor.
The small-displacement category is always a hot one no matter which style of motorcycle you ride, and we’re glad these manufacturers have taken it seriously with these five offerings.