You’d have to be living under a rock to not notice the boom in popularity of the Adventure bike market. Nearly every major manufacturer makes one – even Harley-Davidson!
In a way, the appeal makes sense. Humans have always had a fascination with exploration and discovery. Seeing what’s beyond your immediate borders is a thrill to many, and it wasn’t until modern day that the path beyond was paved in asphalt.
With so much of the world still made up of dirt and rocks, you need a machine capable of navigating it.
That’s where Adventure bikes come in. They’re perfectly fine humming along on paved roads obviously, but they really shine when the pavement ends and the dirt begins.
And when you want to take no prisoners, you go for the big-bore Adventure bikes. With big engines and big power, there’s no stopping these beasts once they get off-road.
Fortunately, the big displacement ADVs are as popular as ever, with new models entering the ranks and existing ones getting updated at a rapid pace. The result is a huge field of motorcycles, all aimed at taking you wherever you want to go.
Today, Lone Rider is going to take you through our pick of the top seven adventure motorcycles of 2023.
Now, picking only seven 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).
BMW R 1250 GS Adventure - starting at $20,345
This list may be alphabetical, but starting things off with the grand-daddy of the adventure category only seems right.
Many will argue the BMW GS created the adventure craze to begin with more than 30 years ago. Fortunately for us BMW hasn’t let up, and the Adventure version of the R 1250 GS is the one better suited for touring and getting dirty.
Powered by BMW’s tried-and-true boxer engine. Its 1254cc displacement is bold in itself, but its Shiftcam variable valve timing gives you power anywhere you want it.
Gas stops will be few and far between since it has a huge 7.9-gallon fuel tank, and of course, being a BMW, the GS Adventure is loaded with tech like ride modes, electronic suspension, ABS, traction control, and even a 6.5-inch TFT display that’s so clear, colorful, and bright, you could watch a movie from it.
Ducati Multistrada V4 Rally - starting at $29,995
Even Ducati, a brand most well known for its high-performance sportbikes, isn’t ignoring the adventure market.
In fact, Ducati is going all-in on the Adventure scene with the Multistrada V4 Rally, powered by the new V4 Granturismo engine.
We’ll get to the nuts and bolts of the Rally in a second, but if you’re familiar with Ducati, then you’ll know the company has made a name for itself by being different; no more so than its desmodromic valvetrain which uses a lobe on the camshaft for both the intake and exhaust valves.
Now Ducati is being different by being the same – it has veered away from decades worth of tradition by giving the Granturismo V4 engine traditional valves and valve springs!
The result is a 170 hp engine with valve service intervals pushed out to every 37,000 miles! Ducati’s traditional desmodromic valves could never go that long.
As for the rest of the bike, Ducati took the standard Multistrada platform and overhauled it for ADV duty. You have wire spoke wheels measuring 19 inches in front and 17 inches out back. Couple that with the Ducati Skyhook electronic suspension and you’ve got 7.9 inches of travel as well as auto-leveling. Keeping with the number 7.9, that’s also how many gallons of fuel the Rally holds, too. So you can go quite a while before needing to fill up again. It’s also equipped with rear-cylinder deactivation to help with mileage, emissions, and to reduce heat going to the cockpit.
Ducati is known for its electronics systems, and the package on the Multistrada Rally might be its most advanced yet. In addition to the usual rider aids like traction control, wheelie control, ABS, etc., the Rally also comes with front and rear Adaptive Cruise Control and Blind Spot Detection.
Dedicated riding modes aren’t new, but the Rally also gets a new Off-Road power mode that brings the 170 horses down to 115, just in case you need to better manage spinning up the back tire.
There’s so much more to know about the Ducati Multistrada V4 Rally, so it’s best to read the link above to learn up on it.
Harley-Davidson Pan America – starting at $17,699
You never thought you’d see a Harley-Davidson on an Adventure bike list, did you? The fact that it’s here should tell you all that you need to know about how hot the Adventure bike market is.
But not only did Harley build an Adventure bike, they built one to go toe-to-toe with all the heavy hitters in the category!
The Pan America 1250 represents a bold new direction for Harley-Davidson, but one thing that remains is the V-twin engine.
The all-new Revolution Max is a 1252cc V-twin, but this ain’t your grandpa’s V-twin Harley. This one is liquid-cooled with overhead cams, tuned to make 150 horsepower. It’s also a stressed member of the chassis, reducing weight.
Designed with Adventure touring in mind, the Pan America can easily cruise down the highway (it is a Harley, after all), but when the urge comes to veer off the paved path and head into the dirt it’s ready for that, too.
Long-travel, semi-active suspension, a 19/17-inch wheel set, and a full array of electronic goodies ensure you have a good time no matter what sort of terra is underneath you.
Honda Africa Twin – starting at $14,499
The Honda Africa Twin occupies a unique spot in the “big” ADV space.
While many of the other players have gone with the “bigger is better” mantra and stuffed huge engines into their frames, when Honda re-introduced the Africa Twin in 2016 it came with a “small” 1000cc parallel twin.
For 2020, Honda has beefed up the engine a tiny bit to 1084cc thanks to a longer stroke, but has also thoroughly revamped the bike. It’s now slimmer, lighter, and comes with a Bosch IMU.
Available in both the standard and Adventure Sports ES (for Electronic Suspension) varieties, you can also get the Africa Twin with either a traditional transmission or Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission, both gearboxes getting further updates as part of the 2020 refresh.
As far as adventure chops go, the AT gets 9.1 inches of suspension travel and the Adventure Sports gets electronic suspension, an adjustable windscreen, bigger fuel tank, heated grips, and tubeless tires, just to name a few differences.
There are six different ride modes, Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC), adjustable engine braking, wheelie control, cornering ABS, and the ability to connect the bike to your iOS or Android device to use Apple Carplay or Android Auto. Virtually everything is adjustable via the bright 6.5-inch touchscreen TFT display, too.
KTM 1290 Super Adventure R – starting at $20,299
If we’re talking about the big boys of the adventure category, then it doesn’t get any bigger than the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R.
The 1290 in its name actually sells itself short, since its V-Twin engine comes in at a monstrous 1301cc. KTM claims 160 hp and a crazy 103 lb-ft of torque!
It’s wrapped in KTM’s signature trellis frame, with long-travel 48mm, fully adjustable WP suspension. Further off-road chops include tubeless, wire-spoked wheels measuring 21 inches in the front and 18 inches in the back, Brembo brakes, and a 6.1-gallon fuel tank ensuring you won’t have to worry about gas very often.
You can control everything on the bike, like the cornering ABS, traction control, ride modes (including a dedicated off-road mode), and a whole lot more from the 6.5-inch TFT display which is bright and colorful even in direct sunlight.
There’s so much to cover with the 1290 Super Adventure R we couldn’t possibly fit it all into this tiny space. But we think you get the idea.
Suzuki V-Strom 1050DE Adventure – starting at $17,599
Going from arguably the most extreme bike on this list (the KTM) to the most underrated, Suzuki’s V-Strom 1050DE Adventure is a more dirt-focused spinoff of the big Strom that has quietly been flying under the radar for years with only minor updates along the way.
Nobody will mistake it for the class leaders like the BMW or KTM, but the ‘Strom has a loyal and robust following. We think this is because, as a whole, the V-Strom is a solid and capable motorcycle, even if no one individual component stands out above the rest. Its appeal lies in its simplicity.
Its 1037cc V-Twin can trace its roots back to the TL1000 sportbike. For those keeping track, that’s over 20 years ago. Even today, that engine remains a performer for its satisfying power and tractability.
That said, Suzuki’s latest version, the V-Strom 1050DE Adventure gets wire-spoked wheels measuring 21/17 (oddly, the front uses a tube tire while the back doesn’t) and its own chassis geometry for better performance off-road.
This amounts to a longer wheelbase, longer rake, more ground clearance, and a wide handlebar. It also gets design inspiration from Suzuki’s DR line, ride-by-wire, cruise control, traction control, new bi-directional quickshifter, Drive Modes, an Easy Start System, IMU (new for 2020), combined brake system, Hill Hold Control, Slope Dependent Control, 43mm KYB suspension, a 5-inch color TFT display, and so much more. So as you can see, even though the V-Strom is getting up there in years, it’s aging like a fine wine and adapting with the times.
Triumph Tiger 1200 – starting at $22,995
The Triumph Tiger 1200 range consists of a total of five models. We’re just going to focus on the Adventure-focused ones here—the Tiger 1200 Rally Pro and Tiger 1200 Rally Explorer.
Opt for the Tiger 1200 Rally Pro and the starting price jumps to $22,500. For that price you get Triumph’s entry into the big-boy Adventure market.
Both 1200 Rallys are powered by at 1160cc three-cylinder engine making 147 peak horsepower and 95 lb-ft of torque.
The engine is suited for loose conditions and provides linear, easy-to-use power. The wire-spoke wheels measure 21 inches in the front and 18 inches in the rear for great off-road traction and a wide array of available tire options. Showa provides the suspension components, with semi-active units both front and rear. Suspension travel is a generous 8.6 inches.
Compared to the previous Tiger 1200, the new model is significantly lighter with a low center of gravity, making it much easier to ride slowly and in off-road conditions.
It’s no surprise you’ll find an array of ride modes on the 1200s, but these two Rally models get a dedicated Off-Road Pro mode to let you wag each bike’s tail.
So, what’s the difference between the Rally Pro and Rally Explorer? The Explorer gets a 30-liter fuel tank versus 20 liters for the Rally Pro, the Explorer features blind spot warning using radar detection, a tire pressure monitoring system comes standard on the Explorer (it’s an option for the Rally Pro), as does heated rider and passenger seats.
Finally, the Explorer gets more robust protection that includes crash bars for the engine and fuel tank, in addition to the hand and sump guards the Rally Pro comes with.
We said it before and we’ll say it again: this 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 wild thing is that there are some models we couldn’t fit into this list, like the Yamaha Super Tenere, and even the Ducati Multistrada 1260 Enduro.
Of course, if you wanted to open Pandora’s box we could have also mentioned some mid-displacement models, too (actually, we’ve saved those for another article).
Nonetheless, we think you’ll agree the models above are all excellent examples of the performance and diversity the big-bore adventure market provides.