It’s time to get real for a minute: big adventure bikes can be intimidating.
They’re tall and heavy, and have powerful engines that can easily get out of control if you don’t know what you’re doing. Wouldn’t something a little smaller take a lot of the edge off our favorite activity?
We know what you’re thinking. “Smaller” means losing some of your ADV cred. Being “the one” who can wrestle the biggest bikes around through any terrain, anywhere on Earth will win you over with the throngs of adventure riders the world over.
It’s what you see in the brochures, in the videos, and all over social media. If you’re not on a big adventure bike, you feel like a part of your soul isn’t complete.
Well guess what. The actual number of riders taking their big KTM Adventures and BMW GSs to the far reaches of the Earth and through the toughest terrain – all with a smile on their faces – are incredibly small.
There’s nothing wrong with big bikes of course, but if you find them too big and too intimidating, then size down.
Riding is about having fun and sensible riders have been flocking to the middleweight category of adventure bikes lately and for good reason: they provide nearly as much fun as ADV bikes with bigger engines, but weigh less and are far easier to live with.
Not to mention, these middleweight bikes can often go to all the same reaches of the Earth as their big-engined brethren.
Plus, if you happen to drop a middleweight ADV, odds are you’ll stand a better chance of picking it up than one of the heavyweights.
The middleweight adventure bike market is one of the hottest categories in motorcycling today for all the reasons above, and it’s why many manufacturers are throwing their hats into the ring. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the top seven middleweight adventure motorcycles s you can buy today.
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 2023 in motorcycling.
It’s a stacked field – and we’re bound to leave a few candidates out – but in this guide we’ll highlight our picks for the top seven middleweight adventure bikes of 2023.
1. Aprilia Tuareg 660
So hot is the middleweight adventure bike market that Aprilia is entering the fold with its Tuareg 660. With a 660cc parallel-twin engine derived from the company’s RSV4 sportbike (with half the cylinders), the engine clearly has its roots in performance.
It’s also the same engine Aprilia uses in the RS660 and Tuono 660. Unlike those aforementioned models, the Tuareg uses a trellis frame instead of a beam frame.
Long-travel suspension to the tune of 9.4 inches helps the Tuareg clear obstacles, and the 21/18-inch wheel combo give the Aprilia lots of tire options to suit the kind of off-road/on-road riding you might find yourself doing.
Even though Aprilia may not have as vast a portfolio of off-road bikes as some other manufacturers on this list, the Italians made the bike comfortable while traveling the route less traveled. The bars are high (but not too high) and the tank is sculpted just right so the rider can stand and still feel comfortable hustling.
Aprilia’s Performance Ride Control (APR-C), which is used on practically every new Aprilia, is the company’s electronic aid suite. There are four ride modes and adjustable traction control, wheelie control, engine braking, and importantly, ABS. Some of these functions, however, are tied to the different ride modes. Still, these functions should help relieve some of the stress of getting through the dirt.
All in all, the Tuareg 660 has all the right components for a capable middleweight adventure bike, and its rally-esque styling sure looks the part, too.
2. KTM 890 Adventure R
KTM made its name in the off-road world, so it only makes sense the 890 Adventure R leans heavily toward dominating when the pavement turns to dirt.
Power comes from a 889cc parallel-twin, which replaces the engine from the 790 Adventure series. KTM says this engine is the “most compact performance engine on the market.” It might be right, too. Rated at 77kW (or roughly 103 hp), that’s a very impressive number for that size of engine.
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 890 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.
3. Husqvarna Norden 901 Expedition
Say you like the KTM 890 Adventure but you want a bit more touring amenities to go with it. Then the Husqvarna Norden 901 Expedition is for you.
Based on the same underpinnings as the KTM, like the frame and 890cc parallel-twin engine, the 901 Expedition goes a different direction with a taller windscreen, heated grips and seat, an aluminum bash plate, soft waterproof luggage, and WP EXPLOR suspension as standard – plus the obvious bodywork differences, too.
Those differences may not sound like much, but for the adventure-tourer who values both aspects of riding equally and doesn’t want to give one up for the other, the 901 Expedition is a fantastic alternative to its orange cousin. You already know its off-road chops are more than worthy, but having the touring features standard makes for a complete package.
4. Ducati DesertX
So hot is the middleweight adventure bike market that there’s not just one Italian manufacturer on this list, but two!
The Ducati DesertX is arguably the most dirt focused machine the company has produced since the Cagiva Elefant. Unlike the Multistrada Enduro models, which are basically sport-touring bikes modified to go off-road, the DesertX was designed and built with off-road riding in mind from the start.
You’ll find a steel trellis frame and long-travel suspension at both ends – the front offers 9.1 inches, the rear 8.7 inches. Total ground clearance is 9.8 inches. To go along with the generous clearance, wheels measure 21 inches in front and 18 inches at the back, just like the Aprilia listed at the top of this list. Again, this gives the rider plenty of tire options.
Power comes from a 937cc V-twin that Ducati uses in several other models. Some might think the engine size seems big for a middleweight, but its 110 horsepower should prove to be very manageable for the middleweight category. Other components include Brembo brakes and Ducati’s suite of electronic rider aids that take advantage of a six-axis IMU.
Rider aides include six different riding modes, including two dedicated off-road modes that allow you to have some fun without getting completely out of line. Other aides include traction control, engine brake control, wheelie control, and Cornering ABS that can modulate the braking force to prevent wheel lockup even when you’re leaned over (a godsend when you’re on the pavement).
And for 2023, the bike is available in new livery - the "RR22" shown above.
5. 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.
6. 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 650 (read - not the 800 DE version discussed below).
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.
7. Suzuki V-Strom 800 DE
Arguably the biggest news in the category for 2023 is the Suzuki V-Strom 800DE. Why? Because this is the first truly new model from Suzuki in… we don’t even know how long.
And Suzuki chose to target the ADV category with this return to form. An all-new model means there’s also an all-new engine.
The 776cc parallel-twin has the same cylinder layout as some of the other two-cylinder machines on this list, but for Suzuki loyalists, it also moves away from the v-twin engine arrangement that made the V-Strom so popular (don’t worry, the V-Strom 650 isn’t going away – at least not yet).
Handling the off-road duties are Showa suspension with 8.7 inches of travel, a steel frame with a bolt-on subframe, and a 21-inch front/17-inch rear wheel setup with tubed tires.
Unlike the 650 V-Strom, and even the 1050, the new 800 leaps ahead with a superior electronics package that includes three different Ride Modes, five levels of traction control (including an off-road-centric Gravel mode as well as Off), a five-inch TFT display, and much more.
Time will tell if it’s truly enough to compete with the other bikes on this list, but for now its existence alone is enough to include it here.
As you can see, the middleweight adventure motorcycle market is not short for choices, as all 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 seven 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.