Comparing Adventure Motorcycles

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Comparing Adventure Motorcycles

There is such a thing as the wrong bike for the right person, or maybe it’s the wrong person for the right bike? Either way, not all motorcycles are created equal, and not all riders are equipped physically or mentally to handle all motorcycle types. We’ve compared top adventure motorcycles to help you make the best choice for your next adventure motorcycle trip.

 

Adventure Motorbikes

The fastest growing segment of motorcycles in the world. ADV or adventure motorbikes can cover anything from the globally accessible Honda CRF250 to their bigger Honda CB500X model & Africa Twin, through to the thumper 650s like a Suzuki DR650/KLR650 & V-Strom, right up into glamorous BMW 1200GS bikes like those ridden by Charlie and Ewan in the Long Way Round motorcycle series.

ADV motorcycles can usually be ridden on sealed roads as well as handle minor off-roading, or with an experienced rider, be taken into some serious off-road riding. The right rider could take the heavy BWM1250 down the same muddy tracks and river crossings as the CRF250 rider could. The wrong rider could find themselves pinned under a heavy bike wondering what went wrong.

Things to consider when choosing and ADV bike will be; height, weight, experience, roads, range/fuel capacity, speed, price, and look/ego. These all play a factor when selecting the right motorcycle for your needs.

The adventure rider will want to be confident they can pick up an ADV bike when they drop it in the dirt. That the design fits their weight, height and how much luggage they plan to carry. That the motorcycles driving range will be sufficient to make it from one fuel station to another.

Then, most importantly, can your ego handle an ugly or tiny bike that will take you safely into the unknown. Or, do you require the right look to appear better than others or to fit in with the crowd you are riding with? Unfortunately for most, the ego will win out over every practical reason offered up. Just look at the BMW & KLIM marketing.

 

The Honda CRF250L is one the most bulletproof motorcycles you’ll find on the road. In Asia, it’s certainly at the top of the list. 

Honda CRF Series

The CRF or Competition Race Four (Four Stroke) series are Hondas full-sized motocross bikes. These bikes are available across the globe in both off-road and street legal from the factory, depending on your desired style. Each motorcycle uses a  liquid cooled 4-stroke engine and is divided up into the R, X, RX, M, L models. An excellent choice for a Vietnam road trip and most widely used for adventure riding is the L model, due to its boom-proof reliability.

    Honda CRF250L Stats:

  • Electric Start
  • Full Lighting
  • Fuel Injected 249.6cc Single Cylinder Engine
  • 24 horsepower
  • 130kmph maximum
  • 270mm ground clearance
  • Seat Height 875mm
  • Weight 146kgs
  • 7.7L fuel tank
  • 250km range in optimum driving conditions

 

This efficient bike can handle just about anything you can throw at it, including luggage or a passenger. If you underestimate the power of a CRF250L, check out Steph Jeavons. She rode this mighty Honda to every continent on the planet.  

 

Adventure bike Honda CB 500x

As an introductory mid-sized ADV bike, the Honda CB500X checks all the boxes. Fun, durable and can handle all the luggage you can throw at it.

Honda CB500X

A motorcycle aimed at converting new riders into the world of adventure motorcycling. The design, price, performance and look all add up to easy decision making when you want to dip your toe into the adventure motorcycle world rather than jumping in with two feet. The Honda CB500X offers up just enough on and off-road performance to keep newbies in either group happy. A great first purchase or motorcycle rental.

    Honda CB500X Stats:

  • Fuel injected 471cc V-Twin engine
  • 49.6hp
  • 185kmph maximum
  • 170mm ground clearance
  • Seat height 810mm
  • Weight 196kg
  • 17.5L fuel tank
  • 510km range in optimum driving conditions

 

The Honda CB500X is a visually appealing machine, good enough to handle minor off-road conditions and nearly any on road conditions. If you are looking to ride two up, carry a lot of luggage, or test out the world of adventure riding this is your bike. Notice that the weight is high and ground clearance low compared to other bikes listed here. Serious off-road riders should consider a bike better suited to serious off-road riding.

 

Suzuki DR650

Image: Suzuki Motorsports   –      Light, easy to handle and easy to fix. The Suzuki DR650 has had only minor changes since it hit the roads back in 1990.

Dual Sport Thumpers

Popular across North America and small parts of Europe and South Africa. These single cylinder engines are known for their simplicity and the recognizable “thump, thump, thump” sound they make while running. Popular carbureted models for touring the planet include the smaller DRZ400, larger DR650 and KLR650, as well as a variety of other fuel injected models. The two models here are known for being cheap, reliable, and can usually be fixed by any back alley mechanic who knows big bikes. Their downfall can often be weight as heavy steel frames are used over aluminum parts to keep costs low.

   DRZ400

The DRZ400 making a performance exit onto the dirt adventure roads of Vietnam

Suzuki DR650 Stats:

  • Carbureted 649cc Single Cylinder Engine
  • 46hp
  • 209Kmph maximum
  • 265mm ground clearance
  • Seat height 885mm
  • Weight 166kg
  • 13L fuel tank
  • 270km range in optimum driving conditions

 

KLR 650

The KLR 650 decked out in adventure clothing. A motorcycle that will happily take you anywhere, from down the highway to up this volcano.

KLR 650

 

In its 32 years of production, the KLR 650 has only seen one major overhaul. From 1987 to 2008 the bike remained the same then saw a new faring, brakes, minor suspension upgrades, and an aesthetics upgrade in 2009.

The overall motorcycle is known for extreme reliability and easy troubleshooting due to its simple design. Not a motorcycle known for its beauty, but it will comfortably take riders virtually anywhere without many complaints. I personally rode a 2009 model from Canada to Argentina and can vouch for their reliability. Known as the poor man’s dual sport, the KLR 650 is an inexpensive way to enter the world of adventure motorcycles.

Fun Fact: The US Marines had an exclusive line of KLR650 called the M103M1, designed with diesel engines that can burn military grade diesel. Now there’s a bike that can take you anywhere.

  •  Carbureted 651cc single cylinder engine
  •  37 HP
  •  150kmph max speed
  •  211mm ground clearance
  •  Seat Height 889 mm
  •  Weight 196kg
  •  13L fuel tank
  •  375 km fuel range in optimum conditions
  •  Specs are for the last years model

 

V-Strom

Image: suzukicycles.com  – Take a good long look at this V-Strom, it’s not often you can find them this clean. Savor the moment.

Suzuki V-Strom 650


As loyal a flowing as any motorcycle manufacturer could hope for, the Suzuki V-Strom, V for the V-twin engine and strom meaning stream in German, is produced in both a 1000cc and 650cc. Whether it’s price or preference, the 650 model sells double that of the 1000 model.


With the rider sitting upright on this powerful V-twin motorcycle, its design and a wide variety of uses have landed the bike in the dual sport, sport touring, adventure bike, and off-road categories. This diversified look and capability have likely lead to its sales success. Easy to ride and, competitively priced, makes this a great beginners bike that can even keep seasoned riders happy.

  •  645cc V-twin engine
  •  66 HP
  •  200 kmph max speed
  •  165mm ground clearance
  •  Seat Height 835mm
  •  Weight 220kgs
  •  22L fuel tank
  •  500km fuel range in optimum conditions

 

Honda Africa Twin 750

Honda Africa Twin

A motorcycle as coveted as the Dakar Rally it was known for being designed after, the Honda Africa Twin holds a special place in the hearts of riders the world over. The Africa Twin first saw production in 1988-89 as a 650cc model, then from 1989-2003 as a 750cc edition. Where production then ceased until 2015 when Honda released the 1000cc version of the Twin.

The Africa Twin is as much a collectors motorcycle as it is an overland machine that can take you fearlessly across desserts and into the lesser-known corners of the world. If you can find a quality used Twin you might be surprised to learn the value isn’t far off the original selling point. The latest 1000cc version might not fall into the category for beginner riders but is undoubtedly a motorcycle to aspire too after a couple of seasons in the saddle.

  • *750cc Specs 1996+
  • 742cc V-twin
  • 62 HP
  • 181kmph max speed
  • 195mm ground clearance
  • Seat Height 860mm
  • Weight 205kgs
  • 23L fuel tank
  • 377 km fuel range in optimum conditions

 

  These style of adventure motorcycles are suitable for beginner riders. They are easy to modify, easy to fix, and can be purchased at a very reasonable price compared to most motorcycles in this class. This particular bike isn’t very visually appealing nor is it the best choice for a Saigon Adventure.  For other parts of the world I would choose its reliability over its rough looks though.

 

BMW1200GS

Image: BMW Motorcycles   –    The big boys of the backcountry. If you plan to ride a BMW1250GS off-road, you best know what you’re doing!

Large Displacement Adventure Bikes

        The next category in ADV motorcycles are the large displacement or anything over 1000cc. Bikes like the new Honda Africa Twin 1000cc, KTM 1290 Super Adventure R, and BMW 1200GS. These bikes are typically reliable, heavy, modern, and very expensive. With as much focus on sex appeal as technology, the big displacement bikes are usually acquired by people who either want “the look” and never get the bike dirty. Or by those who enjoy the best of the best and have no issues with the price. If anything the drawback to these bikes is you often need a specialized mechanic to work on them.

    BMW 1200GS Adventure Stats:

  • Fuel Injected 1170cc Engine
  • 125hp
  • 210kmph maximum
  • 185mm ground clearance
  • Seat Height 840mm
  • Weight 220kgs
  • 26.5L fuel tank
  • 590km range in optimum driving conditions

 

This style of adventure motorcycle is typically used by experienced riders who know what they want in a motorcycle. They can often be modified with every adventure motorcycle accessory under the sun to improve anything from comfort to performance. If you plan to use these bikes for off-road riding, you better know what you are doing or be able to afford to fix them.

 

Honda XR150 Thumbs Up

The Honda XR150 is a great example of a trail style motorcycle. Light, sturdy, and great for exploring the roads less traveled

Trail Bikes

Highly capable motorcycles that can handle nearly as much off road as they can on the road. These bikes typically fall somewhere in the 100cc-450cc category and are tuned to offer a smooth and comfortable ride as well as enough engine power to take a single passenger nearly anywhere off-road. Depending on the design, they can carry two passengers comfortably around roadways and light off-roading. Some, but not all, may be equipped with lighting, mirrors, electric starts, seating for two and come with 2 or 4-stroke engines.

    Popular trail bikes include the Honda XR/CRF 150cc, a 4-stroke motorcycle popular in Asia, equipped with electric & kick start, seating for two, and are fully road legal. The Yamaha WR250F, a 4-stroke motorcycle, street legal, with seating for one. Then, on the high end, there is also the Husqvarna TE300i, a two-stroke motorcycle found mainly in Europe and North America, it’s not street legal and is designed for only one rider.

“Side by side a trail bike and motocross bike look similar. Once you ride them, you’ll notice they are designed for two very different styles of riding.”

 

GasGas 300cc

Image: GasGas.com   The GasGas special addition 300cc model. The Enduro style motorcycle can be ridden hard and ridden far. Expect to lose yourself in upgrades on these bikes.

Enduro Motorcycles

A category of motorcycle that’s usually customized to fit their respective class with elements like; bigger fuel tanks, larger or more powerful engines,  as well as stronger frames and parts. Many Enduros are customized with quieter exhaust and lighting to be ridden on road. These bikes range from 2-stroke 125cc up to 4-stroke 650cc motorcycles, with the most recognizable style being the 450cc style Rally Enduros ridden in the Dakar Rally.

    Honda makes the CRF450L, a street legal enduro bike. The lesser-known GasGas company makes its GasGas ER 200cc, 250cc, and 300cc 2-stroke, off-road models. Then on the extreme end of the scale, the KTM 450 that Toby Price won the 2019 Dakar Rally on. The line between dual sport and enduro can be very thin. Typically the rider of an “enduro” will have spent a lot of money on sites like Revzilla for upgrades. If you’re looking for the epitome of Enduro riders, check out “The Best Enduro Rider In The World”, Graham Jarvis. He basically can’t stop killing it!

 

Gorilla Thinking GIF

 

Shopping For An Adventure Motorbike – What To Consider

    Before ponying up the cash to buy your first ADV motorcycle or setting off on an overseas adventure to explore the world with a motorcycle rental. There are some serious considerations you should make that could ultimately benefit the outcome of your adventure.

 

    What will I be using the bike for? It sounds like a silly question, you’ll be using an adventure motorcycle for adventure naturally. While depending on if that adventure is going to keep you mainly on the road or off could narrow down your choices very fast.

    If you like to explore trails and seek out lesser traveled parts of the world like some of the waterfall routes in Vietnam than you’ll want a light, easy to ride a motorcycle like the Honda CRF250L. For those looking to keep to mainly sealed roads and carry a lot of luggage, your options can include a larger bike like the Honda CB500X.

 

    Is the motorcycle the right size for me? Shorter and lighter people require a motorcycle with lower seat height and less weight. Much like the heavier/taller folks require the opposite. Motorcycles can be modified to suit your needs, but this can sometimes require aftermarket parts and can change the dynamics of the bike. The easiest way is to look for something suited more for your size. Use this handy inseam calculator if you really want to get close.

 

    Can I afford it? The whole world can be financed so people don’t often consider if they can actually afford it or not. Anyone just getting started might consider buying a less expensive bike while they decide if this sport is truly for them. If you’re going on a lengthy overseas adventure, it’s usually cheaper to rent for the month than by the day. Compare the rates on this Himalayan 400, and you’ll see what I mean.

 

    Can I pick it up? Adventure motorcycle riders will drop a motorcycle at some point. If that bike weighs 220kgs plus 30kgs of luggage, are you going to be able to pick it up out of the mud?

 

    Is it reliable for my needs? You’ll need to understand the motorcycle you are getting on top of. For example, the Honda CRF250 looks the same at first glance. Those letters that follow, change the bike entirely.

  • CRF 250L – Reliable for long distance. Can drive forever with no maintenance.
  • CRF 250R – Motocross version. The engine is optimized for power and thus needs rebuilding every 2 races. Basically, it’s a bomb on 2 wheels. Outputting double the horsepower of the 250L. Despite the “CC” being the same.
  • CRF 250X – Falls in the middle.
  • CRF 250M – A beefier version of the L model with upgraded suspension and bigger tires. Designed with a slightly greater focus for the road.

 

You’ll want to do your research if it’s an old clunky bike and you don’t know how to fix it, move on. If you’re renting from a company overseas, you best check their reviews. A reputable motorcycle rental company will have chosen reliable bikes for you. A bike that is designed for long, long distance traveling with minimal maintenance.

 

Comparing Adventure Motorcycles Side By Side

Motorcycle TypesStyle Engine Fuel Capacity Weight Beginner Friendly
Honda 250LDual Sport249cc7.7L146kg
Honda CB500XDual Sport471cc17.5L196kg
Suzuki DR650Dual Sport649cc13L166kg
KLR 650Dual Sport651cc23L196kg
Suzuki V-Strom 650Dual Sport645cc22L220kg
Honda Africa Twin 750ccDual Sport742cc23L205kg
BMW 1200GSDual Sport1170cc26.5L220kg

To Sum it Up

    The world of adventure motorcycle riding is an exciting way to take a regular traveler into places that can often be off limits, or prohibitively difficult to access on an adventure close to home or on an international getaway. If you are considering getting into the ADV world read up on the options, get to know what you are looking for, then take the plunge into this incredible world on two wheels. No one ever said that it would be easy, but it will definitely be fun.

    Check out our related posts on Vietnam motorcycle blogs to see if leaving your hog at home or throwing a leg over your first Vietnam motorcycling adventure is the right option for you.

        

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