The mid-range adventure bike market is biking’s biggest battleground. It’s where manufacturers have concentrated R&D resources, technology and innovation, and almost every manufacturer has one, often two and sometimes three models fighting for your hard-earned. Their spec levels can be enormous, and they have the widest range of factory accessories.
You can buy mid-range adventure bikes from Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Triumph, BMW, Ducati, KTM or Moto Guzzi – the only big players without a bike in the category are Kawasaki, Harley-Davidson and Aprilia (although the latter will join in soon with the Tuareg 660 and it can’t be long before Kawasaki fill the gaping hole in their line-up. No-one’s entirely sure where Harley’s leftfield Pan Am will fit).
The reasons for the popularity of so-called middleweight adventure bikes isn’t hard to fathom – they make a lot of sense on today’s roads: they’re good for everything from a daily commute, to Sunday blasts, to touring Europe. They’re practical, comfy, economical, don’t come with a premium price tag but often come with premium features, and they handle our bumpy roads. They’re not slow, either – and, of course, they can also go off-road.
But so many models and options, which is the best bike for you? To make sense of how they fit, here’s BikeSocial’s Guide to Which Mid-Class Adventure Bike, 2020
Mid-range, mid-class, mid-capacity or middleweight are all arbitrary terms coined to categorise a class of bikes, and none are perfect descriptions. It seems crazy to call the Africa Twin’s 1084cc parallel twin a mid-capacity engine, but the class has to be called something. So, we’ve decided on these criteria:
The reason there are so many models in the class is because at the top end – the big bike stuff – BMW’s R1250 GS completely dominates the market. But among the mid-class adventure bikes, it’s all still to play for.
Power: 94bhp @ 8750rpm
Torque: 64 lb/ft @ 7250rpm
Pros: finish quality, very high standard spec, low weight, balance of agility and handling on and off-road, broad ability as an all-rounder
Cons: engine vibes around cruising speed, tank range
Best for: the widest range of ability; brilliant on the road and more than capable off-road – but neither roles are compromised by the other. As happy riding to the Pyrenees as it would be riding across them. The new class leader.
Full review: Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro
Triumph’s new Tiger 900 Rally Pro is 2020’s middleweight adventure bike boss. The new, enlarged and re-engineered 888cc T-plane triple motor lacks only on paper (power and torque are now among the lowest in the class) – but on the road it has all the overtaking punch of its rivals, just a gear lower. And it never feels any the less, even ridden back-to-back against bigger, more powerful machines like Honda’s 1084cc Africa Twin and Suzuki’s 1037cc V-Strom.
The Tiger’s new crank configuration gives the triple a distinct pulsing sensation, and at low to medium revs it adds an organic charisma that suits the bike’s dual purpose nature better than the old, smooth, revvy triple used to. Fuelling is perfect, throttle response is crisp and power delivery predictable. The Rally Pro’s up and down quickshifter is gorgeously slick – just the right balance of smoothness and speed – and its clutch lever is noticeably featherweight.
The only potential issue is with mid-speed engine vibration. The off-balance crank lumpiness grows with engine revs and at just above cruising speed – 5500rpm in top, or around 80mph – it could become tiresome on a motorway ride, with a noticeable pattering through pegs and bars. Whether it’s irrelevant, irritating or intolerable is subjective; but everyone will be able to feel it.
The Tiger’s excellence extends to its chassis: generous steering lock and tight turning circle add lovely low-speed manoeuvring manners, augmented by a surprisingly slim waist; knees feel as if they’re touching, stood on the pegs. It’s a wonderfully balanced bike. Agility from the 21in front is a given – but, unlike its rivals, the Tiger doesn’t sacrifice cornering stability or feel on the road at higher speeds; the front never feels vague or remote. Suspension is a good compromise too; it’s not soft or wallowy, has an initial inch of dive before firming up on the brakes to avoid big weight transfer, and the rear feels plugged in on the gas.
And when it comes to spec levels, Triumph have thrown a lot at the Rally Pro: heated grips, heated seats, USB port, two 12v sockets, one-handed screen adjustment, quickshifter, cruise control, a large, colour flat screen with plenty of display options, rider modes and Bluetooth integration. It even comes with a centre stand.
And the price is right too: £13,100 for the top of the range Rally Pro puts on par with a base-spec Africa Twin, or with a BMW F850GS Adventure spec’d up to Rally Pro level.
Power: 72bhp @ 9000rpm
Torque: 50 lb/ft @ 6500rpm
Pros: light, nimble, funky engine, easy to manage off-road, good-looking, durable, cheap
Cons: no bells and whistles, least suitable for long distance road trips
Best for: more challenging off-road riding, with the daily convenience of a great road bike
Full review: Yamaha Tenere 700
Yamaha’s Ténéré 700 sits at the bottom end of middleweight adventure class in terms of outright engine performance, capacity and specification – but also in terms of price. And when it comes to off-road riding, it’s right at the top.
The MT-07-based 689cc parallel twin is well-established as a classic motor – feisty and surprisingly potent for its size, Yamaha have done their usual trick of somehow engineering a barrel of laughs into it. It’s almost impossible for a ride on the Ténéré to be dull or unmemorable. Whether you’re thrashing it mercilessly or pottering about – or any level in between – the Ténéré is always refreshing and vital, reminding us all of why riding a bike is the best thing in the world. Not a bad attribute for a motorcycle to have.
The chassis spec is good – fully adjustable forks and shock are respectable at this price, and the Ténéré delivers competent on-road handling. It’s clearly more of an off-road bike than its larger, heavier rivals; there’s plenty of weight transfer on the brakes and the skinny 21in front knows its tarmac limitations. But the Ténéré will bop along at a good pace, even if its slim seat and tall profile make long-distance touring less accommodating than a KTM 790 Adventure or Triumph Tiger 900 (which isn’t to say you couldn’t put 1000 motorway miles under a Ténéré’s wheels – it just wouldn’t be as easy as any of its competitors).
But off-road is where the Ténéré scores, primarily because of its weight – it’s the lightest in the class – but also because its ergonomics are better suited (slim, tall, narrow seat) and the motor’s lack of heft is actually a bonus if you’re at a level where 100bhp and more in the dirt is a bit too aggressive. The Ténéré is just easier to manage, for a given riding level.
And that’s without a wealth of rider aids; the Ténéré has no traction control, rider modes, flat screen clocks or cruise control. The lift-out filler cap hasn’t even got a hinge. The Ténéré is a basic bike that does the basics very, very well.
Price: £11,099 (in multi-colours; £10,899 in plain)
Power: 79bhp @ 7750rpm
Torque: 59 lb/ft @ 5000rpm
Pros: distinctive styling with a retro vibe, big tank range, surprisingly civilised ride and competent chassis, with tons of deeply engaging character
Cons: engine performance a bit wheezy, seat comfort iffy over very long distance, technology has a bit of an add-on feel
Best for: feeling distinctive and different, building a relationship with the metal and plastic, and revelling in the style and charisma of the thing
Full review: Moto Guzzi V85TT Review
Moto Guzzi’s V85TT is way better than it should be. Its looks, especially in two or three-tone paint schemes, are outstanding; subjective of course – but it if you ‘get’ the V85TT, you really get it. Riding it is a something of a subjective matter too – the air-cooled 853cc transverse V-twin puffs out a meagre 79bhp, but it’s nowhere near that at the wheel after the shaft drive has had its share and almost certainly makes the TT the least powerful middleweight adventure bike. And it’s not exactly the lightest, either.
But, like all Guzzis, the ride is so much more than numbers on paper. As per Yamaha’s Ténéré, the V85TT has a stronger, more distinctive and pervasive character than most other adventure bikes – it’s a bit goofy, but doffing about, grinding pegs and running out of revs is entertaining and heart-warming.
And that’s not say the V85TT isn’t capable of tramping on. The engine is smooth, controls all function without complaint – even the gearbox is positive, if not exactly balletic. The Guzzi’s road handling is surprisingly refined with good weight control and balance. It really is all about the feels.
Guzzi make an effort with the TT’s electronics – it has a rudimentary traction control, a small but colourful dash (a bit too colourful at night), and not much more. With over 200 miles from the tank, the V85TT will keep going for a long time; longer than the soft seat is entirely comfortable with. But other ergonomics are good – classic rowing boat bar position, decent enough screen and low pegs. Off-road ability is marginal; the TT can handle the odd dry firetrail, but mud and stones bigger than a fist will derail the exercise.
Price: £9799 (Adventure R is £10,999)
Power: 94bhp @ 8000rpm
Torque: 66 lb/ft @ 6600rpm
Pros: lively, energetic engine, big tank range, confident handling, great off-road chops, new low price
Cons: suspect durability and a slightly budget, plasticky finish
Best for: fire and brimstone road and off-road riding. And now, value too
Full review: KTM 790 Adventure Review
KTM have a strong brand image; they’re all about performance – Ready To Race and all that. It’s reflected in their bikes, which all share a Kiska-design angularity – not only are they pointy to look at, they’re pointy to ride as well. You don’t turn to KTM for a smooth, serene, chilled-out ride – it’s all manic and eyeballs bulging; hardcore fun.
The 790 Adventure has all that courtesy of the loopy 799cc 790 Duke parallel twin – although here it’s reined in to 94bhp. The motor still has a loose, free-revving, instantly responsive and eager feel, as if it’s only barely contained by the orange steel tube frame. It’s definitely an entertaining and thrilling ride, but with a slightly more serious intent than, say, Yamaha’s Ténéré 700. The KTM has a rawness to its performance.
Downstairs, the Adventure R scores full adjustment over its suspension – the main point of difference between the Adventure and Adventure R – but both bikes share a garrulous, gangly character, full of banter and chatter; if you want a permanent conversation with your bike, the KTM is for you. But it’s a very, very capable set-up; on the road the suspension is, like the motor, immediate and responsive. You can feel exactly what’s going on at each end. And with its low-slung tank hanging either side of the motor giving the bike a low, manageable C of G, the KTM steers with a steady, predictable lilt.
The Adventure’s tech spec looks a little dated already; traction control and cornering ABS is great (when either are working; electrical niggles aren’t unknown), but there’s no cruise control and accessory heated grips look like the afterthought they clearly are. But on the plus side the KTM can run well over 200 miles on the tank and, for all its eager insistence and raw riding dynamic, is crazy all-day comfortable.
Off-road, KTM’s pride wouldn’t allow them to build a bike that wasn’t excellent – and consequently the Adventure R is, for a rider of a higher ability, the most capable mid-class adventure bike thanks to its unique weight balance, and only loses out to the Ténéré 700 at the novice and intermediate end of rider ability. But it’s close.
Overall, the KTM is a useful long-distance road tool and a highly capable off-road bike let down only by a budget-looking finish. But now it’s also a budget price – a recent discount (paving the way for the 890 Adventure in 2021) has slashed a grand and a half off the asking; the Adventure is now under ten grand and the R is £10,999. Only Yamaha’s Ténéré and BMW’s bare-bones base GS850 and GSA are cheaper.
Price: £13,049 (Adventure Sports is £14,649)
Power: 101bhp @ 7500rpm
Torque: 77 lb/ft @ 6250rpm
Pros: luxurious finish, high tech spec, 240-mile plus tank (Adventure Sports), alternative suspension and transmission options
Cons: premium price, complex user-interface, poor aero (Adventure Sports)
Best for: Business Class luxury all-rounder and off-road (base model) or touring waftily (Adventure Sports)
Full review: Honda CRF1100 Africa Twin Review
Honda’s popular Africa Twin romped into 2020 with its second revision since its 2016 relaunch. Not only have Honda updated almost every single component, they’ve also subtly repositioned the bikes in the range to make more sense – the base Africa Twin (smaller tank, tubed rims, short screen) is the more off-road spec AT and the Adventure Sports (bigger tank, tubeless rims, tall screen) is the touring version. Both bikes are available in DCT versions, and the Adventure Sports also comes with a semi-active suspension option.
All options – base upwards – have the same feature-rich list: heated grips, cruise control, USB port, and a large, colour, touch-screen dash with a deep level of adjustability to tailor engine braking, throttle response, wheelie control and traction control, if you’re prepared to invest time in learning how to access it all – with 14 buttons on the left bar cluster alone to navigate, it’s not immediately obvious (or annoyingly obscure, depending on your disposition). The Honda can also turn its screen into an iPhone display courtesy of Apple’s CarPlay.
But there are omissions: up/down quickshifter is an accessory; so is a centre stand (although the Africa Twin is hardly alone in that; in this class, only Suzuki’s V-Strom and Triumph’s Tiger 900 Rally Pro come with one as standard). There are also flaws; the Adventure Sports touring screen is exactly the wrong height to see over and the right shape to buffet your head.
Even the base Africa Twin is at the expensive end of the class, priced alongside the better-equipped Tiger 900 Rally Pro. The Adventure Sports is at the top end – and that’s before you add on semi-active damping and DCT (apparently some riders like it enough to fork out an extra £1200, add 10kg and lose an element of control just to dispense with a clutch). Add on panniers, a topbox and a centre stand, and you’re talking the thick end of £20 grand. Mid-class doesn’t necessarily mean mid-price.
But back at the Africa Twin base model and Adventure Sports, you still get a lot of bike for your money. Aside from the aforementioned electronics, the 1084cc motor is the class leader in capacity and torque, and it’s not short on power. It’s a big, potent, feisty unit, belting off with more sheer grunt from low down than its rivals – runs out of revs quickly, but that’s what a gearbox is for. Or DCT. At speed it’s smooth, refined and has what feels like a carefully measured sense of isolation from the rider, but with just enough hair on its testicles to be engaging.
And there’s a lot of mass to shift – a fully-fuelled Adventure Sports, with 25 litres of fuel in its belly and the seat on its high setting, is a proper big bike. With suspension set on the side of soft and comfy, handling is more plush than purposeful.
Accordingly, the Adventure Sport’s mass isn’t ideal off-road – dry, flat fire trails suit it best. The base Africa Twin is much more adept and less daunting in the dirt; not with the same ease of use as Yamaha’s Ténéré 700, KTM’s 790 Adventure R or Triumph’s Tiger 900 Rally Pro (in that order), but enough to get some confidence it won’t be out of its, or your, depth.
Power: 113bhp @ 9000rpm
Torque: 71 lb/ft @ 7750rpm
Pros: high tech spec including semi-active suspension as standard, pure road-based handling and dynamics, all-day comfort, powerful motor
Cons: premium price, almost nil off-road potential
Best for: pure road bike performance, from touring to track days
Full review: Ducati Multistrada 950 S Review
Barely qualifying as an adventure bike, Ducati’s Multistrada 950 S just sneaks under the criteria wire by virtue of wire spokes on a 19in front, and having the 1260 Enduro above it in Ducati’s range.
The 950 S retains the same 113bhp engine as previous versions of the Ministrada, but gets all the gadgets and gizmos of its bigger brother: the only bike in the class with fully-adjustable semi-active suspension as standard, alongside a welter of electronic functions including 6-axis traction control, cornering ABS and lights, custom rider modes, hill hold, up and down quickshifter, cruise, multimedia control... it’s a goodly list of features. And the ’Strada delivers all its technology though backlit switches and a streamlined menu. It’s as much technology as the Africa Twin – but doesn’t get heated grips (or a centrestand) as standard.
As a result the Multistrada 950 S is a simply outstanding road bike – its 20-litre tank isn’t the biggest, but there’s little else to make you think twice about loading up and riding across Europe. And the Ducati certainly has the most road-orientated chassis performance and handling dynamic of all the mid-class adventure bikes; with its 19in front, it’s the bike you’d pick for carving A-roads and the odd track day. But don’t expect it to do much off-road – a lightly gravelled path is about the limit – although with the right tyres on, the bars tipped up and ally footpegs, the 950 S would have passing off-road potential.
Power: 106bhp @ 8500rpm
Torque: 74 lb/ft @ 6000rpm
Pros: retro looks, durable and flexible motor, versatile and practical chassis, reasonable price
Cons: basic components and build, fundamentally a road bike, a bit old fashioned and clunky in areas
Best for: general purpose all-round road use, from touring to commuting
Full review: Suzuki V-Strom 1050 Review
Long the cost-effective but unglamorous workhorse of the class, Suzuki’s V-Strom gets a facelift and tech upgrade for 2020, but also gets a price hike. And there’s no doubt on the surface, the V-Strom has upped its game; the XT comes in and orange/red and white, or blue and yellow – and both look stunning. Step in close, and you can see where the time and money haven’t been spent; the V-Strom’s hardware – fittings and fixings – are functional rather than flash.
Its 106bhp, 1037cc, 90° V-twin is one of the oldest engines in current production; its basically the same motor that debuted in the TL1000S of 1997. Powering the first V-Strom 1000 in 2002, it got a big bore in 2014’s restyled V-Strom – and is still the same engine in the new bike, with minor alterations for emissions. It’s a flexible unit – decent midrange, plenty of top end – but, surprisingly given its heritage, not a deeply charismatic engine. The power delivery is linear and throbby V-twin smooth (if you can get past the big gap between first and second gear without clattering the box), but there’s not quite the same motive spark as the Africa Twin, 790 Adventure or Multistrada 950. What the V-Strom has got is a steady, dependable performance in the background – the motor’s never clamouring for attention.
And at heart the V-Strom, like the Multistrada 950, is a road bike dressed up as an adventure bike – with a 19in front and more conventional wheel travel, it steers steadily, rolling into turns like a sports tourer with big wide bars. But unlike the Ducati, the Suzuki is modestly gadget-laden (despite its upgrades). It’s got hill hold control, cruise control, 6-axis traction control and cornering braking and comes with a centrestand, but hasn’t got heated grips or layers of engine managements options. The small, fussy, monochrome LCD-style screen offers three riding modes, two ABS modes and four levels of traction control – but no custom options. In that respect, the Strom is a simple bike to set-up and operate. It’s a stark – and sometimes refreshing – change to other bikes in the class.
Price: £10,170 (Adventure is £10,895)
Power: 95bhp @ 8250rpm
Torque: 68 lb/ft @ 6250rpm
Pros: solid BMW build quality, everyday practicality and ease-of-use, holds its value
Cons: lacks a spark of excitement and sexiness compared to its rivals, has no specific USP
Best for: entry level riders who don’t want the hassle of a big adventure bike, or filling a bike-sized hole in your garage
Full review: BMW F850GS Adventure Review
A Jack-of-all-trades, master of none; BMW F850 GS is only three years old but feels as if it’s been around for longer. It’s the elder statesman of the mid-class adventure bikes, and it feels like it to ride. Sensible, efficient, missing a scintillating spark of vitality and with no outstanding USP – in base spec, it’s not super high-tech, retro-styled, luxury, powerful or particularly fast. And to get some of the features the other bikes come with as standard, you have to pay extra for the myriad of options. Spec’ing the GS up to Sport level, putting it more on par with its rivals by adding full traction control, cornering ABS and a quickshifter (but not cruise control, heated grips or a centre stand!) adds over a grand to the price. The Adventure in Sport spec, with its much more useful 23-litre tank (the standard bike is 15 litres), also adds a grand, costing £11,935.
But that lack of defining essence is exactly why the GS sits almost bang in the middle of the mid-sized adventure bike class. And it’s capable of doing a bit of everything. Off-road, on the right tyres, the GS isn’t as agile or potent as a KTM 790 Adventure, is closer perhaps to Tiger 900 Rally Pro, and a bit less of a weighty handful than an Africa Twin Adventure Sports with a full tank. It can do all the stunts with the right rider, of course, and a 21in front puts it ahead of road-based adventure bikes like Suzuki’s V-Strom.
But it’s less powerful, too – on the road, it’ll chug along and cover the miles, but with less imperious serenity than an Africa Twin, and less vibrantly than a 790 Adventure. The BM’s 853cc parallel twin delivers its 95bhp with a smooth, softened pulsing – rapid if you push it, but not an inherently thrilling motor; it’s a bit forgettable. Which is probably why it’s such a convenient bike to use in day-to-day life – there’s not so much sense of occasion when it emerges from the garage. The GS handles safely as well, with a neutral steering and steady confidence – but again, without the direct feedback of KTM or Triumph, or the wafty elegance of the Africa Twin.
Yet all criticisms of the GS and GS Adventure are in relation to the specific benefits of its rivals – on its own, it’s a fine motorbike. It might not make you laugh, but it’ll leave you satisfied.