Top 5 Adventure Motorcycles
Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.
If you’re craving adventure by weaving your way across bumpy roads and rocky trails before riding on the pavement to your next destination, an adventure motorcycle could be the right choice for you.
An adventure bike can offer the best of both on-road and off-road riding. General characteristics of an adventure bike include:
- 650 cubic centimeters (cc) or larger engine displacement
- 200-mile range or more
- Geared for highway riding
- Comfortable seat for long-distance touring
- Windscreen (but no fairings)
- Luggage racks or panniers
- Heavy-duty brakes and tires oriented for paved roads
- High ground clearance and long suspension travel
- Spoked wheels for improved impact resistance off-road
An adventure bike is “capable of covering great distances while providing the rider with relative comfort,” said Justin Dawes, senior editor for Cycle World magazine.
We’ll take a look at five adventure bikes across price ranges to help you select the best for your riding style. You can also search for motorcycle loans by comparing rates and terms from multiple lenders on LendingTree.
How we chose the best adventure bikes
We looked at dozens of models on the market. First, we reviewed ratings from leading motorcycling media to narrow the field. Then, we focused on the bikes that offer an attractive mix of pricing and performance.
We selected one each from the small-bore (300 cc to 900 cc), midsize (900 cc to 1,000 cc) and open displacement (higher than 1,000 cc) categories. After that, we selected one each as the best on-road and best off-road adventure bike.
Adventure bikes range in price — from the Honda CRF250L at $5,199 to the Ducati Multistrada 1260 Enduro at $21,795 — and engine size — 296 cc for the Kawasaki Versys-X 300 (reviewed below) to 1,301 cc with the KTM 1290 Adventure R.
It’s important to note that motorcycles are not tested for fuel economy ratings.
5 best adventure motorcycles
2019 Kawasaki Versys-X 300
Engine size: 296 cc
Category: Small bore
Why it’s great
Our choice for the best small-bore bike is the smallest in the Kawasaki Versys line. It’s more at home on pavement and dirt roads than driving into the trackless wilderness. The starting MSRP for the anti-lock brake system (ABS) version is an additional $300.
The 296 cc engine, mated to a six-speed transmission, provides a comfortable highway cruising speed and low-end torque for off-road excursions. Wire-spoke wheels and a backbone frame are geared to handle dirt roads. A tall windscreen and comfortable seat help make long distances a breeze.
2019 Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin
Engine size: 998 cc
Why it’s great
Based on Paris-to-Dakar rally bikes, the Africa Twin is a full-on adventure bike with a 21-inch front wheel and 9.1 inches of suspension travel. The selectable torque control has settings for touring, urban and gravel environments to control wheel slip.
The base model comes with a conventional six-speed transmission. For another $800, you can step up to the dual-clutch transmission (DCT) version that eliminates the clutch lever from the shifting equation.
Comfort features, such as the rally windscreen, adjustable seat and handlebar wind deflectors, help cut fatigue on rides.
2019 BMW R 1250 GS
Engine size: 1,254 cc
Why it’s great
Considered one of the best adventure bikes of all time, the BMW 1200 GS series keeps upping the ante. For 2019, BMW boosted engine output to 136 horsepower from the 1,254 cc twin.
Mated with the six-speed transmission, the bike can speed along at over 125 mph. Fuel consumption is estimated at 50 mpg.
The base model comes with selectable ride modes for rain and road, as well as automatic stability control. Additional ride modes are available with option packages. Hill-start control provides grip when you’re stopped on an incline.
It’s a good choice if you’re taller, though lower seat options and suspension settings could make it a good fit even if you’re not.
The 6.5-inch TFT display provides information and controls connectivity with your Bluetooth-enabled mobile devices for navigation and entertainment.
“You can’t go wrong with the BMW,” Dawes said. “It really is the measuring stick in the field.”
2019 Ducati Multistrada 1260 S
Engine size: 1,262 cc
Category: Best on-road
Why it’s great
While the road-going Ducati DNA is highly visible, the Multistrada is also a surprisingly capable off-road performer. It’s at home on hard-packed, relatively smooth roads and can handle sandy and rocky terrain as well.
Four riding modes control the power of the 158 horsepower engine. Urban mode limits output to 100 horsepower, while Enduro mode sets it up for dirt roads.
Thanks to a lower seat position, readily available torque and agile handling, the Multistrada can pick its way around rocky obstacles with confidence. With street-oriented tires and the Skyhook Suspension Evolution system, the Multistrada shines on twisty roads.
An inertial platform manages the operation of the cornering ABS and the cornering light that tilts the headlight into turns instead of shining straight ahead.
“The Multistrada is focused on being good on the road with some off-road ability,” Dawes said.
2019 KTM 1090 Adventure R
Engine size: 1050 cc
Category: Best off-road
Why it’s great
As the winner of Cycling World’s Best Adventure Bike in 2017 and 2018, the KTM 1090 Adventure R is still the king of the hill.
“We figured it to be the best because of the horsepower compared to the weight compared to the off-road capability compared to on-road performance,” Dawes said.
While it weighs nearly 500 pounds with a full tank, it rides like a much smaller bike on rough trails. Electronic traction control and ABS let you have dirt-sliding fun while maintaining a margin of safety.
With 125 horsepower and a six-speed transmission, the 1090 Adventure R boasts impressive ride dynamics. The throttle-by-wire system delivers that power smoothly to suit different riding conditions.
How to find the best adventure motorcycles for you
An adventure bike isn’t the best choice for your first motorcycle. If you’re not an experienced off-road rider, it may be wise to go through an off-road riding school first. Check out classes from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation or other resources.
Adventure bikes are typically larger and heavier than beginner bikes, with more powerful engines, so they require some experience to handle safely, Dawes said.
So when is an adventure bike a good choice? It’s best for riding a few hundred miles in a day, then turning off onto a dirt rail. They’ve been used for desert racing, around-the-world riding and daily drives to work. You can outfit adventure bikes with pannier bags to carry stuff, whether it’s camping gear or your briefcase.
Adventure bikes typically have a higher seat height than cruiser bikes, so they’re a comfortable option if you’re tall. Adventure bike tires are generally biased toward on-road performance, but if you ride off-road more often, you could swap tires for more suitable treads.
“We’re definitely in a golden age of adventure motorcycles right now,” Dawes said. “They’re the most popular, and because of that, manufacturers are pouring key resources into these bikes, making them really good — and there aren’t really any bad ones.”
Apply to several lenders so that you can compare offers before visiting a dealer. That way, you can go to a lender with a preapproved motorcycle loan.
You can also visit LendingTree and fill out an online form. Based on your creditworthiness, you could be potentially matched with up to five different motorcycle loan offers from lenders.
MSRPs listed in this article are accurate of the date of publishing.