The Australian marketplace has taken wholeheartedly to adventure bikes. But, new ones are pretty expensive. Here, Snag tries to bring a good used adventure option to your garage.
The adventure bike. So named because the category takes in bikes that are claimed to be capable operating in varying road conditions. The term has come to represent motorcycles that are pretty competent on-road and, in the process, can handle light off-road going.
In most cases these will have tarmac based rubber, are generally tall, with long suspension travel and offer large fuel capacity. It all adds up to the bike you want when you like to cut out serious distances, but don’t want to be tied to sealed surfaces.
Is an adventure bike right for you?
Here’s the bit where I attempt to talk you out of buying an adventure bike.
Actually, I am a big fan of the category. There is something really satisfying about owning something that does more than one thing well. I get that.
First thing. How tall are you? Less than 172cm? Forget it, big bore Adventure bikes are for big bore bodies, simple as that. There are options such as lowering kits available for them and this will help, but they can be unwieldy if you are not used to the dimensions. By and large, you’ll buy if you are large.
One of the nice things about them is their inherent road-going ability.
Most handle bitumen very well, and sports bike riders will not like admitting this, but a well-ridden big Adventure bike will be only limited by rubber and all-out grunt when pushing on.
Many a sporty has been left in the wake of a well-ridden adventure bike. Get them into the twisties and all that leverage at the bars comes into its own. Yep, they are very sweet in the tight stuff. A big tick right there.
A question to ask yourself. How often do you ride off-road (defined as non-sealed)? It may surprise you that I say this, but the less-often, the better if you are in this market.
You see, the simple fact is that these bikes can definitely handle light off-road work, but they are not dirt bikes.
You only have to look at the weight figures to know that you won’t be climbing snotty hills or dealing with loose, rocky single track on a big Adventure bike.
In fact, if you are riding in the bush on a very regular basis, I’d be aiming at a big, single cylinder trail bike and extending my fuel range with an aftermarket large tank, or at least looking at a middleweight adventure bike, of which there are many options nowadays. Of course, the newer the pricier, but I can’t solve every problem you have now, can I?
However, if you like the idea of taking the road less travelled, have some degree of competence on loose going and know the limitations of the big adventure category, you can do far worse. They are usually very comfortable (far, far more comfortable than a big chook-chaser) and most can be fitted with good luggage – another big plus for those looking to tour.
Okay, we should have arrived at this point with some understanding of whether this category is the right one for you. If so, there are some wonderful offerings out there. Let’s look at a selection…
- 2011 BMW R 1200 GS
- 2011Triumph Tiger
- 2011 Suzuki DL1000 V-Strom
- 2011 Honda XL1000V Varadero
Let’s examine each, point out strengths and weaknesses as we go and try to arrive at a verdict.
2011 BMW R 1200 GS – $21,140 new, $8000-$9000 now.
It is simply impossible to talk about adventure machinery and not have the R 1200 GS come immediately to the forefront of your thinking.
The bike has won just about every accolade possible worldwide and the bike still rules the roost when it comes to dancing the fine line between on-road and off-road ability.
Powered by BMW’s superb 1170cc, air/oil cooled, fuel-injected, SOHC, four-valve Boxer twin, the GS came packed with hi-tech goodies. Trick electronic suspension adjustment (ESA) was offered as an option. This allows six damping setting to be accessed at the touch of a button. Traction control was also an option.
You get adjustable screen height, hand guards, heated grips, adjustable bar position, and an adjustable seat height (between 850-870mm).
The bike features the Telelever front-end that we came to know and love and the Paralever rear. Lovely chassis dynamics are a given here.
Maximum power is 77kW at 7500rpm, maximum torque 115Nm at 5750rpm. Power is nicely made in the middle, where you want it.
Brakes are twin 305mm discs, gripped by four-piston Brembo calipers at the front and a single 265mm disc, and two-piston Brembo caliper at the rear. ABS is optional.
Fuel capacity is 20 litres (offering around a 300km range), dry weight a very reasonable 203kg.
Very good hard luggage was a BMW calling card and anyone looking to use this bike seriously should look for one luggage-equipped.
THE PICK IF YOU LIKE: Quality and reliability. The reputation the GS range enjoys is well-founded. Beautifully put together, fabulous back-up, strong accessories. A really well-thought out and supremely competent motorcycle.
NOT THE BEST HERE AT: Price. Any way you paint it, this is an expensive used bike (in this grouping). You’d need to be sure that you are going to use this one and use it properly, otherwise you may be spending dollars you really don’t need to.
2011 Triumph Tiger – $16,590 new, $6000-$7200 now.
Powered by a very sweet, 1050cc, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, DOHC, 12-valve, triple, the Tiger won a great deal of deserved acclaim.
The triple engine configuration became a Hinckley Triumph cornerstone and with good reason. The howl of this engine at noise is one of motorcycling’s pleasures.
The Tiger of the time evolved into more of a road-based weapon than its predecessors, probably due to factory research that suggested most dual sport owners overestimated the amount of time their bike would actually spend off road. They needn’t have worried too much, the bike kinda copes with light off road stuff and is a very handy tarmac scratcher to boot.
A big plus here is the fact that colour-matched panniers came at standard. That’s a $1400 value right there and was a big enticement for a buyer then and should be for you now as well.
The frame is an aluminium beam spar arrangement with fully adjustable Showa 43mm upside down forks and a Showa monoshock adjustable for preload and rebound.
Power is 85kW at 9400rpm and torque 98Nm at 6250rpm.
Brakes are a Triumph highpoint with twin 320mm discs gripped by four-piston Nissin calipers at the front and a single 255mm disc and two-piston Nissin caliper at the rear. ABS is optional.
Fuel capacity is 20 litres (you’ll get at least 300km between fills), dry weight is 198kg (a very sporty number that). Seat height is a user-reasonable 835mm.
There was an optional tall touring screen for the Tiger, as well a more comfortable gel seat, heated grips, handguards etc.
THE PICK IF YOU LIKE: Fast sports riding. This thing is a bit of a rocket and sounds delightful. This one only just comes in as an Adventure bike for mine, it’s that good as a sports mount. Nice used price too.
NOT THE BEST HERE AT: True dual sport operation. This is a road bike in my opinion with longer suspension. 17-inch wheels, tarmac-dedicated rubber. It’s like a motard on steroids.
2011 Suzuki DL1000 V-Strom – $13,590 new, $4500-$6000 now.
The bigger V-Strom (there is a very popular 650 version available as well) is powered by a 996cc, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, DOHC, four-valve, 90° V-twin – an engine that first made its appearance way back in the dim, dark TL1000S days. Don’t let that put you off – it’s a peach of a powerplant and the main strength of the DL1000 as an Adventure choice.
Performance figure are 73kW at 7600rpm and 101Nm at 6400rpm.
Check that used price. Pretty cool huh? That’s a lot of bike for that money secondhand and the good news is it goes like a rat up a drain pipe.
Of course, running gear is somewhat rudimentary, but it all works pretty well.
The frame is a die cast alloy twin spar, no real surprises there. Indicative of the ‘built to a price’ specs are the 43mm non-adjustable front forks. At the back is a preload and rebound adjustable monoshock.
Front brakes are twin 310mm discs with Tokico twin-piston calipers and the rear has a single 230mm disc with single-piston Tokico caliper. ABS strangely, was an option on the 650, but not the 1000. What the?
Fuel capacity is 22 litres, it’s a thirsty engine, but a 300km range is pretty good. Seat height is 830mm.
There were factory accessories that include a centrestand, touring screen, heated grips and GPS.
It’s a relatively light bike at 203kg dry, nice when you are off sealed surfaces, but it is a little ‘unruly’ in soft going, on that pretty unsophisticated suspension package.
Once again, how often are you going to be really off road? If the answer is rarely, this will not be a problem and, on the plus side of the ledger, that engine just keeps giving on the sealed stuff.
THE PICK IF YOU LIKE: A great used price. While the spec is utiltitarian, it does most things pretty well, and that engine has earned the reputation of being one of motorcycling’s better long-term units. It is top notch.
NOT THE BEST HERE AT: Off road ability. The bike gets found out when the going gets anywhere near tough in the dirt.
2011 Honda XL1000V Varadero – $17,990 new, $6000-$7000 now.
After shelving the Varadero from the Aussie market in 2001, the designation made its return for the 2009 model year. It remained largely unchanged until its second and final demise in 2013.
Power is supplied by the VTR Firestorm-derived , 996cc, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, DOHC, four-valve, V-twin – another absolute sweetheart of an engine.
Performance figures are 70kW at 7500rpm and 97Nm at 6800rpm. With 270kg to lug around, the engine does surprisingly well, with mapping optimised for midrange punch.
The frame is a steel tube diamond job, with 43mm conventional forks up front and a preload and rebound adjustable monoshock at the rear. Very similar in fact to the budget arrangement to be found on the V-Strom.
Brakes are twin 296mm discs with three-piston Nissin calipers, with DCBS (Honda’s own Dual Combined Barking System) at the front and a single 256mm disc with three-piston Nissin caliper, with DCBS at the rear.
The DCBS sees partial application of the front brakes with the rear pedal, and vice versa. This takes a little getting used to, especially at low speed. Opinion is divided on this but I’m not a fan.
Fuel capacity is a very healthy 25 litres (it needs a big tank, don’t forget that weight factor, but 350km is a great number), seat height is 838mm.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a big slug. It’s not. It handles very, very well, and the engine makes its power in the perfect manner – linear and in the middle. Don’t forget one big factor here – this is a Honda and Honda gets it right, simple as that.
There was a really strong range of factory accessories for the Varadero, that included classy hard luggage, 12 volt socket, heated grips and a centrestand.
THE PICK HERE IF YOU LIKE: Comfort. This is one of the most comfortable motorcycles ever built in my book. You can sit on this for a full day and still dance the night away in Honda heaven, ready to cut out another scenic 1000km the following day.
NOT THE BEST HERE AT: Weight. You can’t hide those kilos, no matter how good you are. It’s a fatty.
So… We’ve offered you a Boxer, a couple of V-twins and a triple with a strong spread of prices. Adventure bikes are a heap of fun, but not for everybody. If you are more Kim Kardashian and less Bear Grylls, I’d be looking to another category.
If you just want to get amongst those green acres in some form of style but like to go your own way, there is no better choice than a used Adventure bike. Bar none.
Snag’s career in motoring journalism spans 29 years with stints at major bike mags Australian Road Rider, Motorcycle Trader and AMCN along with contributions to just about every other outlet worth a hill of beans. He was editor of Unique Cars magazine and hosts his legendary podcast ‘Snag Says’ when he gets off his date.