The Adventure Bike segment is both the fastest growing and most visible class of motorcycle in the market today. To confirm this, we need look no further than BMW’s monthly sales reports, where the R 1200 GS and GS Adventure are consistently the best sellers. In fact, the GS has been on top of the Adventure Bike hill since more or less inventing the category with the R 80 G/S. Yet with the segment growing, the competition is converging on the GS with bikes like the KTM 1190 Adventure R.
Recently Cycle World contributor Jimmy Lewis took the GS and the KTM out into the Utah desert to test them against each other. Now normally when we link out to a review, we try not to spoil the outcome. This time, there’s kind of nothing to spoil, and that’s the more interesting aspect of the story. Lewis compares the bikes back and forth, with KTM edging out in some regards and the BMW in others, but doesn’t name an overall winner. With more and more players in the Adventure segment, it’s growing that much more difficult for BMW to differentiate the big GS.
Yet more great bikes in the segment isn’t the key takeaway, in my opinion. It’s this:
What is becoming apparent about these massive adventure bikes is the 90-percenters who will never take them off road are enticed by the increase in on-road performance. But luckily for those daring enough to really use the bikes as intended, both work in the dirt if you are careful with them. You can thank the electronics, which work flawlessly 99 percent of the time if you are in the right mode. Traction control tames the excessive horsepower that works so well for street riding.
The issue isn’t with the bikes. BMW and their me-too competitors in the Adventure space are making terrific motorcycles that are highly capable both on and off road. The issue is how rarely these bikes actually get put to their intended purpose, and when they do, it needs to be done cautiously.
A valuable bit of information, as well as a disclaimer: Adventure bikes are not dirt bikes. On our first dirt stint across a rocky desert road near Barstow, the tire pressure dropped quickly (shown on the dash-mounted computer) on the KTM’s tubeless front tire. Upon inspection, I pointed out a fresh dent on the rim. Joe swore it wasn’t him. And I believe him, since he was thinking in standard dirt bike terms. But when you’re riding a 500-plus-pound, fully loaded adventure bike, it does not take much to bend a rim. Slow down and go around the rocks, not over them.
Instead, many of these Adventure machines are being used simply as road touring machines. There’s nothing wrong with this, obviously, except that all that off-road capability comes at the price of wind shelter, wheel size and ergonomic configuration. I can’t help but wonder when the pendulum is going to swing back and all the would-be adventurers realize they’d actually really rather have a sport touring motorcycle. Nothing against Adventure bikes, but that’d be my preference.
When that time comes, BMW is already strategically positioned to meet those needs. Most OEMs are abandoning their sport touring models (if they ever had them) and trying to cash in on the Adventure trend. Meanwhile BMW still offers an RT version of the R 1200, and a GT version of the F 800 for just such sport touring riding. The right pair of tires on either one of those bikes would handle all the adventure I’m interested in doing. Perhaps that opinion will change if I do more off-road riding, but for now, that’s where I’m at. Where are you?
In the meantime, check out the full comparison over at Cycle World.