The Form of Adventure Bikes and the One Week Review

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Industry, we should apologize. We chronically run long with the adventure bikes we’re handed for review. We’re consistently blowing the standard one week loan completely out of the water – filming or not. Our recent turn on Triumph’s Tiger 800 XC has me thinking there’s something more to our behavior than constant truancy and tardiness, it comes down to the form of adventure bikes.

Adventure bikes, compared to their pure road going brethren, are harder to get to know. As a reviewer we’re not just doing a road review, but an off pavement review. So for a start there’s two reviews to write, not just one. Moreover, adventure bikes are often harder to develop a relationship with, and this comes down to the diversity of form in the adventure market.

Sportbikes, for example, are relatively perfected in form. There are variations on the theme, a couple different choices of engine, a few relatively standard displacements, and minor variations in frame geometry. Largely though, a sportbike’s performance envelop is so far beyond what can be used on the street that there is relatively little variance within the class in terms of an average riders usability.

Put the same rider on a GSX-R 600 and a CBR 600 RR, and what they get out of the bike at quasi-legal road speeds will be essentially the same. Arguably the form has been perfected. At the level that most road bike riders operate, somewhere in the lower-end to mid-range of this broad performance envelope the difference really comes down to personal taste and ride experience. Sportbikes are like tasting fine wine.

Adventure bikes though are still finding their way. There’s greater variance the characteristics of the chassis, displacement, in the nature of power development, in suspension, weight and its distribution. That the Kawasaki KLR 650, Ducati Multistrada 1200, BMW R1200GS/A, KTM 990 Adventure and Triumph Tiger 800 XC are all “adventure bikes” shows the diversity of the form.

That the standards of the adventure bike form are still developing makes testing these bikes far more interesting. It also makes it more difficult; what works on a KTM 990 Adventure R which has premium suspension compared to most of the genre, does not work effectively on a BMW G650GS Sertao. In short, it takes more effort and more time in the saddle to get to know the bike, because there is less carry over in the characteristics between the adventure bikes.

You know this when Jimmy Lewis invites a rider up to participate in a skills exercise at an event like Tahoe, and the Yamaha Super Tenere that shows up gets a stricken look and muttering about electronics. This response is in comparison to the let’s get down to it attitude demonstrated when a KTM 990 Adventure rider comes up.

Thanks to the Triumph Tiger 800 XC that pointed this out to me in spades. The engine, an inline-three or triple, features power development that’s nearly unique within the adventure market. The tall engine, with a tank on top initially felt top heavy. Yet, once you develop a rapport with the bike, it becomes hugely capable. Realizing the Tiger is more about horsepower than torque (though it has plenty of the latter), it becomes about spinning the rear tire. Knowing that the front carries weight up top, you emphasize sticking the front tire rather than rear, in order to get away with feats that are point and pray on the KLR 650 or a waltz with inertia on the finely balanced KTM 990 Adventure R.

Personally though, I hope the adventure form takes a longer to standardize rather than shorter. The homogeneity of sportbikes doesn’t make for near as interesting a market as adventure is these days. That one week test period though, well Industry, let’s have a chat about that.

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