Big Adventure Bikes: Time To Stop Moaning About The Weight?

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I want to get something off my chest.

For years, I’ve been one of the many people constantly bitching about big adventure bikes being too heavy.

Through this website and social media, I’ve continually advocated reductions in weight. And I haven’t missed many opportunities to snipe at manufacturers who bring out yet another 250kg+ ADV bike.

BMW, KTM, Triumph, Ducati, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Yamaha… they’ve all been on my hitlist at some time or another.

And I’m not the only one.

The internet is awash with websites and forums full of people grumbling about the weight of adventure bikes.

But the fact is, they’re not getting lighter. ADV bikes are getting heavier.

Yes, there has been a recent resurgence in the release of new mid-weight machines. But even they are on the weighty side of svelt!

In this post, we’ll examine the reasons why big ADV bikes are so damn heavy. We’ll play devil’s advocate and put the onus on you, me, and every other customer.

Because maybe it’s time to accept that it’s our fault that these bikes have turned into gigantic behemoths.

ktm motorcycles - adventure bikes weight
Image via KTM Press

I Ride An ADV Bike

I want to set the record straight here.

Regular readers will know that I ride an ADV bike.

My bike of choice is a Honda Africa Twin – a bike that weighs 235kg and is, by all accounts, light when compared to the likes of many.

On the one hand, you could call me a hypocrite for griping about the weight of adventure bikes when I own one.

But then again, I’ve used it for its intended purposes since 2017. So you could also argue that I’m in the perfect position to moan about it because I’ve lived with its brutish size and weight for nearly five years.

And after half a decade of ownership, I’ve finally concluded that whilst the weight of adventure bikes is not something I want, I (as a customer) have contributed to the growing weight of these machines.

honda africa twin off-road
Image via Honda Press

Unrealistic Expectations On Manufacturers

Most people, like me, who protest about the weight of big adventure bikes maintain the following list of demands:

  • 150+ horsepower
  • A 200kg wet weight
  • All the toys and gadgets
  • A 250-mile tank range
  • Economical
  • Long-distance touring capability
  • Comfort
  • Off-road capability

Now I realise that this is an ‘ideal world’ scenario. But in reality, it’s impossible.

The truth is, manufacturers can give us lightweight machines by swapping out the materials they use. But lightweight materials are way more expensive and would drive the cost of production through the roof.

And then we’d complain about the price.

They can, and have, given us the tank range, comfort, and toys. But this adds weight. And then we make a fuss about it.

I’ll be the first to admit that most people (including me) don’t care about the burden we place on manufacturers.

They charge us so much for these machines that we don’t care about our burdensome demands on them.

But equally, is it fair to ask for the impossible and then complain when we don’t get it?

triumph motorcycle off-road - adventure bikes weight
Image via Triumph Press

The Weight Of Adventure Bikes: Customer Lifestyle

Manufacturers of any consumer product are guilty of ‘creating a need’ which they then sell to customers at a premium.

The aim is to find something new that customers never knew they needed in the first place.

But equally, we live in a world where bigger = better.

We ogle social media and follow/like people who have massive, impressive-looking ADV bikes. And we subscribe to this lifestyle.

As customers, we stipulate more horsepower. We demand adaptive cruise control, TFT screens, rider modes, off-road capabilities, big knobbly tires, crash bars and ADV luggage.

Why?

Because it looks cool. But considering hardly anybody takes these things off-road, we’re subscribing to a lifestyle that we only ‘look’ like we’re a part of.

All we’re doing is securing coffee-shop brownie points. It ‘looks’ impressive when we pull up at a biker cafe on our £20,000+ ADV bike and our £3,000 matching adventure suit.

And for many people, that’s all they want.

They buy what they want to be seen on rather than what they need.

Why? Because it looks good.

bmw knobbly tyres off-road
Image via BMW Press

Off-Road Luxury

There’s nothing new to the trend mentioned above. We only have to look to the 4-wheeled world to see a comparison.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I spend most of my time in Manchester and London. And everywhere I look, there are £100,000 Range Rovers.

You never see a dirty one or one that has dangs and dents in it.

Why?

Because they never go off-road. In the main, Range Rovers are used for commuting and the school run.

People buy off-road vehicles such as Range Rovers because they look impressive and they’re luxurious. Of course, they have their uses. But to a great extent, they’re fashion statements to show off our buying power and prestige.

If nothing else, the increasing popularity of Range Rovers owned by people who don’t need them shows us that the trend of off-road luxury is here to stay.

And it’s the same with ADV bikes.

We can’t complain that ADV bikes are too heavy when all we want is to look cool on the latest ¼ tonne concrete-crushing adventure goliath.

yamaha super tenere off-road - adventure bikes weight
Image via Yamaha Press

ADV Bikes & Mass

As mentioned above, we demand that the latest ADV bikes come with all the latest toys, gadgets and gizmos. And we’ll get to that in a minute.

But for some reason, we also want more horsepower.

We don’t use this extra horsepower, but we want it regardless.

So what happens?

Well, the manufacturers give it to us by increasing the capacity of the engines.

Bigger engines = more weight.

And not only that, but they have to add to the reinforcement of the chassis to house the bigger engine.

Larger, stronger parts are needed to encase said engine and chassis.

And then there’s the bigger fuel tank that’s required to make the new bigger bike go for as long as we demand.

Finally, there are all the other components, such as the drive and suspension. Stuff required to support that extra equipment whilst still giving us the performance upon which we insist.

More power = bigger engine.

Bigger engine = bigger componentry.

And bigger everything = heavier bikes.

2 ktm motorcycles on twisting road
Image via KTM Press

The Weight Of Technology In Adventure Bikes

Secondly, we have the weight of the technology that goes into the bike.

On the one hand, we demand so much power that manufacturers have to put computers on them to regulate it – because most people aren’t good enough riders to handle it themselves.

So traction control and ABS are necessary.

But on the other hand, the bike needs an appropriate ECU to ensure the performance we want.

We want a sexy TFT dash that plays our music and gives us navigation. We want rider modes, cornering lights, active suspension, cruise control, keyless ignition, hill-start control, DCT, and any other feature you care to mention.

And whilst electronics don’t weigh that much in and of themselves, they still add weight.

That said, it still really comes down to larger engines producing more power that cause an increase in weight.

honda africa twin on mountain road - adventure bikes weight
Image via Honda Press

The Overall Weight Of Adventure Bikes

So when we look at all these factors that play their part in increasing the size and weight of adventure bikes, we have to ask ourselves if it’s worth it.

After all, what’s the point of having this stuff if you can’t pick your bike up when you drop it on the gravel?

Of course, you could argue that you need to have the physical strength and capacity to haul an ADV bike up off the ground if you’re going to ride one off-road.

But the counterargument to that is that most people don’t ride their ADV bikes off-road.

They ride them on impeccable roads during long-distance tours. Like me.

And manufacturers know this.

So, where is the impetus for manufacturers to produce lighter ADV bikes when they know that 99% of people who own them are riding them on tarmac?

But in defence of people who use ADV bikes for touring, they do make for versatile touring machines.

Is your campsite down a gravel path? No worries, your adventure bike will cope with that just fine.

Find yourself accidentally on a trail when exploring? No problem, your ADV bike will cope with that also.

And for long-distance touring on open roads and motorways, they are often more comfortable than sports tourers and will easily carry all your kit.

Whichever way you look at it, big adventure bikes are more versatile than regular touring machines.

But maybe this is where the problem lies. Should we be calling them adventure bikes when, predominantly, they are used as tourers?

ducati multistrada on bridge - adventure bikes weight
Image via Adam Rhodes / Unsplash

Drawn Into Semantics

Let’s be honest here.

Manufacturers are putting out some fantastic ADV tourers that are amazing for touring. But they are a horror show for almost anyone off-road.

Even so-called middleweights are still too much of a handful for the average rider off-road. 

And they’re so expensive that anyone lacking confidence won’t take their £20,000 ADV bike off-road in the first place.

So if they are used solely for touring, why is the word “adventure” in the name at all?

Well, as previously mentioned, it’s a trend – simple as that. People are buying into the image and the lifestyle. And manufacturers merely provide the concept of both.

suzuki vstrom 1050xt promo
Image via Suzuki Press

ADV Bikes Weigh Less Than Tourers

Playing devil’s advocate again, there is another way to look at this.

Whilst it’s easy to complain about the weight of adventure bikes, we’ve just established that most are used as tourers.

So what happens when we look at the weight of these bikes and compare them to traditional touring machines?

Well, they’re lighter!

A Honda Goldwing, Pan European, FJR 1300, or BMW K 1600 GTL all weigh more than the average big adventure bike.

And almost all Harley-Davidson’s, Indian’s, Victories, and every other cruiser weigh more than adventure bikes, too.

So if we like to gripe that ADV bikes are just touring bikes in drag, can we complain about their weight when they’re lighter than bonafide touring bikes?

bmw cruiser - adventure bikes weight
Image via BMW Press

Centre Of Mass

The other thing to look at is just how adventure bikes carry their weight.

Have you ever compared the weight of an old ADV bike to a new one?

On paper, the new ones are heavier to make up for the increased engine size, componentry, toys, and housing.

But they feel lighter.

Why?

Because manufacturers put a lot of time, money, and resources into distributing the weight optimally.

Whilst new ADV bikes are heavier than old ADV bikes, they feel lighter.

yamaha super tenere off-road
Image via Yamaha Press

As Customers, We Make It Worse

I can’t speak for everyone. But in general, we buy these big adventure bikes and then we complain about the weight.

And what do we do next?

We put more stuff on!

We want panniers and a top box. But of course, we then need to affix the racks and fittings that go with them.

We want to carry more stuff when we go touring, so we attach roll bags, tank bags, and tail packs.

As the weight grows even heavier, we worry about the damage we would do if we dropped the damn thing.

So we put on 20kg crash bars.

And whilst we’re putting the crash bars on, we see someone on a GS with really cool spotlights. So we put a set on our bike so we look cool as well.

Once we’ve done all that, we cram everything we own into the luggage we’ve just bolted on and take 50kg of kit with us on tour.

Stop taking shit you don’t need!

It seems unfair to demand more power, more toys, more range (and more of everything) from manufacturers and then complain that our bikes weigh too much once we’ve shoved everything we own into every conceivable crevice.

bmw motorcycle tail packs and luggage
Image via BMW Press

The Weight Of Adventure Bikes: Conclusion

It would be unfair to say that manufacturers are 100% blameless in the creation of ever-growing adventure bikes.

They’re not.

But isn’t it about time we took stock in the things we demand? Shouldn’t we be taking responsibility for the requests we put on manufacturers?

And wouldn’t it just be better as a whole if we bought bikes we needed rather than bikes we just want to be seen on?

Sure, if you like touring on big adventure bikes and can live with the weight, then buy one!

Conversely, if you pootle along at 50mph everywhere you go, never go off-road, and carry minimal kit on tour, wouldn’t you be better off with a sports tourer that weighs 60kg less? Or a midweight ADV bike?

There’s nothing wrong with buying what you want rather than what you need.

But maybe it’s time we stop groaning about the weight of ADV bikes. Because for most people, there are lighter, more manageable options available.

If you want (or need) a lighter bike, just buy a lighter bike!


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Top image via DDZ Photo / Pexels

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