For the record, I ride an adventure bike. A 2019 Honda Africa Twin to be exact.
But I sort of wish I didn’t.
To be honest, this has been an ongoing, internal argument I’ve been having with myself since I bought my first adventure bike about four years ago.
And since then, I’ve come to the conclusion that if you want to go on an adventure – especially if you want to get off the beaten path – then an adventure bike is probably not the bike you should buy.
And here’s why.
Once Upon A Time…
…when I first started touring, it was on a 1999 Honda CBR 600. It was old, had about 60,000 miles on the clock, had no storage, no gadgets, no fuel gauge, and half of the dash lights didn’t work.
I had cheap fabric panniers, and a bit of insulation tape stuck to the piss-poor headlight to supposedly prevent it from blinding oncoming traffic.
Oh, and only one of the aftermarket heated grips I’d fitted actually worked.
Since that bike, I had a few other sports-touring bikes before eventually settling on big adventure bikes to do my dirty work.
5x The Price: 5x The Enjoyment?
Now you would expect that I had better touring experiences on the adventure bikes.
After all, they’re purpose-built machines with all the toys and all the equipment deemed necessary for touring.
And for the privilege of said toys and equipment, I had to pay in the region of £10,000 more than what I paid for my CBR.
That equates to about 5 times the price.
So have I had 5 times as much fun touring on adventure bikes than on the CBR?
Absolutely not!! Nowhere even near!
I can honestly say that I haven’t had a better or worse time touring on adventure bikes over my cheap-ass CBR.
And why is that?
Because touring is about the adventure and not about the bike – despite what salespeople in suits tell you in shiny motorcycle showrooms.
Trending: Does Half The Price Mean Half The Bike?
My Adventure Bike Is A Great All-Rounder
If I had a pound for every time an adventure bike rider told me they bought their bike because it’s a “great all-rounder”, I’d be a millionaire.
I’m guilty of saying this myself, to be fair.
“I love it. It does everything – it’s a great all-rounder.”
I don’t actually know where this saying comes from when referring to big adventure bikes.
Because big adventure bikes are not great all-rounders.
They might be when in the right hands. And with the right suspension setup. And with the right tyres.
But in my hands (and probably the hands of 99% of other adventure bike owners), they are not good all-round bikes because we aren’t good enough riders to get the best out of them – especially off-road.
What they are is the best all-rounder on paper.
And that isn’t quite the same thing as being a genuine all-rounder in reality.
So, let’s have a look at how an adventure bike matches up in the real world.
Road Riding On An Adventure Bike
When it comes to riding on the road, it all comes down to taste rather than the ability of individual bikes.
In the UK, the fastest you can travel (legally) is 70mph. And most bikes over 250cc are capable of such speeds.
And in reality, as long as a bike can transport you in relative comfort, handle well and cruise at a decent speed, then it doesn’t really matter if you’re on a 250cc naked or a 1300cc tourer.
Both will get the job done.
Is An Adventure Bike Needed For The Road?
Using myself and my CBR example above, I can categorically tell you that an adventure bike is not at all needed to ride a tour that is based on tarmac.
The biggest adventure bikes are like the Range Rover’s of the bike world. They’re expensive, oversized, and quite often far outweigh the abilities of the people who are riding them.
And whilst both Range Rover’s and adventure bikes are fantastic machines in theory, I do seriously have to question the point of them in the real world.
Adventure Bike Off-Roading Ability
In a way, everything I mentioned in the ‘road’ section above doesn’t really matter because most bikes are capable of riding on tarmac.
And you could argue that anything that goes over 80mph is unnecessary – adventure bike or otherwise.
My problem with adventure bikes starts when we begin roaming into the territory of off-road exploration.
Now, in defence of adventure bikes, I’ve ridden with people who are off-roading professionals. And those riders can handle a fully-ladened, 250kg+ adventure bike in even the toughest of terrains.
But riders of that calibre are actually very few and far between.
If I was to count how many people I know that can honestly handle a large-capacity adventure bike off-road, I reckon I wouldn’t need all of my fingers to count.
Theory vs Reality
To add a bit more honesty to this post, I don’t consider myself to be one of the high-calibre riders mentioned above.
Yes, I can ride off-road. But I’m not at a level where I could ride the trails of the Balcans or Georgia by myself on a 250kg adventure bike.
And this is where theory vs reality comes in.
In theory, my Africa Twin can take such an off-road tour in its stride. But in reality, I can’t.
And that’s because I don’t have the experience nor the skill.
So why do I need an adventure bike, then?
Well, the simple answer is, I don’t.
Adventure Bike Specs On Paper
I’d be the first to concede that adventure bikes have all the necessary specs on paper.
They have big engines which make cruising a doddle.
Straight out of the showroom, they come equipped with adequate suspension and appropriate clearance.
They have multiple riding modes, cruise control, suspension modes, Bluetooth connectivity, in-built sat nav’s and all the other toys and gadgets.
They’re too heavy for the average person to take off-road.
And unless you are one of the few riders that can handle this weight in off-road conditions, then it’s probably too heavy for you as well.
Not only this, but most people purchase bikes these days on finance – which means the bike isn’t really theirs.
If they ruin it or break something by dropping it, I’m afraid it will be them who has to pick up the bill at the end of their lease.
The IM-Practicalities Of Weight
Have you ever tried to pick up an adventure bike after you’ve spilled it in mud?
And I can’t do it.
250kg is heavy enough at the best of times. But when it’s buried itself in the mud under its own weight, trying to lift it back up when you’re slipping and sliding around is a nightmare.
If you drop it a second (or third, fourth or fifth) time, it really starts to eat away at your energy.
And your patience.
Even when the bike is upright, manoeuvring it and balancing it when off-road can make you really tired, really quick.
Adventure Bike Power
Again, on paper at least, the power of a big adventure bike can be alluring.
And whilst the power is welcome (if unnecessary) on big, open roads, it’s overkill on the trails – which is why we have options in menus and submenus to limit the power going to the back wheel.
When you think of it this way, it makes you wonder why we have so much power in the first place if we need buttons and menus to take it all away again when it really matters.
Small Bikes, Big Smiles
Okay, we’ve already established that I don’t possess the necessary skills to ride a fully-ladened, large-capacity adventure bike (properly) in technical, off-road situations.
However, I can off-road a 250cc with ease. Not only can I do it with ease, but I can do it with a massive smile on my face because I’m having a belting time doing it!
I’m not afraid to drop it because I know I can pick it up.
I’m not afraid to ruin it because it’s cheap as chips to buy – and cheap as chips to fix.
I don’t have to worry about the back wheel spinning out – because it doesn’t have enough power to do that in the first place.
And it weighs 120kg – which is less than HALF the weight of a BMW GS 1250.
But Let’s Level The Playing Field
In the example above, I was talking about a Yamaha WRF 250 – which is a purpose-built, off-road bike.
And whilst it’s great off-road, it’s probably not what you would choose to ride to Spain and back – although you could.
So let’s level the playing field here and use a more appropriate example to compare with the big adventure bike.
For the purpose of this post, I’m going to say a Yamaha YBR 250.
It’s a touch heavier than its off-road counterpart (weighing in at 138kg) but is still probably half the weight of a fully-loaded BMW 1250 GS.
This means that if you drop it, you simply pick it up and carry on.
It knocks out 21 hp which means the power you have is usable and manageable. You’ll get around 300 miles to the tank (for about £12-13,) it will return around 70mpg and has a top speed of 85mph.
With a bike such as this, you wouldn’t even have to really modify it.
It’s such a lightweight bike that (with a bit of skill) will be fine off-road as it is.
Breaking Down The Adventure Bike Myths
When I passed my bike test, I was in a position where I had both the licence and the money to buy a big bike.
It didn’t even cross my mind to buy anything smaller than a 600cc.
And I think this is the problem.
As bikers in the west, we’re conditioned to believe that we need to buy these heavy, oversized monsters if we want to tour.
And it’s nonsense!
Let me say that again…
You don’t need a 170bhp Ducati Multistrada V4 to tour.
The weight of a big adventure bike isn’t needed to stop you from being blown about by the wind.
And you don’t get that much more luggage capacity with a bigger machine. And despite the larger tank, you don’t get any further on a tank of fuel, either.
You will, however, fit in perfectly with all the other GS riders in matching beige adventure suits at the ferry port.
Every cloud and all that…
“Adventure Bikes Aren’t Meant For Mud”
I’m aware that there will be a few people reading this and shaking their fists in rage.
They’ll be saying that their big adventure bike isn’t supposed to be going in deep mud and on technical trails.
But how do you ride the ‘easy’ trails whilst guaranteeing that you won’t stumble upon the harder terrains?
The fact is, you can’t guarantee when you go down a trail that there won’t be mud and shit at the other end.
If you ride off-road, you will (at some point) end up in muddy and slippery conditions.
And if you don’t feel that your £20,000 adventure bike is up to the job, then what’s the point in even having one?
You Don’t Need A Reason To Buy An Adventure Bike
I’d just like to say at this point that it isn’t my place to say whether you should or shouldn’t buy an adventure bike.
Maybe you bought yours because you like the extra visibility. Perhaps you feel safer, prefer the upright seating position, or like the look of it.
It might be that you know it’s unnecessary – but you just love it!
Or, you might be one of the lucky few who can truly handle an adventure bike in every scenario.
And all of these reasons to own a big adventure bike are perfectly valid.
This post isn’t digging at those who already own an adventure bike for their own reasons. It’s for the purpose of those who think they NEED to buy one to tour.
The Best Adventure Bike
So, what is the best adventure bike then?
Well, I’m afraid it doesn’t exist.
We keep trying to buy these do-it-all machines that work on paper but are impractical in a lot of settings.
An adventure bike isn’t any better or worse than a sports bike on tarmac.
Nor is it better than an enduro bike when venturing off-road.
So if it isn’t better than other bikes in other settings, then what’s the point??
In the end, it all comes down to what your main priority is on any given tour. But even when you consider those priorities, there will still be compromises that will stop an adventure bike from being the best choice.
Making Compromises: Tyres
If you decide your tour is going to be 70% tarmac and 30% off-road, which tyres do you put on your bike?
Put on road tyres and you’ll suffer during the off-road sections.
Choose knobblies and you’ll be slipping and sliding all over the place on wet tarmac.
Compromise by choosing a 50/50 compound and you’ll suffer on both tarmac AND off-road.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but 50/50 tyres don’t equate to being excellent on both tarmac and gravel. It means they’re ‘okay’ on either surface but perfect on neither.
So do you want your bike to be great on the road or great off it? You need to make a choice because unfortunately, you can’t have both.
Do you want it to be big enough to carry all your stuff? Or is it more important for it to be light, nimble and agile?
Adventure Bike Conclusion
We need to stop measuring our bikes by their specs and instead start measuring them by the size of the smile they put on our faces.
I have nothing against big adventure bikes. I totally see the attraction in them (as mentioned above, I currently ride one.)
But if you want to have a great time adventuring off-road, get yourself a small bike.
Because that’s where the fun lies. And that’s where the adventure lies.
Don’t fall into the trap of spending £20,000 on a big adventure bike when all it’s going to do is hinder your experience.
Instead, spend £2,000 on a small-capacity knacker and have the best time of your life!
And finally, let’s not forget that the bike you already own gives you the ability to experience the trip in the first place.
Don’t turn down trips just because you don’t have a big, sexy adventure bike.
Top image via Ducati Madrid