The journey of choosing my next motorcycle began more than 5 months ago when I wrote about being torn between the Kawasaki Z900 RS Cafe and the BMR R1250 GS.
Since then, my thinking has ‘evolved’. The Kawasaki was dropped from the list pretty soon, while other adventure motorcycles came to my attention. What you are about to read is the result of a 6 month process with dealership visits, test rides, watching countless YouTube videos, talking to other riders and a lot of thinking, weighing options and contemplating.
So, I quickly dropped the Kawa from the list. It’s just not the right motorcycle for the riding that I do. Living in Mexico, pavement quality is mostly bad, and having some gravel and dirt roads during a ride is more rule than exception here. The Z900 RS is just not the best bike for that.
Another thing happened since that article 5 months ago: I went on a motorcycle camping trip with some big and challenging off-road stretches in it… and loved it. Definitely something I want to do more of in the future. So, I started looking at more adventure focussed motorcycles, and over time, each of the bikes below, popped up on my radar and has actually been my first choice at one point or another.
Clearly I needed some structure to this all, and being the nerd that I am, I wanted to make a list and some sort of scoring system to compare these bikes against each other. And so, here it is 🙂.
One disclaimer before we start the scoring. I’ve ridden only some of these bikes, sat on others, and some I’ve never sat on at all. Quite some input is coming from my own experience but I also got a lot of info from the countless YouTube videos I watched, comparison articles I read and forum topics I browsed. I’ve ridden on: the BMW R 1250 GS, the BMW R 850 GS, the KTM 1290 Super Adventure (the S model, not the R) and the KTM 1090 Adventure R. I’ve sat on: the KTM 790 Adventure (the standard model, not the R) and the Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro. I’ve not sat on: the Honda Africa Twin CRF1100L, the Yamaha Tenere 700 and the KTM 890 Adventure R.
The scoring system
Now that we’ve got that settled, let the scoring begin. I’ve scored these bikes against a bunch of categories, which are: weight, range, price, power, electronics, comfort, handling and reliability. Of course, with bikes it’s not all about numbers so I also added some comments where applicable.
Obviously weight is important in an adventure bike. If you plan to do more off-road then your odd gravel road, you want a bike to be flickable and easy to handle. And when (not if) you drop it, weight will obviously make a huge difference too. Below’s chart is the wet weight with all liquids and a full tank of gas. I used measured weight where I could find it. Otherwise I used the wet weight / curb weight as indicated by the manufacturer.
Unsurprisingly, the 1250 GS loses the weight category big time, followed by the KTM 1290 SA R. The big GS is about 45 kg (almost 100 pounds) heavier than the Tenere 700 who wins this category. To put that in perspective… that’s 3 crates of beer.
Fuel capacity varies a lot between these bikes. From 15 liters for the BMW 850 GS, to 23 liters for the KTM 1290 and 1090. But, fuel consumption also varies, which in its turn, is related to weight again. In the end, we don’t really care how much fuel a bike can carry, nor how fuel efficient it is (leaving environmental aspects and fuel cost aside). In the end, we want to know how far we can go on one tank of gas. In the end, we care about range. To determine this I looked at the fuel capacity of these motorcycles and the average real life fuel consumption I could find (on motorcycle fora and sites such as fuelly).
The KTM’s are clearly the winners here, because of their big gas tanks and efficient engines. The T7 and the 850 GS have a relatively low range because of their small tanks. The 850GS has 15 liters and the T7 just under 16 liters. A bit surprising is the Africa Twin. With almost 19 liters it has a decent tank capacity, but the engine is kind of a fuel hog with an average mileage of about 16.5km per liter / below 40 mpg (US). It must be said that real life mileage numbers do vary hugely depending on riding style. The numbers mentioned here are averages.
All in all, even the bikes with the lowest ranges can still go 300km / 200mi without a fuel stop. You will see the reserve light come on though as all these ranges are including reserve.
For price I used the price in the United States, in US dollars, for the model with all the likely options one would get. E.g. for the 790 R this means I opted for the quick shifter and cruise control, and for the BMW’s I added the premium packages, as that makes the best comparison with the other bikes. Prices are not precise to the dollar. I made some guesstimates here and there. This is only an indication to see the relative price difference between the bikes.
As you can see, most of the bikes are around 15k /16k, with three exceptions. The Tenere 700, with its 10k, is exceptionally low priced compared to the rest. There is a reason for that, but more on that later. It’s also no surprise that the 1250 GS and the 1290 SA are more expensive than the rest. These two bikes are in a different class – the full sized adventure class – while all the others are in the mid sized adventure class, although this too could be argued for the Africa Twin and the 1090 Adventure R.
Because comparing absolute power between these bikes wouldn’t be fare, I’ve opted to compare not only the absolute horsepower, but also the power to weight ratio. In other words, how many horsepower per kilo do these motorcycles provide. For power data I used the horsepower numbers as provided by the manufacturers. Of course some manufacturers report their numbers more favourable than others (I’ve written about that here), but overall they are a good enough indication for our purpose.
If you know a little bit about these bikes you are probably not surprised that the 1290 SA R, with its nearly 160 hp, is the winner in this category, followed by the 1250GS and the 1090 Adv R. The Tenere 700 is the underdog from a power perspective, although its low weight compensates for that somewhat. Perhaps most noteworthy is the comparison between the 790, the Tiger and the 850GS. They all offer 94/95 horsepower, but the power to weight ratio of the BMW is noticeably lower, due to its higher weight.
All these bikes, except two which I’ll get to later, come with the rider aids and electronics that one might need. Rider modes, cornering ABS, lean angle sensitive traction control, some have wheelie control, others have hill hold control, yet others have electronic suspension adjustment, etc. Some have intuitive controls (Triumph, BMW, KTM), others take a little getting used to (Honda). Some have beautiful TFTs that provide very good overview (BMW, KTM) while others are less easy to read (Honda, Triumph). Some are fully equipped with all the luxury one would ever need (Triumph, BMW) while others focus more on performance and aiding the rider (KTM, Honda). There are some slight differences in the quality of the rider aids (KTM systems are the best), but all in all these bikes offer many of the same things. If you’d like to know the details please check out the many reviews on YouTube and blogs. Lastly, as the only motorcycle in this group, the Honda Africa Twin has Apple Carplay.
There are two motorcycles I would like to mention here. First, the Yamaha Tenere 700. The main reason why Yamaha was able to keep its price low, is the lack of electronics and rider aids. It only has ABS which can be turned off with a button, and that’s it. It doesn’t have a fancy color TFT, but in stead a very simple but effective old fashioned LCD display. Is that a downside? Maybe, depending on your riding skills and preference, BUT, it’s not as much of a downside as you might think. Because of the Tenere’s smooth engine and low weight it can do without these rider aids. Some even appreciate the purity of it all: no stopping to switch between rider modes, no distraction from an iPad like TFT display, just a throttle, a clutch and go! If anything I would have wished that Yamaha had made it possible to only switch off ABS on the back wheel.
The other motorcycle I would like to point out is the KTM 1090 Adventure R. It’s not as basic as the T7, but it’s less sophisticated (or more pure depending how you look at it) than the other bikes in this comparison. The 1090 has basic traction control and ABS which is not lean-angle-sensitive. There’s no wheelie control either and the 1090 does not have the modern TFT dash, but in stead an LCD dash with an old fashioned analogue rev clock. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but something to keep in mind.
One more thing I’d like to note here. Yes you can call it ‘pure’ that the T7 and in lesser form the 1090 Adventure R lacking modern electronic rider aids, but please keep in mind that systems like traction control can save your life on the road.
Although I’ve not ridden all these bikes I believe, based on the many reviews I’ve seen and read, that I can offer a pretty objective comfort ranking between these bikes. Nevertheless comfort is a very personal thing, so please take this ranking with a grain of salt. To get a good feel for comfort you really need to sit on-, and if possible ride these bikes yourself.
If you have any doubt about the BMW R 1250 GS having the highest comfort rating between these bikes, please go ride one and have a look at the many reviews and comparisons on the internet (I’ve linked to some of them below). There’s no doubt in my mind that the big GS is the most comfortable bike amongst this bunch.
I’ve given a shared second place to the Africa Twin, the Tiger 900 and the 850 GS. You might argue that the KTM 1290 should also be in second place, but on my short test ride on the 1290 SA S I found the wind protection a bit below par and the engine producing a lot of heat against my thighs and through the saddle.
I placed the 1090 a little bit below the 1290 because of its windscreen and fairing. I experienced quite some buffeting when I rode my friend’s 1090 R. The Tenere 700 is a light bike but most reviewers were surprised by its stable and planted feel on the road and its decent wind protection. Some complained about the saddle being too hard or narrow, while others were absolutely fine with it.
Lastly I placed the 790 and 890 at the bottom of this list. These are simply not the best machines for highway mile munching and relaxed twisty road cruising. These bikes want to be ridden hard. The engines are not made for slowly cruising along. Furthermore all reviewers complained about bad buffeting and some about wobbling at speeds above 150 km/hr (95 mph).
Like comfort, handling is very personal. Wether you find a motorcycle handles well or not depends on the kind of riding you do, the skill level you have and how hard your ride. There are a few things that stand out from all the reviews I’ve seen and read:
- The 790 always comes out best for off-road handling
- The Tenere 700 mostly comes in second for off-road handling.
- The BMW 1250 GS is best on road and, as long as you keep it upright, is also very good off-road, mainly because of its low center of gravity and tractor of an engine. If you drop it though, it’s hard to pick it up without help.
- The Tiger 900 is very good and sporty on road, and very decent off-road too. As the only 3 cylinder in this group it handles surprisingly well off-road.
- The Africa Twin handles very well off-road and on-road, although it’s a bit top heavy at slow manoeuvring and can become a bit wallowy when you push it hard in the twisties.
- The 850 GS is a very plush ride on the road. The front suspension eats up any bump, making you feel like you’re on a magic carpet. This softness does make it dive noticeably when breaking and it’s not the top performer off road.
- The 1090 and 1290 handle very well on road and off-road. For some they can be a bit tall and on the heavy side in case of a drop.
Reliability is a tough one as emotions can run high when it comes to someone’s ‘beloved’ brand. On top of that experiences can vary a lot. Some people are problem free with their bike while others with the same bike have it in the shop half of the time. Then it also depends on the dealership service and wether something is covert by warranty. KTM is notorious for not covering things in warranty, but then again, there are similar stories out there for the other brands.
Nevertheless I’ve tried to keep this as objective as possible. Here’s my reliability rating. This is mostly based on what I’ve read and seen on fora like advrider and on trustable YouTube channels I follow.
Of course the Japanese Yamaha and Honda are the winners of this category. It is well known and documented that Japanese brands are among the most reliable. In second place I put the BMWs and the Triumph. BMWs are not really known for their reliability, but based on my research and own experience I believe that you can be relatively problem free with a BMW and Triumph for at least the first 3 to 5 years, given that you keep up with regular maintenance and don’t neglect the bike.
KTM is a different story. KTM is known for bringing bikes to market fast. Their time from first idea to ‘in the showroom’ is short, not investing a lot in testing, often leaving teething problems in their first generation motorcycles. This is why I gave the 790 a lower ranking than the other KTM’s. The 1090 and 1290 are entering their 4th and 6th production year. A decent amount of time for KTM to get rid of the teething problems their customers found in the first years. For the 890 it’s hard to tell, but for now, I’ve considered it to be the next iteration of the 790 and hope that KTM has incorporated the ‘lessons learned’ from the 790, in their 890 production.
Tubeless vs tubed
All these bikes have tubeless tires EXCEPT the Tenere 700 and the Africa Twin standard (the Africa Twin Adventure Sport does have tubeless). For some, tubed tires can be a dealbreaker, for others not. For me, tubeless is important, but not a dealbreaker though. If you’d like to know more about tubed vs tubeless and it’s advantages / disadvantages, have a look here.
The prices mentioned above are without any added protection. I wanted to mention this here because there is a bit of difference between the brands in how much more you need to spend on crash bars, skid plates and hand guards in order to protect your bike against drops.
Crash protection: The Tiger Rally Pro and the KTM models already come with crash bars or, in case of the 790 and 890, protective tank covers. This means you’d save money and weight as none of the other bikes have crash bars from the factory as standard. Some people don’t put crash bars on the T7, as apparently the handlebars take the hit in most cases and it’s relatively cheap to replace plastics if necessary. Especially for the 1250 GS you want to protect those engine covers. As they stick out that much it’s easy for them to get punctured in a drop, leaving the oil to drip out from your engine, ending your trip.
Skid plates: That’s an easy one. None of the factory skid plates are meant for hard off-roading. They’d have to be replaced if you’re doing hard off-roading.
Hand guards: All factory hand guards are made out of plastic and are more for weather protection than crash protection. KTM’s factory ones are apparently pretty decent, but for hard off-roading you’d want some bark busters or a similar brand with metal brackets. Especially on the T7 you’d want to upgrade your hand guards because the handlebars apparently take the biggest hit on drops as mentioned above.
Not much negative remarks can be found on the KTM suspensions nor the BMW 1250GS suspension. The Tiger suspension is also very good, although not as good as the KTM’s. The Africa Twin suspension seems to be a bit wallowy when pushed hard in the twisties, but is excellent offroad. The BMW 850 front suspension is not adjustable, not even if you go for the adventure model (really BMW???). It feels plush and comfortable on the road, but dives when breaking and can be too soft on technical off road stuff. The suspension of the Tenere 700 is often a discussion point too.
Having said all this about suspension, please keep in mind that, for most of us amateur riders, the suspension on these machines are just fine. Most reviewers are semi-professional riders with lots of experience in the dirt, so they push these bikes hard. A lot harder than the average Joe (like me) will ever push them. If you’re not doing hard core high speed single track stuff and if you’re not jumping tree logs and rocks, I believe all of these bikes will have an adequate suspension for you. You might have to change the rear shock spring on the Tenere 700 for a spring that suits your weight better (the factory spring is for 75kg / 165 lb), but that’s a cheap (< 100 USD) mod.
Another thing to consider when making your choice is dealership support. I live in Queretaro in Mexico. Not all brands have dealerships in this city. For the ones that don’t I’d have to travel 3 hours (one way) for each service and reparation.
Valuable YouTube Videos
To make this comparison, I relied heavily on YouTube videos. Here are the most important ones which I believe can help you make a decision if you’re in the same boat as me.
- DriveMag: Yamaha Tenere 700 vs. KTM 790 Adventure vs. BMW F850GSA – The Complete Review
- 44teeth: KTM 790 Adventure vs Yamaha Tenere 700
- FortNine: KTM 1290 Super Adventure R Review at fortnine.ca
- Nomad: Tenere 700 vs BMW 1200 GS Adventure
- SFR SanFranciscoRider: Tenere 700 or GS1250 or Africa Twin or Ktm 790 – What to get
- RIDE Adventures: YAMAHA TÉNÉRÉ 700 vs KTM 790 ADVENTURE R
- Bret Tkacs: Don’t buy a KTM 790/890 Adventure until you watch this review
- BRAKE Magazine: Adventure Bike Of The Year 2019 – Yamaha T700 vs KTM 790 ADVR vs Africa Twin 1100 vs R 1250 GS Rally
- Motorcycle.com: Adventure Shootout: BMW F850 GSA vs KTM 790 Adventure vs Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro
Final Thoughts and personal choice
- Yamaha Tenere 700 – This is the best bike for me and the amount and kind of riding I do. Good local dealer, cheap, simple, pure, light weight and still comfortable enough for some highway miles. But it’s not for sale in Mexico yet and not certain it will be sold here at all. If not, I’ll move to one of my runner up choices. Not sure which one yet.
- KTM 890 Adventure R (or latest model year of 790 R) – My shared runner up choice. Good local dealer. Light weight. Best off road and fun in the twisties. Comfort and reliability is an issue though.
- BMW R 1250 GS – My other shared runner up choice. Heavy and expensive compared to the two above and a bad dealer in my city. Would use other dealer further away. Great all-round bike though and most comfortable.
- Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro – Very good all-round bike with lots of creature comforts. Too beautiful to drop though and no dealer in my city. Apparently delivery of parts from overseas can take a long time.
- Honda Africa Twin CRF1100L – Only three Honda Powerhouse dealers in the whole of Mexico (not in my city). It’s relatively heavy, but reliability is the best and off road handling is very good.
- BMW F 850 GS – Might just as well go for the 1250 in that case
- KTM 790 Adventure R – Teething problems. Would wait for 890 to be for sale in Mexico or at least get latest model year of the 790.
- KTM 1090 Adventure R – Might just as well go for the 1290 in that case
- KTM 1290 Super Adventure R – If I’m going for a big bike, then I might as well spend more and get the best bike of its class. The 1250 GS.
So there you have it. My thought process in choosing my next adventure motorcycle. If you are in the same situation as me I hope this will be useful to you. If you have any questions, comments or feedback, please feel free to drop a comment below.
Ride safe and good luck with your choice,
UPDATE 7 dec 2020 – I finally made a choice… and it’s not one of the top 3 bikes. Read about it here.