Bikes we love

The new all-rounders

I’m not really sure what we call these bikes: adventure-sport? Adventure-tour? The bikes that look a bit like offroad-capable machines but that are never intended to be taken off road. The motorcycle equivalent of the Volkswagen Tiguan, I suppose. Though, I feel that’s slightly insulting to this particular class of bike. 

But like a pseudo-SUV (a “pSeUdo-V,” perhaps?) it is a class of vehicle that borrows offroad styling and features to deliver a positive on-road experience. But in the case of an adventure-touring motorcycle (let’s just agree to use that term here), the vehicle is one that is applicable to almost all (paved) scenarios. 
It is an all-rounder. It may not be the perfect bike for any one situation, but it will perform admirably in all. Faster, lighter and better in corners than a cruiser; more comfortable and functional than a sport bike; better suited to long motorway hauls than a true offroad machine. And although very much geared to paved-road use, an adventure-tourer can be expected to hold up on a well-maintained dirt/gravel road. And if, like me, you are on the tallish side (I’m 6 foot 1), adventure-tourers come with the added benefit of ergonomics that don’t require yoga.
The real weak point of an adventure-tourer, as with an actual offroad-worthy adventure bike, is that it is ugly. But the incredible usefulness of my own not-terribly-sexy Honda (which is an all-rounder in a sport-tourer guise) has softened my previously aggressive stance on aesthetics in recent months, to the extent that when I play the Next Bike I Will Own game, this type of bike starts to creep in.

This is an example of my practical side, acknowledging that I don’t have the money or garage space to own more than one bike. So, whatever bike I do choose next will need to be capable of being put to many different uses. And in the spirit of practicality I’ve created the following chart to help me examine the qualities of the adventure-tourers I find myself considering most often:

Honda VFR 800X Crossrunner
Kawasaki Versys 1000
KTM Adventure 1050
Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure
Triumph Tiger 800 XR
Yamaha MT-09 Tracer
(?) At least £11,000
(?) At least £10,000
(?) Roughly £8,000
Engine cc
Traction control?
Multiple ride modes?
228 kg
242 kg
250 kg
212 kg
228 kg
213 kg
210 kg
Unique standard features?
12V plug
– Heated grips
– Top box

– Centre stand
– TomTom GPS
– Self-cancelling indicators
– Akrapovic exhaust
– Centre stand
– Assist and slipper clutch
– Adjustable windscreen
– Hand guards
– Slipper clutch
– Adjustable windshield, handlebars, footrests and levers
– Hand guards

– Lower cowling
– Engine guard
– Panniers
– Pointless graphics
-Adjustable seat and levers
– 12V plug
– Sump guard

– Hand guards
– Centre stand
– 12V plug
– LED headlights
– Adjustable headlights, windscreen, seat, and handlebars

You’ll note that all are in the largish end of the middleweight category. More and more I find I am attracted to bikes that are “only” a litre or smaller in engine size, and I can’t really see why I would need something larger apart from the fact that bigger-engined bikes tend to be more accommodating of tall guys. By and large, though, because of how I ride, a bigger engine is wasted on me. It has horsepower I will never use. Truthfully, for a solid 85 percent of my riding I would be perfectly content astride a Honda NC750X. and I could probably live with its shortcomings the other 15 percent of the time.

But, see, I like being able to dramatically accelerate at high speed. And when I think about the bikes I want, my eye tends to wander toward those with a little more oomph. So, here’s a closer look at the bikes in this category that are tickling my fancy at the moment:


This bike was unveiled recently at EICMA, the big trade show in Italy that is like Christmas for those of us who get excited about the new things happening in the motorcycling world. Using the same inline-4 engine of the BMW S1000R, the S1000XR reportedly churns out 160 hp, which, if I’m honest, steps into the “too much oomph” territory for me. Not that I’d complain if someone were to give the bike to me, you understand.

But when I consider how much I think BMW will expect people to pay for such oomph I am reminded of that scene in White Christmas when Danny Kaye asks: “How much is ‘wow’?” No pricing has been announced yet, but I’d not be surprised to see a price tag nearing £13,000 on this machine. If it ends up being less that it is only because BMW has figured out how to create its own Harley tax by making almost everything an extra.

An example of how they do this can be found in the F800GT. It’s a great bike that in the UK has an asking price of £8,290. But if you want all the features that make it great you’ll end up forking out an additional £3,000 in extras. This sort of thing annoys the hell out of me to the extent that even if I could afford a BMW I probably wouldn’t get one just out of principle. Probably…

Honda VFR800X Crossrunner

This is a bike I’ve actually had my eye on for a while. It’s been revamped for the 2015 model year and no longer looks as much like a dolphin. It’s also been given a few technological upgrades. In the UK it will come with bells and whistles a plenty, but that will jack it up to costing roughly £1,000 more than the old Crossrunner. Which was a bike I already felt was overpriced.

Using the acclaimed (and occasionally maligned) VTEC inline-4 set-up of the VFR800F, the Crossrunner’s primary claim to fame is an engine that makes moto-journalists swoon.

I certainly prefer its new look but had been warming to the old aesthetic if not simply because its bulbous front end brought on warm childhood memories of playing with an inflatable Shamu in my family’s swimming pool. I’ve seen a few on the used market that appear to be in really good condition and are far more reasonably priced. If I had a spare £6,000 I’d seriously consider getting one. Although, crikey, is it heavy.

Kawasaki Versys 1000

Speaking of heavy, the Kawasaki Versys 1000 tips the scales at 250 kg! I realise that’s nothing compared to the 360-kg Victory Cross Country that I often pine for, but we’re talking about a bike with a higher centre of gravity here. Still, the Versys appeals to me on some level.

Like the Honda Crossrunner it’s been given a facelift for the 2015 model year, which is too bad because I sort of preferred the old look. Sort of. In a very weird way. I obviously was in the minority.

For me, the appeal of the bike is that its designers put a lot of thought into the passenger experience, which is something that is often ignored on anything that isn’t a behemoth American tourer. I also like that, with 120 hp, it hovers right on the edge of having too much oomph but not so much that I’d feel guilty. Its mpg, however, is apparently abysmal.

Price, though, would probably be the biggest issue for me. Prices on this new Versys have not been announced but the existing version will set you back £9,600. Which, in my opinion, is already a bit steep. No doubt the price will only go up to allow Kawasaki to capitalize on the “newness” of this version.

KTM Adventure 1050

Speaking of things that cost a lot. I tend to automatically discount KTMs. They are very much in the “How much is ‘wow’?” pricing category. And in that weird thing we all do of assuming a person’s personality based on his/her motorcycle choice I’ve always felt that KTM owners were pretentious. I hasten to add, however, that I have no legitimate reason for feeling that way. I don’t know anyone who owns a KTM.

The Adventure 1050 is another bike to have been introduced at EICMA, so there’s still a number of unknowns. Because I don’t know the bike’s price I find myself interested in it –– despite its deep, deep ugliness –– because KTMs have such a good reputation among moto-journalists. The V-twin engine no doubt delivers a whole lot of fun.

However, my lasting impression of the bike will depend wholly on how much KTM asks for it. A publicity photo I saw for the bike features young, sexy people hanging out on a beach. Maybe maybe maybe this bike (like the Ducati Scrambler, which used similar publicity shots) will be one young people could actually afford. But I doubt it.

UPDATE: Amid my writing this post, KTM put more information on its website. The UK price is £10,999. In other words; way, way too much.

Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure

Wait. Do I actually want this bike? Not for the price, no. Here in the UK it would appear that Suzuki is discovering many people feel the same way. A few months ago, Suzuki was offering a £1,000 rebate on this bike. Now that promotion has ended you’d have to be kind of stupid to pay the full price.

To tempt people into doing so, Suzuki has slapped on some luggage and dumb graphics. If the price tag were considerably less this bike might be competitive. I think, though, that if I had my heart set on one I’d just wait until they start showing up on the used market. Oh, wait. They’re already there. I just did a search and found a 2014 V-Strom 1000 Adventure with only 130 miles for £7,990. That’s more like it.

Triumph Tiger 800 XR

Triumph’s strategy for the 2015 model year seems to be one of not doing very much beyond offering long-existing models in a multitude of new skins. Its Bonneville range is in desperate need of an upgrade, for example, but for the 2015 model year (the last year it can do so before EU regulations force it to at least add anti-lock brakes) it is offering the exact same machine they’ve been selling since 2009 with minor aesthetic changes.

Triumph has most muddied its waters, however, with the Tiger 800 range –– offering the bike in four different guises: the XR, the XRx, the XC, and the XCx. The differences are mostly cosmetic. The XR is the cheapest.

However, in fairness, Triumph claims to have tweaked its 799cc triple to the point that it now delivers roughly 65 mpg. And indeed, its economical nature is really the selling point for me, considering that, in my opinion, its definitely the ugliest bike of the bunch. Coming in at £8,500, the better-equipped Tiger 800 XR costs what the Suzuki should. Also, cruise control is available as an option.

Yamaha MT-09 Tracer (aka FJ-09 in the United States)

I was anticipating seeing this bike at Intermot, but Yamaha chose to wait until EICMA. To my mind, this is the machine to get –– assuming my guess on the price is accurate. Loaded with bells and whistles, the MT-09 Tracer (I have no idea why Yamaha gives it a special “FJ-09” designation just for the United States) is the lightest of the bikes I’ve listed here whilst being beat in the horsepower stakes only by the BMW and the Kawasaki.

I got a chance to ride the basic MT-09 back in August and my initial impression was that it wasn’t as much fun as the MT-07. Primarily I felt this way because I didn’t feel the platform fit the particular application. Which is to say, I felt the 847cc triple was better suited to a more all-round bike. I suggested in my review of the MT-09 that its engine would work better in “a bike that can take you long distances.” My other issue was the fuel mapping, which is something that quite a lot of other people have commented on.

Both my laments appear to have been rectified with the Tracer. Yamaha says it has adjusted the mapping and this machine is clearly aimed at taking people long distances. And in red it actually looks kinda cool. Kinda. I especially like the look of the bike in red with its optional side cases.

The big question, then, is how much Yamaha intends to charge for it. A basic MT-09 in the UK will set you back £7,000. I am hoping that the extra fairing and bells and whistles of the Tracer will only bump the price up by £1,000 or so.

If I had the money to spend…
Although I like these bikes, it’s unlikely that I’ll own any of them soon. For the most part, my plan remains to save up enough money to buy a good-condition used Suzuki GSX1250FA.

Had I the cash to spend, however, I think the two bikes most grabbing my attention would be the Triumph and the Yamaha. They just strike me as the best value for money. If the price turns out to be right, I’d say the Yamaha is the overall winner.