2011 Adventure Motorcycle of the Year


2011 Expedition Portal Overland Awards

Looking forward to see what the awards will look like for 2012 with the Triumph Tiger Explorer being in the game now.  As for the Triumph Tiger first runner up….we said when were riding this bike last summer 2011 that the Tiger 800 should be compared to the 1200.  Interesting that the 800 is here in the same context.  Also, they mention that there is a low RPM stall issue with the Tiger…we had that but thought the recall back in August 2011 took care of that…if anyone is reading this and rides the Tiger 8oo are you still stalling?  It sure sucked stalling for our entire trip but if it is still happening with owners out there we would like to hear about it.

Thursday, 01 March 2012 Scott Brady

Overland motorcycles are one of the only growing markets in the motorcycle industry. The reason for this is best compared to the popularity of SUVs, where a single vehicle can serve many purposes. Much like the SUV, the adventure motorcycle market is beginning to fracture and segment, some bikes serving more as highway cruisers than anything worthy of the Road of Bones. For the team at Expedition Portal, we like to use the following list for minimum requirements of an adventure motorcycle:

  1. 1.     200 mile cruising range (minimum)
    Travel in developing countries or on remote tracks requires a sufficient fuel range. 200 mile improved road range (300 preferred) and 150 mile dirt track range (200 preferred) minimum.
  2. 2.     19” minimum front wheel diameter
    The front wheel of a motorcycle (typical) is not driven. As a result, leverage and ability to roll-over a rock, ledge or pothole is critical. Consider a 21” front wheel in the really rough stuff.
  3. 3.     3,000 mile minimum service interval
    Changing your oil every 1,000 miles just isn’t practical on a long trip.

  1. 4.     Ability to run on 87 octane fuel
    Many parts of the world still have fuel served from crusty drums and plastic containers.  Finding premium fuel, even in Mexico can be a challenge at times. The bike needs to be able to run on low octane fuel, if even for a few tanks.
  2. 5.     7.5” Suspension travel (minimum)
    Suspension travel helps cushion the bike and occupants from impact and assist in maintaining traction and control in the dirt.  Look for 8”+ for any prolonged dirt use.
  3. 6.     300 watt power supply (minimum)
    Travel often includes gadgets like GPS units and important comfort items like heated vests, etc. If traveling in really cold conditions, consider 500 watts a minimum with a solo rider.
  4. 7.     Frame designed for luggage fitment and payload
    A proper adventure motorcycle is designed to support equipment loads. As a result, the frame needs to be strong enough to handle panniers, water, dry bags and other equipment.
  5. 8.     Ergonomics that allow for standing riding position
    Riding on corrugated roads, in sand and mud and on remote tracks requires a standing position for visibility and control.  A cramped cockpit or low bars makes standing impossible for extended periods.

Other considerations:
1. Parts availability.  Global models are an advantage for service and repair.
2. Aftermarket support. Availability of skid plates, luggage, engine guards and HD tires, etc.

Note: This is not to say that you must have an adventure motorcycle to travel the world, but if your plans include off-pavement travel or to cross northern Mongolia, etc. then buy the right bike. It is also possible to heavily modify a dirt-bike for extended travel, but the weak sub-frames, limited payload and short service intervals can affect reliability and rider safety. The criteria above are a guideline, not hard and fast rules.

2011 Overland Motorcycle of the Year Award Winner: BMW 1200 GS Adventure

BMW is often credited with ‘creating’ the adventure motorcycle segment in the early 1980s with the R80 and then R100 GS bikes, but in reality, adventuring with a motorcycle has been happening since 1913 when Carl Clancy rode his Henderson 18,000 miles through Europe, Africa, India, Japan and the United States. Despite this, BMW is serious about adventure travel motorcycles and a significant portion of their line-up and development reflects that emphasis.

Over the past year, we have tested every notable adventure motorcycle, including Triumphs, Ducatis, Yamahas, KTMs, etc.  While I expected the final review and judgment to difficult, it proved to be unanimous.  There is simply no other overland motorcycle that so perfectly executes the action of adventure travel than the BMW GS Adventure.  Let me explain.  Overland travel is not single-track day trips, although I have ridden days worth of single-track on a GS.  Overland travel is about exploration, which means long days in the saddle, long distances between fuel stops, bad roads with deep potholes and then around the next corner, a new coastal road with beautiful twisties.

On the road, the BMW GSA is a pleasure to ride and allows for extended tarmac touring.  Compared to my KTM Adventure, I can easily cover twice the distance in a day.  The seat is wide and supportive, but still allows the rider to shift forward and aft on the dirt. The telelever front suspension inspires aggressive braking on the tarmac and minimal dive, while still providing sufficient suspension travel. Handling overall is sporty, but doesn’t pretend to be a track bike.  Most important, it is comfortable to ride long distances, has strong brakes, ABS for wet conditions or panic stops and supports a tall windscreen and upright seating position to help with fatigue.

The motor is flexible and reasonably efficient given the displacement. The power is available from just off idle to well into the RPM range.  The engine only falls short at the end of the RPM range, the power trailing off notably. My greatest concern with the GSA is the dry clutch configuration, which makes power/traction modulation on steep climbs a risky proposition.  In regular use and touring, the clutch is quite durable, but even a few miles in sand, rocks and big climbs and the clutch suffers.

Testing the 1200 in the Colorado high country

On the trail, the big GS is far more capable than it should be.  Nothing happens quickly, as the weight and suspension travel keeps the speed lower than a KTM, but the GS always manages to get through.  I have ridden days of single track on the GS, lofted the front wheel over logs, run deep sand and long, loose climbs.  I attribute most of the effectiveness on the dirt to the overall balance of the motorcycle, with the weight down low and the pegs wide on the chassis.  The balance continues with the other thoughtful attributes of the bike, including the low first gear of the rally transmission and excellent brake modulation (thankfully, the servo brakes are gone).  When on the dirt, the rider can disable ABS/traction control and set the system to ‘mountain mode’, which raises the air suspension and adjusts the shock valving for the terrain. I cannot understate how useful this system is, as it allows for lower ride height on the road and adjustment for payload and passenger.  The only concern is complexity, although ‘so far’, the system has proven to be reliable.

Overall, the 1200 GS Adventure is an exceptional motorcycle, a joy to ride on the pavement and supremely capable on roads in developing countries.  It is least suited to technical terrain use, but that is also the least common environment encountered in long-distance overland travel.  Having said that, I have pushed the GSA far beyond its intended use on single track and deep sand. I have been a KTM 950 Adventure owner for five years and there is no question what my next adventure motorcycle will be: a BMW 1200 GS Adventure.
Riding the 1200 in Colorado

Pros:

  1. Comfortable to ride long-distance
  2. Confidence inspiring handling and braking
  3. Capacity and frame strength for fully loaded travel
  4. Excellent ESA suspension
  5. 8.9 Gallon Tank
  6. 720 Watt Alternator

Cons:

  1. Fully loaded, the weight is difficult to manage in technical terrain
  2. Larger peg surface needed for standing comfort
  3. Dry clutch limits power and traction modulation in technical terrain

1st Runner-up: Triumph 800XC

Deciding the 1st runner-up was more difficult than choosing the winner.  Our selection came down to the KTM 990 Adventure, Yamaha Super Tenere and the Triumph 800XC. To attempt a comparison of specifications would simply devolve into painful Internet keyboard jockeying (we can reserve that for the comments).  In the end, motorcycles are very personal and emotional.  If you are more of a ‘spec’ buyer, go get the Super Tenere.  It will go about its work with as much precision and attractiveness as a really nice toaster.  If you have visions of Dakar each time you ride – grab the KTM. Just don’t plan to spend a lot of time on the highway. This leads to the Triumph 800XC, which is a fantastic looking and thoroughly enjoyable bike to ride.  It is quick on the street and has a wonderful motor, both smooth and powerful for the displacement with nearly 100hp.  The front wheel is 21-inches and the suspension is effective on the dirt. It lacks the refinement, balance, comfort and flexibility of the BMW GSA, but it makes up for it with being super fun to ride and great design.
Testing the 800XC in Prescott

Pros:

  1. 8.6” front suspension travel
  2. 21” front wheel
  3. Powerful, smooth and efficient motor
  4. 60+ mpg

Cons:

  1. Rear brake lever ergonomics and overall brake modulation is poor
  2. Heavy at nearly 500lbs
  3. Less comfortable on long pavement segments then industry leaders
  4. Gearing is high for trail work and engine is prone to low-RPM stalls

8 thoughts on “2011 Adventure Motorcycle of the Year

  1. 2nd Runner Up: 1998 Suzuki DR650
    Nice article. It got me comparing my bike to these bikes.

    I’d love a BMW and the comfortable capability of this ultimate bike, but for my finances, I’m set with my used 650. It was definitely my ride of the year. Whatever you’ve got to ride can do anything you want to do (albeit with less finesse than the BMW), but it’ll do it.

  2. > 60+ mpg

    What? I cry foul here. How in the world are you getting 60 MPG out of the Tiger. The best I’m doing is in the low 40s. My Ulysses was getting in the 50′s and it had a much larger engine with more HP. In checking with other Tiger owners, my average seems to be the norm. How did you average 60 MPG?

    • I’m agree with you but I dont ride a bike for saving gaz. I think I’m at 45 mpg but I dont care. A scooter is very good in mpg, not the Tiger

      • gas mileage meams something to us…we commute and riding a bike that sucks gas would not make commuting sense other than it’s more fun. So we do look for gas mileage as a factor but it would not completely break a deal.

    • Totally agree..the Tiger never got great gas mileage for us when we took it over 6000 RPM’s…not sure how correct this article is in general. But it looks like a nice review LOL

  3. I ride the T800XC since may 2011 and there some points that is wrong about this:
    1- no more stalling problems (easy software correction)
    2- the weight is not more than others 800 cc (and less than the 1200)
    3-”less confortable” !!! What t …

    The most interesting point that is missing in there thinking is that you can buy 2 T800XC for the price of one 1200GSA. Finaly, I read in the net that the 1200GSA have some mechanics problems that are not seen in this article.

    For those reasons the T800XC is # 1 in others 2011 adventure bike of the year compares.

    Al

    • Good the hear no more stalling issues…not sure why this would be a con since we knew the recall came out 10 days after we got back from Alaska. The Tiger is heavier than the F800GS but is way more comfortable but we have not been on a GSA to compare. The way the Tiger is set up it looks more like the 1200 to us. But now that there is the Explorer out then perhaps the Tiger 800 should not be in the same article as the 1200 anymore.

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