BMW R1200GS vs. KTM 990 Adventure vs. Yamaha Super Tenere – Comparison Test
A new player in the big-bore adventure-touring segment makes things
Close your eyes and plant a finger on the map. Anywhere you like. As long as it doesn’t come back smelling like ocean, there’s a good chance you can ride a motorcycle there. Not just any motorcycle, of course. You’ll want one of these: a full-size adventure-touring bike.
Motorcycles such as the BMW R1200GS, KTM 990 Adventure and the new-to-the-U.S. Yamaha Super Ténéré earn the “adventure” label by promising a mix of on-road capability (read that as comfort, range, luggage capacity) and off-road suitability (don’t read that as lining up for the start at the nearest EnduroCross). The “touring” part means you’ll seek your two-wheel thrills far from home, which has in part thinned the small Singles from the herd and pushes you toward bikes that can be fitted with durable, hard-sided luggage. Plus, you’ll want room for your GPS, SPOT emergency locator, satellite radio and plug-in coffee maker, for all we know.
Like sport-touring, the similarly hyphenated adventure-touring category forces tremendous compromises on the equipment, probably even more so than among STs. And, along those lines, you need to ask yourself just how much true off-roading you’re likely to tackle, because the answer will help you put each of these three bikes’ strengths and weaknesses into context.
For our testing, we rode all three independently over long distances, shook them out on a long day ride that included both high- and low-speed paved, twisty roads, and then brought them all together for a two-day flog in the Southern California high desert. In truth, this is probably a higher degree of off-road riding than most owners will put them to, but we felt that we needed to challenge them to the most difficult tasks—scaling rock-strewn trails, grinding through sand washes, roosting volcanic effluvia—to see what they’re really made of.
Since the model-year 1981 introduction of the R80 G/S, BMW has just about owned this market segment. The current product is an amazing construct, surprisingly light for such a large, technology-filled motorcycle, impressively powerful, feature-rich and styled to look the part. BMW borrowed the HP2’s dohc cylinder heads for the 1170cc opposed-Twin engine in the GS for the 2010 model year. That free-revving motor remains a charmer, with the most peak horsepower and torque of these three (98.4 hp and 78.5 foot-pounds), leading the similar-displacement Yamaha by 6.2 hp/5 ft.-lb. and the 999cc KTM V-Twin by 8.1 hp and a whopping 16.5 ft.-lb. of torque. Senior Editor Blake Conner said, “The Boxer Twin is without peer in this group. At cruising speed, the engine is smooth, especially if that cruise speed is 75 to 80 mph.”
KTM’s familiar 75-degree V-Twin doesn’t have the ponies of the bigger engines, but it’s smooth and extremely tractable, with a higher redline than the others (9500 rpm vs. the BMW’s 8500 and the Yamaha’s 7750) and a commendably flat torque curve. The KTM has noticeably less flywheel effect, giving the engine a snappier feel and, well, there are times when 90-plus horsepower is just too much for the dirt.
Yamaha’s 1199cc parallel-Twin has a character all its own. Using a 270-degree crank, the Yamaha’s narrow engine feels more like a very large, very smooth Single. Power delivery follows suit, with a grittier personality and the ability, even with the standard traction-control system switched off, to find traction.
We love almost everything about the Yamaha but the YCCT—Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle—ride-by-wire system. The Super T has two modes: S for Sport and T for Touring. In the S mode, initial throttle response is slightly languid but then wakes up with a bang, only to flatten out slightly. The soft-hard-soft character makes the bike very difficult to ride smoothly. In the T mode, the Ténéré is much more manageable but feels dull. We’d love you to take one more stab at this one, Yamaha, especially given that your competition needs no such electrickery to provide a seamless, predictable translation from twistgrip movement to forward thrust.
The more time we spent in the dirt, the more we came to dislike the electronics fitted to the BMW and the Yamaha. Our 990 Adventure came with ABS, which can be switched off, and brakes with soft enough onset that they were immediately at home over challenging terrain. In fact, the whole KTM felt like it was born to be spewing chunks of terra firma from the back tire.
For safety off-road and fairness in the comparison, all three wore Continental TKC 80 street-rated knobby tires. The KTM has a traditional 21/18-inch combination, while the other two sport compromise 19/17-inch wheel sizes. To some degree, the BMW and Yamaha disliked the Contis’ profiles (the BMW quite a lot, actually), but the KTM could well have been delivered on these tires—it felt that natural.
Electronics, then? Yes, the BMW’s two-stage traction control can be turned off, as can its linked ABS, but doing so takes a series of button presses and a thorough understanding of the icons on the LCD panel. Yamaha allows you to select one of two TC levels as well as Off, but you can’t easily disable ABS. Here’s the deal, dear manufacturers: If you really want these bikes to go off road, you need to make it easier to configure them for that purpose.
We know from thousands of miles in the saddle that the BMW R1200GS is a superlative all-around streetbike and a more-than-passable tourer. Our recent experience on the Ténéré suggests much of the same, with the added benefit of powerful, quirk-free brakes, a sufficiently stout engine, great fuel range (like the BMW) and good weather protection. The KTM falls behind in the comfort category but not by much, mainly at the hands of cockpit turbulence at highway speeds. Understand that the spread here isn’t huge, with the Yamaha barking right up the BMW’s tailpipe and the Adventure just a few lengths back. Any of us would hop on any of these three for a weeklong tour.
Expectations and results invert when tarmac gives way to nature’s highway. Light (by the class standards), agile, predictable and confidence-inspiring, the Adventure tackles all but the most technical terrain without causing the rider to have a what-the-hell-am-I-doing? moment. Yamaha’s beast, the heaviest in the test by 47 lb. (591 lb. wet compared to 544 for the BMW and 519 for the KTM), causes some initial concern. Says Off-Road Editor Ryan Dudek, “Compared to the others, the weight of the Ténéré is most apparent, giving the impression that it is hardest to handle.” But it turns out to be surprisingly adept, tracking through sand reasonably well and steering predictably once you’ve switched off TC. The BMW was everyone’s least favorite off road, with the experienced guys fairly sanguine about its weight and the front end’s propensity to dance, skitter and generally fail to redirect the Beemer’s mass. The one tester with little recent time off-road hated it. As for Dudek, the guy who lives off-road: “You have to build a certain confidence in the GS, as well as with the others, before challenging a steep climb or sandy hill. But put out the spoiler alert: The KTM is obviously best for off-road work. Its riding position is closest to that of an actual dirtbike, from its aggressive handlebar to its slim chassis. It gives the rider more control over the bike.”
Conner helps put the BMW in perspective: “The GS’s bar is too wide to be comfortable when standing. Mechanically, the BMW is capable off-road, but is anyone really going to take the GS off-road just to ride off-road? No way.”
BMW wasn’t through earning Blake’s ire. He managed to break both Vario sidecases, one of them after it had been completely emptied. First, the small plastic tang behind the locking support broke, followed by the one where that bracket clamps onto the frame tube. At that point, the bags are free to depart the bike, which both did at least once. Put bluntly, the expensive Vario bags aren’t suitable for true off-road work or even for bumpy dirt roads, for that matter.
In contrast, the KTM accessory bags and Yamaha’s optional panniers (both top loading, our preferred method) proved durable. In fact, we had no problems with the Ténéré’s bags at all and only managed to pop some rivets on the KTM’s set after jumping the bike for photos with them in place (but the bags stayed on).
***We’re not suggesting that luggage sets the finishing order, but by unanimous vote, we call the Yamaha Super Ténéré the best of the three when the overarching concern is a traditional adventure/touring compromise. If your dirt/street ratio will be no more than, oh, 30/70, the Yamaha will do the job and do it extremely well. Reports Conner, “I was rather surprised by the Super Ténéré when the dust settled. It really proved to be the jack of all trades; it is a really good streetbike with many features that touring riders are looking for.” Slide that preference pointer over to, um, 50/50 dirt/street, and we say go orange (or, in our case, white) with the KTM. It’s close enough in the comfort/touring categories that neither the BMW nor the Yamaha gets away, and then it soundly trounces both of them once off the beaten path.***
Do we suddenly dislike the GS, a longtime staff fave? Not at all. The BMW remains an incredible, flexible streetbike, one of the quickest ways down a cobbled mountain road and a vehicle built with obvious care. It should be, considering that our fully equipped (ABS, Enduro Electric Suspension Adjustment, traction control, heated grips, wire-spoke wheels) GS put the sticker just shy of $20,000. Grab a Ténéré, base price of $14,500, add luggage and heated grips and you’re still a whisker under $16K.
Close your eyes and pick a point on the map, and the Yamaha Super Ténéré will take you there in comfort, with enough off-highway competence to keep you from spending the night in places you’d rather not be.
|BMW R1200GS||KTM 990 Adventure||Yamaha Super Ténéré|
|List Price||$14,990 ($19,864 as tested)||$14,899 ($15,981 as tested)||$14,500 ($15,590 as tested)|
|Warranty||36 mo./36,000 miles||24 mo./24,000 miles||12 mo./unlimited mileage|
|ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN|
|Engine||air-cooled, four-stroke opposed-Twin||liquid cooled, four-stroke V-Twin||liquid cooled, four-stroke parallel-Twin|
|Bore & stroke||101.0 x 73.0mm||101.0 x 62.4 mm||98.0 x 79.5mm|
|Valve train||dohc, four valves per cylinder, shim adjustment||dohc, four valves per cylinder, shim adjustment||dohc, four valves per cylinder, shim adjustment|
|Valve adjust intervals||6000 mi.||9300 mi.||26,600 mi.|
|Induction||(2) 50mm throttle bodies||(2) 48mm throttle bodies||(2) 46mm throttle bodies|
|Tank empty||511 lb.||486 lb.||553 lb.|
|Tank full||544 lb.||519 lb.||591 lb.|
|Fuel capacity||5.3 gal.||5.3 gal.||6.0 gal.|
|Wheelbase||59.2 in.||62.0 in.||60.6 in.|
|Rake/trail||25.7°/4.0 in.||26.6°/na in.||28.0°/5.0 in.|
|Seat height||34.0 in.||34.3 in.||33.2 in.|
|GVWR||970 lb.||948 lb.||1036 lb.|
|Load capacity (tank full)||426 lb.||429 lb.||445 lb.|
|SUSPENSION & TIRES|
|Claimed wheel travel||7.5 in.||8.3 in.||7.5 in.|
|Adjustments||Enduro ESA||compression and rebound damping, spring preload||compression and rebound damping, spring preload|
|Claimed wheel travel||7.9 in.||8.3 in.||7.5 in.|
|Adjustments||Enduro ESA||high- and low-speed compression and rebound damping, spring preload||rebound damping, spring preload|
|Front||110/80R19 Metzeler Tourance EXP||90/90-21 Pirelli Scorpion MT 90 A/T||110/80R19 Metzeler Tourance EXP|
|Rear||150/70R17 Metzeler Tourance EXP||150/70-18 Pirelli Scorpion MT 90 A/T||150/70R17 Metzeler Tourance EXP|
|1/4-mile||11.39 sec. @ 117.25 mph||11.42 sec. @ 114.34 mph||11.69 sec. @ 109.99 mph|
|0-30 mph||1.4 sec.||1.3 sec.||1.3 sec.|
|0-60 mph||3.4 sec.||3.2 sec.||3.4 sec.|
|0-90 mph||6.6 sec.||6.7 sec.||7.3 sec.|
|0-100 mph||8.2 sec.||8.6 sec.||9.4 sec.|
|Top gear time to speed:|
|40-60 mph||3.5 sec.||4.3 sec.||4.1 sec.|
|60-80 mph||3.7 sec.||4.7 sec.||4.4 sec.|
|Measured top speed||133 mph||129 mph||125 mph|
|Horsepower||98.4 @ 7615 rpm||90.3 @ 8250 rpm||92.2 @ 7245 rpm|
|Torque||78.5 ft.-lb @ 6160 rpm||62.0 ft.-lb @ 7250 rpm||73.5 ft.-lb @ 5495 rpm|
|High/low/average||40/26/37 mpg||37/27/33 mpg||36/23/33 mpg|
|Avg. range inc. reserve||196 mi.||175 mi.||198 mi.|
|From 30 mph||33 ft.||34 ft.||33 ft.|
|From 60 mph||130 ft.||136 ft.||135 ft.|