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.”