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.