Choosing the Right Adventure Bike

A new way of looking at an age-old dilemma

2016 Triumph Tiger 800 XCx off-road action
2016 Triumph Tiger 800 XCx.Jeff Allen

From Cycle World's 2016 Travel & Adventure issue. Get your copy here.

It doesn’t matter if you’re exploring a powerline trail at the edge of town or setting off for Ushuaia, adventure bikes are as much about expanding your horizons as well as your options. Whether you want to channel your inner Valentino Rossi or Ernest Shackleton, choosing the right bike is key to how happy you’ll be.

We’re limiting our discussion here to bikes that are both on- and off-road capable rather than dirt-only or street-only machines. Even then there’s a huge range from small, light, inexpensive 250cc singles to large, substantial, expensive continent-roamers with engines five times as large. And while there’s some temptation to think one choice more righteous or refined than another, that’s rubbish. It’s a matter of finding a bike that suits the kind of riding you do and understanding that the bike itself will most likely shape the adventures you seek out. The rider on a 250 may well ride up rocky single-tracks that the 1200 owner will never explore. On the other hand, the rider on a bigger ADV machine may roll up the kind of cross-continent mileage that few 250s will ever see.

One thing these diagrams should make apparent: Machines that excel in one area often do so by sacrificing broad-scope capabilities in others. This is the difference between a scalpel and a Swiss army knife: Broadly defined, they’re both just cutting implements, one highly focused, the other a jack-of- all-trades. Riders who are after a specific experience will look for high “peaks” in the chart. Riders who take the Swiss army approach must understand that they’re sacrificing the peaks but gaining overall area within the bike’s scope. Were these dyno charts, one rider might look for a high peak number, while another values more the shaded area under the horsepower trace, knowing he or she values a flatter torque curve more.

What Shape Is Your Ride?

We've tried to define seven popular ADV bikes' strengths and limits. Choosing the right one for you is a matter of being honest with yourself and defining your priorities.

ADV selection infographic
Seeing The Big Picture infographic.Cycle World
ADV selection infographic
Seeing The Big Picture infographic.Cycle World