It’s common to assume that any so-called ‘adventure’ is some kind of goliath in terms of capacity, bulk and price. After all, the most familiar machines in the category – BMW’s top selling R1200GSA, Ducati’s newly-enlarged enlarged Multistrada 1260, KTM’s 1290 Super Adventure and even Britain’s own 1200 Tiger – are exactly that: tall, heavy, imposing and, due to often being equipped with every electronic gizmo and accessory imaginable, pricey, too.
But they don’t have to be. In recent years the emergence of more affordable, smaller capacity versions, such as Kawasaki’s 650 Versys, has opened up the ‘adventure’ world to far more riders, budget and tastes.
And these ‘middleweight’ adventure bikes now cover a wide variety of types and prices, as well, ranging from Royal Enfield’s new, budget priced, 400cc Himalayan up to, say, Honda’s £11K, V4, 800cc Crossrunner. So, what exactly is currently out there? What do you get for your money and how do you choose? To help, here’s our pick of 10 of the best, in ascending price order…
Let’s start with something slightly leftfield. Indian-based Royal Enfield’s new Himalayan has a peculiarly subcontinent take on adventure motorcycling being derived from the decidedly old school air-cooled Bullet but taken to 411cc and with longer suspension (including Enfield’s first monoshock), fuel-injection, ABS and rugged looks. At just 24bhp there’s nothing much modern about it and its off-road credentials are marginal at best But at just £3999 it’s also very thrifty, has undoubted charm and is probably a hoot pottering up the Tibetan foothills.
The adventure-styled variant of Honda’s hugely successful, purpose-built A2 licence compliant CB500 family has lots to commend it. The liquid-cooled, 47bhp twin and budget-orientated frame is identical to those of its CBR500R sports, CB500F Roadster and CMX500 Rebel cruiser siblings (actually the low-slung Rebel has a different frame) in being easy, novice-friendly and effective, but the X has longer suspension, slightly more man-sized proportions (which bigger riders will like), and adventure bodywork. The result is honest, easy-as-pie, versatile, affordable and yet still with bags of Honda class.
Another clever Honda middleweight. Like the C, the NC-X is the adventure version of a family of bikes – this time the parallel twin-powered NCs that also include the NC750S roadster and Integra scooter. Their chief selling point is the optional (in the case of the two NCs) DCT ‘Dual Clutch Transmission’ gearbox, which is basically a very clever, switchable, semi-automatic which dispenses with the clutch lever and allows all to be ridden like ‘twist n go’ scooters. With the X, that option costs £7499. But the conventional version is still clever, too, with practicalities like a luggage compartment in the (dummy) tank, top economy and pleasing and easy (if not very exciting) manners.
Pretty much the benchmark middleweight adventure. The Versys is brilliant value (although, annoyingly, the green version costs £150 more); is a perky performer (from its willing, 68bhp parallel twin); has decent handling, full-sized proportions (that will easily carry two people to Penzance and back) and a useful spec (including an adjustable screen and remote preload adjuster). In fact, from a purely transport point of view, it’s easy to argue that you don’t need anything more from a motorcycle No off-roader, though, if you want to be picky.
Yamaha’s all-new MT modular family (comprising 900 triple MT-07 and 700 twin MT-07) was already lauded for their brilliance when they first came out as spartan roadsters from 2014. But with the addition of the Tracer’ versions, complete with adventure-style bodywork, larger tanks and all-round improved practicality, they were elevated to a higher level still. The 700 trailed the 900 but quickly became a Europe-wide best seller thanks to its combination of lively, fun performance, sweet handling, decent versatility and tremendous value. Prices have risen since so it’s not quite the bargain it once. Nor is it an off-roader. But it is still brilliant.
Suzuki pretty much invented the middleweight, twin-cylinder, budget adventure bike when it launched its first brilliant VStrom 650 as a spin-off of the SV650 roadster in 2004. That bike received a timely facelift and update in 2011 to remain on top and this latest update came in 2017 with the bonus of this additional ‘XT’, more rugged version (complete with wire wheels). With 71bhp and great all-round ability it’s as good and tempting as ever, even if does seem to be aging a little, there days. Nor is it quite the bargain it once was – although the base version is £500 cheaper. As an all-rounder, though, including some dirt ability, it’s brilliant.
New-for-2018 750GS is the updated successor to the F700GS, which is the lower, simply, softer and more novice-friendly of BMW’s middleweight F-GS adventure duo. Compared to its 850 bigger brother, the 750 has a lower, 815mm seat, calmer 76bhp output, smaller 19-inch front wheel and is aimed at the less experienced, road rider. It’s also £1450 less than the more butch, off-road 850. Updates across both, meanwhile, include new cast frame and updated electronics including two rider modes. As with all BMWs, though, if you want the really good options, such as colour TFT screen and semi-active suspension, you have to pay extra.
Triumph’s 800 Tiger is another middleweight adventure bike that’s received a comprehensive makeover for 2018. Originally launched in 2010 in two forms, the road-orientated XR and the more off-road (c/o larger wire wheels etc) XC in 2010, the likeable, versatile triple has become one of the UK’s firm’s biggest success stories thanks to its combination of value, character and versatility. For 2018, that family’s now grown to six – four XRs of different spec, including a low-seat XRx, plus two XCs, the XCx and range-topping, fully-kitted, XCa, costing almost 12 and a half grand. All are enhanced, improved and better equipped than ever although the prices of some are a bit salty. Which is why we’d go for the base XR that delivers the bulk of the Tiger experienced at the most stomachable price.
2018 successor to the old F800GS may still lack the charisma and kudos of the boxer-engined, full-bore R1200GS, but in many respects is a far better, real world bike. The updated parallel twin is characterful and punchy; the handling from the human-sized chassis is unintimidating and nigh on faultless and overall it’s comfortable, practical and effective – both on and off-road. Tick some of the options boxes and it’ll be brilliantly equipped as well (at a price). A great, undervalued adventure bike.
OK, this is maybe pushing the definition of ‘middleweight’ but as we’ve already included both Triumph and BMW’s 800cc offerings it only seemed fair to include it. Based on the VFR800 V4 sports-tourer, the Crossrunner is no off-roader, admittedly, but as an adventure-styled all-rounder it’s worth a look. The V4 powertrain is flexible and satisfying, the chassis steady and cultured and equipment and comfort is good, too. On the downside it’s a little pricey, is aging a little (no electronics here) and isn’t cheap, either. But if what you really want is an adventure style sports tourer, and have no intention of hitting the dirt, it’s worth a look.