The BIG adventure bike group test: BMW R1200GS-A vs Ducati Multistrada Enduro vs KTM 1290 Super Adventure vs Triumph Tiger Explorer XCa

By Marc Potter
marcpotter Tested every new bike since 1994, loves anything on two wheels, runs Potski Media, ex-BikeSocial boss. Recently discovered elbow-down riding - likely to end in tears.

There are adventure bikes and then there’s the new breed of super adventure bikes.

These 1200cc monsters weigh in at some 250kg+ when fully-fuelled and feature more toys than most family motors.

Cue semi-active suspension, cruise control, heated seats (on the KTM and Triumph), traction-control, anti-wheelie, 30 litre tanks (except the Triumph at 20 litres), and as much power for the Ducati and KTM as the world’s fastest production motorcycle was making 20 years ago.

It’s no surprise that sports tourers as we know them are pretty much dead in the water.

These bikes are serious mile munchers and rapid cross-country tourers. They’re all big money too, so whether you’d want to take them off-road or not we’ll get to later, but for now, let’s get on the road to Scotland.

R1200GS

The journey begins - BMW R1200GS Adventure

The British Isles almost aren’t big enough to test these kings of the road, which is why we loaded up on Monday morning with enough camera kit and clothes for a month long expedition and set the sat nav to Balmaha, on the banks of Loch Lomond, some 350 miles away. 

I say sat nav rather than sat navs, because only the BMW came fitted with one, meaning that it was lead bike for the three-day trip. They’re popular for a reason. We head up the A1 before taking off on a sweeping road for a quick lunch stop at the Penny Garth Café in Hawes. 

No other bike on the road has as much presence as a fully-loaded BMW GS Adventure. That all commanding riding position, some five feet in the air, that squidgy yet supportive seat, those massive engine bars, that big boxer twin engine. The UK’s new counter terrorism firearms squad were right to choose a GS, but they really should have been big R1200GS-As chasing down terrorists in London, not 800s. No bike looks harder.

That liquid-cooled engine is smooth yet has enough character. You know it’s a boxer. It’s the least powerful bike in our test at a claimed 125bhp, but you never want for more when you’re riding it. Stick it in Dyna mode and the throttle is sharpened up nicely. The power is always where you want it to be. It’s gutsy low-down and makes a decent warble when it’s revved. Combine the best wind protection here, including a screen you can adjust on the go with your left hand, the biggest and most robust panniers, neutral handling on the Michelin Anakee tyres and semi-active suspension adjustable for your every ride or mood, and it’s easy to see why the GS is the biggest-selling bike here.

It even has an auto blipper system to change up and down the gears. It sounds like a gimmick but you’ll soon fall in love with it and wonder why you need a clutch at all.

The GS is established, it’s loved, and more importantly it works. It may look like a beast but get moving and the GS carries its weight so well.

One thing is for sure, the BMW is so good and one of my favourite bikes of all time. It’s going to be hard to beat.

Multistrada

After lunch - Ducati Multistrada Enduro

After lunch I switch to the Ducati Multistrada Enduro. The latest breed of the Italian Multistrada may share the same name as the 1200 Multistrada but has more than 100 different parts to transform it into the Enduro. 

Bike test legend Phil West has ridden it this far and he says ‘I can’t understand why you’d want one more than a standard Multistrada.’ He’s wrong, of course.

You may lose around two per cent of the Multistrada’s sportiness, but the all-conquering round the world ability trumps that in my book.

The Multistrada Enduro has 200mm of rear suspension travel for off-road forays (the BMW has 210mm), it has a more durable double-sided swingarm, new spoked wheels, a different riding position, new bodywork with better wind protection, a retuned motor for more torque, a 19” front wheel for better off-road stability and control, retuned suspension, a wider and bigger rider and passenger seat, different geometry for better stability with luggage, chunky off-road footrests, a steel rear brake lever in case you topple off so you can bend it back, the ability to carry more luggage. And that’s just for starters.

I’ve already been well acquainted with the bike at its launch and during a two day Ducati DRE Enduro school in Tuscany last month, where I learnt how indestructible the Multi E is. Through obstacles ranging from muddy forests to a see-saw and getting over logs, the Multistrada Enduro amazed me with its low-down grunt from the DVT (Ducati Variable Timing) motor.

On the road from Hawes up to the M6 it’s doing the same impressive routine. Strangely for such a massive bike it feels smaller and more compact in terms of the riding position than the Beemer. The Pirelli Skorpion Trail II tyres find immense grip too.

Fully-laden with a load of camera kit and overnight luggage, the Multistrada is doing a very good impression of being fast, smooth and comfortable. Okay, so the seat isn’t quite as comfortable as the BMW’s, and I’d opt for the higher screen, but it handles, it stops and it goes. How it goes. That 160bhp motor and its variable valve timing means it’s flexible low down, and then also allows it to rev to 10,000rpm and beyond where it takes on a whole new personality.

Like the rest of the bikes here the Ducati has semi-active suspension. It’s Sachs in this instance. Fully-loaded the front-end feels a bit soft to me, but it’s easy to adjust using the menus on the full-colour dash to just turn the damping up to ‘harder’. 

Add a pillion, or luggage, or fancy a sportier ride and you can choose from different settings to stiffen or soften the ride. It’s a great set-up. Even the panniers are good. Not quite as robust as the BMW, but they’re massive, easy to load and strong. Original Multistrada 1200 panniers were a joke, so it’s good to see the Touratech touch. The German gurus have helped develop the bike and the bolt-on packs on the Multi E.

Rider modes are also available, like on the other bikes. The Touring map isn’t the smoothest Ducati map ever, making the power feel stilted low-down and then rushing in at higher revs. Stick it in Sport and it’s all you’ll ever need. Unless you want to ride off-road of course, then, like the BMW it can be put into Enduro mode. On the Ducati it lifts the suspension, softens it all up, reduces power to 100bhp, adjusts traction-control to allow spin, and turns ABS off the rear so you can skid it in to corners off-road. The BMW’s system offers a similar set-up.

But there’s no need for off-road skills today, just navigating back roads through Yorkshire into Cumbria.

Tiger Explorer

Motorway - Triumph Tiger Explorer XCa 

Ask me what the six different levels of Triumph Explorer 1200 spec are and I’d struggle to answer as the whole range I find frankly confusing. But what we have here is the XCa, which is the top-spec bike in the ‘off-road’ Explorer range. 

That means we get a heated seat, wide and chunky aluminium off-road footrests, WP semi-active suspension, rider modes, an electronically-adjustable screen (as with all 2016-spec Explorers) and 137bhp claimed from the three-cylinder 1215cc motor. Only the BMW makes less.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first. The Triumph is incredibly heavy compared to the other bikes on test. It weighs in at 258kg dry. Unfortunately, Triumph don’t quote a wet figure, but, the Ducati with all its fuel, oil and crash bars is 254kg wet, the KTM comes in at 259kg, and the mammoth GS is 259kg wet.

It feels it too. Carrying all that weight in the engine means there’s a lot of weight over the front wheel. That the WP semi-active suspension sometimes struggles to cope with it and occasionally crashes over bumps if it’s firmed up, although the system is good and can be adjusted to soften it off and make for a nicer ride quality.

I did the launch of this bike and remember the suspension being much plusher, but maybe the roads were smoother in Portugal?

Fully-loaded and at speed you need the suspension somewhere between normal and hard to take out some of the high-speed wobble the bike occasionally suffers from when loaded.

The panniers fitted to our test bike are the smallest here too, although bigger ones are available, however that you can filter through traffic more easily.

That big heavy motor is lovely to ride though, with loads of creamy low-down power and plenty of mid-range. On the motorway, 90mph equals 5000rpm and never needs to be changed down to get past cars as we head north.

It makes a great triple howl as you rev it, and although down on power compared to the Multi and KTM, it doesn’t need any more. Like the others, the Triumph is a rapid, comfortable cross-country tourer and on the motorway it is a very nice place to spend time, if ever that could be said about riding on a motorway.

The Metzeler Tourance Next tyres combined with that suspension offer incredible levels of feel and grip in the wet too. Stiffen it up when the road gets twistier and the Triumph can be ridden fast. It loves flowing corners and if you ride it fast it’s easily a match for any of the bikes here.

The screen is electronically adjustable and works well. It is the only one here with electronic assistance.

The menu seems a bit fiddly at first to change engine modes, traction control and suspension settings, but you get used to it. It’s the least intuitive system here though.

It may seem that I’m giving the Triumph a bit of a hard time, but it’s a very good bike and you wouldn’t be disappointed of you bought one, but in this company it’s just a little but behind in a few key areas and with a 20-litre tank, compared to the 30-litres fitted to the rest, it needs fuelling at about 150-miles. The others will get 300+ miles before they’re empty, though in truth, after 150 miles you’re ready to get off any of them and stretch your legs and mind for a bit.

Out of all of the bikes here it may look like the least likely to be taken off-road, but I’ve ridden them off-road in the wet and for such a big, heavy bike I was impressed by how well it performed. The Triumph is a really good bike, it’s just that the other three are all fantastic in their own ways.

KTM 1290 Adventure

Off the motorway - KTM 1290 Super Adventure

As we head further up the M8 motorway I get the KTM 1290 Super Adventure for the last stint to our base for the next two nights at Balmaha.

The seat instantly feels harder than the rest, and its feels narrower, taller too.

KTM is clearly proud of its off-road heritage and that design ethos has been passed along to its top-of-the-range super tourer. Though I’ve never ridden one off-road, as I have on the other three, it feels like it would be the best balanced on the muddy stuff. The bars are narrow too, and it feels stiff and purposeful.

But for now we head into Glasgow and I try and adjust the screen. Convinced it doesn’t adjust using the two knobs either side of the screen, fellow Bike Social team member Michael Mann shouts over: “Use two-hands on the knobs’. Using all the strength I can muster with both hands off the bars I finally manage to set the screen higher and take out the bluster of the wind. When it’s up it works, but it’s so stiff that you can’t adjust it on the move.

Thankfully the KTM has a lot else going for it. The menus are as simple to use as the BMW, even if it doesn’t have the full colour tele screen of the Ducati. You can switch between Comfort, Street, Sport and Off-Road, and each mode feels very different. In Sport it’s aggressive, lifts the front wheel readily and feels the sportiest of the four bikes. In Street the bike has great response and it still feels lively. The chassis feels lazier to steer than the GS and Ducati but it’s sporty and arguably handles better than the rest of the bikes here.

The WP semi-active suspension is a revelation and it’s the only bike here where I left it in the standard auto setting. Riding through Glasgow rush-hour I was actively seeking out bumps because I couldn’t believe how well it rode over them, and how plush the suspension felt even on really rough Glaswegian back roads as we got lost in the middle of town. It comes on Continental Trail Attack II tyres that work well and warm-up quickly.

Out of the city and the KTM is eager to please. It hits hard at the low-end of the power, even harder in the middle and has plenty of top-end go. No surprises because with a claimed 160bhp and the biggest lump here at 1301cc, the KTM is stupidly, hilariously rapid!

It feels a bit less refined than the other bikes though and a but lumpier low-down too. It’s a feeling that most KTMs give me, and if you like that then great. It’s certainly exciting!

But somehow as amazing as the Super Adventure is, how fast it covers ground, it’s not quite as accomplished as the BMW or the Ducati. The panniers are plastic instead of metal, it doesn’t seem as well finished as the BMW or Ducati either. But it is a fantastic motorcycle. At the end of the day it all comes down to personal preference, but the four of us on test agreed on this at least.

Multistrada Enduro

Into the Trossachs

After a few beers and a night’s sleep we head off into the mountain of Scotland, seeking out roads like the Dukes Pass, the A81, the A821, wherever takes our fancy. Today Scotland is ours for touring, for sightseeing and for bagging great video for our YouTube channel.

I take the Ducati for the first ride and instantly feel at home. Its immense saddle height and towering riding position are just what you need with such amazing views across Loch Lomond and the Trossachs mountain range.

Even in Sport mode the Ducati is friendly. It almost feels like a big single and is as smooth and powerful as you like. There’s occasional judder if you get the revs too low, and the screen wobbles when you do that, but generally it’s a fantastic place to be first thing in the morning.

The road twists and climbs up high and the Multistrada Enduro is in its element. It carries big lean angles without ever getting near scraping pegs or touching down one of the massive panniers. On a road like this you wonder why you’d ever want to be riding anything else. It’s divine.

Likewise the BMW. It’s giving me a hard time deciding which bike you’d say is the winner. The BMW is just so good at everything. It’s fast (enough), it’s comfortable. We know that’s it’s durable too with some 10,080 GS Adventures registered between 2005 and 2015, plus a staggering 14,979 standard GS’ have been sold in the UK during the same period.

Adv test

With good reason. There’s very little the bike does wrong. And though it may look massively unrideable, in its latest liquid-cooled guise with a 30-litre tank compared to a 33-litre tank it’s much easier to manage.

The suspension takes some getting used to with the Telelever front end feeling a little remote at first, but I’ve had some five or six GSs over the years and ridden them tens of thousands of miles so it’s a feeling I’m more than used too. Likewise, our photographer Mark ‘Weeble’ Manning owns a standard GS and prefers the front-end feel to the more conventionally equipped bikes with forks.

We do some more pics and I jump on the KTM again. Yet again I’m staggered by the way it turns bumpy roads into racetrack smooth tarmac. It’s so fast, like a slightly saner KTM Super Duke with softer suspension, rather than what you may first think of as an adventure bike. I say slightly saner because, even compared to the Ducati, the KTM is barking. I love its attitude, the aggressive way it comes off corners trying to wheelie, to the point where the traction-control system has a bit of a fit and malfunctions, meaning any electronic traction or anti-wheelie assistance is turned off. Turning the bike on and off resets it and to be fair, the road I was on with its crests and rises would have confused any bike.

BMW R1200GS

I love it, Phil thinks its agricultural and Weeble is scared by its aggressive nature.

I get back on the Triumph and delight in its smooth, easy-going nature and the way it makes the flowing roads of the A821 feel mellow, yet fast at the same time. I crank the suspension to stiffer and the bike feels more alive, and easily able to keep up with the rest of the bikes as we pick the pace up, you just have to be smoother with it. As a fast tourer it’s very accomplished.

At the end of a very long day on some fantastic roads and some incredibly accomplished motorcycles we hit the bar and debate the winner. It’s not an easy debate.

Verdict

When it came down to doing everything brilliantly the GS is perhaps the ultimate. Thousands of owners can’t be wrong and it kept me awake at night deciding on the winner of this test. Both the Ducati and the BMW are among my most favourite motorcycles. But when it comes down to it, the Ducati just pips it for me. The extra power, the better handling, the stylish lines, the better electronics, and the way it takes what the BMW started and just eases it all on a few notches means the Ducati is the winner for me. Just. 

The Triumph is a fast, comfortable cross-country adventure motorcycle that edges more towards a touring nature than the rest of the bikes. It’s good, but loses out slightly in this incredible company. And the KTM? It’s the most hardcore of the bunch and sits somewhere between the BMW and Ducati in terms of what it offers the rider. But it may be just a bit too hardcore for some. It’s a hard call but for me it’s the Ducati first, the BMW a very close second, the KTM third and the Triumph ending up in fourth place.

However, that’s not the full story. Myself and Michael put the Ducati first and ultimately as this is my test I get the casting vote, but Mark and Phil placed the BMW just ahead. Hear more of our thoughts in the video below.

You’ve heard what we think. If you’re in the market, get yourself a test ride and let us know your own thoughts.

 

MPG realistic tank range to empty/for all bikes on test over 900 miles:

KTM Super Adventure – 37mpg/244.1 miles

BMW R1200GS Adventure – 44.6mpg/290.3 miles

Ducati Multistrada Enduro – 43.2mpg/285 miles

Triumph Explorer XCa – 39.9mpg/175.5 miles

Performance testing

In addition to taking the four bikes on a 900 mile road trip, we also conducted acceleration, top speed and braking tests at a private airfield circuit. The headline results were as follows:

Maximum
speed 

 (mph)    

Acceleration
(0-60mph)

Seconds     

Standing
quarter mile

 
KTM 144.36     BMW  3.73      KTM 11.32 secs @ 133.59mph
Ducati 143.57     Ducati  3.80      Ducati 11.43 secs @ 124.08mph
Triumph 135.31     Triumph  3.92      Triumph 11.59 secs @ 125.27mph
BMW 131.32     KTM  3.93      BMW 11.68 secs @ 120.52mph

 

Top gear roll on
(40-120mph)        

Seconds  

Braking
(70-0mph)           

Seconds
 KTM  9.52    Ducati  3.50
 Ducati  9.62    KTM  3.51
 BMW  11.79    Triumph  3.53
 Triumph  12.96    BMW  3.59
Headline spec
TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS (manufacturer claimed figures)

 

 

Ducati Multistrada 1200 Enduro

BMW R1200GS Adventure

KTM 1290 Super Adventure

Triumph 1200 Explorer XCa

Engine

1198cc, Liquid-cooled V-twin, four valves per cylinder, DVT. Six-speed gearbox. 106 x 67.9 mm bore and stroke.

1170cc, Air/liquid-cooled flat twin ('Boxer') four-stroke engine, two camshafts and four radially aligned valves per cylinder, central balancer shaft

1301cc, two-cylinder, four-stroke, spark-ignition engine, 75° V arrangement, liquid-cooled

1251cc, Liquid-cooled, 12 valve, DOHC, in-line three-cylinder

 

Frame

Tubular steel trellis

Two-section frame consisting of front and rear sections, load- bearing engine-gearbox unit

Tubular space frame made from chrome molybdenum steel, powder-coated

Tubular steel trellis frame

Suspension

Front: Semi-active Sachs48mm forks with electronic Skyhook compression and rebound damping adjustment.

 

Rear: Skyhook with electronic spring pre-load, compression and rebound adjustment. Aluminum double-sided swingarm

Front: BMW Motorrad Telelever; stanchion diameter 41 mm, central spring strut, spring pre-load with five-position mechanical adjustment, 210mm travel

 

Rear: Cast aluminium single-sided swing arm with BMW Motorrad Paralever; WAD strut (travel-related damping), spring pre-load hydraulically adjustable (continuously variable) at handwheel, rebound damping adjustable. 220mm travel (Note: Semi-active suspension fitted to our test bike)

Front: WP Semi-active suspension 48 mm diameter

 

Rear: Shock absorber: WP Semi-active suspension, PDS monoshock

Front: WP 48mm upside down forks, electronically adjustable damping, 190mm travel.

 

Rear: WP monoshock, electronically adjustable semi active damping, 193mm wheel travel. Automatic preload adjustment.

Brakes

Front: Dual 320mm semi-floating discs, radially mounted Brembo monobloc four-piston calipers, two-pad, radial pump, cornering ABS as standard.

 

Rear: 265mm disc, two-piston floating caliper, cornering ABS as std.

Front: Dual disc brake, floating brake discs, diameter 305 mm, four-piston fixed calipers

 

Rear: Single disc brake, diameter 265 mm, double-piston floating caliper

 

Front: Brembo, twin-disc brake with radially mounted four-piston brake calipers, 320mm

 

Rear: Brembo, single-disc brake with two-piston brake caliper; fixed brake disc, 267mm

Front: Twin 305 mm floating discs, radially mounted monobloc Brembo calipers, four-piston, switchable ABS

Rear: Single 282mm disc, Nissin two piston sliding caliper, switchable ABS

 

Wheelbase

1594mm

1510mm

1560mm

1520mm

 

Seat height

870mm (optional seats 850mm - 890mm)

890 - 910mm

860 - 875mm

837 - 857mm

Fuel tank capacity

30 litres

30 litres

30 litres

20 litres

Wet/Dry Weight

254kg/225kg

263kg (wet)

229kg (dry)

258kg (dry)

Power

160bhp @ 9500rpm

125bhp @ 7750rpm

160bhp

137bhp @ 9300rpm

Torque

100.3ft-lb

92.1ft-lb

103ft-lb

90.7ft-lb

Tyres

Front: 170/60 R17

Rear: 120/70 R19

Front: 110/80 R19

Rear: 150/70 R17

 

Front: 120/70 R19

Rear: 170/60 R17

 

Front: 120/70 R19

Rear: 170/60 R17

 

Price

From £16,690.

From £13,050.

From £16,199.

From £15,800.

Price as tested

£18,077

£16,585

£17,328

£16,325

 

KTM
Triumph
BMW
Multistrada Enduro
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