Adv Bike Selection 1


Some stick to the old maxim that any bike is an adventure bike.  Any bike can take you anywhere.  A recent conversation with Austin Vince found us in complete agreement.  That maxim is bollocks.  That maxim worked in the 1980s and 1990s when Adventure Motorcycling was crossing continents like Africa or South America.  When routes were undocumented, even main “highways” unpaved and uncertain, and mystery was around every corner.  Back in those days, when the term “Adventure Motorcycling” was born, a trans-continental motorcycle journey inherently consisted of both travel to exotic places and the adventure of expedition motorcycling to actually get there.  This is epitomised by the journeys of people like Chris Scott, Grant & Susan Johnson, Helge Pedersen, Eric & Gail Haws, and others.  This complete  intertwining of these two elements that make up “Adventure Motorcycling” of exotic motorcycle travel and expedition riding can be seen in the Austin Vince film, Terra Circa, where the exotic travel goal of riding across Russia to Vladivostok was inextricably linked to the need to ride across what the team christened, the “Zilov Gap” –  several hundred kilometres of swamp – on nothing more than unmaintained railway service tracks.

Terra Circa, 2001

These days Adventure Riding has moved on, as the roads have become paved, as the mystery around each corner has evaporated due to the explosion of information available on the internet.  That has caused a split in direction amongst Adventure Motorcyclists.  While the majority now focus exclusively on “motorcycle travel” as being the key to Adventure Motorcycling (thus the proliferation of 250 kg “Adventure” bikes that are not suitable for the likes of mud, sand or other adventurous terrain beyond well maintained, graded, gravel roads), many, including myself, believe that some degree of expedition riding is still fundamental to the idea of “Adventure Motorcycling”, as was the case in the past.  These days riding to Vladivostok is simply a matter of getting on the all asphalted Trans-Siberian Highway, and following the endless procession of 40 ton, 18 wheel freight lorries, or your GPS voice commands,  and around two weeks after leaving Moscow you will arrive at Vladivostok.  Is that Adventure Motorcycling in 2013?  Is “Adventure Motorcycling” really an appropriate name for that?  You can do it on a scooter, on a Goldwing, or anything in between.  That’s an experience and an endeavour almost completely unrelated to the “Adventure Motorcycling” experienced on the same route in 2001 by the Terra Circa team and highlights how advances in both technology and road building have meant that many Adventure Motorcyclists of today now seek riding challenges beyond the main routes in order to maintain that need for real adventure riding.  Austin Vince himself has shown how the need to seek out more exotic routes is essential to his own sense of Adventure Motorcycling, when for his soon to be released film, Mondo Sahara, he sought out rarely visited inland corners of Mauritania for the Saharan expedition.  Mondo Sahara is thus true to the spirit of Adventure Motorcycling, a combination of both elements; exotic destinations and expedition riding.

For me at least, Adventure Motorcycling now does not mean domestic off road riding, nor riding to adventurous sounding far away foreign cities on asphalt major highways, alongside tourist coaches full of elderly German and Japanese tourists.  For me, the getting away from it all feeling of Adventure Motorcycling means actual adventurous riding in adventurous places.  For that more purist approach to Adventure Motorcycling, a more rigorous and demanding evaluation of potential motorcycles (Adventure Bikes) is needed.

Recently BMW has changed its definition of “Adventure Bikes” to include (for the very first time) bikes less than 1000cc.  Unfortunately they have still not managed to build an “Adventure” branded bike that weighs less than 200 kgs dry.  The F800 GS Adventure has landed – and its a tank.

I get asked what do I think of certain bikes all the time so it makes sense to share some thoughts.

The dry weight of the outgoing standard R1200GS is 203 kgs.  The dry weight of the F800 Adventure is the same. Its supposed to be a lighter bike – a middle weight bike. It isnt. If 200 kgs is a big adventure bike then middle weight bikes should be sub 180 kgs dry. I cant see how anyone can consider a 229 kg wet weight bike (without luggage) anything but a big / heavy bike.

The problem is when you look closely at an F800, you struggle to find any evidence on the bike have BMW designers been weight conscious. If BMW had put a little effort into weight reduction the bike could easily be 25 -30 kgs lighter

Manufacturers make a lot of effort to reduce weight on track replica bikes, on MX bikes and on proper enduro bikes. But they dont make any effort on adventure bikes. And if the adventure bike buying public don’t demand lighter adventure bikes, the manufacturers never will bother making any effort to reduce the weight of them.

If we consider an F800 vs X-challenge (144 kgs dry – and a good base adventure bike I know well), I would recommend beginning by reading these thoughts from Steve Royset, a man who not only owns both, but has done proper off road adventuring on both the F800GS and the XC (each bike for at least 3 months across Siberia and Latin America) – With that experience of both bikes I know of no-one more qualified to give a balanced, objective comparison on real world adventuring on those two bikes:

“I used my big and heavy F800GS on this trip to BAM and ROB and it was possible to get the big and heavy bike through there. BUT on the other hand, it would be MUCH easier and MUCH more fun if I had brought a lighter bike more tailored for this kind of adventure riding.  I was riding with 4 BMW G650X bikes on this journey and I saw how much easier they handled their bikes than me. I actually thought that it was more about riding skills than about the bikes itself. The stage II of my journey from US, through Central America and to South America I bought myself a BMW G650X challenge with the hotrod tank and prepped up with the Magadan softbags. Oh man what a difference when you get off the road. This bike is just so much lighter and handles so easy compared to the F800GS (Which is just slightly heavier than the Sertao(?)). One person in our group had a F800GS and I saw that he had the same kind of struggle offroad which I had with mine. Now with my XC it was just so much more fun going offroad and I could keep more in control and balance on the dirtroads. On the asphalt roads the F800GS gives you more comfort and power, but while offroading this is a huge difference.”

ADVrider – View Single Post – Sibirsky Extreme 2012

The same author, owner and adventurer on both bikes, in another post in an answer to a question about comparing the two as adventure bikes, wrote this:

“F800 vs XC:
I see that for light offroading, easy dirt roads and mostly staying on asphalt – the F800GS is a more comfortable and powerfull bike which handles that quite well. I feel it is a bit on the heavy side and I dropped my bike from time to time.
Fore more offroading I simply want a bike that are as light as possible. On the paper there is about 50-60 kilos (?) on the XC and F800 which really makes a difference. The XC is also quite narrow and has good ground clearance. Ground clearance is like on a offroad car a good thing. The XC is just much easier to handle in every means. So if I were to plan the same trip again I would choose XC. I feel that the offroad capabillities in the XC is more important than the better street performance the F800 gives you. I usually don’t go much faster than 120 km/h over long distances anyway”


Bear in mind he was referring to the F800GS … the new F800Adventure is 15-20 kgs heavier again!

Earlier this year, BMW provided a couple of F800GS Adventures to well known German adventurer, BMW offroad instructor, and friend of mine, Joe Dakar, to ride offroad from Germany to Magadan, planning to follow the offroad Sibirsky Extreme Trail we developed last year as closely as possible.  The idea was a proof of concept as a go-anywhere adventure bike type ride.  The idea was to show the F800GS Adventure can take you to all the challenging adventure locations you could possibly want to go.  I had spoken extensively with Joe before the trip and gladly shared my trails with him in the hope of a successful duplication of our adventure last year.  Unfortunately largely due to the weight of the bikes, it just wasn’t possible.

F800GS Adv across Eurasia offroad?

From the first day in the Ukraine, the bikes, even in the hands of a highly skilled off road instructor, were not really suitable for following our offroad trails across Ukraine and so the bikes ended up taking the asphalt roads across Ukraine, Western Russia and Kazakhstan.  By the time the bikes got the the legendary BAM Road, the attempt to duplicate our X-Challenge based ride last year had ground to a halt after one of the bikes plunged off a bridge.  Both riders received injuries from falls in the final few days of the ill-fated attempt that ultimately incapacitated the ride.  Even with the backing of a major manufacturer in BMW, new factory prepared bikes, and in the hands of a skilled off road instructor with over a decade of motorcycle adventure experience thrown in as well, which is Joe, AND bearing in mind the bikes bypassed 90% of the offroad route in favour of asphalt across Ukraine, Western Russia and Kazakhstan, it was a bridge too far on a 300 kg fully loaded bike (230 kgs wet, plus 2 metal boxes (10 kgs), luggage frames and assorted Touratech accessories (10 kgs), plus 5 main containers of luggage – two metal boxes worth, plus 3 ortlieb roll bags, each of which contains an avge 10 kgs of stuff).


Another great example of the realisation that the F800GS is not what it purports to be – a middleweight adventure bike – and how weight matters, can be found in the travel experiences of Ben Myburgh, a young, mechanically savvy (and physically big and strong) rider from the US, who headed to the Old Summer Road on an F800GS in 2011.  He began with an extensive blog titled Round the World F800GS preparation.  It details Ben’s fantastic efforts to put together what he believed would be a suitable RTW machine.  It culminated in this photo in May 2011 immediately prior to departure:

Ben Myburgh’s F800GS prior to departure

On the Road of Bones, Ben met up and rode with a Japanese rider on a DR650, with soft luggage, perhaps 50-60 kgs lighter all up.  Bear in mind that Ben is a big, physically strong young lad with loads of prior off-road experience, having been into rallies and off road riding from a very young age.  Here’s what Ben said about his small Japanese riding companion:

“he is cheating… he is on a DRZ – 650 with very small baggage… he just bounces thru everything while I hit everything! With my whole bike clanging around I could tell I brought the wrong bike for the job…”

As soon as Ben had landed back in the US, he prepared to take up again his extensive bike preparation thread, and the first post was from the moderator informing the readers that Ben was changing the name of the thread to “F800GS goes on a diet”.   Then Ben detailed the aspects of the bike he found deficient on his RTW adventure ride and that he was going to change.  17 inch “road sized” rear wheel would be changed to an 18 inch “off road” sized wheel.  The poor forks would be swapped out for better suspension.  Hard luggage would be changed for lighter and more flexible soft luggage.  But the overriding goal of them all was to strip the bike down to achieve a dry weight of 160 kgs (350 lbs).  Ben never achieved that target and so now rides a modified KTM 525.

There are 3 riders that have ridden the Road of Bones’s Old Summer Road section on F800GSs, Tomas Holman, Ben Myburgh, and Steve Royset.  All three of them took immediate action regarding weight after their rides.  Ben Myburgh as detailed above, tried to strip his bike down to 160 kgs dry before ending up with a single cylinder KTM.  Tomas Holman and Steve Royset had bought 144 kg X-Challenges within a month of getting back to the western world.  Three out of three ended up losing over 40 kgs in bike weight.  That’s the unanimous voice of experience talking.  That the result of what you learn on your first real adventure ride.


If we move away from the 200 kg F800 GS / GSA in particular and consider weight in general, the ultimate conclusions don’t change.

A further interesting observation related to weight from a rider riding around the world on a KTM 690 (138 kgs dry) at the moment. He was last month in the stunning scenery of Tajikistan …


“Soon after the tunnel I met a guy from Germany on a brand new BMW 1200. I told him about the tunnel and the southern route along the Pamir. He said he would skip the southern route because he is not confident in his ability with this heavy bike. I wanted to ask him why? Why have a big bike if it will limit your trip?”

ADVrider – View Single Post – RTW with Noah on a KTM 690

Why have a big bike if it will limit your trip?

To me this is one of the ultimate questions that I see people who are new to Adventure Motorcycling failing to ask themselves. Certainly there are some very skilled riders for whom a big bike will not limit their choice of routes. But they are a tiny minority in the world of adventure riders. For the rest (98+%) of us mortals, we need to seriously consider weight.

You should not be limiting your adventure because of your choice of a heavy bike. If a person limits their adventure because of the weight of their bike, then the adventure itself was not their priority. Maybe image is? Maybe something else? (not that there is anything wrong with that)

My experience when it comes to bike selection, gear selection, tyre selection etc …. is you should plan for the toughest parts of your trip. If a guy is riding from London to Cameroon, across the Sahara, the experienced man will not select his bike, his tyres, his luggage as to what will work best on the motorways of Europe. If the hardest part of that planned trip is the dunes of the Sahara, then he needs his choices to first and foremost, be compatible with that. Any adventure bike for a given trip is a compromise. But … The selection criteria you should compromise the least, are those required for the hardest parts of the trip. A wise choice is not an even compromise between all aspects of your trip, its a compromise heavily biased towards the hardest parts of your trip.

You should plan (and select gear) for the toughest parts of the adventure you want to have. Any bike, any luggage, any tyres can deal with the easy stuff …

Here are more observations related to bike weight from another adventurer a few weeks ago in Mongolia:


“I stayed at the Oasis in Ulaanbaatar and tryed to find out the road conditions by talking to other bikers who came via the south route.

A guy,who hasn’t ridden a bike for years,did it on a XT250 and discribed it as pure fun.
Others on XT660 described it as challenging but O.K.
Then there were two guys on BMW 1200 GS Adventure who ended up on a truck.”

Whats clear from those observations is that the amount of fun the riders had was totally (and inversely) connected to the weight of the bikes.

Here’s another comment from last year and Mongolia – written from the perspective of a different guy on a KTM 690 (138 kg dry):


“After a few hours we saw some bikes approaching (we’d seen nothing for hours) and realised it was a couple of overlanders. We pulled over together and said our hellos.
This was a couple of German guys … on their mighty behemoths 
[Yamaha 1200 Super Tenere and BMW 1150 GSA], with every bolt-on goodie you could imagine. The guys had some English so they asked us what lay ahead and when we told them of the mud and crossings they had the look of seriously worried men. They were traveling at about 40kph (25mph) as the bikes were so heavy they daren’t go much faster.”  [the author was travelling in a group of mostly 650cc BMWs and KTMs at over twice those speeds]“These guys were having their holiday ruined by the amount of kit they’d brought to make their holiday better. they were seriously worried.
The guy on the Super Ten looked at our setups and the nearest bike and said ” I want that bike!”
Take heed anyone planning a first trip.”

ADVrider – View Single Post – Sibirsky Extreme 2012

Another adventurer, writing from Ulaan Baatar just days ago, whose 1200 GSA was too heavy for the job and ultimately arrived into the Mongolian capital, ALSO on the back of a truck  (It seems the most common way for 1200s to arrive in UB these days) had this to say:


Don’t do Mongolia on a fully loaded 1200 if it is raining… its a nightmare…mongolia-71550

The reality is, as soon as you get off the asphalt, weight is a very very important issue. Lose 40 – 50 – 60 kgs and its a totally different experience, as the guy comparing his experiences between the F800 and the XC pointed out.  Or as the guy comparing the amount of fun riders arriving in UB had on a 250 vs a 650 vs a 1200.  The difference between suffering / enduring somewhere like Mongolia and really enjoying it, is 40-50-60 kgs in bike weight.

Don’t try this at home kids … This is neither a fun nor wise way to visit Mongolia


Any rational decision must be made on the basis of a cost / benefit analysis.  Compare a 690 KTM or 650 X-Challenge to a 1200 BMW/ 1190 KTM.  The 690 / 650 has the power to cruise on asphalt highways all day long at 125-130 km/h.  They produce around 60 – 65 hp as opposed to 125-150 hp on the larger bikes.  They weigh about 75-80 kg less than the larger bikes.  If you put a HP meter on the bigger bikes and worked out for how much of a trans Eurasia trip they are using more than say 65 hp, bearing in mind that in Russia and Kazakhstan highway speed limits are 90-100-110 km/h and strictly enforced, and to generate the big HP bikes need to be revving up towards their rpm limits, I think you would find less than 1% of the time on a typical trip across Ukraine / Russia / Kazakhstan / Mongolia horsepower in excess of 65 would be generated by the engines.  Much less than 1% of the time.  Tiny little bursts of no more than a few seconds duration scattered throughout the day.   That’s the benefit … a few seconds here and there when accelerating.  The cost for having that extra power available for use 1% of the time is 80 kgs in weight.   That’s not 80 kgs 1% of the time … that’s a 80kg penalty 100% of the time.  Every swamp, every mud patch, every river crossing, every sandy stretch.  Every time on a transcontinental trip that you have to pick up the bike, that 80 kg penalty is there.  Every time you have to push it across a river, that 80 kgs is there.  Everytime you hit a patch of dunes, that 80 kgs is there.  99% of riders to Mongolia will NEVER use more than 65 hp ever.  The penalty therefore is utterly pointless.  That extra 80 kgs, once in real adventure territory, produces no gain for all but the finest riders, and that 80+kg penalty is more than enough, in many cases, to utterly ruin their experience.  99% of big adventure bike riders in Mongolia are paying a 80 kg penalty for something that offers them zero benefit in return.  That weight penalty once in real adventure territory is so illogical from a cost / benefit analysis perspective that it’s at the point of being comical.

Rule number one in adventure bike selection is weight matters.  Don’t listen to manufacturers, or marketing people – they have never done real adventure biking.  They honestly DONT KNOW what an adventure bike needs.  No adventure motorcycling designer, marketer, or motorcycle company senior exec has ever ridden around the world.

There is a dual illusion perpetuated by the industry, including magazines, that (1) experienced riders ride big adventure bikes and (2) riding a bigger adventure bike makes you more of a man.

The reality counterpunch to the first of those illusions is not surprisingly, exactly the opposite of the illusion.  The more experienced an adventure rider, the lighter bike he is probably riding.  Austin Vince, Chris Scott, Terry Brown, Mac Swinarski, Adam Lewis etc, all focus heavily on weight.  These guys have been doing it for decades and are not obligated to any manufacturer or model.  They get to choose their bikes and gear.  Light bikes and soft luggage is the number one common theme among guys who have been doing it for years.  So in fact, its almost only the naive Adventure Motorcycling first-timers or sponsored riders that take big bikes to the likes of Mongolia.

Adam Lewis has been riding around the world for 7 years now, non-stop.  Like myself, he features in Robert Wicks / Haynes guide “Building the Ultimate Adventure Motorcycle“.  Adam began on a 180 kg F650GS with metal boxes, he then changed to a 160 kg DR650, and more recently changed to a 135 kg DRZ400 with soft Magadan bags, on which he successfully rode the Western BAM and Road of Bones.  Mac “MotoSiberia” Swinarski began on a 190 kg Honda Transalp, before changing to a 160 kg KTM 640 Adventure, and now does his adventure rides on a 115 kg KTM 400.  I myself began on Honda Transalps, have tried a number of midweight bikes and even owned a 1200 Adventure for two years.  Now, with 19 years of Mongolia and Siberia adventure  experience behind me, my two bikes are the two lightest bikes I have ever owned.  My 144 kg G650X-Challenge is my “big rig”, while I am preparing a 114 kg Husaberg 570 as my light adventure bike.  This make a mockery of the notion that the more experienced adventure riders ride bigger bikes.


As for the second marketing myth, the reality is this … The bigger the adventure bike, the more impotent the rider becomes.  The more he has to turn down interesting adventurous routes and is forced to take boring less scenic routes.  The less ability he has to visit out of the way, rarely seen places (and isnt that what adventure motorcycling is all about?)  The less appetite for adventurous riding he has.  The slower and more pedestrian he rides.  The more bruised and injured he gets, and the more likely he is to arrive in Ulaan Baatar on the back of a truck, rather than riding in with pride, having breezed across Mongolia.  Have a look at the picture below … do you think this bike is ever going to be seen adventuring the BAM?   No?   Neither do I.  The asphalt road in the bottom of the pic is a dead giveaway. The ridiculous weight of the bike has made the poor rider completely restricted as to how much adventure riding he is ever going to be able to do.  As long as that’s his bike, he will never be able to get to the vast majority of the worlds great adventure riding routes.

This is about as close as you can get to driving a freight truck on two wheels.   

How’s this for a question … look at the two massively overloaded bikes in the 2 pictures above.  How many trans-continental journeys do you think the two owners made PRIOR to buying and equipping those bikes and setting out on their journeys?  (Europe and North America obviously don’t count).  How much adventure experience do you think those setups are based on?  – Answers on the back of a postcard please ….


While Long Way Round is in many ways responsible for the boom not only for BMW GS sales, but the boom across the board in adventure motorcycling, it’s worth revisiting the lessons that can be learned from that journey.  They key facts regarding bike selection for LWR are these:  (1) The guys were adventure riding novices – they knew nothing about what they were trying to achieve or what might be the best tools for the job. (2) they took off from London on the heaviest bikes they could lay their hands on (1150GSA) and loaded them up to the hilt (approx 70 kgs luggage). [yet again note the theme; adventure novices on the heaviest bikes they could find.] (3) They only had two significant off road sections in the entire trip from London to New York – they were Mongolia and the Road of Bones (4) and this is the key point that many miss – they failed to complete EITHER of their two off road sections.

So they only had two section of off road riding on their trip, and were unable to complete either of them.  Why?  Despite years of motorcycling experience, a young fit healthy body and special off road training, Ewan was crying in Mongolia at how difficult it was to ride the 330+ kg vehicle off road, through rivers, muddy sections etc. He wanted to get back to Russia almost as soon as he had entered Mongolia.  Claudio ended up on a red Izh Planeta 5 and found the 160 kg bike a revelation in terms of ease – the primitive Russian road bike was indescribably better to ride offroad in Mongolia than the advanced, western 330kg BMW he told me at a dinner party a few years ago – and the only possible reason for that was the weight.  Fortunately for Ewan, a rolled 4WD gave the team the excuse needed to bug out to Russia and get back on asphalt.  On the Road of Bones, the constant struggle of walking 330 kg bikes through river crossings, dropping them and picking them up ultimately put out Charley Boorman’s back.  That gave the team the excuse to throw the bikes on a truck for the remainder of the Old Summer Road.

It’s crystal clear that the weight of the bikes was the primary reason for the failure of the LWR project to complete either of its off road sections.  If there is a lesson to be learned from LWR, its not that you should be on a massive adventure bike to ride Mongolia and the Road of Bones, but rather the exact opposite – the real lesson from LWR is only the naive first timer will take a massive adventure bike to Mongolia and the Road of Bones. They are totally inappropriate and completely the wrong machine for that job.  (unless you specifically want to bring tears to a grown man’s eyes or fancy doing several days in the back of a truck)

That’s a look at real world evidence regarding motorcycle selection as it relates to adventure riding.   The summary is both simple and compelling – the more experienced you become at motorcycle adventuring, the more seriously you will factor in weight in your bike selection decision.  This is not a criticism of big adventure bikes or people that buy them.  This is real world adventure information from a seasoned adventurer that has seen many people regret their bike choice, too late, well into their Mongolian or Siberian adventure.  By learning this information up front, you can save time, money and disappointment by going straight to the position of an experienced adventurer, and take weight seriously from the beginning.

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Post Script:

There will be those who object to the opinions in this article.  But they will not be able to counter the logic, or facts, or how the facts relate to adventure bike selection.  Those who object to the conclusions in this article will object primarily on the basis that they don’t agree with my definition of Adventure Motorcycling.   That’s not a counter argument.   That response counters none of the recommendations or advice that’s been given in this article. Instead, all disagreeing with the definition (usually by saying Adventure Motorcycling should not be defined) typically offers us is effectively this “there can be no advice of any sort on adventure bike selection because we are incapable of offering up a definition of adventure motorcycling”. That simply takes us back to the maxim of any bike is an adventure bike, which also means there is no such thing as “an adventure bike”. Which is exactly why there is a shortage of guidance for sensible adventure bike selection. Because in order to provide adventure bike selection advice, you need to define what is meant by Adventure Motorcycling – at the very least, for the purposes of the advice.  This article is specifically written to help those who do agree (to some degree or another) with my concept of Adventure Motorcycling (expressed at the top of the page), or for those who are planning trips with more than 100 miles of off road in them, with respect to the much neglected real world analysis of adventure bike selection criteria.

Sadly, until now, the only adventure motorcycle selection advice that has been offered to the adventure buying public (and I have seen this implied in several magazines) is very much misguided, and along the lines of the following:  If you are new to adventure motorcycling, begin with something small like an F650 Dakar, then as you get more experience graduate to a mid weight, like an F800 / Triumph 800, then when you are a real player, you can ride one of the big heavyweights.  Every assumption in that advice is wrong.  Not only do riders go lighter as they get more experience, but ALL of those bikes are too heavy to start with. That type of advice is a total dis-service to budding adventure riders.   Of course readers of that misplaced advice, being human, want to skip the earlier stages and look like a serious adventure motorcyclist from the beginning, so they just go straight to buying a obese adventure bike for their first adventure.

In total contrast, I am telling you that if you want to look like you know what you are doing from the beginning, if you want a better trip, if you want to not have to scale your pre-announced plans down as your trip progresses and you realise much of your ambitions will have to be bypassed, go straight to having a sub 165 kg adventure bike !!

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My Recommendations:

In my view, anything over 180 kg dry is a heavyweight.  And they are not really suitable for the kind of riding I consider adventure riding, perhaps with the single exception of a KTM 950/990 in the hands of a very skilled rider. A middleweight adventure bike is between 135 and 180 kgs dry weight.  Most popular single cylinder adventure bikes are in this weight range, including the DRZ400, KTM 690, BMW X-Challenge, KTM 640 Adventure, DR650, XT600, 3AJ Tenere etc.  Anything below 135 kgs dry is a light adventure bike – that included WR250R, Husaberg 570, DR350, TTR250, Serow etc.

A single cylinder bike below 165 kg dry weight should be your starting point.   If you are heading to Mongolia or the Sibirsky Extreme Zone north of the Trans Siberian Highway on anything else, you are either kidding yourself that you are going to enjoy it, or you are a rally standard rider.  It may sound harsh, but anytime I see a 1200GSA or Super Tenere in Mongolia, I know straight away its a naive adventurer struggling on his first proper offroad adventure, and I can be sure of at least one thing – he will never go back there on the same bike ever again.  If only he knew that before he went there …..

Stay tuned for more thoughts on adventure bike selection in coming weeks.

40 thoughts on “Adv Bike Selection 1”

  1. This represents the guiding principle that our trip used. We learnt it the hard way in Africa and built our sequel around it. Weight, weight, weight. Not cut down toothbrushes or titanium cooksets but decent, high quality, reliable dirtbikes.

    I’m also not interested in hurting the feelings of people who bought big, heavy motorcycles – they’ll know better next time. It’s true that increasingly there are proper roads everywhere but bear in mind that even your ‘average’ Tajik or Mongolian main road can pound a GS to pieces in no time at all 🙂

  2. Wise words Ed. For those readers who dont know Ed, his is a classic example. First trip, UK to Cape Town, on what most people would consider to a default “Adventure ” bike, the 205kg dry weight Africa Twin. For Ed’s second trip, armed with both experience of his previous ride and a intense sense of logic and rationality, he dropped to a 125kg WR250R and rode a much more difficult route from the UK, thru Mongolia and up to Magadan via the Western BAM, and did that challenging route with ease.

    It all brings home the reality that as adventure riders get more experience, they choose LIGHTER bikes.

  3. Thanks Walter for sharing all you expirience. Its funny, since i was at the Enduromania, in June 2013 with my F800, i´m thinking of a lighter bike. At the moment im focused at the KTM 690 with some long distance equipment. Youre blog just pointed me further to the lighter way!

    Cheers Luz

  4. It seems to me that the old maxim is bollocks to you because your idea of adventure riding has evolved to mean an off road, trail type challenge like the BAM and that’s it. For many, however, it may not include any of this at all. For some, arguably the majority, it’s still all about an unusual and exciting exploration of somewhere unknown to the overlander. If this is true does the old maxim not remain true?

    I think it’s self evident that lighter is better in an off road scenario. And any good motorcycle adventure will inevitably include some off road, if only to find that awesome wild camp site. Having rode an F8GS with hard luggage across Mongolia & Siberia, with some off road riding, I soon realised too that it was a bloody nightmare at times. I vowed to return but when I do, it’ll be on a lighter bike like a DR350 with soft luggage. Nevertheless the F8GS was great when I wasn’t riding in mud, deep sand or gravel.

    Adventure riding has become big business, with many brands telling us that we ‘need’ the big heavy weight ‘adventure’ bikes and all the aftermarket gadgets in order to go travelling. I’m probably one of its biggest victims, I love modifying and personalising my bike. Of course none of its true, we don’t need any of the crap they’re trying to sell us in order to have an adventure.

    Arguably, the big brands know damn well the big ‘adventure’ bikes aren’t going adventure riding a la Colebatch; so they’re not designed for it. At best only a few go adventure travelling with the majority going motorcycle touring, the latter of which it does well. So they’re really just trying to sell us the dream of adventure travel and the idea that this is what we ‘need’.

    Personally, I like the old school understanding of adventure riding but if it is evolving I think its diverging into two distinct subsets; adventure travel and adventure trail riding. Yeah, I know, its all semantics but as long as words continue to convey meanings and ideas its important that we have a common understanding of them.

    Is ADV bike selection going to be a series? I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on the philosophy of adventure riding.

  5. The ride From UB across Mongolia via the Northern route on my KTM 990 ADVs was one of the single best experiences of my life, and the joy of dodging Marmot holes at 80mph as the rear span up in 6th was the stuff of dreams

    for me one of the pivotal factors was fitting the right tyres, in this case Michelin Deserts which I spooned on to replace the Heidanau K60’s, without traction you are knackered, you may as well be blind in one eye

    My friends XT660Z took a tumble just after Omsk and I found myself riding alone and trying to keep up with the two Russian Truck drivers who in typically Russian style stepped in to save my friend from a dodgy situation by taking them all the way to Moscow for free with his injured bike. I was grateful for the power, speed, comfort and good lights of the KTM as I rode from East of Ufa to Moscow in one 26hr slog.

    In my more normal rides I quite often do UK to Lublin, Poland or Oland Sweden in one stretch leaving me valuable vacation time to explore the places I want to be having dispensed with Western Europe in a day, on a DRZ I would probably take 3 days to do that

  6. Steve, I agree with your views there, but I would add there is still a large common area that all versions of Adventure Riding adherants lay a claim to, and Mongolia is a typical example of it. Sure you only get the single cylindered more adventurous type bikes going on the likes of the BAM or Old Summer Road, but Mongolia is a place where you will see first big trip adventure riders on everything from Super Tenere’s and GSAs loaded up to 350 kgs!! to WR250s and even scooters. Mongolia is a great example of a place that pretty much fits in just about every adventure riders goals and concepts. One of the thing that continues to amaze me is that relatively new Adventure Riders do continue to turn up to Mongolia on Super Tenere’s, 1200GSAs and only THEN realise its not fun, its a chore, and swear that if they ever go back it will be on a much lighter bike.

    So the question is why? Why only then.

    Was the information to make a better bike choice not available to them before?

    Was it available but not emphasised enough?

    For many people, they are planning a “trip of a lifetime” … What is causing so many of these reasonably rational people to make such poor bike selection choices for their trip of a lifetime? So many of those people feel that if they make another trip, it will be on a lighter bike. Why didn’t they make that more rational choice in the first place?

    In my view its about rational, logical, well thought out choices vs emotional, marketing driven choices. Where people buy bikes, in the west, rationality isnt important. The weight of the bike makes not a lot of difference in the UK. Its easier to go with the emotional pull of marketing images. When the same guy is in it up to his nuts, in Mongolia, the romance of the marketing images means nothing, and he will wish for the rationality he viewed as not that important at the point of sale.

    Hopefully expressing rational views on bike selection strongly in this post, it actually can help some people make better choices at the point of sale.

    Also bear in mind its not about lighter bikes for all trips. Everyone’s adventure journey tastes are different. Noah’s quote in the article above is very useful – “Why take a big bike if it will limit your trip?”. Obviously if your trip is to the Dolomites or Nordkapp on asphalt, then a big bike will not limit your trip, so its not less rational to take it. Even if your trip is to India overland … all asphalt too. And you can go back to the old maxim of any bike will do the job. But for any trip with offroad sections, then weight will always be a limiting factor. Much more limiting than the average punter is accounting for.

    Its a corny comment to finish with, but if just one guy ends up in Mongolia on a more appropriate bike, and has a ball instead of a struggle, then its worth writing the article.

  7. Agreed, great reply.

    “So the question is why? Why only then. Was the information to make a better bike choice not available to them before? Was it available but not emphasised enough?”

    The information, thankfully, is available on films, forums, books and blogs. Many 1st timers get duped by the marketing and the celebrities or are ignorant of the reality or choose to ignore it when presented – classic compartmentalisation and cogntive dissonance. It’s only when they return from their trip with the benefit of hindsight that they realise that a lighter bike would have been more suitable for those tougher off road parts. It’s probably just a lesson some noobs need to purge from their system, a lesson that has to be learnt first hand – one of many lessons to be learnt on the path of becoming a veteran adventure ride.

    I thought I was making a rational choice by getting the lighter F8GS (albeit not much lighter); it did suit 75% of my needs but for that 25% of off road it was not light enough. I should have put great emphasis on the tougher parts, as you said in your original post, rather than the easy stuff – that’s a great lesson. I didn’t expect to see much off road and had no intention of riding it like the dakar but I binned it a lot all the same and picking it up in the mud, sand and gravel was a PITA. My choice now would be the DR350 for any trip with serious off road, I’ll probably be cursing my choice on the tarmac and highways though…

    “…any trip with offroad sections, then weight will always be a limiting factor. Much more limiting than the average punter is accounting for.” That’s it in a nutshell – this should be the tagline or subtitle for all articles, threads and talks on bike selection.

    I hope we see more posts from you chief! Thanks.

  8. While I agree that lighter ís better, sometimes budget doesn’t allow you to select a bike specifically for a trip. For example, I own both a 1990 AT and a 2008 690 SMC (the street tire version), but I still opted for the AT for my first trip, as I had some of the necessary kit (crash bars, pannier rack, panniers) for it already (given to me by the previous owner).

    In an ideal world I’d have kitted the KTM with soft bags, but I preferred to keep the money for the actual trip, and use the AT with the hard cases I already had instead. The weight limited my road choice in a way, but I still managed to ride a decent amount of gravel (some pretty rough) in Montenegro and Albania, the AT held up wonderfully. The weight of the bike itself was ok, but I carried way too much crap.

    My point being, I could have stayed at home one more year and collected the money to prepare the KTM, or I could have gone riding this year with a suboptimal (but still great) ride. I’m glad I went riding.

    Next time I’m hoping there’ll be budget to take the KTM, but that’s future speak. I wouldn’t switch going riding on the AT for not traveling in the hopes of one day maybe get the perfect bike.

  9. Steve, I have edited the original post to include reference to films and celebrities and the messages people should take from their trips.

    Also there is a lot of space between a 190 kg F800 and a 115 kg DR350 … My personal sweetspot for adventure riding is about 600-650cc and sub 150 kgs dry.

  10. I am in total agreement with this article. As a novice multi-surface rider I am glad I only ride a G650 xMoto that’s been lightly modded for dual-sporting. This is my first bike, and I was talked out of buying the larger bikes by the salesman. His advice to me me was along the lines of weight. I am glad I listened to him and purchased this bike. It ahs been quite a blast on all the trips I’ve taken, and I have not had any loss of enjoyment compared to the riders of larger bikes.

  11. I thought about the F800 for a while. It’s a “baby” GS after all))). Went to the dealer’s the other day and was truly terrified to get on it. In the show room!!! Why would anyone want to go off road on it is beyond me. Especially in some God forsaken part of Siberia, thousands of miles away from home. No amount of marketing hype is enough.

  12. And your argument is exactly why I went from a Yamaha Super Tenere (which broke my ankle Sep 12 on the UTBDR (hard luggage) to a properly equipped WR250R which is easier to ride and tenfold more fun.

    As Colin Chapman said, “lighter is faster”.

  13. Thanks for this very useful and well reasoned article. With 185kg dry weight, do you think that the Yamaha XT660Z (2008 onward) can just fit in your category of adventure trail bikes?

  14. The problem with the Yamaha XTZ660 is it is in the same boat as the F800GS … you can find ZERO evidence that yamahas designers give two hoots about weight. They either don’t know how important it is, or they don’t care. They have built a bike that is 50 kgs heavier than the KTM 690 … and has about 20 hp less. There is nothing except laziness that stops Yamahas designers cutting 40 kgs off the weight of that bike. Lazy because they would have to totally redesign it to be lighter. They can do it easily if the company asks them to. Bear in mind, 30 years ago, Yamaha created the Tenere, and it had the same power as the current model, carried more fuel, had more suspension travel and had a full sized 18 inch wheel. AND it weighed 138 kgs dry.

    The current bike may have more modern styling, but has a small rear wheel, less fuel, is much higher, less suspension travel and is almost 50 kgs heavier? In my opinion, it’s gone backwards in almost every measure. A long way backwards – especially in the crucial area of weight. Has the Tenere had 30 years of progress – I certainly dont think so. It was a just a lazy attempt to add a bigger fuel tank and fairing to an already very heavy bike, the XT660R … and cash in on the Tenere name. The best that can be said for the current Tenere is that is solid. But then again so is a BMW1150GSA – all 250 kgs of it … no point being solid if you are way too heavy as a result.

    When you see in the video to come out about last years trip, about how much more often the F800 falls over, gets stuck on obstacles, needs 2 people to lift it, than the 40 kg lighter X-Challenges, you will see that the XTZ660, which weighs about the same as the F800, has the same small rear wheel, same ground clearance … is going to have the same additional problems as an F800 will have on these kind of routes, compared to a 40-50 kg lighter X-Challenge, KTM 690 or DRZ400.

    I would like to see Yamaha take the reborn Tenere seriously. You could say they took the Super Tenere seriously by put a lot of effort and money into it – designing it from scratch, but the XTZ660 was just a quick addition of fuel tank and fairing to the already heavy XT660. They didn’t put effort or money into it and dont even sell it in North America. I assume they didnt think there was much of a market for it so didnt want to spend any money or effort in creating the bike. I would like to see Yamaha start again, redesign it from the ground up, properly this time, and make the bike 40 kgs lighter and for that they will need an all new (lighter and more powerful) engine.

    As it is, to create a bike so tall, so top heavy, without exceptional ground clearance, without an 18 inch rear wheel, and with only 200 mm of rear wheel travel is almost impossible … but Yamaha have done it. Normally if you build a bike with a small back wheel, and small suspension travel, then you should end up with something that has quite a low seat and is not top heavy. Again going back to the original Tenere, which had a large back wheel and 40 mm more rear suspension travel … it had a lower seat height!

    You can do these roads on a Tenere – a couple of swedish guys did the BAM and old summer road in 2011 on Teneres. Terry did the BAM on an XT660R with me in 2009. Terry changed to an X-Country immediately after (saving over 30 kgs). The Swedish guys cut 70 kgs off their rigs and switched to Husaberg 570s. Yes its possible to go it on the heavy Yamaha singles, but its also possible to do those roads on an F800GS. Possible yes, but a lot less fun than on lighter sportier bikes. Which is why the few guys that HAVE done it on the heavy Yamaha singles have all changed to lighter bikes.

    (Kudu Expeditions also did the BAM Road in 2012 on a group of Teneres, BUT all the riders luggage was carried in the support vehicle. The riders were riding unladen bikes – thus saving 30-40 kgs per bike anyway – and making their unladen weight similar to a fully loaded X-Challenge)

  15. Hi Walter,
    I am wondering about total bike weight including gear and fuel. I notice what is mostly talked about is bare bike weight. I am also interested in front/rear weight distribution.
    My current bike, a KLR650 (don’t laugh, I am looking for a HB570 or XChallenge) is 360kilos with gear and rider. 120kilo front and 240kilo rear. I am 110kilos, so the loaded bike is 250kilos. That includes 25liters of fuel in the tank, enough for 500kilometers range.
    How does this compare to the loaded XChallenge or Husaberg?

  16. Jeff,

    Terry and I freighted our bikes (X-Challenges) back from Yakutsk last year in trucks and flew to Moscow to meet them. They were shipped with half full tanks and full luggage. We also carried some luggage back for the Norwegian guys. The shipping weight was just under 250 kgs per bike. That includes the full, all around wooden crate and the extra Norwegian luggage.

    I would estimate the weight of the bike with full fuel and full luggage and in full expedition trim at around 205 kgs. (Base bike 144 kgs. Modifications +13 kgs, Luggage 28 kgs, Fuel 14 kgs, Plus 5-6 kgs for the oil in the forks, oil in the engine, water in the battery, coolant in the radiator, air in the tyres and all the other stuff the manufacturers leave off when they derive a dry weight figure)

    The Husaberg, being 30 kgs lighter as a base, would be at least 30kgs lighter in expedition trim as well.

    I once weighed my XC front and rear, with full fuel (19 litres), and in full expedition trim, but without luggage, and it weighed 176 kgs, with exactly 88 kgs on each wheel. That would be different with luggage and rider on of course, the bulk of which will be felt by the back wheel.

    The reason people talk mostly about bare dry bike weight, is because thats your base. Thats a means of comparison to other bikes. Thats your point of differentiation. Any other weight saving measures can effectively done equally on any bike. If you shift from hard boxes to soft luggage you will save 10-15 kgs whether you do that on an X-Challenge or a Super Tenere. What you cant really shift or change is the base weight of the bike. Its your starting point. Similarly any bike will need to add 3-4 kgs for a proper, good bashplate to its claimed weight. Most changes and alterations to the base weight will have similar effects across all models. So after bike choice, any changes to make regarding weight are due to things like packing lighter, using soft luggage instead of hard etc and they are not actually a result of bike choice. If I set up any other bike other than the X-challenge, with a range similar to the X-challenge, then I am going to carrying the same weight in luggage, same weight in fuel, the bike will still have about the same mass of oil in the forks, shock, engine etc. Those things arent really relevant for comparison if they are about the same across all models. Whether you have a 99 kgs KTM freeride or a 260 kg Super Tenere, they will both still need to carry approx 20 kgs of fuel to go 500 km. The amount of oil in their forks and shock will be about the same, despite one bike being 3 times the mass of the other. You cant really change these things. What you can change is the dry weight of the bikes by choosing a different model. Using dry weight is just an easy way to get easily comparable numbers for all bikes. In an ideal world, we would compare bikes by wet weight with a specific range defined fuel load. i.e. What does a given bike weigh, wet, ready to roll, with sufficient fuel for say a 300 km mixed use range (100 km highway + 100 km city + 100 km off road for example) but numbers with that level of detail are not available. Wet weight itself is not a valid comparison – otherwise BMW could cut 20 kgs off its adventure model wet weight by simply using an 8 litre tank instead of a 33 litre tank. Raw dry weight is a far better metric for bike to bike comparison that raw wet weight. Wet weight ready to roll might be more useful for someone planning to get shipping quotes, but for purposes of bike comparison, I will stick with dry weight.

    Further, don’t confuse or mix together rider weight with fixed bike weight. Cutting 10 kgs off the riders weight is nothing like cutting 10 kgs off the bikes weight. One of the reasons riders stand on the pegs (and track racing guys shift their weight so actively), is that it detaches their weight from being fixed to the bike, and makes it flexible, moveable, and suspended by the riders legs and arms, rather than fixed to the bike. It’s a bit like the significant difference between sprung and unsprung weight. A kg of extra weight on the unsprung part of the bike has a far greater impack on handling than a kg extra on the sprung part of the weight. As a rider standing up,moving around, adding the flexibility of your legs to and body to the equation, you are sprung and removed from the main body of the bike, which itself is sprung and separated from the unsprung wheels, swingarm and lower suspension components. So 10kgs of your weight can not be compared to 10 kgs of weight fixed rigidly to the body of the bike. As a rider, your weight moves to help the bike balance when it gets out of balance and helps the suspension perform better when you stand flexibly on the pegs. Whereas any weight that is fixed rigidly to the bike, contributes to balance problems rather than counters them.

  17. Thanks for this awesome blog. I ride adventure in New Zealand where I live and I’m often scoffed at for my choice of bike. My list went like this (in order of importance):

    Lightest weight possible
    Around 40-55HP
    Top quality suspension
    Fuel range 300-400km
    Luggage: throwover panniers and maybe a small tank bag for frequently used stuff like my compact camera.

    I’m not riding 10,000km at a time, I’m riding 600-700km in a weekend or 3-4000km over a week or two but I’m riding rough trails, 4WD tracks and farms including river crossings and almost every kind of surface.
    My choice of bike was a KTM 300 EXC 2 stroke fitted with a 20l fuel tank and a rekluse clutch and geared up with a 38t rear sprocket rather than the 50t std.
    This bike really does do it all and also cruises happily at 120-130kph all day long. When we get to the rough stuff, there’s nothing I can’t attempt.
    The only two issues are carrying 2 stroke oil and the hard KTM seat.
    Given I am not ‘on the pipe’ much, I get 350-400km from a tank so I’m only mixing oil and petrol once a day. I do that ‘in tank’. Every gas station in New Zealand carries 2 stroke oil so I don’t need to carry litres, I carry just 250ml spare.
    If I did the Mongolian trip you describe, I might look at a 4 stroke because of the possibilty of having to do piston/ring change but in fact I’ve already done 8,000km this year on the original piston and I reckon it’ll go another 5000 at least. Other than that, services are bloody simple and the most common is cleaning the air filter EVERY DAY.
    As for the seat, I’ve ridden up to 800km in a day on it and my butt was sore as hell. If I need more comfort I sit on a gel pad. That does it all.
    The Rekluse clutch is a revelation. It allows me to fit the tall gearing yet still trickle along at really slow speeds and climb steep hills.
    I’m currently after a bike to ride on the road and for some ADV rides with my wife on the back. It will need to be handy on the seal as well as off road but really, there isn’t anything since the Highland V2 stopped that fits my spec. I’ll probably have to build my bike from something heavier but my target weight is 165kg max and I reckon I want 80HP/65ft/lb torque plus top quality suspension so I don’t have to also have a dedicated road bikes.

    I laugh inside my helmet at people struggling on 800cc bikes one up, or even on DR650’s or Yamaha Tenere 660’s. I pity riders on 1200 Beemers.

    We tried the KTM 990 Adventure: it was a whale! If I could strip 40kg off it, I might be interested but since I can’t buy a Highland from Sweden, I’m going to put long travel forks and shock, big wheels and high bars on a light vee twin like a Ducati 696 (165kg dry) and also try to lose flab elsewhere……….but I would never take that across Mongolia either!

  18. Hej man, this was the best article I EVER read about adventure bike selection! I had until fall 2012 a KTM 990, which I found much too heavy, mainly because of my shorty lenght of 1.71. Traded it in for a 690 which I am enjoying so much more, even that it’s now a bit heavier than the original, being equipped with extra gas tanks and luggage rack. I also sold the heavy hard cases with the 990 and now I am using softbags (Wolfman & Enduristan). Im a even considering the CCM450 Adv as my next bike, which would be even better than the 690 with it’s lower weight. Wished it had show up a year earlier and there would be an importer to Sweden.

    What the average rider considers as a “adventure bike” can be seen very clearly at the yearly “Adventure Days” in Säfsen in Sweden, which are organized by a well know european accessories manufacturer and BMW. Well, for THAT kind of adventure light a 1200 might be ok.

    I did a trans-Canada trip last summer on a KRL 650, simply because it was cheaper buying and selling one in Canada, than getting my own 690 shipped, but I really missed the low weight!

    I have forwarded your article to some friends, both those riding heavy and those riding light bikes and waiting for their reaction now – thanks!

    Greetings from Sweden
    Kai-Uwe / nordicbiker

  19. Hi Walter, incredible article! Had an argument with the local dealership last week in regards to hard cases vs soft cases, clearly no one there had even been outside the country, let alone the world! Currently looking at the KTM 690, previously had a TTR250R when I was younger but I’m a little more heavier nowadays 😛

  20. I whole heartedly agree with the concept . However, I see references to DRZ 400s and DR 350s but no such reference to the Honda XR400r. Do you believe this would be a suitable bike to travel on (bearing in mind it would be acceptable to travel at 50ish on open roads)? Thoughts, Walter?


  21. Firstly, I’d like to thank you, Mr Colebatch, for an amazing education. I first learned to ride a motorcycle at 58 (I’ve been an avid mountain biker and backpacker for many years and wanted to extend my range). LWR planted the seed and it was McGregor’s wife’s performance in LWD that convinced me that I could do this. Your RR’s have taught me a lot and pointed out my preconceptions and prejudices.
    I too aspired to own the big BMW and to date, I’ve avoided it as “too big a mountain to climb”…but I know why I wanted one—perceived reliability. The truth is that I just didn’t see the lighter bikes as up to the task of long travels over difficult terrain or being able to mix it up safely on the highways. And, I’ve learned that, just like mountain biking , one purchases a platform that one modifies into a purpose-built tool. Problem is that most manufacturers seem to offer a turnkey solution and they are more accessible and approachable than the “gear head” communities (It’s the same with mountain biking). For me, the thinking was the cost of potential failure, and not fully understanding all of the failure modalities.
    Thank you again!

  22. Thansk for this excellent website Walter ! I followed some of you advenrtures and the modifications to the BMW X.
    Excellent reading !
    Currently planning to take my BMW X-Co and my wife on her Husky 650 Strada to Morocco next year. In the process of modifying the bikes I wonder if we’d be better off with a 21″ front wheel. No doubts better off-road but a bit hard to come by for decent money. The 19″ front does me fine even if it’s a bit left ‘n right in the loose stuff. My wife has very little off-road experience (which I tend to remedy this year) but I’m not sure a 19″ is right for her. She had the BMW 650 Dakar before (21″ wheel) Any tips on this please ?
    Greetings from Krautland ! Ard and Tessa

  23. For starters, a 19 inch wheel will do the job. A 21 will be better of course. But if you have a 19 and you are not yet at a stage to build your ideal RTW bike, then the 19 will do. It will not handle obstacles as well and will be less stable in rough terrain, but it will no doubt do the job.

  24. It’s funny, I found this after buying my “dream” 2003 1150GSA a few months ago. I’ve been riding motorcycles for 10 years, I’m 46 now. LWR definitely influenced my purchase. I was caught in the Ewan and Charley sales pitch. This winter I watched the BDR DVDs over and over, thinking I could do it on the GS. A complete novice to off road, I took the beast on some tracks here in Northern Michigan, and promptly fell over. Multiple times. It wasn’t long before I realized that a smaller bike would be better suited to the kind of riding I wanted to do. Not only for my back, but for the enjoyment of the ride. I recently purchased a DRZ400, and I am loving this bike.

  25. I just have to say that my 800GS was one of the best bikes I ever owned. It was awesome in every way but hardcore mud/sand/enduro was a bit tuff. Now I have a HP2 Enduro. I sure miss ABS, heated grips and other comfort stuff I had on the 800GS. I would like a 1200GS but I’m afraid of the weigh. I also have a KTM 250 (107 kg) and of course its VERY different experience on the enduro track but i would never use my KTM for longer trips.

  26. “So the question is why? Why only then. Was the information to make a better bike choice not available to them before? Was it available but not emphasised enough?”

    “Personally, I like the old school understanding of adventure riding but if it is evolving I think its diverging into two distinct subsets; adventure travel and adventure trail riding. ”

    I think you are starting to pinpoint some of the answers that your questions pose.

    Growing up here in the US and starting from a very young age with small dirt bikes in AZ, in the 1970’s, and being on 2 wheels from bmx and mountain bikes in the early 1980’s has given me a better understanding of trail and off road riding. I could open the garage and ride from sunrise to sunset in the desert with little to no restrictions. We were fortunate and come from a much smaller group of riders then what has emerged as todays adventure motorcycle community.

    As I read AdvRider RR’s there seems to be a evolution and curiosity of either long time riders who have never really ridden off road or dirt trails. And then there is the Johnny come lately group.
    In the US we have off-road motorcycles, street motorcycles and recently a sub-group coined dual-sport. Most off road/dirt bikes are not licensed for riding on highways and streets so they are restricted to were they can be used. That is were the dual sport bikes combine the ability to ride county and rural dirt roads as well as highway and interstate roads with no restriction because they have a license plate that allows them vs a dirt bike that is restricted to OHV (off highway vehicle)

    Maybe this correlation will illustrate the current conundrum.
    The skiing industry has over the last twenty or so years gone from long stiff race skis that only a small percentage of that community could actually master to the introduction of snowboard technology that leaked over to skiing and what is now known as all mountain free skiing. Which enabled the average joe who skied a few times a year to enjoy all mountain conditions like powder and off- piste proficiently . One didn’t have to be a fit athletic ski racer to use the modern equipment and have fun skiing from the first chair to the last chair ride of a ski day. I am seeing correlations in the evolving Adv moto travel rider and Adv trail rider.

    The motorcycle manufactures have not jumped on board with the wants and needs of the 21st century moto rider.

  27. Funny how over the years the term ‘Adventure Motorcycling’ has evolved. It’s pure ‘marketing hype’ regardless of how heavy your bike is. Adventure is a relative term and one man’s adventure can either put us to sleep or just the thought terrify us, or even question why one would ‘adventure’ through miles of mud, rock and sand? The more technical the trip the more technically proficient you must be (yes lighter helps to improve the fun and improves the odds of completion). This is all ego satisfying regardless of the weight of your bike. I used my 750 Norton Commando in the early 70’s to take me and all my stuff to the Florida Keys where I got a job commercial diving in the Bahamas for 40 days hooking lobsters out of the coral heads by hand. I saw land once for about 2 hours during the entire 40 days… I lived on a small fishing boat, slept on deck every night, swam with sharks and 6′ barracuda on a daily basis. Now that was an Adventure. Comparatively, the motorcycle riding was boring except I always felt alive vs driving a car albeit uncomfortable after 4-500 mile days. I have always enjoyed wind in my face however, and that will never get old. After 40 days at sea I was done with that Adventure and was ready to take a break, go to work and save up for my next hairbrain Adventure… My motorcycle was a ‘cool’ vehicle that motivated me to search out (Explore) which lead to places with lonely incredible views and bad food or the opportunity to risk my life crossing rivers on a dilapidated old bridge… After each ‘Experience’ and the stories I’ve told, some would say Wow, what an adventure, others would say ‘you’re nuts’… I also describe off road riding in general as “downhill double black diamond skiing” but instead of snow,substitute rocks and sand. And instead of skiis ride a 300-700 lb motorcycle which often feels like balancing on a 2 legged Hippo’. Their response when hearing that is, that’s not adventure, that’s semi-suicidal. They’re right of course… So I have chosen to describe my use of my Yamaha S 10 as an extremely reliable vehicle that motivates me to comfortably explore our beautiful surroundings when the weather is relatively decent. If I ever have the need to go deeper into the back country of Wa, Oregon, Utah or Colorado I know it has the best chance to both get me to those places with all my cool stuff and survive at a speed I’m comfortable with. Knowing that regardless of the weight of your bike, you’re going to fall at times; personally, I’d rather fall going 5-10mph on my ST on a gnarly offroad trail than 45mph on a real ‘Adventure’ dirtbike because I have other interests to pursue that require my body to still work, to enjoy bigger adventures than merely riding the motorcycle. So whether it’s simply a mode of transportation, or to satisfy your need for Adventure, Exploration, Sport, Risk, Humanitarianism with or without Comfort, it’s Your Move!

  28. Hi Walter,

    Great article. I luckily did my adv riding right the first time, taking a DR650SE from the US to Argentina using soft luggage. I was definitely left jonesing for more power though. Any thoughts on the 950SE? It clocks in at 185kg dry…

  29. Hello,

    I am writing to you from India. I have owned many motorcycles and have been riding them for almost 15 years. I presently own a ER-6F (road bike), Indian rip-off of a CRF230L (w/ bad suspension) and a XR650L. I intend to ride to Mongolia from the southern tip of the peninsula, across the Trans himalayas, thro Tibet and ride the Gn106 to beijing to get to Ulan Bator. Its more of a ‘Mongolia or bust’ trip for me, and I am in the phase of prepping my XR650L for it. I am 5′ 9”, 145 lbs and reasonably fit. I know the XR quite well and hoping that she’ll be an easy one to fix if things go wrong. She’s a little tall but I am used to it (kind of). The down side being, Its 1 of the hand full of XR’s here and shes literally a 1 in a billion sort of bike, which makes it hard for me to source spares, but its certainly not a show-stopper.

    So, here’s where I need your advice. This is my first ever overland adventure and will be transversing across many geographies and terrains. I am finding it hard to not prepare for an Apocalypse. So I am back to “Big Bertha”. whats your advice on what to carry and the stuff that looks like you need them, but actually you dont? I know that its a compromise sometimes “not” carrying stuff, but all this leaves me a little too confused.

  30. Hi Walter,
    Thank’s for your blog!
    I certainly agry with you about the question of Weight when the time has come to buy an Adventure motor bike, that is the first point for sure.
    But i think it is intimately related to at least two others questions….
    What is the reliabitlity of the beast…. And does the parts are easy to find? I mean, there is nothing to do with a 300 kg bike stuck in mud for sure, but so with a broken motor bike stuck in mud!
    So, I’m a street biker (Honda vfr800) and I’m looking to buy an adventure bike next summer. I took a look to KTM 530 and Husa 570, but are they as reliable as DR650, KLR650 or KTM 690???

  31. Best article I’ve read on selecting a motorcycle ever. I will keep my XR650R for as long as I can. Everything else is a tank IMO. I may not go on real adventures, but for everything else I do it is a blast and reliable. All it really needs is a big set of soft bags and I could go wherever I want. It only weighs about 300 lbs/135 kg and it really moves with the high compression piston and aftermarket cam! Every once in a while I wish I had a 1200GS so that 80 mph on the highway would be more comfortable, but that’s about all it’s good for, right?

  32. Hi Walter like so many other comment I too totally agree, I’m a relative novice , I was a speedway sidecar passenger until I reached 52 then learned to ride a road bike , I was in love with my first bike (BMW650 Dakar) rode through Spain & the length of Portugal mostly on farm & rocky tracks my mate was on a KTM 690. Probably about 30kgs lighter & better suspension but same tyres etc. I came off 12 times. Some down to experience but I’m sure 50% at least was the weight, I was never going to change bikes but was talked into buying my KTM 640 ADV 2 weeks later sold the Dakar ! The difference was amazing ! This year rode loads of tracks including “the smugglers trail” in the Pyrenees. The lighter better suspension bike sent my confidence & enjoyment through the roof , Was told of this article/ blog through someone because of selling the Dakar & everything you have written touched a nerve & made everything make sense thanks very much .

  33. great article, and completely agree, but still believe there is a massive void in the market. I have owned a wr250r in the past and whilst a sweet little bike it is underpowered even for an average 85kg guy and only a tiny amount of gear. It’s not particularly light either. It’s strength is in the long service intervals. I now have a 2013 ktm 350 (owned from new) for ‘days out’ and recently brought a 690 enduro for longer trips. I would have loved to take the 350 for longer trips as its everything I want in a bike (apart from the saddle!). It’s super light, loads of power, incredible handling and suspension and will do everything needed. Used it in the pyrenees for overnights on the mountain with giant loop soft luggage and was still more than capable. The problem is with all the ktm/husaberg small bikes is servicing. I’ve done over 5500 off-road miles on my 350’s original piston, so piston change/major overhaul service etc is not an issue as the manual would make you believe, BUT it does require frequent oil changes with fancy oils to keep it running well along with valve checks, as they are bikes built for enduro racing, not long distance. They also hate sitting at constant speeds as you would on the road, and I have from a ktm mechanic that this is not good for these engines. So if doing any sort of trip, chances are you’d be oil changing every 4 days or so, maybe less! And that would still be stretching the interval to 4 times that stated in the service manual. That makes for a lot of oil to carry. If they could make the same 350 with long service intervals as the 690, I’d buy one tomorrow.

  34. you have to wonder why when ewan and charly did their next trip they took the same heavyweights? did they not learn from their mistakes or did they not have a choice?

  35. Hi there.

    I enjoyed the article … but not so fast 🙂

    I have to tell you I traveled from Ireland to Vladivostok in 2005 across the Zilov Gap on a Honda ST1100 (300kgs) and had a ball. The bridges were all in then but the road was still very bad in long sections.

    At the time I went it was important to me that I used the same bike I used every day and still use for commuting to work now.

    I used exactly the opposite rule of thumb and set my bike up for the 90% roads I would be on (tarred) and decided I would get through the off road sections in Siberia when I got to them. I did not have any off road experience but I felt that the twenty or so days on the bike before the off road section on progressively deteriorating roads (feck!) would be a good primer. The logic being that I would be having a good time 90% of the journey and a real adventure for the other 10%. And that is what transpired.

    Anyway, one of the things I learned when I got to the wild parts of Russia is that there plenty of big lumbering road biased bikes out there (busted and patched up Urals mostly) there with locals on them – all going at a sedate speed on awful roads. Out there (at that time anyway) motorcycles were principally a means of transportation and the locals by and large get to where they are going on them most of the time without much drama.

    How did by big ole Honda ST1100 do in Siberia? We’ll it coped with mud, rain, wind, crappy tar, pretty good and was a joy on the big stretches of tar mac. There was about 5 miles of sand coming towards the end which almost gave me a heart attack but I did not come off.

    I did bust a shock outside Novosibirsk and had to await a new one to be shipped out – but that actually lead to more adventures. Incidentally this mechanical failure was not the fault of Honda either – I believe it was because I did not have the wit to replace the existing one (with 38,000 klms on it) before I left Ireland (my bad!).

    I found the secret when the road surfaces became bad was to slow down and sit down when I could and stand up when I had to.

    My buddy, more sensibly perhaps was set up for the 10% bad section. He rode a Yamaha XT 600. When we got to Vladivostok (about 15,000 klms from Ireland) there was a bunch motorcycle lads out there who spotted us and we became very friendly for the few days we were waiting for the ferry to take us and our bikes to South Korea. They all imported their secondhand in from Japan.

    At that time they took a special interest in overland motorcyclists. One of the guys who had a bit of English eyed up the two bikes we arrived on. We had just met at this time and he didn’t know which one of us were on which bike. He looked them both over and said pointing at the XT, “Whoever rode that to Vladivostok was a motorcyclist!” Then he looked at the ST and said, “Whoever rode that here was a hero”!

    I think that any motorcycle is fine. I just learned last week that Captain Cook first circumnavigated the world in a modified coal boat.

    Great article BTW…. just my two cents.


  36. I have to admit you are so right….I road my 1150 gsa this summer to Nepal.Driving trough europe and Iran only on paved streets it was comfortable….however…. the more i entered Pakistan and rough an sandy roads….i wished i had a lighter bike….:-( even more when i entered the northern areas of Pakistan and later Nepal.
    So when i came back home this september i started looking for a more lighter bike and ended up buying a xchallenge witch i’m going to drive up to morocco this Mai.

  37. I might be late to this post but thank you, thank you, thank you. I was all enamored with LWR and the many monster bikes that continue to roll out. Fortunately I’ve encountered posts like this and a new dirt riding friend who’s ridden for 50 years–and he begged me to rethink my first “adventure” bike in terms of weight. I’m now sold on lighter and more nimble, and am considering a Husky FE 350 S or Husky FE 501 S. Truth is I now prefer the phrase “dual sport”. I probably won’t ever travel out of North America, but watch some video of some riders in the mud or wet rocks on any of the BDRs after bad weather and as far as I’m concerned everything you say still applies.

    BTW…you’re writing is fantastic. I love the way you support your points and anticipate counter arguments.

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