With coronavirus restrictions lifting and plans hopefully able to turn to reality, 2021 may well be the year where many of us finally undertake that dream motorcycle trip.
But what will be the bike for your trip of a lifetime? In recent years we’ve seen the rise in popularity of big adventure bikes. They really came into our consciousness in 2004, when Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor rode from London to New York on a pair of BMW R1150GSs for their Long Way Round TV series. The series helped change the perception of the adventurer tourer and played a part in turning British riders away from their sports bikes and onto what were previously called ‘dual purpose’ machines.
And while many riders dream of riding across the desert as they circumnavigate the globe, the reality is that modern adventure bikes are the perfect all-rounders: as adept at handling the commute to work as it is a trip around the world, and capable of taking on the occasional track day as well as the odd foray off-road.
Such is the demand for these all-rounders, most of the major manufacturers make big adventure bikes and many are new or updated for 2021. There are plenty of options out there, so if a high-end adventure bike is on your shopping list, here are five of the latest ones you should be taking a look at.
It’s impossible to have a conversation about adventure bikes without mentioning the ubiquitous R1250GS. It’s been over 40 years since the original R80G/S emerged to an unsuspecting public, and for the past two decades the GS has been one of the biggest hitters in the world of motorcycling.
The latest R1250GS comes in two versions, a standard model and the taller and heavier ‘Adventure’ version with a bigger (30 litres to 20 litres) fuel tank and more off-road ability. Combining these two models together, the R1250GS is Britain’s biggest selling motorcycle.
And with good reason too. The GS is a supreme all-rounder, with all day comfort and a turn of speed that can embarrass many a sports bike rider on a Sunday morning blast. The latest versions, introduced last year, pack 136bhp from the high-tech flat twin engine, which now features variable valve timing.
Prices start at £13,705 but, being a BMW, there’s a list of options as long as your arm. Very few leave the factory in base spec and it’s easy to top £20k for a GS Adventure with all the boxes ticked.
Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250
Could Harley’s first attempt at an adventure touring bike be the sleeper hit of 2021?
Harley-Davidson is synonymous with traditional cruisers but the Pan America is an all-new model with a spec sheet that sees it go head to head with the benchmark GS.
The V-twin engine is a Harley signature but the American company claim that the Pan America is lighter (at 245kg ready to ride) than its German rival, and more powerful too with 150bhp.
Harley has priced its first foray into the adventure bike market competitively at £14,000, with the base model packing a higher spec than the base GS. There’s also a higher-specified Pan America Special, which has electronic suspension that can lower at standstill – overcoming one of the traditional challenges for shorter riders who want to ride a big adventure bike.
Styling is somewhat unconventional, but then that could be said of most adventure bikes, and the badge on the tank might be off-putting for some riders considering a switch from a more proven Japanese or European brand. It promises to provide a great riding experience though, meaning that this could well be the bike that changes the public perception of this most traditional of American brands.
KTM 1290 Super Adventure
Austria’s KTM has a legendary reputation in off-road racing, including the Dakar Rally, so it is no surprise that their adventure bikes have a strong following with riders looking for a higher degree of off-road capability.
There’s a new, 160bhp, 1290 Super Adventure for 2021, and there are actually two versions. The ‘S’ model is more street focussed and starts at £14,999. The ‘R’ carries a £1,000 premium and is taller with a more off-road rally bent to it.
As the brand whose slogan is ‘Ready To Race’ it’s no surprise to see KTM create a bike that’s faster and sportier than the BMW GS. It packs a high specification too, including standard fitment of radar guided adaptive cruise control on the S version.
Ducati Multistrada V4
Another all-new adventure bike on the market for 2021 is Ducati’s V4 Multistrada. Uniquely, the Multistrada runs a V4 engine, as opposed to the two-cylinder norm in the class. The engine is based on Ducati’s Panigale superbike unit and delivers a class leading 170bhp, with the Italian manufacturer making the surprise change from its traditional desmodromic valve gear to more traditional springs, in order to extend service levels to a staggering 37,000 miles before the first major service.
The Multistrada (Italian for ‘many roads’) takes a slightly different approach to the adventure bike class to the others here, with higher performance and more road focussed manners. That said, the fancy electronics are said to offer surprisingly competent performance on the rough stuff.
Three versions are available: V4, V4 S and V4 S Sport, with prices running from £15,495 through to £19,995. For fans of the old V-twin, Ducati are still offering the 950 version of the previous Multistrada, as well as the harder edged 1260 Enduro.
Honda Africa Twin
When Honda reintroduced the Africa Twin in 2015, no one knew it would be quite the success it has turned out to be.
Part of the model’s appeal has been the way in which it has straddled the space between the heavyweights mentioned here, and middleweights like the BMW F850GS and Triumph Tiger 900.
Recently boosted in capacity from 998cc to 1084cc, the now 100bhp CRF1100L Africa Twin remains a lighter and more accessible adventure bike for many riders, especially when fitted with the popular DCT semi-automatic transmission.
Like pretty much all the other bikes here, Honda’s parallel-twin comes in two flavours, with the higher specification ‘Adventure Sports’ model featuring a bigger fuel tank and optional electronic suspension.