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The big adventure bike ain’t dead yet. The hype might be all around middle-weight adventures these days, but as they have roamed the Earth for many decades, the big-bore adventure motorcycle is still alive and well.

In fact, the sector is flourishing with arguably the best cross-section of over 1000cc adventure motorcycles ever offered for those looking for that big bike rush. Let’s take a look at what’s on offer.


Big bore adventure bike, the KTM 1290 Adventure R

The biggest bike on the planet to sport a 21/18-inch wheelset, the 1290 Adventure R is the purest offroad choice of the over 1000cc category.

Some would argue it took some time to truly shine, but the 1290 Adventure R came to life when the drop-down tank was adopted in 2021. In fact, the 2021 model presented about 90% new componentry over the 2020 and all the changes brought this concept to its highest point since inception.

Much is made of the 160 horsepower and 140Nm of torque on offer from the LC8 engine and these are gargantuan numbers from a bike designed to be ridden offroad. But, they also get a disproportionate amount of attention given most riders will spend their time in an offroad mode with reduces the output to a less aggressive and far more manageable 100Hp.

For those that love the blacktop, the 1290 has a more suited cousin in the S model, but the R is certainly no slouch at carving tar. It’s also extremely comfortable on long stretches of either freeway or dirt road.
The full suite of electronics is generous, intuitive and able to be fine-tuned to reach your happy place in the dirt like no other big bore. The old key fob issue seems to finally have been sorted too, much to the pleasure of anyone who inexplicably couldn’t start their bike at some point.

The 1290 Adventure R will go deeper into technical terrain than any other bike on this list without troubling the rider to the extent others will. It can’t be thrown around like an 890, but that unique balance achieved in part by the lower fuel weight gives the 1290 a more nimble feel at lower speeds which is when the biggest bikes can become a real handful.


AfricaTwin Adventure Sports

The biggest of the two Africa Twin offerings thanks to the 24.8-litre fuel tank, the Adventure Sports also receives extras like cornering lights, tubeless tyres, heated hand grips, a taller windscreen and an option for electronically controlled suspension.

Very competitively priced amongst the competition, the ATAS is at the lower end of the engine output scale at 101Hp, which pales in comparison to the 1290, but doesn’t leave you desperately seeking more mumbo on the dirt where manageability is more appreciated than wicked explosions of power.

The Africa Twin is made in Japan which, while not guaranteeing a trouble-free existence, is more reassuring to some than bikes hailing from China or India. The ATAS is very well appointed with an electronics suite that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, several ride modes, switchable ABS and adjustable traction control. It’s not an intuitive system to use but certainly doesn’t lack features.

The Africa Twin Adventure Sports doesn’t excel in any one area but does everything pretty damn well which is a big reason why we have one permanently in the ADV LIFE garage.


It’s hard to think of a single adventure bike that’s had more influence and impact on the category than the BMW R 1250 GS and its predecessors.

The R 1250 GS Adventure is the biggest iteration of the family line with a fuel tank that extends travel range with an additional 10 litres of go-juice over the standard model in a big 30-litre tank.
BMWs are sometimes hard to characterize in isolation because they’re offered with several packages/configurations as well as with a more offroad focussed Rallye option – which we love – for both the standard and the Adventure.

With the R 1250 GSA you’re presented with a bike that has seen real-world testing beyond perhaps any other. BMW may upgrade but tends not to drastically update major components for long stretches and as such, each iteration benefits from huge hours of both factory and punter thrashings.

On the road, the GSA is a thing of beauty and while there are faster bikes, few are as much of a pleasure to ride with the exception of perhaps the Ducati Multistrada V4S.

Offroad, the GSA is the bumble bee of motorcycles. It doesn’t look like the formula should work, but it does. It’s best ridden standing up where you can concentrate your weight low and centrally and let that exquisitely torquey engine do much of the work from there.

Anything wider than a true single trail with a good solid surface and you’re in for a good day. Sand can be tough, but long days and epically long miles are the R 1250 GSA’s true calling.

The BMW carries a complete and easy-to-use electronics package and is amongst the most comfortable of bikes on offer. Doubt it if you must, but there’s a reason it’s one of the biggest-selling models in the world.


Harley has the difficult task of asking its core buyers to think outside the cruiser box while attracting new customers who look in a dealer’s windows and see primarily bike’s that reflect no offroad credibility at all.
The Pan America Special is an attempt to break the metaphorical HD mould and show that the company can progress outside of the stereotype. And what better segment to aim at than adventure?

The bike is an interesting mix of very well executed and WTF happened here?
The engine is superb. Smooth, strong and forceful and yet subtle when needed. The electronically controlled suspension is perfectly suited to dirt road use and robust enough to push a little harder. The electronics are smart and comprehensive without being overwhelming and the ergos present a supremely comfortable motorcycle that still accommodates the standing position when the terrain beckons.

But the little things let it down, like the plastic rear rack with a 2.5-kilogram rating which surely won’t stand up to days of Aussie corrugations with luggage onboard. The dash includes one USB-C outlet only. If your cable should fail, try buying a USB-C to USB-C or lightning at the servo and you’ll get a blank stare from the already disinterested cashier.

The lack of a backlit switchblock on an electronics-heavy bike that’s priced right up to over $ 40 grand is disappointing. And that Harley Davidson Jiffy sidestand is friggin’ terrible to use in the dirt.

The Pan America is an outstanding adventure tourer thanks almost entirely to the core of the engine, chassis and suspension. For any bike to work well these three things have to come together in harmony and Harley has nailed the formula on the Pan America Special.

It aids even further that the Brembo brakes are exceptional in both power and feel with ABS that really does work as advertised. I usually avoid ABS like it’s a wet market bat, but I left it on the whole time.

So, the stuff that needs to be there and work well, is there and is doing just that. It’s when you pull back that I found the pain points. The little annoyances that don’t befit a premium motorcycle and serve only to aggravate when fixes seem simple.


Somewhat similar to BMW’s R 1250 GS, the Triumph Tiger 1200 comes in multiple guises and various configurations. The biggest Tiger 1200 is the GT Explorer which carries the big 30-litre fuel tank which is 10 more than the other models.

But the GT also runs a 19-inch front wheel so for offroad riding the best option in the Tiger range is the Tiger Rally Pro, which offers a 21/18-inch wheelset.

Triumph is swinging for the fence with the latest iteration of the Tiger. Motocross legend, Ricky Carmichael, was brought on board as an ambassador as completely new models were wheeled out and marketed as hardcore offroad beasts.

The 1160cc engine punches out 148bhp and 130Nm of torque which is more than enough for mere mortals and, as with the BMW, features a final shaft drive instead of a chain.

Boasting Showa semi-active suspension with 220mm of travel at both ends, shift assist and a complete swag of quality electronics the Tiger is punching hard on the technology front.

Triumph isn’t stopping here either. The company’s push into offroad will extend to motocross and models which are in late-stage development right now.


Suzuki has heard what so many people have been asking for and finally built a V-Strom with a 21-inch front wheel and slightly longer travel (10mm) suspension.

As one of the most loved adventure tourer options, the V-Strom has been going about its business quietly for 21 years. In that time, it’s become one of the most beloved and yet misunderstood motorcycles, often underselling itself but rarely disappointing when put to the test.

The DE version will be set to take the bike further into the dirt than ever before and it will be backed up by its brilliant and versatile engine. The bike will weigh in heavier than much of the competition but it’s not aiming at conquering technical terrain. A somewhat puzzling decision however was to offer the rear wheel as tubeless but the front as a tubed wheel.

The electronics on the V-Strom are simple and easy to use; thankfully the DE receives an updated TFT screen that will outperform the poor effort of the previous XT model. The ABS and traction control are both good and a quickshifter will be fitted on both the DE.

As an all-day bike, the V-Strom has always been fantastic and setting a dirt road route with some freeway stretches that encompass long kilometres and multiple days will put the V-Strom 1050 DE right in its happy place.


Ducati tried valiantly to squeeze the Multistrada into the adventure category, but here in Australia, the offroad conditions are in general too harsh for the otherwise impressive V4S to really excel.

With the Desert X, Ducati has a far better offering for those looking to find adventure in more difficult terrain and conditions.

Built around the 937 cc Testastretta engine it technically falls under the 1000cc mark but we included it on this list because we’ve noticed just as many riders are eyeing it as a choice against the plus-1000cc as they are against the Tenere 700 or 890 Adventure.

The Desert X cuts a distinctive figure with its two circular headlights and is aiming squarely at the offroad rider looking for a premium product and something a little outside of the norm.
The 21/18-inch wheelset is always a benefit in the dirt, as is 250mm of ground clearance and 230mm of travel at the fork and 220mm at the shock.

The thin metal fuel tank was a curious decision (crash bars are a must) and the suspension is greatly under-sprung for vigorous offroad riding. But the rest of the bike is a pleasure to ride.

The engine has a lot of life (but goes much, much harder with the full Termignoni exhaust system fitted) and the electronics suite is far wider sweeping than most riders will need but allows you to truly fine-tune the bike’s performance and feel.

As a bike that sits between the big guys and the middleweights, the Desert X is both unique and a welcome addition to the adventure melting pot.


We’ve included the Super ‘Ten because even though it’s no longer being produced, it’s a criminally underrated big adv offering.

The butt of many jokes through the later years the Super Ten was undoubtedly very heavy and with an archaic and at times unworkable electronics package that offered perhaps the worst traction control and ABS on a modern motorcycle tasked with travelling on dirt. Enter the homemade bypass switch…problem solved.

The 1200 has a fantastic engine that will work all day on freeways and dirt roads with little outright aggression but enough spunk to have fun. The bike offers the kind of comfort that makes long days less of a literal pain in the neck (bar raisers may assist here too), it carves road sections and handles open dirt roads and double trail better than it gets credit for.

It was always overpriced and looking at used Super ‘Tens available for sale now, the prices are often still too high for a bike that was overtaken technologically a long time ago.

But it is reliable, it is comfortable, and it is mostly an absolute pleasure to ride. Wanna take on the Flinders Ranges from somewhere on the coast? The Yamaha will eat it all up all the way there and back.

It’s hard to beat the prices you can grab an early (2016 version) used Africa Twin at, but if the big bikes appeal but the price tags frighten you off, try and find a good deal on a Super ‘Ten and you’ll at least have a great intro into the big bore adv world.

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