In the previous issue of ABR we asked the very same question about four of the newest large capacity bikes in the adventure bike market; the KTM 1190 Adventure R, the Suzuki V-Strom 1000, the BMW R1200 GS Adventure and the Yamaha Ténéré 1200. In our Facebook vote it was the KTM that won top honours. In our own testing of the bikes we gave top honours instead to the Yamaha. We admired its overall sense of toughness and usability. It felt like it would be the one to stand the test of time, even if it wasn’t as exciting per se as some of the others.
That four bike comparison also served to highlight the bikes we’d neglected; namely, those that had already been out for a year or two. Four bikes nominated by our Facebook voters were the Triumph Tiger Explorer, the Honda Crosstourer, the Ducati Multistrada and the Aprilia Caponord.
That was the lineup we intended for this issue, but like all best-laid plans we didn’t quite pull that off, heading instead down to Laguna Motorcycles in Maidstone Kent – a dealership happy to let anyone try a bike from their extensive range of demo adventure bikes – and from that fleet came this four bike lineup; the Triumph and Honda as hoped for, with the non ‘R’ model of the KTM 1190 Adventure to replace the Ducati (seen elsewhere in this issue) and a second hand Moto Guzzi Stelvio to step in for the Aprilia Caponord, which we hope to spend some time with at a later date. Once again, it was the KTM that won the Facebook vote. But here’s what we thought…
KTM 1190 Adventure
Last issue we rode the KTM 1190 Adventure R, up against the BMW R1200 GSA over in France. That bike was fitted with a pair of well-worn TKC tyres and with it being the R-spec model had the larger diameter front (21-inch) and rear (18-inch) wheels, the longer travel suspension and the higher ride height. Of the two bikes in the 1190 range (the Adventure and the Adventure R), this was the bike on which you’d consider undertaking some serious off-road riding.
It had the crash bars, the wider handlebars, but it still had the switchable ABS and traction control, plus the electronic option of Enduro mode, which cuts power to 100bhp. With a refined and progressive throttle response and engine delivery, the bike was in a class of its own off-road.
Overall we liked that bike, how could you not with all that power. It is the fastest trail bike in the world, or at least it felt like it. On the road, however, the bike was compromised. Turn in was hampered by that big front tyre, and with knobblies on you’re never going to be able to exploit a bike’s on-road finesse or ability. It was quite fortuitous then that in the absence of a Multistrada for this test, we were able to take Laguna’s 1190 Adventure (non-R) out for a spin, the bike featuring the regular Continental Attack II tyres.
The first thing you notice is the difference in seat height. Even 6’2″ Alun found the Adventure R a bit tall at times, with the seat height fixed at an unadjustable 890mm. For me at 5’10” it was a long stretch to the ground – too long. This standard Adventure is a noticeable 30mm lower (it actually feels more), allowing you to get a good foot down on the ground, or the balls of two feet.
Above Right: Clear and uncluttered clocks on the 1190, with the Adventure giving the option to change damping on the move. The navigational screen is initially complex, but you soon get the hang of it.
This makes a big difference in terms of confidence. The bike also has two handlebar clamping positions of +/- 10mm, two seat heights of 860mm and 875mm, two footrest positions and the screen adjusts by 25mm. The screen is taller on the Adventure than on the Adventure R.
The handlebars are also slightly narrower on the standard model, and unlike the manually adjustable suspension on the Adventure R, this Adventure comes with electronically adjustable suspension, allowing the rider to select preload (rider; rider + luggage; rider and pillion; rider + pillion + luggage). You can then set the damping on the move, choosing between comfort, street and sport.
What hasn’t changed is the engine. It’s the same 148hp 75-degree v-twin taken from the RC8 race bike, albeit with different gearbox ratios, cams and inlet ports. The bark upon startup is still present, the response from throttle input is still as crisp, and working the engine in traffic – stop/start – is still as refined as on the Adventure R.
The difference is on-road performance. The bike is more focused. You know what you’re riding; a street bike, as opposed to a massively-powerful trail/street hybrid. If anything, this allows you to ride harder and faster, knowing that grip will be available from the tyres, plus stability in a straight line, particularly under hard acceleration. The TKCs on the Adventure R did blunt the bike’s on-road ability, that much is certain.
What the bike has lost as a consequence of being more road-focused is the breadth of its appeal. One of the Adventure R’s charms was knowing that it could be so blisteringly fast on the road, and yet, see a green lane and you could head down it knowing that the bike was capable of doing it.
This means that when riding the Adventure you become more aware of the bike’s on-road ability, which could be considered too extreme for some riders. Be in no doubt, this bike isn’t a relaxed, laid back bike in the way that the Moto Guzzi or Crosstourer can be. It’s aggressive, noisy and demanding of the rider.
Even the suspension in Comfort setting is firm. The bike is planted to the road. You feel the road beneath you. You feel the heat from the engine, and you hear the slightly agricultural chatter from it when in town.
It is an intrusive bike, and far different to say a BMW GS for subtleties and relaxed riding.
In truth, a long ride on the 1190 could be draining, simply because it is so focused. But then upon ignition, it does flash up the message, ‘Ready to Race’, so perhaps that’s to be expected.
One thing you have to say about the KTM is just how finely detailed and thought through it is. All the components feel quality, and as a bike to stand back and admire there can’t be many others out there that’d match it. A Ducati Multistrada? Perhaps, but that bike has nowhere near the brutality of this bike. Especially in Adventure R spec, which feels like it really would withstand a good off-road hammering.
As a conclusion, despite the tall seat height (and the fact that 80% of 1190 customers opt for the Adventure) if it was me choosing, I’d go for the Adventure R, despite the £800 premium. Alternatively, you could just stick a set of semi-knobblies on the Adventure, and that might be the best compromise.
A brand new 1190 Adventure would be nice, but at £12,999 it’s out of reach of many of us. Consider instead this 990 Adventure S with 32,081 miles on the clock for £4,750 with Hepco and Becker panniers, new chain and sprockets, original exhaust and new tyres. Not as fast as 1190, but enough.
Triumph Tiger Explorer
The Explorer has been around since 2013 (the year it seems that most of the current crop of adventure bikes have been around), with the big Triumph one of the few bikes that has really taken off and done well in terms of sales; no mean feat for a bike that was designed from the ground up, with a whole new three-cylinder engine, frame and shaft drive.
One of the reasons for that is undoubtedly because it is British, but also because the bike has offered the average rider exactly what they’re looking for; a powerful engine with plenty of character, a keen entry level price tag, strong masculine looks and a riding experience perfectly suited for those stepping off sports bikes and on to adventure bikes for the first time.
In fairness, you don’t see many of these Explorer being ridden off-road (the Tiger 800 is the Triumph you’d want for that), though the company has been wise to capitalise on the trend for tarted-up adventure bikes by offering the spoked version for an extra £350 over and above the £11,299 of the standard bike. Then above that, you have the XC, complete with engine guards, bash plate, hand guards and spotlights, for a still good value £12,299. From the BMW range, you’re looking at an entry-level GS by comparison, so again, the Triumph offers a lot of bike for your money.
In terms of power, the 137 bhp Triumph sits above the 105bhp Moto Guzzi Stelvio, just ahead of the 127 bhp Honda Cross- tourer and a little way below the most powerful of the lot; the 148 bhp KTM Adventure. The Triumph is lighter than the Honda, heavier than the Guzzi, and a good deal heavier than the KTM. The result is a bike that is largely defined by its engine; powerful, muscular, but also quite top-heavy, something that can be quite disconcerting the first time you tip it off the stand and into upright.
Bryn’s thoughts on the Triumph were that it was a sportier riding position though still comfortable ride, that there was power all through the rev range, though a little jerky when rolling off throttle, and that the bike should be good for two-up touring.
As a counterbalance to that, of all the bikes here, the Triumph has one of the lowest seat heights, making it a manageable stretch to the ground. The reach to the bars is also manageable, although compared to the riding position employed by most adventure bikes you feel more laid-flat, rather than upright, possibly because the difference in height between the seat and the bars isn’t as great as that on say, the Guzzi, which is arguably the comfiest bike of the four.
What this set-up does tend to do, at least with my body shape, is roll you forward, so more weight on the wrists than some might ideally like. But you get used to it, and to be honest, once you open up that hard-hitting three-cylinder engine, the weight soon comes off the wrists.
The engine is an interesting one. It has plenty of meat. It goes hard. But on this example, there was almost a slur in the power delivery, the engine pushing through the first few thousand revs of the range before clearing out and coming on song. Not as crisp, or as refined as the Crosstourer for example, though equally as ‘quick’ in real terms. The brakes on this demo bike also seemed lacking. The front required a stronger tug than we’ve become accustomed to, which would just have been another case of getting used to it.
The handling is hard to fault. The bike feels stable and planted in a straight line, before rolling predictably and gracefully into corners. The bike can wallow, it can get out of shape when pushing hard, but not to an unruly amount, just more roly-poly than the KTM for example, which is bob-sled firm by comparison.
One thing this test didn’t bring into question is the 20-litre tank range. It’s hard to fathom really; designing and building a bike built for distance and yet making the tank so relatively small.
It makes something like the GSA the default choice if range is important. Or the new Guzzi, which has a whopping 32-litre tank.
It’s not just Triumph that are guilty. Honda has done the same with its Crosstourer with its small tank size.
The saving grace for the Triumph – and perhaps what lets the Honda down – is that the Explorer makes up for it with attitude and charisma. In this dark blue it’s a great looking bike. A manly looking bike. It’s everything the new V-Strom is not, and by comparison the Multistrada appears fussy and too delicate.
The one trivial complaint I would have about the Triumph is the cross brace for the screen mount. It’s a rough finish matt black and looks cheap (especially compared to the quality of finish of the bikes the company were producing in the nineties), and thus a shame in being right in your line of sight.
But again, such things are a triviality. All in all the big Triumph adventure bike that deserves its success. It doesn’t have the depth of ability of a GS, the speed of a KTM, or the bullet proof-build of the Honda, but it does have the looks, the performance and the value to make the bike stand out, and the fact that it’s built by a British company that has stood almost toe to toe with BMW is no mean feat. May the success continue.
There are a few options when it comes to second-hand Tigers. Original 855s seem to start from around £1,300 for a mid-nineties model, with us picking out this more powerful 2001 model 955i with 19,200 miles for £2,495, being sold by Wheels in Grimsby.
Moto Guzzi Stelvio (2010 model)
The Stelvio tested here is a 2010 model with almost 12,000 miles on the clock. It is up for sale in the Laguna showroom at £5,999, and quite possibly the most interesting bike in this four bike lineup.
This, by the way, is the original model, first introduced in 2008 before a raft of changes were implemented in 2012, with a restyled fairing, electronic dash and most importantly, an increase in fuel capacity from 18–litres to a class-topping 32-litres. Quite some leap in terms of volume!
In truth, the Stelvio offers excellent value for money, with the current NTX model (basic ABS model also available) coming as standard with sump guard, engine bars, touring screen and panniers, all for £12,364. This offers solid value for money, with the 2012 redesign penned by no other than Pierre Terblanche, the same South African designer who designed the Ducati Multistrada and Cagiva Canyon, amongst other things.
Likewise, don’t be fooled by the later models switch from ‘4v’ to ‘8v’ branding on the fairing; the Italians simply decided to label the updated model based on total valve count of both cylinders, as opposed to the valve count of one cylinder (4).
The engine then, whether old model or new, is the same Quattrovalvole 1151cc 90-degree V-twin, which at tick overdoes that old trick of charismatically rocking from side to side with every twist of the throttle. It sounds good too, with a meaty rumble that makes you want to blip it some more.
The biggest change to the latest model Stelvio is the fuel tank, swelling from 18-litres on the model we rode to a healthy 32-litres on the latest edition. The same exquisite detailing (and oddball looks) remain.
But if there was any word to summarise the Stelvio it would be charismatic, or character. Even riding through Maidstone the Guzzi attracted more glances from casual observers than any of the other four bikes. Perhaps it was those Looney Tune headlights, the spaceship fairing or glittering white paint.
It certainly looks different to all the others and it feels different too, as though all the advancements in engine thrust and cutting edge technology have been forgotten, and what we have instead is an old-fashioned, nostalgic adventure bike cruiser. As well as a manageable seat height of just 820mm (the lowest of the four) the handlebars are also the widest of all the bikes we tried, with far less weight on the wrists than there is on say the Triumph, or to a lesser extent the KTM.
Perfectly suited to this relaxed riding position is the engine. In real terms the performance is disappointing. Whether it was this particular example that wasn’t quite firing on all cylinders, or whether they’re all like this, but the Stelvio can hardly be classed as rapid, especially not in comparison to the other bikes here.
Instead of racing, it prefers to lope, and quite soon you find yourself slowing down. Instead of thrashing the bike (largely because it doesn’t respond well to it), you ride the bike, and find yourself happy to sit behind traffic rather than blasting past it. Certainly, the Guzzi wouldn’t appeal to everyone, and some would see it as old-fashioned. But it has charm. It has comfort. It has character.
Three things that are impossible to measure and almost as difficult to observe until you actually ride the bike. I would certainly encourage anyone who has considered a Guzzi to go out and test ride one. You might like it, you might not. But you’ll certainly get a better feel for it than reading about it on the web, or in magazines.
It handles pleasantly too, almost like an Italian Super Ténéré, the way it rolls into corners with barely any effort or input. The only thing that takes some getting used to is the way the ‘rock’ from the engine almost part-steers the bike, nudging it off line or angle when you feed in the power. A characteristic, rather than an out and out flaw.
Perhaps that’s what the Stelvio does to you. It stops you scrutinising it too closely because in any real measurable way it isn’t ‘better’ than any of the other bikes ridden here.
But then not everyone wants to ride everywhere at full speed with their knees on the deck.
The bike is also a thing to behold in the flesh, from the detailing to the quality of materials it has been made from. If only Suzuki could make their V-Strom with as much panache and attention to detail.
The question is whether you would buy one or not. From what we’ve heard Stelvio ownership can certainly be a test of patience, especially if things go wrong and you have to claim on the warranty. Bryn, the co-pilot for the day, certainly couldn’t find much love for the big Italian. Too slow, to archaic and old fashioned for him.
I probably wouldn’t buy one either if I’m honest, because despite my intentions I still like to ride too hard and too fast at times and I don’t think this bike is built for that, but if I was after something that encourages comfortable and relaxing riding then the Stelvio certainly offers a necessary alternative to the rest of the class.
If you don’t fancy a second hand Moto Guzzi (of which there are quite a few hovering around the £6k mark, why not consider a brand new NTX model, complete with panniers, engine and sump guards, with SP Motorcycles in Exeter selling them for £11,294, saving £1,338 off list.
Honda Crosstourer DCT
We come to the final bike; the Honda Crosstourer, which of the four bikes would be the one most easily overlooked. In this black paint scheme, it neither stands out nor screams to be ridden. This is probably one of the reasons – if not the main reason – that the Crosstourer has hardly set the world on fire when it comes to sales. You don’t see many on the roads, and if rumours are correct, in the UK, Honda sells less than 200 of them a year. A small drop in the ocean then.
And that’s a shame because, with this model fitted with the Dual Clutch Transmission, the bike is nothing short of a sensation. I would even go as far as to say that the DCT on this bike is a game-changer, or at least should have been, had the motorcycle community not overlooked it in favour of the age-old manual. Even Laguna were reluctant to let us take the DCT.
They thought we’d hate it and complain about the absence of a clutch, and yet, in actual fact, the system transforms the bike in a way that it just didn’t manage to on the NC750X we rode a few issues back. Whether it was the lower power output or the way the power was delivered on that lower capacity bike, but when mated to this glorious V4 (a detuned version of that used in the VFR1200) it just seems to make so much sense.
In automatic mode, you have two options; Drive, or Sport. Drive is more leisurely, up-shifting early and not stressing the engine, whereas Sport holds a gear longer, right through to the rev line, generally running a lower gear than when in Drive. To override the gears you have an up and a down control on the left-hand grip. To go up you pull a forefinger trigger as though you were flashing someone with the main beam, and to downshift you press with the thumb as though pressing the horn.
(Above) The instruments on the Honda are a little disappointing, with too much information on too small a screen (Above Right) Cracking V4 engine detuned to 127bhp from 170bhp of VFR1200
Whilst in Sport or Drive the automation will always kick back in, up-shifting and downshifting for you when engine revs dictate. It is in this mode that it feels like you have the fastest twist and go in the world. Pin the throttle, and with barely any snatch the bike ploughs through the gears and before you know you’re well past a hundred. The rush of seamless speed is addictive, especially as the V4 is so refined and sonorous. It makes hard acceleration seem effortless by comparison to the other bikes, and somehow no less engaging.
There’s also a manual mode, meaning that you have full control over the up and down changes, with the system only kicking back in if, for example, you pull up to a stop in sixth gear and don’t knock it down to first. The system will do that for you before pulling away.
The system works well in manual, but it is in full automatic that the bike really shines. The changes are smooth, fast and precise, with just an added ‘clonk’ coming me from the gear selector as it goes through the gears at crawling speeds.
It has the graphics, but does it have the intent?
The reason for such smooth gear changes are because the gearbox has two clutches; one takes responsibility of the even gears, the other for the odd gears. This allows the selector forks to pre-engage the next gear. For example, if you’re in third, then second and fourth are sat there, engaged, and ready to go.
Why more fuss wasn’t made of this when it first came out is a mystery, with it possible to argue that this DCT technology does far more to transform and advance the nature of large-capacity adventure motorcycling than electronic suspension will ever do, a technology that could still be seen as a gimmick, and still surpassed (in my eyes) by regular, well set up suspension.
The rest of the Honda is also a surprise. The ride is supple and compliant. The front end does feel a touch vague when pressing on, but for the most part, the handling is solid and reassuring. The brakes are good, and the riding position is spot-on. The handlebars sit up-right there in front of you, meaning your hands are perfectly placed.
The seat is comfortable too, and the reach to the ground is a reasonable 850mm.
Certainly, despite this being the heaviest bike here (the 285-kilo DCT weighs 10 kilos more than the manual), it doesn’t feel that heavy or intimidating. In fact, the bike feels small and manageable, and positively slim to boot.
That’s possibly a result of the insubstantial fuel tank. The V4 isn’t the most fuel-efficient (as low as 35 mpg), so to hamper it further with a 21.5-litre fuel tank is an oversight, to say the least.
The Crosstourer is then something of a frustration. Here’s a bike with a cracking engine, a game-changing gearbox, good handling, comfy seat, excellent build quality and reliability, and yet somehow Honda has pulled back on it. They haven’t gone out there with confidence and made the Crosstourer what it could have been; a genuine GS challenger.
That said, the DCT fitted to this bike makes it a joy to ride, effortless in the way it would take you places. For those curious, you have to give it a try.
Not everyone can stretch to a brand new Crosstourer leaving the Varadero a perfect choice for anyone after some decent Honda grunt, at a reasonable price. This 2000 model with 21,347 miles on the clock and with full Honda luggage and 12 months MOT is up for £2,596 at Teasdale Motorcycles.
Our choice is…
Here we are again; trying to make a judgement call on four very different bikes, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and attributes. By far, the most exciting bike is the KTM. As soon as you get on it the bike feels ‘Ready to Race’, which is exactly the same message as flashes up on the instrument panel as you fire up the ignition. It is a ‘race’ bike, with the engine at the heart of the bike.
Would the bike benefit from a softer touch, both in terms of power and suspension? Yes, it probably would, because as a long-distance tourer you could find the KTM quite draining after a while, and this standard bike, compared to the off-road biased Adventure R, just loses some of its breadth of appeal. Still good fun though…
KTM 1190 Adventure
Triumph Tiger Explorer
A bike that would be comfortable over long distances, as well as offering a more relaxing ride, is the Moto Guzzi Stelvio. This is a bike that has lingered in the shadows and never quite emerged into the mass market of adventure bikes. And that’s a shame, as we found this second-hand example to be comfortable, characterful and certainly a bike that gets under the skin.
The later models are even better, with bigger fuel tanks, revised styling and plenty of standard equipment. The Stelvio will never be the obvious choice (and some would say quite rightly) as a large capacity adventure bike, but for those wanting something different, that’s always going to be a good thing.
The Triumph by comparison has proven to be the popular choice. People seem to be buying them in droves and it’s easy to see why. The bike handles well, the engine has plenty of power and the styling is just right for the more road-biased adventure bike market.
Moto Guzzi Stelvio
Honda Crosstourer DCT
Some of the detailing is lacking, and overall it isn’t as polished or broad in its talents as a GS (it’d struggle in the GS Trophy on page 28 for example), but overall the big Triumph is a victory for the British manufacturer, with us taking a tour of the factory in which the Explorer is ‘built’ in the feature just over the page.
That leaves us with the Crosstourer, a bike that emerged from the shadows on this four bike road test to claim ultimate victory. As a bike it is good. As a bike fitted with a DCT gearbox it is exceptional and were it not for that gearbox then the Crosstourer probably wouldn’t be winning this test now. Why is the gearbox, with the bike, so good? Because it delivers effortless power and performance, with genuine ground-breaking technology, allowing you to just get on with the act of riding. Let’s hope the technology finally takes off, maybe in the new Africa Twin.
Thanks again to Laguna Motorcycles in Maidstone, a great bunch of guys and a great selection of bikes.