Battle of the Adventure Bikes

Former Sunday Times and Daily Mirror motorbike columnist Geoff Hill has joined the Devitt team to bring decades of alleged motorcycling wisdom – and at 6ft 7ins, some much-needed height.

He’s been testing bikes since 1998, has ridden pretty much everything out there, and kicks off with a series of comparisons on everything from full fat adventure bikes to scooters.

We kick off with the BMW R 1250 GS vs. Ducati Multistrada V4 vs. Zero DSR/X…

BMW R 1250 GS Adventure

This is a very dangerous motorbike.

But, I hear you cry, how that can be so when it has more rider protection features than a local council’s health and safety department?

BMW R 1250 GS Adventure
BMW R 1250 GS Adventure

Because when you climb on board, it’s impossible not to look at the horizon and be overcome by an unstoppable desire to ride there, leaving behind your wife, the kids, your job and the cat. Especially the cat.

Every time I ride a GS, I’m reminded how well they do everything, and why they were the best-selling bike over 125cc in the UK for years, apart from when the new Royal Enfield Interceptor 650 and Meteor 350 displaced them for about five seconds in 2020 and 2022.

BMW R 1250 GS Adventure
BMW R 1250 GS Adventure

And that’s in spite of the basic version, which nobody ever buys, costing £16,360, and if you add all the extras available, you’re looking at up to £21,250.

The feeling of being a master of the universe starts from the comfortable but commanding riding position as you survey the loads of buttons and whirly wheel to control the riding modes, the suspension, the heated grips and a squillion other things, all displayed in glorious Technicolor on the 6.5in TFT instrument panel.

Even better, the tacho is an amber column with a white topping, which at idle looks like a pint of beer. Inspired.

BMW R 1250 GS Adventure
BMW R 1250 GS Adventure

Then there’s the fact that in spite of weighing a whopping 268kg fully fuelled, with its perfect balance and so much weight down low in those twin cylinders, handling at walking pace even in pouring rain on the day was a dainty delight.

But the best is yet to come: with the engine capacity up from the 1170cc of the previous 1200 GS to 1254cc, power up from 125bhp to 136bhp and torque up from 92 lb ft to 105 lb ft, you’ve got significantly more grunt at your disposal for effortless overtakes without even bothering to change down.

BMW R 1250 GS HP
The GS has been the machine of choice for adventure bike riders for years

Even better, a really clever new shifting camshaft varies the valve timing for a much more linear power delivery than the 1200 GS.

The result is gloriously smooth oomph all the way from about 2,500rpm all the way to the redline, and that was in Rain mode. With the downpour over, a quick toggle into Road then Dynamic mode turned it from a giant pussy cat into a snarling beast perfect for a weekend blast. Fabulous, and fun.

BMW R 1250 GS HP
Lovely gold rims

In practical terms, BMW claims a range of 400 miles from the 30-litre tank, although I think that’s a bit optimistic: on a 1200 GS riding across the USA as part of a round the world trip in 2014, I managed 340.

Only slight complaint: I found the quickshifter a bit clunky, so just went back to using the butter-smooth clutch.

Apart from that, this king of the road deserves its crown as the machine most likely to tempt you to the horizon and beyond.

Ducati Multistrada V4

Here’s a question for you – what do you do if you make the world’s most stylish and satisfying adventure bike and have sold over 110,000 of them?

If you’re Ducati, the answer is obvious – change everything.

Ducati’s promotional image. What real world riders will use the bike for is another matter

Well, not quite everything. The Multistrada V4 looks much the same as the previous V2 version, but under the tank, the 182bhp 1260cc V-twin was replaced by the 1158cc V4 from the Streetfighter, detuned from 208 to 170bhp.

That’s compared to the BMW’s not insignificant 136bhp, and the Beemer weighs more – 268kg compared with the Ducati’s 243kg, giving the Multistrada a much better power-to-weight ratio.

The V4's TFT screen is a masterpiece of clarity. Also available in English
The V4’s TFT screen is a masterpiece of clarity. Also available in English

Is it madness to have such power on an adventure bike? Maybe not, for although maximum power is down, the detuned engine makes it at 10,500rpm instead of the Streetfighter’s 12,750, and in the midrange, where engines spend most of their time and riders need power and torque most, there’s a big fat, creamy dollop of both waiting to be lapped up.

So let’s see how all that theory works in practice.

The base V4 has adjustable suspension, standard Brembo calipers, riding modes, cornering ABS, traction and wheelie control and a 5in TFT screen.

Even with 170bhp, 275kg of bike makes progress swift rather than breathtaking

The V4 S I was riding adds semi-active suspension linked to the riding modes, uprated Brembo calipers, cornering lights, a 6.5in TFT screen, quickshifter, anti-weave control in case you throw a wobbly, hill hold control for uphill starts and keyless ignition.

Climb aboard, and so far, so Multistrada, with a commanding and comfortable riding position, brilliant mirrors, and that fabulous TFT screen, with all the basic info nice and big, and the less important stuff there if you need it, such as riding mode and range to empty, which on a full tank is a useful 200 miles, since it does 39mpg compared with the BMW’s 59mpg.

Ride off, and although the centre of gravity is higher than the Beemer’s, it’s so beautifully balanced that handling even at walking pace is a doddle, while at speed it’s featherlight perfect.

One of the four million bends on the launch in Sardinia

Acceleration, even in Touring mode, is lusty enough to satisfy even the most ardent adrenalin junkie, with the aforementioned creamy dollop of power and torque just where you need it for smooth, effortless overtaking while laughing in your helmet and hoping no one’s listening.

In Sport mode, the laughter gets even louder. Hilariously swift, yet still smooth and safe.

The spacious panniers have handy handles for carrying off the bike

The quickshifter is firm but precise both snicking up and down the gears, and the semi-active suspension manages to be both plush and firm, remaining completely unflustered even when the bike’s tipped into a rough corner. Hugely impressive.

The latest Rally version is meant to be for off-road touring, although I suspect that the number of riders who take these beasts off-road is the same as Range Rover drivers whose idea of off-roading is parking on the pavement outside Waitrose.

Agile – For such a heavy bike, handling is remarkable

Particular since the Rally is 260kg including 30 litres of fuel in the new bigger tank, and the £26,943 version I was riding on the launch in Sardinia, with spotlights, panniers and engine protection bars, topped out at about 275kg.

Even with 170bhp on tap, hauling that amount of weight makes progress swift rather than breathtaking, although Sport mode adds a significant helping of giddiness to proceedings.

The real miracle, though, is the handling, thanks to clever gizmos such as Ducati’s Skyhook system, which works by a combination of magic and witchcraft involving lean sensors, gyros and cornering ABS and traction control to keep the bike stable no matter how ham-fisted the rider is.

The scene moments before Geoff entered the fateful corner and fell off

However, I still managed to fall off on the off-road section, so it’s not entirely idiot-proof.



The left-field option: Zero DSR/X

An electric adventure bike may sound as much of an oxymoron as the Jacob Rees-Mogg Joke Book or Vladimir Putin’s cuddly charm.

The riding position is comfortable and commanding

You see, there was a time when the range of electric machines was about 100m, so you bought one, rode it down the road from the dealer until it ran out of electrons, then walked back and bought a nice sensible petrol bike.

The Zero looks better than the GS and even the Multistrada

But Zero claims that its new DSR/X has a range of 180 miles in urban use, 85 on the open road and 115 for combined use. With the optional power pack, the company claims 222 miles is possible.

With a low centre of gravity and perfect balance, the Zero’s handling is superb

Even in Standard mode, progress is a seamless swoosh of joy, although it’s hardly surprising, with a monumental 166 ft lb of torque which is even more than the 163 ft lb of the 2500cc Triumph Rocket 3.

Even after a steep uphill section of rocks and sand, Geoff was still smiling

Handling, thanks to the low centre of gravity, perfect balance and high, wide bars, is superbly featherlight and instinctive, and the linked brakes make soaring around even downhill hairpins laughably easy.

The real surprise, though, was when we hit the off-road section, where the bike was so smooth and stable that even as an off-road idiot I actually found myself enjoying it. Astonishing.

The riding position off-road is as good as on-road

Back on the road, Sport mode adds an exhilarating urgency to progress, and even after an enthusiastic ride of 50 miles on and off-road, the battery was at 63% and range at another 64 miles, indicating that Zero’s range estimates seem reasonable.

It may be less powerful than the BMW R 1250 GS, the Ducati Multistrada V4, the Triumph Tiger 1200 and the KTM 1290 Super Adventure, and doesn’t have their gizmos or their range until battery tech improves, as it will.

The riding mode is controlled by a switch marked Mode. We like simple

But you know what? I loved it. In fact, I enjoyed riding it more than any of them, with its brilliantly effortless performance and handling giving a unique purity of pleasure both on and off-road.

Even in Standard riding mode, progress is a seamless swoosh of joy

If you put all those bikes in a row and asked me to pick one for my own use, I’d pick this.

So mark my words. The future is closer than we think.

The verdict

The BMW is a more dependable all-rounder, and the Ducati more sporty, with more gizmos. It also looks better, since being Italian it has to. I’m reliably informed that any Italian child who has the misfortune to be born ugly is immediately sent to Greenland or somewhere.

However, if you need some time to think about it, or indeed to save up for your round-the-world trip and the subsequent divorce, the R 1300 GS will be revealed at the end of September, and the Adventure version a year later.

The price has yet to be announced, but it’ll have a bit more grunt than the 1250, and I predict gizmos to match the Multistrada, making the choice even more tantalising.

So get thinking. See you in divorce court – or out on the open road.


The facts

BMW R 1250 GS Adventure

Engine: 1254cc semi-liquid-cooled boxer twin

Power 136bhp @ 7,750prm

Torque:  105 lb ft @ 6,250rpm

Colours: grey; red/white/blue; blue; black

Price: from £16,360

Ducati Multistrada V4

Engine: 1158cc liquid-cooled V-twin

Power: 170bhp @ 10,500rpm

Torque: 92 ft lb @ 8,7500rpm

Colours: Red; silver; black

Price: V4 from £16,995; V4 S from £20,495; V4 Rally from £23,590

Zero DSR/X

Engine: air-cooled AC electric

Power: 100bhp @ 3,650rpm

Torque: 166 ft lb

Colours: Sage green; pearl white

Price: £24,150


About Geoff Hill

 Geoff Hill is a critically acclaimed author and journalist who’s won multiple national and international awards for feature and travel writing.

He’s written weekly motorbike columns for the Irish Times, Sunday Times and Daily Mirror which are desperate attempts to disguise the fact that he knows bugger all about motorbikes.

He’s also the editor of Microlight Flying magazine, in spite of the fact that he knows even less about aeroplanes than he does about motorbikes.

He’s the author of 19 books, including accounts of epic motorbike journeys from Delhi to Belfast and Route 66 (Way to Go), Chile to Alaska (The Road to Gobblers Knob), around Australia (Oz) and In Clancy’s Boots, recreating the journey of Carl Stearns Clancy, the first person to take a motorbike around the world 100 years ago – complete with Clancy’s original boots.

His novels are Angel Street, Smith and The Butler’s Son, and the best of his collected travel stories are in Where was I again?

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