The term ‘adventure bike’ covers quite a few bases and the machines can differ as much as the adventures themselves. From more road-biased touring machines with long-travel suspension to bikes that are close to enduro machines in terms of capability, we’ve chosen a fairly broad mix of bikes.
All are capable of exploring unmade roads and gravel tracks, while some have the ability to go as far as yours will take you.
Each bike has something to offer the rider who’s just getting dialled into the whole adventure genre. With that in mind, we’ve kept the capacity and weight down and the grin factor up.
These may not be the outright best adventure bikes currently on the market but what we’re looking at here are bikes that will encourage, rather than intimidate, the off-road novice.
Yamaha XT660Z Tenere 2008-2016 • Ins group 10 • £3,300-£5,995
Don’t be put off by the relatively tall seat height and dry weight of 185kg — the XT660Z is a skinny beast and is very easy to ride feet-up at low speeds thanks to well thought out weight distribution, wide bars, a light clutch and an easy-going single-cylinder motor that has had all the early fuelling glitches ironed out to give a smooth, tractable delivery.
Although comfortable, long touring stints on tarmac aren’t really the Tenere’s forte. The motor can create a fair bit of buzz through the contact points above 5,000rpm and the 21-in front wheel — while giving plenty of choice for proper off-road rubber — doesn’t inspire huge amounts of confidence when pressing on through the corners.
Where this bike really excels compares to bikes such as Suzuki’s V-Strom and Honda’s CB500X is off-road. Sure, it’s no pukka trail bike (the XT660R is arguably a better option if you’re after a bit of green lane fun) but those rally bike looks aren’t just for show and the Tenere can tackle all but the toughest of terrain with aplomb — even fully loaded up with the myriad genuine and aftermarket luggage options available.
Pros: Ease of off-road riding
Cons: Long journeys on tarmac are a struggle
Suzuki V-Strom DL650 2011-current • Ins group 10 • £3,700-£7,399
While early models can be had for as little as a grand, it’s the 2011-on models we’d most recommend for the adventurous newbie.
Seat height is 15mm higher than the more angular original, but the contoured seat is slender, and at 835mm it’s still a good 60mm lower than the king of adventures, the mighty BMW R1200GS Adventure.
The motor benefits from years of development and is smooth and well tuned for its dual-purpose role. Gearing is well spaced with usable lower gears when the going gets tough and a claimed weight of 213kg, while hardly svelte, never feels anything other than manageable.
The suspension is soft and sumptuous which makes for a comfortable ride on the road, so ideal for those all-day epics. It can become overwhelmed with spirited off-road use, but then that’s testimony to how easy this bike is to ride — it’s quite easy to forget its still more road oriented than built for the dirt.
Suzuki makes a huge range of brilliant bolt-ons for the V-Strom, so speccing your bike up for the biggest challenges couldn’t be easier.
Pros: Smooth motor and gearbox, lots of aftermarket bolt-ons
Cons: Quite heavy
BMW G310GS 2017-current • Ins group 4 • £5,100
The G310GS may be the smallest of BMW’s adventure models, but it’s still up for some big country riding.
At a third of the capacity and less than half the price of the range-topping R1200GS Adventure, it would be easy to assume it’s only a fraction of the fun.
But that’s where you’d be wrong. Massively wrong.
We love the fact that the German brand has realised that less can be so much more for newer or smaller riders. The bike’s low weight and seat height makes it more manageable, and with less at risk in terms of expense when it comes to an off-road spill, owners are far more likely to push their own limits in search of adventure.
Of course, performance is never going to be earth-shattering from a 313cc, single-cylinder motor, but the baby GS will still top 90mph, albeit with a fair bit of buzz through the pegs and bars. Suspension is a good compromise between on and off-road as are the halfway house Metzeler Tourance tyres.
Pros: Light, inexpensive, off-road ability
Cons: Relatively slow, buzzy on long road stints
Honda CB500X 2013-current • £3,000-£5,799
The CB500 has long been a favourite among novice riders and despatchers alike — the user-friendly parallel twin-cylinder motor has evolved over decades and is as bulletproof as they come.
This version leans more towards the modern take on the adventure bike and as such is definitely more road-biased with easy, neutral handling on the blacktop. Long-travel suspension means that it’s more than capable of tackling sun-baked unmade roads and goat tracks in the right hands, and even the odd British byway so long as you don’t encounter too much in the way of mud; the 17-inch wheels mean tyre choice is pretty much restricted to hybrid trail tyres.
For the new (or frugal) rider looking for adventure styling with commuting manners, this bike is simply brilliant. Honda has really pulled off its one-size-fits-all trick, too. A low seat height of just 810mm makes town work a cinch but doesn’t impede the taller rider, thanks to a roomy, upright riding position.
There’s enough power for comfortable motorway cruising without being buzzy or vibey and the fuel economy is incredible — 70mpg is common with even the most enthusiastic right hands rewarded with figures above 50mpg.
Pros: Build quality, handling, fuel economy
Cons: Not so good off-road
Kawasaki Versys-X 300 2017-current • Ins group 4 • £5,149
The smallest Versys received mixed reviews when it was launched in June 2017 but we’re firmly in the camp that really sees its potential appeal. Using the same 296cc parallel twin-cylinder motor as the Z300 and the Ninja but with shorter gearing (three more teeth on the rear sprocket) to assist with any off-road shenanigans, much like the Honda CB500X, the Versys is more capable commuter than it is out-and-out terrain tamer. That said it can still get a hustle on when the tarmac turns to dust and the road gets rutted. The suspension, while basic (only the rear shock is adjustable for preload, and even that will need tools), copes well with poor surfaces and doesn’t feel too compromised on the road, even for heavier riders.
The small engine is unashamedly aimed at attracting A2 licence holders but 40bhp is still quite impressive for a 300cc twin. Peak power arrives at a heady 11,500rpm. This, combined with the shorter gearing that helps off-road, can make it feel a bit revvy on long motorway or dual carriageway stints. And while the screen does a great job of keeping the wind off, the seat could be both a little more sumptuous and a little lower. These are small criticisms however, and for most new riders the little Kwak is a great introduction to adventure biking.
Pros: Bit revvy on motorway journeys, firm seat
Cons: Easy to ride, reasonably capable off-road
Suzuki DR-Z400S 2001-2008 • Ins group 9 • £1,650-£3,999
The replacement for the much-loved DR350, the DR-Z400 comes in two guises these days: the trail-ready S version and as a soft supermoto machine, the SM. While the latter is indubitably good wholesome urban fun, it’s the S that’s more than up for a little adventure, especially when it comes to getting stuck into some good old boggy British byways.
More old school trail bike than modern day adventurer, the DR-Z will happily tackle any green lane you care to throw it at. Consider it the Land Rover to many of the other bikes’ Nissan Qashqai and you have an idea of where it sits in this top 10. Just liked its four-wheeled analogy, long journeys on motorways or dual carriageways are almost unbearable — this is a bike that wants to be taken behind the hedgerows at the earliest opportunity.
Unlike pukka competition enduro machines that are tuned to extract as much performance as possible from a given capacity, the DR-Z’s single-cylinder 400cc motor has been softly tuned to deliver plenty of low end torque without an arm-ripping top end, making it ideal for novice riders. If you’re keen to head off the beaten track to take your adventure into the wilderness and need a reliable bike that’s both easy to work on and rugged, then the DR-Z400S has those boxes well and truly ticked.
Pros: Excellent off-road, easy to ride, torquey motor
Cons: Long stints on anything other than B roads become tiresome
Honda CRF250 Rally 2017-current • Ins group • £5,329
A direct rival to the G310Gs and the Versys-X 300, Honda’s handsome rally bike really looks the part with its Dakar-inspired bodywork, inverted forks — and even a side-mounted toolkit that apes the factory rally bike!
The bike is essentially a CRF250L, Honda’s super-reliable, no frills trail bike aimed squarely at the newbie. In addition to being a far better looking package, where this bike really scores over its stablemate is on practicalities.
The tall fairing means that despite the small single-cylinder motor, main road cruising between 60-70mph is surprisingly bearable while off-road wheel sizes that allow the fitment of proper off-road tyres matched with soft suspension and a similarly soft power delivery make you feel like a Dakar god, even if you’re not kicking up quite as much dust…
Dreams of desert racing aside, the CRF250 Rally is a very capable town commuter. The soft-but-progressive suspension makes light work of battle-scarred urban highways and road handling is surprisingly good for a bike with off-road oriented wheel sizes. If you’re after a frugal commuter that’s cheap to insure, will have a decent stab at green laning and look cool parked outside the cafe, then this is it.
Pros: Real rally bike looks, neutral handling, capable off-road
Cons: Feels a little underpowered on faster roads
Triumph Tiger 800 XRx LOW 2016-current • £8,000-£9,900
OK, the Tiger is still pretty much a full-fat adventure bike, but with such a useable motor, capable chassis and Triumph’s recent addition of a low-seat version, we simply had to include it.
Compared to the XR, the XRx version of the Tiger has had its off-road claws clipped just slightly with a reduction in suspension travel that sees it go from 180/170mm to 140/150mm. Paired with an adjustable seat, the seat height can be switched between 760 and 780mm — up to 70mm lower than the standard machine.
This version of the Tiger XR is more road-focused than its taller counterparts but that’s not to say it’s a fish out of water when the going gets rough. Switchable ABS is a nod to the bike’s off-road aspirations and despite the reduced suspension travel the XRx is an absolute blast to ride fast along graveled fire roads and farm tracks.
On the road, the wind protection is good and the saddle offers all-day comfort. Four engine mapping modes let you decide when you want the full 94bhp — great for newer riders who may want to soften things off for wet conditions or simply to just smooth things out around town. If you want to buy British and are looking for a bike that can improve as you do, it’s a solid choice.
Pros: Sublime triple-cylinder motor, comfort
Cons: Compromised off-road ability
CCM GP450 Adventure 2013-current • £4,000- from £8,200 new*
The 449cc engine used in BMW’s ill-fated G450X enduro bike has found a happy home with Bolton-based CCM. British designed and built, all save for the Bavarian motor, the GP450 Adventure is about as close to a production rally bike as you’re ever likely to get.
Well balanced with a good riding position for standing up, and a low centre of gravity thanks to the 20-litre fuel tank that sits beneath rider, the GP450’s off-road capabilities are the best in this top 10. Indeed, GP450s have even been seen competing in long distance trials and making light work of some of the toughest trails in the UK. Seat height is reasonably novice-friendly too, with a lowest setting of 790mm.
Components are well chosen with quality items such as Renthal bars and wheel sizes that allow the most aggressive of off-road tyres for the really adventurous. There’s no ABS or traction control but then you might say there’s less to go wrong or break while you’re out in the wilderness. If you like your adventures raw and feisty, then this could be the leftfield option you’re looking for.
Pros: Awesome off-road, looks like a rally bike, simple to maintain
Cons: Few about so can be hard to find
*pricing really isn’t very clear on CCM website but that’s for a base model with OTR charges and RFL.
Ducati Multistrada 620 2005-2007 • Ins group 11 • £2,700-£4,500
While the latest versions of the Multistrada are crammed with technology, boast impressive spec sheets and command retail prices upwards of £11,000, for adventurous new riders looking for something with an Italian flavour, the little 618cc Multi is well worth adding to the list.
The good-quality suspension definitely errs more towards fast road use and the handling is both agile and assured. Brembo brakes are incredibly good for a bike of this vintage and tend to weather well. The air-cooled motor is either antiquated or simple, depending on your point of view, and can feel a little breathless at the top end. The bottom end and midrange make up for it though, and there’s a definite punch to the delivery.
Off-road adventures need to be limited to gentle fire roads and while reliable enough, we’re not sure we’d want to venture too far away from Ducati’s dealer network. If you fancy a bike that still stands out from the crowd, and you can grow to love its quirky looks, then the Multistrada won’t disappoint.
Pros: Fantastic road handling, unique looks, well equipped
Cons: Motor showing its age, limited off-road capabilities