Top 10 brand-new adventure bikes under 1000cc

Part two of our run down of the best adventure bikes, this time in the sub 1000cc sector

THERE seems to be no stemming the tide of adventure bikes and these days there are so many variations on the theme that we’re splitting our top 10 recommendations into several separate lists.

We’ve already selected our choices of 1000cc-and-over adventure machines, but the choice of slightly smaller alternatives is getting ever wider too.

No doubt every reader will have their own take on what does or doesn’t fit the category, but we’re taking a fairly wide view here – it seems that the need for an ‘adventure’ bike to have off-road ability is falling by the wayside; Honda’s Crossrunner, for instance, is officially part of that market (at least according to Honda) but is really just a VFR800 in drag, and even some of the more rugged-looking adventure machines are really not seriously intended to go away from the tarmac.

10: Yamaha XT660Z Tenere

Depending on your definition of ‘adventure bike’ the Tenere could deserve a spot far higher on this list, since it’s one of only a handful that you might realistically ride off road. Its sibling, the XT660R, could also be an even more serious off-road-able option. The single-cylinder Tenere might be easily overlooked in a sea of bigger, multi-cylinder machines but it fits the more adventurous end of the adventure bike genre rather well. Even though it’s getting on a bit, the Tenere still looks great, too, and it’s legal on an A2 licence. However, riders who want to cover long distances on tarmac in comfort and at high speed might find that the compromise is too firmly skewed towards off-road.  

9: Honda NC750X

If the Tenere sways too far towards the off-road corner of the adventure bike genre, the NC750X has to be penalised for swinging too far in the other direction. After all, under the skin it’s largely the same as the Integra scooter, so it would be a bit much to expect it to be a serious option on a green lane. But as an on-road option it’s as intriguing as the rest of the NC750 line-up, with its economy-tuned parallel twin engine and bargain £6299 price tag, plus the option of a DCT transmission.

8: Kawasaki Versys 650

Kawasaki’s Versys is another bike that gains entry to the ‘adventure’ class thanks to its stance and style rather than off-road ability – this is a sports tourer with a high riding position rather than a dirt track tool. But it’s none the worse for it, with some of the best on-road handling you’ll find in any of the bikes on this list as well as a recent restyle that eliminates the cyclops looks of earlier versions. At £6749, and including ABS as standard, it’s in the middle of the class price-wise. For purely on-road use it’s one of those mid-range bikes that makes a good all-round argument for itself.

7: Suzuki V-Strom 650

If you’ve got the Versys on your shopping list, or the NC750 for that matter, you’re also likely to be looking at the V-Strom 650. And it’s a tough decision to make. For pure road use we might be tempted by the Kawasaki, while the Honda – particularly with the DCT transmission – might take the vote for city use or commuting. But of the three, the V-Strom is the closest to the traditional big adventure bike ethos. That might take a bit of a toll when it comes to outright on-road grip, but at least you might be able to take it onto a dusty, potholed track if you’re entering into the real adventure spirit.

6: Honda CB500X

There’s something reassuringly unpretentious about Honda’s whole CB500 line-up – bikes that are cheap, well-equipped and practical all-rounders. And of the lot, the X model is arguably the most versatile. As with so many bikes in this category, you’d never realistically take it away from the asphalt, but it’s under 200kg ready-to-ride and cheap at under £5500, complete with ABS. A2 licence holders can use the CB500X too, and it has the feeling of being a bike that will still be filling the classifieds in 15 or 20 years time, being passed from one new rider to the next, dropped, mistreated and battered but still reliably performing its duties.

5: BMW F700GS

Like it or not, you won’t get far into any conversation about adventure bikes before the letters ‘G’ and ‘S’ are mentioned along with the initials ‘B’, ‘M’ and ‘W’. And so this list was always bound to include them too. Of course, the ‘proper’ GS – with a 1170cc flat twin – isn’t eligible, but the F700GS is and it’s a worthy contender. As with so many others, this bike has the adventure bike ergonomics without the serious off-road intentions, but few firms really understand the adventure bike market like BMW and this is another example of that understanding. At £7770 it looks simultaneously expensive (compared to non-BMW rivals) and cheap (compared to the £8800-plus F800GS).

4: Honda Crossrunner

The idea of making an adventure bike from the guts of an old VFR800 really shouldn’t be one that works, but as an on-road option the Crossrunner has that old-school Honda quality and a V4 engine that can almost justify its scary £10,299 price tag. Just as the VFR has always been the bike that can do almost anything, the Crossrunner’s addition of adventure ergonomics and improvements to the suspension, brakes and electronics mean it takes that mantle to the next level. Don’t think about taking it off-road, but as mid-size sports tourer with a high stance it’s a fairly convincing recipe.

3: Yamaha MT-09 Tracer

Of course, there’s a fly in the Crossrunner’s ointment, and it’s called the MT-09 Tracer. Again, it’s arguable as to whether this is a sports tourer or an adventure bike, since there are no off-road thoughts here, but the Tracer is a massively impressive package in any light. More than £2k cheaper than the Crossrunner, with a 113bhp, 847cc triple that outscores the Honda on power, torque and character, it’s arguably one of the most impressive bikes of 2015.

2: BMW F800GS/F800GS Adventure

Good though the Tracer is, this is a list of adventure bikes and its lack of off-road chops means it’s not quite the go-anywhere machine that some buyers in the category are looking for. That’s where the F800GS, and more particularly the F800GS Adventure comes in. BMW really knows this market, and while the F700GS is a toned-down, detuned and road-oriented derivative, the proper F800GS really has got some ability. It’s expensive, of course, with the Adventure version getting into five figures, but if you really want a GS and don’t fancy the full-blown boxer R1200, then this is the bike for you.

1: Triumph Tiger 800

While other firms have struggled to make any kind of dent in BMW’s domination of the adventure market, Triumph has achieved impressive sales all around the world with the Tiger 800. Revamped this year and with a new range structure to separate the ‘XR’ road versions and more adventure-oriented ‘XC’ machines, the key ingredients including the characterful three-cylinder engine remain the same. It might have riled BMW a little at its launch with rather GS-ish styling, but the Tiger 800 is technically quite a different machine, and one that these days upsets BMW by borrowing a large chunk of customers who might otherwise be buying GSes. The remnants of the British bike industry were a laughing stock for decades, but after more than 20 years of effort John Bloor’s Triumph is increasingly showing that it rather than just keeping up with the competition, it can lead the way.  

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