This is the rumble in the jungle; in the heavyweight arena there are only big, torquey, bulky and powerful machines to take on the ultimate overlanding adventure.
If you’re looking for the best machine for that epic ride and need to take a LOT of gear, ride two up or want top end power for tarmac cruising at high speeds then these are the top bikes to consider.
900cc and upwards is the widely accepted engine cubic centimetre headmark to qualify for entry into the heavy weights. This kind of engine comes with a few different cylinder configurations but often twin, opposed or triple cylindered engines feature.
Bike all up weights are mostly north of 200kg wet. Predictably off road handling and overall speeds are affected by this kind of drag. Tyre choices count. This is a significant mass to pick up after an ‘off’ and advanced adventure riders will practice techniques to lift the bikes using leverage from the bike’s handlebars and their quadriceps. A solo lift from loose, wet or deep mud may be impossible and require 2 + riders in the team or a block and tackle. These are serious considerations if you’re venturing off road alone on a remote – treeless – expedition.
Power is the reward for the weight and size here; you’ll get best-in-class torque stats, very high top speeds and comfortable fast cruising on tarmac. There’s a convincing argument that these heavyweight bikes are the ultimate dual sport machine as they can keep up with anything on road and have a good off road potential. Whether you buy into the argument or not depends on your perspective on what ‘Adventure Riding’ means to you and what capabilities you find personally important. Essentially you’re trading ability on dirt for road manners.
Slower than the rest, heavy; particularly if you’re laden down with gear on the tail/panniers or a pillion – as you’re likely to be for a major exped. Locks and turning circles are still nimble but don’t expect to be really capable off road, the big bikes will use power and torque to get through most dirt obstacles rather than agility.
So here’s the Heavyweight Top Motorcycle Shortlist:
nota bona: BMW GS differences
With both the R1200 and the R1150 models there are two options; GS and GS Adventure. In each case there are small but significant differences designed for either use on road or dual sport (Adventure).
Still the latest incarnation from BMW dating from 2004/5.
Electronic ride settings designed to dial the bike in for the terrain. Rain, Ride and Sport give you a lot of great options to make the best of your road choices.
Power and range – the 2015 ‘Adventure’ model offers 92lbs of torque and 125bhp. More than you need off road or round the world but it is useable power.
260kg dry. Think twice before falling over on the dirt.
Electrics to go wrong in remote conditions.
Popular for the right reasons; the classic dual sport machine. Heavy but for many the only option. Lots of customization and accessory options. Fast and strong; this bike is the current market leader and the ‘go to’ machine for anyone entering this class.
The original big GS is, for many, still the definitive adventure motorcycle. An extremely robust design, combining the classic boxer with a shaft drive, solid frame and metal tank kept this bike going longer than any other of it’s class – except perhaps for the R1100GS.
The ride for many notable RTW and overland expeditions including both Ewan and Charlie and the ‘Two Ride The World’ crew.
Solid, proven design. Easy to work on and plenty of spares available internationally.
Getting long in the tooth now. High mileage, well looked after models will run for ever after the final drive seals and rear suspension are replaced around the 60k mile mark.
The original benchmark heavyweight adventure bike. The ‘Adventure’ version has 20mm longer front suspension travel and a taller first gear for more control off road but looks like a meaner bike.
Introduced in 2013 to replace the 950/990 series. Evolved from a heady DNA of Dakar Rallye know how and road design lessons from its forbears. This is primarily a street capable machine with great handling that can function off road with aplomb.
Did KTM go too far? Is this the bike you want to take round the world or is this the bike you want to ride for a weekend in a developed country? I’d be keen to have my mind changed but I can’t square the circle on this; I don’t think this is a contender for the overland heavyweight title.
KTM 950 Adventure
KTM came out of the Paris-Dakar Rallye series with the winning formula of low centre of gravity, exceptional stability and handling and a V Twin 950 cc engine in a large dirt bike style frame. The carb fed 950 models lifted the whole heavyweight category up a notch.
Great handling, riding and a near perfect balance between on road ability and off road agility.
Good range from the 24 ltr tank – 200 miles on the road.
Electrical gremlins worked through the loom. Over time the electrics would prove to be the weak point – particularly if water was involved.
If it wasn’t for the reliability issues then the early KTM’s would easily win this competition. Later models are strong contenders.
From the factory that bought you the original lightweight overlanding bikes like the XT600Z, the big Tenere has a great combination of power and handling. 270′ V Twin engine puts out 109bhp with 84lbs torque. First came out in 2010 and available since then.
It’s essentially built on the lines of a GS. Shaft drive, bullet proof chassis, great handling once on the move.
Nick Sanders rode one.
261kg. Need more? This is a heavy bike to live with.
Pricing from new when ranged against it’s competition.
Recommended for experienced long distance and adventure touring riders; this machine will get you there and in some comfort and style.