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The Best Heavyweight Adventure Touring Motorcycles

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.

Definitions

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.

Overall Weight

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

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.

Handling

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).

BMW R1200GS/GSA

BMW R1200 GS Adventure
BMW R1200 GS Adventure

Still the latest incarnation from BMW dating from 2004/5.

Pros

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.

BMW R1200GSA off road
BMW R1200GSA off road

Cons

260kg dry. Think twice before falling over on the dirt.

Electrics to go wrong in remote conditions.

Summary

20130907-201051.jpg
The editor test riding the R1200 GSA in Spain

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.

BMW R1150GS/GSA

BMW R1150GS
BMW R1150GS

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.

BMW R1150GS - The Long Way Round
BMW R1150GS – The Long Way Round

Pros

Solid, proven design. Easy to work on and plenty of spares available internationally.

Cons

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.

Summary

BMW R115OGS
’02 BMW R115OGS and the editor

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.

KTM 1190

KTM 1190
KTM 1190

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.

Summary

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 950 Adventure
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.

Pros

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.

Cons

Electrical gremlins worked through the loom. Over time the electrics would prove to be the weak point – particularly if water was involved.

Summary

The editor on his much loved/unreliable KTM
The editor on his much loved/unreliable KTM

If it wasn’t for the reliability issues then the early KTM’s would easily win this competition. Later models are strong contenders.

Yamaha Tenere

2015 Yamaha Tenere XT1200Z
2015 Yamaha Tenere XT1200Z

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.

Pros

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.

Yamaha 'Super Ten' on Nick's Mongolia expedition
Yamaha ‘Super Ten’ on Nick’s Mongolia expedition

Cons

261kg. Need more? This is a heavy bike to live with.

Pricing from new when ranged against it’s competition.

Summary

Yamaha 'Super Ten' touring
Yamaha ‘Super Ten’ touring

Recommended for experienced long distance and adventure touring riders; this machine will get you there and in some comfort and style.

Interphone F5XT Bluetooth Headset and Remote Review

Introduction

Interphone F5XT
Interphone F5XT installation

The Interphone F5XT Bluetooth Kit works out towards the top end of the headset market, running against the Scala G series and the Sena SMH10. I’ve just installed it and here’s my impressions and review.

Design

Compared to its competition the F5XT has a chunky form factor and positive control buttons on the side. It’s size is actually a plus point, allowing easy handling with gloves on and simple clipping on to the helmet mount.

The inner speakers and boom microphone are fairly standard for motorcycle headsets. They have an inner jack to allow the choice between a fixed boom mike (for open face or flip front helmets) or a slim uncovered mike (for full face helmets). The cabling connection to the headset is robust and seems weatherproof. There’s also a handy looking tube of silicone grease to smear on the join for added reassurance. Good marketing psychology there.

The F5XT functions are exactly what you would expect from a developed manufacturer. Here’s the Interphone website specification list:

  • Intercom with others using Bluetooth headsets® in the INTERPHONE F product range
  • Cellular (also using gps bluetooth®)
  • Satnav, gps bluetooth®
  • Stereo music with a2dp profile and avrcp control
  • Via cable with 3.5 mm jack devices
  • New recharging system via 2.5 mm jack

In real life the important features for me are the high quality bluetooth technology (3.0,  allowing a solid connection to my mobile phone for music and functions), and the industry unique remote handlebar control (much safer and more intuitive than taking your hand off the bars and prodding the side of your helmet around).

Interphone F5 Remote Control
Interphone F5 Remote Control three bar secure screws

The control is secured on to the handlebar by three pronged screws (a special non standard fitting tool is included in the kit) to prevent anyone removing it when parked up. The real issue is positioning it so that it doesn’t obstruct the clutch lever and allows the left thumb to access the joystick easily.

Utility

Interphone F5XT
Interphone F5XT Bluetooth and Remote Control

The kit works well and sound quality is high. The positioning of the speakers is important; closer to the ear ‘oles is much the best position. Battery life is good and it’ll handle the greater majority of day rides easily. The handlebar remote allows me to adjust the volume and turn the RDS FM radio on/off. It takes a while to cycle through some of the spoken menus which can be a drag, however, I see this as a necessary evil to maximise safety. By listening to the menu and the spoken word options I’m not looking down at the handlebar/instrument area and I am concentrating on the road instead.  Another real world limitation (eclipsed by the Interphone F5’MC’ series is the bluetooth connection intercom function only extends to other Interphone sets in the Intercom ‘F’ range. So either organise your riding mates to buy into Interphone or use the kit as a rider – pillion set up or just a solo connection. Pairing the kit with other devices and the remote control is very simple and the connection strength is very good. The range is also good from mobile to headset – I’m still exploring this but it looks like it’ll be good enough to allow me to walk off the bike in a petrol station forecourt to the kiosk, pay and retain the connection.

Summary

I’m happy with the choice. There are only a three clear market leaders in motorcycle bluetooth tech (Sena and Scala being the other two) and the F5XT has everything I need as a routine solo rider with a focus on safety and equipment durability.