The adventure motorcycle segment kicked off in 1980 with BMW’s R 80 G/S. At the time, many wondered who would want an overweight, under suspended dual-sport. Turns out, more riders wanted one than anyone would have guessed. The segment has gained more power and long-range touring capability over the years, along with more mass and girth to wrestle when off-road. Now a new generation of adventure bikes has come along to buck the trend of bigger is better, altering what and how far are possible when the pavement ends. Leading the charge are two models inspired by modern rally racers: Yamaha’s Ténéré 700 and KTM’s 790 Adventure R. No longer do ADV bikes have to be overweight and under suspended.
Both motorcycles are powered by parallel-twin engines, both are equipped with long-travel suspension, and both bear some resemblance to the machines each brand races in Dakar. And now these Yamahas and KTMs can be seen on off-road-racing starting lines around the world. But the real story with these motorcycles is that while they are the most capable examples of the segment, they also address a practical reality for many adventure riders—time.
The dream of packing all your essentials into 100 liters of aluminum boxes and aiming for the farthest reaches of a cardinal point sells motorcycles. Responsibilities have a way of keeping that dream in check. So, how to get the most dream into your schedule? Go faster and deeper off-road. Ditch the panniers, grab a backpack, and hold your own rally special stage. That’s what we did with the 790 Adventure R and Ténéré 700 in search of a quick adventure and the answer to which bike would deliver that fix best.
First up: KTM’s 790 Adventure R, the reigning champion of the middleweight class. Named Cycle World’s Best Adventure Bike in 2019, this sharply styled parallel twin comes chock-a-block with all of KTM’s tech, like lean-sensitive traction control and ABS, off-road ABS, ride modes, a full-color TFT dash, and Bluetooth connectivity—all features you’d see in larger, big-bore ADVs. Yet thanks to a compact engine and frame, the 790 Adventure R weighs in at 468 pounds on the CW scales. Hefty, but still 157 pounds less than the BMW R 1250 GS Adventure, the sales-floor king. A WP Suspension Xplor 43mm fork and linkageless PDS shock provide 9.5 inches of travel at both ends, with preload, compression, and rebound adjustability. Fuel capacity of the low-slung, rally-style fuel tank is 5.3 gallons. All of this comes with a price tag of $13,699.
Yamaha’s Ténéré 700 rings in at $9,999, and for that you get a more stripped-down, or perhaps more distilled, adventure motorcycle, depending on how you interpret a lack of electronics. Traction control for the revered CP2 parallel twin is found at the connection between your wrist and the throttle; how well that works is up to your internal CPU. Ride modes are also absent, and ABS is either on or off. A 43mm Kayaba fork strokes through 8.3 inches, and has rebound and compression damping, while the rear Kayaba is adjustable for preload, compression, and rebound, and provides 7.9 inches of travel through a linkage design. A no-nonsense LCD gauge does not connect to anything beside the motorcycle itself. On the CW scales, the Ténéré comes in at 466 pounds, 2 pounds less than the KTM. Just 37 $100 bills in your back pocket will cut that weight differential in half.
Price is an important factor in deciding what motorcycle is right for you, and it’s a call we can’t make for you. So we will not factor it for a winner. We seek the best performer, not the most expensive or lowest priced. Best is best, regardless of cost.
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