The Rise of the Adventure Motorcycle

Feb 27th 2024

The Rise of the Adventure Motorcycle

Riding a motorcycle is a bit like drinking beer—stick with me here—because most people enjoy sampling a variety. As much as I love the IPAs from Tree House, I’m not sure I’d want to drink only them for the rest of my life. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a farmhouse ale from Oxbow or a Belgian wheat from Allagash. The point is, often when you get into motorcycling you learn to love many kinds of riding, from street cruising to long distance touring to off-roading and even racing.

But unlike stashing an assortment of beers in your fridge, your garage can only hold so many bikes… and your wallet can only stretch so far. Enter the adventure motorcycle.

What is an Adventure Motorcycle?

Today’s adventure motorcycles are characterized by one central theme: versatility. Also sometimes referred to as dual-sport bikes, adventure bikes aim to give riders the flexibility to tackle many different types of rides. Often, they are the street-legal counterparts to enduro off-road models.

That means they’re designed to ride well on both paved roads and off-road with more suspension. They are equipped with stronger frames and subframes, capable of supporting rider and gear for long distance travel while providing relative comfort. Likewise, they have larger tanks to reduce the need for frequent refueling. And perhaps most importantly, adventure bikes are built for reliability, requiring limited maintenance and being easily serviceable.

Basically, they aim to be the Swiss army knife of motorcycles, practical for both a spin around the neighborhood and a weeklong tour of California’s Pacific Coast Highway, respectively.

History of Adventure Bikes

While riders have been taking their bikes pretty much anywhere they could since the dawn of motorcycling, most motorcycles released before the 80’s were designed with a specific use in mind: street, racing, off-road, etc.

Arguably, BMW was the first manufacturer to change this design approach with their release of the R 80 G/S in 1980. In fact the “G/S” in the name stood for Gelände/Straße which translates to off-road/road. It gained popularity after winning the Paris Dakar rally several times, and it is the all-time best selling bike of its kind. Even now, no other brand sells more adventure bikes than BMW.

As manufacturers saw an opening in the market, more ADV models came onto the scene with Suzuki’s DR series, Yamaha’s TDM 850, and Honda’s Africa Twin throughout the 80’s.

But until recently, adventure motorcycles as a category were quite niche. Especially since the global pandemic, they have soared in popularity. This is thanks in part to cultural icons like Ewan McGregor in series like the “Long Way Round.” But it also fits with the overarching desire to escape and find new ways to adventure amidst Covid-19 restrictions and limited social interactions which led to an overall increase in outdoor activities. The adventure bike offered a way to escape to America’s bountiful deserts, forests, canyons, and mountains without having to first load your bike onto a trailer and drive there.

  • Size & Weight: Those bigger tanks and sturdy frames mean adventure motorcycles are larger and heavier than a typical street bike. While slimmer than the traditional touring bike, you should consider weight and size before you buy. It adds comfort and confidence when on long stretches of highway but can make off-road activities difficult for beginners who aren’t used to managing a heavy machine.
  • Cost: The ability to “do it all,” comes with a price tag. Larger and more durable, adventure bikes also tend to be more expensive than street motorcycles. They’re an investment in versatility.
  • Expected Use: It’s time to be honest with yourself. Do you really plan to take road trips or rip up some packed dirt tracks? If yes, the adventure bike truly can be your best friend. But if the reality is that you will be using your bike mostly for daily commuting or short rides, you might be better off with a lighter weight street model.

Adventure Bike Customizations

Already, adventure motorcycles are working to blend top characteristics from different segments: comfort and storage with good ground clearance and suspension, and so on. Each manufacturer and bike model will have a unique blend. Likewise, each rider will have unique priorities when it comes to their motorcycling adventure, which makes customization a big part of this market.

From seats to suspension, wheels, electronic rider aides, storage gear… the list of customizations for these bikes goes on and the adventure community is all about it. Customizing your ride for comfort is essential, especially when your journey could span from the crackling heat of asphalt highways to the rugged, undulating paths of backcountry trails. One of the first places to start is with the point of control – the handlebars.

Adventure bike riders are a big segment of our customer base, and for good reason! Handlebar risers and adjustable handlebars allow you to position your hands to align with your natural grip, reducing the reach and strain on your arms and back. Improving your riding position, especially on long and variable trips, translates to fewer breaks and longer stretches of enjoying the vistas around you. Whether you’re poised atop a Suzuki V-Strom, Yamaha Ténéré 700, or a classic BMW F750 GS, you can find handlebar risers that will improve your adventure.

The beauty of adventure bikes is their ability to adapt, not just in terms of performance but also in the realm of rider comfort. Whether you're gearing up for a cross-country odyssey or planning a series of weekend escapades, personalizing your ADV can enhance the ride quality. So before you set off to conquer new horizons, take a moment to consider how your bike fits you. With the right setup, every ride can be a fresh adventure, and just like a good beer, leave you with the taste for more.

Did you recently become an adventure bike convert or are thinking of taking the leap? Send us a message with your thoughts on this rising motorcycle segment so we can share it with our rider community!