For any of us that are on social media, forums and read discussions on moto websites there is a recurring topic most everywhere you look. What is the best ADV bike? Most of the time it is a innocent question asked by someone that is new to the ADV(Adventure)/Dual-Sport (DS) community. Some of the time it is raised by experienced riders, sharing insights on a new model they have tested or bought. Often it is a deeply divisive topic that is skewed tremendously by riders with extreme brand/model loyalty. I am writing this to help everyone come to a conclusion and sort this whole thing out.
I personally own three adventure bikes. I have a BMW F650GS single I call Little Red. I also own two BMW R1150GS's named Big Bird and 'Ol Yeller. I have owned several other brands of motorcycles in my life including Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki. I have not ridden all the offerings out there in the ADV/DS world (I'm sure VERY few have), but I love the BMW GS series of bikes. The 650GS is small and light enough to be fun and more agile that the big bikes when you get to more technical parts of the trail. However, unlike many of the less than 650 offerings out there that may offer more finesse on tough terrain, it is large enough to ride comfortably at 70-80 mph on tarmac while getting to the fun. My 650 has several upgrades including Ohlins forks and rear shock, HID headlamp, crash bars, Caribou Pelican cases, Corbin seat and Throttle Meister which make it a little more enjoyable.
Then there are the 1150's. I absolutely love the 1150GS. Although slightly dated now, the German engineered design is revolutionary. The Paralever and Telelever suspension is a engineering marvel, along with the lack of a cradle frame. Then there is the wonder of the boxer engine. Self balancing, nearly unequaled for longevity and I love the way it keeps the center of gravity low. It does take some getting used to, but, as with most things, once you are fully immersed and experienced in the boxer rebellion it is a wonderful thing. Sure the 1150, like the other big bikes, can be a handful in deep mud and technical tracks, but the adventure I am most often seeking is the one that allows me to cover large distances, ride the road (or hopefully dirt) less traveled and get away from all the congestion and cagers. That brings me to my take on this whole "best bike" dilemma.
When searching for the best ADV bike, you need to sit down and list out what it is you want to do with that bike in your adventures. Are looking for something you can blast through the sand, mud and water crossings on while searching for that challenging section of highly technical track? If so, smaller is generally better. From a WR250 to a 501 Husky there are lots of quality choices. Want to cover large parts of the country, or world, with long days in the saddle at higher speeds but still maintain the ability to travel the unpaved parts of the earth? Then a large ADV bike may be your style, but realize you are paying a 500+ lb price for most of that comfort and power. If you want the best of both worlds then take a serious look at the middle-weight contenders such as the KTM 690, 650-800GS, V-Strom 650 or the workhorse KLR650, to mention just a few.
The perfect ADV bike for you? That's as simple as picking the one you like. Test ride. Talk to friends you may be riding with. Think about what it is you want to do with that bike. Not all of us are looking for a MX bike with headlights. Some of us are. Either way, when all is said and done, the perfect bike for you is the one that gets you off the couch, away from the idiot box (TV) and out on the road. The ADV/DS community is full of great people that are nearly always willing to help out the newbies, share great tracks and welcome you to the fold. Go out, find some dirt and have fun. Hopefully we'll meet you on the trail.