The middleweight category of adventure touring bikes should be overflowing with options, but it’s not. This smaller breed of Swiss-Army bikes is lighter, more maneuverable and arguably better suited to the dual-sport conditions wanderlusting riders dream about. They handle two-up touring and interstate duty with ease, devour B-roads and, thanks to their smaller stature, perform admirably as daily grinders. And yet, there aren’t even a handful of choices on North American soil. With Kawasaki’s Versys fully embracing its sporty side, it means only three remain: The Suzuki V-Strom 650, BMW F800 GS and Triumph Tiger 800 XCx. Suzuki’s new V-Strom 650 (especially in XT trim) is a fantastic value for riders on a budget, but conversations on the most dominant bike within this category start and end with a European.
BMW owns the adventure motorcycle market. Ever since Charley and Ewan set their compasses east, the Roundel has become synonymous with go-everywhere, do-everything type touring. Despite better, more focused offerings from KTM, BMW’s R1200 GS remains the world heavyweight champion of the class; its mere silhouette is enough to spur maps to be unfolded and circumnavigational dreams to unfurl. No surprise, then, that the smaller F800 GS Adventure should ape some styling — and earn instant unpaved-street cred — from its bigger brother.
The differences between these two don’t truly start to appear until you look under their skin. Distinction starts at the engine.
Of course the F800 GS isn’t the only bike to steal pages from the big GS’s lookbook. Every motorcycle with off-road intentions — save offerings from KTM’s lineup — is wearing the same uniform, including Triumph’s Tiger 800 XCx. From a distance, even a rider in the know could have trouble discerning between the Beemer and the Triumph. Both come riding spoked 21-inch wheels up front with 17-inch hoops in the rear, have an exposed, tubular trellis frame, slender waistlines, wide bars, minimal fairings and that ubiquitous ADV calling card: a large, pronounced beak. In fact, the differences between these two don’t truly start to appear until you look under their skin. Distinction starts at the engine.