Choose Your Own Adventure: KTM’s Light Bike and BMW’s Mighty Bike

For those looking to go off-road, dual sports offer street-legal dirt bike performance. And at faster speeds than the Rokon Trail-Breaker or Ranger. However, dual sports lean a bit too much into dirt bikes for some. For the more casual dirt explorer, some scramblers, or the Honda Hunter Cub, are better choices. But, if you want to travel with touring bike comfort over pavement and gravel, there’s the adventure bike. And even here, there’s a wide assortment to choose from. From the new small-capacity KTM 390 Adventure to the largest heir to an icon, the BMW R 1250 GS Adventure.

KTM 390 Adventure bike

2020 KTM 390 Adventure
2020 KTM 390 Adventure | KTM via Instagram

The KTM 390 Adventure, Motorcyclist reports, uses the same 373cc single-cylinder found in the 390 Duke. It’s slightly detuned compared to the Duke, Cycle World reports, putting out 41 hp and 26 lb-ft. But KTM updated the engine’s fueling for smoother power delivery and fitted a larger radiator. And the 390 Adventure doesn’t need a larger engine, seeing as it only weighs 387 pounds.

Other off-road considerations include an alloy skid plate for the exhaust and a plastic one for the engine’s underside. The suspension is fully-adjustable, even without tools, and provides 6.7” of travel. The 390 Adventure also features cleated footpegs, to better grip the rider’s boots, as well as hand guards and crash bars.

And although Motorcyclist reports the seat is slightly higher than in similar bikes, the levers, handlebar, and brake pedal positions are all adjustable. The taller seat height is likely due to the bike’s 7.9” of ground clearance.

Because adventure bikes are meant to ride on paved and gravel roads, the KTM 390 Adventure also comes with some on-road niceties. It has ABS on the front and rear wheels, though the rear can be disabled during off-roading. There’s traction control, which is can also be disabled, as well as a TFT display with a 12V socket. KTM also offers an optional electronic quick-shifter, which smooths shifts and improves bike stability during corners on- and off-pavement.

BMW R 1250 GS Adventure bike

2020 BMW R 1250 GS Adventure
2020 BMW R 1250 GS Adventure | BMW

In the comparison between the KTM 390 Adventure and BMW R 1250 GS Adventure, the former is the Suzuki Jimny to the latter’s Mercedes G-Class. And, in a way, the BMW adventure bike has proven just as influential (and arguably, luxurious) and capable as the G-Wagon.

The 1981 BMW R80 G/S was actually the first true adventure bike, Motorcyclist explains, and somewhat controversial. It wasn’t as light as a dirt bike, or as maneuverable. But it was a street bike that could genuinely go off-road, not just scramble over sand. Ever since then, the bike and its segment has grown in popularity and evolved. And the current BMW R 1250 GS Adventure is the latest in the long line of adventure bikes.

The R 1250 GS Adventure has the largest engine of BMW’s GS line. It has a 1254cc boxer-twin that puts out 136 hp and 105 lb-ft. At 591 pounds, the BMW is quite a bit heavier than the KTM. But then, the R 1250 GS has even more features and tech.

There’s electronically-adjustable suspension, Roadshow reports, heated grips, and even optional GPS. Like the KTM, the BMW has ABS with off-road settings, as well as an engine skid plate and handguards. Hill-start control is also standard, as is stability control.

The bike also features multiple selectable riding modes. These control the ABS, throttle, and stability control settings. These can be further expanded, Cycle World reports, with the Premium Package, which also upgrades the ABS, and adds traction control, cruise control, LED auxiliary lights, and a quick-shifter. It also comes with a special braking feature that closes the throttle during hard braking, to prevent accidental throttle twists.

Which is the better buy?

The KTM 390 Adventure and BMW R 1250 GS Adventure aren’t only opposites in terms of size. They’re also on opposite ends of the price bracket. The KTM starts at $6,199; the BMW starts at $20,195.

Although the 390 Adventure is KTM’s least-expensive adventure bike, Motorcyclist and Cycle World report the bike isn’t some cost-cutting special. The suspension handles potholes and gravel well, and the single-cylinder has plenty of passing power. At high speeds, there is some buzzing, but it’s by no means a deal-breaker. In short, it’s a great entry-way into the world of adventure bikes.

The R 1250 GS, on the other hand, is arguably over-built. Roadshow reports the bike handles well, especially considering its weight. RideApart reports it was comfortable and stable enough for extended trips on the highway. And Cycle World found the R 1250 GS could certainly venture off the beaten path. There’s a reason Ewan McGregor used BMW adventure bikes in his cross-continental trip.

If you’re a newer off-road rider, the KTM 390 Adventure should suit you better. But, if you’re heavily into the ADV scene, the BMW R 1250 GS Adventure is still one of the best models on the market.

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