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Is the U.S. Ready to Embrace Adventure Bikes?

Pictured below is a new version of the Suzuki V-Strom 650 that incorporates high quality aluminum bags, as well as a center stand and other features (such as an engine guard).  Unfortunately, this bike is not available here in the United States, at this point.  It was made to feed the huge appetite for adventure motorcycles in Europe, just like the Honda Varadero 1000 pictured above.

We have ridden some of these bikes, and absolutely love them.  You can see our review of the U.S. market V-Strom 650 here, for example.  Nevertheless, U.S. demand for these bikes is tiny compared to demand for this category of motorcycle in Europe.  Why? 

The U.S. market has largely been about cruisers and sport bikes for several years, with most other categories driving relatively few sales.  Although there is some evidence that this is changing, European tastes have traditionally been quite a bit different, and American distributors often reluctant to bring a model to the U.S. even when it sells well in Europe. 

The adventure category (also sometimes referred to as the large enduro or trailie category) might just prove to be very popular in the U.S. in the near future.  A number of Internet forums devoted to this type of motorcycle are quite active, and the bikes themselves do provide practicality, combined with comfort and fun.  Let us know what you think about adventure bikes, and whether the U.S. market for this style of motorcycle should expand in the near future.

156 Comments

  1. xchris says:

    Why so many sportbikes/cruisers vs, practical adventure-type bikes? I’m guessing that has much to do with practical application available here. During my time in Europe, it was refreshing to see drivers sharing the road with the more efficient motorcycles, and allowing them their space to filter on ahead. Try that here – kinda takes the fun out of commuting when you have to constantly battle all those inattentive & aggressive drivers. Throw in the laws of most states prohibiting lane splitting and it doesn’t get any easier to make use of a practical motorcycle around here.

  2. S Calwel says:

    For real world riding performance the “Adventure Bike” ergos, handling on smooth to rough pavement and ability to haul stuff if you want to is unmatched in any other bike category. Most of these bikes will never see any serious off road riding. The appeal is function for everyday riding.
    I just completed a 570 mile day at the end of a 3 day trip on two lane roads aboard a BMW F800GS. No sore back, butt or hands either. I am 70 and have been riding since age 13. I own 6 bikes, that are standards or Adventure types. The question is: do you want to ride or stop every hour or less because you can’t stand the discomfort.
    Caponord-F800GS-DR650-GB500 and 2, R80ST’s

  3. Crazylikea says:

    I’m an American and I ride a V-strom 1000 in northern Italy. One my favorite bikes I’ve owned in the states was an 89 Transalp. I have often wondered why the ADV bikes don’t sell in the states. I think part of the difference between the states and Europe is geography. Most riders in Europe are not that far away from the Alps or the Dolomites. And while a sport bike might serve you better on the mountain roads here, you still have to get where you are going. An adventure bike does this best. Then you can also hit the gravel twisties. Also the agility necessary to navigate traffic (read – splitting lanes) is a big advantage of the ADV bikes. Take it from a redneck Irish American, Italian drivers ROCK!!!

  4. Dave says:

    I had a DL1000 V-Strom some years ago. It was a great all around bike, but I ended up selling it because it was a bit boring. I have an RC51 in the stable for sport and track riding but still missed off road exploring. A 2008 KLR-650 was added but was not very good for more challenging off road riding. I finally ended up with a 2009 KTM 690r enduro which is one fantastic motorcycle. Light for a 650 and very fast. The KTM is a keeper, but not a bike that is going to appeal to most people. I would still like to add a big adventure touring bike and am leaning towards the BMW GS1200 adventure, but I still remember the yawn factor of the V-Strom. I want a bike that will really tolerate getting dropped and abused and the GS bikes still seem the toughest. The big KTM adventure bikes are also nice but I think the GS1200 would still be a better all around mount. For now I am more that happy enough to jump on my 690r, cruise the highways to get to the dirt, and have a helluva fun time roosting around on such a fun bike.

  5. Sean says:

    More and more people in the US are starting to commute to work on their motorcycles due to ease of parking, fuel costs, etc. Anyone who commutes on a daily basis can easily recognize the benefit of these bikes for their comfort, luggage capacity, pot-hole/tramline eating suspension and broad mid-range power. For serious riders who can’t afford a garage full of bikes, a good adventure tourer is the best all round choice for commuting as well as weekend pleasure riding. I’m thrilled that Yamaha has decided to import the Tenere – will definitely be in line for one at the dealer. Now if they will just follow up with the XTZ660…

  6. MotoBum says:

    Just look at the history of the Adventure Touring market. Twenty years ago, Touratech was two people. Today it is over 200. We’ve got U.S. Adventure Touring startups like ALT Rider betting the farm that adventure motorcycling will be the next big thing. The adventure travel companies out of Alaska and Seattle (MotoQuest and Globeriders, respectively) have been selling-out their tours for a few years now. And Amazon sells how many of Helge Pedersen’s “Ten Years on Two Wheels” and Ted Simon’s “Jupiter’s Travels” each month? Exactly. The adventure market isn’t just heating up, it’s on fire already. It’s so hot that Triumph is releasing not one, but two ADV bikes for 2011… to THE U.S. MARKET! At this point, it’s not a matter of “should” the adventure market expand in the near future, but “when.”

    And Honda, pretty please, if you’re listening, please bring an updated XRV 750 Africa Twin to the U.S. I, and three of my closest friends, already have savings accounts setting aside the money to give you for a proper ADV motorcycle.

  7. Tony C says:

    Been riding Suzooks since my 1st in 1973. Have 4 RM500s and race in the old man bracket at AHRMA. My wife still has a 70 TS90. Had SP600 and DR650 but why do the euros get an 850DL “Big” and we get the little 650? Why does Suzuki still sell 2 stroke RM250s in Europe but not in the US. Bring back the open class MXr’s like a 450/500 to compete with the 4strokes. I don’t think they are listening to riders.

    The V-strom is nice for the street but big horsepower and the versatility of an enduro is what I want which causes the engine to work less and hence last longer. Suzuki, make an 850 motor for the DR like you made for the europeans and I’ll buy one.

  8. Rolin says:

    I bought the DL650 as soon as they became available, early 2004. I have over 40K miles on mine. There have been no recalls on this bike, as far as I have checked. I have GIVI luggage that detaches easily. I keep the trunk for daily driving and put on the 45L Monokey side bags for trips. I am 6′ tall and the 650 seat is okay for daily commuting. I add an Air Hawk cushion for both extra leg room and – well, cushion – for trips. I have had 3 trips of >3K miles, the longest just under 6K. The throttle is light enough to hold open on 700-800 mile days or ten straight days of riding. I added a center stand, fall-over bars, extra wiring for accessories and, best of all, a MadStad windshield bracket. Before the bracket, the standard and aftermarket windshields battered my helmet like a paint mixer. I never had a HD or cruiser. This is the best bike purchase I ever made. It is a do-it-all bike for me. I still don’t like the chain drive maintenance, though. I’m 54 and have been riding since age 14. This is my 15th bike. If you’re interested in one, read the road tests. You really don’t need a test drive to see if you like it; just sit on it. It’s a Suzuki – good SV engine, good brakes, so-so front suspension, mostly a road bike. I might lust after the Multistrada, but my Wee-Strom still makes me happy.

  9. OzarkRider says:

    I’ve been riding my R1150GS for 163K miles now. Spent today with a buddy on his Honda XR650L prowling gravel/back roads here in the Ozarks. Best motorcycle I’ve ever owned.
    My wife do a lot of two-up backroading. The GS has some of the highest carrying capacity I’ve ever seen. We haul all our camping gear and go “thataway”.
    And I’ll agree with the above statement about marketing. The manufacturers will bring ‘em here when dealers start crying for them. For what it’s worth, the GS is BMW’s meal ticket.
    I riding position is ideal for me, cornering clearance is more than abundant. And it’s plain fun to take a squid on his sport bike to school on a tight, twisty stretch of pavement. :)

    Jay

  10. patrick o says:

    I think the Japanese dealers should offer test rides on these bikes. One ride on a crappy road with it’s plush suspension and you will believe. All roads seem to have fresh, smooth pavement. Comfortable ergo’s and plenty of power make adv bikes so much fun to ride. I bought a 650 v strom for my son after reading all the reviews and satisfied owners and thought this would make a good first streetbike. Now I want one too after riding his. I am selling my 2006 vfr if anyone is interested.

    • Zombo says:

      My Honda/Suzuki dealer allows test rides and I’ve gotten them from dealers of other makes . It all depends on your age , riding experience , and seriousness to buy . Currently riding a DL1000 and love it , but don’t see these bikes replacing loud pipe loser cruisers anytime soon .

  11. jimbo says:

    I’m 6-3 with a bad L knee. The most form fitting bike I’ve swung a leg over was the KTM Adventure 900 series, so I obviously have no use for race replicas.

    US riders prefer cruisers for their apparent comfort, though to me, because I like to corner hard, they are utterly useless except to look at. Now if/when the 2008 BMW Lo-Rider concept is released, a cruiser/cafe race hybrid, I’d jump on it. It would have the looks and fantastic performance.

    IMO race replicas are often liked for the performance image they convey to the rider.

    I’d love an adventure bike under 425 lbs curb weight (without bags), belt or shaft drive, good fuel range, great torque, etc. Triumph’s future adventure triple based on the 675cc motor may come closest to my ideal. The BMW F800GS I rented had a horribly soft, oscillating front end. A BMW salesman later told me the OEM suspension is too soft for my weight. It made great power.

  12. PeteP says:

    Hey Guys! That Suzuki in the picture is just a V-Strom with bags. Easy enough to do.

    I just got off my bike (older Concours) after a 1500 mile trip to Deal’s Gap and back. I saw many V-stroms, GS’s, and KTM Adventures olong the way.

    If the recent European Yamaha 1200 release is any indication, the Japanese manufacturers wouldn’t have a price advantage in this market, and thus, would suffer here. I don’t see things changing very much.

    Me, I’m looking for a used V-Strom. 650 or 1000?

  13. grafight says:

    Maybe because of the price of Gas or Maybe because of the roads, motorcycles are way more popular in Europe than in the USA. If you look at the motorcycles per capita, I think Italy is no.1 in the Western World.

    With all those people riding motorcycles, they have become very knowledgeable. They consider all the factors: cost, reliability, practicality, fun, and that’s why enduro-tourer bikes are so popular. They are the new Universal bikes which can do it all. That’s why Ducati puts so much tech into the Multistrada and also why the “Wee-Strom” is so popular there.

    Here in the USA we are kind of the opposite… We like impractical. We drive a military Humvee just because we can. We ride old obsolete Harleys for the same reason. However, I think it’s just a matter of time before the more practical do-it-all bikes become more popular.

  14. CowboyTutt says:

    Bring on the 1000cc version! When I’m out riding every time I see a BMW its a GS model 2-1. When I see a Suzuki, its either a GSXR, ‘Busa or a V-Strom. The latter has been hugely popular it seems. I think a 1000cc version with bags and a fair price point would make a dent in the sales of BMW’s, Ducatis and Triumphs.

    -Tutt

  15. Adam K says:

    The Suzuki pictured here would fill my commuting needs and weekend riding needs to a T! I also think that it looks cool. I’m looking to downsize to 1 motorcycle and I believe that this bike would do everything. Is Suzuki listening to the consumer? I hope so.

  16. Jim says:

    I have a 92 TDM850 … really a nice bike. For sure the current European version here would be appreciated. However, I think they have to sell it as it is outside the current popular mc segment.

    As I work my way out of my small gaggle of bikes, I tend to think I want a Do-All Adventure Bike. Since most of the tooling costs on the V-Strom are already amortized,it would seem it would be relatively inexpensive to bring an Up-Graded version to the market and then spend some advertising $$ to push the “Do It All” bike, instead of having a garage of 3 bikes.

    This bike needs enough power to carry two-up ( Bagless ) and then Single ( Fully Loaded Bags ) with enough passing power in the mountains not to be dangerous.

    I have a 01-ZRX 1200 and it is a GREAT all around road bike with a seat big enough for an occasional passenger. It has strong engine for quick mountain passing two up and gets approx. 47mpg if I keep it below 70mph. For me it is close to the perfect bike. A full set of soft luggage lets me take off on 4000 mi jaunts at a quick pace using only 2/3 red-line. As I get older ( now 70 ) I wish it was a bit lighter for the garage / parking lot pushing around. Other than that a really wonderful motorcycle.

    Note: I do have a cruiser and that is “not my style” . Not enough HP – Suspension – Braking – plus poor Ergonomics, and they are toooo heavy.

  17. T. Rollie says:

    Dirk, what is the record number of comments on an article. This Adventure Bike topic is really bringing out the opinions!

    Personally, I think the American culture is shifting. The economy and disposable income is such that bikers may evolve into those who NEED a bike or really LOVE actually riding a bike. That is, they can’t really afford a car, or they vastly prefer a bike regardless of the weather or destination. Then these adventure bikes will become more attractive and the less practical bikes (cruisers, sportbikes) will be a shrinking market. Just sayin’

  18. riley says:

    I’ve had a dl650 for 5 yrs and love it. would buy something else very similar if I ever got rid of it – which I have no plans of. I’m now at an age where leg room is better than looking sexy. Ride mine more as a light sport tourer than adventure bike and in that roll it has totally exceeded my expectations. Personally I think it’s like a fish out of water off asphalt.. maybe slightly better on non paved than an R6 or an ST1300, but certainly no enduro.

  19. Baggerchris says:

    I have ridden HD for over 40 years. I also have a 06 F650GS single. I enjoy riding the GS much more than the 97 HD I also have. My next bike all things being equal will be the F650GS Twin I test rode 2 months ago. I will NOT buy the Vstrom or any bike for that matter if I cannot test ride it. The Stockton Ca., Suzuki dealer would not let me test ride while the Beemer place practically forced to to test ride. Therefor, since I loved the twin GS I will probably re-up with that. Get the picture Dealers? Test Rides!!!!!

  20. Tom B says:

    I’ve progressed from Goldwings to the lighter ST1300 in response to aging. Adventure bikes appeal to me because of their more compliant suspensions, civilized ergonomics, sportiness, long distance capability and ability to at least 2-track on occasion. The overriding drawback, for me however, is their relative lack of rider protection in cold/wet weather – although they’re no doubt better in hot conditions.

    And then, what’s available? I view Euro brands, with the possible exception of Triumph, as too expensive to buy and maintain – if you can find a dealer. Plus BMW seems to have unresolved reliability issues. Unfortunately, I’ve just never been a Suzuki DL fan. I have ridden a 2010 Tiger and liked it a lot – but not enough to replace my ST for serious long distance riding.

    Maybe if someone offered electronic cruise control and decent cockpit storage pockets to go along with copious hard bags and trunk, it would tip the scale. Maybe. There are still the issues of cost and dealer network and the preception of marginal weather protection – for the multi-week, cross-country traveler.

  21. Isaac Mercer says:

    Such bikes are already here, BMW F650GS, F800GS, Get the low seat and low suspension option. I have a BMW F650GS for the past 2 years, AT 70 years of age, I had to switch from owing 3 Harleys over 30 years, my arthritic back could take it no more. Now I ride in comfort, and cheaper too.

  22. Pete says:

    In this era of economic malaise, with tax receipts for state & local governments flagging, & in the absence of another major injection of funds from the federal government for infrastructure upgrades, our roads will only continure to deteriorate. My GS does quite well on crummy road surfaces, as will virtually any of the ‘adventure’-type bikes, with their long suspension travel & multi-surface tires. Seems funny to me that this sort of bike is more popular in Europe, where roads are generally maintained at a higher level than they are here. (Which is partly due to the fact that we just have so many more miles of road in the US than in Europe, many of them lightly used & rural.) At any rate, the GS & other examples of this species are well adapted to our crumbling roads which will probably get worse on average before they get better.

  23. sc56 says:

    Hey I’m a convert I have a KLR650 and a 06 Buell Uly. I love the high upright seating, look those SUV drivers right in the eye, long suspension soaks up our ever falling apart road system, great handling, what’s not to like? Most people these days think a proper bike is a cruiser of some sort or a sport bike, they go with the what everyone else thinks is right.

  24. Michael H says:

    I’m 61 and have been a motorcyclist continuously since I bought a Yamaha 80 when I was 16, some 45 years ago.

    Cruisers are no longer comfortable for me. They make my back and hips hurt. And I don’t easily fold into the sportbike riding position any more. I’m on my second heavy tourer, a BMW K1200LT, which I really like, but it’s becoming a bit too heavy for me and isn’t a good bike for checking out the gravel roads I’d like to explore when I’m out riding.

    My next bike will be an adventure touring bike. I am a high mileage rider and take long trips, so most of my riding is on the highway. I like the long-travel suspension, upright seating position, the ability to take stuff with me in spacious panniers. I will occasionally use the “adventure” part, but mostly it’s for exceptionally comfortable “touring” on a middle-weight motorcycle with sturdy frame, suspension and other components.

    That V-Strom in the photo is exactly what I’d like. Bring it, Suzuki!

  25. Mike says:

    The economy is going to tank again and it will be worse than the early 80’s.
    Whatever manufacturers bring in will have to be carefully thought out. I find it
    hard to believe that anyone would ask a question like “Is the US ready to embrace adventure bikes”? That is a rhetorical question. The US already has. Take a look at
    the websites devoted to ADV riders and you’ll see. A new Harley 48 Sportster won’t get you past the next town without stopping for fuel, that V-Strom will let you tour the world if you want to. Price wise their the same. Wait until the new Triumph ADV model comes out.

  26. Ken says:

    I think the demand is/would be there IF the manufacturers worked to market them in some fashion. When was the last time you saw a commercial for one of these bikes? When was the last time you saw any kind of media presence for a motorcycle outside of a “badass chopper” or a sport bike?

    More to the point, when was the last time a REAL SALESPERSON (translation: someone who knows about and cares about the bikes they sell at a greater level than me) took time with a customer in a dealer near you to talk about the reasons adventure bikes are cool?

    Cruisers and sport bikes sell because that is what the general public have been fed that motorcycling is. In the early nineteen-sixties, the public was fed that Hondas were clean, small, fun step-thrus that everyone wanted to ride, and they sold a ton of them.

    Time for someone to step up and market the segment…or ANY segment other than cruisers and crotch-rockets…for the first time in forty years.

    • Nor says:

      Ken, you are so right. There is no marking by motorcycle companies. Our local dealers run sale ads in the newspaper, but that not what is needed to generate riders. We need a plan that will get people wanting to ride.
      I am 70 and have been riding since I was 14. I currently ride an 04 Concurs.

  27. tom says:

    I bought a Multistrada 5 years ago and love it. Best all around bike I have owned, and I have owned plenty. However……

    A career change has made street riding impractical at the moment so I decided to sell the Multi. The lack of interest at the low asking price is amazing. I found a guy who wanted to trade a used MX bike for a “sport bike” and he wasn’t interested, even though the value of the Multi was far higher than the dirt bike. I guess 92 HP on a 420 pound bike just isn’t sexy enough. I don’t blame the manufacturers for not bringing these bikes to the US, the consumers here are polarized between sport and cruizers. There is alot of talk about adventure bikes, but try to sell one.

  28. Adam K says:

    I would buy the V-Strom pictured here.

  29. Greg says:

    I think there is a real demand for bikes that offer an alternative to cruisers. I’m not sure most people will want to ride off road or that there are that many places to ride off road in North America though. It seems any road worth travelling usually gets paved. What I do see a demand for are the cross over bikes, to borrow a term from the automotive world. Bikes like the Versys, Tiger and MultiStrada that don’t really pretend to be off road capible but offer a good upright riding position, some wind protection, and decent street performance.