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Top Ten Most Surprising Adventure Motorcycles in the World

With the impending launch of Harley-much-anticipated, Davidson’s all-new adventure bike, the 1250 Pan America, a motorcycle so opposed to Harley’s tradition of old-school, air-cooled cruisers that it’s akin to asking exotic superbike experts Ducati to come up with a cheap scooter.

It got us thinking: adventure bikes are so commonplace and ubiquitous these days that almost everybody has tried their hand at one, from Royal Enfield to Buell, with varying degrees of success.

So, which adventure bikes have been the most improbable over the last few decades?

You may be surprised by the findings we come up with – and they aren’t all negative. After all, the BMW R80G/S, perhaps the first adventure bike of all time, was improbable in its own right.

The thought of a big-engined “trail” bike capable of crossing continents was so bizarre and rare back then that many people didn’t know what to make of it. So maybe a Harley adventure bike isn’t so strange after all…?

Top Ten Most Surprising Adventure Motorcycles in the World – Top Rated

10 – Triumph Tiger 900 [1993-2001]

Top Ten Most Surprising Adventure Motorcycles in the World

As Triumph was resurrected as an entirely new company in Hinckley in 1991, it built a series of modular triples and four more conventional than others.

Much of that changed in 1993. The Tiger 900 was the new company’s first foray into the world of “monster trailers,” and it was achieved at the behest of its French and German importers (where those bikes were in high demand), resulting in the world’s largest, fastest, and, arguably, scariest “adventure bike.”

It was ‘modular,’ like all early Hinckley motorcycles, but Triumph was starting to go more bespoke at the moment. So, despite being based on the 100bhp Trident triple, the engine was returned to 85bhp to provide more torque (although it was still capable of 130mph).

9 – Aprilia ETV1000 Caponord [2001-2004]

Top Ten Most Surprising Adventure Motorcycles in the World

Despite its off-road roots, especially in lightweight motocrossers and trial bikes, Aprilia has struggled to succeed with its large adventure bikes. The first, the 2001 Caponord (Italian for North Cape), was introduced in 2001 and was based on the company’s all-new RSV Mille V-twin engine, which was detuned to 100bhp, similar to the RST1000 Futura sports-tourer of the same year.

It had a lot going for it on paper: a smooth, compact V-twin powertrain; an impressive, aluminum twin-spar chassis; and a slew of quality features.

On the downside, it was marred by overly soft front forks, initially suspicious durability, a high-ish price, and a dealer network that couldn’t compete with BMW and Honda at the time, all of which led to its inability to sell.

8 – Benelli Tre-K 1130 Amazonas [2007-2014]

Top Ten Most Surprising Adventure Motorcycles in the World

Here’s an unexpected path to making an adventure bike: revive a classic Italian brand; create a radical, exotic three-cylinder 900cc superbike (2000 900 Tornado); transform that into a naked 1130cc version (the 2004 TNT), then a sports-tourer (the 2006 Tre-K 1130), and finally a 2007 Amazonas adventure-style version.

As you would imagine, the Amazonas is essentially a sporty sports-tourer with longer travel suspension, off-road-style wire wheels, and even semi-knobbly tires, none of which qualify it as a true off-roader.

7 – Kawasaki Versys 1000 [2012 – ]

Top Ten Most Surprising Adventure Motorcycles in the World

After its debut almost a decade ago, Kawasaki’s huge Versys “adventure tourer” has been so entrenched in the adventure bike armor that it’s easy to forget how improbable, bordering on bonkers, the original four-cylinder ugly duckling was.

The first Versys was an oddball: an ‘SX on stilts; a kind of four-cylinder adventure machine, but with zero off-road capacity and looks that its mother could appreciate. It was based on the hugely successful Z1000SX sports tourer, but with a detuned, 116bhp version of the mill, longer travel suspension, new bodywork, and a more upright riding stance.

And then, at just under £10K, it was a bargain. The cost-effectiveness proved to be its saving grace. Although not being a proper adventure bike, the Versys was a decent, comfortable four-cylinder tourer at a low price that proved successful.

6 – Moto Morini GranPasso 1200 [2008-2010]

Top Ten Most Surprising Adventure Motorcycles in the World

Moto Morini’s rebirth in the mid-nineties was never as well-received as compatriots MV Agusta (in 1998) and Benelli (2000), but the bikes were potentially even more entertaining.

The Corsaro 1200 was the first, and it was a sporty super naked powered by a punchy 1187cc V-twin with 123bhp. With a slightly softer 118bhp, the standard long suspension/wire wheels combination, a more upright riding stance, and adventure-style bodywork, the GranPasso debuted in 2008, followed by a trendy Scrambler variant in 2009.

However, though the Corsaro is still the most well-known type, we believe the GranPasso is much better, swapping a touch of handling steadfastness for more convenience and practicality without sacrificing any excitement.

5 – Moto Guzzi Quota 1000 [1989-2001]

Top Ten Most Surprising Adventure Motorcycles in the World

Moto Guzzi beat Britain’s Triumph to the title of “biggest adventure bike” when it released the Quota 1000 in 1989 – but it wasn’t introduced to the UK until later.

On the surface, it seemed to have a lot going for it: the conventional transversely mounted Guzzi V-twin engine, which worked well with the adventure bike configuration, and BMW-rivaling shaft drive. There was also new bodywork, as well as the usual long-travel suspension and off-road wire wheels. It had it all, with 69 grunty bhp and bags of Italian style on paper.

4 – Yamaha XT660 Ténéré [2008-2016]

Top Ten Most Surprising Adventure Motorcycles in the World

It’s easy to forget that Yamaha’s new 700 Tenere, the 689cc Dakar-style twin that debuted in 2019 and was derived from the famous MT-07 roadster, had a single-cylinder counterpart that was just as fine – but not as well-known.

The Tenere 660 was essentially a big-tanked, longer-suspended, Dakar-styled variant of the XT660X mountain bike, which had been around since 2004. It was authentic-looking, cheap, a good road performer (well, as much as any 48bhp single can be), and very competent off-road – everything a middleweight adventure bike should be.

3 – Honda VFR1200X Crosstourer [2010 – ]

Top Ten Most Surprising Adventure Motorcycles in the World

The Crosstourer is a perfect example of a concept bike that everybody wants to see made into a production bike, but when it does, it falls short of expectations. It’s a total shame.

The awkwardly called Crosstourer was unveiled in 2012 after being touted around the shows for several years. It’s essentially an adventure-style version of Honda’s then-all-new V4 sports-tourer, the much-heralded VFR1200F, which was released in 2010.

Despite the VFR1200F’s powerful V4 and novel DCT semi-automatic gearbox option, the VFR1200F was eventually discontinued in 2015, but the Crosstourer lives on – and rightfully so.

It now undercuts all but the cheapest edition of Kawasaki’s Versys, starting at £11,499, and used examples can be had for around £5,000.

2 – Royal Enfield Himalayan [2018 – ]

Top Ten Most Surprising Adventure Motorcycles in the World

Yes, we were surprised when quaint, archaic, little old Royal Enfield, whose historic singles barely mustered over 25bhp, unveiled their take on the ‘adventure bike’ in 2018 with the 24bhp, 410cc Himalayan.

When commercial images emerged of a footpeg snapping off under relatively mild provocation, the impression didn’t change much. However, if you concentrate on its £4399 speed, recall its lightweight and novice-friendly characteristics, and imagine a more gentle adventure pace away from 100bhp+ 1200s, you might be in for a treat.

1 – Buell XB12X Ulysses [2006-2009]

Top Ten Most Surprising Adventure Motorcycles in the World

If the thought of Harley-upcoming Davidson’s Pan America being one of the most unlikely of all adventure bikes makes you nervous, don’t worry – the Americans have done it before.

Between 2003 and 2009, when oddball sports offshoot Buell was owned by Harley, the most unexpected name was the Ulysses, a Harley-powered adventure bike.

The XB12X, dubbed the “Uselessly” at the time, was essentially a new-generation XB12 Lightning naked with expanded rear bodywork, all-new screen, and more upright riding stance. It is completed with twin-spar (fuel-in) chassis, trademark rim disc brake, and tuned, 103bhp 1200cc Harley Sportster engine. None of this qualified it as an adventure bike.

Top Ten Most Surprising Adventure Motorcycles in the World – Top List

Sr. # Top Ten Most Surprising Adventure Motorcycles in the World
1 Buell XB12X Ulysses [2006-2009]
2 Royal Enfield Himalayan [2018 – ]
3 Honda VFR1200X Crosstourer [2010 – ]
4 Yamaha XT660 Ténéré [2008-2016]
5 Moto Guzzi Quota 1000 [1989-2001]
6 Moto Morini GranPasso 1200 [2008-2010]
7 Kawasaki Versys 1000 [2012 – ]
8 Benelli Tre-K 1130 Amazonas [2007-2014]
9 Aprilia ETV1000 Caponord [2001-2004]
10 Triumph Tiger 900 [1993-2001]


In the end, team Bikes Catalog would love to say that our list presents the Top Ten Most Surprising Adventure Motorcycles in the World. Each motorcycle in our article has something unusual and surprising in it.

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