Adventure Motorcycles: Evolution of the Middleweight Segment

Honda Photo

Last week, Honda and Suzuki both announced new middle-weight adventure-class motorcycles at the EICMA show in Milan. Considering my fondness for dirt-worthy touring motorcycles, I was obviously excited to hear the news; especially the new offering from Honda. With more models coming onboard out of Japan, the “middle-weight” segment is filling out nicely. At the same time, while I’m happy to see more affordable, capable, twin-cylinder options available to ADV enthusiasts, I question some of the choices manufacturers are making these days.

Honda Photo

Foreshadowing the release of the new TransAlp was the official announcement of the Honda CB750 Hornet. With patent filings and so on, YouTubers and Moto-philes suspected the new 755cc Hornet mill would likely find a home in a rumored TransAlp rebirth. This of course became a reality as Honda pulled the cover off the new XL750 at the EICMA show. An all-new engine for 2023, Honda put the CB750 tuned motor unchanged into an Adventure frame as a middle-weight offering to the ADV community. Mirroring the Hornet, the new 270° crank, parallel twin puts out 95 horsepower and 55 pound-feet of torque according to Big Red. The TransAlp also has a 6-speed transmission, 21 and 18-inch tube-type wheels, and sports just short of 8-inches of suspension travel on non-adjustable springy bits. Honda is dropping the 459-pound adventure machine on the market fitted with ABS, traction control, rider modes, and TFT display which includes Bluetooth connectivity. To the dismay of many, cruise control is not included as an option despite the rest of the throttle-by-wire and techno-wiz-bangery.

Suzuki Photo

Not about to let Honda steal their thunder, to the surprise of many, Suzuki also dropped an all-new middleweight addition to the ADV market. I want to reiterate, this is also a completely new engine, arguably the first all-new motorcycle from Suzuki after many, many years. Dubbed the DL800DE “V-strom”, Strom-troopers all over the globe were quick to point out the distinct lack of “V” in the engine architecture. “Pee-Strom 800” apparently didn’t make it past the focus groups, albeit “wee-strom” will likely live on as a colloquial term. That aside, the new Zuke sports a 776cc, 270° crank twin with 6-speed transmission. Suzuki claims the new engine puts out 85 horsepower and 57 pound-feet of torque. The new Strom is also fitted with a 21-inch front hoop while being paired with a 17 rear; both tubeless. The new Suzuki also brings TFT dash, traction control, and ABS to the party, while cruise control and rider modes aren’t explicitly mentioned. The 800 Strom is fitted with fully adjustable suspension with about 8.7-inches of travel, and tips the scales at 507 pounds ready to ride.

These two new offerings out of Japan meet a small field of 700-ish adventure machines, namely the KTM 890 Adventure, Tenere 700, and the Aprilia Tuareg. Folks that have been keeping up with the Podcast over the past few months are well aware of the fact that I’ve been in the tank for the Tenere 700 from the moment it was teased by Yamaha. The T7 shares the same engine with the MT-07, and is arguably my favorite powerplant after my beloved 865 Trumpet. Yamaha has upgraded the dash with a TFT display for 2023, along with some other creature comforts I find inconsequential, but also adds a few more bills to the asking price, raising the bar to $10,500 to get into the middle-weight adventure game.

Before sharing my thoughs about these two new Japanese adv-machines, and their impact the market, I first need to set the stage. I see KTM as the groundbreaking bike in this segment with its launch of the 790 Adventure in 2018. With the venerable KTM 990 slowly evolving into today’s 1290 Super adventure, KTM rejoined the middleweight ranks, frankly outclassing Tiger 800 and BMW F800GS with far superior suspension, and most notably, an almost 50-pound weight loss. Asking for around $14k at the time, KTM was price competitive with the premium Euro brands, while still outperforming those machines off-road in every way.

When the Tenere 700 finally showed up to the party, it took up the opposite end of the budget spectrum; no-frills, strictly business adventure motorcycle. If you’re not interested in rugged off-road adventure, no problem, the stock suspension makes for a decent ride. If you’re a moto-masochist like myself and the Heavy Enduro crew, the $4k in your pocket saved by not buying an orange bike could be spent on premium kit.

With little fanfare, Aprilia entered the fray in late 2021. A few weeks back I joined my buddy Greg for a trip around the Southern Ohio Adventure Loop (SOAL). This was the maiden voyage on the new Tuareg 660 he had just picked up. Prior to this day I would have said “under no circumstances am I going to ride an Italian motorcycle off-road with any aggression!” By the end of this day, my mind was changed completely. For folks that don’t know, Aprilia’s new purpose-built adventure weapon was designed in conjunction with two other 660cc twins (RS 660 & (Tuono). While Aprilia has struggled to get a foothold on the American motorcycle market in recent years, to me, this new platform-based powerplant really demonstrates that Aprilia is trying to play the long game. The 659cc over-square Tuareg mill produces 80 Horsepower and 51 pound-feet of torque, ships fitted with 21 and 18-inch tubeless wheels, has fully adjustable suspension with nearly 9-and-a-half inches of travel, has TFT dash, ride modes, ABS, traction control, and cruise. Aprilia says the Tuareg weighs 450 pounds ready to ride and will set you back 12 grand. Despite my undying love of the T7, I must admit the Tuareg 660 chassis feels superior. The bike handles more intuitively off-road, feels lighter, and is simply “easier to ride”. That said, there’s no doubt the playful Italian mill is slightly more peaky, feeling more suited for road riding, whereas the T7 has buckets of low-end toque.

Amid this growth at the “lower end” of the middle-weight segment, Triumph dropped a new line of 900cc Tigers. A few el-bees below 500 pounds and 300ccs short of the “heavyweight” class, wearing a 21-inch spoked front wheel, the Tiger 900 Rally obviously still falls inside the circle of the middle-weight division. The new Tiger mill features a new “T-plane” firing order and the new springy bits have nine-and-a-half inches of travel, but the price tag for the cross-country models starts at $15,400, which is just shy of Tiger 1200 territory not too many years ago. The more affordable Tiger 850 Sport is available for $12,000, but also only brings a 19-17 wheel combo which is starting to feel very “Streetie” against the newer offerings in this circle of multi-purpose motorcycles.

Speaking of street chops, Moto Guzzi’s V85TT also falls in this club depending on who you’re talking to. I’ve said before, and still agree, the V85TT is still my number one pick for a touring motorcycle. While that’s complete heresy to most road monogamous riders, as a dual-sport aficionado, it checks all the touring boxes for me. TFT dash, cruise control, ABS, shaft drive, 19 & 17-inch spoked tubeless wheels, just under 7 inches of suspension travel, and a handful of pounds over five-hundo, Guzzi’s modern Scrambler is a mile-munching machine. Unfortunately, similar to Triumph’s modern adventure touring machines, Guzzi’s ADV offering, while affordable at $11,990, will struggle to keep up when the tarmac ends.

The future is lighter, goes further in the woods, and is more affordable

I’ll have to apologize for the long-winded history lesson about 600 to 900 adventure machines. While gathering my thoughts about the TransAlp, I was struggling to remember all of the stats associated with its closest competitors, only to realize that bikes like the V85 have been available for upwards of 3 years now. Per my comments above regarding price and capability, after all of this time, bikes like the Tiger 900 Rally (and unmentioned BMW F850GS), while completely capable, are closer to price and weight of the 1000cc Africa Twin, both of which are knocking on the door of the heavy-weight class considering Suzuki’s 2023 1050DE can be had for $15,999 and Yamaha’s 2023 Super Tenere for $16,300.

Pricing for the TransAlp and the 800 V-Strom has yet to be announced. The TransAlp’s CB750 stablemate has been priced in Europe on the scale of about $7800 U.S., so many pundits suspect we’ll see Honda’s new 750 may sneak in under Tenere 700 pricing. Suzuki’s pricing strategy seems a little more obscure. The outgoing 650XT commanded $9,600, so it’ll be interesting to see if Suzuki is as aggressive with its pricing strategy on its first research and development project in nearly two decades.

As far as the TransAlp is concerned, I’m hopeful, albiet skeptical. While I sold my CRF250L after 10,000ish miles, outside of character, I’m undoubtedly a Honda customer. I put a premium on reliability, simplicity, affordability, and ease of ownership. The 250L was all of those things, and still the least fussy motorcycle I’ve ever owned. For all of those reasons, it’s hard for me to walk past a Honda on the way to a T7, and especially hard to walk past both to put money down on something Italian.

Honda Photo

Emotions aside, I think Honda has potentially made some poor compromises with their new 750. As soon as I saw the teaser coverage of the new engine release, I spotted the giant oil sump spike coming off the bottom of the motor. With the exhaust tucked up tight on a naked street bike, most wouldn’t pay any mind to this protrusion. Unfortunately, I’ve been hanging out in the ADV scene long enough to see bike owners struggle with “floating” skid plates, exhaust flanges, and broken oil sumps. It appears that Honda has designed some sort of skid plate framework that’s not standard on the base model. That makes me feel slightly better, but considering the T7 and the Africa Twin both have an engine cradle “underbone” as an inclusive part of the frame, I’m scratching my head as to why this TransAlp is missing that feature considering its competition and heritage.

Honda Photo

Lots of folks on the interwebs are bemoaning the TransAlp’s apparent lack of cruise control, adjustable suspension, and tube-type wheels. Since the MSRP has yet to be released, I’m reserving judgment. Similar to the T7, if the TransAlp is cheap enough, I’m happy to spend the cash on purpose-built suspension assuming I’m brave enough to subject their skid plate setup to my preferred flavor of off-road abuse. Regarding wheels, tube versus tubeless is a very personal decision in my mind. Tube-type wheels are cheaper, and frankly a fact of life for heavy off-road riding from my perspective. There are alternatives (i.e. tubliss system), but thus far I’ve been content to just run ultra heavy-duty tubes up to this point. I expect touring motorcyclists will feel very differently. I wish the manufacturers would offer both options at the dealer, with pricing that reflects either choice. Inversely, cruise control is s feature I’d like to have on a modern ADV machine, especially considering the Tuareg offers so much capability and so much technology, well under KTM asking prices. Still ignorant to the future, I have the suspicion that Honda is going to do “the Honda thing”, and offer a very sensible motorcycle that appeals to the widest range of riders for the type of riding they’ll be doing the majority of the time. That’s the CRF250L to a tee; there’s nothing sexy about it, it’s just easy to live with. Time will tell, and like the T7, I’m overly anxious to ride the TransAlp and see.

Suzuki Photo

In a different corner, Suzuki has made equally confusing choices. The new 800DE, like the Tuareg and Tiger 900, also has a floating skidplate akin to the TransAlp; it does however share similar “bracing” from what I can see in the photos. I think Suzuki is wise to offer adjustable suspension, a parallel twin with 270° engine firing order, a 21-inch spoked front wheel, along with TFT dash and all the other electronic gizmos. That’s what people want. However, tipping the scales over 500 pounds in this club seems a day late and a dollar short. People likely to lean toward a Japanese bike will be happy about the adjustable suspension and tubeless wheels, but if the pricing is closer to Tuareg territory than the T7, Suzuki’s first “new” motorcycle is fighting an uphill battle in my mind. I’m not saying I don’t want to ride it, I just find the stat sheet a bit perplexing.

With affordable off-roady bikes like the KLR and Tenere 700 taking up residence at the muddy end of the middleweight budget, it’ll be interesting to see how Honda and Suzuki position themselves in terms of both price and “dirt-chops” against Triumph and KTM pushing the “premium” end the scale. Under no circumstances would I turn down a deal on a 850GS or Tiger 900, but if I’m forced to pay retail prices on one of these new middle-weight machines, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Africa Twin is cheaper, and several twelve-hundreds are easily within reach. As of the time of this writing, the cost of living is doing anything but getting cheaper, so it’s definitely nice to have more affordable motorcycles arriving on the market, and even more exciting as competition pushes progression in the adventure space.

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14 Responses to Adventure Motorcycles: Evolution of the Middleweight Segment

  1. Just a small remark: KTM 890 Adventure is not 700-ish, lol, it’s almost 900, which is véry close to 1000 😉 Nice review though. You sure know how to create long reviews, lol. The Pee-Strom, hilarious. I tried the T7 for about two hours, half of it offroad. I didn’t like a bit of it. It was very nervous offroad. Suspension wasn’t nice too. But others in the fellowship didn’t complain. Were their bikes different? Or am I just too spoilt with my KTM 950 Adventure? That said, I did try a Desert X last summer. I could use it for a few hours, on my own, and chased on and off pavement as hard as I could and dared. And boy did it deliver! It was the first time in 14 years (as long as I have my 950) that I rode a bike that was as good as my KTM… yep, THAT good. Onroad ánd offroad. Back to your review, I believe the Aprilia is one hell of a bike. But I fear the always unreliable parts availability. And the dealers: where are they, and how good? Always a tricky situation. Fabulous bikes, but the after sales situation…. hm. cheers, Paul

    Liked by 1 person

    • MotoADVR says:

      Hey Paul! I do apparently like the sound of my own voice… I agree about the 890, and while not explicitly mentioned, that is why I spoke about the 790 and not the 890. This article obvious skews toward the smaller and more affordable end of the segment. Because of that, I had forgotten all about the Desert X. Pretty sure they’re asking upwards of $17k for that bike. I’m sure it’s great, it’s also a very different machine from a sub-700. Funny you mention the 950, I’ve been shopping for one lately. They’re getting pretty affordable and they’re shockingly capable. As far as the T7 is concerned, folks only know what they’ve ridden. The 950 has Dakar heritage, I suspect few have experienced that if they came off Tiger 800 XRs with non-adjustable suspension and so on. The T7 is also a shockingly capable bike, but folks risk acceptance varies wildly.

      Also, agreed about Aprilia. I debated mentioning more about my interest in that bike but it was already a 2000 word piece. I have a dealer 2 hours from me, so in my case it’s doable. Moreover, in this age, if you do your own maintenance as I do, you just need a part supplier. I have a Triumph dealer that’ll ship to me. That’s obviously not an option for everyone.

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  2. Dan says:

    Look……a couple of Me2 parallel twin 750’s with a touch screen in the 450-500lb range :>)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. parasympatheticsynapse says:

    Your bringing up the V85 is exactly along my line of thinking. I particularly loved its ergos. That’s a big part of why I’m a potential buyer of the Honda. It seems to have a very similar layout, but hopefully with lower maintenance requirements more dealer support. Unlike you, I enjoy the occasional dirt road, but I’m not looking win any races. I don’t need the latest road racing brakes or suspension on it. I’m good with cheap and comfortable as I spend a lot of time riding. Also unclear to me why people need such powerful brakes or low end engine power for offroad. A moped can skid/spin tires on the dirt.
    I also dig the Honda’s styling. It’s no beauty queen, but it’s design is clean, symmetric, and w/o any of the Japanese penchant for filling it with pointy plastic shit. By contrast, the Suzi looks like a Chinese chew toy I’d buy for the dog. The Honda’s also reasonably light, so I could probably pick it up if I drop it. Seemingly good passenger accommodations too.
    What bothers me a little more is the tire sizes. They’re probably fine for more dirt oriented tires, but as I’d be primarily riding it on the street, I’d want more of a 90/10 tire. A search found slim pickins for their availability. And tires in general aren’t getting any easier to find.

    Liked by 1 person

    • MotoADVR says:

      All good points about the Honda. I suspect I’ll be cranky about suspension and fearful of pushing an exhaust flange through an engine case, but I’m pretty confident I’ll enjoy the bike when it gets here.

      Regarding tires, I think you’ll be surprised. They’re probably not as cheap as they once were but I’d recommend you buy continental Trail Attack tires. I found the Michelin Anakee 3, the Conti Trail Attack, and Avon Trek Riders to be the grippiest road tires I’ve used, all of which come in 21/18 varieties. Bridgestone Battleaxe also comes with good reviews from my buddy Rick that has done massive miles in a Tiger 800XC with 21/18.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. parasympatheticsynapse says:

    I’m a big fan of the Avon Trailriders, but Avon go bye bye. I’ll look into the others you mentioned. If I get the Honda, I’ll be buying a couple sets for piece of mind.
    Trivia for you. You know why the oil pan is shaped like a V at the bottom of the engine?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. parasympatheticsynapse says:

    Don’t know what a 23 is, but in the late 90s early 2ks, guys buying liter bikes to wheelie down the highway was in vogue. Ducs had issues as the oil pickup was getting starved for oil and killing the engines. In their race reps they started shaping the pans like that so the pumps didn’t cavitate while riding wheelies for miles on end.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. DMK says:

    I rode the KTM 890, then the Yami T7 on a full-day on/off-road ride in Eastern Idaho. The 890 may have been built for smaller folks who want an “adv” bike for street, and might possibly cross a gravel road once in a while. It was a lot more work to stand, control and brake off-road. The T7 felt immediately more off-road capable, less cramped, and more like a large dual sport than an “adv” bike. The T7 felt like a WR250 with more power and higher gearing. I WANT one… badly, because out here were just putting up with some road between trails. But don’t move here- we’re full

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    • MotoADVR says:

      You just threw down the gauntlet in front of the koolaid drinkers.

      I would like to spend more time off-road with the 890, but I like what I’ve seen and experienced this far. I agree you’re “on” the 890 and “in” the T7 as well, so I can see people feeling like the 890 is small. I have a strong suspicion suspension setup on the 890 has a large impact on rider perception as well.

      There’s obviously now metric for taste. For me the T7 is the bike to beat because it has everything I want and nothing I don’t. I can’t say that for most bikes.

      And why not? I hear property values are sinking to affordable levels?

      Like

      • DMK says:

        If I come home and my house is spray painted in KTM orange… I’ll know why. But NOTHING against KTM, just comparing use cases of 2 specific bikes from one fat dude’s perspective in one particular riding landscape. It would be more fair to compare a KTM690 to the T7. I’m not nuts, just a tad crazy.

        Liked by 1 person

      • MotoADVR says:

        Your points are all valid

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