2017: the year of the lightweight ADV motorcycle


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Lightweight ADV motorcycles are officially a thing for 2017. They are smaller, lighter, more fuel efficient, more maneuverable and sufficiently powerful for a single rider and gear. And lightweight bikes are far less expensive than mid- or heavyweight motos.

ADV bikes are designed to be versatile, a workable compromise for both paved road and gravel/two track/dirt trail use. Some ADV models skew more toward road, or toward trail use.

By lightweight, I mean machines with engine displacement below 400 cc. Middleweight bikes are up to 800 cc, maybe even 1000 cc in the case of the Honda Africa Twin. Heavyweights are, in general, above 1000 cc.

Here's a list of new models aimed at adventure-style on and off-road riding that have been announced for 2017, with links to introductory articles

BMW 310 GS

Honda CRF250L Rally

Kawasaki Versys-X 300

Suzuki V-Strom 250

The following model may not appear until much later

KTM 390 Adventure

Yamaha is looking to update their Tenere midweight ADV line in 2017, and standing pat with the venerable XT250 and the racy and expensive WR250R dual sport in the lightweight category.


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So what do these motorcycle manufacturers think an adventure travel bike looks like?

Generally, an ADV model includes larger gas tank, longer travel suspension, traditional wire wheels, semi-knobby tires, larger front wheel, crash protection, engines tuned for more torque at lower rpm, pannier racks, and optional heated grips and hand guards. For these items, manufacturers charge between $750 and $1100 more than a similar street-oriented bike.

One approach would be to purchase the standard street bike, maybe a used model, and add the items you care about.
The challenge is for the manufacturers to then keep the seat height low enough - my wife is only 5' and is short in the leg as well, so her old XT600 was pretty good with a 31" ish seat height. It's getting replaced with a WR250R which again has a lowish seat height.

One other bike that isn't mentioned, and seems like it is taking forever to come through to the market is the Royal Enfield Himalyan, again in the 400cc-ish bracket.
While it is a good time if you are into Adventure bikes, I'm not sure "lightweight" really applies. I realize you qualify it in your first post by equating it to displacement, more so than weight, but I wonder if these things will have much staying power. With the exception of the Versys-X, they are all thumpers. Other than aesthetics, I don't really see any advantage of these over a 400-650cc dual sport bike, which will have more power, less weight, more offroad ability and arguably just as good on the road. (Edit - I guess the baby strom is also a twin, but likely too underpowered for most people).

The caveat to that is the Versys-X. A small twin brings something new to the table. I think the jury may be out on what the Versys-X suspension will bring and whether the small P-twin will have good power delivery for an adventure bike. But I think it has a better chance of finding its niche over those other small ADV bikes, especially given that most riders don't venture beyond fire roads. The Honda Rally may have some success just from its faux racer looks, but I think the Versys-X may be the start of something new.
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Of these bikes, I think only the Versys brings much new to the table for the typical North American and perhaps European "Adventure" rider. In other words, adequate for the miles of highway travel usually needed to get to the adventure. Even then, I think it will be different than a 650 thumper but not necessarily better overall (I have a DR650 which I'm willing to ride long distances). Smoother, more sophisticated power train, probably better fuel economy for the Versys; mediocre weight, suspension, and protection compared to the thumper. The Suzuki twin could be nice as well, but seems to lack a few features of the Kaw. The BMW is also nice, but seems more of a street bike. And the Honda Rally ... in my opinion it could be the best of the bunch if it were a 350 or even used Honda's 300 single. But as it is, heavier than the CRF250 and not much better featured, it seems too little too late for Honda to stake out an "Africa Twin" position in the small displacement field.
It'll suck. There you go.
While I am certain it will be very low end components, they haven't released any specs as to travel. Even if kept on "rough roads", I would still want something beyond a Ninja 300 suspension. I haven't seen anything concrete yet, but some were saying it may be only a half inch more travel. I hope that isn't the case. Any bike can do a forest road, but when it starts getting rutted you need more travel than a road suspension offers if you want to keep any speed going. I'm really looking forward to see first hand accounts of how it actually handles real world travel. If it succeeds like it looks it might, it may force other manufacturers that direction or force them to improve their existing offerings.
I made my own light weight ADV bike and it works great.
300 mile fuel range
Great off-road
Acceptable on road

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I see both BMW & KTM have simply produced 'baby' versions of their current Mid/heavy Adventure bikes.

I'd have like to seen a SM/SMR/Adventure hybrid at least.