Fundamentals of Adventure

Story by Emily Roberts//
August 18 2020

Recently, a reader sent in a comment about the KTM 390 Adventure, questioning the direction in which motorcycle manufacturers seem to be going in the adventure-touring world. I felt he brought up some valid points, but he also made me think rationally about where the industry is going to go from here. For perspective on this matter, I’m 5’5” and, on both the KTM 390 Adventure and BMW G310GS, I can barely touch both tippytoes on the ground. Although these bikes boast lower seat heights, the width of the seat bows out my legs, making planting my feet difficult.

Now, logic would dictate that the small-displacement adventure bike should be suited for someone who is, well, smaller. And that a midsize adventure bike is likely to fit the widest range of riders. However, that’s not always the case.

Manufacturers seem to have been one-upping each other year after year in the adventure market, and each time the price tag, performance, electronics and seat height seem to grow a bit. That’s what they’re supposed to do, but are manufacturers in turn losing the audience they need to appeal to? Have they lost sight of the core foundation in which the adventure segment was built on? Adventure itself. I don’t think they have, but I think they’re getting close.

Gone are the days of reliable carbureted tractorlike bikes that have created much of the segment we see today. Along with them, perhaps many riders believe manufacturers base their bikes on performance, electronics and those with stilts for legs.

I feel we, as buyers, have attributed in part to this change. We want the best bike available, and our egos get the best of us and we become sold on the idea of needing all the bells and whistles to have a good time. You might as well spend all your money to ensure you have something that will help you ride what you want instead of focusing on refining your skills.

I think that through this snowball effect we have potentially cut out a huge portion of the adventure-bike demographic. The riders who don’t let their ego interfere. People who know they are not the best riders, but crave enjoyment and adventure out of a simple machine. Nothing too tall; it doesn’t have to be high-performance; something they know how it works; something they can pick up if they drop it; and something on which they can be close to flat-footed at a stop. These are the riders who spend their time on DRs, KLRs and XTs; these machines aren’t flashy, but they offer a versatile and friendly riding platform.

Don’t get me wrong. I love big bikes, but, for myself, I’ve adapted to “riding like a short person.” I know I can never touch the ground when riding most of the adventure bikes and I’ve adapted my technique and mounts and dismounts to ensure I can still ride a tall bike.

I find that designs and ergonomic positioning are ideally designed for someone over six feet tall. I’ve mentioned it a few times in conversation, most times cramping my neck looking up at the person I’m talking to. Their comment is usually: “Well, of course, the bike isn’t made for someone your size.” If that’s the case, then is there an adventure bike made for a smaller person?

For anyone with a modest inseam – or those looking for a bike they can be comfortably flat-footed on – our options are drastically reduced. Of course, we have the option of sacrificing clearance and our wallets with the addition of a lowering kit, but should that be our only option? I know I’m not of average height or weight of most of the dominant demographic in motorcycling, but is there a bike that fits my size?

Although I see this trend in increasing bike height deterring potential buyers, I also see some manufacturers stepping up and taking note. A few bikes I’ve ridden recently stand out: the Kawasaki KLX 230, KTM 790 Adventure and the Yamaha Ténéré 700. The KLX 230 is a perfect platform for a small beginner: although the seat height is at 885 mm, the incredibly slim seat and body of the bike makes it great for small riders, plus it comes with ABS and is very light and dirt-oriented. The 790 Adventure has plenty of performance and power, but in a nice small attainable package. The Ténéré 700, which is reviewed in this issue, is versatile for most sizes of riders and offers a lower price point than other mid-size adventure bikes. All three of these bikes stand out in their own sense and point to corners of the adventure demographic who may have been neglected in the past few years.

Each year our industry evolves and changes yet again, so only time will tell what subgenre of bike will be tucked away in a corner. There’s still one thing I know for sure: adventure itself can be achieved by anyone on any bike.

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