Ultimate Alps Adventure

Introducing the Motorcyclist/Edelweiss Test Ride

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Brent Baer

Unless you have friends on the inside at your local dealership, scoring a test ride on a new motorcycle can be next to impossible. Even if you can cadge a key—or schedule a session during an OEM demo event—it’s rare to ride more than a few miles, and good luck trying to compare two different bikes back to back.

What if you were considering, say, a new adventure-touring bike, and you could ride all the competitive models side by side? Not just for a few minutes, but a full tank of gas at a time? And not just on some dusty frontage road, but in motorcycling nirvana—the Alps—on the best riding roads in the world? Talk about the ultimate test ride!

That was the idea behind the Motorcyclist Test Ride, a joint production of this magazine and Edelweiss Bike Travel, the world’s foremost provider of two-wheeled global adventures. The idea originated with veteran Edelweiss guide Christian Preining. He wanted to give participants, who usually ride the same bike for an entire tour, the opportunity to sample multiple motorcycles from the Edelweiss fleet. And wouldn't that make a great magazine story, too, with bikes reviewed by real-world riding enthusiasts rather than pampered motojournalists?

Edelweiss had just refreshed its fleet of ADV bikes, and so had current examples of every relevant model: BMW’s brand-new R1200GS, the Ducati Multistrada 1200S, KTM’s all-new 1190 Adventure and Adventure R, the Triumph Explorer, and Yamaha’s Super Ténéré. For comparison’s sake, the company also had a 2012 BMW R1200GS—the reigning king of the go-anywhere category—and the Honda Crosstourer DCT, an auto-shifting outlier that isn't available in the USA. And with them we had the makings of a great story.

All we needed now was some wrists to help write the test, so we put the word out via our monthly e-mail newsletter. Nearly 200 readers applied; from that group, Edelweiss selected 10 experienced riders—six solo riders and two couples—to accompany Ari Henning and me to the Alps. Some had been to Europe before, many had not. Some were returning Edelweiss customers. One couple had been riding in Europe for weeks before the tour. All were united by a love of long-distance riding and the desire to ride the best roads in the world on the world’s best adventure bikes.

Our 5-day riding adventure began in Seefeld, an Austrian ski retreat 25 miles northwest of Innsbruck, home to the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics. This is the heart of the Alps, and the ride started here for good reason—topography that makes great skiing makes great motorcycling, too.

Dave & Ruth Plenert

Abbotsford, BC, Canada

This trip was a dream come true for Ruth and me. We've wanted to tour the Alps since the '70s, so we were thrilled to finally get the chance to do it. To be able to do it on such amazing bikes with such capable riders and to have every logistical detail looked after made this the trip of a lifetime.

It was clear from the moment we left the Hotel Seelos parking lot that this would be a proper test ride. Preining casually reminded everyone during the pre-ride briefing to keep his own pace, promising to regroup at each intersection so no one was left behind. Fearing the worst—a slow-moving ADV parade—Ari and I tacked onto Preining’s tail, only to be surprised that, no matter how hard we pushed him, he could always wick up his pace. When he casually mentioned at dinner that night that he was a former 250cc world motocross championship competitor who also raced the Isle of Man TT (on a Honda CBR1000RR!), everything made sense. You will not be bored on an Edelweiss ride. Expert guides like Preining and his assistant, Ed Buelsing, ensure your ride won’t be a dull procession.

The first day’s ride, a 150-mile romp through the Namlos Valley and over the border to Bavaria—the “white sausage equator,” Preining joked—then back into Austria to overnight in the ski outpost of Warth, was a good introduction to both the bikes and to typical Alpine riding. These were more open, flowing roads than what we would encounter later that week, highlighting the sporting character of each bike—which surprised some guest testers, many of whom had never ridden an ADV bike before.

Daniel Dyb

Carver, MN

People who love to fish may dream of going to Canada or the South Pacific. Golf? Maybe Pebble Beach. Riders like us? We should dream of an Edelweiss Bike Travel tour in the Alps. The roads and scenery can't be topped, and the guides are the best in the business.

Mike Harris, who rides an Aprilia Tuono V4R in Pennsylvania, was one such rider. “Honestly, these big bikes never appealed to me before,” Harris said. “But they’re much more sporty than I ever thought possible. The combo of sportiness and an upright seating position has really changed my mind.”


BMW's legendary GS, the bike that essentially invented the adventure-touring category back in 1981, receives a major update for 2013. The biggest news is the "precision cooling" system that uses a water-glycol mixture for the first time in the boxer's 90-year history. Cylinders have been rotated 90 degrees to provide a vertical flow through the cylinder rather than horizontal, improving combustion and making the new mill more compact. The transmission is now integrated into the crankcase, and uses a wet, multi-plate clutch, too. The new engine makes a claimed 125 horsepower and 92 lb.-ft. of torque.

The more-compact engine allows the EVO Paralever swingarm to be extended 2 inches for more mechanical grip, says BMW. BMW's Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) is now "Dynamic," monitoring suspension travel via sensors in both the front and rear shocks, in addition to dynamic riding data including throttle position, lean angle, brake pressure, and much more, in order to adjust compression and rebound damping in response to changing terrain and riding maneuvers. In addition, four ride modes—Rain, Road, Dynamic, and Enduro for off-road riding—change power delivery, suspension response, and traction control and ABS intervention thresholds. Other electronic options on our test bike included heated grips and cruise control, and GPS navigation, conveniently operated via a scrolling wheel on the left grip.

Tech Spec

Price as tested: $18,870
Engine type: l-c opposed-twin
Valve train: DOHC, 8v
Displacement: 1170cc
Transmission: 6-speed
Claimed horsepower:  125.0 bhp @ 7500 rpm
Claimed torque:  92.0 lb.-ft. @ 6500 rpm
Frame: Steel-tube trellis
Front suspension: BMW Telelever adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: BMW Evo Paralever adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 305mm discs with ABS
Rear brake: Brembo two-piston caliper, 276mm disc with ABS
Front tire: 120/70ZR-19 Metzeler Tourance Next
Rear tire: 170/60ZR-17 Metzeler Tourance Next
Seat height: 34.2/33.4 in.
Wheelbase: 59.3 in.
Fuel capacity: 5.3 gal.
Claimed curb weight: 525 lbs.
Contact: www.bmwmotorcycles.com

Harris rightfully pegged Ducati’s Multistrada 1200S as the sportiest of the bunch, praising the raw power and snappy acceleration produced by a Testastretta V-twin putting down a claimed 150 horsepower—though imperfect fueling at small throttle openings and a tall first gear made the Multi a chore to ride later in tighter passes. KTM’s all-new 1190 Adventure also received high marks for high-speed hijinks. Just like the Ducati, the Adventure’s RC8R-derived V-twin has Superbike roots, and delivers an identical 150-bhp output with an equally dynamic personality.

Ducati Multistrada 1200S

Ducati's all-roads Multistrada adventure-touring platform received a major overhaul in 2010, when the two-valve, air-cooled, dual-spark V-twin was replaced with a retuned version of the liquid-cooled, 1198cc Testastretta V-twin. Though less powerful than a World Championship-winning superbike, the Multi's motor still kicks out a claimed 150 horsepower and 92 lb.-ft. of torque. This mega-powerful motor, moderated with four ride modes (Enduro, Urban, Touring, and Sport) that mediate everything from power output to throttle response to traction control and ABS thresholds, help the Multi define the high-performance sector of the tall-arounder category.

New for 2013 is Ducati's Sachs-made Skyhook Suspension system that, much like BMW's Dynamic ESA, uses electronic valving to automatically adapt suspension response to changing road conditions. Changing the ride mode also alters the Skyhook suspension parameters to suit the intended riding attitude. A base model without Skyhook can be ordered, but the S model that incorporates the electronic suspension technology is largely viewed as the starting point. Up-spec versions include the carbon-fiber-laden Pikes Peak special edition with Marchesini wheels and Termignoni exhaust, or the tour-ready Grantourismo edition (which we tested) with additional luggage space and a larger windscreen. In any guise, it's a racy-yet-practical ride.

Tech Spec

Price as tested: $21,995
Engine type: l-c 90-deg. V-twin
Valve train: DOHC, 8v
Displacement: 1198.4cc
Transmission: 6-speed
Claimed horsepower:  150.0 bhp @ 9250 rpm
Claimed torque:  91.8 lb.-ft. @ 7500 rpm
Frame: Steel-tube trellis
Front suspension: Sachs 48mm fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Sachs shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
Rear brake: Brembo two-piston caliper, 245mm disc with ABS
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Scorpion Trail
Rear tire: 190/55ZR-17 Pirelli Scorpion Trail
Seat height: 33.5 in.
Wheelbase: 60.2 in.
Fuel capacity: 5.3 gal.
Claimed curb weight: 516 lbs.
Contact: www.ducatiusa.com

Tony Dyb

Lomita, CA

The bikes, scenery, food, and the company made this trip better than I ever dreamed. Visiting four countries, riding dozens of passes, and experiencing a variety of motorcycles with great friends made this a trip of a lifetime. Getting to share it all with my brother Dan was the icing on the cake.

The biggest surprise in the acceleration wars, however, was BMW’s new, water-cooled R1200GS. Despite spotting both V-twins 25 bhp, the torquey, quick-revving flat-twin dominated the Ducati in impromptu roll-on tests, and easily matched the KTM, benefitting from optimized gearing and perfectly calibrated engine management settings. Both V-twins are surprisingly soft off the bottom and want lots of revs to build real power—hardly traditional V-twin characteristics, underlining the high state of tune the Ducati and KTM are built to.

Honda Crosstourer

Honda's flagship ADV bike looks unfamiliar because it's not available for sale in the United States, but underneath that adventurous exterior is the exact same frame as Honda's VFR1200 sport-touring platform, along with a very similar—though retuned for more midrange power—version of the VFR's V-four powerplant. In Crosstourer form, the 1237cc, shaft-drive V-four is said to put down 127 horsepower and 93 lb.-ft. of torque.

Another parallel with the VFR is the availability of Honda's Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) technology, which deletes the clutch and shift levers in favor of automatic shifting. Full automatic shifting is possible in two modes: Drive, which prioritizes smooth action and fuel economy, and Sport, which favors snappy acceleration. A Manual mode lets the rider select shift points using thumb and forefinger paddles adjacent to the left grip. While the automatic transmission made urban riding as easy as piloting a scooter, all our testers preferred to manually select gears.

The Crosstourer's arrangement is obviously much more upright than the VFR, and the ADV aesthetic is achieved with a prominent beak, handguards, and luggage racks. Spoked wheels—19-inch in the front—and a wide, flat handlebar complete the transformation and lend more confident off-road handling, though with soft suspension, a 62.8-in. wheelbase, and a claimed curb weight of 628 lbs., you won't want to wander too far from the tarmac. On pavement, however, especially on fast, flowing roads where you can tap into all that torque and exploit its extra stability, the Crosstourer is an excellent touring bike.

Tech Spec

Price as tested: €18,990 ($24,920)
Engine type: l-c 76-deg. V4
Valve train: SOHC, 16v
Displacement: 1237cc
Transmission: 6-speed DCT
Claimed horsepower:  127.0 bhp @ 7750 rpm
Claimed torque:  93.0 lb.-ft. @ 6500 rpm
Frame: Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension: Showa 42mm fork adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Showa shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual Nissin three-piston calipers, 310mm discs with ABS
Rear brake: Nissin two-piston caliper, 276mm disc with ABS
Front tire: 110/80R-19 Bridgestone Battle Wing
Rear tire: 150/70R-17 Bridgestone Battle Wing
Seat height: 33.5 in.
Wheelbase: 62.8 in.
Fuel capacity: 5.7 gal.
Claimed curb weight: 628 lbs.
Contact:  www.powersports.honda.com

Sportiest isn’t always best, however; a light flywheel and touchy low-rpm fueling made the Ducati more difficult to ride smoothly. Heidi Gish, riding two-up behind her husband, Steve, despised the Ducati, describing it as “nervous” from the pillion perch. “The worst part of the trip, for me, was finding out that Heidi hated the Ducati,” said Steve. The KTM was likewise criticized for buzzy engine behavior and threw off the most engine heat, though its clutch and transmission were the the smoothest of the bunch.

Riders interested in more casual cruising appreciated the Triumph Explorer’s turbine-like, 1215cc inline-triple powerplant. Producing a claimed 89 lb.-ft. of torque and what feels like the broadest spread of usable power, the Explorer encourages you to park the gearbox in third and surf the torque wave. Honda’s Crosstourer similarly rewards relaxed riding. Closely related to the VFR1200F, with which it shares a frame and 1237cc V-four engine, the Crosstourer is the most street-oriented motorcycle in this group. With different cams plus intake and exhaust mods contributing to a stupendous, 93 lb.-ft. claimed torque peak, the Crosstourer’s power feels bottomless—but with 628 pounds to push around, you need all that power.

Dan Watson

Denver, CO

Describing the awesomeness of this tour is nearly impossible, but I can share this: Edelweiss offers a world-class product, and I'll be returning soon. The 2013 class of ADV bikes is something to behold, and the KTM 1190 Adventure R and BMW R1200GS are at the top of the class.

Twenty-two pounds of Crosstourer weight comes from the optional Dual-Clutch Transmission (DCT). Once our experienced testers stopped making scooter jokes, everyone praised how well the DCT worked, especially in the “manual” paddleshift mode. This latest version is much improved over previous iterations, with smoother shifts at low revs in automatic Drive mode and better acceleration in Sport mode, where it now keeps the engine closer to peak torque for a longer time. The biggest fan was Ari, who wouldn’t stop yammering into the helmet intercom about the cool auto-blipper that matched revs on downshifts, making the Crosstourer sound like an F1 car.

Pity the poor fool (Denver’s Dan Watson, actually), who held the Crosstourer key at the start of the second day, when we crossed the Italian border to Livigno, with a coffee break at the top of legendary Stelvio Pass. Even with the magic transmission taking care of shifting chores, bending the Crosstourer’s softly suspended, 62.8-inch wheelbase around Stelvio’s 48 toe-scraping hairpins was no easy task. Better to be on the R1200GS or KTM’s Adventure R, the two bikes Ari and I rode that day. Despite the fact that nearly our entire route was paved—the only off-road section was a short stint on Day 3, near Passo di Gavia—our group almost universally preferred the R-spec Adventure. More suspension travel (an additional 1.2 in.) at both ends, larger, 18-in. rear/21-in. front wheels, and a wider handlebar lighten steering and make the R considerably more maneuverable at slow speeds, important on Stelvio’s countless 5-mph hairpins. The Adventure R, much like the GS, has that mythical dial-a-lean quality that holds whatever lean angle you select without requiring additional bar input.

Augusto Philadelpho

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

This trip was amazing. I can't believe I was selected to go. I feel very, very, lucky! The Alps are to motorcyclists what Hawaii is to surfers—a paradise. This adventure had a big impact on me. I've already bought myself a 2013 R1200GS to replace my 2012, and the trip will be memorialized with a tattoo.

For hairpin-specific handling, however, it was impossible to beat BMW’s adroit R1200GS. The Telelever front suspension apparatus, which retains bump compliance under hard braking, feels tailor-made for the slow-speed direction changes that define riding in the Alps. The BMW’s steering is an order of magnitude lighter than anything else here, and remains neutral no matter what the rider does at the bars. Mash the brakes—BMW’s radial-mount Brembos are the strongest brakes here—or twist the throttle hard, the GS remains completely stable and never strays from its intended line. Dynamic ESA (electronic suspension adjustment), which automatically adjusts rebound and compression damping in response to real-time riding inputs, further enhances cornering stability. The GS is unshakable in a turn.

Our Multistrada was similarly equipped with Sachs Skyhook suspension and the 1190 Adventure with WP’s Electronic Damping System. All three systems allow the rider to instantly adjust spring preload (rear-only on the Ducati and KTM) and damping schemes by pushing a button; BMW and Ducati go one step further, changing the damping on the fly. The convenience of instantly optimizing suspension settings for any rider in any condition cannot be overstated. But even advanced electronic suspension isn't perfect all the time—unless it’s BMW’s Dynamic ESA. “The KTM still feels harsh over all these sharp-edged bumps,” Ari said. “What sharp-edged bumps?” I replied from the saddle of the GS. Every road feels perfect on that bike.

Jeremy Piner

Napa, CA When I look back on our week in the Alps, I have memories of amazing views, great hosts, incredible roads, and fantastic motorcycles. I agree that the BMW is the overall best bike, but the Ducati captured my heart because of the wild animal it becomes when you twist the throttle. That motor is amazing.

We returned to Stelvio on Day 3, this time up a more flowing road on the back side, then a short jog through humorless Switzerland. “Those of you who have GPS, use it to check your speedometer’s accuracy,” Preining advised. “In Switzerland, this is very important.” That afternoon, what looked like a paved goat trail took us up Passo di Gavia, a favorite for all. By now everyone had ridden each bike at least once, and opinions had begun to form. It was shaping up as a battle between the haves—the ultra-equipped BMW, Ducati, and KTMs—and the have-nots. ADV bikes are premium products, and for most buyers in this category, features like electronic suspension, off road-specific ride modes, and luxuries like cruise control, heated grips, and tire-pressure monitoring systems are necessary equipment.

Steve & Heidi Gish

Shingle Springs, CA The new water-pumper Beemer is smooth, comfortable, sneaky fast, and seemed to know what I wanted to do and then did it. What a machine. The KTM 1190 Adventure comes in second. I enjoyed hearing the quicker riders tell me how surprised they were to look in their mirrors and see Heidi and I right on their tail on the KTM.

What, then, of more basic options like the least expensive bike here, Yamaha’s $14,790 Super Ténéré? This is still smarter than your average motorcycle, with two power modes (Sport and Touring), traction control, and ABS. Unfortunately, our Super Ténéré was delivered directly from the German press fleet without the benefit of post-flog service, and it was badly abused. Both the fork and the rear shock were blown, the front wheel was bent, and the rear wheel had two missing spokes. Handling was clearly compromised, but even making allowances, the Super Ténéré still seemed outclassed. One tester accurately described the parallel-twin powerband as “workhorse, not stallion,” and the fueling was choppy, too.

Mike Harris

West Chester, PA Beautiful scenery, great riders, great food, great bikes: This was truly a dream adventure. Oh, and did I mention the fantastic, nonstop twisty roads? I was never a fan of these big-bore enduros, but I've made a full 180. These are comfortable, fast, and capable bikes, but the BMW is the one I'd buy.

KTM 1190 Adventure

KTM offers its all-new 1190 Adventure in two formats, both of which were tested here. The base Adventure (pictured above) is more street-biased, with a 19-inch front wheel and geometry and suspension settings optimized primarily for paved roadways. The off road-intent Adventure R is equipped with a 21-in. front wheel, longer-travel suspension, different steering geometry, and crash bars for improved off-road capability.

An all-new frame contains a revised version of the 75-degree, 1195cc V-twin from the RC8R superbike, retuned for more midrange power efficiency; KTM says fuel economy is improved by 20 percent over the RC8R. Peak output is a claimed 150 horsepower. Bosch ride-by-wire throttle management allows fully integrated ride modes, traction control, ABS, and electronically adjustable (but not active) suspension. Like the BMW, the KTM also offers an off road-specific ride mode with specially tailored ABS and TC settings that allow a limited amount of rear wheel lock and spin; the ABS and traction control can also be disabled entirely.

The standard Adventure arrives in America this Fall, with the R following a few months after. Prices have not yet been set.

Tech Spec

Price as tested: €16,398 ($21,469)
Engine type: l-c 75-deg. V-twin
Valve train: DOHC, 8v
Displacement: 1198cc
Transmission: 6-speed
Claimed horsepower: 150.0 bhp @ 9500 rpm
Claimed torque: 92.2 lb.-ft. @ 7500 rpm
Frame: Steel-tube trellis
Front suspension: WP 48mm fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: WP shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
Rear brake: Brembo two-piston caliper, 268mm disc with ABS
Front tire: 120/70ZR-19 Continental Trail Attack II
Rear tire: 170/60/70ZR-17 Continental Trail Attack II
Seat height : 33.9/34.5 in.
Wheelbase: 61.4 in.
Fuel capacity: 6.1 gal.
Claimed curb weight: 503 lbs.
Contact: www.ktmusa.com

Triumph’s $15,699 Explorer—the next least expensive bike—was similarly outshined by the more exotic, exciting European offerings. Triumph also offers adjustable traction control and ABS, but no ride modes. Our Explorer also initially suffered handling woes—some joker who hates corner exits turned the rear rebound adjuster just a half-turn (of 26 turns!) out—but even after the tail-dragging chassis was corrected, the Explorer still failed to impress. It seems like the biggest bike here, with a wide tank, a wider bar, and a top-heavy feeling that compromised slow-speed maneuverability. Heavy controls, especially a heavy clutch and throttle pull, only extenuated this bulky impression. (Some of this is curious, as the throttle pull on U.S.-based bikes we've ridden could be called too light. More abuse or market differences?)

Triumph Tiger Explorer

Like most modern Triumphs, the defining characteristic of the Explorer is its character-rich inline-triple powerplant. This latest-generation, 1215cc triple, a version of which also powers the Trophy SE sport-tourer, seems tailor-made for adventure touring, producing a claimed 135 horsepower and 89 lb.-ft. of torque. Ride-by-wire throttle activation permits multi-mode traction control—including a setting that allows a slight amount of wheelspin for off-road use—though, unlike many of the other bikes, these settings are not easy to change on the fly.

With a claimed curb weight of 570 pounds, the Explorer is no lightweight, and the inline-triple raises the center of gravity slightly compared to other bikes like the Ducati or BMW. Moreover, the Explorer is a large motorcycle, with a tall seat and a long reach to wide handlebars.

Where the other European machines use the latest electronic suspension technology, the Explorer makes due with conventional KYB componentry—a 46mm inverted fork with adjustable spring preload up front and a single shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping. ABS is standard, operating capable Nissin four-piston calipers at the front. Overall, the Explorer's chassis is competent but hardly cutting edge, which allows Triumph to be competitively priced at $15,699. Triumph also offers an XC version that adds spoked wheels, nylon hand guards, a 3mm-thick aluminum bash plate, halogen driving lights, and tubular-steel engine case guards, for $17,199.

Tech Spec

Price as tested: $15,699
Engine type: l-c inline-triple
Valve train: DOHC, 12v
Displacement: 1215cc
Transmission: 6-speed
Claimed horsepower:  135.0 bhp @ 9300 rpm
Claimed torque:  89.0 lb.-ft. @ 6400 rpm
Frame: Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension:  KYB 43mm fork adjustable for spring preload
Rear suspension: KYB shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual Nissin
four-piston calipers, 305mm discs with ABS
Rear brake: Nissin two-piston caliper, 282mm disc with ABS
Front tire: 110/80R-19 Metzeler Tourance EXP
Rear tire: 150/70R-17 Metzeler Tourance EXP
Seat height: 33.1/33.9 in.
Wheelbase: 60.2 in.
Fuel capacity: 5.3 gal.
Claimed curb weight: 570 lbs.
Contact:  www.triumphmotorcycles.com

It’s a paradox that the more complicated electronics systems become, the simpler menu interfaces need to be. The Germans get this, and the GS delivers with fewer confusing switches, the most info-rich data screens, and the most intuitive navigation. Best of all, every E-feature (except disabling ABS) can be manipulated on the fly. Other bikes deliver with varying degrees of less success. Disappointingly, the KTM is one of the worst; most changes requiring scrolling through multiple screens and holding buttons with the throttle closed for seconds at a time. Triumph’s interface, with hidden menus, is the least intuitive of all.

Aaron Frank

Milwaukee, WI

Whenever I saw a sportbike rider with a week's worth of travel gear bursting out of an overstuffed backpack, I wanted to slap his Shoei and scream "just buy an adventure bike!" The Alps might have been more thrilling—just barely—from a supersport saddle, but after one day our bodies would have been beat. Meanwhile, on planet ADV, I felt as mentally and physically fresh on Day 5 as I did on Day 1. And we weren't creeping along! Any of these remarkable performance machines will go as fast as you are willing on any road, but BMW's R1200GS does everything better than the rest. The only difficult thing about that bike is lifting it off the kickstand.

Day 4 began and ended in Bozen, with a 210-mile loop taking us out of the Alps and into Italy’s hard, glinting Dolomites, where we tackled an almost-overwhelming 14 passes in a single day. This ride underlined one of the best benefits of an Edelweiss-guided tour, as Preining skirted over-hyped passes in favor of back-door secrets like Passo di Cereda and Passo di Duran, the last a diabolical trace of pavement that was barely one bike wide. Napa’s Jeremy Piner, an experienced off-road rider who got his street motorcycle endorsement just weeks before this tour and was literally treating this event as a test ride to select his first streetbike, felt right at home on this technical trail. No surprise that he preferred the dirtbike-like KTMs—he has owned three of the Austrian firm’s off-road bikes in the past.

Ari Henning

Huntington Beach, CA

I was totally astonished by the Alps and the many passes. This was hands down the best street riding I've ever done—first and foremost because the roads and scenery are universally excellent. It would have been an epic trip on any bike, but we got to do it on the best ADV bikes available, led by world-class guides who have a solid understanding of the area's history and culture. At the risk of sounding like a parrot, the 2013 R1200GS may well be the most capable and versatile motorcycle on the planet. That new motor and Dynamic ESA make it unbelievable easy to ride—and ride fast. It's simply head and shoulders above anything else in the category.

Yamaha Super Ténéré

Yamaha's entry into the big-bore enduro category, the $14,790 Super Ténéré, remains essentially unchanged since its global debut in 2010. In a category filled with unique bikes, the Super Ténéré still stands out with its unconventional, 1199cc parallel-twin engine with a 270-degree crank layout (opposed to the more-conventional, 180-degree arrangement) that Yamaha says improves torque—and also delivers a tasty exhaust note through the Akrapovic accessory exhaust that was fitted to our testbike.

Yamaha Chip-Controlled Throttle (YCC-T) ride-by-wire enables two power modes—Sport and Tour—with correspondingly appropriate traction control strategies. Unified ABS with rear-to-front linking is standard equipment; while the TC can be turned off completely, ABS cannot.

The side-by-side twin lives in a chassis composed mostly of steel tubes, arranged to provide some novel packaging. The single radiator is offset to the left of the 6-gallon steel fuel tank, while the battery and other electrical components live behind the right-side shroud; Yamaha says this arrangement allows the engine to be located lower in the chassis. A six-speed transmission feeds power to a shaft final drive, though without any torque-reducing linkages or mechanism. Yamaha says the length of the swingarm inherently reduces shaft jacking. Spoke wheels are standard equipment, and Yamaha offers a bunch of factory accessories including hard and soft luggage, crash bars, and more.

Tech Spec

Price as tested: $14,790
Engine type: l-c parallel-twin
Valve train: DOHC, 8v
Displacement: 1199cc
Transmission: 6-speed
Claimed horsepower:  108.0 bhp @ 7250 rpm
Claimed torque:  84.0 lb.-ft. @ 6000 rpm
Frame: Steel perimeter
Front suspension: Kayaba 43mm fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: YHS shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual ADVICS four-piston calipers, 310mm discs with ABS
Rear brake: Nissin single-piston caliper, 282mm disc with ABS
Front tire: 110/80R-19 Bridgestone BW501 Battle Wing
Rear tire: 150/70R-17 Bridgestone BW501 Battle Wing
Seat height: 33.3/34.3 in.
Wheelbase : 60.6 in.
Fuel capacity : 6.0 gal.
Claimed curb weight: 578 lbs.
Contact:  www.yamahamotorsports.com

Day 5 took us down from the Dolomites and back into Austria’s Tyrol region, replete with Ari's beloved lilac blooms (vestiges of his past life working as a landscaper) and fields full of young, German “farm tourists” raking fresh-cut hay that set my allergies ablaze. “Maybe you’re really just allergic to astounding beauty,” Ari suggested over the intercom after one particularly long sneezing fit. Six more passes that day, including the remarkable Timmelsjoch Pass, where roadside snowdrifts still stood 12 feet high, gave us one last opportunity to gather our thoughts surrounding the various bikes.

With the shortest list of amenities and build quality occasionally reminiscent of an ATV—sorry, but painted triple clamps and artlessly looped throttle cables don’t cut it in this class—few testers favored the Yamaha Super Ténéré. The 270-degree parallel-twin had a compelling character, but performance was underwhelming—one tester compared it to a big, slow-revving single. Flat power improved at higher revs, but excess vibration soon spoiled the party, and bargain suspension didn't aid handling or comfort. Dave Plenert said it best: “If I would have ridden the Super Ténéré out of a dealer’s showroom, I would have thought it was a great bike. Riding it back to back with the others, it’s just doesn’t make the grade.”

Honda’s innovative Crosstourer was the odd-man out, and not just because it’s missing clutch and shift levers. With the most mass and the longest wheelbase, this might be the least-adventurous adventure tourer ever built. But this bike was also the biggest surprise. Almost everyone expected to hate it, but most of us genuinely enjoyed riding it. It’s unfortunate the Crosstourer isn't imported to America, because in almost every way from concept to execution, this bike makes a better sport-tourer than the VFR1200F. But there’s still the problem of a super-high, $25K price.

Triumph’s Explorer is a bike we’ve loved on an individual basis, but in this company it falls through the cracks. The inline-triple motor is still miraculous—it’s almost frighteningly fast once the tach finally gets into the upper third—but the rest of the package lacks character. The ginormous fuel tank makes the Explorer look and feel exceedingly large, and heavy controls and competent but uninspired handling do nothing to disguise the considerable, 570-lb. mass. We didn’t think Triumph could make a boring triple, but in this one, it has.

Ducati’s Multistrada 1200S and KTM’s 1190 Adventure are both brilliant bikes—which might be right for you depends mostly on what your idea of adventure looks like. With all that racetrack DNA, it’s no surprise the Ducati is the sportbike of this bunch. The lusty Testastretta twin loves to be rung out, it has the tautest suspension—even in the Touring setting—and it responds best to aggressive riding. It behaves exactly like a long-travel sportbike. It loves to turn with your weight hanging off the inside—opposite of the tall, high-nosed KTMs—and it feels the best when it’s far out on the edge of the tire. This committed character made the Multi a favorite of some riders, but landed it at the bottom of other’s lists.

KTMs Adventure twins express many of the same traits, only substituting dirtbike DNA. At first it seems ironic to see KTM’s “Ready to Race” corporate slogan appear on a touring bike’s startup screen, but after a few days in the tall, narrow saddle, it’s not inconceivable to imagine the 1190 Adventure finishing a Dakar Rally. It certainly delivers the light attitude, nimble handling, and responsive power profile you’d expect for off-road adventuring, plus plenty of technology and luxury to coddle you while you connect trailheads. It’s a credible successor to the much-loved 990 Adventure, adding power, comfort, capability, and convenience without sacrificing any of its essential, race-bred character. “This KTM should convince some GS riders to switch,” Piner said. “They already had the off-road aptitude, now the touring credentials are stamped, too.”

While Ducati and KTM define either end of the sport-to-dirt adventure spectrum, BMW’s all-new R1200GS exactly splits the difference. With always-optimized Dynamic ESA suspension, the lively, liquid-cooled Boxer engine, the most comprehensive electronics with the easiest interface—and more all-around aptitude than perhaps any motorcycle ever built, regardless of category—the GS can show any of these bikes a clean taillight on any road or trail.

The deciding factor was the post-test debrief interviews, which sounded like paid BMW commercials:

“The new GS is the hands-down favorite.”

“If I had just one bike in my fleet, the GS would be it.”

“Any of the other bikes here would be awesome—if you never rode the GS.”

These comments weren't coming from the usual Kool-Aid chugging propeller heads—two die-hard Triumph guys, the Kawi guy, the dirt guy, all abandoned their usual allegiances to sing the praises of BMW’s latest, best GS. Turns out, it’s hard to beat 33 years of evolution! But our new friend Augusto Philadelpho ultimately gave the final word—less than a week after returning home from Europe, there was a shiny white 2013 R1200GS parked in his garage in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He probably won’t be the last.

Edelweiss Bike Travel

The World’s Oldest—And Best—Motorcycle Travel Provider

In the business of guiding intrepid two-wheeled travelers to all corners of the earth for more than 33 years, no one can argue with Edelweiss’s “Number 1 Worldwide” claim. Founded by Werner Wachter in 1980, the Austrian firm employs 40 tour guides around the globe and currently offers more than 60 routes in locations as popular as the Alps and as obscure as Patagonia or Myanmar.

Edelweiss tours are not inexpensive, but for the level of service and amenities provided, they are a remarkably good value. Your choice from a broad selection of the latest motorcycles from many manufacturers is provided, first-rate accommodations are arranged on your behalf, and most meals are included in the trip price. But the most valuable benefit, of course, is the ride routes, each carefully designed by extremely knowledgeable guides to insure that you experience the very best riding of any given locale.

Steve Gish, who lives in California’s Sierra foothills and so knows a thing or two about great riding, was still blown away by Edelweiss’s Alpine adventure. “This is just one epic pass after another after another,” Gish says. “Every time you think it can’t get any better, it does. [My wife and I] spent two weeks riding around Europe on our own last year, but it was nothing like this. Another thing that can’t be beat with Edelweiss is the local knowledge, and historical information the tour guides incorporate. And having someone schlep our luggage—tricky with two people on one bike—is a huge benefit.”

Then there's the unique camaraderie engendered on a group tour, spending a week or more traversing the most amazing scenery with a gang of similarly passionate riding enthusiasts. Dan Watson summed that up best: "I don't want to go home and ride by myself!" Sounds like fun? Click over to www.edelweissbike.com to select your new favorite route.

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