Adventure Bikes | ADV 4 Ways

450, 650, 800, 1200: Which one's right for you?

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Karel Kramer

If you opened the magazine and flipped straight to this story instead of unclogging those rain gutters, worming the cat, earning a living or some actual productive societal function, you’re either knee-deep in this all-surface adventure shtick or dreaming about it. You’ve read everything there is to read about Helge Pedersen: 'round the world in 10 years and 220,000 miles on an R80G/S. You watched Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman take the longish 20,000-mile way from London to New York, via France, Germany, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Canada and a good chunk of the continental United States on kitted BMW R1150GS Adventures in 2004. You have their 15,000-mile '07 sequel on DVD: John 'O Groats, Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa in 85 days on a fresh pair of R1200GS Adventures, just for the fun of it. Fun?

Sure. Few of you and none of us have 85 vacation days or a BBC-sized travel budget, but once you give in to that first question, the second one remains the same whether the adventure in question is 250,000 miles long or 250: What to ride? BMW came up with the first bike designed to act like a garageful, a.k.a. the unlikely R80G/S Boxer, subsequently ridden around the world by the aforementioned Mr. Pedersen. And while other makers have carved off variously sized slices of the adventure pie since then, BMW still sells more—and some argue, better—of these motorcycles than anybody else.

Many of you—and all of us—have strong opinions on that subject. Ewan, Charlie and yours truly prefer heading off into the great wide-open on BMW’s big R1200GS Adventure. Editor in Chieftain Brian Catterson prefers the manageable, mid-sized F800GS. Aaron Frank, estimable inseam-challenged captain of Motorcyclist’s Milwaukee Desk, prefers the more down-to-earth G650GS. For Road Test Editor and outlaw mountain-biker Ari Henning, there’s the Husqvarna TE449: a domesticated dirtbike with lights and license plate. Carry on baggage: wallet, iPhone, toothbrush and maybe some dental floss.

The accounting department scotched Tierra del Fuego, so we settled on an economical yet revealing path to enlightenment. Call it the long way…up: El Segundo, California, to Big Bear Lake via the most enlightening assortment of surface streets, four-lane freeways and deliciously twisted mountain roads Google Earth has to offer. After that, a full day of dirt; from smooth, fast logging roads and scenic forest bunny trails to the sort of narrow, rocky manifestation of single-track evil our trail boss/photographer/off-road expert Karel Kramer rides for fun. We didn’t circumnavigate the globe, cross the International Dateline or dine on anything more exotic than carne asada and chilled local microbrew. We did get out of the office for three days and learn a few things about what works where. With any luck at all, you will, too.

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