Adventure Bikes | ADV 4 Ways

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

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Karel Kramer

WORDS: Ari Henning
PHOTO: Continental
Continental TKC-80 Twinduro Tires
On the Right Footing

You wouldn’t climb a mountain in tennis shoes, and we weren’t about to take our four adventure bikes off-road wearing their original-equipment dual-purpose tires. Taking a cue from the Bavarians (who offer Continental TKC-80s on the BMW R1200GS Adventure) and legions of devoted adventure riders, we swapped out the tires on our R1200GS, F800GS, G650GS and TE449 for Continental’s acclaimed TKC-80 Twinduro knobbies.

The Twinduros are some of Conti’s best-selling tires, and for good reason. The 60/40 percent on/off-road split is just about ideal for most adventure riders, and traction and handling are exemplary on any terrain. Scrubbing-in the tires took a little longer than usual, but once broken-in the TKCs offered surprisingly good grip as we wound our way up and over the Angeles Crest Highway. You feel some squirm at turn-in as you transition across the large tread blocks, but once leaned over the tires hold a line nicely. Push it a little harder and the Twinduros start squirming again, indicating that you’re approaching their limit. The smaller footprint of the F800’s and TE449’s narrow 21-inch front tires made those bikes feel noticeably less steady.

Crumbling pavement, gravel roads, hard-packed fireroads and rock-strewn single-track trails were all handled equally well by the Twinduros. The TKCs seemed ideally suited to our heavy adventure bikes and their smooth power delivery, resulting in very few incidents of unintentional loss of traction. Our tires still looked pretty decent after our three-day flog, and diehards say they’re good for 3000 to 5000 miles, depending on the bike and terrain. If you ride your adventure bike on equal parts pavement and dirt, the TKCs are the way to go. Front tires are offered in 19- and 21-inch sizes starting at $125, while rears come in 17-, 18- and 19-inch diameters starting at $135. Visit www.conti-moto.com for more information.

End of the Road
If you skipped ahead to see which bike wins, go back to the beginning. Even our little adventure is more complicated than that. As those who’ve read four different takes on the same three-day adventure already know, this isn’t that kind of comparison. Which one works best? That depends on who you are, where you’re going and how much dough you’re willing to spend getting there.

Short on cash, physical stature and riding experience? Aaron’s G650GS wins. The loyal Muppet goes almost anywhere its more capable brothers can, making up for its slower pace with a more accessible seat height and sticker price. If pure off-road performance trumps every other criterion on your checklist, Ari’s Husqvarna trumps any other bike here. Spiritual successor to BMW’s late G450X, it’s light, nimble and powerful enough to literally dust the others. Pavement travel is an exercise in frustration and pain management, so stick to the dirt and no worries.

For most adventures and adventurers, Brian’s F800GS strikes the best balance between on- and off-road competence. Never too big or too small unless you are, it’s the most acceptable compromise on all counts and the closest thing to an actual winner here if you insist on that sort of thing. Carrithers’ Big Adventure is too big for half of what we did. But play by its rules with a healthy respect for all that mass and the maximum Boxer will take you places: farther, faster and more reliably than any other motorcycle on the planet. If you really are planning to circumnavigate the globe, look no further.

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