BMW R1200GS Vs. Buell XB12X Ulysses Vs. KTM 990 Adventure - The End Of The Line - Adventures In Reality

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Brian J. Nelson

Adventures are like adventurers, or snowflakes or rain ruts or subdural hematomas. They're all different. What's the best adventure bike? What's your idea of adventure? How far? How fast? How dirty do you want to get between that first cup of coffee and the last beer? Be honest. Is groomed gravel as far as you want to get from the pavement? Or are you downloading GPS coordinates for every logging track and goat trail between Cabo San Lucas and Chicken, Alaska?

Effectively a sit-up sport-tourer with attitude, the Buell is happiest on something that's been classified as a road sometime after the Louisiana Purchase. If what you want is a comfy sport-tourer that can carve up a good road and isn't afraid of bad ones or packing a passenger and gear, this is it, especially if your inseam measures less than 34 inches.

Fast enough to humiliate a sportbike in the twisty bits or threaten bona fide dirtbikes once you lever on proper knobbies, the KTM covers more terrain in less time than the others can dream of. It's just less comfortable than the GS for long-hauling you and your kit to the middle of nowhere and back, a little rough around the edges and not as rock-solid reliable. Did we mention it's fast?

But if your idea of adventure is waking up in a place the neighbors can't even spell, miles from the nearest motor homes and matching metal-flake bass boats, there is only the GS. With a towering seat height and a price tag to match, it's not for everyone. But when at least half the fun is following roads most people can't just to see what's at the other end, BMW still builds the best way to get there.

2007 Buell XB12X Ulysses

PRICE
MSRP $11,495 as tested
ENGINE
Type a-c 45-degree V-twin
Valve arrangement ohv, 4v
Bore x stroke 88.9mm x 96.8mm
Displacement 1203cc
Compression ratio 10.0:1
Transmission 5-speed
Final drive 14mm Hibrex belt
CHASSIS
Weight (wet) 510 lb. (231kg)
Weight (dry) 487 lb. (221kg)
Rake 22.0 deg.
Trail 4.8 in. (122mm)
Wheelbase 54.1 in. (1374mm)
Seat height 31.8 in. (808mm)
Fuel capacity 4.4 gal. (17L)
SUSPENSION
Front 43mm inverted fork, adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping.
Rear single shock, adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping.
PERFORMANCE
Horsepower 84.2 @ 7000 rpm
Torque 67.5 lb.-ft. @ 6220 rpm
Corrected 1/4-mile* 12.31 sec. @ 110.27 mph
Fuel mileage
(low/high/average)
31/50/43
*Performance with test-session weather conditions corrected to sea-level standard conditions (59 degrees F, 29.92 in. of mercury).

2007 KTM 990 Adventure

PRICE
MSRP $13,998 as tested
ENGINE
Type l-c 75-degree V-twin
Valve arrangement DohC, 8v
Bore x stroke 101.0mm x 62.4mm
Displacement 999cc
Compression ratio 11.5:1
Transmission 6-speed
Final drive #525 chain
CHASSIS
Weight (wet) 517 lb. (235kg)
Weight (dry) 482 lb. (219kg)
Rake 26.6 deg.
Trail 4.69 in. (119mm)
Wheelbase 61.8 in. (1570mm)
Seat height 33.9 in. (860mm)
Fuel capacity 5.8 gal. (22L)
SUSPENSION
Front 48mm inverted cartridge
fork, adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping.
Rear single shock, adjustable
for spring preload, compression and rebound damping.
PERFORMANCE
Horsepower 92.7 @ 8770 rpm
Torque 73.9 lb.-ft. @ 4780 rpm
Corrected 1/4-mile* 11.73 sec. @ 111.63 mph
Fuel mileage
(low/high/average)
36/40/38
*Performance with test-session weather conditions corrected to sea-level standard conditions (59 degrees F, 29.92 in. of mercury).

2006 BMW R1200GS Adventure

PRICE
MSRP $16,775 as tested
ENGINE
Type a/o-c opposed twin
Valve arrangement sihc, 8v
Bore x stroke 101.0mm x 73.0mm
Displacement 1170cc
Compression ratio 11.0:1
Transmission 6-speed
Final drive shaft
CHASSIS
Weight (wet) 581 lb. (264kg)
Weight (dry) 529 lb. (240kg)
Rake 26.2 deg.
Trail 3.84 in. (98mm)
Wheelbase 59.5 in. (1511mm)
Seat height 36.0 in. (915mm)
Fuel capacity 8.7 gal. (33L)
SUSPENSION
Front BMW Telelever, single shock, adjustable for spring preload.
Rear BMW Paralever, single shock, adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping.
PERFORMANCE
Horsepower 84.4 @ 6520 rpm
Torque 77.1 lb.-ft. @ 5200 rpm
Corrected 1/4-mile* 12.32 sec. @ 109.68 mph
Fuel mileage
(low/high/average)
33/45/39
*Performance with test-session weather conditions corrected to sea-level standard conditions (59 degrees F, 29.92 in. of mercury)

Ergos Explained
If these things don't look genuinely huge in the action photos, it's because our trio of testers are all over 6 feet tall. Everything's relative. With its new lower seat, the Buell is closest to normal streetbike dimensions. Though bars and seat are in reasonable proximity, long legs still help. A slim waistline and nicely adjustable bars make the slab-sided KTM a natural when you're standing up though diabolically rough stuff. Still, the BMW is narrow where it needs to be despite the nearly 9 gallons of fuel on board. The GS is far and away the most comfortable if you've got the inseam for it.

Off The Record
Marty Estes
Publisher, Motorcyclist
Age: 37
Height: 6' 3"
Weight: 210 lb
Inseam: 32 in.

The KTM is the one that truly works and feels like a big dirtbike, which to me is the whole point of this category. It's downright slim and light-feeling compared to the others, with suspension that's properly balanced and a motor that's modern, fast and fun. Street manners are top-notch considering all the suspension travel, and the pumpkin-colored bike will flat disappear from the others in a straight line. The BMW really impressed me, too, as I had no idea a bike this big could actually function off the tarmac. It feels balanced and capable, but it's massive in every respect. Street-wise, it takes some getting used to, with a disjointed feel that only starts to make sense after a couple of hours. I've spent the most time with the Buell and have found it to be a fabulous everyday commuter due largely to its tall-guy ergos. Off-road, I was wishing for a few more inches of fork travel and better balance. That's not an issue on the street, however, as the front end is so light you can just lean back and loft it out of corners, hero-style.

Which goes back to the point of these bikes: Big dirtbikes are fun as hell. Enough said.

Brent Avis
Barely keeping the day job
Age: 30
Height: 6' 2"
Weight: 195 lb
Inseam: 34 in

It's really the Battle of the Bulge for me on this one, with the pregnant-looking BMW being the portliest way toward overland progress. It's still an infinitely comfortable if somewhat ungainly way to go from here to waaaaay over there, though. A bit overkill, if I do say so myself, making KTM's newly injected 990 Adventure look so lithe and sculpted, in a Third World Beauty Pageant sort of way. There's simply no better on/off/in- between-road machine here than the Orange Extraordinaire. The BMW is great in just about every way imaginable, but gives me visions of snapping a femur when the off-road gets to throwing man and machine about. The Buell is just plain out-classed in this do-everything field, on-road or off.

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