Go Anywhere, Do Anything | Adventure Bike Comparison Test

MC Comparo: Aprilia Caponord 1200 vs. BMW R1200GS vs. Ducati Multistrada vs. KTM 1190 Adventure vs. Suzuki V-Strom 1000

Imagine someone told you that you were going on a motorcycle ride tomorrow. You aren’t told how long it will be for—could be a day, could be a year—or where you’re riding. Could be across the Southwestern desert, pounding the slithery streets of Seattle stalking hipsters, or along the coast roads of Belize in search of the perfect serre la sus. Right now: Pick a motorcycle. Quickly. Anything you want—just understand that you can’t change your mind once the duration or route have been given to you. Ready?

If your imagination is anything like ours, you probably ran through your mental flashcards before landing on the generic image of an adventure-tourer or ADV. Why? Because this class contains the best do-it-all wonders, able to cruise, tour, or hit dirt roads (in moderation), as well as commute and play on the weekends.

This particular group consists of five big ADVs with an orientation that favors blacktop over boulder gardens. (In August, we anointed the KTM 1190 Adventure R as the best dirt-biased ADV machine, with the costlier BMW R1200GS Adventure in hot pursuit.) These are upright touring machines, really. And as such we ordered factory luggage for those that didn’t already come with bags—the Aprilia and Ducati enjoy standard hard luggage. Note that the weights in the specs panel include the bags and mounts for all models tested.

For our comparison, we loaded up each machine and headed for the hills—the Sierra Nevada, to be precise. Over the course of three days, we added 1,150 miles to each odometer. If those don’t sound like long days, consider the middle one was given over to photography; our high-mileage day rolled 566 miles of broken asphalt, choppy concrete highway, and velvety tarmac under our wheels. We pounded along California’s Highway 99, reveled at the amazing length of road that is CA 190, ran two stunning but equally different Sierra passes—Ebbetts (Highway 4) and Sonora (Highway 108)—and scratched a few pegs on Highway 49 north of Mariposa, California’s version of the Tail of the Dragon. By design, our route took us over small secondary roads, often with dodgy pavement, all in an effort to prove that plush, long-travel suspension, sit-up-and-see riding positions, and torque-rich engines made for real-world endeavors are what make ADVs so fun and flexible.

By the end, we had a very clear sense of each bike’s personality—some stronger than others but all unique—as well as a pecking order that created no more than the usual amount of fit-throwing and blame-storming. Here’s how they shake out.

5th Place

Aprilia Caponord 1200

“I like that the packaging and styling is more honestly street-sport oriented, without the overgrown dirt bike pretensions,” said our esteemed Editorial Director Kevin Smith, who finds no charm in the off-road styling themes typical of ADV machines, even the streetier ones. The chiseled good looks of the Miguel Galluzzi-penned shape recall the mighty RSV4 while providing just enough ADV styling to plausibly put it in the category.

And the machine is true to its styling, with an extremely smooth ride courtesy of ADD (Aprilia Dynamic Damping) and a V-twin that sounds fantastic on the charge but knows how to relax and reel off the miles, feeling long-legged and unflustered. “Very torquey; this is the great low-end motor of the group,” Road Test Editor Ari Henning said. He noted that the driveline’s overall very tall gearing, while a boon to highway cruising, blunts acceleration. That the Capo has the second-lowest peak power just exacerbates the problem. More ponies, Aprilia!

Aprilia’s dynamic suspension has no adjustments beyond spring preload. The rear can be set manually to one of four levels or placed in automatic mode that strives for a preset rear ride height regardless of load. We have no issue with that or even the system’s fast operation; you can feel the damping rates change as you grab the brakes or wind on the gas. But we as enthusiasts are totally at odds with the ADD’s ultra-soft calibration. “Why is the Capo so sporty everywhere else, but the suspension is so soft? It just doesn’t ADD up. (See what I did there?)” Associate Editor Zack Courts commented. He’s right—Aprilia’s ADD tuning allows the 17-inch cast wheels to follow small road imperfections well, sending little of the disturbance through the wide aluminum bar, low-set pegs, or the overly soft saddle.

But the bike’s chassis is constantly in motion when the road gets rough or you notch up the pace, which exaggerates the Capo’s greatest-in-class heft, a meaty 590 pounds, 8 more than the next-chunkiest GS and 61 pounds more than the V-Strom. While the bike’s steering is direct, the suspension’s mushiness and the low-slung pegs (and muffler) call an early halt to back-road fun.

So the Capo is a paradox, an aggressively styled “crossover” ADV (more sport-tourer than dirt bike) with a soft center. It is, however, a terrific deal: $15,499 buys you a sophisticated package with ride-by-wire throttle, three ride modes, standard traction control and ABS, hard luggage, centerstand, adjustable windscreen, and cruise control. The Capo ticks the boxes for good range with a 6.3-gallon tank and reasonable mileage—though our flogging saw the Capo post the lowest-in-test mpg, just 39—and all the touring stuff you want. All good stuff. But for its comfort-over-performance bias, the Capo would have finished farther up the rankings.

Aprilia Caponord 1200  
PRICE $15,499
ENGINE TYPE 1197cc, liquid-cooled 90° V-twin
BORE x STROKE 106.0 X 67.8mm
FUEL SYSTEM EFI, ride by wire
CLUTCH Wet, multi-plate
TRANS/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
FRAME Tubular-steel trellis
FRONT SUSPENSION Sachs 43mm fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping, with ADD; 6.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Sachs shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping, with ADD; 5.9-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Brembo one-piston caliper, 240mm disc with ABS
FRONT TIRE 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier
REAR TIRE 180/55ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier
RAKE/TRAIL 26.1°/4.9 in.
WHEELBASE 61.5 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 33.0 in.
FUEL ECONOMY 47/34/39 mpg (high/low/average)
RANGE 246 mi. (including reserve)
CORRECTED 1/4-MILE 11.59 sec. @ 121.5 mph
WARRANTY 24 month, unlimited mi.
CONTACT apriliausa.com

4th Place

Suzuki V-Strom 1000 ABS

Here’s an example of the new, post-economic-crisis Suzuki punching above its weight. Only after adding Suzuki’s own hard saddlebags does the V-Strom get within $1,175 of the next-cheapest Caponord. (For that matter, taking the V-Strom 1000 ABS Adventure package gets you those saddlebags plus a taller windscreen, hand guards, tubular light bars, centerstand, and an underbelly pan for just $13,999. Suzuki didn’t have one to test, otherwise that would have been our model of choice.) And while the Suzuki might be down on displacement and shy a few features, it’s not totally out of its league here.

We admire the ’Strom’s quiet composure. Said Mr. Smith: “Smooth, polished, and competent, like a typical Japanese bike, and easy to live with.” We have praised the Zook’s uncommonly composed and compliant suspension and powerful, quick-acting brakes before; they let you know that Suzuki did not scrimp on these dynamic essentials. The previous big ’Strom—admittedly a child of the late 1990s—did not excel here, so we didn’t expect a lot from the new machine. We are pleasantly surprised.

For the new bike, Suzuki thoroughly reworked its long-running 90-degree V-twin, aiming for more torque, better fuel efficiency, and smoother running. It’s the smallest and least powerful in this test, but that’s not the end of the world. “I honestly have trouble believing it only makes 87 horsepower,” young Zack said. “It feels much stronger than that. It doesn’t have that raw power to wheelie over a rise in third gear like the Multi or 1190, but the power is smooth. Because it packs all the power in the midrange—indeed, the torque peak comes at just 3,700 rpm—the engine is willing and ready all the time.”

In many ways, Suzuki has pegged the take-it-easy approach to adventure-touring. Low engine vibration, supple suspension, very good ergonomics (as long as you don’t hurt yourself staring at the obviously cheap handlebar too long), and solid weather protection make the ’Strom an easy mile eater. There are big ’Stroms out there in the world with tons of miles, and you can see how they got there.

On some of the tighter, nastier roads we traveled, the V-Strom began to fall behind, mainly on power but also because the suspension calibration is just soft enough to make cornering clearance an issue and because its response to steering inputs is a bit lazier than the top bikes’. Still, we admire the V-Strom for sticking with this group at all, considering the displacement it gives away and the fact that it’s meant to inhabit an ADV subclass just below the other four.

Suzuki V-Strom 1000  
PRICE $14,324 (as tested)
ENGINE TYPE 1037cc, liquid-cooled 90° V-twin
BORE x STROKE 100.0 x 66.0mm
CLUTCH Wet, multi-plate slipper
TRANS/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
FRAME Aluminum twin-spar
FRONT SUSPENSION KYB 43mm fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 6.3-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION KYB shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 6.3-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Dual Tokico four-piston calipers, 310mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Tokico one-piston caliper, 260mm disc with ABS
FRONT TIRE 110/80R-19 Bridgestone Battle Wing
REAR TIRE 150/70ZR-17 Bridgestone Battle Wing
RAKE/TRAIL 25.3°/4.3 in.
FUEL ECONOMY 48/39/44 mpg (high/low/average)
RANGE 233 mi. (including reserve)
CORRECTED 1/4-MILE 11.90 sec. @ 114.6 mph
WARRANTY 12 month, unlimited mi.
CONTACT suzukicycles.com

3rd Place

KTM 1190 Adventure

As we moved up the rankings, a fight of sorts broke out, with factions feeling that the KTM should, in all the things good and orange in our world, prevail upon the Ducati, while those with sportbike preferences reared on their hind legs and threatened to scratch the eyes out of anyone suggesting anything lower than second for the Duck. So here’s the deal: This is close. Very, very close. The defining characteristic is, well, character: The Multistrada is a supersport that made a wrong turn at the styling department. The KTM is much more the “traditional” street-biased ADV.

The Ducati’s presence here makes the KTM’s less-insistent competence seem just a bit less lustrous. It’s an illusion. The 1190 packs the second-strongest engine with smoothness and sophistication on par with the BMW and well clear of the others. Ari described it well: “Very robust. Great roll-on performance. Lots of power any time you want it.” Said Online Editor Brian Hatano: “I loved this bike from day one. It has what I like most in a bike: power.” Despite tallish gearing, the KTM is on par with the BMW in roll-on performance and is nipping at the Ducati’s heels down the quarter-mile.

It’s close to the top bikes in electronic sophistication, too, with switchable, lean-angle-informed ABS and TC, an intuitive menu system to control them, and electronically adjustable suspension. Our opinions were split on the KTM’s WP-built legs. Ari felt the shock spring was too stiff and the fork too soft, leading to poor balance. Others, perhaps heavier riders, didn’t object, though most of us would like the ability to add spring preload to the fork; alas, it’s only adjustable for damping. What’s more, the KTM’s damping schemes are much more subtle than the BMW’s or Ducati’s. You can just detect when you shift from Street to Sport, but the Multi and the GS both change character fairly dramatically.

Still, the KTM has serious swagger on back roads, thanks to accurate steering, very powerful brakes, and an engine that doesn’t seem to care which gear you’ve chosen. At an elevated pace, you’ll start to ding footpegs and the centerstand feet, but the bike is composed and willing all the way there. The electronics help too; the TC is calibrated with safety in mind, so it’s more conservative than the Ducati’s in the lower settings. Better aerodynamics would help taller riders get comfortable on long highway stretches, and less heat from the exhaust system under the bike would make everyone cheerier.

But we’re starting to pick nits. Dynamically, the KTM is a strong player and it’s very reasonably priced, starting at $16,499. Summed up Zack, “Arguably the best value of the whole group. Such a hugely capable bike for thousands less than BMW or Ducati. This might be the best all-around motorcycle you can buy for around $17K.”

KTM 1190 Adventure  
PRICE $17,233 (as tested)
ENGINE TYPE 1195cc, liquid-cooled 75° V-twin
BORE x STROKE 105.0 x 69.0mm
FUEL SYSTEM EFI, ride by wire
CLUTCH Wet, multi-plate slipper
TRANS/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
FRAME Tubular-steel trellis
FRONT SUSPENSION WP 48mm fork adjustable for compression and rebound damping, with EDS; 7.5-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION WP shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping, with EDS; 7.5-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Brembo two-piston caliper, 267mm disc with ABS
FRONT TIRE 120/70ZR-19 Continental TrailAttack 2
REAR TIRE 170/60ZR-17 Continental TrailAttack 2
RAKE/TRAIL 26.0°/4.7 in.
WHEELBASE 61.4 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 33.9/34.5 in.
FUEL ECONOMY 45/36/41 mpg (high/low/average)
RANGE 250 mi. (including reserve)
CORRECTED 1/4-MILE 11.12 sec. @ 130.0 mph
WARRANTY 24 mo., 24,000 mi.
CONTACT ktmusa.com

2nd Place

Ducati Multistrada S Touring

Twenty seconds. It takes that long to understand the Multistrada. Plop down on the rock-hard seat, crank over the Testastretta 11° DS V-twin, which comes to life in a cloud of mechanical music, select first gear, and roll over the initial set of bumps. Everything you’ve experienced so far prepares you for the impressions you’ll have 1,500 miles later: The Ducati is immediate, serious, hard-edged, and unrelenting. And, for the most part, we love it for just those reasons.

Let’s get the dissent out of the way now. Several of us thought the Multi’s hard-edged nature was out of character for a bike with long-distance pretensions. While Ari called it “sporty and feisty,” we all struggled to get the Skyhook dynamic damping system to convert bumps into less-abusive chassis motions. Even turned all the way to soft in the superb and uncommonly flexible menu system, the Multi’s ride remains starchier than a congressman’s election-night shirt. Stutter bumps rattle your wrists. Speed humps flick you off the saddle. A long day on the road feels like a two-hour shiatsu from a guy whose wife just left him.

Without shame or the slightest inclination to follow ADV convention, Ducati tuned the Multi for maximum entertainment—so much so that the bike feels restless and even a little nervous until you up the pace and get the chassis really working. The harder you ride, the better the Duc loves it. So it goes with the amazing Testastretta engine, which puts 129.7 hp to the rear wheel—6.8 hp clear of the next-best KTM and almost 43 hp up on the Suzuki—with the reflexes of a coiled snake. For most of our ride, we selected the softer throttle map in Touring mode because Sport never really calms down enough to allow us to be smooth riders.

Sport fits the Multistrada’s core strength, though. Impatient in the city, easily bored on the highway, the Duc asks for your aggression on twisty two-lane roads. Lazily rolling into the corner isn’t the Multi’s preference. It wants hard on the brakes, an aggressive steering input, and hard on the gas to allow the lusty Testastretta to launch you to the next set of curves. Let the revs drop too far and the engine chugs. Rely too much on the rear brake for chassis settling and you’ll realize there’s almost no brake to be had. Perhaps our bike had come pre-abused. Regardless, a riding style that the Caponord demands and the V-Strom prefers will get you nothing but stinkeye from the Multistrada.

Aside from demeanor, Ducati hits the major points needed to compete in ADV land. The hard luggage is good and reasonably spacious, you get excellent wind protection that’s easily adjustable, there’s plenty of legroom, and the riding position is both comfortable (aside from the aforementioned rock-hard seat) and designed to give the Multi a wonderfully compact feel. It’s not the best long-distance mount in this comparison, but the Multi has a personality and performance to make us look past that.

Ducati Multistrada S Tour.  
PRICE $19,995
ENGINE TYPE 1198cc, liquid-cooled 90° V-twin
BORE x STROKE 106.0 X 67.9mm
FUEL SYSTEM EFI, ride by wire
CLUTCH Wet, multi-plate slipper
TRANS/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/chain
FRAME Tubular-steel trellis
FRONT SUSPENSION Sachs 48mm fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping, with Skyhook; 6.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Sachs shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping, with Skyhook; 6.7-in. travel
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
RAKE/TRAIL 25.0°/4.3 in.
FUEL ECONOMY 51/37/44 mpg (high/low/average)
RANGE 233 mi. (including reserve)
CORRECTED 1/4-MILE 11.06 sec. @ 129.7 mph
WARRANTY 36 mo., 36,000 mi.
CONTACT ducatiusa.com

1st Place


Finally, a ranking that caused no dissension in the ranks. At the end of the last tour day, we stood sweating in the California sun, sucking down ice water, trying to allay our fears that we’ve imbibed too much BMW Kool-Aid. The test notes betray our feelings. “Every time I ride it, I’m amazed by the GS. It’s a masterpiece,” Ari said. “This is arguably the best motorcycle in the world,” Zack added. “Ruthlessly engineered, and the feel and function show it,” Mr. Smith concluded.

The water-cooled R1200GS is, unequivocally, the total package. With a throat-tightening price tag, we fully acknowledge. But it’s not quite as bad as it looks on the specs page. Our GS was fully loaded with the Premium Package (which includes the sophisticated trip computer, tire-pressure monitoring, advanced ride modes, and TC, among other things), starting at $19,020. It also had the spoke-wheel option ($500) and a GPS ($799). The Vario cases run about $1,080 with locksets. So you could get into a GS at about the same cost as the Multistrada if you were willing to have cast wheels and no GPS.

Why are we so smitten? Because the GS does everything well. It’s ludicrously comfortable, with one of the best seats and most flexible riding positions of these five, plus excellent weather protection (without the penalty of turbulence). It performs well beyond the expectations of 111 hp and 582 pounds of wet weight. It has the poise and balance to cut through the urban landscape like an 8-foot-long scalpel.

You’re not done. Take the GS onto a nasty stretch of indifferently maintained blacktop and you’ll find it has few peers. Chalk that up to BMW’s Dynamic ESA suspension, which has a truly broad and useful range of settings—Hard, Normal, or Soft for the suspension, connected to Dynamic, Road, Rain, and Enduro ride modes that adjust throttle response, TC thresholds, and ABS function. Change from Normal to Hard and you can really feel the difference. The ride modes imbue the bike with very different personalities, a veritable Sybil with liquid-cooled heads. Where the Aprilia wallows and the Ducati leaps from crest to crest, the BMW tracks along, smoothly and confidently, sloughing off pavement blemishes like no other motorcycle we know, with minimal chassis pitch or drama. Front-tire feedback can be a little vague when you’re really pushing the pace, but that’s the only flaw we can find. Truly. And we looked for some!

While the wasserboxer engine isn’t the most powerful here, it has superb torque and precise ride-by-wire control; you never get more or less than you’ve asked for. A few of us would like to see a taller sixth gear for more relaxed highway cruising, but that’s a very small complaint. As Smith said earlier, the GS reveals the decades of refinement that have gone into the platform—on every dirty, blind, off-camber corner, for every mile of dead-boring freeway drone, and each time you gird yourself for the hand-to-hand combat that is your daily commute.

Choosing the GS as the “one bike” to do not just everything you want, but anything that might come your way is without question the right way to go. Tens of thousands of adventure seekers can’t be wrong.

BMW R1200GS  
PRICE $21,386 (as tested)
ENGINE TYPE 1170cc, liquid-cooled opposed-twin
BORE x STROKE 101.0 x 73.0mm
FUEL SYSTEM EFI, ride by wire
CLUTCH Wet, multi-plate slipper
TRANS/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/shaft
FRAME Tubular-steel trellis
FRONT SUSPENSION Sachs shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping, with D-ESA; 7.5-in travel
REAR SUSPENSION Sachs shock adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping, with D-ESA; 7.9-in.
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 EXP
REAR TIRE 170/60ZR-17 Metzeler Tourance EXP
RAKE/TRAIL 25.5°/3.9 in.
WHEELBASE 59.3 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 33.5/34.3 in.
FUEL ECONOMY 50/42/45 mpg (high/low/average)
RANGE 239 mi. (including reserve)
CORRECTED 1/4-MILE 11.33 sec. @ 122.9 mph
WARRANTY 36 mo., 36,000 mi.
CONTACT bmwmotorcycles.com


Not a lot of variation, is there? The outliers are the Caponord, for its close-set handlebar—the riding position does feel tighter than the others—and lots of legroom, and the V-Strom for the extra distance from seat to peg and seat to handlebar. The BMW fit everyone on staff just about perfectly.


You can tell who the big hitters are, can’t you? Ducati and KTM duke it out—no pun intended—for top honors, using plenty of displacement and all the modernity you can pack into a V-twin engine. The Multi offers greater peak horsepower, but the real story is the difference in personality. Antsy and gutsy in equal measure, the Ducati is always ready for battle. The KTM is calmer and easier to live with day to day. BMW’s new liquid-cooled engine falls mid-pack, but it doesn’t feel like it, thanks to fortuitous gearing and superb ride-by-wire calibration. That it makes the most peak torque helps as well. Excuse Suzuki for lack of displacement, but look at that very low torque peak.

Off the Record

AGE: 30
HEIGHT: 6'2"
WEIGHT: 185 lb.
INSEAM: 34 in.

Every one of my coworkers will tell you that the GS is the best bike here, and they’re right. A weird engine configuration, unusual suspension design, and bizarre aesthetics all add up to one of the most completely capable motorcycles ever built. But I don’t want one.

Versatility can be an important piece of an adventure bike, but considering this was a road-biased comparison, I want a true grand touring machine. And in my book it doesn’t get any grander than Ducati’s Multistrada 1200. It can hang with any of the other bikes when it comes to logging miles or putting around town, but when I want to be rowdy the Multi is a step above the rest. It’s not “better.” It’s just more exciting and engaging than anything else here. It’s more fun, and that’s the whole point, right?

AGE: 55
HEIGHT: 5'9"
WEIGHT: 195 lb.
INSEAM: 30 in.

Truly the SUV class of the motorcycle world, big-bore adventure-touring machines offer the power, electronic sophistication, storage capacity, comfort, and overall versatility that will make you want to go out and conquer the world. Ranking five excellent ADV bikes in order, or even picking a favorite, is no simple task. The fun part was an incredible three-day trip through the Sierras for a street-oriented evaluation.

By the end of the ride, it was a runoff between KTM and BMW. The nimble Multistrada handled great but suffered from a stiff suspension and a weak rear brake. I loved the KTM from day one since it has what I like: a good power-to-weight ratio that you can feel. While the dyno shows it second in horsepower, it’s also lighter than all but the V-Strom, which is not even in the same class in terms of power, and the Multistrada. How a bike looks is important to me, and the 1190 Adventure’s minimal bodywork in KTM orange seals the deal.

AGE: 62
HEIGHT: 5'11"
WEIGHT: 195 lb.
INSEAM: 31 in.

Well, of course, the BMW is The One. But let’s spare a moment for the Aprilia Caponord, a bike that gets far too little love from my pals around here.

The Capo’s packaging and styling say street-sport in a simple, honest way, and I like that. For me, an ADV would be a road bike; I don’t need the pretentious, overgrown dirt bike ethos. Why shout, “Hey, I’m riding around the world!” when I’m not? I’d change the seat and probably try other handlebar bends, but I’d do that on anything. The Caponord has the comfortably upright riding stance, flexible engine, and easy handling that characterize this class, plus a slick, aero-looking fairing, a big tank, and cruise control, just like the best sport-tourers. Works for me.

AGE: 29
HEIGHT: 5'10"
WEIGHT: 171 lb.
INSEAM: 33 in.

Naysayers claim ADVs are too big to be any good at anything but posing. I say the category is home to some of the most versatile bikes on the planet; at home on cross-country trips, the daily commute, a technical mountain pass, and even the occasional logging road. And they look a lot cooler than most sport-tourers.

If price were my main concern, I’d happily take the V-Strom home. For a few thousand more the KTM is a great deal, with a lot more power and character. But for all-around excellence, nothing compares to the GS. Every time I ride this bike I’m amazed by its poise, its power, and its refinement. This is a magnificent machine, and if you can swallow the price, you won’t regret the purchase.


APRILIA CAPONORD 1200 PRICE: Included CAPACITY: 29 liters each MOUNTED WIDTH: 35.8 in.

Yes, those do seem like bags straight off the Futura sport-tourer. Even so, the mounting system is solid and the bags are roomy, but you can’t leave them unlocked, and the reach-over latch can be hard to engage if you’ve slightly overloaded the shells.

BMW R1200GS PRICE: $1,080 CAPACITY: 20-29 liters right case; 30-39 liters left case MOUNTED WIDTH: 33.5/37.8 in.

Brilliant stuff. BMW’s Vario system lets you expand or contract the bags with the push of a lever inside the bags. We love the ability to leave the bags unlocked and how easily they come off the bike. Beware of heavily loaded use off road; the mounts are known to be a bit fragile.


The three-latch system is secure but completely frustrating when you’re trying to tuck an errant strap back into one of the corners while you shut it. You also need a key to open the lids, a pain since the keyless ignition means it’s hiding somewhere in one of your 23 pockets.

KTM 1190 ADVENTURE PRICE: $1,200 CAPACITY: 42 liters left case, 31 liters right case MOUNTED WIDTH: 39.6 in.

Whoa, Nelly! Those are some wide bags. Full credit to KTM for making the most of the Adventure’s narrow flanks and offering a best-in-show 73 liters of capacity. We’re not in love with the two-handed locking latches, though.

SUZUKI V-STROM 1000 ABS PRICE: $1,060 CAPACITY: 29 liters left case, 26 liters right case MOUNTED WIDTH: 34.3 in.

Suzuki’s accessory cases are nicely compact but have the lowest maximum capacity in this test. The key’s required to open the lids, but the latch mechanism works smoothly enough. Unobtrusive mounting brackets mean the V-Strom looks fine with the panniers removed. Unfortunately, the matte finish is hard to keep looking nice.