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Buyer’s Guide: 8 Affordable ADV Motos

BMW’s R 80 G/S, which debuted in 1980, is considered by many to be the first ADV motorcycle. While it may be the first one sold for that purpose, it’s not the first to see adventure. People like Robert Edison Fulton (One Man Caravan) and Ted Simon (Jupiter’s Travels) were logging around-the-world adventures on other motorcycles before the R 80 hit the road. Elspeth Beard rode a BMW on her RTW adventure, but it was a 1974 R 60/6 model street bike.

Also pre-dating the R 80 was the Yamaha Enduro craze, starting in 1968, with clones to follow. That led to dirt riders discovering the joy of camping off their dual-purpose (as they were known then) machines. BMW eventually forged a reputation for large machines capable of rough going while carrying huge panniers. However, many of today’s adventure bikes trace their ancestry to those dual-purpose bikes of yore. As you’ll see below, some very capable affordable ADV motorcycles are today’s dual-sports.

ADV Motorcycle Evolution

Thirty years of evolution have brought new technologies to the adventure machine, but its mission remains the same: take the rider into and out of the backcountry. ADV motos have grown in size, sophistication, and cost to where riders may question if the price is worth the extra performance, weight, and options. How much horsepower does it take to have an adventure? Is traction control necessary? Can I explore the back roads without ride modes? My answers are not much, no, and absolutely. And finally, how much does a rider have to spend for a BDR-capable machine? Very little—I’ve done one on my 2003 Suzuki DR-Z 400S dual-sport, which is worth maybe $2,000. It was all the bike I needed, and I wouldn’t hesitate to take it another BDR.

Our purpose here is to inform riders about new motorcycles in the 400cc class and above with MSRPs of less than $7,400. Of these, only the KTM 390 Adventure has significant tech, and it’s also the most expensive. Having ridden since long before riding aids were invented, I’ve yet to buy into the need for many of the electronic features, though I do enjoy heated grips, and cruise control is mighty tempting. While riding aids can make motorcycling safer, especially for novices, learning to ride without their assistance will make you a better rider. So far, I prefer an uncomplicated, decent handling machine that will take me to the middle of nowhere and back in reasonable comfort.

Performance Data

A note about horsepower and torque numbers: not all manufacturers supply them. Where they do, the values are generally greater than those recorded in dynamometer runs performed by Dirt Bike and Cycle World magazine. These dyno numbers are denoted by DB and CW in the engine performance specifications. Motorcycle weights are those provided by the manufacturers as “curb,” which includes a full tank of gas, oil in the crankcase, and a battery. Where not provided, a magazine-derived weight is used.

The Motorcycles

The motorcycles here are the latest versions of a given model available in the US at the time of publication. In some cases, earlier models may be available at a lower price.

Our eight affordable adventure machines are:

In some ways, this review pits old vs. new. The Kawasaki KLR650, Suzuki’s DR650, and the ‘Honda XR650L are all over 30 years old, while the CSC 450 was brand new in 2023. The Himalayan is relatively new, as are the KTM 390 Adventure SW and CBX500, but Suzuki’s DR-Z 400S is in its 24th year. For the bargain hunter, the advantage of a long product run is a higher quantity of suitable used vehicles. Full disclosure: I’ve owned an ’87 and a ’97 KLR 650, still have the ’03 DR-Z, and have had several Honda dual-sports, but not the XR650L.

2023 CSC RX4 Adventure ($4,995)

Yes, that’s the real MSRP—less than five grand for a new motorcycle capable of off-pavement touring. With a claimed 40 horsepower from its 450cc fuel-injected motor to play with, CSC credits the fully outfitted RX4 with an eye-watering 97.2 mph top speed.

Let’s take a closer look, starting in the cockpit. A 7-inch TFT panel displays all the data a rider might ever need, plus showing incoming cell calls via Bluetooth and the pressure in the RX4’s tubeless tires. Riders can view the world through an adjustable windscreen while charging their USB devices or fire up their 12V tire pump via ports in the dash. And they can do it on a motorcycle that comes in several colors instead of the typical one or two.

The RX4 Adventure runs a 19-/17-inch front/rear wheel combination using a spoked design that allows tubeless tires. An inverted fork with compression damping adjustment and a single rear shock adjustable for spring preload prep it for the back roads. Engine guards, a skid plate, and 8.1 inches of ground clearance keep the bike reasonably safe from the rocks and roots of overland travel. Top that off with 5.3 gallons of gas capacity, and you can kick up the dust for over 250 miles (per CSC). Range like that will take you a long way from the pavement. All good, except for the valve adjustment interval of just 5,000 miles.

Slowing and stopping shouldn’t be a problem with the RX4, given its twin discs with 4-piston calipers up front and a single disc (sizes not specified) at the rear. ABS adds a measure of safety on the street, with an optional switch allowing de-coupling of the rear ABS for dirt roads. Since the RX4 weighs just 3 pounds shy of a Ténéré 700, good binders are critical. Fitting more aggressive tires will improve off-road braking, as well as overall handling.

CSC keeps the prices low on their machines by sourcing them from Zongshen manufacturing in China and selling them directly to the public. Zongshen builds to CSC’s specs, and the California shop performs the final assembly and road testing of each bike before offering it for sale. The company offers full support, attempts to stock every part for every bike they sell (when was the last time you bought an OEM bolt for less than a dollar?), and supplies free shop manuals and tutorials. They have been doing business this way for many years. CSC supports a community of CSC riders and lists service centers in 26 states.

Having tested a 250 RX3 Adventure in 2016, I would expect the RX4 to perform well and satisfy many riders. Those new to motorcycling or on a budget, or anyone wanting to save a few bucks on a new motorcycle, should give it a look. Note that a 650cc RX6 will be available soon.


Engine type: 450cc liquid-cooled, fuel-injected 4-valve, DOHC, single-cylinder four-stroke with counter-balancer

Engine performance (claimed): 40.2 horsepower @ 8,000 rpm; 27.3 pound-feet @ 7,000 rpm

Fuel capacity: 5.3 gallons

Transmission: 6-speed

Suspension / Front: Inverted front fork, adjustable compression damping; 5.1-inch travel

Suspension / Rear: Single rear shock, adjustable preload and rebound damping; 4.7-inch travel

Brakes / Front: Dual discs, radial-mount 4-piston calipers, braided steel lines, ABS

Brakes / Rear: Single rear disc

Tire / Front: 110/80-19 spoked wheel, tubeless tire

Tire / Rear: 150/70-17 spoked wheel, tubeless tire

Seat height: 31.9 inches

Ground clearance: 8.1 inches

Weight: (claimed) 449.7 pounds

Origin: China


2023 Royal Enfield Himalayan ($5,449)

Royal Enfield brought the first Himalayan model to North America in 2016. Over the ensuing years, it has carved out a niche as an accessible and affordable adventure touring motorcycle. Though it isn’t big on horsepower, the Himalayan’s retro looks and its capability for multi-surface travel have garnered praise. The MSRP of $5,499 for the 2023 model certainly makes it appealing.

Being from India, the Himalayan’s roots are firmly planted in the mountains—enormous mountains, where breakdowns can mean long delays. Fortunately, the bike is steeped in simplicity, critical in an unforgiving environment where basic services are scarce. How simple is it? Single cylinder, single overhead cam, air-cooled simple. A mild 9.5:1 compression ratio allows the use of low-octane fuel, and the bike is fuel-injected to help meet EPA standards. Adjusting the valves is a screw-and-locknut affair—grab a feeler gauge and go for it. Range is excellent with a 4-gallon gas tank, and a claimed 70 mpg.

The Himalayan’s half-duplex split-cradle steel frame design comes from the UK. The two-part unit is built to carry a rider, a passenger, and a boatload of gear. It also enables the first single-shock rear suspension for Royal Enfield. There is plenty more metal on the Himalayan as well. It comes stock with crash bars, a center stand, a bash plate, and a luggage rack. Plus, there’s a host of tie-down points ready to secure your gear. The wheels are spoked, with a 21-inch rim up front for off-road obstacles and Pirelli MT 60 dual-sport tires for all-surface traction.

Horsepower comes up in any discussion of the Himalayan. Suffice it to say there is enough, but no surplus. Its 21.8-pony engine was designed for India, where motorcycles are ubiquitous because they’re inexpensive and practical. The country makes over one million motorcycles per month, most of those with engines less than 150 cc. Mobility rules—low power and low gears are what keep it moving.

That doesn’t mean the Himalayan can’t get out of its own way. A friend who’s ridden one said he could move right along on pavement, gravel, or dirt, though top speed is in the low 70 mph range. Twenty-six pound-feet of torque keeps the Himalayan in the game on hills and trickier offroad surfaces. There are plenty of tour companies that use this motorcycle for their mountain tours, crossing passes as high as 18,000 feet. Hereabouts, a low seat height of just 31.5 inches makes the bike a shoo-in for beginners, for whom the moderate power output isn’t an issue. Every Himalayan rider will appreciate the vibration control from its gear-driven counterbalancer.

The Himalayan isn’t for everyone, but its retro styling, simple maintenance, and low price are sure to be attractive to many people looking for adventure. And you won’t find the pine green camo look anywhere else.

A final note: a re-imagined Himalayan for 2024 was revealed in November 2023 and is slated for this summer. Pricing is rumored to be in the $6,500 to $7,300 range.


Engine type: 411cc air-cooled, fuel-injected 2-valve SOHC single-cylinder 4-stroke

Engine performance: (CW) 21.8 horsepower @ 6,260 rpm; 20.9 pound-feet @ 4,400 rpm

Fuel capacity: 4.0 gallons

Transmission: 5-speed constant mesh, cable-actuated clutch

Suspension / Front: 41 mm fork; 200 mm travel

Suspension/ Rear: Monoshock with linkage; 180 mm travel

Brakes / Front: Single 300 mm disc, 2-piston floating caliper, switchable dual-channel ABS

Brakes / Rear: Single 240 mm disc, single piston floating caliper

Tire / Front: 90/90 – 21

Tire / Rear: 120/90 – 17

Seat height: 31.5 inches

Ground clearance: 8.6 inches

Weight: 439 pounds

Origin: India


2024 Kawasaki KLR 650/650S $6,899-$7,199 (ABS)

The KLR 650 has a devoted following, and with good reason—they’re solid, uncomplicated machines for travel and backcountry riding. Being one of the earliest affordable machines to manage highway, byway, and two-track travel while carrying a pile of gear didn’t hurt their popularity. I had two over a span of 19 years while waiting for the right new motorcycle to come along (it was a BMW F 800 GS).

Kawasaki created the KLR from the KLX 600 off-roader in 1987, beginning over three decades of production. Colors and graphics changed regularly, but it wasn’t until 1996 that significant, though largely unseen, updates occurred. In 2008 the bike received a major update with better brakes, improved suspension, and other mods. Having road-tested that model, I can vouch for the improvements.

The KLR returned from a production hiatus from 2019-2021 with fuel injection, optional ABS, and other enhancements. Of the three versions available for 2024, the standard and the lowered “S” model meet our cost criteria, with or without ABS. With each round of improvements, the never-svelte KLR gained weight. Today’s non-ABS standard has plumped up to 456 pounds from 432 in 1987-2017. That’s a lot to control from a 34-inch-high seat, especially with the bike loaded for traveling.

A popular attribute of the KLR is its long range, thanks to a 6.1-gallon gas tank and excellent fuel economy. The seat on the 2022 and later editions is also getting high marks for comfort should you want to drain the tank in one sitting. Another enduring feature is the large rear rack, ready to hold a pile of luggage. Be aware that on older models, the muffler will melt the righthand panel if there’s too much weight on it. My penny-tech solution was to jam a squashed soda can under the panel.

None of the veteran 650s here are known for blazing horsepower, but the KLR has by far the most weight to move. While it cruises at freeway speeds without complaint, it’s not the quickest when passing traffic on a two-lane road. Given all the modern competition and whizzy tech available, price and raw ability still move KLRs off the showroom floor.

Though not fancy, the Kawasaki KLR650 has always been an affordable, durable machine for its size and remains so to this day.

Specifications (values in parentheses are for the S model)

Engine type: 652cc liquid-cooled, fuel injected 4-valve, DOHC single-cylinder 4-stroke

Engine performance: (DR) 34.6 horsepower @ 5,900 rpm; 33.5 pound-feet @ 4,700 rpm

Fuel capacity: 6.1 gallons

Transmission: 5-speed, wet multi-plate clutch

Suspension / Front: 41 mm conventional fork; 7.9 (6.7) inches of travel

Suspension / Rear: Uni-Trak single shock, adjustable preload, and rebound damping; 8.0 (7.0) inches of travel

Brakes / Front: Single 300 mm disc, 2-piston calipers (optional ABS)

Brakes / Rear: Single 240 mm disc, single-piston caliper (optional ABS)

Tire / Front: 90/90-21

Tire / Rear: 130/80-17

Seat height: 34.3 (32.1) inches

Ground clearance: 8.3 (7.8) inches

Weight: 456.2 pounds / 460.6 w/ABS

Origin: Japan


2023 Honda XR650L ($6,999)

Honda calls their XR650L “one of the most honest, straightforward motorcycles on the planet.” It’s hard to argue that point, given a motorcycle that has been popular since it first hit the showroom floor over 30 years ago. Today’s bike is nearly the same machine with a few minor tweaks made over the years, and is arguably the most dirt-worthy of this group. The XR650L is an offspring of the NX650, a streety dual-sport that was short-lived in the States. Honda mated the NX’s 644cc RFVC (Radial Four Valve Combustion) engine to their off-road-only XR600R’s frame and came up with a winner.

The XR’s carburetor and 5-speed gearbox reveal its age, but that doesn’t stop it from putting in many comfortable miles off the pavement. At 8.3:1, this bike has the lowest compression ratio on our list and should burn fuel that others would choke on. The compact motor’s dry-sump design, where oil is stored in the frame tubing, saves weight and increases ground clearance. The XR also has a stellar reputation for reliability.

Though far from being a powerhouse, Honda’s 650 has plenty of ponies for brisk freeway travel. And with torque numbers approaching those for horsepower, there’s no worry of stalling on a hill climb. The big item missing is fuel capacity. A friend of mine bought a used ’94 XR650L equipped with a 5-gallon Acerbis tank. By adding racks and panniers, he was set for the 10-day southern Utah camping tours we did in the late 90s. The XR’s Everest-like 37-inch seat height did give him enough trouble that he had the seat pared down. Regarding the suspension, he said, “The travel was huge, and the ride was plush.” Thirteen inches of ground clearance do give those 11 inches of front and rear travel plenty of room to move. There’s no skid pan, but a tubular guard crosses the lower frame members to offer some protection to the cases.

More expensive machines can outrun and outgun the XR650L, but its gritty demeanor and renown for reliability help it finish way ahead in the smiles per dollar race.


Engine type: 644cc air-cooled, carbureted 4-valve, SOHC/RFVC single-cylinder 4-stroke

Engine performance: (DR) 34.1 horsepower @ 6,100 rpm; 31.4 pound-feet @ 5,300 rpm

Fuel capacity: 2.8 gallons

Transmission: 5-speed

Suspension / Front: 43 mm air-adjustable cartridge fork with adjustable compression damping; 11.6 inches of travel

Suspension / Rear: Pro-Link single-shock with adjustable spring-preload and compression/rebound damping; 11.0 inches of travel

Brakes / Front: Single 256 mm disc with 2-piston caliper

Brakes / Rear: Single 220 mm disc with single-piston caliper

Tire / Front: 3.00-21

Tire / Rear: 4.60-18

Seat height: 37 inches

Ground clearance: 13 inches

Weight: 346 pounds

Origin: Japan


2024 Suzuki DR650 ($7,099)

In 1990, Suzuki started down the same path as Kawasaki in creating a 650 dual-sport from their existing DR600. Unlike Honda, who emphasized the dirt aspects of their 650 immediately, Suzuki and Kawasaki both started as long-range, dirt-capable motorcycles with large fuel tanks, 5.5 gallons for the DR and 6.1 for the KLR. When Honda’s XR showed up, Suzuki veered toward the dual-sport market in future developments, leading to the DR’s fuel capacity shrinking to just 3.4 gallons. That needn’t be a show-stopper for adventure touring—a larger tank is only a website away.

Suzuki shaved 54 pounds off the DR over the years, partly from fuel tank shrinkage but also from intentional weight-saving modifications for the 1996 model. Unusual for a motorcycle update, the bike lost a few horsepower in the process of making the engine physically smaller. On the upside, the power moved into the lower rpm, enhancing control off the pavement. There is also less vibration from the new motor, despite Suzuki removing one of the two balancer shafts. Suddenly the DR weighed only 20 pounds more than Honda’s XR650L.

Credit some of the weight loss to the Suzuki Advanced Cooling System, which combines exterior air with interior oil cooling to control engine temperature. High-pressure oil saps heat from hot spots that air can’t touch, like the valves and crankshaft. By sidestepping liquid cooling, the DR is not only lighter, but there are no radiators to damage in a crash. Adventurers take note: Suzuki’s weight-loss initiative also eliminated the luggage rack and skid pan.

The DR650 is a tall bike in stock form, with a seat height near 35 inches that will challenge some riders. Fear not, as Suzuki accommodates leg-limited motorcyclists with a complete lowering kit right down to a shortened kickstand. The kit brings the seat down to a reasonable 33.2 inches, which should be enough to get some toes on the ground. That brings up the DR’s suspension, which lacks the range of adjustment of the other 650s here.

Like the other dual-sports in this list, the DR is an adventure bike in waiting. It requires only two things for off-road exploring, that skid pan and luggage rack. An extra gallon or two of gas in a RotoPax or Giant Loop Armadillo is the least expensive solution to its marginal fuel capacity. The DR650 can take the rough and tumble of the wild, and the carbureted engine is said to be bulletproof, making it a strong contender in the senior 650 crowd.


Engine type: 644cc air/oil-cooled, carbureted 4-valve, SOHC, single-cylinder 4-stroke

Engine performance: (DR) 35.1 horsepower @ 6,200 rpm; 32.2 pound-feet @ 4,500 rpm

Fuel capacity: 3.4 gallons

Transmission: 5-speed

Suspension / Front: Height-adjustable conventional telescopic fork; 10.5 inches of travel

Suspension/ Rear: Linked single shock, adjustable for spring preload and compression damping; 10.2 inches of travel

Brakes / Front: 290 mm floating disc, 4-piston floating caliper

Brakes / Rear: 240 mm disc brake, 2-piston single caliper

Tire / Front: 90/90-21

Tire / Rear: 120/90-17

Seat height: 34.8 inches

Ground clearance: 10.4 inches

Weight: 366 pounds

Origin: Japan


2024 Suzuki DR-Z 400S ($7,199)

It’s not every day that a stranger tells you that you’re riding “the best damn BDR bike for the money.” It happened to me along the Magruder Corridor on the Idaho BDR and came from a KTM rider. I have to say I agree with him. My own DR-Z 400S dates from 2003, and Suzuki has changed it little since then. A carbureted engine and 5-speed transmission are the most notable signs of its age but have no effect on getting from A to B comfortably. While its 2.6-gallon fuel capacity is fine for dual-sport runs or shopping trips, adventure travel requires something larger; I fitted an IMS 4.2-gallon tank. The headlight uses the common 55W/60W H4 bulb for mediocre lighting.

While not state-of-the-art, the Suzuki’s long-travel front and rear suspension keep the bike on track over the bumps and ruts. Tailor it to your mission with spring preload at both ends, front fork compression and rebound damping, and rear shock compression damping. I credit the suspension for a crash-free IDBDR run, in spite of several steep rocky sections where I hung on and bashed through. The DR-Z’s steel frame holds oil for the dry sump motor, saving some weight overall and making it the lightest motorcycle here.

With engines this small, the carburetors have very small jets that become clogged by evaporating fuel when the motorcycle is left to sit, forcing a cleaning or re-build. I’ve done that a few times. On the plus side, the Suzuki’s BSR36 Mikuni constant-velocity carb does not require re-jetting for altitude, a real plus in the Idaho mountains.

Nearly 32 horsepower makes the DR-Z capable of carrying rider and gear for an extended journey. It cruises comfortably at freeway speeds, though not the 80 mph legally possible in some states. Vibration is evident but not obnoxious. Motorcycles like the 400S stay around for 20+ years because they do their job well enough to satisfy a lot of riders. There are always things to add, like wider footpegs and a decent skid plate, but it doesn’t take much to make the DR-Z adventure-ready. I did have the seat cut down from the nearly 37-inch stock height.

This is a bike a new rider could learn on and then enjoy for many years—precisely why I’ve kept mine.


Engine type: 398cc liquid-cooled, carbureted, 4-valve DOHC, single-cylinder 4-stroke

Engine performance: (DR) 31.8 horsepower @ 8,400 rpm; 24.3 pound-feet @ 6,600 rpm

Fuel capacity: 2.6 gallons

Transmission: 5-speed, wet multiplate clutch

Suspension / Front: 49 mm cartridge-style conventional fork, adjustable for compression/rebound damping and spring preload; 11.3 inches of travel

Suspension / Rear: Progressively linked single shock adjustable for compression and preload; 11.6 inches of travel

Brakes / Front: 250 mm front disk, 2-piston caliper

Brakes / Rear: 220 mm rear disk, single-piston caliper

Tire / Front: 80/100-21

Tire / Rear: 120/90-18

Seat height: 36.8 inches

Ground clearance: 11.8 inches

Weight: 317 pounds

Origin: Japan


2023 Honda CB500X ($7,299)

The Honda CB500X will appeal to riders wanting to explore the occasional backroad while enjoying all the advantages of a street bike. Now in its 11th year (2023), the bike has evolved from a mostly pavement machine to one better equipped for exploring dirt and gravel roads. Early models were essentially street bikes with a touch of adventure styling. As the adventure craze blossomed, Honda filled a gap in their lineup by swapping the X’s 17-inch front rim for a 19-incher to improve offroad handling. Longer travel suspension and mild ADV tires have also been fitted. Today’s CB500X is a perfectly capable multi-surface machine, though it does have limits.

New riders and those wanting to try adventure riding will find plenty to like in this Honda twin, starting with a 32.8-inch seat height. The confidence of having both feet touch the ground can’t be overstated. Nor can the ability to put a foot down when traction takes a holiday. The X’s ABS is another plus for beginning riders as they work on braking skills, especially on dirt and gravel. However, deactivating the rear ABS to enable slides and skid turns is not an option on this bike. No great loss, as it isn’t a machine for aggressive riding, and you can always pitch it sideways with the throttle for a little fun. The Honda’s assist-slipper clutch will please all levers of the rider due to its lighter pull requirement and ability to smooth out botched downshifts.

Dirt roads are the Sirens of overland travel. Disappearing into the forest, around a hill, or up a canyon, they lure us to discover their secrets. On a CB500X, a rider with some basic skills will feel confident in following them, especially with a set of more aggressive tires. Keep in mind, however, that there is no protection for the bike’s swoopy chromed headers or oil filter, and only 7.1 inches separates the CB’s soft underbelly from the ground. As a pavement bike, the 500 makes a good commuter and traveler. Honda offers panniers and a rear carrier for getting out and about or just going shopping.


Engine type: 471cc liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, 4 valves per cylinder DOHC parallel-twin 4-stroke

Engine performance: (CW) 42.6 horsepower @ 8,430 rpm; 29.6 pound-feet @ 6,520 rpm

Fuel capacity: 4.7 gallons

Transmission: 6-speed, assist-slipper clutch

Suspension / Front: 41 mm inverted fork; 5.9 inches of travel

Suspension/ Rear: Single shock with adjustable spring preload; 5.3 inches of travel

Brakes / Front: Dual 296 mm discs with 4-piston calipers; ABS

Brakes / Rear: Single 240 mm disc; ABS

Tire / Front: 110/80-19

Tire / Rear: 160/60-17

Seat height: 32.8 inches

Ground clearance: 7.1 inches

Weight: 439 pounds

Origin: Thailand


2024 KTM 390 Adventure ($7,399)

As the most expensive motorcycle in the group, one could expect the KTM 390 Adventure to have the most sophisticated electronic aids. It does not disappoint. Conceived as a street-enduro, the Adventure model is based on KTM’s lightweight tarmac tamer, the 390 Duke. It arrived stateside in 2020 as an option for newer riders wanting to test their mettle off the pavement. Since then, the Adventure has become a more serious machine for exploring the outback.

The bike’s 5-inch light-adapting color TFT display is a rider’s first clue of the machine’s technical abilities. Two ride modes are available, Normal and Offroad. The latter allows some rear wheel slip while still maintaining control and selects Offroad ABS for more fun in the dirt. The 390 also has traction control that works with the bike straight up or leaned, helping prevent overshooting a corner. Spoked rims replaced cast wheels in 2023, reinforcing the 390’s adventure aspect. They hold well-regarded Continental TKC-70 dual-sport tires for all-surface travel.

The KTM is one of three bikes here with a 6-speed transmission and the only one that features an optional quick-shifter for clutchless gear changes. Its anti-hopping clutch conveniently hides the shame of clumsy downshifts and maintains traction when they occur. KTM armored the Adventure with crash bars over the bodywork and a large skid pan to protect the engine and exhaust, saving the owner money on aftermarket parts. One complaint about the bike is the low handlebar, which makes standing awkward for anyone 5 feet 9 inches or over. The 390’s willing engine has the low-end grunt and top-end zip to crawl, plonk, cruise, and zoom with the twist of the grip.

I met a couple from Utah outside Mexico City last year who were headed to Tierra del Fuego. He rode a KTM 890 Adventure while she chose the 390. She was more than happy with its size, comfort, power, and carrying capacity (with aftermarket luggage). They had already hit some dirt stretches where the 390 comported itself well. Add this bike to the “suitable for novices” list.

Final note: KTM will upgrade the 390 Adventure for 2025, using the 2024 Duke’s new engine and frame and fitting a 21-inch front wheel.


Engine type: 373cc liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, 4-valve DOHC four-stroke with ride-by-wire

Engine performance (CW): 37.5 horsepower @ 8,970 rpm; 23.2 pound-feet @ 6,990 rpm

Fuel capacity: 3.8 gallons

Transmission: 6-speed, anti-hopping wet clutch, optional quick-shifter

Suspension / Front: 43 mm inverted fork adjustable for compression and rebound damping; 6.7 inches of travel

Suspension/ Rear: Single shock, adjustable rebound damping and preload; 7.0 inches of travel

Brakes / Front: 320 mm disc, 4-piston caliper; cornering and offroad ABS

Brakes / Rear: 230 mm disc, 2-piston caliper; cornering and offroad ABS

Tire / Front: 110/90-19

Tire / Rear: 130/80-17

Seat Height: 33.7 inches

Ground clearance: 7.8 inches

Weight: (claimed) 379 pounds

Origin: India


Decisions, Decisions

All of the motorcycles above have their strengths and weaknesses, but all are suitable for adventure travel and have been proven so in their years—or decades—on the market. They are not the most powerful beasts of burden for a jaunt up a forest road, but they get the job done. Some are excellent choices for new riders or street riders wanting to learn adventure riding. Others are better suited to riders experienced in traveling the uncertain surfaces that await the adventurer. What puts them all here is reasonable pricing. And what puts riders in their seats is the urge to explore.










Photographs courtesy of CSC, Royal Enfield, Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, KTM, Yamaha, and Steve Yates

KTM photographers: KISKA GmbH, @francesmonterophoto

Read more: Northern California BDR

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Arden’s first motorcycle was a Yamaha Enduro, obtained while in high school. It set the stage for decades of off-pavement exploration on dual-sports and adventure bikes. Camping in the middle of nowhere became his favorite pursuit. As a former whitewater river guide and National Park Service seasonal employee, Arden believes in wilderness, wildlife, and being kind to the earth. A self-taught writer who barely passed English classes, he has contributed adventure stories and tested motorcycles and accessories for Rider Magazine and other outlets for nearly 30 years. In that time, he’s worn out two KLR 650s and is currently following the road to the middle of nowhere on his Ténéré 700 and an aging but reliable DR-Z 400S.