Here's a recent video review by Cycle World of the big adventure bikes; KTM 990, BMW R1200GS, and Yamaha Super Tenere.
Don't you just love how they gush over each of the bikes, while only hinting at a few of the down-sides? I wonder if they're worried about their advertising budgets. Ooh, but look at the bike-porn action shots. Drool...
What They're Not Telling You
Since we have no advertising budget at risk, hell we don't even get loaners to test, it's easy to tell you what they're not telling you. Some people call this the truth.
Money, Money, Money
A fully equipped BMW R1200 GS will be around $18,000 out the door. It's also an older design and BMW is getting set to release the new model, which will likely be water cooled. The GS Adventure is really the model to have, it's arguably better setup for off-road and with a massively larger fuel tank, it's better for adventure travel. Expect the price for an Adventure to be closer to $20,000 or more for a fully set-up with panniers, bash plates, and other farkles.
The Super Tenere and KTM are 25-30% less expensive than the BMW. Fully set-up, the gap may be even greater. Don't kid yourself, that buys a lot of fuel, tires, valve adjustments, and oil changes.
If past trends hold true, the BMW may have the lowest depreciation rate over your ownership period but that could change when BMW releases the new model. Used KTM's, even with low mileage, have crappy resale values. Thus, the overall cost to own one might be higher than the GS. Yes, you can use that to help convince your spouse.
KTM's also have much higher maintenance requirements, and not just because it's chain driven. Remember, it's pretty much a gigantic, somewhat high-strung dirt bike. You might also note that high mileage KTMs are somewhat rare on the used market, but you'll easily find a plethora of high mileage BMWs. Factor maintenance into the cost of ownership.
Off Road Capability
The vast majority of people will look at the ruggedness of the BMW and think it's a continent conquering off-road machine. Over the years, BMW has done a fantastic job of cultivating that image. Seeing the GS, some bystanders may even imagine Charley and Ewan, rolling across the vast landscape.
The truth is that even the upgraded Adventure model is horrid off-road compared to the KTM. As my
dirt-bike riding friends like to say, the mighty GS makes a fine road bike.
There is no comparison. The KTM is much better when it comes to trail riding. I have a lot of friends who have KTM Adventures. They rave about
the power, occasionally take them off-road but rarely on single-track.
They usually have a real dirt-bike for that. So ask yourself... are you really going to
take your KTM into Dakar like conditions? Probably not. Any of these bike will handle a forest road, or even a mild four wheel drive trail, and get you to your campsite.
Wheel spinning power has a tradeoff. It's called fuel economy.
Those same friends who chatter on about the superiority of the KTM get pretty quiet when I ask about the fuel mileage. If you're on the throttle, expect fuel economy in the 20's and otherwise in the mid 30's. The BMW and Yamaha are good for another 10mpg. Some reviewers are even claiming high 50's for the Yamaha on the slab.
I don't know about you, but higher fuel economy makes a difference. Maybe it's only a few bucks, but it feels better knowing that I'm not sucking down gas. In the rest of the world, motorcycles are looked at as smart transportation because they're cheap and get fantastic fuel mileage. Here in the states, the motors keep getting bigger and brains keep getting smaller.
Seriously, Which One?
If you're seriously considering any of these, be sure to check out all of them. Don't be surprised if you find fit/finish, ride, and ... emotional appeal to be radically different. Take a test-ride. Consider the full ownership cost. Then make your decision.
R1250GS Threadfest (Adv Rider)
Yamaha Super Tenere Review (Eastern Dirt)
KTM Adventure Review (Motorcycle USA)