Honda’s 2011 CBR250R – The Game Changer

Story by Uwe Wachtendorf, Roger Parsons, and Glenn Roberts// Photos by Uwe Wachtendorf
June 6 2011

Honda calls it the Game Changer.

The bravado used to describe the 2011 Honda CBR250R makes reference to the reason behind all the hand-wringing going on at motorcycle manufacturers right now. The issue has nothing to do with the current economic climate or the tragic natural disaster that recently hammered Japan, but rather, it concerns the future of motorcycling itself.

Honda, like other motorcycle manufacturers, is understandably concerned with the sustainability of motorcycle sales in this country. The wave they have been riding for so long, which relied on enthusiastic baby boomers, is beginning to crash ashore. The previously steadfast group of buyers is on the wane, resembling low tide at the Bay of Fundy, a bunch of craggy faces that have been around longer than anyone can remember.

The solution, or Game Changer to use Honda’s parlance, is a revitalization plan that includes drawing new blood into the sport. Spearheading this movement is the CBR125R (see sidebar), but realizing that new riders needed another rung in the experience-building ladder, Honda has now added the CBR250R to its line-up. The introduction of a quarter-litre sport bike dashed my hopes that Honda would decide on a capable 400 cc machine as a reprise to the CBR125R. I really wanted to chastise Honda for building what appeared to be a Johnny-come-lately model instead, but the reality is that the R&D costs of a motorcycle that we think would be ideal for a market as small as ours would make that bike prohibitively expensive.

Honda swears that their newest CBR wasn’t built to counter Kawasaki’s extremely popular Ninja 250R. In fact, development of the CBR250R started over three years ago with the goal of building a global motorcycle, one that would work well in every one of Honda’s markets. For many countries, especially those in Asia, a market where Honda annually sells over four million motorcycles alone, a 250 cc is considered to be a big motorcycle. According to Honda, a motorcycle with the features and specs of the CBR250R would be described as the Bike of Kings.

Of benefit to Canadian buyers of a motorcycle intended for a global market is the machine’s robustness. Not only over-engineered to handle the most adverse weather and riding conditions, its combustion chamber and high-ignitability iridium spark plug are also capable of dealing with poor-quality gasoline.

Along with high durability, ease of maintenance was another priority of the CBR’s design. The motorcycle’s large side fairing panels are held in place by only three bolts and can be quickly removed; the air filter is easily accessed by removing the seat; and the tank fuel line has a quick-disconnect to allow the tank’s removal for valve adjustments. Not that you’ll need to spend a lot of time working on this CBR – the engine is rated for 12,000 km intervals between oil changes.

It quickly became clear that Honda didn’t just slap together a cost-effective and rudimentary motorcycle to flood the developing world. There’s plenty of sophisticated engineering hidden under the CBR’s bodywork. With 9 engine- and 18 chassis-design patents, a lot of technology went into making the bike as bulletproof as possible and endowing it with decent performance for its size. The single-cylinder engine is entirely new; Honda decided on this layout instead of a twin because of its lighter weight and compact size. Honda says that a single-cylinder unit also gives the bike a lower centre of gravity for easier handling and better fuel efficiency, which they claim is in the neighbourhood of 3.7 L/100 km (76 mpg).

Although single-cylinder engines are notorious for vibration, this thumper uses a primary balancer and remains fairly smooth right up to its 10,500 rpm redline, an important attribute given that it performs best while having its neck wrung. To help cope with this constant thrashing, the engine has been fitted with roller rocker arms to reduce valve train friction. This is the first time that this technology has been used in a double overhead camshaft engine fitted to a motorcycle. A recess in the cylinder head allows the rocker arm to be moved out of the way to facilitate valve adjustments, which are done through the use of shims.

As with the CBR125R, the bike has a one-piece exhaust system protected at the muffler by a tip-over-friendly cover. Honda lists the cover as a selling feature, citing that it’s far less expensive to replace than an entire exhaust system.

The CBR’s frame consists of trussed steel tubing, tuned to provide rigidity during sport riding, yet also to allow flexibility in response to the road. The chassis incorporates the same fundamentals applied to high-performance machines, where a rider’s size and position, the bike’s ride stability, and its mass centralization are all factors of its design.

There’s no question about the appearance of the CBR250R; from every angle, it’s a fantastic-looking machine. The similarity of its bodywork (and red livery) to Honda’s bigger and bolder VFR1200F is not a coincidence. Admitting that it’s difficult to generate interest in a machine with a homely face, Honda made sure that the CBR had impressive curbside appeal. Equally important, they also wanted it to fool non-motorcyclists and prospective riders into believing that it’s a much larger motorcycle. North Americans, in particular, have a disdain for small vehicles; it wasn’t until the advent of the first CBR125R that I stopped being a size snob myself. In my mind, bikes had to be big, or powerful, or both before I would take them seriously. Small bikes were the equivalent of driving a Smart car. Sure, they’re cute and extremely fuel efficient, but I would never want to be seen driving one.

Although the decision to use a 110/70 front and a 140/70 rear tire on 17-inch wheels helped to create the illusion of a bigger motorcycle, these were also practical choices that sought compromise between providing ample grip and maintaining agile handling.

Although the CBR250R is technically a small motorcycle, its ergonomics belie that truth. Normally, small bikes make me feel like an elephant on a tricycle, but other than when riding in a fully tucked position, I never felt cramped by the bike and found its generous peg and handlebar spacing made it a relatively comfortable perch. Cheap-looking instrumentation is typically an indicator that you’re on an inexpensive motorcycle, but the CBR has a thoroughly modern-looking and highly legible analog tachometer and multi-function LCD.

On the road, the CBR proved to be equally satisfying to ride. Its responsive engine had enough torque to dominate close-quarter traffic and enough power to easily sustain 130 km/h on the highway. Its suspension allowed a typical amount of wheel travel, 130 mm at the front and 104 mm at the rear, and maintained a good ride quality over the various road surfaces I encountered. Equally up to the task were the brakes, which provided decent stopping power despite only having a single disc and two-piston caliper at the front.

Arguably, the most important aspect of the CBR is that an extra $500 will equip the bike with Honda’s Combined Braking System (CBS) and ABS brakes. It’s the best money any inexperienced rider learning the ropes will ever spend on a motorcycle. CBS links the rear brake to front brake, its stock two-piston front caliper replaced with a three-piston unit. In this system, the front brake remains independent, but the rear pedal will activate one piston in the front caliper, its pressure moderated by delay and proportion-control valves. Transparent in its operation, CBS aids riders in panic-braking situations, when many will apply too much rear brake and not enough front. The delay valve in the system allows the rear brake to work in a more traditional manner during low-speed manoeuvring.

I was already convinced that the CBR250R was a good motorcycle, but a day of lapping at the track took my appreciation of it to another level. With the throttle constantly pinned, its pegs and bodywork dragging in almost every turn, and my largish body stuffed into its cockpit, the CBR had me laughing inside my helmet like a village idiot. Wringing the neck of this quarter-litre machine was at least as satisfying as riding a motorcycle with four times its displacement and nine times its power, as bigger machines require constant vigilance – one small riding error and they are more than capable of launching you into the ether. On the track, the CBR remained surprisingly stable despite being loaded down with my 100 kg (plus gear) weight; other than adding a little more preload (the only available suspension adjustment) to the linked rear shock, the basic suspension components and chassis did a great job of keeping everything on track.

You have the option of picking up a red CBR, but I’m told that most of you will choose the black version instead. Apparently it was the most popular colour for the CBR125R: “everybody loves radical colours,” said Honda Canada’s Nick Smirniw, “but in the end they’re only interested in riding a black bike.” That’s a shame, because the red really highlights the stylish nuances of the bike’s bodywork.

Honda also expects to sell a lot more CBR250Rs than CBR125Rs this year. Next to Kawasaki’s Ninja 250R, which retails for $4,999, the CBR’s $4,499 MSRP is a pretty good deal. And if you’re willing to spend the Ninja’s asking price, you can get a CBR equipped with CBS and ABS, an option not currently available on the Kawasaki. Part of the CBR’s development objectives included building an easy and fun-to-ride motorcycle that would be perceived as a bargain – partly because of high fuel-efficiency – yet would also be a high-quality machine capable of any type of riding. After riding the CBR250R, I’d say that Honda can safely put a checkmark beside every item on that list.

“While it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of the adventure-touring motorcycle, or identify the spark that ignited its relatively recent explosion in popularity, one thing is certain: more and more manufacturers have been trying to cash in on the adventure-bike phenomenon, especially since BMW enjoyed a significant boost in sales of their big GS models from the exploits of two actors-turned-globetrotters.

With more and more adventure-touring motorcycles hitting the road, you would expect a comparative increase in riders exploring the far reaches of the earth. There aren’t. The problem is that adventure-touring rigs are the SUVs of the motorcycle world – a little tougher and more versatile perhaps, but mostly there to project the image of a rough and tumble traveller. Most buyers will agree that their true appeal stems from the practical attributes and enhanced comfort of their machines. You don’t have to be an off-road specialist to appreciate the benefit of a robust suspension and a generous amount of wheel travel; the continuing decay of urban roads from shrinking maintenance budgets have turned daily commutes into minefields filled with rider-punishing potholes, heaving cracks and unforgiving bus knuckles.

Adventure-tourers also have an appeal for aging riders. As the average age of Canadian motorcyclists continues to creep upward, so does intolerance of the extreme riding positions of sportbikes and cruisers. The ergonomic shortcomings of those machines has caused riders to look at other types of motorcycles; in an epiphany of comfort, the creaking joints, inflexible limbs and decaying backs of riders have found refuge in the relaxed riding position of adventure-touring rigs.
On test, we have a selection of three big-bore adventure-tourers from European manufacturers, along with three aging riders to test them. The Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Touring, KTM 990 SMT, and Triumph Tiger 1050 SE in this test show how each manufacturer approached the question of what makes a great all-around bike, and how they all came up with different answers. All fit the adventure-touring stereotype and are fitted with the telltale parts that differentiate them from other breeds of motorcycle. They all have an upright riding position, robust and fully adjustable suspensions, wind-cheating screens, hand guards, and most importantly, the luggage needed to get away from it all.

Although they are capable of mild all-terrain use, they are not hardcore dual-sport machines. Willing to challenge any public road, paved or not, these motorcycles are not a viable solution for the extreme rider who wants to blaze his own path through the wilderness. Too big and heavy to stray off the beaten path, these bikes will nonetheless happily spray the gravel of a remote road without their owners having to cringe at the thought of chipped paint or disfigured custom chrome covers. And should the worst happen, they also have a better chance of handling a spill than any 385 kg dresser.

Ideally suited for those who don’t see themselves riding a stereotypical touring rig but who still like to rack up the miles, adventure-tourers are also the preferred tool of the lone wolf, the bike’s pillion position and pegs better suited, in their minds, for stowing a tent and sleeping bag instead of a carrying a passenger.

2010 Adventure-Touring Group Test – 2010 Ducati Multistrada 1200S Touring

by Glenn Roberts

The 2003 Multistrada was Ducati’s first foray into the burgeoning adventure-touring segment, and while it used Ducati’s famous trellis frame and their tried and proven 1000 cc engine, the rounded fairing – half frame-mounted, half steering-mounted – left much to be desired aesthetically.

The newest generation of Multistrada, introduced in 2010, is a completely revamped machine, miles beyond the first generation in look and technology.
The appearance is much more aggressive. The lines are angular and the nose points down slightly, giving it an assertive stance. The whole fairing is mounted to the frame this time, and the windscreen is manually adjustable a full 63 mm (2.5 in.) up and down. In its lowest position, the wind hit the lower portion of my helmet. At its highest point, the wind hit the top of my helmet, and as an added bonus, it was great for keeping my face shield clear of rain. Hand guards with integral turn signals round out the wind protection.

While appearance is one thing, it’s the technology on our 1200S test bike that makes the Multistrada stand out from the crowd. The Testastretta 150 hp detuned 1198 cc engine, pulled directly from the Ducati Superbike catalogue, has no problem propelling you to highway speed from a dead stop in an exhilarating few short seconds. In fact, with a dry weight of only 192 kg, care must be taken to keep the front wheel on the ground when twisting the throttle aggressively.
With 170 mm of wheel travel in both front and back, the bike is designed to compete in the adventure-touring market. Taking that into account and having 150 hp on tap might make for a bad, if not dangerous, scenario on loose dirt or less-than-ideal traction conditions, and could prove to be downright annoying in heavy stop-and-go traffic. Ducati has addressed this with a unique engine and suspension management system. This system differentiates the standard Multistrada from the “S” version, and in fact, separates the Multistrada 1200S from any other motorcycle on the road.

By using the turn signal’s cancel button, the rider is able to select one of the motorcycle’s four personalities – sport, touring, urban or enduro. Both the sport and touring setting deliver 150 hp, although the touring mode uses a more relaxed, user-friendly throttle response. In urban and enduro settings, the system lowers the horsepower to 100, making for a much more controlled environment when gobs of power aren’t desired. In all modes, the electronic Ohlins suspension and traction control is set to a standard for that particular type of riding, but in addition, the rider can also override and fine-tune the suspension and traction-control settings. Four suspension settings consist of rider, rider with luggage, rider with passenger, and rider with passenger and luggage. Also in enduro mode, the ABS can be turned off. All very cool and easy to use on the fly.

With the new Multistrada 1200S, Ducati has developed what is arguably the ultimate 4-in-1 motorcycle. It does everything it is designed to do, really well. It can be taken off-road, or on the longest, fastest highways with the tightest corners, or it can easily contend with stop-and-go traffic, all on the same, non-intimidating motorcycle.

The bike also excels in the handling and braking department. Just think about a corner, and the bike leans into it and easily holds its line until exit. A light squeeze on the adjustable front lever activates the dual Brembo four-piston radial calipers to initiate a quick and controlled stop.

It’s no wonder it won bike of the year all over the world, and I can easily say it was my favourite bike in 2010. It is, by all accounts, an amazing all-around bike, but all that electronic gadgetry comes with a hefty $20,995 price tag. On the plus side, your wallet will be thinner, making for a better posture, and the seat on the Multistrada is actually quite forgiving, even without all that extra padding.

Ducati Second Opinions

Uwe Wachtendorf

It’s almost unfair to call the 1200S a Multistrada – that’s how big an improvement this machine is over Ducati’s original attempt at building an adventure-touring machine. Whereas the original looked and rode like a sportbike on stilts, the new version is a cohesive package, fine-tuned and well suited for the adventure-touring sub-genre. There was very little not to like about the 1200S; it had the most power, strong ABS-equipped brakes, and best of all, handling and engine characteristics that could be adjusted by the push of a button.

The stuff of dreams for gizmo geeks, the bike’s myriad electronic gadgetry does require several thorough readings of the manual to master. And while some might balk at the machine’s cost, it is competitively priced against its other technologically advanced sport and adventure-touring bikes.

My only complaint with the Multistrada was its riding position. My frame occupies more physical space than the other two test riders, so I found the Multistrada’s seat the least comfortable of the group. The sharp rise to the pillion locked me in one position and discouraged me from long, uninterrupted stints, which was a shame, because the Ducati was a very exciting bike to ride.

Roger Parsons

With Ducati’s racing pedigree and a displacement substantially larger than its competitors, how could the Multistrada 1200S not be the power king of this group? And it was, by a large margin. When the revs picked up, the Multistrada proved to be a rocket, as its front end clawed for the sky.

So what’s not to love? Not much, really. Its looks are a huge improvement over the earlier iteration of the Multistrada, and with a multitude of electronically controlled components, this really is a bike for many roads.

Ironically, it’s those very electronics that give rise to my only concern. Perhaps I’m just a worrywart, but the purpose of these types of bikes is not only to hit challenging and exciting roads, but also to be able to stack on the miles for days on end. Finding yourself in a remote area is a big part of the adventure-touring story, so the simpler and less electronically reliant Triumph and KTM would give me a stronger feeling of security if I were to find myself thousands of miles away from home.

2010 Adventure-Touring Group Test – 2010 KTM 990 Supermoto T

by Uwe Wachtendorf

At first glance, KTM’s 990 Supermoto T (SMT) appears to be an odd fit in this group; after all, a supermoto has nothing in common with an adventure-tourer. KTM disagrees. They believe a machine designed to compete on mixed road surfaces makes an ideal choice for all-purpose riding. KTM lists the SMT alongside their 990 Adventure in the Travel category of their line-up, which explains the T in the model’s name.
It’s typical of the Austrian manufacturer to cheekily marry two disparate types of riding into a new genre. However, it takes more than slapping a pair of panniers on a supermoto to make an adventure-tourer, so KTM took their 990 SM, modified its riding position for comfort, added a frame-mounted fairing, and altered the suspension for all-terrain use.

Unmistakably KTM, the SMT’s extroverted bodywork is sharply creased and emblazoned by a bright orange side panel. The attention to detail and quality of the bike’s build is high. The SMT had the most comfortable riding position for me; its broad seat provided all-day comfort, while the semi-tall windscreen did a good job of redirecting fatiguing windblast.

From the saddle, it felt like the most compact of this group, even though it had the tallest seat. The height was an acceptable compromise to the generous suspension travel that remained compliant even over the nastiest of bumps. That’s not to say the fully adjustable WP suspension was soft; whether I was navigating my way through close-quarter traffic or banked over in a fast sweeper, the SMT handled exceptionally well and clearly drew on its supermoto roots. Over gravel and dirt, the bike’s handling suffered due to a poor choice of tires; although the Continental Sport Attacks provided excellent grip on asphalt, they were like a dull pair of skates off-road.

KTM’s 999 cc, V-Twin LC8 engine is a proven package. Providing ample power with only mild vibration at high revs, the engine had plenty of grunt down low and pulled hard right up to its rev limiter. KTM claims that the LC8 is the lightest, most compact big-bore twin on the market, and despite giving away a small displacement advantage to the Triumph – and a more significant one to the Ducati – it kept pace, running neck and neck with the Tiger during roll-on comparisons. As you would expect from the smallest engine in this test, the SMT was also the most frugal on gas.

Slow-speed riding showed that its performance wasn’t flawless. Erratic fuelling from the Keihin EFI system turned the throttle grip into an on-and-off switch, and the bike into a rocking horse, a less than ideal situation when you’re gingerly picking your way over poor roads. The fuelling issue is one that I’ve noted with other fuel-injected KTMs, including my own 690 Enduro.

Fitted with Brembo radial calipers, the SMT stopped as fast as it accelerated. A two-finger squeeze on the lever was enough to provide ferocious, yet easily controlled braking. The rear brake worked equally well, but howled loudly during every application. Moreover, our tester was the only bike not equipped with ABS – a major oversight that KTM has thankfully addressed for 2011. Altered suspension settings and the addition of a 12-volt power outlet are two other items new for the 2011 SMT.

The SMT had a couple of minor annoyances. The panniers were the worst I’ve ever seen; too small to carry much more than a toothbrush and a change of underwear, they were difficult to open and close – partly because the zipper chain was constantly being packed with road grime. Adding insult to injury, the zipper on one of the panniers was broken when we received the bike. My other beef was with the multi-function instrument panel that is shared by many KTMs. It lacks a fuel gauge (a light and special trip meter engage when you’re down to 3.5 litres), which is an essential feature for any long-distance voyager.

Overall, the SMT provided outstanding performance and range. Without the complexity and cost of the Multistrada, or the additional weight and girth of the Tiger, it’s the type of bike that will have you praying for twisty roads, but it will remain comfortable and entertaining while you are on your way to them.

KTM Second Opinions

Glenn Roberts

The SMT was a blast to ride, but I found the fuel injection bothersome. Trying to control the throttle at slow speeds resulted in sore arms, as the bike would lurch forward as it accelerated, or toss you forward when completely off the gas; it was like being on a powerful two-stroke, bouncing back and forth at the powerband.

The other item that I found a little ridiculous was the panniers, a stiff but flexible fabric shell that used a zipper to keep both halves together. If your foot caught a bag as you threw your leg over the seat, the zipper would separate, and you would have to unzip the bag completely and then zip it back up again. They were also the smallest bags of the three bikes.

Apart from those two complaints, this bike was probably the most fun as a day-trip bike. As it had the shortest wheelbase of the three and less bodywork, it seemed the easiest to throw around in the corners and in tight confines. With tons of bottom-end torque, it made for a fun hooligan-type bike.

Roger Parsons

I fondly remember the KTM 950SM I used for an extended period in 2006. It was what a street bike should be: powerful, sharp handling and menacing in appearance. Antisocial, I suppose, but it really made an impression on me. So I was really looking forward to riding the new SMT with its touch of touring ability, and although its power was highly satisfying, it was marred by an annoying stumble in the lower rev range that made some manoeuvres a bit tricky.
The thought of taking the old SM on a tour would have broken me into a sweat. Its seat was similar to sitting on the thin side of a two-by-four, and once caused me to ride standing on the pegs for the last 30 km of a trip. Living up to its touring intent, I was delighted to find the SMT’s wider and better-shaped seat a huge improvement.

The other nods toward touring are notional at best. The wee fly screen only offered a hint of wind protection, and the miniscule bags didn’t carry much, but at least there was a rack behind the seat for luggage.

All in all, the SMT is a hoot to ride on short jaunts and it looks great, but I would much rather be on the Tiger when the miles and days begin to stack up.

2010 Adventure-Touring Group Test – 2011 Triumph Tiger 1050 SE

by Roger Parsons

From a strictly emotional standpoint, I was hoping to be the primary test rider for the KTM 990 SMT. As it happened, I ended up with the handsome, but not terribly exciting Tiger. Luck ended up on my side when the Triumph turned out to be an extremely competent companion for every type of riding that I encountered.

In this group, the Ducati might reign supreme in the battle of horsepower, but the Triumph has more than enough jam for any mood on the street. In addition to the lovely soundtrack from its three-cylinder mill, power was delivered in a linear manner and there was a very healthy reserve available when the pace picked up. It was superbly flexible; I found that I could leave the gearbox in sixth gear, enter 50 km/h zones and ride through them with only a hint of driveline snatch. When I whacked the throttle wide open once clear of the reduced speed zone, the bike would smoothly surge ahead into the meat of its powerband. Highway cruising was a relaxed affair with the engine spinning at 4100 rpm while riding at 120 km/h. Free of hiccups at every pace, it’s fair to say that the Tiger’s fuel mapping was about perfect.

At 835 mm, the Tiger had the lowest seat height, a full 20 mm lower than the SMT’s, yet it was the only bike that I wasn’t flat-footed on when balancing at a stop. Compounding the long reach to the ground, the Tiger’s 228 kg (502 lb.) wet weight made it the porkiest of the bunch. Despite these shortcomings, I didn’t find it a struggle to manoeuvre the bike at low speeds or push it around a parking lot.

The firm seat was wide and flat with a bit of fore and aft room; combined with a slight forward lean, it provided excellent comfort as the miles stacked up. I later found out that Triumph had fitted our test unit with the optional Comfort Seat, which features a gel insert. I consider this a bit of a cheat; although I can’t give my assessment of the stock seat, the optional model worked well for me.

With braided steel lines and radial calipers, the brake system’s performance was well up to snuff, but its feel wasn’t quite as sharp as its high specifications would suggest. Standard equipment on the SE model, the ABS functioned smoothly and predictably during all weather and road conditions. It’s a safety feature that is well worth the money.

Other items that made the Tiger such an easy bike to live with included its roomy hard luggage, which remained watertight in the worst of downpours, and its fairing. Although not overly large, the fairing offered good weather protection and a smooth, but loud, flow of air around my helmet.

Smaller things like the hand guards, which helped to keep my hands warm in the absence of heated grips, and the centre stand, which eases maintenance chores, made the Triumph Tiger a bike that I would want to live with day after day, year after year.

Triumph Second Opinions

Glenn Roberts

The ergonomics were comfortable, as the seating position was straight up with my feet below the hips, and the handlebar and foot peg position was spot on for my 180 cm (5 ft. 11 in.) height. I found the seat to be a little on the firm side, but to be honest, I really didn’t have as much time on it as I would have liked – Roger didn’t want to give it up. The seat was tapered at the front, making for an easy footing on terra firma, but the tank was super wide, and my legs felt like they were being unnaturally splayed.

The 1050 cc, three-cylinder engine was as smooth as silk at all rev ranges, and finding more power at any time was never an issue. Handling was light and precise, and braking was just an easy pull at the lever for a predictable controlled stop.

The Tiger came with the biggest bags of all three bikes, and adding a top case would make this bike an ideal adventure getaway machine. I have never ridden a Triumph that I didn’t like, and the Tiger 1050 is no exception.

Uwe Wachtendorf

Triumph’s big Tiger is nothing but a ruse. Everything about its exterior suggests that it’s a purpose-built adventure-tourer, but after only a few minutes of riding, I suspected that not everything was as it appeared to be. It wasn’t until we had stopped for a break later in the day that everything became clear: the Tiger was really a sport-touring machine disguised as an adventure-tourer.

Everything about how it ran and handled fitted the sport-touring genre. Its big-bore triple is a fantastic engine; it combines the low-rev torque of a V-Twin with the high rpm rush of an in-line four. Smooth, powerful and responsive, the engine constantly goaded me into riding faster and faster, a trait that contradicts the loping and lulling gait of a real adventure-tourer. Combined with its performance-biased handling and braking, the Tiger was only really happy when it was being pushed – very hard.

Triumph’s engineers were very clever when they designed the Tiger. Having figured out the adventure-touring genre, they gave buyers what they really needed instead of what they thought they wanted. Triumph knows that the majority of adventure bikes will never see a grain of sand, never mind the Sahara desert, so they gave the Tiger the easy ergonomics of an adventure machine, but also endowed it with the prowess of a sport-tourer. Nice try Triumph, but I’m onto your shenanigans.


Ironically, we could have saved some time by simply checking out the tires that were fitted to each bike, as they tell the entire story when it comes to the personalities and attributes of these particular motorcycles. The KTM was shod with sportbike tires, the Triumph a set of sport-touring tires, and the Ducati was the only one that came fitted with a set of adventure-touring tires.

For the rider who really likes to mix it up, change things on the fly and tackle whatever is thrown in his or her way, the Ducati is the way to go. No other bike is so convenient and flexible in its design, or able to change its persona so completely with the simple push of a button. It’s the bike for power junkies and tech geeks alike, and its extra 35 horsepower and greater torque is more than enough to turn the other two bikes into a fading image in its mirrors.
Fans of the tight stuff will favour the KTM. Its agility, light weight and deep-reaching V-Twin are products of its supermoto breeding, and if you so desired, you could even pop off the panniers and take it to the track. The KTM would be our choice for adventures that involve packing light and heading out in search of roads that thrill, especially if we wanted to arrive there in comfort and still full of energy.

If your idea of adventure travel is being able to churn out high-mileage days at a fast pace on demanding asphalt roads, you need to buy the Triumph. Although its sticker price will attract the budget-minded long-distance rider, the least expensive bike on test doesn’t cut any corners. It provides the safety of ABS, the smoothness and torque of the in-line three and enough luggage capacity to take along the kitchen sink.

Everyone loves a winner, and we would love to see one crowned. However, the truth is that there is no clear victor among these three bikes. What our test did prove was that each one fills a specific niche better than the other two, which in our mind makes them all winners. We can hear you groaning at what appears to be a cop-out, but if you pick the bike from this group that best matches your riding style, you’ll discover what we mean.


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