KTM Adventure 990
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If your map has a pin on Tierra del Fuego or, say, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, the KTM ADVENTURE 990 is your rig. Despite its high riding position and 512-pound heft (57 pounds heavier than the BMW), it was the clear winner for fully loaded, all-day cruising on dirt. In slippery sand, I could effortlessly stay on top of this 990cc bike as it bucked around beneath me, and the massive shocks smoothed over stuff that would’ve tossed me from the Suzuki or Kawasaki. Just watch your speed: The front end felt a bit unsteady at 80 mph. $15,400; ktm.com
Of the models we tested, the SUZUKI DR650SE was the closest thing to a dedicated dirt bike. More nimble, and 66 pounds lighter, than the Kawasaki, the Suzuki let me power up near-vertical jeep tracks and ride over almost any off-road obstacle. But as capable as it is on dirt, it’s merely adequate on roads. It’ll clock 80 mph all day on the interstate, but it feels best at 60 on a country road. The snappy but basic, air-cooled 650cc engine gets about 60 mpg, but the tank is tiny (just 3.5 gallons), and the seat feels like a two-by-six plank. $5,700; suzuki.com
BMW F800 GS
Damn near perfect. That was my reaction after riding BMW‘s new F 800 GS Through Moab’s red-rock canyons and the aspen groves of the nearby La Sal Mountains. While I was able to power through deep sand and over two-foot-high rock curbs with confidence, the BMW is not quite as nimble off-road as the Suzuki or even the Kawasaki. Back on pavement, however, the riding was sheer bliss, thanks to its 800cc, parallel twin engine, which gets a respectable 50 mpg while still delivering BMW’s signature smooth feel and plenty of low-end torque. $12,500 (as tested); bmw-motorrad.com
New to motorcycles? The KAWASAKI KLR650 is a perfect first bike. It’s comfortable, easy to ride, and affordable and it can handle everything from daily errands to transcontinental exploration. The wide handlebars provided plenty of leverage in slow technical riding or traffic, and it cruised effortlessly across gravel, sand, and blacktop. After blitzing 100 miles of national-forest roads, then pushing the water-cooled, 650cc engine to 85 mph on the interstate, I was sold. Bummer: When fully loaded, this bike gets a measly 35 mpg. $5,600; kawasaki.com