Newspeak: The Advent of the “Adventure-Sport”

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In the past decade the ADV segment has been a confusing amalgamation of differing interests, and over that time-period, two distinct groups have boiled to the surface.

First there are the “Long Way Round” hopefuls, who invariably own a BMW R1200GS/A, and seem to be on some sort of perpetual preparation for an African safari, regardless of how much dual-sport experience they actually have.

And more recently, a second group has appeared: those riders who look to these big ADV bikes as more versatile Sport-Touring machines, that have at least some credibility in continuing the trip beyond where the sidewalk ends.

All these riders, and their bikes, have been wedged into a single “Adventure” category, and it has created a bit of confusion for the segment. So, I want to introduce the concept of the “Adventure-Sport” and how it differentiates from the previous “Adventure-Touring” category.

First, let us make some definitions. Adventure-Sport bikes are “middleweight” and “heavyweight” motorcycles, with longer off-road styled suspension. They have an on-road bias, with their 17″ front wheels, and they make sport bike horsepower from their lightweight engines.

Adventure-Sports usually have an abundance of rider aids, which are typically aimed at taming these bikes’ powerful and peaky engines for mixed road conditions.

The Adventure-Sport segment is as much of a response to the Adventure-Touring segment, as it is the Sport-Touring segment. Long gone are the “sport bikes with bags” models, with the OEMs moving towards heavier and larger touring bikes (have you sat on a BMW R1200RT recently?).

This has a created a new need for an all-rounder motorcycle, something the ADV segment filled nicely. But with the segment-defining BMW R1200GS making a paltry 125hp in its water-cooled form, sport-focused riders are left wanting more.

Then came the Ducati Multistrada 1200, a 155hp sport-bike with longer suspension travel, multiple riding modes, and some promises of being able to handle off-road conditions.

We could at great length about how revolutionary the Multistarda 1200 was, both for Ducati and the segment, but the most important takeaway from the Italian model was that it bucked the GS copycat trend — the 2015 model referencing that point.

Until this moment, every ADV bike was measured against the GS or GS Adventure. I remember sitting at the Yamaha Super Ténéré launch, and at every stop, a colleague would speak into his voice recorder, expounding about how the two machines differed.

Read an ADV bike review, even today, and at some point the BMW is mentioned.

Ducati knew it couldn’t build a better GS, or at least the Italian company didn’t want to play in such a crowded space, so instead Borgo Panigale made their own riff on the ADV bike. The sales result speaks for itself.

Next we saw ADV heavyweight KTM offering multiple iterations of its 148hp KTM 1190 Adventure motorcycle, one with 21″ wheels to compete against the GS, and one with 19″ wheels to take on the Ducati, and be more on-road friendly.

Triumph made a similar split-model decision two years earlier than KTM, tackling the conundrum of more “purist” riders, who were looking to be the next Charlie and Ewan, while also providing something that hit closer to the reality of these bikes being asphalt queens.

The split has just been finalized though, as we have now seen BMW’s own reaction to the market conditions, with the German OEM bringing out the BMW S1000XR at the EICMA show last year. The 160hp, BMW S1000R-powered, adventure bike enters an already very crowded BMW ADV offering.

But where the S1000XR differs is important. It caters to a younger rider, it caters to the rider that would otherwise buy a Ducati, or maybe a KTM, instead of the German brand. Game on, said the Bavarians.

While I suspect that the S1000XR will be a sales success for BMW, there is proof of the Adventure-Sport category in the market’s failures as well. On-time to the shift in customer-desires, Aprilia brought to market the Caponord 1200.

Where the Italian brand got it wrong though was choosing its Shiver platform over the RSV4/Tuono V4 engine and chassis, thus using a 120hp v-twin engine and heavy chassis design for its ADV offering — a cardinal sin in this new segment.

Decisively built to be an on-road machine, to go head-to-head with the Ducati Multistrada 1200 Granturismo, the Caponord fails on too many performance metrics, a still critical component of this segment, to be a viable option. Its sales prove the point.

Shortly now, the folks from Varese will finally make available the MV Agusta Turismo Veloce, a middleweight Adventure-Sport bike that makes 110hp from its 800cc three-cylinder engine.

Equipped with the robust MVICS electronics package, MV Agusta hopes that the 421 lbs (dry) machine will be an asymmetrical attack on this 1,000cc+ dominated segment. Time will tell.

Time will also tell on Erik Buell Racing’s planned EBR 1190AX. The American made Adventure-Sport will surely have 180hp and the company’s rudimentary traction control package. We should start seeing teasers for this bike later this summer.

So far though, EBR has been slashing prices left and right on its RX and SX models, in the hopes of actually seeing some units leave the dealership floors. Extrapolating from this, we can expect aggressive pricing on the AX from the word go.

In many ways, the EBR 1190AX might be Buell’s best shot at seeing market redemption — mixing the company’s performance-focused ethos with a level of market sophistication that the brand is actually capable of achieving.

By the end of year, we should see Honda commit its “True Adventure” project, what we expect will be called the Honda Africa Twin, to the now remaining Adventure-Touring segment, with a big emphasis on off-road capability.

This will likely be the way forward, with brands developing models for each group of ADV consumers, treating this segment as it is, two distinct groups, and thus two distinct segments.

Off-road focused Adventure-Tourers will become lighter, in the hopes of luring the dual-sport owners who want a bike that’s good for more than 25 miles at freeway speeds, but still native in single-track talk.

The Adventure-Sport segment will grow as well, as it makes slow progress to 200hp and OEMs repurpose their liter bike offerings into their ADV chassis designs.

Enthusiasts won’t need that much power of course, just as they won’t really need the requisite fire-trail-ready features, but it will ease the transition for “seasoned” riders, who said they’d never give up their sport bike for a BMW GS.

Expect to see the ADV gap widen at the 2015 and 2016 trade shows.

Photo: Ducati