Why Adventure Motorcycles Have Surged in Popularity

The wide range of riding and customization options makes these bikes a fit for a vast array of riders.

With powersport valuations and sales returning to their pre-pandemic numbers and consumers tightening their purse strings in a troubled economy, it makes sense that if riders are going to splurge on bike purchases, they are going to look for the best bang for their bucks. However, many riders enjoy more than one type of riding, whether that’s street cruising, off-roading, touring or racing. Buying separate bikes suited to each of these categories gets pricey.

Enter dual-sport adventure bikes, which cater to all of these riding needs in one package. But while the adventure motorcycle segment has existed for over 40 years, its popularity only recently exploded. “The adventure segment may be the fastest-growing segment on the two-wheel market,” Oleg Satanovsky, motorcycle communications, BMW of North America, says. “Adventure motorcycles have become the one do-it-all machine that can replace off-road, long-distance touring, commuting and sport-riding bikes.”

A Surge in Popularity

BMW claims to be the founder of the adventure motorcycle with the release of the R 80 G/S in 1980. Prior to that point, motorcycles were each designed with a specific use in mind: street, racing, off-road, etc. The R 80 G/S introduced an all-around bike that would allow consumers to enjoy all types of riding with just one bike purchase.

“While off-road or dirt bikes existed, the R 80 G/S delivered a motorcycle that could be ridden for extended periods of time (weeks) on all forms of terrain while delivering a high level of comfort and reliability,” Satanovsky explains. “The name itself best described the new motorcycle’s use. G/S, or Gelände/Straße,means ‘off-road/road.’ With time, G/S became GS, which now stands for Gelände Sport to indicate the new model’s increased capabilities for the street.”

If this segment has been around for decades, why the sudden surge in popularity? There’s one rather obvious answer. “Certainly, the pandemic had a huge impact on this because people were faced with new limitations on traditional travel, so they began to look on the near horizon for adventure. That was great for a lot of outdoor activities, and adventure motorcycling was one of them,” says Dan Quick, director of communications for Zero Motorcycles.

Related: Understanding the Popularity of American V-Twins

However, Quick also believes pop culture has played a role in recent years. For instance, Apple TV released a show in 2020 called “Long Way Up,” featuring Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman as they travel on Livewires across Central and South America. This was the third in the duo’s motorcycle touring series, preceded by “Long Way Round” (2004) and “Long Way Down” (2007). The show’s release resurged interest in the segment at the same time people were looking for alternative and socially distanced ways to travel.

Adventure bikes often get lumped into the touring category, but they straddle the line between pure touring bikes (optimized for long highway hauls) and enduro touring bikes (where the touring takes place predominantly off-road). As such, they are generally classified as “dual-sport” machines. But just as with any segment, certain characteristics about the bike, such as the weight, suspension and tire choice, will shape the rider’s experience. With the added amount of customization that adventure bikes offer, they’re especially appealing to customers looking for that all-in-one machine.

Customizing the Adventure

Since adventure bikes ride that line between road and dirt, customers are looking for the top characteristics from two different segments and blending them into one. From a touring aspect, riders primarily want comfort and storage, but from an off-road aspect, good ground clearance and suspension travel become critical as well. Each customer will have different priorities, however, so customization is going to be key.

Satanovsky notes that personalization is extremely important in the adventure riding community; thus, OEMs are taking these preferences into account. Bikes today offer everything from different seat and handlebar heights and suspension and wheel options to electronic rider aides, such as various ride modes (focused on both terrain and riding style), anti-lock brake systems (ABS), cornering ABS, traction control, quick shifting, and more.

There’s also plenty that customers can add onto the bike after their purchase as well. “The attachment rate on adventure motorcycles is probably the best there is,” Quick notes. These bikes offer loads of storage and protection options, from accessory bars and hand guards to headlight protection and skid plates. While Quick says that it’s more common for skid plates and hand guards to be included as stock on adventure motorcycles nowadays, that’s not always the case. If a customer is really interested in off-roading and you can’t match them with a model that includes these features, be sure to point out those options as add-ons.

It’s no wonder adventure bikes are so popular, given how customizable they are. Any good businessman knows the best way to get people to open their wallets is to offer exactly what they want — and customization allows that. “The total list of options for a modern adventure bike … is expansive and virtually only limited by the imaginations of the riders,” Quick says.

Pros and Cons of Electric Adventure Bikes

As with most motorcycle segments, one of the newest trends in the adventure bike category is electric power. These bikes have the potential to really disrupt the market … once they get over a specific hurdle: charger access.

While charging isn’t as big a problem if you’re using an adventure bike for a daily commute, it becomes more concerning for off-road trips. Unlike with internal combustion engine (ICE) bikes, you can’t carry around a spare gas can (or even a spare battery) while you’re exploring the backcountry, so trips must be planned more carefully and may not last as long or go as far. For riders who are more interested in long tours both on- and off-road, electric adventure bikes will not be for them.

However, for those just looking to play once in a while in Mother Nature’s backyard, it’s quite a different story. In fact, the actual riding experience of an electric adventure bike is quite different from an ICE one and might even be improved, depending upon the rider’s preferences.

Related: MPN Review: A Dual-Sport Electric Motorcycle? Reviewing the 2023 Zero DSR/X

“The ease of use of having to navigate challenging terrain while transitioning between seated and standing is distinctly simpler with an electric direct drive powertrain,” Quick explains. “Furthermore, not having to choose the right gears going into rapidly changing obstacles is another benefit. I’d say another benefit is the fact that neutral battery regen can be used on descents to effectively ‘engine brake’ through loose terrain rather than feathering brakes and thereby compromising traction. And the experience of a quiet ride through nature is arguably superior, though that’s often a matter of taste for those who haven’t experienced it yet.”

Overall, the popularity of adventure motorcycles stems from the ability to cater to a broad range of riding styles and preferences, so adding electric adventure bikes to the mix makes sense. As the industry continues to innovate, adventure bikes are expected to remain at the forefront, meeting the demands of an ever-growing and diverse community of riders.

Satanovsky concludes, “Adventure bikes often become our means of exploring the world and living out our wanderlust. They take on a persona as our partner with whom we experience life and not just a motorcycle.”

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