We head to the wilds of Shropshire
You don’t need to travel thousands of miles to have an adventure, especially when we’re privileged to have scenery like this on our doorstep. Glossy brochures might depict big adventure bikes riding though the desert, or scaling far-flung mountains, but when you arrive here in the Shropshire hills, on the English side of the Welsh border, the views are so magical you don’t want to leave.
And you don’t need to spend a fortune to have fun on an adventure bike either and they don’t need ridiculouslypowered superbike engines to shove them along – as the four bikes you see before you today neatly prove.
The KTM 1090 Adventure, Suzuki V-strom 1000, Honda Africa Twin DCT and Ducati Multistrada 950 are all serious adventure bikes. With their big engines and roomy riding positions they can hammer all-day mileage without breaking sweat and if you want to get your tyres muddy, big front wheels and dual purpose tyres let you do just that.
They’re not dripping with every conceivable electronic rider aid, or cutting-edge chassis parts, but these machines give you exactly what you need: ABS, traction control, comfort, poise and stability. They all have just the right amount of power for normal folk like us and don’t cost the earth, especially if you go down the PCP road (see spec panel).
Really, just choose the machine you fancy the look of, or suits your budget and you’ll go off on your adventure smiling. But we’re here to see which one is best.
Riding around with a big grin on your face is something you’ll be doing a lot of on the £11,335 Ducati. The Multistrada 950 is rolling proof that small Ducatis are big fun. Back when they only made sportsbikes, the old 748 supersport weapon was always more involving, smoother, faster steering and less clattery than the 916 superbike. The same is true today when you ride the 959 and 1299 Panigale back-to-back and that point is proved again with little and large Ducati adventurers.
The 950 might ‘only’ have a 113bhp twin, compared to the Multistrada 1200’s 160bhp, but it packs a surprising punch. This is the same 937cc Testastretta engine you’ll find in the Hypermotard and new Supersport, but feels the most at home in the new Multistrada.
This peachy powerplant is packed with grunt, is devoid of throttle glitches and has a relentless top-end rush that belies its relatively modest power claims. Best of all is the bass-infused guttural, racebike-like, airbox bark when you open the taps to the stop, filling the Shropshire hills with the sound of Italian music.
Unlike the stilt-like Honda and KTM riding positions you hunker down in the Ducati (its 840mm seat is the lowest here). The riding position is on the airy side of sporty with your feet resting on rear-set pegs. There’s lots of wind protection and the way the manual screen serenely glides on its runners, like it’s sitting on the finest-greased ball bearings, sums up the quality and attention to detail lavished on the 950.
Ride quality is plush, brakes are reassuring and the sharp, confidenceinspiring handling is everything
you’d expect from a Ducati. There’s enough standard equipment to keep you amused, too, including fullyadjustable suspension, electronic rider modes, traction control, ABS and an on-board computer. You don’t get a full-colour dash, but the 950’s black and white LCD screen is easy to read anyway, unlike the mirrors, which are in a constant state of blur and useless at motorway speeds.
KTM cracks the adventure nut in a different way. Where the Ducati has no doubt been tested at Mugello at some point in its development, the £11,299 1090 Adventure has Dakar coursing through its veins. It’s tall, thin, softlysprung and Tonka Toy-tough. It doesn’t have the Multistrada’s polish-it-on-aSunday-morning, glossy finish, fully adjustable suspension, or simple-touse dash and modes functions, but it’s impressive on the move.
Producing the most power here, the reworked 1050cc 123bhp motor is packed with an explosive midrange. The rear end squats down hard when you tap the throttle, then fires this orange bullet at the horizon, traction control light pulsing like a disco light over the KTM’S tribal soundtrack.
Like the Honda, the 1090, with its long-travel suspension and perfect standing-up riding position, is the bike you’d really end up taking offroad, but its tarmac manners are still perfect. You’re a little more remote from what’s going on compared to the Ducati, but the KTM’S softness, from its throttle, to brakes and suspension, all work brilliantly and inspire confidence at any speed. The 1090 has so much useable power and poise you’ll never be wishing you’d bought the 160bhp 1290 Adventure.
While the two European machines have a tough, sporty feel, their Japanese counterparts have a softer edge, with calmer, more relaxed engines and are a fair chunk heavier, too.
The revamped Suzuki’s superb 100bhp 1037cc V-twin motor, oozes silky grunt and character and the sure-footed chassis never springs any unwanted surprises. The V-strom is comfy, friendly and will do everything the KTM and Ducati can do, but just not with as much involvement or pizzazz. But it costs comfortably less than ten grand, or just £103 a month on PCP.
Honda’s fabulously-styled £12,179 Africa Twin DCT oozes presence, is the best looking bike here and returning 62mpg is the most frugal (KTM: 54mpg, Suzuki: 48mpg, Ducati 47mpg). But its 94bhp parallel twin is breathless in this company, especially as it’s by far the heaviest here.
The 242kg machine has the tallest, firmest seat, but on the flip side it’s spacious and the bodywork and screen offer plenty of wind protection. With its fussy dash and eight buttons on the left switchgear alone, the Honda’s haphazard controls are a world away from the Ducati’s well laid out cockpit.
This DCT version didn’t win any fans during our test. With its overly aggressive power delivery and lack of a clutch to control it, low speed manoeuvres are tricky. In auto mode, which you end up using once the novelty of changing gears with the buttons on the left switchgear has quickly worn off, you’re never being served up the correct gear. You’re either sailing into corners a cog too high or hanging onto revs for too long when you don’t want them.
The manual Africa Twin is much easier to control, more involving to ride and a welcome £969 cheaper.
‘The V-strom will do everything the KTM and Ducati can do’
The 1090 has Dakar coursing through its veins Who needs a 1200 when the 950 Multi is so engaging? It’s the best looker but we prefer the manual version of the Africa Twin The guys on the right have clearly forgotten their motorcycles
The V-strom is an impressive performer for under 10 grand