Ted is a tall guy living in the mountains outside of Denver, Colorado. His daily is one of the noted kings of off-roading, a Wrangler JK, but he’s on the hunt for something with two wheels to take for similarly-purposed rides on the nice days ahead. Since Jalopnik’s Tom McParland out for the week, he left us hoodlums to answer this week’s question, “What Motorcycle Should I Buy?”
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Here is the scenario:
Hoping maybe throwing you a curve ball on the what car should I buy by asking about motorcycles. My daily is a 2018 Wrangler JK, which yes I do offroad as often as possible. Looking for something fun to ride on the nice days that I’m in the mood for something sportier. I live in the mountains northwest of Denver and my house sits about three and half miles of dirt roads back from the closest pavement. Also, a good number of the roads in the area are dirt and their are a lot of national forest trails also. So looking for something that is good on pavement but isn’t going to struggle getting there. My previous experience has been on a Yamaha 650 Special II that I rode in the early 90's, so it’s been a while. I liked the 650, but something sportier and with enough power to offset the elevation (about 8500 feet). I’m about 6'2", 210 pounds so nothing super small. Thinking around $10,000 or less for the motorcycle, knowing I’ll need another $2,000 or so for a helmet and safety gear. Any recommendations?
Location: Denver, Colorado
Wants: Something fun to ride that can handle dirt, the trails and pavement with enough power to handle 8500 ft. of elevation changes
Doesn’t Want: Nothing super small
Leave it to a BMW GS rider to preach the gospel of the GS, but I honestly could not be happier with my bargain adventure bike. I picked up this bike’s older cousin, an R1100GS last summer, and after a few thousand miles of trouble-free riding, I cannot recommend it enough. There’s a reason these bikes are so highly regarded. It’s the right size and power for your needs, and it has some of the most impressive off-road chops of any bike on the road today. Add in smooth on-highway riding manners, and it’s the perfect all-rounder.
The oil-head BMW GS is one of those bikes that comes with a lifestyle, and you kind of have to lean into it. A solid GS that you can ride every day costs a lot less than your budget, and leaves more room for reflective and highlighter-yellow ATGATT dork gear. I don’t know for sure, but I’ve heard that a GS won’t even start if you’re not dressed like an elementary school crossing guard.
This 2002 silver 1150 GS has all the cool accessories you could want and then some, complete with metal cases, bark busters, adjustable Ohlins, an aftermarket exhaust, articulating mirrors, and engine bars to name a few. You can find it on CycleTrader for a cool $5,995, and it’s just a short jaunt away in Boulder, so you should definitely go check it out this weekend. It only has 62,000 miles on it, and could pick up and go another 62,000 miles non-stop if you wanted to.
The Harley-Davidson Pan America has grabbed our headlines and our hearts for being a genuine competitor to BMW’s finest. But what if you want to ride an American ADV but don’t have that kind of dough? Meet the Buell Ulysses.
The Buell Ulysses is pretty far out. Take everything that Buell was known for — fuel stored in the bike’s frame, floating brakes, incredible agility and that lumpy V-twin — then slap some off-road gear onto it. What you get is still a Buell. It’s a bike that will lean over if you just think about turning, but now you won’t be afraid to take it out onto a trail or on a long road trip. I’ve seen these with 100,000 miles covered in the scars of a rider that has enjoyed their Buell out in the wilderness.
I know the prospects of a bike of a dead brand sounds scary, but remember that these use Harley parts. And in a pinch, you can use generic parts to keep these going. Now, I’ll be the first to say that the GS will be the better off-road pick. However, once you ride a Buell you won’t be able to wipe the smile off of your face.
Here’s one out in Rapid City, South Dakota for just $4,499. If you ride it home you have a scenic way to get acquainted with your new ride!
Ted, like the other experts, I think an ADV bike is exactly what you need! I’m almost a whole foot shorter than you, so I tend to suggest smaller, lighter bikes, but since you want something to match your size and ride elevation, a big ADV is best! Balancing size and weight with power is still a valid concern when going off-road. So, I’m recommending this 2012 KTM Adventure-R 990.
KTM isn’t known for reliability; this bike is not like the Kawasaki KLR650 or Suzuki DR-Z400. It’s never going to be like a Honda Africa Twin. It also won’t be as comfortable as a big BMW GS, nor as quirky as a Buell. But what the KTM lacks in reliability or comfort, it makes up for with focus.
This KTM will be sporty enough when riding along Rocky Mountain passes. The V-Twin should get you going quick, and its suspension and chassis will feel balanced. But the trail is where the Adventure-R 990 comes into its own. It’ll feel more like a big dirtbike than an adventure tourer. The exhausts reveal its dirtbike origins, and the dual gas tanks are neat — even if they are for practical reasons, because the bike holds relatively little fuel.
This KTM comes in under budget at $9,468. You could spend more, but this one is straight out of Dakar! And since it’s cheaper, you will keep your gear budget intact. As far as helmets go, I’m partial to Arai. Schuberth is good. Check Rukka for jackets. And Held for gloves. Finally, an ADV bike is not complete without storage, and Giant Loop looks great on KTMs.
Ted, I jumped around a lot for this. Your quest to find something sporty to handle local roadways whether gravel, trail or pavement, is something I’ve also contemplated for my next motorcycle purchase. While it’s nice to have just a trail bike or a road bike, why choose between two bikes when you can have one for every purpose? There will never be a path you cannot take.
Which leads me to Jose’s earlier mention of the Kawasaki’s KLR650. Kawasaki introduced the KLR650 as a replacement for the KLR600 in 1987. In the last 35 years, the bike has gone through few changes with the engine gaining some cc’s in the late aughts, and the introduction of electronic fuel injection and ABS in its latest iteration (2022).
This is not a bike you have to compromise really anything on. The KLR650 is known for being affordable (MSRP is at $6,999 with ABS, $6,699 without), while also insanely capable of handling any terrain you encounter, and has been used successfully for multiple global excursions. The 650’s 34.3-inch seat height will make your 6’2” frame stand comfortably, and because it was designed to haul more than just the rider, it should be easy to toss around, while also still able to accommodate some carry-on items. You’ll be able to add all of the accessories with all of the money you save, and at that price, you won’t be bummed if she gets a little scraped or scuffed on your adventures.
I found you a few KLR650s, with quite a few in that sharp red-orange color near you. The only thing to consider is if you want ABS on a newer 650, you might have to wait. According to some friends at a local shop near me, due to the chip shortage, many stores are waiting some time to get bikes with ABS. So it’s up to you to decide if something like that is worth the wait.
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