When choosing to purchase a motorcycle for long-haul rides, exploration capability, and overall comfort, two choices typically come to mind: sport touring motorcycles for the road-going tourer and adventure motorcycles for the dirt-loving explorer. Despite the differences, many similarities are shared across these two platforms which can often make it difficult to decide for one over the other. They’re both relatively large motorcycle body styles with touring capability and relaxed ergonomics and are often priced at around the same range too. If you’re in the market for one of these motorcycles but are a bit confused with which to get, here’s a simple guide to know which body style might suit you best.
What’s the difference?
Adventure bikes are generally built to go anywhere and are often equipped with dual-sport tires, a 19 or 21-inch front wheel for off-road riding, spoked wheels for durability, and suspension built to tackle off-road terrain. On the flip side, sport touring motorcycles are almost always equipped with a 17 or 19-inch front wheel, cast wheels, road-oriented tires for maximum grip on the asphalt or concrete, and an ergonomics package that will be more suited for sit-down riding than standing up positions. This isn’t to say however that body styles are strictly limited to these specifications, given the multiple off-road capable adventure bikes with 19-inch front wheels and cast rims.
The main differentiator of the two body styles lies in the tire setup and ergonomics package. Motorcycles like the Kawasaki Ninja 1000 SX and the CFMoto 650 MT are very clear sport-tourers given the 17-inch wheels front and rear and wide, road-oriented tires. On the flip side, the Royal Enfield Himalayan and BMW R 1250 GS Adventure are bonafide adventure bikes given the spoked wheels, large front rims, and dual-sport tire setups. Despite having cast wheels, the KTM 390 Adventure, Honda CB500X, and Suzuki V-Strom 650 lean towards adventure bike territory given the dual-sport tires and stand-up capability.
Now that we understand the main differences between the body styles, choosing which body style can suit you best will depend on a few objective and subjective reasons, namely your main riding conditions and the overall appeal of the body style.
When choosing one style over the other, the main practical benefit you trade off would be the kind of grip your motorcycle is able to achieve on various surfaces. Adventure bikes can definitely do it all, and can ride through all kinds of roads and off-road conditions. However, grip on the road will be a big trade-off given the dual-sport tires which will tend to lock up easier upon braking and, in extreme cases, can be more prone to sliding on wet conditions. Sport touring motorcycles on the other hand are built solely for the road and will provide you an ample amount of grip on dry and wet days alike–provided that you stay only on paved surfaces.
If you’re primarily an on-road rider, a sport touring motorcycle will surely be better suited for you and will provide you with a ton of grip and on-road riding comfort for your trips out through the city, highways, and provincial roads. On the flip side, if you enjoy exploration no matter the terrain, are not afraid of the dirt, and are a careful rider during wet conditions, an adventure bike might suit your riding style best. At the end of the day, it’s important to be realistic with the kind of riding you will do, and the flexibility you want as a rider so that you can choose a motorcycle that suits your realistic needs best.
Another consideration to make would be the general appeal of the body style. You might be a strictly on-road rider but might enjoy the ergonomics and rugged aesthetic of an adventure bike, or the flexibility it might offer. You might also be willing to trade off on-road capability for the looks and appeal of an adventure bike—and that should be okay. The opposite is true for adventure riders who stick to dry and hard-packed off-road surfaces. If you fancy a sport-tourer body style for light off-road exploration, road tires might cut it for you and still provide you with the ideal body style and capability for the kind of riding you do.
Not all adventure bikes have to be ridden hard off-road, and not all sport-tourers need to keep it on the pavement as well. At the end of the day, you can avoid buyer's remorse by sticking to what works best for you—in terms of how you will ride, the capability of the motorcycle, and how it subjectively speaks to you. Take your time in finding the right fit.