Even after pandemic-fueled lockdowns (read the Motorcycle Riding Tips – Touring During COVID Pandemic article) were lifted last year, the adventure bike segment continued to break sales records heading into 2023. By most accounts it doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon. Which makes sense; after long bouts of cabin fever, everybody just wants to get out and explore uncharted territory. And even if all the big, multicylinder, technology-packed (and increasingly pricey) ADV bikes get all the headlines lately, that doesn’t mean you need all that fandanglery to just get off the grid.
Our list of affordable adventurers prove that capability can be had without breaking the bank, as long as you take ground clearance, suspension travel, and comfort into account. There has never been a better time to get a new ADV bike, and with more choices than ever, you’re sure to find something within your budget.
Despite charges of being heavy and underpowered, the Himalayan has been a budget favorite for light-duty off-roading since it hit the US market in 2018. It continues to appeal to fans looking for simple operation, accessibility, and better than average dirt capability to go along with a down-to-earth price tag.
At its core the 2023 Himalayan is unchanged, with a 411cc single handling motivational duties; even though it’s good for just 24.3 hp at 6,500 rpm and 23.6 lb.-ft. of peak torque, the engine will pull you through almost any obstacle in tractorlike fashion. Soaking up the bumps up front is a 41mm telescopic fork with a decent 7.9 inches of travel connected to a 21-inch spoked wheel, while a monoshock holds down the rear end with 7.1 inches of travel. A 4-gallon fuel capacity ensures adventures won’t end too early, and dual-channel ABS provides peace of mind—or can be switched off.
The bike saw just a few updates last year with the new Tripper navigation unit added to the instrument cluster, along with a new seat cushion, new windscreen, and slimmer racks. Otherwise, the Himalayan’s low center of gravity and suspension package continue to deliver a controlled ride that handles varying terrain better than you’d expect, even with its somewhat hefty 439 pounds. A more than adequate 8.6 inches of ground clearance will take you over choppy pavement, dirt roads, and most rocks, and while it has limitations, the Royal Enfield Himalayan still punches well above its weight class.
Smaller (and a touch lighter) than the Himlayan is Kawasaki’s Versys-X 300, a bike that brings peppy power, stable handling, and upright ergonomics for a wallet-friendly price. Being one of the smallest-displacement adventure-touring motorcycles on the market means the wee Versys is approachable for beginners, but its off-road potential can appeal to riders of all skill levels.
Key to that is the linear, mild-mannered power generated by the two-cylinder liquid-cooled 296cc mill, making the bike easy to handle in low-traction off-road situations. Gearing is short, which is great for negotiating challenging trails, but can be a bit busy when keeping up with faster-paced traffic. A measured 32.3 hp at 11,370 rpm gets you out of most tight spots, though a peak of 16.7 lb.-ft. of torque for a bike that weighs over 400 pounds could be underwhelming at times.
The 7.1-inch ground clearance means you can get pretty adventurous if you’re so inclined, though some more dirt-appropriate tires would be needed for the 19- and 17-inch wheels. The nonadjustable fork provides a so-so 5.1 inches of travel and the preload-adjustable shock offers 5.8 inches, though both are compliant enough to tackle most low-level bumps without complaint. With a reasonable seat height (32.3 inches, lower than the KTM 390 Adventure and Honda CB500X), sure-footed handling, and a user-friendly powerband, the attractively priced Versys-X 300 strikes a nice balance in the small-bore ADV class, even if it’s more on-road biased.
This bike has been called “affordable,” “surprisingly capable,” and “versatile” by a number of our editors, so you know why it made this list. Honda’s popular middleweight adventurer received fairly significant updates for 2022, including revised fuel-injection settings, an upgraded inverted Showa 41mm SFF-BP fork, improved brakes, and lightweight wheels with thinner spokes, making it an even better choice for budget adventurers.
With Honda’s bulletproof 471cc liquid-cooled parallel twin at its core, the CB500X has recorded 42.62 hp at 8,430 rpm and 29.26 lb.-ft. on our dyno, which feels adequate for a 439-pound bike (claimed). That mill has also garnered praise for its manners and throttle response, which is sure to make any off-road sortie more appealing. Managing that power is an assist/slipper clutch and a six-speed gearbox.
You’ll also deal with street-biased 19- and 17-inch (front/rear) cast aluminum wheels wrapped in “trail-pattern” tires, though the brake system does include standard ABS at both ends. If there’s one issue we have with the 500X, it’s the lack of available accessories from Honda that could bolster its adventure-bike stature and off-road credibility; there are hand guards, a taller shield, and some luggage options, but not many truly protective pieces like engine guards.
If you ever needed an argument as to why small displacement does not necessarily make for a paltry feature set, the KTM Adventure SW is ready for the debate. For 2023, the bike swapped out its previous cast wheels for lighter spoked hoops (still a 19/17 combo) with aluminum rims to better navigate over gnarled roots and boulders on the trail.
Otherwise, the more than capable 390 is relatively unchanged, with the same 373cc single engine found in the 390 Duke—good for a claimed 44 hp and 27 lb.-ft. of torque—hung from a steel trellis frame and equipped with robust suspension components front and rear. That includes a WP Apex inverted fork and WP Apex shock out back, both adjustable (6.7 inches of travel for the fork; 7.0 inches of travel shock). With a claimed dry weight of just 355 pounds, the littlest Adventure should be a breeze to handle for almost any rider.
The bike also has more than its share of wizardry, considering its small-bore stature; last year we saw the addition of new street and off-road traction control modes to join the standard ride-by-wire, cornering ABS, linked Offroad ABS (disengaged on the rear, reduced on the front), and a slipper clutch. Rider-aid settings and the rest of usual info is all viewed on a 5-inch color TFT display. The bike also still treads on Continental TK 70 tires and the windshield remains height adjustable (with two settings).
The do-it-all, easy-to-maintain, and low-priced Kawasaki KLR650 has been carrying on for more than 30 years, and for 2023 it carries on in that same spirit, though this year it’s available in four flavors, opening the door to an even wider range of riders.
At the core of each remains a liquid-cooled 652cc single pumping out predictable, manageable torque and providing good traction through a heavy flywheel. Those numbers include a linear power curve that peaks at 34.6 hp at 5,900 rpm, with torque topping out at 33.5 lb.-ft. at 4,700 rpm (as tested). The gearbox stays as a five-speed unit, though tweaks have been made for better reliability.
As before, the KLR650 is still weighty at a claimed 461 pounds (with ABS), but a steel frame and robust, long-travel suspension help the cause greatly. The base KLR gives you 8.3 inches of ground clearance, with 7.9 inches of travel from the fork and 8 inches available from the single rear shock—just don’t treat it like a lightweight enduro bike.
The KLR got a raft of updates in 2022 including fuel injection with a 40mm throttle body, revised intake and exhaust cams to boost midrange torque, and firmer suspension settings with revised chassis geometry for more stable handling.
This year, you can choose from four trims, each priced at below $10K. The base non-ABS-equipped KLR starts at $6,899, while the new S model swaps in a shorter suspension and low seat, making it more suitable for riders with shorter inseams for the same price. The KLR650 Traveler, which includes a top case and ABS, goes for $7,599, while the top-of-the-line KLR650 Adventure (our pick) packs on side cases, fog lamps, frame sliders, and more, retailing for $8,199 with ABS or $7,899 without.
Suzuki’s V-Strom series now comes in a variety of displacements and trim levels, but the 650XT model strikes the right balance of affordability and capability, and better embraces the adventure ethos, so that’s our pick. Powered by the now-familiar 645cc liquid-cooled 90-degree V-twin derived from the SV650, the V-Strom 650 platform delivers a nice combo of reliability, comfortable ergos, and reasonable price; in XT trim you get the looks of Suzuki’s iconic DR-Big rally bike with tubeless spoked wheels and hand guards. A sub-$10,000 price tag seals the deal.
The V-Strom 650XT’s well-mannered 90-degree Vee gets high marks for its smooth power delivery, while the slim chassis and a relatively low weight of 476 pounds make things controllable under adverse conditions. The standard V-Strom 650 comes with 10-spoke cast wheels, while the XT model has spoke-style wheels with tubeless tires, hand guards, and a protective lower engine cowl. It doesn’t boast a ton of gizmos, though ABS, traction control, and ride-by-wire throttle are welcome features here. The simple but effective suspension means some compromise however, with just 5.9 inches of travel from the nonadjustable 43mm fork and 6.3 inches from the single shock. And even in XT trim, you get 19/17-inch street-biased wheels.
If you’re looking for a twin-cylinder adventure bike with real off-road chops for around $10K, check out Yamaha’s Ténéré 700, one of the most anticipated new motorcycle US models of 2021. Using the proven 689cc CP2 parallel twin from the naked MT-07, hanging it in a lightweight tube-steel frame with a fully adjustable inverted fork and giving it extra ground clearance, a proper ABS disable button, and a low weight of just 452 pounds, the Ténéré has made its case as a no-nonsense adventure bike ready for any surface.
For 2024, the Ténéré 700′s chassis remains essentially unchanged, with the same long-travel suspension connected to a 21-inch spoked wheel up front and an 18-incher out back. The engine is a hoot, recording 63.78 peak hp at 8,870 rpm and 44.09 lb.-ft. of torque at 6,640 rpm on our in-house dyno. Add in a healthy 8.3 inches of suspension travel at the front and a whopping 9.4 inches of ground clearance, and it’s easy to see why the Ténéré continues to be a great value in the middleweight ADV class. Key updates for 2024 includes new three-mode selectable ABS, allowing riders to choose their level of braking intervention, a new 5-inch TFT dash, and prewiring for a quickshifter. There are no ride modes or traction control, but as a bike designed to appeal to almost everyone in terms of overall accessibility, affordability, and on- and off-road versatility, the Ténéré deserves a look.