Old vs New. How the Big-Adventure Motorcycles Changed in 20 Years

Different bikes, same manners. Although changed, the big travel bikes are inheriting the same character.

Africa Twin. GS. Super-Tenere. Tiger. Same powerful names, same adventurous dream about riding around the world. These bikes aren’t just some machines. They are fulfilling one of the most beautiful dreams in the motorcycling world – the opportunity to travel the globe and sense a forest’s scent without being stuck in a wheeled aquarium. 

1996 BMW R1100GS vs. 2016 BMW R1200GS Adventure

“The amazing thing about a dancing bear, someone smart once said, is not how well it dances, but the fact that it dances at all. I couldn’t help thinking of that as I aimed our loaner BMW R110GS onto a muddy trail previously used as a part of the route in a southern Ohio qualifier for the International Six Day Enduro” –  this is how the American journalist Bill Wood, writing for “American Motorcyclist” magazine, began its story about the R1100GS in 1994. 

The R1100GS had the famous paralever/telelever suspension arrangement which eliminated the fork dive on braking. And it had some good brakes and an optional ABS. As for the engine, the R1100GS was powered by the iconic boxer (1,085 cc). The R 1100 GS was the first member of the GS family to use an air/oil cooled engine. The engine was capable of 80 horsepower @6,750 rpm and 97 NM of torque. The wet weight: 245 kg with a 25 L full fuel tank. 

Nowadays, the R1200GS Adventure is fitted with the first air/liquid-cooled boxer engine. And it’s the most successful motorcycle in its class (according to the sales figures) and one of the most popular bikes in the world. LED lights, cornering ABS, riding modes, traction control, 125 hp, dynamic suspension system – the 2016 R1200GS is as complex as a UFO (and just as a KTM, Triumph Tiger or a Ducati).  But still, just like the 20 yo GS, the new R1200GS is focusing on comfort, latest technology, and a final shaft transmission. 

In 2014, BMW marked an important milestone: 500,000 flat-twin-engined GS motorcycles built.

 

R1100GS (1994-2009) BMW R1200GS Adventure (2013 – )
1,085 cc air/oil-cooled boxer  1,170 cc air/liquid-cooled boxer
80 hp 125 Hp
97 Nm 125 Nm
25 L fuel capacity 30 L fuel capacity
245 kg wet weight 260 kg wet weight

       
1996 Honda XRV 750 Africa Twin vs. 2016 Honda CRF1000L Africa Twin

“The Africa Twin is a superb package. As a long distance mount only its thin seat will hinder you. It’ll plod along for over 200 miles at motorway cruising speeds while the rider sits behind a fairing that, while nowhere near as good as something adorning a pukka tourer such as the ST1100, does a fair job in keeping the worst of the weather away. As an everyday proposition, you can be sure that, like the majority of Honda’s product, it’ll start on the button rain or shine” –  Motorcycling International, 1996 – an Africa Twin – Triumph Tiger comparison test. 

The old Africa Twin is based on Honda’s four-time Paris-Dakar winner – the NXR-750. It’s a bike that created a fabulous passion in the motorcycle world. Its legendary reliability and toughness made the Africa Twin a favorite for adventure-seekers. With its 218 kg and 60 horsepower, it wasn’t the most performant bike those days (at least on paper), but it had the “superb package” everybody wanted. The production stopped in 2003, and Honda had a break in the “True Adventure” segment. 

But this year, Honda is back with a whole new Africa Twin. Unlike the GS, that uses same engine configuration, Honda moved from the V-Twin to a parallel twin. But the most interesting part is the dual-clutch transmission – a first of its kind on an adventure motorcycle. The new bike is highly acclaimed by press and buyers alike, and Honda might have just built another legendary bike. Although different, Honda keeps the same construction philosophy: a great package, some serious off-road heritage, a friendly bike, and (let's hope) a reliable machine. 

 

XRV 750 Africa Twin (1989 – 2003) CRF1000L Africa Twin (2016 – )
742 cc V-Twin     998 cc Parallel Twin
62 hp @ 7.500 rpm   93, 8 hp @7.500 rpm
62,7 Nm @6.000 rpm   98 Nm @6.000 rpm 
23 L fuel capacity     18,7 L fuel capacity
218 kg wet weight     232 kg (242 kg – DCT)

                            

Yamaha XTZ 750 Super Tenere vs. Yamaha XTZ 1200 Super Tenere

“From the seat, the Ten’s a fun bike to ride, that big twin engine giving it load of character. It’s not a serious off-road hack, though, it’ll roll across the odd roundabout if necessary. The engine’s tough and the chassis can be bodged with bits from breakers. There’s a great bike trying to get out, and the used prices make it excellent value”. 

Named after the Tenere desert, a stage of those times' Paris-Dakar rally, the old Super Tenere was Yamaha’s answer to Africa Twin and the big brother of the XT660 Tenere, one of the best adventure bikes of those days. Instead of a V-Twin, Yamaha used a parallel twin with five valves per cylinder capable of 69,3 horsepower @7,500 rpm. I know a guy that traveled across Africa on a 1989 Super Tenere six years ago and didn’t have a single mechanical problem. Not even a puncture. 

Yamaha revived its Super-Tenere in 2010. The Japanese builder keeps the same parallel twin engine architecture, but it comes with 1200 cc. Although it’s a good and trustworthy motorcycle, it can’t match it’s new rivals it matter of performance and fun factor. Unlike the old Super-Tenere, the XTZ 1200 uses shaft-driven final transmission. 

 

XTZ 750 Super Tenere (1995-1996) XTZ 1200 Super Tenere (2010 – )
749 cc parallel twin 1,199 cc parallel twin
69,3 hp @7500 rpm 110 hp @7250 rpm
68 Nm @6750 rpm   114 Nm @6000 rpm
26 L fuel tank     23 L fuel tank
236 kg wet weight 260 kg wet weight

1996 Triumph Tiger 900 vs. 2016 Triumph Tiger Explorer XCX

“If the style of a bike is more important to you than its ultimate function, then perhaps you should give the Tiger a chance. Despite a compromised nature it still has plenty of appeal. Personally, I’m looking forward to the day the factory gets round to building a true off-roader. The Tiger, if you’ll excuse the pun, is a triumph of style over content” – Motorcycling International 1996 – Honda Africa Twin vs. Triumph Tiger 900 comparison test. 

Triumph Tiger 900  was known to its fans as the “Streamer” and was powered by an 885 three-cylinder engine. Capable of 85 horsepower@ 8.000 rpm, it was the most powerful big dual-sport of those days. It was fun to ride and Triumph offered an alternative to other dual-purposed styled bikes. But it wasn’t the greatest off-road bike around, and it didn’t prove to be as reliable as its Japanese rivals. 

Today’s direct descendant – the Tiger Explorer has state-of-the-art electronics, a 137 hp inline-three engine and is considered to be a more a road-oriented travel bike. Just as the Tiger 900.

 

Tiger 900 (1995-1996) Tiger Explorer (2016 -)
885 cc inline-three 1215 cc inline-three
85 hp@ 8,000 rpm 139 hp @9,300 rpm
82 Nm@ 6,000 rpm 123 Nm @6,200 rpm
209 kg dry weight   253 kg dry weight 
24 L fuel tank     20 L fuel tank

Although there are some inevitable differences compared to the big-adventure motorcycles of the 1990s, today’s enduro-travel bikes have a similar character. BMW comes with the same telelever/paralever suspension, boxer engine, and single-sided swinging arm. But it's more exciting. Triumph Tiger keeps the inline-three and road-oriented recipe, but it's more reliable and Yamaha’s Super-Tenere is powered by the same parallel twin but it has a shaft transmission. Honda Africa Twin is the only motorcycle that doesn’t share the same engine architecture and style. But it can be described by the same two very important words: “superb package.” 

And one more thing. These motorcycles are capable of taking you to some extraordinary places. 

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