PART 3 – THE BIG COMPARO
Just having to sit down and process the reams of information and notes about all these bikes has been a real eye-opener. Okay, it's been a right pain in the arse as well, but comparing each bike's abilities in various terrains has yielded a pretty good idea of their standing in respect to each other.
However, in order to get a valid grading, we have to define the importance of a bike's prowess in the dirt or on the road. Although this will vary from rider to rider, realistically most owners will likely spend the majority of their riding time on highways, hitting the twistier pavement at times and occasionally going down a gravel/dirt road in between.
With this in mind, we've given the most weighting to how the bike could eat up the miles, then perform in the twisties and finally explore the dirt. We cap it all off with a comparo table of their specs, performance data and options. There's also a price comparison of each bike after the costs of the options has been included to help level the comparison playing field.
So, without further ado, here’s the CMG definitive count down:
4th) KTM 950 ADVENTURE – The Adventure is a real gem and surprised us all by just how well it could attack the dirt, and more effectively than all the others. However, it's firmly on the dirt side of the spectrum, although it will handle the twistier side of pavement (and track!) very well, it falls short when it comes to highway riding.
There is a big question of reliability though, as both of the examples we rode had problems with over-heating, the first one chewing up its gearbox to boot. It's the only one of the four that comes with a limited 12-month warranty (the 'Nord and Tiger getting two years, and BMW three!), which wouldn't be enough to put my mind at ease.
Basically, the Adventure dominates the dirt side of the spectrum, does very well in the more gnarly paved stuff, but fails to reach into the touring side with any great effect, thus the grading.
2nd =) A tie between the Tiger and Caponord!
TRIUMPH TIGER – Realistically the Tiger isn't that far from the Caponord in what it can do and where it sits on the dual-sport spectrum (i.e. firmly on the road side). It's also a chunk cheaper than all the others once the options are factored in (see the comparison chart below) which helps to excuse it for its limitations, but the fact remains that it can't really do dirt.
It can do road though, and makes a good sports-tourer, scoring points over the Caponord with fewer quirks and a finished feel thanks to many more years of development.
I do think that it’s a shame that Triumph have moved it more towards the road than the dirt though (they don’t even mention dirt in their online blurb) when they could have done a split model – one heavy-duty real dual-sport and one sporty tourer with gravel capabilities.
APRILIA CAPONORD – although the Caponord grew in charm with all those who tested it, it feels somewhat unfinished. Add to that, severe off-road limitations through lack of protection (and a price that should really be a couple of grand cheaper – especially when you factor in some necessary options), and you have a decent dualie that would be a lot more attractive during a big dealer sale.
On the plus side, it does have a certain depth of character that only reveals itself with time. We all grew quite fond of the 'Nord by the end of our tour and would like to see Aprilia develop the model further, as it's got a goodly amount of potential.
Note - The Caponord that we tested (and that is still the current model in Canada) is the 2003 model. The 2005 version comes with optional ABS, stiffer suspension, modified front brakes, new exhaust, higher bars and hand-guards, and is not available in Canada ... yet.
1st) BMW R1200GS - The Beemer's ability to be a superb touring bike (with a goodly amount of off-road ability too) helped it to grab the number one spot in this Adventure Touring comparo.
Despite having some problems when we really pushed it in the dirt, the R1200GS is a favourite at CMG. The new boxer motor, with less weight and more power, is a vast improvement over the previous models. It's a characterful engine, housed in a competent chassis and the bike spans a broader range of the dual-sport spectrum than any of the others.
I would not hesitate to take the GS on a multi-thousand mile journey that included smooth multi-lane pavement and rough gnarly trail. Its only downside is that it can get into serious trouble if you push it too far into the off-road world, but if you know that ahead of time, then you should be okay. Besides, that's what the Adventurer version is for, isn't it?
I must say, I personally don't feel comfortable with placing the KTM in 4th place as it's a really fun bike, but when looked at with a criteria biased towards a bike's ability to tackle the long haul on pavement, that's where it ends up. Worthy of note is that KTM have done a lot of changes to their 2005 model, so some of its problems may have already been addressed.
The Tiger and Caponord are quite different machines, and although they encompass a similar amount of bandwidth on the dual-sport spectrum, the 'Nord errs more towards the dirt with the Tiger excelling on the paved. As a result, we decided to peg them as equal.
The BMW has the greatest spread and does it well well. Granted the KTM has the dirt covered better, but for all-round use, reliability and a chunk of character to boot, it's the clear overall winner.
Okay, time for the specs ...