Defining what an adventure bike is can get hard at the extremes. At one end, you can fit out an Enduro bike with luggage and head for the hills; at the other, you have large capacity road bikes with an extra bit of suspension travel and a high front mudguard. The amount and degree of off-road use you expect to do is the governing factor.
As a category, this type of machine has come a remarkably long way in a short period, Todays bikes are significantly more capable than those from six or seven years ago, but theres still a lot you can do to tailor the performance.
Buying second-hand can make a lot of sense if you do intend to do some tough off-roading. A few scratches wont matter.
Off road, the smaller and lighter the bike the better, as a rule of thumb. But if distance is your priority, big-capacity machines come into their own.
Machine choice, then, is all about horses for courses. A lot of people automatically think of the big GS 1200, KTM Adventure, Triumph Tiger Explorer, Yamahas Super Teneré and similar as adventure choices, and they are all amazing machines. But you dont need 1200cc to make a great adventure bike. Smaller, lighter machines around 800cc are easier to handle in the muck, yet can still swallow distance comfortably. Smaller singles, like Yamahas Eternal 660, come into their own off road. But if your real focus is touring on tarmac, there are plenty of bikes with some adventure style and practicality without the off-road focus. Machines like Kawasakis Versys and Suzukis V-Strom make great, comfy tourers.
Some of the latest ABS and Traction Control systems no longer need switching off for off-road use.
Theres some really trick adventure or dual sport riding clothing out there, full of armour, padding, breathable layers, vents, pockets etc. Some is also eye-wateringly expensive. As good as this stuff is its not strictly necessary.
The two-piece Cordura (or similar) textile suit adapts well to adventure riding, even if you dont look as cool as in a Rukka Allroad. Just make sure the legs will adjust to fit with the kind of boots you will be wearing and you wear a spine protector.
There are plenty of adventure or dual sport riding boots available and, in principle, they make sense. Theyre built like tanks to protect your lower legs from nasty impacts in gnarly terrain; waterproof, breathable membranes mean you can ride through any weather and chunky, grippy soles help when youre struggling to get the bike back upright from a muddy rut. Again, though, it depends on the riding you do. A good pair of touring boots could be all you need.
Its the same story with gloves. Adventure style might sway you but any quality pair of waterproof, breathable gloves with full protection will deliver the same result.
Helmet and goggles
A Moto-X style helmet and goggles looks rugged but theyre really designed for sweaty racing, in close quarters with other bikes spraying mud and stones. How much of that will you be doing? The air flow they provide isnt welcome in cold weather and the visor peak is troublesome at highway speeds.
A conventional full-face lid with visor is perfect for road riding but on tough trails can make you hot and dust can get inside your visor. A purpose-designed adventure or dual sport helmet is a good compromise. They have things like removable visor peaks, adjustable vents and some have flip-up fronts, which is great if you wear specs. Heavier than a conventional lid, though. Fit, as always, is priority number one.
Some turn accessorising their adventure bike into a hobby and it can be an expensive one. The list of mods is endless, but the priorities are usually crash protection, tyre choice and luggage. If youre venturing off road, a sump bash plate, crash bars and hand guards would be good choices. But top of the priority list would be proper off-road tyres: the dual purpose tyres fitted as standard are too road orientated.
A Sat Nav or GPS is useful in the wilds too: the modern-day compass. Heated grips and seat will help get you through dismal weather, and consider a gel or other aftermarket seat. A long range fuel tank is a godsend if youre going bush and if youre travelling internationally you may want to consider an engine remap to run on low-grade petrol.
Long distance adventuring usually demands lots of luggage space. Tough metal panniers stand up to the odd bash better than plastic. Top boxes, because of their mounting, get hammered over rough terrain and frequently break their mounts. If you are going to strap on a load extra, do it securely and always check for loose straps: if one gets in your spokes or chain it can spell disaster.