Whether you’re a grizzled ADV veteran or a new rider feeling dirt-curious, we can all agree that lighter, more compact bikes deliver their own special brand of fun. If you’re looking for the best lightweight adventure bikes to take for a spin this year, we’ve got you covered.
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What You Should Look For In A Lightweight Adventure Bike
Pretty much anything looks light sitting next to the latest KTM 1290 Super Adventure or Ducati Multistrada V4, but you’ve gotta draw the line somewhere.
Are all middleweight ADVs considered lightweight adventure bikes? Do they need to be under 500cc? What about things like fuel capacity, seat height, and luggage options?
We’ve been riding adventure bikes of every description imaginable from small-bore dual sports to big honkin’ BMW GSAs for over a decade at this point, and our experience has given us a certain “criteria” we aim for when looking for the ideal lightweight ADV rig.
Here are the cliff notes on what our experience has taught us.
Motorcycle weights come in two flavors: The “dry” spec that manufacturers would have you believe and the curb or “wet” weight of the bike when it’s actually full of gas and in proper running order. This is an important distinction to make, because by the time gas, coolant, oil, and blinker fluid have been added to your machine, the total weight can easily grow by 30 pounds or more.
To that end, we consider bikes that tip the scales under 450 lbs fueled to the brim to be lightweight adventure bikes. The lower you can get the better, of course, but that’s where we draw the line when we’re looking for a more manageable and maneuverable machine.
Highway Cruising Speed
Now that we’ve got the actual weight figure out of the way, let’s talk about the specific features we look for on any bike we consider adventure-ready. The first one is highway cruising speed, which is particularly important considering you’ll be covering some long miles on any proper adventure.
Generally speaking, we want a minimum comfortable cruise of about 70mph. Lighter bikes tend to feature smaller and less powerful engines, so while manufacturers may claim a top speed of 70, 80, or even 100mph, pushing a small bike to those speeds can create harsh vibrations that kill your vibe in short order on the open freeway.
Another important element to consider for those long highway stretches is wind protection. Even a Sportster feels fine up to 60mph or so, but as you climb into the upper register, wind on your shoulders, head, and neck takes a toll on your body, and will leave you sore before the end of your first day on the road.
For that reason, we look for a sizable windscreen on any lightweight adventure bike we’re considering, and some front fairing is great as well if we can get it. Granted, windshields can typically be added or upgraded in the aftermarket, but if you’re looking for an “out of the box” ADV, wind protection is a must.
Traveling on two wheels is no different than driving, flying, or hiking in that you’ll need to take a few essentials with you anywhere you go. For some riders that means camping gear and three square meals a day, while others can often get away with spare clothes, rain gear, and a simple tool kit.
Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, you’ll want to ensure you’re able to carry all your stuff on your bike. Some lightweight adventure bikes offer bags from the factory while others require aftermarket intervention, either by adding soft luggage or buying aftermarket luggage racks for saddlebags and top cases.
We recommend figuring out how much space you need, and then evaluating any potential ADV candidate from there. If your bike of choice either comes with all the storage you need or has an aftermarket option that works with your budget, it’s a green light for us.
Last but not least, let’s talk about range. Range is the combination of fuel capacity and fuel efficiency, and ideally, we like to see adventure bikes go for around 200 miles between fill-ups.
This ensures you’ll likely only need to make one fuel stop a day, and also gives you peace of mind when you’re going off the grid to explore remote locations without any nearby service stations.
Again, there are aftermarket options for extending range including larger tanks, fuel canisters, and even foldable fuel bladders, but whatever angle you take, you don’t want to be constantly worrying about that low fuel light when you’re on a long trip.
The Best Lightweight Adventure Bikes
Keeping the above criteria in mind, there are actually only a few bikes we’d consider for lightweight adventure duty on the market today. Some deliver the goods straight off the showroom floor while others require a little tweaking for long-range performance, but they’ll all get the job done if you’re looking for long trips with the occasional dirt interlude thrown in the mix.
KTM 390 Adventure
- Wet weight: 371 lbs
- Performance: 37.5 hp/23.2 lb-ft torque
- Cruising speed: Around 75mph
- Wind protection: Yes
- Range: 3.8 gallons/248 miles
- MSRP: $7,399
KTM’s lightest ADV is back, and it’s more refined than ever. All the things we loved about the original 390 are still here including high-quality (and fully adjustable) WP suspension, a peppy single-cylinder engine, and a smattering of premium componentry from the full-color TFT display to the Bybre (made by Brembo) brakes, but KTM has also stepped up the 390’s offroad chops in a major way.
The latest model now includes multiple rider modes including an off-road specific option that allows for added rear wheel slip, as well a shiny new set of tubeless spoked wheels that ADV riders have been asking after for years.
We’re still not in love with the 390’s standing position for gnarlier off-road riding as it feels a bit cramped and a bit too forward, but there’s no denying this lightweight adventure bike is more capable than ever.
We’ll also note that despite it’s small engine, the 390 pulls surprisingly high speeds when called upon, and will scoot along as fast as 100 mph under the right conditions. That means you’ll get a nice smooth 75 mph cruising speed without overstressing the engine, which isn’t usually the case with an engine this small.
|– Premium features and components
– Comfortable for the long haul
– Great range for a small bike
|– Ergonomics aren’t great for standing
– Expensive for a small bike
Honda CRF300L Rally
- Wet weight: 331 lbs
- Performance: 27 hp/19.6 lb-ft torque
- Cruising speed: 70 mph
- Wind protection: Yes
- Range: 3.4 gallons/ 250+ miles
- MSRP: $6,149
If any featherweight bike truly deserves the adventure title, it’s the Honda CRF300L Rally. We’re not quite sure how Honda made a bike this good for this cheap, but we’re damn glad they did.
The Rally is built on the bones of the standard 300L dual sport, but it’s so much more than a dirtbike with a rally-style fairing.
Range is extended to a whopping 250 miles, handguards and even a skid plate (albeit a very basic one) come stock, and the rally even gets upgraded brake rotors to help handle its extra fuel and weight.
We love that Honda managed to pack over 10 inches of suspension travel into this lightweight adventure bike as well, which, combined with it’s proper 18/21 inch wheels and knobby tires, gives it above-average off-road worthiness that complements it’s highway manners nicely.
We will note that above 70mph the Rally’s windshield starts to give up the ghost protection-wise, but pushing a lightweight bike with knobby rubber any faster than that is sketchy to begin with, so we can’t really fault it there.
|– Real off-road chops
– Buttery smooth
– Torquey powerplant
– Outrageous bang for the buck
|– Unpleasant over 70mph
– Soft suspension
- Wet weight: 366 lbs
- Performance: 43hp/47lb-ft torque
- Cruising speed: 75 mph
- Wind protection: No
- Range: 3.4 gal/ 175 miles
- MSRP: $6,999
An oldie but a goodie. Because Suzuki is still technically building the DR650 this year, there’s no way we’re going to leave it off a list of lightweight adventure bikes. As you might have noticed glancing at the specs, this one comes with a few caveats: It’s got zero wind protection, and it doesn’t quite deliver the range we’re after either.
Lucky for prospective DR owners, this bike has one of the largest and most enthusiastic aftermarkets on the planet.
Both extended-range fuel tanks and bolt-on windshields are readily available, but those are only the tip of the iceberg of what’s available when transforming the big dual sport into a proper long-range adventure machine.
We’ll also note that while you can definitely go snag a shiny new DR from the dealer today, you can also snag a shiny used one online for about half the price, and chances are it’ll already have most of the bells and whistles you want as owners love to modify and tweak these machines.
In our experience, it only takes about $2,000 to completely transform a stock DR into a more powerful, more comfortable, and more capable adventure rig, and its one that’ll last you for a lifetime of regular use and abuse to boot.
– Incredibly reliable
– Easy to convert into an outstanding adventure bike
|– Bare bones design/zero tech
– The stock seat is made from concrete and roofing nails
Royal Enfield Himalayan
- Wet weight: 439 lbs
- Performance: 24 hp/24 lb-ft
- Cruising speed: 70 mph
- Wind protection: Yes
- Range: 240 miles/ 4 gallons
- MSRP: $5,499
If you prefer your adventure bikes with a little vintage charm, the Royal Enfield Himalayan is a smart buy with a surprising amount of value-added features. It’s got a solid windshield, outstanding range, factory luggage mounts, and a shockingly comfortable cruising character thanks to its comfortable seat and relaxed riding position.
We’re also big fans of the Himalayan’s bare-bones build, which uses simple yet reliable components that make for easy DIY maintenance and trail-side repairs.
The fact that you get all this for well under $6,000 is just icing on the cake if you’re looking for a lightweight adventure bike on a shoestring budget, as you’ve essentially already got everything you need (minus the luggage) to get out and start touring.
The one thing we’d flag here is that the Himilayan’s 411cc engine is a far cry from something like the high output single found in KTM’s entry-level adventure rig, which means it struggles at the top end to haul the Enfield’s comparatively high-curb weight at higher speeds (especially when pointed uphill).
The Himilayan will still pull a comfortable 70mph highway cruise on flatter ground, but it’s not going to win any drag races in the category and will only get slower the more you load it down.
|– Dirt cheap
– Nails ADV basics from the factory
– Super simple and easy to repair
|– Heavy for such a small bike
– Low on power
– Bit vibey at cruising speed
Aprilia Tuareg 660
- Wet weight: 449 lbs
- Performance: 80 hp/ 52 lb-ft torque
- Cruising speed: 80+
- Wind protection: Yes
- Range: 230 miles/4.75 gallons
- MSRP: $11,999
Looking to go lightweight but still want full power? The Aprilia Tuareg 660 sneaks in just under the 450 lbs mark while still delivering middleweight power and all the premium perks you’d expect to find on an Italian exotic.
It’s got a high-tech parallel twin engine (borrowed from the 660 Tuono naked sportbike), a frame that’s built to handle outrageous amounts of luggage (Aprilia claims it’ll handle over 400 lbs of cargo), and premium fully-adjustable KYB suspension that delivers over 9 inches of travel on either end.
You’ll also get a full complement of modern electronic rider aids including multiple rider modes, lean-sensitive traction control, and even cruise control for the money.
Of course money is the main drawback here, and as the only bike from the “middleweight” category to cut the mustard as a lightweight adventure bike, you can expect to pay middleweight prices to call the Tuareg your own.
It’s by no means the most expensive middleweight out there though, slotting in between the frugal Tenere 700 and splurge-worthy 890 Adventure, so if you’ve got the coin and want a bigger bike, it’s the best deal going under 450 lbs.
|– Middleweight power
– Advanced electronics
– Sweet Italian design
– Elevated fit and finish
– Not particularly beginner friendly
– Unknown reliability
– More difficult to work on than simpler alternatives
Conclusion on Lightweight Adventure Bikes
In summary, lightweight adventure bikes offer a perfect balance between on-road comfort and off-road capability, making them an excellent choice for riders of all levels. Their agility, affordability, and evolving technology ensure they remain a compelling option for those seeking adventure.
I hope this article helps you find the perfect lightweight adventure bike for your next adventure.
Ride on everyone.
I’m a motorcycle adventure travel addict who has been rippin’ two-wheels across remote lands and working in the motorcycle touring industry since 2018! I’ve since developed MotoMoves to offer tips and tricks on adventure motorcycling as well as take you along for a few rides here and there. Enjoy!