Twenty years ago if you wanted to buy a used motorcycle that would happily take you off road and still be legal to ride on the public roads you would have had little choice other than to buy a trail bike. Usually based on offroad bikes and with just a cursory nod to rider comfort and practicality, 1970’s and 80’s trail bikes were best suited to being used on the rough and were rarely the most useable of machines for day to day use. Though they were fun to ride, trail bike buyers recognised that they were sacrificing comfort and practicality for off road potential. Despite that fact, most probably ended up being used mainly on the road. Yamaha’s 2 stroke DT range was popular as was the 4-stroke powered Yamaha XT500 and 750. Honda favoured 4-stroke power for their long-running XL series, available in engine sizes from 75cc right through to the beefy Honda XL500.
By the late 1980’s large capacity trail bikes began to appear in manufacturer lineups, possibly as a result of the increasing popularity of the gruelling Paris Dakar event which featured large capacity motorcycles equipped for use in the most harsh of terrains. Yamaha’s XTZ750 Super Tenere launched in 1989 was an early example of this type of machine and Italian manufacturer Aprilia offered the Pegaso, a 650cc machine that was a very capable performer both on and off road. Honda offered the Africa Twin which despite now being out of production for more than 10 years, still has a dedicated and enthusiastic following and remains a highly sought after used bike.
By the late 1990’s, each of the big four Japanese manufacturers had entered the big trail bike market as well as many European companies, and as the bikes themselves became more versatile, so the market for these newly christened ‘adventure bikes’ grew and with it came a demand for an even more versatile machine. Usually equipped with torquey and refined 4-stroke motors, most adventure bikes have a distinct road bias, but are more than capable of being taken off the beaten track when desired. In fact, a modern adventure bike is much more than just a big trailie, most perform superbly on the road and make a very practical day to day motorcycle. With a tall and usually very comfortable riding position, long travel suspension and a large carrying capacity, adventure bikes can also make a very capable touring machine, eating up considerable mileages with ease.
If you want to buy a used adventure bike there are now many different machines to consider, though some are perennial favourites. Of the Japanese manufacturers Honda offer the very capable Varadero XL1000V, a 1000ccc V-Twin powered machine which is always popular, alongside the middleweight Honda Transalp, a bike which has been around for many years in 650cc guise, but now sports a new 700cc v-twin motor. Suzuki’s DL650 V-Strom is a great value choice and a particularly nice bike to ride. Yamaha’s XT660Z Tenere is a tough and very capable machine which also has the advantage of being relatively light making it slightly easier to handle than many of its more bulky competitors. If you want to buy British, the Triumph Tiger (available with either 900cc or 1050cc versions of Triumph’s torquey triple cylinder engines) is well equipped and has a great reputation for being a particularly well mannered (and nicely equipped) bike. Used bike buyers with a taste for Italian exotica should consider Ducati’s Multistrada, a bike which is both very comfortable to ride and capable of keeping up with many sports bikes on a twisty road. Finally, no overview of used adventure bikes would be complete without a mention for BMW’s legendary GS range. The BMW R1150GS and latterly the R1200GS attract a fanatical following and are always very desirable used bikes, good examples commanding premium prices all year round.
A good used adventure bike can make a great buy. Despite their green lane potential, few will have seen much (if any!) off road action so signs of damage to bodywork, engines cases or trim should be carefully investigated as replacement will be expensive. Many adventure bike owners like to tour on their machines and high mileages are not uncommon, but as most big trail bikes feature large capacity and relatively unstressed 4-stroke engines, this is not usually a problem so long as the motorcycle has been properly maintained, ideally with a main dealer service history. Other things to check are exactly the same as on any other used motorcycle for sale, but if you are in any doubt at all it’s always worth having the bike professionally checked over before parting with your cash. Finally, many used adventure bikes for sale will have been fitted with useful accessories such as top boxes, panniers or engine crash protection bars which can add a considerable premium to the asking price. Bought separately items like this can be very expensive, so it’s usually worth paying a little extra if they are included.