Adventure Motorcycling vs Off-Road Riding

Adventure Motorcycling vs Off-Road Riding // Cross Country ADV

If you’re someone who is just starting out in the ADV and off-road riding world, or if you’re transitioning from street to dirt, chances are, you’re a tad confused by all the jargon and definitions out there. What’s the difference between adventure motorcycling and off-road riding? Can you do both? What bikes are best for ADV and dirt?

The reality is, ADV and off-road riding intersects so much it’s near impossible to tell where one ends and another begins. You can be an adventure motorcyclist without ever setting tire on a gravel road, and you can be a gnarly off-road maniac obsessed with ADV. It really is what you make it, but for the sake of clarity – and bike choices – let’s take a close look at who’s who in the zoo.

Adventure Motorcycling vs Off-Road Riding // Cross Country ADV

Adventure Motorcycling

Although you can have an epic adventure on anything between a moped and a 1200cc BMW behemoth and ride around the world or around the block, adventure motorcycling in the traditional sense is associated with two key components: adventure bikes and travel.

Thanks to the Long Way Round series, adventure motorcycling is mostly seen as a way to travel the world on two wheels, and it usually involves long-distance rides on machines capable of both on and off-road riding. In essence, adventure motorcycling is all about traveling to far-flung destinations and using a bike that can take on any roads you throw at them while comfortably carrying you and all your earthly possessions over long distances. A traditional adventure rider usually looks more or less like this:

Adventure Motorcycling vs Off-Road Riding // Cross Country ADV

Adventure motorcycles are road bikes designed to be capable of some off-road riding. Because the primary use is on-road, they’re typically larger capacity, comfortable machines with plenty of luggage space; with the right tires and right skills, adventure motorcycles can also be ridden off-road, but it’ll most likely be wide gravel roads and hard-packed dirt trails rather than overly technical terrain because these bikes are heavy and cumbersome on single track or gnarly trails.

Adventure Motorcycling vs Off-Road Riding // Cross Country ADV

Traditional adventure motorcycles include makes and models such as Honda Africa Twin, BMW GS series, Yamaha Super Tenere, KTM Adventure, and the like. Usually around 900-1200 cc, adventure bikes feature luggage options and crash protection, and they’ll comfortably carry the rider and the pillion over long distances with minimal maintenance.

Adventure Motorcycling vs Off-Road Riding // Cross Country ADV

Adventure motorcycling gear, much like the bikes, is all about all rounder function: protective and abrasion-resistant, adventure gear is usually four-season with a waterproof layer and zipper vents. It’s designed to be comfortable, durable, and protective in all weather and temperatures.

Needless to say, adventure is what you make of it; plenty of riders go on epic journeys on a variety of bikes and gear set ups. A scooter with a milk crate for luggage is just as legit as a fully kitted out BMW GS, as long as you’re having an adventure. As you progress as a rider and as a traveler, you’ll find your own ideal motorcycle, luggage, and gear set up, and there is no right or wrong way to adventure.

Off-Road Riding

Although adventure motorcycling often involves plenty of dust and dirt, off-road riding as a discipline is a different beast altogether. Off-road riding is all about lightweight, nimble motorcycles unburdened by heavy luggage panniers and aimed at ripping up dirt on more technical terrain. Your typical dirt bike rider will usually look like this:

Adventure Motorcycling vs Off-Road Riding // Cross Country ADV

Off-road motorcycles are designed to be powerful but light, capable of tackling anything from rocky tracks to desert sand to slippery mud conditions. Aggressive tires, highly-strung engines, and light weight are all markers of a dirt bike, and most off-road motorcycles are around 250-450 cc. Honda CRF series, Yamaha WR series, KTM350-450 series are all samples of a capable off-road machine.

The key difference between adventure motorcycling and off-road riding is that ADV is about the distances and the travel whereas off-road is all about the technical skills and shorter rides. Off-road riders carry very little or no luggage with them, and the goal is to seek out different terrain to improve your skills and have a ridiculous amount of fun while doing it. Adventure riding, on the other hand, is more about the travel than technical dirt riding skills.

Once again, however, you can do both, or you can transition from ADV to off-road, or the other way round: it’s all up to you, and currently, a lot of adventure motorcyclists are swapping their large-capacity machines for smaller, lighter dual-sport or dirt bikes. Motorcycle manufacturers are catching on the trend, too: with bikes like Yamaha Tenere 700, KTM 790, and Kawasaki KLR 650, it’s clear that more and more ADV riders want bikes that are off-road designed and road-capable rather than the other way round.

What’s your poison: ADV or dirt? Share your take in the comments below!

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