Can you buy a used adventure motorcycle for less than £3k that will handle any adventure you throw at it?
With the surge in popularity of do-it-all “adventure” motorcycles lately, the big dogs have all been doing their best to design and build the ultimate adventure motorcycle. From the cutting-edge BMW 1250GS that has long dominated the modern adventure bike market, to the outright lunacy of the KTM SuperDuke 1290R, these motorcycles all get a few things wrong.
To start with, the idea that an expensive motorcycle enables you the freedom and capability to go travelling around the world on the adventure of a lifetime is a bit of a contradiction in my eyes. If you have to spend upwards of £15,000 on the motorcycle before you even buy any luggage, equipment or gadgets, it doesn’t leave you much wallet to fund the adventures themselves.
The second problem I see, is that many of these new machines are high-tech goliaths with engines often exceeding 1000cc capacity, and with kerb-weights of 250kg without fuel or a rider even! Going offroad means that almost definitely you will drop the bike sometimes, and there’s only so many times you can bring a motorcycle that weighs so much to its feet again, before you are too exhausted to enjoy riding for the rest of the day.
With parts and service costs as expensive as Italian designer handbags, and futuristic electronics systems so complicated you’ll need Tesla himself to work on them, it’s hard to think of these motorcycles as freedom-givers, and more of a glamorous cash-cow that will put you off of the idea of ever taking the bike onto the rough stuff.
Perhaps that’s the reason why the majority of those that purchase these bikes new are middle-aged and are either experiencing some kind of crisis or don’t have much intention of actually travelling off-the-beaten path and into the unknown. So why does it seem that adventure motorcycles aren’t so accessible to younger riders, novices or those of us on average salaries? Can’t adventure motorcycles be affordable, capable and fun? If we didn’t have to take out a loan to buy the bike to begin with, wouldn’t that leave us with more of our hard-earned cash for fuel and living costs on the road? After all, it’s all about the experiences gained from the journey and not the prestige of the machine you’re riding, right?
Cheap Budget Adventure Motorcycles Under £3k
Back to when dual-purpose motorcycles weighed a lot less than 200kg, were far simpler to operate and maintain – therefore meaning less to go wrong. These machines, often clones inspired by the hugely popular Dakar Rally, offered great reliability, plenty of torque and suspension travel to tackle the peskiest of ruts and obstacles, not mention outlandish liveries that would look right at home in an 80’s music video. `
So join me as we take a trip down memory lane and consider the best budget adventure motorcycles you can afford to buy used, right now, for £3,000 or less, ready to kit-out for any situation you can imagine (and those you can’t) and go on one-hell-of-an-adventure without having to sell your house first, and possibly a kidney.
Yamaha XT 600E | 1990-2004
Ok, so the simplistic XT600E may not wear the coveted ‘Tenere’ namesake of rally pedigree, but that doesn’t mean the she isn’t nearly as capable. Think of it as a less kitted-out XTZ model. Post ’95 models received a larger 15 litre fuel tank for better range and the ‘2-in-1’ carb design delivers smooth throttle response. The instrumentation is rather simple so don’t expect anything other than a small, square speedometer. Rugged, simple and easy to work on. What the XT lacks in trick bits, it makes up for in reliability.
Suzuki DR 350S | 1990-96
The Suzuki DR350 is the little sister to the legendary DR650. The bike rides well off-road and handles the turns like a dream. Probably better-suited to novice riders, the engine does lack some oomph when you need it, but thanks to a well-designed gearbox it’s still a cracking bike to tackle the trails. The suspension, as with most trailies of the era was too soft from factory so it might be worth upgrading the springs and oil if you’re tackling a long journey. Fuel tank range isn’t great either so you’ll need to keep an eye on the level often. Post ’96 models came with electric start which is worth going for if you want to conserve energy on longer trips. For the low price they can be bought for, you can’t argue with the great value.
Honda XR 400R | 1996-2004
The Honda XR400 is a solid and capable dual-sport bike with plenty of torque to get you up hills and through difficult terrain. A middleweight sibling of the the legendary XR650R, the XR400 is punchy and reliable. Well equipped with quality Showa suspension up-front, it will handle the worst roads and trails you can throw at it without losing a few fillings on the way. Kick-start only, and infamous for being a big to start, it really does separate the men from the boys. It’s by no means a small bike either, so riders shorter in the leg might have to be creative with how they mount and dismount. Other than that, the XR400 is a thrilling bike to ride both on the road and off-road that’ll keep you smiling mile after mile.
Kawasaki KLE 500 | 1991-95
With air-assisted forks up front, a comfy seat and decent ergonomics, the KLE definitely feels more at home on long road journeys than kicking on the rough stuff. An all-weather adventure style fairing and engine crash bars hint at dual-sport genetics but sadly it doesn’t quite live up to it. The brakes are good and the engine has plenty of life with smooth delivery coming from the parallel twin configuration, offering cruising speeds expected from a streetbike. If you’ll only be tackling some light off-road here and there then it’ll do the job, although it’ll still leave you turning around when the going gets really tough. If you want to ride in really wild terrain, it’ll need quite a few modifications, better still, pick a more suitable machine.
BMW F650 FUNDURO | 1994-2000
Inspired and largely based on Aprilia’s Pegaso 650, the F650 is a rarely-seen single-cylinder motorcycle from BMW that’s both fun and practical. Hydraulic adjustable rear suspension and plenty of travel up front means the F650 turns quickly and is capable of tackling even the bumpiest of terrain. With a 4-pot Brembo caliper at the front, the F650 will give you peace of mind for those unpredictable, obstacle-dodging moments we so often experience on motorcycle adventures. Perhaps the biggest win with this bike is it’s phenomenal engine. Designed by Austrian manufacturer, Rotax, the double overhead-cam single delivers seamless power (and plenty of it) in a linear fashion all the way to the redline.
Suzuki DR-Z 400E | 2006-16
The DR-Z400 was Suzuki’s first real step out of the air-cooled trailies of the ’90s and it’s a cracking bike to own and ride. Offered in Enduro, Sport and Supermotard trim, the “E” model was the most simple in terms of layout but also delivered the best performance. The 398cc liquid cooled engine has an addicting sound and helps the bike tackle almost anything with relative ease. With a ludicrous 945mm seat height, it’s a challenge to mount for even the taller rides, but once in control the Z gives communicative, direct handling on the road and off-road. For those doubting it can go the distance, many DR-Z owners have completed round the world trips without any major issues. The figures really speak for themselves, with the DR-Z becoming somewhat a cult classic among owners for it’s bold personality and ease of maintenance.
So there we have it, 6 great adventure motorcycles that can be purchased with a modest budget of just £3,000. With some light modifications and a secure luggage solution, these motorcycles can take you almost anywhere you please and still get you home in one piece.
Every adventure motorcycle on this list has been proven to complete the toughest of journeys, before all the high-tech nonsense was even a thing. Keep it simple, save more money for your adventures, and grab yourself a future classic that you’ll never want to part ways with.