Twin-cylinder engines have always provided the ideal platform upon which to build an entry-level machine. Their friendly power characteristics are very endearing to a novice rider who can be easily overwhelmed attempting to learn proper riding technique with a more demanding powerplant. It's no stroke of luck that bikes like Ducati's original Monster and Suzuki's SV650 have been such best-sellers since their inception.
We've already covered superb twin-powered machines like the SV650 and Kawasaki's Ninja 650R. But lately there's been an influx of more unconventional twins that an entry-level-or even "returning to the sport"-rider can choose from. These bikes have interestingly gone against the established norms that have been typical of the class for years.
BMW's F800S (first covered in our July '07 issue) may appear outwardly conventional with its half-faired vertical twin-cylinder engine riding in a twin-spar aluminum frame. But underneath that cover is a fairly sophisticated power-plant using an unorthodox method of counterbalancing the forces that typically result in vibration with a vertical twin. Instead of massive crankshaft counter-weights or balance shafts, the F800 engine employs a dummy connecting rod that operates in the opposite direction of the two functioning rods (similar in design to the Ducati Supermono). The 798cc eight-valve engine also uses a semi-dry sump lubrication system, with power transmitted through a toothed belt instead of a chain. Even though the twin-spar frame appears pretty beefy, the single-sided swingarm pivots in the engine cases. And due to the airbox taking up all the space needed for a conventional fuel tank up front, the F800S's 4.1-gallon fuel tank is located underneath the seat. The usual host of BMW options are available for the F800S, including ABS and heated grips (both of which were on our test unit). Per BMW's usual modus operandi, the F800S offers a lot of performance and quality at a slight premium compared with the competition; the base model retails for $9950.
We covered the details of Kawasaki's new Versys in our Dec. '07 issue ("Entry-Level Versatility"). A model that was introduced to Europe and Canada in 2007, the Versys is patterned after the increasingly popular adventure-tour category that got its inspiration from the famous Paris-to-Dakar rally racebikes, with a pseudo-off-road style encompassing long-travel suspension and upright riding position with decent fairing protection and big fuel tanks using a pavement-based motor. The Versys employs the same basic 649cc parallel-twin engine with semi-dry sump lubrication setup from the Ninja 650R, with some minor tweaks to increase midrange power; a gear-driven counterbalance shaft helps quell vibration. The chassis features a more substantial swingarm with longer-travel suspension boasting more adjustability, while a taller fairing with adjustable-height windscreen and bigger 5.0-gallon fuel tank aid longer riding stints. All this comes priced at a very reasonable $6899.
The Suzuki DL650 V-Strom was originally introduced in 2004 and is another middleweight twin that follows the adventure-tour role, albeit actually better equipped to handle those duties, rather than just styled that way. The V-Strom has the same 645cc 90-degree V-twin complete with dual-plug cylinder heads and SDTV 39mm throttle bodies from the heralded SV650, with different cam tuning biased toward low-end and midrange performance. The twin-spar aluminum frame is similar in construction to the SV unit (and basically borrowed from the V-Strom's larger 1000cc brother) but with much more relaxed 26.5-degree rake/110mm trail steering geometry numbers for stability over rough terrain. Aiding in those duties is a 19-inch wheel up front, plus suspension with longer travel than the SV (6 inches in front/5.9 inches out back, versus the SV's 4.7 inches front/5.1 inches back) while offering more adjustability (spring preload in front, spring preload and rebound damping in the rear) as well. A large half-fairing with adjustable-height windscreen affords good protection and comfort, and the huge 5.8-gallon fuel tank ensures long periods between gas stops. The DL650 is priced even lower than the Kawasaki at an economical $6699.