On To The Highways And Byways
Although the BMW's chassis is obviously sportbike-oriented its seat height is surprisingly close to the much taller adventure twins, despite the Beemer's saddle being narrower toward the front to make it seem shorter than it is. The Versys is definitely the tallest of the three and requires a bit of acclimation; the V-Strom's wide, comfy seat was deemed the best of the trio and sits fairly low for a bike of the adventure-tour genre. Same for the Suzuki's handlebars, which offer a nice combination of height and rearward bend; the Versys' bars were a little high and angled back too far for most of our testers' tastes. The BMW upper triple-clamp-mounted clip-ons are angled nicely, but their positioning restricts turning radius a bit, and you can't change them.
The BMW's small tachometer...
The BMW's small tachometer is difficult to read at a glance; the short windscreen does a decent job of deflecting airflow off the rider. The Versys' instrument panel is nicely laid out and easy to read, with the adjustable-height windscreen providing good wind protection. The V-Strom's cockpit is the best of the lot, with the most comfortable perch and superb wind protection from the fairing (the windscreen is also adjustable).
The V-Strom was the preferred mount for any extended straight-line drones with the most comfy ergos, smoothest engine and best wind protection. The Versys doesn't quite have the wind protection of the Suzuki with its smaller windscreen and fairing, and despite its counterbalance shaft the vertical twin vibrates a lot more; same for the BMW, even with its dummy connecting rod counterbalancer. The BMW's comparatively small windscreen still does an admirable job of wind deflection, as does its half-fairing, and the optional heated grips come in handy on colder rides. As far as range between gas stops it was no contest; the V-Strom's gas-sipping engine that averaged 47 mpg coupled with the large fuel tank meant that at least 240 miles between fill-ups was commonplace. The Kawasaki could squeeze a little over 200 miles to a tankful, while the BMW was naturally hampered by its smallish 4.1-gallon tank that limited it to about 175 miles.
Even though the larger BMW engine obviously cranks out far more power than the other two twins, in urban settings its advantage is negated slightly by taller overall gearing. First gear is especially tall, requiring a surprising amount of clutch slippage to get off the line smartly, while both the Versys and V-Strom use short first gears to zip away from a stoplight with little fanfare. Top-gear highway passes are nonetheless more easily accomplished on the F800S, although like most BMWs, getting serious steam from the engine room requires a healthy twist of the throttle before you get a major response.
Although the BMW's power curve...
Although the BMW's power curve towers over the Kawasaki and Suzuki, that advantage is only apparent on the fast sections. On tighter roads it ends up being a lot more work to access. The Versys has a definite edge in torque over the V-Strom, but it drops off earlier; the Suzuki revs freer and smoother, and its flatter torque curve means its power is easier to access.
Once into the twisty sections the BMW's power advantage is only obvious on the fast bits. In the tighter canyon roads that benefit is largely countered by the easier accessibility and quicker response of the Kawasaki and Suzuki engines. The dyno graphs don't take partial throttle response into account, which is where the two Japanese twins excel-especially the V-Strom, with its torquey V-twin powerplant that offers better acceleration with less throttle movement. And yet the Suzuki's flat torque curve makes doling out the right amount of power while dealing with the physical actions of cornering easier than the two vertical twins. Even though the Kawasaki feels peppier because of its lighter weight, its torque curve peaks later than the V-Strom and then drops off drastically after 7000 rpm; this means you actually end up shifting more with the Versys in order to maintain acceleration compared with the Suzuki.
Given its beefy twin-spar chassis and sportier intentions the F800S obviously feels more at home in the turns than the other two when the pace starts to pick up. With its 43mm conventional fork up front instead of one of BMW's alternative front-suspension units, the F800S is one of the few machines in the company's lineup that provides positive feedback from the front end. Equipped with Bridgestone BT-014 rubber and decent-quality suspension, the Beemer rails through fast, bumpy corners that would have the Kawasaki and Suzuki feeling quite nervous.
The Versys and V-Strom still have an edge, however, when it comes to agility in tighter confines. The Versys is especially light-steering (some felt it was actually too light) and was much easier to flick through a series of corners than the heavier Suzuki. The V-Strom was just a touch more stable, surely helped by its 19-inch front wheel; the downside is the narrow rim width and a lack of feel at severe lean angles due to the "trailie" pseudo-dual-purpose rubber (sticky rubber for the 19-inch rim size probably doesn't exist). The Kawasaki sports more conventional street-oriented 17-inch rims on both ends, and although the Dunlop D221 tires are adequate, a switch to better rubber is easily done and surely would help overall handling. Considering its budgetary leanings the Suzuki's suspension acquitted itself well in most situations; the Versys' units were also good, but not quite as well sorted as the V-Strom's.
The BMW's optional ABS brakes offered up surprising power and high threshold levels (before the ABS kicked in), but their initial response was bit too strong, with not a whole lot of modulation available. This often caused excessive front-end dive with the nonadjustable fork when the brakes were applied anywhere near aggressively. The Kawasaki's twin two-piston slider calipers and 305mm petal discs provided good stopping power and decent modulation properties, but they weren't very progressive and required a good squeeze to generate more braking power. Considering its pseudo-off-road intentions the V-Strom's brakes provide decent response, but while their power is adequate, overall feel is pretty wooden, hampering any attempts to modulate braking while stopping aggressively.