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.
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.
Show Me The Money
When it comes to actual sporting performance, the BMW wins for the most part-but you've got to pay the piper to get it, and there are still quite a few issues that detract from the overall package's luster. Even though the argument could be made that the higher entry fee is part of owning a "premium brand," it's a pretty weak argument in a category like this.
Our testers were torn between the Kawasaki Versys and Suzuki V-Strom. Both offered economical all-around performance while also suffering from a few niggling detractions. But when the objective numerical evaluations were totaled up with a sprinkling of subjective opinion, the DL650 just eked out the top spot over the Versys by dint of its smoother, easier-to-use and more responsive V-twin engine and more polished all-around package. Both machines probably wouldn't be the first you'd think of when it comes to entry-level sporting tackle-but their capabilities while offering a hospitable learning environment will definitely surprise you.
|SPECS ||BMW F800 S ||KAWASAKI VERSYS ||SUZUKI DL650 V-STROM |
|MSRP ||$9,950 ||$6,899 ||$6,699 |
|Type ||Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke vertical twin ||Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke vertical twin ||Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke 90-degree V-twin |
|Displacement ||798cc ||649cc ||645cc |
|Bore x stroke ||82 x 75.6mm ||83 x 60mm ||81 x 62.6mm |
|Induction ||BMS-K EFI, 46mm throttle bodies ||Keihin EFI, 38mm throttle bodies ||SDTV EFI, 39mm throttle bodies |
|Front suspension ||43mm conventional cartridge fork, 5.5 in. travel ||41mm inverted cartridge fork, 5.9 in. travel ||43mm conventional cartridge fork, 6.0 in. travel |
|Rear suspension ||Single rear shock, 5.5 in. travel ||Single rear shock, 5.7 in. travel ||Single rear shock, 5.9 in. travel |
|Front tire ||12070ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-014 ||120/70R-17 Dunlop D221FA C ||110/80R-19 Bridgestone Trail Wing 152 F |
|Rear tire ||180/55ZR-17 Bridgestone BT-014 ||160/60R-17 Dunlop D221 G ||150/70R-17 Bridgestone Trail Wing 101J |
|Rake/trail ||26.2 deg./3.7 in. (94mm) ||25 deg./4.3 in. (109mm) ||26 deg./4.3 in. (109mm) |
|Wheelbase ||57.7 in. (1466mm) ||55.7 in. (1415mm) ||60.6 in. (1540mm) |
|Weight ||465 lb. wet; 440.4 lb. dry ||457 lb. wet; 427 lb. dry ||485 lb. wet; 450.2 lb. dry |
'08 BMW F800S
+ Powerful engine, nice chassis
+ Conventional front fork = front-end feedback
+ Many nice options
- A little pricey- Long-turn throttle to get power
- Still vibrates a bit
x If price were no object...but in this category it usually is
Suggested Suspension Settings
Rear Spring preload: 24 clicks from full stiff on preload adjustment knob; rebound damping: 0.75 turn out from full stiff
'08 Kawasaki Versys
+ Economically priced, good performance
+ Agile handling
+ Revvy engine
- Tall seat height
- Torque falls off earlier than V-twin
- Vibration annoying
x If you aren't interested in trying any dirt roads, this is it
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front Spring preload: 7 turns out from full stiff; rebound damping: 1.75 turns from full stiff
Rear Spring preload: position 5 of 7; rebound damping: 4 clicks out from full stiff
'08 Suzuki DL650 V-Strom
+ Smooth, torquey engine
+ Stable chassis, good suspension
+ Comfy ergos, long range
- Front wheel limits rubber options
- A little sketchy at high lean angles
- A bit heavy
x A surprising do-it-all bike that's inexpensive to boot
Suggested Suspension Settings
Front Spring preload: 2 lines showing
Rear Spring preload: 2 lines showing Spring preload: 11 clicks from full stiff on remote hydraulic preload adjustment knob; rebound damping: 1 turn out from full stiff
The smaller "Bandit" proves to be a superb replacement for the aging Katana series
With the long-overdue demise of the 600 and 750 Katana series, Suzuki has filled that "economical sportbike" gap in its '08 lineup with the new GSX650F. A bike that actually debuted last year in Canada and Europe in basic naked-bike form as the '07 model Bandit 650S, the GSX650F is similar in concept to the Bandit 1250S in that it breaks with tradition by not being just a rehashed version of a past generation sportbike. In fact, like the 1250S the GSX650F boasts an all-new engine and chassis designed specifically for this model.
The new middleweight's liquid-cooled, 656cc, DOHC four-cylinder engine is tailored specifically for low-end and midrange response rather than top-end power. Instead of the normal radically oversquare engine configuration, the GSX650F utilizes an old-style, longer-stroke 65.5 x 48.7mm layout. The four valves per cylinder are canted at a 17-degree included angle, with pistons sporting ion-coated rings for less friction forcing an 11.5:1 compression ratio, and Suzuki's Dual Throttle Valve System in the 36mm throttle bodies breathing through midrange-tuned cams. The 4-into-2-into-1 exhaust utilizes a large-capacity catalyzer and oxygen sensor to pass strict Euro III and EPA Tier 2 standards. A six-speed transmission works through a hydraulic-actuated clutch for easy gearshifts.
The double-cradle steel-tube frame is a fairly conventional unit that sports some conservative steering-geometry numbers (26- degree rake, 108mm trail) coupled with a near-60-inch wheelbase. A 41mm conventional fork with preload adjustability and a single shock out back with adjustable rebound damping and spring preload handle road-holding duties, while four-piston Tokico calipers bite on 310mm discs up front with a single 240mm disc in the rear.
The GSX650F's cockpit is nicely...
The GSX650F's cockpit is nicely laid out with a comfortable handlebar bend, excellent mirrors and an instrument panel that's easy to read at a glance. The fuel gauge was very pessimistic on our test bike; with the last fuel bar flashing there was still over a gallon of fuel left.
Unlike the foreign-model Bandit 650S, the GSX650F comes wrapped in a full fairing with distinct GSX-R overtones. The fairing and windscreen are much taller and wider, though, in order to work with the GSXF's upright ergos; the upper triple clamp holds a set of conventional handlebars. Also befitting the Suzuki's entry-level intentions is very manageable 30.3-inch seat height.
Just as with the Bandit 1250S, spec-chart mavens surveying the GSXF's dyno chart will look at its 75-horsepower peak output and presume the new Suzuki to be nothing more than a pale weakling of a middleweight that can barely get out of its own way-but nothing could be further from actual reality. The GSXF's V-twin-like flat torque curve allows responsive acceleration in urban environs without having to rev the piss out of the engine or hastily grab multiple downshifts. A short first gear makes quick work out of holeshotting traffic from a stoplight with little of the heavy throttle and deft clutch management usually required on a middleweight, and even passing highway traffic at 60-70 mph often doesn't require a downshift. The GSXF's powerplant provides easily ccessible power that offers a much more hospitable environment for a novice rider to learn in.
That flat torque curve pays major dividends in the twisty sections as well, allowing more concentration on steering, throttle control and corner speed and less on gear selection. Adding icing to the cake is the GSXF's throttle response, which is one of the smoothest we've ever experienced on a fuel-injected motorcycle. With the engine tuned for responsive torque, naturally there's not a whole lot of power up top, and acceleration tails off above 9500 rpm, so trying to wring out the Suzuki's engine like your average supersport mill won't work. Anyone riding it as such will be disappointed-but they probably should be riding a different bike in the first place.
The GSXF's steering habits are lighter than the relaxed front-end geometry and long wheelbase numbers would suggest. There's plenty of stability to keep things from becoming unruly over midcorner bumps, yet steering is responsive enough to permit line changes without too much effort. It's only when big directional changes are attempted that the Suzuki's conservative setup and sizable weight-a hefty 535 pounds-make themselves known. The Bridgestone BT-020 rubber fitted as standard equipment on the GSXF surely helps with the surprisingly light steering, but the old-generation tires only offer an adequate balance of grip and wear rates.
Despite its minimal adjustability and budget-oriented origins, the suspension does an admirable job of handling everything from the mangled pavement of the city to a spirited run through the canyons. Except for some buzziness in the handlebars, even fairly long superslab stints are tolerable, although the upright ergos, good wind protection and wide, comfy saddle help considerably in that regard (the four-cylinder also sips fuel, with 200 miles easily possible with the five-gallon tank). The spring and damping rates are a very acceptable compromise that offers up a smooth enough ride while keeping the chassis well under control at the moderately aggressive speeds the GSXF is easily capable of. Get too aggressive, however, and the Suzuki quickly lets you know you're approaching its limits, as its porkiness starts to overwhelm the suspension. That limit is a lot higher than you'd think for a bike of this sort, though, and again is well outside its intended scope of use.
Even though the front brake calipers are four-piston Tokico units from an earlier-generation GSX-R, braking action isn't as good as you'd expect, even accounting for the Suzuki's intended market. Initial bite feels pretty wooden, and any real braking power requires a pretty firm squeeze on the lever to extract it. Seeing as the calipers are old GSX-R units, replacing the brake pads with a more responsive compound shouldn't be a problem.
The GSX650F is a superb replacement for the ancient 600 and 750 Katanas, offering far better real-world performance with much better comfort and economy. And with a sticker price of just $6999, a definite bargain in our book.
'08 Suzuki GSX650F
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse inline, DOHC, 4-stroke four
Bore x stroke: 65.5 x 48.7mm
Compression ratio: 11.5:1
Induction: SDTV EFI, 36mm throttle bodies, single inj./cyl.
Front tire: Bridgestone BT-011FN 120/70ZR-17
Rear tire: Bridgestone BT-020RF 160/60ZR-17
Rake/trail: 26 deg./4.2 in. (108mm)
Wheelbase: 57.9 in. (1470mm)
Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal. (19L); 4.9 gal. (18.5L) CA model
Weight: 535 lb. wet; 505 lb. dry
Fuel economy: 34-52 mpg, 43 mpg avg.
Quarter-mile: 11.94 sec. @ 110.1 mphRoll-ons: 60-80 mph/4.49 sec.; 80-100 mph/5.18 sec.
Top speed: 125.6 mph
Triumph Street Triple
Creating a potential ultimate "little" street brawler
With the continued sales success of its recently upgraded (with bigger 1050cc engine) Speed Triple, many figured it was only a matter of time before Triumph took the 675cc three-cylinder powerplant from its Daytona 675 model and created a smaller, less expensive version of its iconic naked bike. Triumph quickly answered that call for 2008 with its new $7999 Street Triple.
At first glance the Street Triple simply appears to be a Daytona 675 with the bodywork stripped off and a high-pipe exhaust with different tailsection and the distinctive dual round headlights, but there are some substantial differences. Internally the 675cc three-cylinder engine sports milder cams with less lift and duration, along with cast pistons instead of the forged units found in the Daytona. While the airbox volume is the same, the intake funnel is smaller on the Street Triple, and the retuned engine meant that the exhaust valve used on the Daytona could be jettisoned. The milder state of tune also meant revised ignition and fueling curves, with a 1000-rpm lower redline on the Street Triple.
Befitting its less hardcore sporting intentions, the Street Triple's steering geometry is a bit more relaxed than the Daytona, with a 24.3-degree/95.3mm rake/trail measurement resulting in an incrementally longer (0.1 inch) wheelbase of 54.9 inches. The frame's rear subsection is much different to support the dual high-pipe mufflers and stubby seat/tailsection, with seat height dropping a full inch from the Daytona's 32.5-inch setting. Fuel tank capacity is the same as the Daytona at 4.6 gallons.
It's in the details where Triumph made some shortcuts to attain the Street Triple's low price tag. The 41mm inverted fork is nonadjustable, and the single rear shock only sports spring preload adjustability. The Nissin calipers biting on 308mm rotors appear to be the same four-piston units from the older Daytona but in fact are even older two-piston slider components. Triumph definitely didn't chintz out on the rubber, however; the five-spoke cast aluminum wheels come shod with Dunlop's superb Sportmax Qualifier rubber in 120/70ZR-17 and 180/55ZR-17 sizes.
Scaling in at only 423 pounds fully fueled, the Street Triple's light weight and diminutive size deliver an agile-handling package that the slightly detuned three-cylinder has no problem hauling around in haste. Zipping through traffic requires only a twist of the wrist with the little Triumph's linear powerband, although the midrange is actually weaker than the Daytona, so a bit more rpm are required for serious steam. The upright handlebars allow plenty of leverage, so flicking the Street Triple around takes little effort, and steering with the Dunlop Qualifiers is scalpel-sharp and precise.
The only problem is that if you begin to flick the bike even just a little too aggressively the flaccid suspension rates quickly become overpowered and the previously enjoyable handling goes out the window. Even at the moderately aggressive pace the other four bikes involved in this test handled without complaint, the Triumph was bottoming both ends and wallowing excessively enough to signal the rider that the limit was definitely reached. Complicating matters is excessive driveline lash exacerbated by a jerky throttle response that upsets the handling even more in the corners.
Surprisingly, the Triumph's cut-rate calipers deliver good braking power and feel, enabling you to controllably bleed off speed if necessary. Some testers found the seat a little stiff and confining and the pegs a bit too high and tight for their liking. Still, the overall package is that close to being spot-on, and other than the suspension and driveline lash complaints there was little to hate with the Street Triple and a lot to like. We figure trying to retrofit some Daytona suspension bits on the Street Triple would easily turn it into the serious bang-for-the-buck street brawler the Triumph engineers originally intended.
'08 Triumph Street Triple
Bore x stroke: 74 x 52.3mm
Compression ratio: 12.7:1
Induction: Keihin EFI, 44mm throttle bodies
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier
Rear tire: 180/55ZR-17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier
Rake/trail: 24.3 deg./3.75 in. (95.3mm)
Wheelbase: 54.9 in. (1395mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.6 gal. (17.4L)
Fuel economy: 39-43 mpg, 42 mpg avg.
Quarter-mile: 11.11 sec. @ 121.3 mph
Roll-ons: 60-80 mph/3.43 sec.; 80-100 mph/3.97 sec.
Top speed: 136.1 mph
Fuel economy: 41-50 mpg, 46 mpg avg.
Roll-ons: 60-80 mph/4.09 sec.; 80-100 mph/4.24 sec.
Quarter-mile: 11.31 sec. @ 116.7 mph
Top speed: 135 mph
Fuel economy: 42-47 mpg, 45 mpg avg.
Roll-ons: 60-80 mph/4.45 sec.; 80-100 mph/6.2 sec.
Quarter-mile: 12.40 sec. @ 104.1 mph
Top speed: 109.7 mph
Suzuki DL650 V-Strom
Fuel economy: 45-52 mpg, 49 mpg avg.
Roll-ons: 60-80 mph/5.42 sec.; 80-100 mph/NA
Quarter-mile: 12.57 sec. @ 102.0 mph
Top speed: 105.1 mph
|SR RATINGS ||BMW |
|Fun to ride ||7.0 ||8.0 ||8.0 |
|Quality ||8.0 ||8.0 ||8.0 |
|Instruments and controls ||7.0 ||8.0 ||8.0 |
|Ergonomics ||7.0 ||7.5 ||8.0 |
|Chassis and handling ||7.5 ||8.0 ||7.0 |
|Suspension ||8.0 ||7.5 ||7.5 |
|Brakes ||8.0 ||7.0 ||6.5 |
|Transmission ||7.0 ||7.5 ||7.5 |
|Engine power ||9.0 ||7.5 ||8.0 |
|Engine power delivery ||7.0 ||7.0 ||8.0 |
|RATINGS TOTAL ||75.5 ||76.0 ||76.5 |
The F800S was an absolute joy to ride. It dove right into turns and soaked up everything in its path. Unfortunately the S also dove on the brakes quite a bit, and the bars had an annoying buzz at speed. But if this category weren't so much about price I'd pick the F800S. For the rest of us in the real world the other two choices are very comparable in performance and cost almost $3000 less. If I had to choose only one my money would be on the Versys. Not that the V-Strom is an inferior motorcycle; I love the character of the venerable V-twin, the comfortable ergonomics and the great wind protection. But I still get nervous with that 19-inch front hoop. Whenever I hop on the Versys, however, I get the urge to go to the local twisties and give the sportbike guys a fit-something I know the bike is ready and willing to do.
In this category I'm looking for the most functionality for the least amount of money, and that fits the Suzuki DL650 V-Strom just about perfectly. It was surprisingly fun to ride through the canyons, and I was equally surprised at how well the longer travel suspension and large front wheel worked on the street. The Suzuki wasn't as confidence-inspiring as the BMW or Kawasaki, but only by a fraction. The V-Strom's engine has good torque and spreads the power evenly throughout the rev range, only flatlining at the very top. If you are more of a sport-tourer, the V-Strom is all-day comfortable and has the best weather protection, a large gas tank and a vast amount of touring accessories like heated grips and hard luggage. It also doesn't hurt that the DL650 is the least expensive of the three. Still, it's too bad the F800GS wasn't available for this test.
The roads in my backyard happen to be the same roads we test on occasionally. This and the frequent L.A. commute showcase the three bikes' significant differences. The Beemer still flows quality and performance, but its price tag sends me searching for a better value in this category. If I just wanted to roll up the garage door and hit the corners then I'd be grabbing the Kawi key. The new Versys has good midrange power and offers impressive cornering prowess thanks in part to the 17-inch wheels front and rear (as opposed to the DL650's 19-inch front). The V-Strom excels across the board when all categories are tallied though. A roomy, comfortable cockpit coupled with a neutral-handling chassis is what has me leaning toward the Suzuki. Power delivery is smooth and commute-friendly. The Wee-Strom feels at home when the terrain becomes more technical as well and wins by a wheel at the line.
It always amazes me how much fun we end up having on these budget-bike rides. We have to keep a sharp eye out for the law-and our own well-being-when riding flashy sportbikes that go 100 mph in first gear, but on these bikes no one seems to take notice of our antics. And 60 horsepower doesn't get out of hand like 160 can. Of these three bikes I had the most fun on the V-Strom because of its smooth and user-friendly V-twin engine. The parallel twins both vibrate in the higher rev range, which I found distracted me from using the F800's extra power or the Kawasaki's better front end when we started hammering. You'll need to use every last pony the Suzuki can offer to keep up with the other twins down a canyon road, but it chuffs along near redline as smooth as a sewing machine, making it easy-and fun-to tag along.