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2003 BMW F650GS Dakar vs. Honda XR650L Conclusion

Friday, May 23, 2003
2003 BMW F650GS Dakar vs. Honda XR650L
BMW's liquid-cooled engine (blue) is clearly superior to the air-cooled XR (red), showing an advantage in both torque and horsepower.
On the Dyno

The BMW also outclassed the XR during our head-to-head dyno session at Hansen's Motorcycles. The GS has a slight advantage in displacement thanks to 1mm extra stroke to go along with their identical 100mm bores, plus it has the benefit of a much higher compression ratio allowed by its liquid-cooling. The Beemer pumps out 37.4 hp at 5600 rpm while the slightly revvier XR tops out with 31.0 hp at 6000 rpm. Torque numbers reveal a similar disparity, with the BMW cranking out 35.2 ft.-lbs. of twist at 4750 rpm, slightly better than the XR's 29.7 ft.-lbs. at a thumpier 3800 rpm.

Despite what the dyno charts tell us, the 324-lb. XR pulls harder at lower speeds than the 412-lb. BMW. The XR's lower torque peak gives a rider immediate access to its fairly shallow well of power, but the BMW walks away from the XR during impromptu drag races, despite the Honda's better power-to-weight ratio. It hauls around 10.45 lbs. for each pony to the BMW's 11.14 pounds-per-horsepower, assuming both manufacturers are equally optimistic with their claimed dry weights we used in this calculation. (We didn't have our new digital scales at the time of this test.)

Make no mistake about these machines, though. One-lunged bikes such as these won't be challenging any ZX-12 pilots on the road. The BMW can cruise easily at 75 mph, but it won't take kindly to higher velocities. The same applies to the Honda, though with an even-lower speed envelope.

Final Analysis

Here are two well-built bikes from two of the most respected manufacturers on the planet. Both are similar in description, although very different in implementation.

The XR650L roosts over the BMW competition for its best balance between dirt and off-road performance.
The XR650L roosts over the BMW competition for its best balance between dirt and off-road performance.
The Dakar version of the F650GS arrives with a hefty price tag, up an extra $500 over the standard GS to $8,690. Add in another $500 for our tester's anti-lock brakes brings the total up to an eyeball-bulging $9,190. With all its amenities, including a centerstand and fuel-injection, the GS looks like it's worth that price. Stylish bodywork and more high-tech gadgets than the competition make it a great choice for the upper-class consumer that needs the bourgeois spinning-propeller emblem to make themselves feel as good as their bike's comfortable road ride. It has a great riding position, smooth motor, and a plush suspension that begs to be ridden long distances. It provides just enough off-road capability to be called a dual-sport, but we were looking to find out which of these is the better dual-purpose bike.

The XR650L comes in as the bargain of the two, with a paltry $5,499 sticker price. And, it has to be said, it looks like a $5,000 bike next to the high-class Beemer. But there is more to it than meets the eye. The XR is head and shoulders above the GS in the off-road arena. It may be at bit down on power and refinement, but it keeps pace with the BMW on the street while kicking it's ass off-road. In a two-part test such as this, the XR proves to be a better multi-purpose machine.

Bottom line: The much more inexpensive Honda XR650L is our pick of this dual-purpose litter. Its compromise between street and dirt is more evenly balanced, and it's an excellent mount for those intent on pushing off-road limits. But if the paths you take are usually paved, the pricey BMW, more of an adventure-tourer than a dual-sport, is an easy choice.

The question remains: Do you want some dirt in your streetbike or some street in your dirtbike? 


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Comments
Jocking   October 13, 2013 06:43 PM
A ten-year old error. To correct or not to correct? Correct. Honda won the Baja 1000, and many other dessert races, with the XR650 *R*, which they sold from 2000 - 2007. It's a very different bike than the 650 *L*, which they still sell, nearly unchanged from the 2003 model. The 'R' is much lighter, largely due to an aluminum frame, is water cooled, and powered by an engine that makes about 60 HP, stock. (They are still around due to their near cult following.) Specs list the bike as weighing 273, dry. The bike is a pure, kick-start only, dessert racer. They are illegal on the streets of many states. The *L* was, and is, an air cooled, steel framed bike that is sold street-legal, a true dual purpose. The wet weight of the 2013 iteration is listed at 346. The air-cooled engine makes about 35 HP, stock, but it can be "uncorked" to gain about another 10. The XR650L does have one enormous advantage over the R: you can do to any Honda dealer and buy one. They are bullet proof reliable, can be a lot of fun off-road, and make excellent commuters. Private owners have raced Baja on Ls, but none has ever come close to winning.