The BMW F800GS and KTM 690 Enduro R both rank at the top of our list of favorite adventure bikes. But, which one is the best?
Setting out to do a comparison of adventure bikes is a tricky task. In a segment where there is really no definition of class based upon displacement or any other key factor, each manufacturer takes a design approach based more or less upon what its view of an adventure bike should be. That view can vary greatly, and so it should, just like the roads these bikes will travel.
In fact, it is likely that a potential buyer will probably be apt to consider different models within a single brand, such as the entire BMW GS lineup, versus similar models from a different brand. The Germans set out to give all their adventure touring bikes a certain feel, clearly true with our 2010 BMW F800GS test bike, while the neighboring Austrians approach the challenge from a very different perspective.
There is no denying that virtually BMW models are road bikes at heart (minus the one-off G450X). So much so that many have long felt that the GS line up represents some of the company’s best tarmac mounts. By contrast, the KTM 690 Enduro R always seems to have a dirt bike trying to burst out of it.
What we have are two bikes of similar displacement and cost, both billed as adventure bikes. At a casual glance it could be easy to assume that these two might have little in common, and that’s a strong argument. Yet, they are two models trying to carve out the relatively new niche of middleweight adventure bikes.
We decided to throw the two together for a week of riding on some of the best backcountry roads of Idaho just to see how well the two played together. As you may remember, we tested the Austrian machine just a few months ago during the 2010 KTM 690 Enduro First Ride and found plenty to like about it. As for the GS, it took top honors in the year end Best of 2009 Awards, claiming the Adventure Motorcycle and Bike of the Year categories.
2010 BMW F800GS
When MotoUSA’s Off-Road Editor, JC Hilderbrand, rolled up on the Beemer after a long haul to meet me in Boise, I was surprised to see the GS decked out in full hard luggage. In addition to a week’s worth of gear, there was also a case dedicated to camera, video and computer equipment (part of the whole traveling journalist gig). Much like the bikes, I was on the other end of the spectrum with only a backpack for my stint on the KTM. But from my Baja wanderings I am used to traveling light. With a Gore-Tex suit to serve as my basic outfit, that really only left me needing a few personals and some flip-flops to complete the kit.
Our F800GS had to travel nearly 1000 miles just to get to the testing location, so it was strapped with full luggage and acted as the mule for all of our camera gear.
Isn’t adventure riding about being minimalist? Well for BMW the answer to that is no! A little luxury never hurt anyone and the middle child GS proves that. Along with the factory-offered bag system, our test bike included heated grips, ABS and a dazzling array of electronic displays that included a fuel gauge with an estimated remaining tank mileage calculation. That theme of luxury carries over to almost every aspect of the 800’s ride quality.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s take a look at what makes up this newest member of the BMW Gelände/Straße lineup. While having many of the creature comforts that we have come to expect from the GS, technically it is pretty much a clean-slate design. That means dispensing of both the Telelever and Paralever designs in favor of more conventional suspension and a chain final drive.
At the heart of it all is a very ordinary looking 798cc Parallel Twin motor. Forty years ago this engine configuration ruled much of the motorcycling world. Yet ultimately they were doomed by vibration and the progression of the larger Japanese fours. Once manufacturers were able to overcome the vibration issues, the motor design just never seemed to come back to prominence, probably overshadowed by the lure of sexy V-twins.
It may be oddest of all that BMW would be one to showcase such a design against their own heritage of opposed Twins. But here it is, fuel injected and putting out a very respectable claimed 85 horsepower with 62 lb-ft of torque at just 5,700 revs. It’s smooth, fast and without even a hint of vibration.
If there’s a knock against the motor is it simply that it lacks a little soul. No big power pulses here to get the adrenaline flowing. What it does have is a nicely crafted exhaust note that gives a rewarding little growl upon start up. More than once I walked around the back of the bike to try to figure out how such a note could come out of the very generic looking canister. At speed the sound is quickly drowned out by highway noise and so never becomes obtrusive.
The BMW offers much better protection for the rider. However, it’s best suited to blocking wind and rain rather than bombing through creeks.
Mated to a six-speed transmission, the 800 has very long legs. It is easy to find yourself at cruising speed only to look down and notice that it’s still in fourth gear. In fact without the aid of the gear position display I may have never even found sixth, partly due to the quietness of the motor. The smooth power delivery is a joy in traffic, stop and go situations require very little clutch modulation.
The triple disc brakes are strong and have decent feel. The ABS system can be disabled by holding the bar-mounted button down while turning the key on, or while at a standstill. This is really a must for off-road riding as the system kicks in pretty quickly, well before any serious lack of grip is noticed.
The spoke wheels are a 21/17-inch combo. The 150 series rear will be limited to a street or adventure style tire, but a full knobby could easily be mounted up front. This is a common practice with many dirt-bound adventure riders; run an aggressive tire up front for better braking and turning with a more street oriented tire in the rear to give a longer life span. Aggressive riding on the large bikes can go through rear tires pretty quick.
The suspension package features nine inches of travel in the front and 8.5 in the rear. The inverted 45mm Marzocchi fork looks like it is ready for some serious action, but that is mostly window dressing. Sadly it is completely non-adjustable. The soft spring rates let you know very quickly that obstacles are not to be tackled with aggression.
Similarly, the Sachs shock features preload adjustment only, although this can be accomplished by hand with a convenient knob on the right side. Street performance is great, but limited in the dirt, so overall action is just decent, but this is a package designed for comfort. Easy does it and everyone will remain happy.