Adventure touring is probably the most diverse genre of motorcycling. Each rider has their own definition of adventure and their own ideas about which bike suits that the best. It can be anything from a $30,000 mega-touring steed to a roached out 250cc jalopy held together with bailing wire and bungees. The 650 platform is a popular one that is at the upper end of the dual sport size spectrum and the bottom end of the adventure touring displacement. That allows manufacturers to take different approaches. MotoUSA rounded up a trio of midsize bikes that cover a wide range of intended use. These three versions feature a lot of diversity but are all competing for the same rider base and their hard-earned dollars.
Kawasaki has the most established bike of the group with its 2012 KLR650. The KLR hasn’t been significantly updated since it received a major overhaul in 2008. Before that it was a couple decades of stagnant development. Though it isn’t making headlines every year, the KLR quietly goes about serving a cult following of hard-core adventure riders and world travelers. One of the reasons the KLR has been a best-seller for Kawasaki over the years is its low price. Owners get a lot of penny-pinching savings from their KLR with a brand new model retailing dangerously close to $6K. But, does value outweigh the lack of modern technology and convenience?
BMW riders have been clamoring for a replacement from the German brand to fill a void left by the Dakar model. The Bavarians responded with the 2012 G650GS Sertao. BMW’s single-cylinder GS base model gets a dose of dirt-lovin’ upgrades such as a 21-inch front wheel and longer-travel suspension. It makes use of fuel injection, ABS and a host of nicer electronics. We’re curious to see if the new model provides the performance and refinement it promises on paper.
Suzuki has loyal followers as well with the V-Strom 650 ABS. Every comparison we do that doesn’t include the Wee-Strom gets inundated with “what ifs” and “how comes?” The model received a needed facelift for 2012 and looks much improved on the surface. At the heart of the V-Strom is a very similar mechanical makeup. A V-Twin engine sets it apart from the other bikes and is easily the most defining feature of the Suzuki. We got a taste of the luggage-laden Adventure model in the 2012 Suzuki V-Strom ABS Adventure First Ride. In order to keep the prices closer for this comparison, we opted for the standard model. The other bikes do not have luggage and already enjoy a bias in the dirt. Loading down the V-Strom would have hindered it more off the pavement. The ability to head off-road is what adds “adventure” to the touring recipe, but is leaving the luggage at home going to be enough to be competitive in the dirt?
The bikes were revved out on our in-house dyno and straddled our digital scales with a full tank of fuel. We kept track of mileage and also ranked the bikes on their potential range. Hard numbers only tell part of the story, so we racked up
time on pavement and dirt to see how the bikes perform across a range of conditions. We even hammered out tedious freeway miles just to get a feel for droning along behind the windscreens. The Kawasaki and BMW were originally sourced for the 2012 Taste of Dakar Adventure Touring Ride, and were equipped with more aggressive dirt tires – Dunlop 606 dual sport tires for the KLR and Metzeler MCE Karoo tires for the Sertao. After picking up the Suzuki and taking it for an introductory ride, it was clear to us that it isn’t the type of bike that’s likely to get such burly treads. It retained the stock Bridgestone Trail Wing 152 dual sport tires.
We had three seats to fill and utilized our standard crew. Managing Editor Bart Madson loves the smaller AT bikes as he continues getting experience off the pavement. He lends a taller perspective as our only rider above six-feet tall. Off-Road Editor JC Hilderbrand authors the article and was far more accepting of the knobby tires. Dave Riant proved his keen eye for detail and showcased a wealth of ADV experience as a guest rider during our 2011 Adventure Touring Shootout. He had a long career working in the woods and has spent decades navigating thousands of roads in Southern Oregon for work and recreation. That knowledge made him our go-to man to serve as a guide for this 650 comparison. It also wasn’t lost on us that his personal ride is a 2008 Kawasaki KLR650, so he’s well versed in the big DS/small AT lifestyle. With the team assembled and bikes prepped, we set off to see just where these 650 bikes fit into the Adventure Touring world.