For My Money
There’s perhaps no better gauge of the test bikes than asking riders which they would choose to purchase. Our scorecards are designed to extract as much information as possible, but we’ve learned time and time again that shootout winners aren’t always the rider's favorite. It’s a testament to our riders’ objectivity and points out mechanical and engineering might. However, real riders have to spend real money on these motorcycles, so here’s what our test crew had to say when considering their own riding style and bank accounts.
Dave Riant – Age 56 – 5’11” – 160 lbs. – 41 years riding – Kawasaki KLR650
The Suzuki uses its potent drivetrain to claim the shootout victory, but the KLR650 is unanimous as our riders' favorite. From our dirt rookie to our veteran touring expert, the Kawi is the best all-around package, it just lacks the muscle to win on the scoresheet.
I really want to love the V-Strom. It’s such a great street bike and I would be happy with its off-road performance for the majority of remote routes encountered . But reality sets in. The seated position is too cramped for long days in the saddle. The oil filter and low pipe are also a concern as are the cast rims, all of which are vulnerable in rocky terrain. Plus the $2000 saved by selecting the KLR would buy accessories, new riding gear and still leave some extra cash for a trip.
Bart Madson – Age 35 – 6’0” – 200 lbs. – 6 years riding – Kawasaki KLR650
I ain’t a pauper, but I sure think like one. So the $2000 pricing discrepancy buys the Kawasaki a lot of leeway in my book. I have to admit that its cheap price does carry over in fit and finish and build quality, given some of our issues with the test unit, which is a long-term project bike too. That said it’s a hell of a lot of bike for $6300.
JC Hilderbrand – Age 29 – 5’11” – 190 lbs. – 16 years riding – Kawasaki KLR650
The Kawasaki is clearly the best bike for me. Once you consider the pricetag there’s no question this is the bike I would buy. It’s not perfect by any means, particularly with regards to the engine performance and mechanical build. I think this bike will hold up to the rigors of off-road riding better than the others, but it takes a tedious wrench to stay on top of loosening bolts and general maintenance. It frustrates me because Kawasaki could make it easier to work on, but it’s definitely easier to find my way around this bike in the garage because it’s very dirt bike-ish. I’m going to be very hard on my AT bike, regardless of if it’s a 650 or a 1200. The KLR is a bike that I won’t feel bad about hammering and I can afford to keep doing it.