2012 650 Adventure-Tourer Shootout - Video
BMW G650GS vs. Kawasaki Versys vs. Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS
A Paved Majority
There isn’t a bike among the three that isn’t a good candidate for slicing around twisty pavement. However, the Versys excels at canyon carving where the V-Strom and GS, while good in their own rights, lack the Kawasaki’s twisty-road prowess.
The Versys and V-Strom have closely matched steering geometry; and the BMW’s 4.5-inch trail figure is merely 0.2-inch longer than that of the V bikes, but the Beemer’s 28.0-degree steering rake is notably more relaxed, which can pay dividends when riding off-road sections. Where the Versys steps away from the small herd is with its inches-shorter wheelbase that measures 55.7 inches (58.2 BMW, 61.4 V-Strom) and its sportbike size rubber.
The V-Strom and G-GS each have narrow 19-inch front wheels wrapped with tires with large tread blocks to offer greater traction on unpaved surfaces. The Kawasaki shows its pavement intent by wearing Dunlop Sportmax D221 tires with a 120/70 x 17 front, 160/60 x 17 rear. This tire size combo allows riders a wide selection of good, grippy tires to choose from, not to mention the handling advantage a sportbike-type tire offers when riding aggressively on twisty roads.
“The Versys enjoys the best cornering clearance of the three,” says Tom. “The GS grinds its sidestand (attributable to our test unit’s low suspension option) while the Strom’s footpegs will dig in before anything on the Versys touches down.”
Tom’s accurate assessment about the Kawi’s carving prowess shouldn’t overshadow the V-Strom and G650GS’s good road manners.
The Suzuki’s cruiser-long 61-inch wheelbase translates into initial steering input that requires deliberate effort; it simply takes more energy to initiate turn-in for a flowing corner, and transitioning between turns also demands some work on the rider’s part. The BMW, oddly, exhibits a falling-into-the-corner sensation during the first 20-percent of the transition from upright to leaned over – a phenomenon often experienced on motorcycles with high a C of G.
Less-than-snappy handling traits aside, both the GS and V-Strom offer excellent stability and communicative, confident feedback from the front-end once each bike is fully leaned in the corner.
Considering the Suzuki’s skinny front tire that, by design, compromises between a sticky-pavement bun and something fire-road-ready, I was impressed by how willingly the ‘Strom continued to comply with my requests to lean deeper into each turn. And its front end never once signaled to me, “Hey, pal. Take a break, will ya?!”
If you’re considering one of these motorcycles and know with a high degree of certainty that more than 90% of your riding will consist of pavement, and you have a tendency toward sport riding, then the Versys should move near the top of your short list. With its upright riding position, wide handlebar and aforementioned tires, the Versys is the progeny of a one-night stand between a Z1000 and Ninja 650R.
Suspension performance from each motorcycle is more than adequate in terms of bump compliance, as well as overall ride comfort. And unless you’re dreaming of competing in the Paris-Dakar, the 5.5 to 6-plus-inches of suspension travel offered from this trio worked well on and off-road.
Each model has a spring preload adjustment along with a degree of rebound damping adjustment in the shock. However, both the V-Strom and GS thoughtfully provide a remote dial for shock spring preload, accessible near the rider’s right leg – an ideal feature for when you’ve just added a passenger or luggage and realize in short order you need to firm up the rear end.
The Versys’ offset laydown shock uses a ramp-style preload adjustment – more convenient than a traditional locking-ring arrangement, but nowhere near as practical as the dial-a-ride adjusters on the BMW and Suzuki. This linkage-less shock is conveniently located along the perimeter of the right side of the frame. Nevertheless, the ramp-style preload adjuster requires either a specific tool, or a hammer and robust flat-blade screwdriver, to adjust – not nearly as handy as a remote dial.
With the exception of Tall Tom’s distaste for the way the Versys positions taller riders in its saddle, we were generally content, if not down right impressed, with each bike’s ergonomic layout. The BMW we were given for testing had BMW’s low-suspension option installed which made the GS feel like an 8/10ths scale bike compared to the others. And for a taller folks like Tom, the low suspension was just too low, giving it a “toy-like presence,” according to T-Rod. That said, short riders will surely enjoy the security of piloting the littlest GS, by far the lightest bike in this trio.
The Suzuki’s wide fuel tank cover and largest (and manually adjustable) windshield do an excellent job of keeping the rider protected from the wind. The Versys (also with an adjustable windscreen) and G650GS garnered good comments for wind protection, but the Suzuki was by far the lead choice for the bike we’d want to take on a trip of many, many miles. The Suzuki’s rider triangle has the roomiest cockpit – a desirable attribute for long days in the saddle. However, the V-Strom’s physical size is less than appealing when the pavement ends, as we’ll see later.
The combination of an analog dial and LCD info screen is common to the three motorcycles. But the Suzuki’s LCD afforded the best view since its characters were large and bold, making it easy to take in the screen at a glance. The BMW’s LCD has smaller character displays and its vertical RPM bar graph is difficult to decipher at times. The Kawi instrument panel strikes a decent medium between the Beemer and Suzuki, however the Suzuki is the only one to offer a GPI as well as the choice of toggling between a clock and ambient air temp.
When it comes to hardware used for slowing down, the BMW reveals its off-roady nature by way of a single front disc and caliper – the typical setup on a true dirtbike or motocross machine. The Versys and V-Strom run with dual front rotors and calipers.
Each brake set was more than adequate for slowing each bike, but the added power provided by a dual disc/caliper combo was hard to deny when ridden at elevated speeds. And more important to our way of thinking is the ease of power modulation and feel from a brake set – the V-Strom had both these qualities nailed. And lest we forget, the V-Strom and BMW both have ABS as standard equipment. Good stuff in this price range! Sadly, the Kawasaki is out of the loop on ABS.
I preferred the V-Strom’s higher threshold of ABS intervention compared to the Beemer’s more intrusive system. And when the Suzuki system did kick in, it was far more refined feeling than the G650GS ABS that manifested obvious pressure feedback, or pulsing, at the brake pedal.
However, and this is a crucial “however,” the BMW ABS is rider defeatable, that is to say, you can disable ABS at the push of a button – a definite advantage for off-road riding, as when in the dirt and gravel sometimes you’d like to allow the (rear) wheel to lock up in order to better negotiate turns or technical sections.
The Suzuki V-Strom ABS is an always-on system. The Versys is an always-off system.
As mentioned, the Wee Strom isn’t the sportbike-in-standard-bike-clothing like the crafty Versys is. But the Suzuki’s larger stature serves to make this motorcycle the preferred choice as the tourer of the group, the bike we’d select as our mount for multi-day trips, thanks to its comfortable riding environment, great wind protection and overall smooth-riding qualities, from both its engine and chassis.