2012 650 Adventure-Tourer Shootout - Video
BMW G650GS vs. Kawasaki Versys vs. Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS
With the GS (Gelände/Strasse) designation as part of its model name, you expect the BMW as the bike best suited to exploring unpaved paths. Although the Versys and V-Strom aren’t out of their element entirely on gravel or poorly maintained Forest Service roads, the G650GS has a number of features and qualities that conspire to make the Beemer a better than average off-roader for what is otherwise a street bike.
For example, removing the rubber inserts from the BMW’s footpegs reveals “toothed” pegs that provide a good gripping surface for the sole of a boot – just like on motocross and dirtbikes. The rear brake pedal is also toothed and wide, again, like on a dirtbike. The ‘Strom and Versys use standard streetbike pegs and pedals.
Additionally advantageous for dirt riding is the GS’s single-cylinder engine design. This layout allows for a compact engine package that minimizes exposing vulnerable parts that might get banged up in the dirt.
Contrarily, the V-Strom’s 90-degree engine arrangement has the forward cylinder’s exhaust header precariously close to ground, and its wholly unprotected oil filter looks like it’s just waiting for a big rock to ruin the day. There isn’t a 100% certainty these components on the Zook will suffer damage, but we’d be nervous about dodging rocks off-road on a big trailie with an exposed oil filter and head pipe.
The one potentially weak-link on the Beemer mill is the location of its regulator/rectifier positioned just in front of the right side engine cover. Although it hides behind what looks like an engine guard, the guard is merely plastic. However, an aluminum lower engine bash guard is offered as an accessory, as is an optional tubular aluminum engine guard.
The BMW’s claimed 423-pound road-ready weight is as much as 50 pounds less than the V-Strom and approximately 30 less than the Kawasaki. While the Japanese machines can blame some of their heft on an additional gallon and a half of fuel capacity compared to the 3.7 gallons on the GS (and their extra engine cylinders), it’s where the GS carries its fuel that matters more for off-roading than does its lower capacity.
Not only is the BMW’s significantly lowest wet weight an advantage for dirt-type riding – dedicated off-road riders will attest that the lightest bike possible is best – but its fuel tank is located under the seat. This brilliant design helps lower the bike’s center of gravity – a low C of G is just one more bonus for dirt riding. The BMW’s underseat dual exhaust doesn’t lower the bike’s center of gravity, but it does, however, move the canister up and out of harm’s way.
The Suzuki also uses an underseat exhaust, but the Versys’ compact under-bike exhaust canister (a design carry over from the 2006 Ninja 650R), while good for moving weight down low, means it, like the V-Strom’s head pipe and oil filter, has greater potential to get banged up.
Finally, the BMW’s wide handlebar has a flatter profile as compared to the other bikes’ more upright shape. This dirtbike-like shaped handlebar gives the GS a slight advantage of better steering leverage when off-road.
Although Troy, Tom and I are by no means expert-level dirt riders, Troy is a self-confessed dirt-riding greenhorn. “The BMW was the perfect fit for a dirt noob like me,” admits Troy. “Its lowest seat height (31.5 inches in standard trim) of the three gave me confidence to put my feet down, and its power is soft and predictable – just what a new dirt rider needs.”
On the flip side, the V-Strom’s ergos and overall dimensions that proved best for street riding were seen as clear drawbacks in the dirt. “The V-Strom is physically and visually large for 650cc bike,” says T-Rod.
In addition to weighing the most, the ’Strom’s seat-bar relation means more reach to handlebar. That big, wide fuel tank that made for great wind protection out on the street not only moves weight up, it’s also visually heavy to the rider’s eye, which in turn makes the rider cognizant of the bike’s weight. This combination of reality and perception works to erode the rider’s confidence in the Suzuki’s dirt-ability; the small size and lowest weight of G650GS has the inverse effect on the rider’s psyche.
Before we give you the impression the V-Strom and Versys are all but worthless off-road, know that Tom and I came away content with how well the Suzuki managed to rip down gravel roads without feeling like a front-end wash-out was imminent or that the suspension was overwhelmed and ill-suited for anything other than pavement. And perhaps most impressive was the adeptness with which the Versys and its previously mentioned street-only tires handled the exact same environments the GS traversed.
All three scoots performed admirably in mild off-road settings, but the BMW is simply designed with dirt riding in mind. With the twin-cylinder bikes, serious dirt riding is more of a notion than intent.