Three for Five: Budget Bombers

Check-out 3 bikes on a $5,000 budget

Page 2

2006 Suzuki DR650ES
$5,099 Seat Height 34.8"/33"
*Claimed* Dry Weight 324lbs

We get a lot of "what's a good first bike" or "which bike should I buy"-type questions, and we often farm these out to the pack of no-goodniks that lurk on our reader forums for more guidance. We're surprised that new riders are more frequently steered to standards and small sportbikes than they are to dual sports.

Sure, a dual sport usually has a pretty high seat, but not every new rider is Billy Barty-sized. For many new riders with long legs, a dual sport is a great choice, with a simple, economical motor that has lots of low-rpm torque (dirt-oriented bikes need to be very tractable at extremely low speeds) and a sturdy chassis that is actually designed to withstand abuse. They're also fun to ride and can lay waste to sportbike-mounted squids if the road is particularly gnarly.

On that note, meet Suzuki's DR650ES. Originally introduced in 1990, in 1996 the DR650 was anointed with electric start and other improvements to become the model it is today. It's built around an air/oil-cooled 644cc single-cylinder four-valve counterbalanced single overhead cam motor that is fed by a "slingshot" 40mm Mikuni carburetor. It gets power to the rear wheel with a five-speed gearbox and chain, blistering our Dynojet to the tune of 35.34hp and 33.91 foot-pounds of torque. That doesn't sound like much, true, but it's making 85 percent of its peak torque at just 3000 rpm; what power it makes gets used.

It's a great bike to toss around on a twisty road, paved or not.

"The chassis is pretty fancy for a budget bike."

The thin-wall steel single-downtube frame connects an aluminum swingarm to the compression and preload-adjustable rear shock with a linkage. The non-adjustable front fork boasts brawny 43mm tubes. Front braking duties are handled by a two-piston caliper with a single 290mm disc, and there's a one-bucket caliper and 245mm disc in back. Wheels are spoked, of course, and are sheathed with a 21-inch front dual-sport tire and a 17-inch rear.

A snail cam-type chain adjuster makes maintenance easier, and for the short-of-leg among you, Suzuki has a kit which can lower the bike about two inches. The wheelbase is 58.7 inches (58.1 with the lowering kit) and the bike weighs in at 324 pounds dry (claimed), heavy for a dirt machine. A 3.4-gallon steel fuel tank (3.2 gallons in California) and a full lighting and instrument package keep everything legal for street use. There's even a luggage rack and brush guards (which keep your hands protected from cold and car mirrors when it's not protecting them from actual brush). Fancy!

We usually talk about styling here, but what can we say about this bike? Off-road motorcycles, like military or construction vehicles, are designed for utility, for getting the job done with as few frills as possible, and the DR has no wasted shapes, no chrome, no unnecessary features. That gives it a certain brutal handsomeness, and it's supported by good, solid craftsmanship; the Suzuki is made soilidly and looks like it will last.

With automatic compression release and an electric starter, firing up the thumper motor is much more fun than the leg-started DRs of yore. Despite the counterbalancer, the motor still chugs and vibrates at idle, smoothing out as the throttle is twisted -- "not terribly buzzy," in Pete's words. The clutch and gearbox are benchmarks for ease-of-use and simplicity, and riding around town is a snap. Ergonomics are also good, as soon as the short people get their feet up where they belong -- on the pegs. The seat is hard and small, but it's comfortable for a dual-sport seat and offers a lot of room fore and aft to experiment with different riding positions. Still, Pete noted it's "not a long-distance machine"; those seeking a low-cost adventure tourer should wait for the new Kawasaki KLR650.

"Out on a really bumpy, twisty road you understand why God made dual-sport machines."

Around town, the DR is really fun. It wheelies quite easily, and steers with a light touch. The brakes and tires offer enough power and control to get you around safely, and there's even pegs and enough seat for a small, masochistic passenger. A handy luggage rack is milk-crate ready for light loads. The motor isn't too powerful, but it's so responsive and free-revving that it makes you wonder why every bike isn't a thumper, until you're trying to keep up with the 90 mph traffic jam that is LA's busy freeway system. There, you'll be wishing for more power, as well as more wind protection or a bike that doesn't feel skittish when side winds hit or you're taking a big overpass at high speeds.

Out on a really bumpy, twisty road you understand why God made dual-sport machines. Pete "felt comfortable within the first three miles" on this bike, which he found to be a "confidence-inspiring mount" thanks to the upright seating, wide bars and easy-to-use motor. The brakes are just OK, and cause the soft, long-travel suspension to dive excessively. But with 35hp, who needs brakes? If the corners are tight, the DR is so easy to toss around you'll feel like Rossi as you watch your friends turn into tiny, vibrating dots in the rear-view mirrors as they struggle to keep up on their more conventional bikes.

Sounds good, so is it time to break open the piggybank and start putting your pennies into rolls? Not yet. The DR was Pete's first pick, but Gabe placed it third; "it's not the greatest dirt bike, and it's limited as a street bike. Sure it's fun, but there are better answers." What a kill-joy. However, we agree; for the same money, the Hyosung has a lot more versatility as a street bike. If you live somewhere with a lot of fire roads and you think you'll be getting your bike muddy more often than you'll be rolling on tarmac with it, this might be the one, but those who want a more street-oriented ride should read on.

2007 Hyosung GT650 Comet
$4,999 Seat Height 30.7"
*Claimed* Weight 474lbs

Hyo-who? Hyo-what? Say Yo-Sung!, and say it proud, because Hyosung is a well-known, established presence in the global motorcycle market. They've been in business since 1978, and have built well over two million units to date. They have some kind of relationship with Suzuki Motors of Japan, and although neither company gives specifics of what that means, we think it entails some shared research and development and a parts-supplying relationship.

"The high-mount exhaust can is made of aluminum, yet another example of all the goodies a Hyosung buyer gets for his five grand."

We have not seen evidence of Hyosung license-building SV650 motorcycles for the Japanese company, nor is the motor in the GT650 a part-for-part copy of the SV engine, as many folks hold. Comparing specs on the two powerplants -- the 99-02 SV650 and the current GT650 -- we see different bore and stroke numbers, different gear ratios, different oil capacities and many other differences. Let's put this to rest, folks; this is not a license-built SV650, but a completely different model, at least in terms of parts.

The motor is a liquid-cooled, DOHC, four-valve 90-degree V-twin with electronic ignition and a pair of 39mm carburetors. The power -- 66.72hp and 44.33 foot-pounds of torque at the back wheel measured on the 'ol Dynojet -- is impressive, just four hp down from the last fuel-injected SV650S we tested. Power goes out to the world via a cable-operated clutch, six-speed gearbox and O-ring chain.

That respectable motor is bolted into a chassis that while not the best-looking thing ever, seems to get the job done. It's a big steel semi-truss affair with cast-metal sideplates and a steel swingarm that uses a linkage to hold the preload-adjustable rear shock. In front is an inverted cartridge fork that's adjustable for rebound and compression damping, but not for preload. Brakes are twin-piston sliding-pin calipers and dual floating rotors in front, with a twin-piston caliper and solid disc in back. Wheels are cast-alloy six-spoke units shod with Bridgestone BT-56 radials, a 120/70-17 front and 160/60-17 out back. The wheelbase is a tidy 56.5 inches, and the weight is a hefty 474 pounds (claimed).

Doesn't look `budget' to us...

What else do you get? Well, there's a 4.5 gallon steel fuel tank and a nice pair of analog clocks that on our example had the kilometers per hour in larger numbers than mph; Jimmy Carter would be proud. Switchgear is standard stuff, with the addition of a passing-lamp switch.

The passenger gets a big grabrail that has bungie hooks underneath, and there are also rails under the seat for attaching bungies. The high-mount exhaust can is made of aluminum, yet another example of all the goodies a Hyosung buyer gets for his five grand.

In person, the Hyosung looks like an ordinary motorcycle. Gabe thought build quality was "OK: mid-'90s Italian level," and Pete noted the "unkempt look of all the plumbing for the charcoal canister and clean-air system doesn't help combat the 'cheap' connotation people may have of a Korean-made motorcycle". Other touches, like the clunky footpegs and crude-looking TCIC brake calipers ("Tae Chul Industrial Co.", if you're wondering) do nothing to dispel this notion, as do the thick welds, weirdly-translated warning stickers and blocky styling.

"Even the logo looks industrial," complained Gabe, which is the first time has complained about a logo in a review.But the paint and powder-coat are decent, everything works the way it's supposed to, and the big headlamp and big, no-nonsense proportions make you believe this a real motorcycle, designed by people who like to ride, not just cash in on a hot market while the sun is shining.

Any shortcomings the rider might feel about quality disappear when he gets on the bike. The seat is fairly high, but the handlebar is nicely sized, the pegs are positioned righteously, and the seat has "the right amount of firmness," according to Pete. The switchgear feels good enough, and the bike overall has a solid feel. The motor starts easily, and though it could use some carb tuning to get it perfect (please note that this bike was not set up by Hyosung's fleet center and was also not broken-in fully when we got it to test), once warm it revved willingly and made good power. The transmission, Gabe noted, was "loose-feeling but positive and low-effort." This unit needed some break-in mileage; Gabe has ridden two other GT650s and their transmissions felt much better.

"If you want new, this is the most motor you are going to get with $4,999."

In this company, the motor of the GT650 feels like a Hayabusa, with lots of torque off idle and plenty of punch on the top end. Pete thought the gearing was too tall -- which required slipping the clutch some on launches -- but he still if you want new, this is the most motor you are going to get with $4,999. liked the "broad, useable powerband," which reminded him of "similar V-twin sportbikes." Hmm. Which bike could you possibly be talking about, Pete? Gabe disagrees; this motor feels rougher than a fuel-injected SV650, although it is similar to the older carbureted versions. But there is no debate about the adequacy of power; if you want new, this is the most motor you are going to get with $4,999.

On city streets or commuting on the freeway the Hyosung gets the job done. It has a light and nimble feel around town, with a plush suspension and plenty of oomph to keep up with traffic. It will accelerate up the onramps quickly enough, and at highway speed windblast is not that bad, thanks to a slight forward lean to the riding position and that big, handsome headlamp punching a hole through the air.

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