Let's face it: you need a bike like one of these. Our world, alas, is not one long stretch of smooth 'n' twisty asphalt; rather, it is gravelly, jackhammered pavement, frost heaves, potholes and your brother's steep, unpaved driveway out in the country. It's a two-foot curb separating your gridlocked office parking lot from a clear road home, and a fat lotta good your 130-horse ZX-9R will do you then.
What you want-what you need-is a bike that'll let you sit upright over all of the above, a bike with a wide handlebar and light weight for the quick flick around traffic, bump-absorbing long-travel suspension, and the ability to keep everything under control if (and when) the pavement ends.
The new steeds from BMW and Suzuki will do nicely, thanks, even if the F650GS and the DR-Z400S at first seem to have as much in common as, well, a streetbike with off-road looks and a dirt bike with lights and a horn. But think of these two single-cylindered motorcycles as bookends to a dual-purpose philosophy-each with its own strengths and compromises-and it becomes clear that this is not a case of which bike is better per se, but on which bike your type of riding will be better suited.
On the street-oriented side of the spectrum rides the DOHC, liquid-cooled F650GS. BMW's philosophy was to "improve everything" over the old F650, including the bike's overall image-a tough-guy, Gelaende/ Strasse "adventure-tourer" package being much more akin to the R1150GS big brother. A new fuel-injection system, redesigned cylinder head and a new stainless-steel twin muffler exhaust help the GS pump out 43.5 hp at 6250 rpm (and 40.3 foot-pounds of torque at 4500 revs) at the rear wheel, an improvement of 1.0 hp/1.1 foot-pounds over the old F650. An all-new frame shoves the GS's fuel tank under the seat for a more concentrated CG, and a total bodywork redesign offers R1150GS-inspired looks. But don't be fooled by the high front fender: the GS's 19-inch front wheel and 17-inch rear are shod with street-biased 100 and 130 Metzeler Tourance rubber, respectively; BMW is under no illusion that the 442-pound baby GS can fight bikes like Honda's XR650L or Kawasaki's KLR650 in the dirt.
Which is why Suzuki's DR-Z400S-which replaces the stalwart DR350S that's been around since 1990-fits nicely onto the other end of the dirt/street bookshelf. No surprise, really, considering the S-model is merely a street-legal version of Suzuki's DR-Z400 dirt-only machine. The DR's basics are this: mate a DOHC, four-valve, 398cc four-stroke, liquid-cooled single to a five-speed transmission, stick on preload/compression adjustable suspenders front and rear, house it all in a chrome-moly steel frame and roll it away on a set of 21-inch front/18-inch rear wheels holding street-legal 80- and 120-spec Bridgestone Trail Wing tires. Factor in the 2.6-gallon steel fuel tank, headlight, turn signals, etc., and you'll find that government wonks have forced Suzuki to add about 29 pounds of shite to allow its off-road bike onto yon public highways.