Single, twin, triple or four? However you slice up 40 cubic inches, this refreshingly eclectic middleweight mix of motorcycles requires no involved spec-chart dissections, lap-time debriefing or hair-splitting.
And while a couple may draw a few part numbers or strands of marketing DNA from the racetrack, their reason for existence is the street. Behold, then, the renaissance of the 650cc streetbike.
Four diametrically different engine configurations power our quartet. In the one-lunged corner is the BMW G650 Xmoto. Spiritual successor to Ed Turner's venerable parallel-twin is Kawasaki's freshly minted Versys. Wearing its three-cylinder heart loudly on an aluminum sleeve is Triumph's brash new Street Triple. And carrying the Ubiquitous Japanese Motorcycle banner we have Suzuki's GSX650F four. All share liquid cooling and EFI, but similarities end there.
Let's start with BMW's singular Xmoto. OK, we'll get this much out of the way: At $9100, the Beemer is the most expensive bike here. But despite the supermoto posturing and 363-lb. wet weight, it also delivers the leanest bike/buck ratio of the bunch. If less is more on the scales or maybe at the gas pump, then the Xmoto has an edge. It's also got a strong motor that, although tragically stifled by emissions plumbing (hard to miss that dustbin canister below its gas cap), propels the long, tall machine at a crisp rate if you row the five-speed box. Tall gearing often means two fingers on the clutch around town. On the flip side, those same sprockets also net a relatively smooth 80-mph cruising. It'll go faster, but not happily. At least fill-ups are cheap, with a minimum 50 mpg giving reasonable range from the irritatingly tiny 2.5-gal. underseat fuel tank
The disastrously soft-as in chocolate-dipped marshmallow soft, complete with creamy center-Showa fork and shock do nothing to expedite rapid forward progress. Adjustments are minimal. We tried dialing the long-travel springs into submission to no avail. On the freeway, the gentle fore-aft rocking is nearly enough to provoke seasickness; pack Dramamine if you're susceptible, or dial up a proper suspension specialist. Back in the city, lazy steering geometry ahead of a protracted, 59.1-in. wheelbase encourage the front end to flop left or right in the 5:45 p.m. ooze of weekday commuter traffic.
Nicely tucked-in can is whisper-quiet.
The BMW's single disc is a stellar stopper.
The riding position is pure dirtbike. That firm, slim seat is tolerable for short hops, but only for the firm and slim. Otherwise? Welcome to the perpetual wedgie. Beyond that, the Xmoto wants you right up front, elbows high, supercross-style. This also has the benefit of weighting the front, pinning the fork down and sharpening steering. And unloading the sticky Pirelli Diablo gets a lot easier with one's personal heft closer to the front axle. The Brembo two-pot caliper and 300mm front disc are plenty powerful, though getting any reliable feel for what's happening toward the business end of that lengthy fork is nigh on impossible. In the end? It's a kinder, gentler supermoto bike for those who'd be horrified by the real thing. Potential abounds. Real suspension and some intake/exhaust therapy could change everything. Call it Super Poseur or Faux-Moto, in stock form the Xmoto is an expensive answer in search of the right question.
Tim Carrithers, Executive Editor
Off The Record
Back when Mr. Turner's Triumphs made the 40-inch twins an icon, one motorcycle did almost everything. And though it bears no resemblance to a T-120C, Kawasaki's Versys sharpens the old saw that says being good at everything beats being a star at one. File a few thousandths off the pegs against your favorite twisty pavement on Saturday, bask in the glow of 50-mpg commuting on regular gas all week, then disappear for a couple of days after work on Friday. It's not perfect. Just cheap and willing. More than that I cannot ask.
Height: 6' 3"
Weight: 208 lbs.
Inseam: 34 in.
Then there's the always accommodating Kawasaki Versys-a taller, more-practical relation of the sweet 650R Ninja. Strange name, yes, and irregular looks to boot. But irregular as in Gerber multi-tool or Swiss Army knife. The Versys is one of those motorcycles that multitasks with ease. It's supremely useable in nearly any scenario imaginable. And while it doesn't excel in any one arena, the sum of these unlikely parts adds up to a much greater whole than spec charts or even glossy brochures might lead you to believe.