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.
Apart from the post-modern Euro-funk styling, nothing about the $6899 Versys really stands out, but maybe that's its real strength. The counterbalanced, 649cc parallel-twin churns away tirelessly, delivering seamless, linear power from 2500 to 10,000 rpm. There's ample torque to play with if you're lazy, and plenty of revs for a sporty thrash up and down the tach. All of which gets delivered with a reassuring if uninspiring twin-cylinder thrum, some of which sneaks through the cushy seat. The riding position is pleasantly neutral and comfortable, although taller riders find the pegs a bit high for long-distance comfort. That tiny screen does a fair job of parting the windblast, though the tallest of its three adjustments delivers more turbulence than we'd like. Still, knocking out 500-plus freeway miles between breakfast and dinner is cake. Aside from a bit of vibration-induced fuzz between 4500 and 5000 rpm, the mirrors give a great view of what's going on out back-just as they should.
The Versys' handling, like its engine, is remarkably unremarkable which, for most mortals, is a very good thing. Kawasaki deliberately made it easy and forgiving to ride, even if it is a little top-heavy with a full tank. You feel the bike rocking side to side almost imperceptibly at red lights, as if somebody forgot the slosh-squelching baffles. It's a nimble, willing mount in snarled traffic. Stir the pot a little out in the twisty bits and the Versys will prove a proficient dancing partner-and don't bet against a well-ridden version showing a clear rear boot to a napping sportbike pilot, either.
Versys maw incorporates an exceptional headlight.
There is one significant fly in the Kawi's ointment. Actually, make that two. The twin-piston front calipers and 300mm discs trade initial bite and power for a beginner-friendly feel. We bled the OE fluid for fresh stuff, but the improvement was minor. Changing pads for something more aggressive and binning the cheapo rubber brake hoses for a steel-braided set would help. More significant improvements would be pricey and effectively pointless. After a month of hard use among five pairs of hands, our Versys was beginning to look a bit frayed where boots and leather come into regular contact with metal and plastic.
Lon Rozelle, Copy Editor
Off The Record
The Beemer is too tall, too uncomfortable, too underpowered and too much money. The Suzuki is a nice enough bike, and has a fizzy little engine, but give me the SV650 for $100 less any day.
I could see owning the Kawasaki if you can only have one: powerful engine, nice ergos, and a comfy seat. With some luggage, it's a tourer.
But the Triumph trounces the other bikes here and holds its own against any bike's overall fun factor with one of the sweetest engines in motorcycling. With loads of power, comfy ergos and quick steering, it so far tops my Motorcycle of the Year list.
Height: 5' 10"
Weight: 165 lbs.
Inseam: 33 in.
From one innocuous yet extremely sorted example of sporting practicality, we move on to something quite the opposite: Triumph's $7999 675 Street Triple. Now here's a bike to torch the soul and/or driver's license. It's a raucous, rabid little terrier and, to a man, our band of brothers fell for its bare-knuckle approach. This is a one-trick pony, mind you, but that trick's a belter.
The Street Triple is all about its engine, which from the moment you first twist its tail feels like its punching way above its weight. Your attention is demanded instantly and the Trip' leads off with a gravel-soaked rush of bottom-end power straight off idle, charging through the midrange and into the upper reaches of the rev range with a smoky, metallic yowl. The Triple is unique in any crowd. Lined up against this bunch, it's yoke-and-bars above second place in terms of engagement, character and gratuitous gratification. Plus the thing yanks lurid power wheelies, if you're so inclined. And 91 bhp at the rear wheel hammers the point home. A hint of driveline slack when getting on/off the throttle is the only noticeable flaw in an otherwise tidy package.
Triumph's dash pod is the best of the bunch.
Pillion is cramped, but exhaust music is magic.
It looks the part, too. Stripped to the waist, bog-eyed and Spartan, but clean-none of the Byzantine nightmare of hoses, wires and clamps usually inflicting the engines of naked sportbikes. You can see where Triumph saved some cash in the segue from Daytona 675 to Street Triple. Suspension bits that are adequate for general use are also minimally adjustable: preload only in the rear and no external adjustments on the 41mm Showa fork. Somewhere down the line those shortcuts turn into a problem, for somebody. The twin-piston Nissin front calipers may not be flash or fashionable, but do work well and come with braided-steel plumbing. The sculpted postage stamp of a flyscreen actually does provide minor freeway protection. And you know there'll be a ton of racy bolt-ons for the Street Triple, just as with its bigger 1050cc brother. OK, so the power spread is nowhere near as broad as that of the Versys, and the Keihin fuel injection is a bit abrupt unless you're very smooth on the throttle. But most of the time you just won't care. The engine is that good.
Joe Neric, Art Director
Off The Record
Finally, some competition for the SV650. The SV sat on top for so long it had become the bike to get when you got your license. I'm glad to see the 650cc market getting some attention. So which bike do I want? I spend 90 percent of my time on a bike commuting and 10 percent having fun. The Versys is the most comfortable and practical while the Street Triple is sportier and sexier. While the Versys is the sensible choice, I'd still pick the Street Triple. Sorry...sex sells.
Height: 5' 9"
Weight: 235 lbs.
Inseam: 30 in.
For a grand less, Suzuki's GSX650F should-on paper, at least-offer a whole lot more than the gnarly Street Triple. The fact that it doesn't shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, it's a gussied-up Bandit with a raft of GSX-R fixtures and fittings to help sell it. But its minuses could feel like pluses to some riders. While devoid of any discernible character or edge, the 656cc, 16-valve liquid-cooled four is extremely smooth and cooperative, with an efficient six-speed gearbox to match.
Punch it hard and the GSX accelerates enthusiastically, though it seems to generate more noise than actual thrust in the upper register. But the dyno says otherwise. With 75 peak horsepower delivered at 9250 rpm, there's enough power. It's just killed by a lumbering 535 lbs. of all-up weight. All that flab deadens steering response and makes everything happen slower. You work harder than with the others, heaving the Suzuki about in the pursuit of sporting happiness. Though they're predictably workmanlike, brakes and suspension are more than equal to the substantial job of shepherding all that mass.
All things considered, the GSX is a low-resolution sportbike. It looks the part from a distance, but up close or on top you see it's actually not. That's pretty much how it performs, too. A comfortable, tubular Superbike bar bolted to the top yoke replaces GSX-R-esque clip-ons. The riding position is a good thing on the street, especially if you're not up for the contortions enforced by hard-core 600 Supersport ergonomics. People are going to get a bike like the GSX650F en route to something sportier, or maybe on the way back. Either way, it won't inflict permanent damage in the process, just dependable transport with a hint of sporting street cred. If that's enough for you, so is this Suzuki.
So there you have it. Our single is either a tragic underachiever or the answer to a question nobody asked. At least the Xmoto rider can take some solace in genuine exclusivity. You definitely won't see many on the street. The four is so functional it would disappear without the GSX-R lines and paint. But that's precisely what some will love about it. The GSX provides reliable, comfortably responsible, non-threatening sportbike propulsion with no harsh aftertaste.
Which leaves two complete opposites crowned middleweight kings: the Kawasaki Versys and Triumph Street Triple. The Versys is all about what it does, not what it is-canyon carver, tourer or short/long-distance commuter. It'll do whatever you want, and do it well. Somebody around here described it as the working-man's Multistrada. They were spot-on.
And the Street Triple? We'd like an SP version, thanks, painted flat black with the Daytona 675's fully adjustable suspenders, front and rear, plus its nasty-boy brakes. Failing that, we'll take the stocker and tweak it ourselves. This is the only bike here you'd want to spend money on and keep on the books long-term, and a little cash would go a long way toward making an already superb middleweight almost perfect.
Alex Hearn, Editorial Director
Off The Record
The BMW Xmoto? A complete and utter waste of time-sometime soon there'll be a big pit full of these things deep in a Bavarian forest, or at the very least they'll be free with every K1200 purchase. The GSX is better...than taking the bus, anyway, but it failed to leave any sort of impression.I like the Versys, but then I would coz I'm European and we like these kinds of bikes. But I love the Street Triple. Yeah, yeah...not because it's British, simply because it's bloody good.
Height: 5' 10"
Weight: 13 stone
Inseam: 32 in.
Aside from the F, you could be looking at a GSX-R dash pod, complete with shift light.
That stacked headlight is pure GSX-R as well. Ducts don't actually ram air.
2008 Bmw G 650 Xmoto
An evolutionary version of the Rotax 654 lump from the '94 F650, infused with smoothness and enthusiasm with a lighter crankshaft, more efficient bottom-end bearings and a lighter 280-watt alternator. A more efficient cylinder-head design adds 3 horses to the peak.
What looks like your basic aluminum-spar skeleton is made up of four sections. Welded steel spars comprise the heart of the structure, bolted to aluminum castings that merge at the swingarm pivot. The front downtube and rear subframe are aluminum as well.
A single Brembo caliper and 320mm front disc slow the lightest of BMW's three X-spec singles nicely, with or without the 240mm rear disc. Our bike arrived sans optional two-channel Bosch ABS, which adds 3.3 lbs and $670 to the poundage and price, respectively.
The brake and gearshift levers are aluminum forgings. So is the sidestand, which unbolts easily. The tapered-aluminum handlebar rides in rubber mounts to cut vibration, and the battery lives just behind the bar clamp. LED taillight is tiny, yet brilliant.
You can do a lot with 47 horses spread over a curve like this. Trounce Kawasaki's KLR650, for instance. But one big piston loses out to a gang of smaller ones as revs build, even when it's pushing a 363-lb. package.
Tall and remarkably svelte, Xmoto accommodations are Spartan, but comfortably neutral. The firm, equally svelte saddle is motorcyling's answer to a Victoria's Secret thong: you need long legs and the right kind of physique to make it work.
Engine type: l-c single
Valve train: DOHC, 4v
Bore x stroke: 100.0 x 83.0mm
Fuel system: BMS-C II EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Frame: Tubular-steel backbone, aluminum-alloy spars
Front suspension: 45mm Marzocchiinverted fork, adjustable for rebound and compression damping
Rear suspension: Single Sachs shock, adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping
Front brake: Brembo two-piston caliper, 300mm disc
Rear brake: Brembo single-piston caliper, 241mm disc
Front tire: 120/70-ZR17 Pirelli Diablo
Rear tire: 160/60-ZR17 Pirelli Diablo
Rake/trail: 28.5/3.9 in.
Seat height: 35.4 in.
Wheelbase: 59.0 in.
Fuel capacity: 2.5 gal.
Weight (tank full/empty): 363/348 lbs.
Measured horsepower: 46.8 bhp @ 7250 rpm
Measured torque: 41.4 lb.-ft. @ 4750 rpm
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg): 49/40/45
Warranty: 36 months, unlimited mi.
Contact: BMW North America
300 Chestnut Ridge Rd.
Woodcliff Lake, NJ 07675
2008 Kawasaki Versys
More power and torque lower down the rev range make the Versys' 649cc parallel-twin more fun more of the time versus the Ninja 650, while the 180-degree crank and balancer shaft give character without pain. The pair of 38mm throttle bodies come courtesy of Keihin.
The tubular-steel trellis frame provides a sturdy anchor point for the laid-down Showa shock; it's tuned to be soft early in its stroke and firm up under full compression. As with the shock, the 41mm teles are adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping.
The petal-cut 300mm front discs might look like they came off a ZX-6R, but performance from the dual Tokico twin-piston calipers isn't what we were expecting. Rear braking is dealt with by a single 220mm disc and single-pot caliper.
The flyscreen is three-way adjustable in 20mm increments, and works best in the middle for most riders. Kawasaki has catered well for pillions-there's plenty of room on the seat out back, with large grab handles to hang on to.
You're looking at 5 fewer horses than Kawasaki's Ninja-spec 650cc twin. But thanks to power and torque peaks that arrive about 1000 rpm earlier, the Versys gets 'er done quicker on the street without all those trips to the shifter.
An oompa-loompa-accessible seat height and sporty cornering clearance enforce a compact but neutral riding position. There's little fore/aft fidget room, but two-tier accommodations are roomy enough for two average-sized humans.
Engine type: l-c parallel-twin
Valve train: DOHC, 8v
Bore x stroke: 83.0 x 60.0mm
Fuel system: Keihin EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Frame: Tubular-steel trellis
Front suspension: 41mm Kayaba inverted fork, adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Single Kayaba shock, adjustable for spring preload and ebound damping
Front brake: Dual Tokico two-piston calipers, 300mm discs
Rear brake: Tokico single-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Front tire: 120/70-ZR17 Dunlop SportmaxRear tire: 160/60-ZR17 Dunlop Sportmax
Rake/trail: 25.0/4.3 in.
Seat height: 33.1 in.
Wheelbase: 55.7 in.
Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal.
Weight (tank full/empty): 457/427 lbs.
Measured horsepower: 59.7 bhp @ 8000 rpm
Measured torque: 44.0 lb.-ft. @ 6750 rpm
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg): 48/36/42
Warranty: 12 months, unlimited mi.
Contact: Kawasaki Motors Corp.
9950 Jeronimo Rd.
Irvine, CA 92618
2008 Triumph Street Triple
Milder cam timing for the Street Triple's 675cc Daytona-derived inline-triple motor equals mucho grunt, and trouble with front tire/asphalt interface in the first three gears. Six-speed gearbox is sweet, as is the induction honk from the airbox.
Essentially the same aluminum beam frame and swingarm as the Daytona, but with the swingarm pivot set 2mm lower. At 31.6 in. the Street Triple's perch is just under an inch nearer the ground, too. Kayaba shock is adjustable for spring preload only; the 41mm Kayaba upside-downies adjustable for nada.
Nissin four-pot calipers chomp down hard on the 308mm floating discs up front; a single-piston jobbie grips the rear 220mm disc. Braided hose-front and rear-is standard-fit, and very welcome.
The stock dual rear exhausts are cool and all, but buried in the Triumph accessories catalogue you'll find two delicious designs from Arrow: a pair of street-legal slip-ons ($999) and a 3-into-1 "low-boy" full system ($1199). For closed-circuit use only, of course.
It's all about the engine here. Trading away 18.5 of the Daytona's peak ponies for a more linear delivery, the naked 675 is faster than it feels on the street. And it still loves to rev, peaking after the Suzuki signs off.
Accommodations are essentially a 3/4-scale version of Triumph's Speed Triple. The bar is narrower and farther away than on the Versys, so you lean forward a bit more, and the seat is closer to the ground: compact, yet balanced.
Engine type: l-c inline triple
Valve train: DOHC, 12v
Bore x stroke: 74.0 x 52.3mm
Fuel system: Keihin EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Frame: Aluminum-alloy twin spar
Front suspension: 41mm Kayaba inverted fork
Rear suspension: Single Kayaba shock, adjustable for spring preload
Front brake: Dual Nissin two-piston calipers, 308mm discs
Rear brake: Nissin one-piston caliper, 220mm disc
Front tire: 120/70-ZR17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier
Rear tire: 180/55-ZR17 Dunlop Sportmax Qualifier
Rake/trail: 24.3/ 3.75 in.
Seat height: 31.6 in.
Wheelbase: 54.9 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.6 gal.
Weight (tank full/empty): 416/388 lbs.
Measured horsepower: 91.3 bhp @ 11,750 rpm
Measured torque: 44.4 lb.-ft. @ 8250 rpm
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg): 40/30/33
Colors: Black, white, green
Warranty: 24 months, unlimited mi.
Contact: Triumph Motorcycles America, Ltd.
385 Walt Sanders Memorial Dr., #100
Newnan, GA 30265
2008 Suzuki GSX-650F
A step up from the old Can o' tuna 600, the 656cc inline-four inhales through dual-butterfly throttle bodies fed by four-hole injectors. A 17-degree valve angle keeps the head compact, but it's no GSX-R. Conservative cams accentuate midrange power at the expense of some top end.
Load-bearing bits are predictable here: steel-heavy and inexpensive compared to aluminum alloy. Humble ferrous content notwithstanding, the double-cradle frame carries the heavy bits low enough to maintain sporty handling. There's nothing remarkable here.
Though somewhat short of track tack, F-spec braking hardware is commendably workmanlike at both ends. Tokico four-pot front calipers trump the Kawasaki's two-piston bits by a margin, despite the fact that they have to stop an extra 78 lbs.
Think of it as a laid-back, fiscally responsible GSX-R alternative. A stepper-motor drives a 14,000-rpm tach, where the red starts at 12,500. There's an LCD fuel gauge, gear-position indicator and clock, and the only shift light in this bunch.
Second to the Triumph in peak output, Suzuki's new 650 ekes out a 16-horse advantage over the Versys, but at 1250 rpm upstream. With each pony pushing 9.3 lbs. vs. 10.5 for the lighter Versys, the four is faster if you spin it.
Less bar rise enforces a comfortably sporty riding position: more so than our single, twin or triple. With an inch more legroom and better fairing protection than the average track-sharp 600, the F is more comfortable on the street.
Engine type: l-c inline four
Valve train: DOHC, 16v
Bore x stroke: 65.5 x 48.7mm
Fuel system: Keihin/Denso EFI
Clutch: wet, multi-plate
Frame: Steel-tube double-cradle
Front suspension: 41mm Showa fork,adjustable for spring preload
Rear suspension: Single Showa shock, adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping
Front brake: Dual Tokico four-piston calipers, 310mm discs
Rear brake: Tokico single-piston caliper, 240mm disc
Front tire: 120/70-ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax BTO20
Rear tire: 160/60-ZR17 Bridgestone Battlax BT020
Rake/trail: 26.0/4.25 in.
Seat height: 30.3 in.
Wheelbase: 57.9 in.
Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal.
Weight (tank full/empty):535/505 lbs.
Measured horsepower: 75.4 bhp @ 9250 rpm
Measured torque: 43.0 lb.-ft. @ 8000 rpm
Fuel mileage (high/low/avg): 42/32/36
Colors: Blue/white, black/silver
Warranty: 12 months, unlimited mi.
Contact: American Suzuki
3251 E. Imperial Hwy.
Brea, CA 92622