BMW G 650 GS vs. Kawasaki KLR650 | Salsa and Sensibility

Affordable dual-sports are a matter of taste

By Jamie Elvidge, Photography by Kevin Wing, Jamie Elvidge

Down here in Mexico, you can smell a good taco stand a mile away. You can also smell a bad one. That's the trouble. Get into a sizeable town like Ensenada and that's about all you smell. If you're lucky: We're here swilling tequila and test-driving tacos because our Kawasaki KLR650 shredded its rear tube on Baja's debris-laden Highway 1. Try finding an extra 17-incher on Sunday in a shanty town. My boyfriend Mauricio already survived a drive up into the hills with a couple locals. He was offered a prostitute and drugs, but somehow, miraculously, came back with a patchable 21-inch tube instead. Too much rubber for a long day on the rim, but good enough to get the KLR and its BMW G650GS contender safely to a hotel somewhere up the road. What was it that Trip Advisor mentioned about the Casa Devertidas?

Maybe it was a warning about the cricket infestation. Our insanely loud, chirping mattress keeps us up all night, allowing us to ponder the pros and cons of the two budget-minded adventure bikes we have shackled to a fence outside.

We've been tooling around on a 2009 KLR650 and G650GS for three days so far, and our opinion-much like the reeking sludge on our boots-has had time to coagulate. First, and somewhat obvious, is the fact that while these two single-cylinder dual-sports may seem a comparative match on paper, they are horse to ox when put to work. Each offers its own advantage, but not necessarily for the same job.

BMW recently released the G650GS, which is essentially the single-cylinder F650GS of yore with a few minor tweaks. Not least are some timely economic incentives, such as the inclusion of BMW's new-generation ABS and heated handgrips in the bike's $7670 base price. The move to the "G" designation is about the company reorganizing its labels. G now describes all single-cylinder models, while F is for the parallel-twins, R for opposed-twins, K for multis, etc. The only thing shoppers might find confounding is that BMW is still using the F650GS moniker for a new entry-level model powered by a detuned version of the 800cc parallel-twin.

So, why would one purchase the single-cylinder GS instead of the more powerful twin? It's all about value and ease of use. If you add in the ABS and heated-grip options that come standard on the G, the F ends up costing roughly $2500 more, and offers only 20 more horsepower, 10 foot-pounds of torque and just a smidgen more suspension travel. For beginning riders, or those on the short side, the G also offers one of the lowest standard seat heights in dual-sport history at 30.7 inches. Order it with the factory-installed low suspension for an additional $175 and seat height drops further, to a squat 29.5 inches. Conversely, you can order the bike with a high seat and raise it to 32.2 inches

Kawasaki's august KLR650 needs no rambling introduction. It's been a favorite in the dual-sport arena since 1987, with only one major overhaul for '08. In stature, it's Lerch-like next to the BMW, its 35-inch-high seat more on par with trailbikes. If you're tall, or an experienced rider of any inseam, that aggressive posture is a call to serious adventure riding. With 7.9 inches of suspension travel up front and an adjustable 7.3 inches in back, all the KLR needs is a set of aggressive tires and it will eat up anything you throw its way-all for only $5599.

Suspension travel on the BMW (6.7 in. front/6.5 in. rear) is nothing to scoff at, and the bike does come with a useful shock-spring-preload handwheel that makes it a cinch to dial in sag. But the G650's shorter, stiffer suspenders are clearly outperformed by the KLR's in even moderately challenging off-road situations. On that playing field, the Kawi is more comparable to BMW's trail-ready F800GS. From the get-go, BMW has made it clear that the G650GS isn't intended for roosting around as much as for attracting new riders who might trundle down some fireroads. And in this situation, it's a sweetheart. For beginners, it feels a lot more manageable because its weight rides low, whereas the KLR's loftiness feels a bit squirrely to the uninitiated, especially while making tight turns at parking-lot speeds.

By Jamie Elvidge
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