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

Affordable dual-sports are a matter of taste

By Jamie Elvidge, Photography by Jamie Elvidge, Kevin Wing

There is also the ABS factor, which no one can deny is a boon for new riders, and BMW's new-gen analog system possesses smoother-than-ever activation feel. Happily, it's also super-easy to disengage for off-road riding, or once a rider achieves more confidence and better braking control. Apart from the ABS element, we found the KLR's brakes to offer slightly stronger feel.

For anyone with their sea legs, both bikes are masters at daily-driver duty, offering light, neutral steering, predictable tracking and exceptional maneuverability. So, in terms of around-town usability and for-fun cornering, the choice is only relative to a buyer's size and definition of value.

The Kawasaki is simple, like bacon and eggs, right down to the mechanical gauges. It's carbureted, so anyone with a grasp of basic mechanics can probably get it rolling again-that is, as long as you bring better tools than the ones that come onboard. The BMW is more like huevos rancheros with a side of guacamole. It has an impressive tool kit, but the bike, with its fuel injection and extensive onboard electronics, isn't as amenable to roadside repairs. For some, those luxurious amenities will be what sells them on the G650GS-especially if you invest in the natty BMW hard bags, which are insanely easy to install or remove and don't mess with the bike's appearance when stowed. On the downside, the G650's bags don't lock to the bike's frame like those on the R1200GS. Kawasaki doesn't offer accessory panniers for the KLR, but there are a number available from the aftermarket.

Ironically, we found the stock hand guards on the bare-bones KLR actually kept our paws warmer than the G650's fancy heated grips. On the other hand, the BMW's optional centerstand ($125) was the envy of the day at Llantera el Chepa, where we had to wrestle the KLR onto wooden blocks to remove its rear tire. Both bikes come with short windscreens and luggage racks. The BMW's windshield is easier to remove, and you'll want to because it collects grime between the dash and plastic. Both luggage racks are useful, though the BMW's actually enhances the look of the bike and features a convenient, lockable stash box. We also appreciated the G650's flank-mounted fuel filler, which lets you pump gas like you would into your car-a real blessing in California, where the nozzles wear environmentally friendly foreskins. As for fuel efficiency, the injected BMW offers substantially higher mpg, but holds only 4.0 gallons of fuel to the Kawasaki's 6.1 gallons.

Once underway, the Kawasaki is by far the more comfortable to ride, no matter your height. The stock seat remains a butt-burner, but nothing like the plank that came on KLRs for 20 years prior. The BMW's seat is unfortunately canted so that it pushes the rider's hips toward the tank, making even our shortest tester feel cramped. It also allows more engine vibes to seep through, though the taller seat will likely quell some of that.

Of course, at the heart of these two very different dual-sport motorcycles beats a similar single drum, and although engine management varies, both thumpers deliver adequate power smoothly to chain final-drive systems. The KLR has slightly better pull and gearing for aggressive riding, and this particular unit didn't gulp oil the way our previous testbikes have, making us hopeful Kawasaki addressed the ring-seating issue in the '09 models.

Like mahi-mahi to carne asada, these two bikes will find very different consumers. For those weekend adventurers who want the cache of owning a BMW without spending a boatload of cash, the engineering-intensive G650GS is truly a bargain. It's also perhaps the easiest BMW in history to ride. The KLR, however, is like the perfect taco: When you want something cheap, hearty and satisfying, nothing else will do.

By Jamie Elvidge
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