Honda introduced the XR650L in 1993. It reigned as the best
dual-sport bike on the market for years.
arrived, along with new bodywork. Then the Kawasaki really got a second wind. With the 6.1-gallon tank and wind
protection, adventure bike guys fell in love with it, and a
wealth of aftermarket parts were developed for them. Now,
the KLR can be anything you want it to be. Without any
accessories, the Kawasaki’s dry weight is right at 400
SUZUKI DR650SE: The Suzuki DR650S has been
around for almost as long as the Kawasaki KLR, but it
never found a home with any cult or sub-group. The
Suzuki’s air-cooled, SOHC motor wasn’t as sophisticated
as the Kawasaki’s, but it always made more horsepower.
Initially, it had a very large tank, just like the KLR, but no
fairing—just an oversized headlight cowling that offered no
wind protection. The Suzuki DR was always positioned
right between the dirt-ready Honda and the street-oriented
In 1993, the DR650S became the DR650SE with the
introduction of electric start. That was a huge step forward.
In 2001 and 2006, the bike received updates and was
restyled. Along the way, the big fuel tank’s capacity was
reduced twice. The Suzuki’s dry weight is 383 pounds.
HUSQVARNA TERRA: Husqvarna always seems to be
in transition. The Terra is a major part of the company’s
current plan and is a smart move. It replaces the short-lived TE630, which had been assembled from a mix of
existing parts and new technology. It was a more dirt-oriented bike, but it was very expensive to build. The Terra,
on the other hand, has an all-new chassis and a motor
borrowed from the BMW G650. The motor is made in
mainland China, so the real appeal of the Terra is that it’s
affordable and, unlike the other 650s, uses somewhat
The DOHC, fuel-injected, four-valve motor was designed
in Germany and built to BMW’s standards. It has a slightly
higher compression ratio and different EFI mapping from
the version used in the BMW. The steel chassis is fairly
straightforward, but the bike is stripped to the bone to
keep the price down. There’s no wind protection (not even
handguards), no skid plate and very little instrumentation.
We can’t say much about the future of the Terra. It’s had
an enthusiastic reception so far, but, once again, the
Husqvarna factory is in turmoil. BMW recently sold the
marque to a group that also holds a large interest in KTM.
Does that mean that the motor supply will dry up? No one
will say. For now, the bikes are selling like crazy and still
have BMW-backed consumer financing.
IN THE DIRT
When you get all four bikes off-road, it’s easy to spot the
dirt bike. The Honda is perfectly at home, while the others
are a little out of place. Weight is the biggest factor. The
XR is a good 60 pounds lighter than the Kawasaki or the
Husky, and you feel every pound. It also has real dirt suspension. In fact, the Honda’s fork works very well, even by
the standards of dedicated off-road bikes. Its weakest
point is its motor. The Honda is the slowest of the four. Its
top speed is acceptable because of super-tall final gearing,
but at the other end, first gear is so tall you have a hard
time on anything resembling a real trail.
It’s also clear that times have changed since the Honda
was developed. We actually raced a stock XR650L in the
Baja 1000 back in 1993, and it seemed perfectly natural at
the time. By today’s standards, the Honda’s ergos are
stone age. You sink endlessly into a wide, soft seat; the
fuel tank rises straight up; and the bars are oddly low. We
suppose we could get used to it—we did back in 1993.
Next highest on the dirt meter is, predictably, the Suzuki.
It weighs less than the Kawasaki or the Husky, and it has
more power than the Honda. It also has a very tall first
We outfitted our Honda (actually Mark Tilley’s dad’s bike)
with Wolfman soft luggage on the sides and Giant Loop tank