The Suzuki and Yamaha might not be as powerful as the
two Euro bikes, but they still have great output with their
own distinctive personalities. They are exact opposites; the
Yamaha with massive low-rpm torque and no revs, and the
Suzuki with a revvy top-end kick. In terms of outright power,
it’s almost a toss-up. The Yamaha has its own electronic fun
spoiler, which lets you choose between Tour and Sport output. Take it from us—“S” is more fun than “T.”
DIRT AND ROAD
As you might expect, the KTM is very effective in the dirt.
This is an adventure bike that was conceived, designed and
built by a dirt bike company, and it shows its roots. In handling and suspension, it has a clear advantage over the others. The KTM feels like a big XC-W and is by far the most
stable machine in rocks and ruts. But, the BMW is a sleeper.
The uninitiated are always astounded; how can such a
massive machine be so manageable? In truth, the BMW’s
engine layout gives it a low center of gravity, which helps
the bike seem lighter than it is. The BMW also has lighter
steering and a tighter turning radius than any of the others.
In suspension, the KTM still has an overall advantage, but
the BMW is close behind.
The Suzuki also surprised most riders. It looks more like
a street bike, so it exceeded rather low expectations. Its
comparative light weight gives it an advantage in maneuverability. It also has the narrowest motor configuration, but
gives away some of that around the exhaust canister. The
Suzuki’s suspension isn’t half bad, either. But, in the end,
the bike’s street heritage is the limiting factor. When you
ride the V-Strom off-road, you get the feeling you’re being
abusive. How much torture can those cast wheels and
undersized bars take? We were afraid to find out.
The Yamaha, on the other hand, seems like a creature
of the dirt. The riding position, footpegs and controls all
lend themselves to off-road excursions. Overall handling is
almost as stable as the KTM, but the Yamaha is still limited
by street-think. The traction control is the most intrusive of
all. It simply must be over-ridden in the dirt, but reinstates
itself each time the bike is started. The others all remember
their settings when stopped. The Super Tenere has heavy
steering, and you feel every pound of its weight. Also, the
rear suspension is oddly under-damped on the standard version; the ESA model will probably be a worthy upgrade.
All butts have different shapes. The riding public is comprised of tall, short, heavy and light riders, so it’s possible
that four different people would have four different favorites
when it comes to comfort. But, most agree that the BMW
has the most wind protection and the most comfortable
riding position. Plus, there’s an intangible element to the
BMW’s motor—the boxer has a very relaxing rhythm. The
KTM has some of the same magic; a sort of musical muscle
relaxer. Even the Suzuki has it to a slight degree, although
the Yamaha lacks any kind of mechanical heart beat and has
the least pleasing exhaust sound.
Of all the seats, most riders preferred the KTM’s, while
the Suzuki’s seemed to generate the most complaints. The
Suzuki also puts its rider in the most awkward position when
standing. The others seem to have been designed with that
in mind. The BMW in particular even has a flip-down platform
that makes the rear brake pedal more accessible in the standing position. The others all have to be adjusted for standing or
sitting; choose one or the other before leaving home.
Can we choose a winner? This isn’t like a motocross
comparison where the fastest lap time wins. This is all about
image and priorities. Beyond that, this group of bikes breaks
down into two subgroups: the European bikes and the
Japanese bikes. They are divided by price, features and philosophy. They have common elements like size, horsepower
and traction control, but all are executed differently and
designed to appeal to different people. Most of the riders
on our staff ended up fighting over the KTM because of its
dirt orientation, but said they would be most likely to buy the
Suzuki, simply because of its price. In the end, your choice
says more about you than the bike—but we knew that going