V-strom 650 XT v F800 GS
Bargain globetrotters fight to be the best-value adventure bike
On paper, there seems to be lot going for middleweight adventure bikes like these. Lighter and more-nimble than their big- capacity brothers, the theory is that they offer the off-road ability and touring prowess of a big adventure bike, without the painful purchase price, running costs, or physical scale.
And when you look at the facts, that makes sense. At £7899, the V-strom 650 XT is £2200 less than its 1000cc counterpart, while the F800GS is over £3000 less than an R1200GS. If you used those savings to head somewhere, that sort of money would buy you a lot of adventure, and with lower seat heights and better fuel economy, they’re easier to live with too. But which is the best bet for distance riding and economy? To find out we clocked as many miles as we could on the pair and hit some of the gnarliest, dustiest trails we could find.
TEST 1 Going the distance
Stick the V-strom on the motorway and life’s a breeze. According to the digital clocks I’ve got 200 miles remaining in the 20-litre fuel tank. At 80mph I’m comfortable; the adjustable (using tools from under the seat) screen is just about high enough on its lowest setting. I’m sat in the bike rather than perched on top of it, and the wide seat is plush. My only complaint is the long stretch to the wide bars. The Micky Mouse ears, sorry I mean mirrors, are enabling a perfect view behind, the smooth 650 V-twin is humming along nicely and I’m averaging over 55mpg.
The Suzi has a huge tank range, claiming some 250 miles from a tankful. If ridden legally, you could be in the saddle for many happy hours. I don’t really need any more power, or comfort – it’s engaging and capacious enough that you could ride it around Europe for a month and you’d never have any real cause for complaint. Heated grips would be a nice-to-have standard feature, but otherwise you really don’t need to spend any more money to have
on three-level traction control.
The 19in front wheel on the V-strom (as opposed to the 21in front wheel on the BMW) enables the Suzuki to turn more easily on the road, and you will feel more confident on the Suzuki at pace on the road. It’s more planted and less likely to understeer. The handling is very natural, you simply jump on the V-strom and ride, it always feels composed and stable, if a little dull. If you crave ease of use and want a bike that never gets out of shape (if ridden normally) the V-strom is perfect – but more experienced riders might find it a little dull.
The BMW is a little more exciting and rewarding to ride – the 798cc parallel twin produces 15bhp more than the Suzuki’s 650 V-twin and considerably more torque. They both weigh around the same, which means the Beemer’s extra grunt is easily felt. But both will happily cruise at 90mph, so they’re not slow bikes, but the GS just has a little more kick, which makes overtakes quicker, safer and less stressful.
TEST 3 In town
The difference in power is hardly noticeable in town, and again the Suzuki’s ease of use and light steering really shine through. At times it’s like riding an adventure-styled scooter with gears. However, and unusually for a Suzuki, the gearbox feels a little heavy, like it’s been submerged in treacle. It isn’t overly annoying, but it is noticeably less smooth than the BMW box.
The GS’S quality suspension and bigger front wheel cope with potholes and speed humps with more composure than the Suzuki, but the wide bars are actually a fraction too wide when trying to filter through stationary traffic. Its switchable suspension and rider modes are also a tick in the ‘plus’ box, while the soft Rain mode was my default choice in town, backed up by ABS and traction control.
Both are incredibly easy to ride in the urban jungle, but the BMW is just a tad more versatile.
TEST 4 Kerb appeal
Suzuki’s 2017 update has finally given the V-strom a bit of kerb-appeal. Once the ugly duckling of the range, it now looks every bit the accessible adventure bike. And this XT model gets the gold wheels and bash plate as standard to heighten its credentials. The gold spoked rims are very reminiscent of Yamaha’s old two-stroke TDM250, or XT500, and look great. They’ve also kept the must-have beak, which can be traced back to the original DR Big DR750/800 from the late 80s, and worked hard to try and eradicate the old bike’s prevailing sense of being just a little bit too budget.
But while the Suzook looks good, the BMW looks more dramatic. The new colours and slight tweak to the styling are easier on the eye, but it also manages to look more aggressive and purposeful. There are more buttons to play with on the BMW, with electronically adjustable suspension and different rider modes, which can all be selected on the move. Both the rev counter and speedo are analogue, with everything else displayed digitally to the right. For some reason BMW thought the digital fuel gauge should only read to half full and only starts depleting once you’ve passed the half way mark.
The off-road biased (optional) Continental TKC 80 rubber and larger 21in front wheel give it a beefy off-road stance that many will find appealing.
‘Both bikes are incredibly easy to ride in the urban jungle’
SUZUKI V-STROM 650XT £7899 • 70BHP • 216KG For a £500 premium over the stocker, the off-road biased XT gets gold rim, spoked wheels, a bash plate. There’s also 3-stage traction control, which can be switched off, and ABS comes as standard.
On B-road Britain, Suzuki’s V-strom feels effortlessly composed
Road-focused tyres would help the F800GS perform better on tarmac
PCP deal £101.92 PER MONTH X36 Suzuki V-strom 650 XT £1500 deposit, £3625 optional final payment, 5000 annual mileage, 4.9%APR PCP deal £99 X36 PER MONTH (standard) BMW F800GS £4361.63 £1832.94 deposit, payment, optional final mileage, 5000 annual 5.9%APR