MotoGP – Three big firsts! –

Comparison test of single-cylinder enduro bikes


Suzuki XF 650 and Aprilia Pegaso 650 follow the BMW F 650 on the way from long-legged off-roader to civilized all-rounder. Gravel, country road, highway: How do the three fare against Honda’s more earthy NX 650?

Certainly, certainly, even the attempt was honorable, and the success proves its fathers right: With the F 650, BMW tried to bring the simply constructed and pleasantly easy-to-move enduros to those people who even dream of the Sahara or Tremalzo. It goes without saying that for this purpose new lines enveloped the single cylinder, that with humane seat heights and 19 instead of 21 inch front wheel, even some interventions in the previously irrefutable enduro wisdom were necessary.
It is also clear that such a sales success will find imitators, and so the heavily revised Aprilia Pegaso 650 and the Suzuki XF 650 in a similar design were already bustling at the IFMA in October. In particular, the Far East bike, baptized with the surname Freewind, froze the otherwise always optimistic smile of the Munich strategists, because it is now available from dealers for a considerable 10,290 marks despite decent equipment and an elaborate four-valve engine derived from the sporty Enduro DR 650 SE. The Aprilia, from 1997 geared towards tourism, costs almost 1,500 marks less in the basic version than the 12,409 marks expensive F 650, which, as is well known, rolls off the same line in Noale, northern Italy.
It is quite clear that the attempts of all three representatives mentioned so far must fail to secretly say goodbye to the tourism or all-rounder corner. If you have long suspension travel and – at least optionally – can be fitted with studded tires, you simply have to compete against the NX 650 Dominator from Honda at MOTORRAD. Because although the NX still comes up with a rather moderately padded and tightly dimensioned bench seat, it has so far offered the best compromised for all those who ride their bikes to work during the week, storm the house route at the weekend and on vacation – also with motorway access and long stages – don’t be afraid of gravel. A travel enduro, simply good, and truly affordable for 10265 marks.
Compared to the first edition from 1988, the air-cooled Domi single has meanwhile grown significantly in culture, already takes just over 2500 turns of gentle gas, in order to march off a good 500 bpm later with a powerful background noise. It transmits up to 47 well-metered horsepower to the rear wheel via a precise transmission that is blessed with extremely short, crisp shifting travel. Because the final gear ratio is comparatively short and the total weight is rather low, the result is unbridled country road fun.
The air / oil-cooled four-valve engine from Suzuki is much more cultivated than this noticeably but not annoyingly vibrating veteran. It rejects vibrations as much as possible, and its running behavior is sometimes reminiscent of good two-cylinder in-line engines: it speeds up or down easily in the engine speed range from 2500 to 8000 revs, always reacts spontaneously to the gas and drives forward. It never shows the funny punch typical for singles in the middle speed range, but all measured performance shows this 650 as a really fun fellow. That may illustrate how much can be achieved with a double ignition and a two-carburetor system. Namely, this gem does not differ much more from the more sedate engine of the DR 650 SE presented in 1995.
Measured against the Suzuki engine, which also has a full and safe shiftable gearbox, the certainly active efforts of the Aprilia engineers pale a little. They too have tried to grow an acceptable touring unit from their once rough-bodied five-valve engine, which was manufactured at Rotax and which almost exploded at the top, but only jerked and jerked at the bottom. The last version of the Pegaso had already taken this route, not least strict noise and emissions regulations now accelerated the project once again. The result is an engine that is quite well-mannered even in the basement of revs up to 3000 rpm, with an output from 4000 rpm that almost reaches that of the Honda stew, even surpassing the Suzuki single, but which is by no means as agile as the two Japanese designs. Almost as if he were reluctant to turn very high. And its performance curve there shows the fullest values ​​of all. Nevertheless: Shift up relatively early, use the powerful middle speed range, that is the motto for brisk country roads, which is perfectly suited to touring.
On the other hand, BMW drivers have to shift down early when they roll into built-up areas with their F 650. The water-cooled four-valve engine still jerks considerably when it is supposed to deliver below 3000 rpm. This is annoying not only when strolling through town, but especially in gravel serpentines, where no one feels like tending to their engine all the time. Because this year he is pretty much alone with this bad habit among his competitors, it is all the more noticeable. The gearbox, which sometimes slips into idle when shifting up quickly – just like with the Aprilia – and which also requires long shift travel, could use a little facelift. After all, the four-valve engine is really fun above 4000 tours – and is the only one in the quartet to blow its exhaust air through an unregulated catalytic converter as standard. The Honda is adorned with a secondary air system, for the Aprilia a catalytic converter is planned on request, and only the Suzuki drives “It’s completely without again.
Really a shame, because thanks to the voluminous damper it bubbles gently into the hearts of the roommates. Your driver is weighed with a good seat, which can even be lowered if necessary by modifications to the fork and shock absorber: The side stand is also replaced, and that’s a great idea because the thing is a bit too long anyway. Otherwise the equipment fits, only footrests and fittings look cheap. You quickly get used to the peculiar display instead of conventional round instruments, especially since the digital speedometer displays extremely precisely. That in turn sobered the Aprilia driver, who had to be told by his Suzuki colleague that the 185 points displayed on his pretty instrument were just a good 160. Well, that’s enough.
It looks a bit lean on the Honda: Because the seat is firmly screwed, the poor tool kit moves in front of the engine, and a helmet lock hangs where every motorcycle is dirtiest – just above the chain. The fittings also don’t keep up with those from BMW and Aprilia. It is astonishing, however, how well the tightly cut fairing relieves the driver of the wind. The sweeping bowls of the competition only pay off a little beyond 120 km / h. Of course, depending on the size of the driver, noisy turbulence then spoils the joy. Smaller pilots complained about this most on the Aprilia, larger ones got annoyed on the BMW, although it offers the best weather protection in itself. But what use is that if dry clothes cause hearing damage? Plagued in this way, the taller guys immediately noticed how far they had to spread their legs so as not to collide with the bulges of the BMW tank and that tea footrests were too far forward. The best bench – together with the Aprilia – gave consolation.
The pillion rider, in turn, swears by the F 650, at best the Aprilia is enough for its comfortable and well-arranged place. With the Honda, a bench that is far too short forces passengers of all sizes to half-cheek on the luggage rack, and the Suzuki annoys with pillion pegs that are too far forward. This results in an early and violent pulling in the thighs, but perhaps the chassis engineers were only trying to cover up a far worse mistake with this torture. If you pack your XF up to the permissible total weight, you have to reckon with a penetrating shock absorber even with minor bumps. The Suzuki people should imitate that with 167 millimeters of spring travel.
A high price for the litter-like comfort that the XF offers the soloist. But even that pushes the chassis to its limits if it wants to: When braking hard on an undulating road, the fork occasionally slips. In addition, the soft springs and weak damping elements irritate with considerable reactions in rapidly alternating curves. Then the nimble and quite precise, but a little emphatic Suzi transforms into a somewhat clumsy lady. Nevertheless, the good gets going and can be braked precisely with the stable, precisely metered front brake.
This stopper is pleasantly different from the Brembo pliers that are used by all other candidates. None of them have an exact pressure point, only the BMW lets it go with forgivable fading. On the Aprilia, however, the brake lever already touched the handlebars during the third emergency braking, and the Honda system collapsed after four obligatory and successfully completed solo emergency braking from 100 km / h: When the subsequent cooling phase was over, the window was warped. End of a test drive.
Fortunately, MOTORRAD does not subject the test subjects to a comparison of the braking torture until the very end. Otherwise this attempt would have deprived the testers of really happy insights. And Honda for the laurel of still putting the best chassis on the wheels. At most, the too tight coordination of the shock absorber – the only one that cannot be adjusted in the rebound damping – diminishes the praise. Steering precision and handling of the Dominator leave no room for doubt. Another one said, 21-inch front wheel and studded tires would hinder fun on the road.
The opposite seems to be true, because both the BMW and the Aprilia are much more stubborn when they have to turn the corner quickly. Both wore Michelin M 66 tires with very little negative profile, which supported the already good straight-line stability on the highway, but then lagged behind the Dunlop Trailmax of the Honda in many disciplines. Above all, the lower grip on asphalt was surprising, and so the rear wheel of both of them slipped away on the smooth Spanish asphalt. Not so bad, but this kind of thing, especially on the BMW, moderates the courageous push forward. In any case, not gifted with the most precise steering behavior, irritating in quick changes with its too soft fork, the F 650 was just missing a tire like this to land at the very bottom in terms of steering precision. In two-person operation, things get pretty easy around the front – and therefore even less precise. At most, the exemplary adjustable strut saves a point here.
The Aprilia’s upside-down fork, which is also very comfortably tuned, provides significantly more contact with the road, but sinks unduly deep when braking hard. The rear spring strut, the spring based of which can practically not be adjusted with household remedies, plays along happily when the rebound damping is turned down to the maximum, only to teeter violently when fully loaded. In addition, the Pegaso is very clumsy when loaded with two people and plunged into the tangle of curves.
Of course, the Michelin tires also screw up the big breakthrough on gravel roads, but overall, even the F 650 does so significantly better than any street motorcycle that for that reason alone the stupid generic discussion – Enduro ?, Funduro? – should finally be ended. Your tank, which is very wide at the back, prevents off-road gymnastics, and – as I said – the engine is annoying at lower speeds. The more sophisticated cousin in the Aprilia pushes forward much nicer, getting up is also easier here, and so the Pegaso allows off-road beginners in particular to enjoy pleasant tours. Motorcycles of this type have to be at least suitable for this, and the Freewind achieves this class goal. Above all, the engine goes perfectly with gravel use, at a moderate speed the soloist enjoys the ride comfort, is a little annoyed about the notches, where no rubbers can be unscrewed, under which jagged, safe standing irons emerge.
The Dominator remains, but it’s already a long way off: Those who avoid asphalt wherever possible have long since made it their first choice and have cut the others. Even normal people like you and me feel most comfortable on the lightweight by far. Its narrow front wheel does not follow every groove, and when things get tougher, the slim tank / bench line and the stiff shock absorber pay off when you do gymnastics. Tea engine fits anyway, and so in the end two questions remain: First, when will the others take a closer look at this classic if they want to redefine the genre? And second, when Honda will finally take over the few advantages of the others. The right answers could result in an unbeatable species of all-rounders in the middle class, socially acceptable in all directions.

1st place
Honda NX 650
This time the wreath can only be awarded with reservation. In the course of the switch to Italian parts – the Dominator has been coming from Atessa for a long time – a front brake has crept in. The defect suffered in the test requires an explanation, or better yet, a remedy from Honda. Otherwise, however, the inexpensive NX is so fresh that anyone who drives mostly solo and can do without a large tank bag is well served with it: powerful and harmonious engine, precise chassis and good quality. By the way, fans of the original single are anxiously awaiting autumn. Then Honda introduces a whole range of new models, and only optimists think there could possibly be an even better Dominator.

2nd place
Suzuki XF 650
If this comparison were only about engines, the Freewind four-valve engine would have to be at the top of the podium. Yes, almost the entire test crew gave it the title "Best Current Single-Cylinder". The Suzi also shows good approaches in terms of handling, the great brake delights the mugger, the metal engine guard the all-terrain hunter. But the relatively low ground clearance, the too soft chassis and some minor equipment deficiencies prevent the breakthrough at the first attempt. So you can look forward to the day when White Power, Ohlins and Co. take on the XF. In any case, this Suzuki makes it clear where it could go: Inexpensive and at the same time respectable motorcycles with unbeatable all-round properties can become the new travel enduros.

3rd place
Aprilia Pegaso 650
Only the slack brake and the slightly higher price prevent the Aprilia from catching up with the Suzuki. Your engine shows real stamina qualities, has meanwhile blossomed into a pleasant touring unit, and there should be no doubt about its reliability. If you are often on the road in pairs, you should even give your Suzuki or your Suzuki preference over the Honda, especially since only these two can endure a real tank bag. The quality and the execution in detail are above Suzuki level, and with its brilliant light it at least clearly puts the Nippon faction in the shade. The chassis was also too soft on the Pegaso, just like BMW and Suzuki, it suffers on gravel from its fashionably wide tires. Nevertheless: a real all-rounder – and with an Italian flair.

4th Place
Bmw f 650
W.How times can change quickly. In the last comparison three years ago, the BMW cam in second behind the Dominator. But their recipe for success has found well-made imitators, and so the recently moderately facelifted F 650 is now narrowly beaten in last place. Above all, the uncultivated engine underneath messes up the show, especially since its jerkiness also has a negative impact on the off-road capability chapter. Only in terms of weather protection behind the now higher windshield and passenger comfort is the BMW right at the front. In terms of quality, it is on par with the Aprilia, in terms of steering precision, the F 650 still proves to be heavily dependent on tires – and with the Michelin tires fitted, it is the least fun to drive on fast country roads.

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