These bikes do it all

They’re not the fastest bikes on the market. And they won’t be mistaken for the sexy MV Agusta F3 at the local bike night, either. But at a time when a premium is being placed on practicality and efficiency, 650 Twins are an attractive, affordable option in the motorcycle market simply for their utilitarian, do-it-all demeanor. Looking for something to get you to work quickly and comfortably without bringing tears every time you pull up to the pump? Then mid-displacement motorcycles like Suzuki’s V-Strom, Kawasaki’s Versys and Honda’s NC700X fit the bill. We’ve gathered up this trio of Japanese 650cc-class, liquid-cooled Twins with six-speed gearboxes to see which one shines the most as an everyday rider but is still sporty enough to put a bug-eating grin on riders’ faces while ripping it up on their favorite canyon road. In the past, these bikes have proved versatile enough to throw bags on and hit the open road or to outfit for some light adventure-touring like former Off Road Editor JC did with the 2011 Kawasaki Versys project bike.

While Honda’s NC700X, introduced in 2012, is the new kid on the block, the V-Strom and Versys have been waging war for years. Check online forums and you’ll discover that both enjoy a cult-like status. The Versys burst onto the American motorcycling scene in 2007, injected with sporty characteristics like the engine, wheels and brakes from the Ninja 650R. Suzuki’s V-Strom was introduced even earlier, making its debut in 2004, its “V” signaling the motorcycle’s engine configuration teamed with the German word “Strom,” meaning stream or current. Like the Versys, its engine was borrowed from a sport-minded sibling, in this case Suzuki’s SV650.

At $7,499, the 2013 Honda NC700X is the most affordable bike in the shootout. It is offered in two different variations, one equipped with Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) that automatically takes care of shifting duties while the other is a manual-clutch transmission mated to a conventional six-speed gearbox. The DCT uses two hydraulically controlled clutches with two settings, standard drive mode or sport mode, or riders can shift gears using paddles on the left bar without having to operate a clutch, which editor Justin Dawes says is “silky smooth.” For this test, we opted for the NC700X with the standard six-speed arrangement, so all three motorcycles in the test utilized the same style gearbox.

The 2013 NC700X sources a 670cc Parallel Twin with its cylinders canted at a 62 degree angle. The undersquare engine has a 73mm bore drumming along at an 80mm stroke, with the Honda engine using a longer stroke in a smaller bore than its adversaries. Its pistons have a low-friction coating while the valvetrain utilizes lightweight aluminum roller-rocker arms. Its electronic fuel injection system uses a single 36mm throttle body and a downdraft-type intake tract that helped it easily overshadow its competitors in the efficiency department, averaging 64.81 mpg, matching up perfectly to manufacturer claims. Getting the most miles per dollar spent is a good thing since the Honda also has the smallest tank of the bunch at 3.7 gallons, with the fuel cell located under the seat while its faux tank area is actually a 21-liter storage compartment.

The 2013 Kawasaki Versys is the mid-priced offering of the bunch at $7,999. The Versys is powered by a compact 649cc Parallel Twin with dual overhead cams instead of the SOHC arrangement of the Honda. It is an oversquare mill with a healthy-sized 83mm bore thumping along at a compact 60mm stroke. This arrangement helped the 2013 Versys top the torque charts with max output of 43.21 lb-ft coming on at 7,100 rpm. Its digital fuel injection relies on a set of 38mm Keihin throttle bodies. The Versys sources a racing-style, six-speed cassette transmission and like the others has a chain final drive. Its twin exhaust snakes forward and down, routing conveniently under the engine to help centralize mass. While the V-Strom received an overhaul in 2012 and the NC700X is still a fairly new model, the Versys keeps its familiar styling cues, with stacked dual headlights and an adjustable windscreen in a small front fairing and its powertrain packed into a narrow trellis frame.

The 2013 V-Strom 650 comes with ABS standard, which contributes to its top-of-the-heap MSRP of $8,499. The DCT-version of the NC700X also comes standard with ABS for the exact same $8,499 price tag, but as mentioned, we went for the standard transmission for a more direct comparison. The Suzuki’s engine specs are comparable to the Versys, as the V-Strom is outfitted with a 645cc V-Twin with dual overhead cams. It is also an oversquare engine, with an 81mm bore plunging at a 62.6mm stroke, but differs in the fact that it’s a 90-degree V-Twin. On the efficiency side, it averaged a respectable 50.578 mpg and possesses the largest tank of the bunch at 5.3 gallons. Some of the credit goes to its 32-bit ECU, which controls its Suzuki Dual Throttle Valve system and keeps fueling even.

Instead of a trellis structure, the V-Strom has a twin-spar aluminum frame and swingarm with its stainless steel pipe routed back and up alongside the rear fender. The 2012 redesign we mentioned earlier includes changing up the front fender to allow smoother airflow to the radiator to go along with the addition of wind-directing plates. Its seat height bumped up to 32.9 inches while the seat was reshaped at the rider’s thighs to provide a more relaxed knee bend. Last year Suzuki made the padding 25% thicker, too. The V-Strom also saw the addition of a new oil cooler with the intentions of increasing low-to-mid rpm range torque.

Motorcycle USA spent almost a month familiarizing ourselves with each of the bike’s nuances, using them as daily commuters, riding them stoplight-to-stoplight in town while turning them loose on high-speed highway runs. We challenged their chassis on our favorite mountain roads in our southern Oregon testing grounds and even took them on a 250-mile daytrip to the coast. Our testing cadre consisted of yours truly; Managing Editor Bart Madson, who’s spent plenty of time riding the older versions of the Versys and V-Strom; and Associate Editor Byron Wilson. As a new rider himself, Wilson’s perspective is of particular importance because he’s definitely in the buying demographic, and his welcome viewpoint is bound to be different based on his level of experience. He’s been chronicling his exploits as a new rider in a “Learning to Ride” series that debuted last week and also provided a sidebar for each of the motorcycles in this test.