BMW HP2 vs. Honda XR650L vs. Husqvarna TE601E vs. KTM 950 Adventure - COMPARISON TEST

Four paths to dual-sport motorcycling adventure

dual-sport adventure motorcycles in front of a fire lookout

View is beautiful on Bald Mountain, better called “Blind” Mountain during foggy visit to the abandoned fire lookout at its peak.

Riding in heavy rush-hour traffic on Interstate 5 south of Los Angeles, all I can smell is the scent of freshly burning pine. Bashing wooded single-track on a KTM 950 Adventure does allow the bike to obtain a certain aroma that you can take back to civilization with you. But considering the previous two days of sun, wind, rain, snow, sand, fire road, beaches, water crossings, jumps, granite shelves, 9000-foot elevation and temperatures as low as the mid-20s, this big adventure bike was in pretty good shape. Actually, everything we dragged through the wilderness–this KTM, a BMW HP2, a Honda XR650L and a Husqvarna TE610E–was all looking great.

dual-sport adventure bikes parked in front of a general store

Taking nourishment on the mountainside, the crew fuels body and mind with sandwiches and coffee.

Even us. The "us" on hand was a solid collection of individuals, too. Off-Road Editor Ryan Dudek was a natural choice, while for local trail knowledge in and around the Shaver Lake, California, area of the Sierras we enlisted the assistance of Ed Mann, who, in addition to being an excellent guide, also seems to handle a bike pretty well. Turns out he is actually related to that famous guy with the same last name. He also is a 30-year veteran of the fire department, so in the event that something did go wrong and one of us needed to have a femur reconstructed trailside, he was, ahem, the man. Filling the fourth spot took some head scratching, but not for too long. The name Gary Jones should ring a bell. Jones, who currently works on special projects for White Brothers, has run his own motorcycle company (remember the AMMEX?), was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2000 was, depending on whether you ask him or the AMA, a three- or four-time 250cc motocross champion in the early '70s. That was a long time ago, though. So when I called to invite him, I was a little cautious. "You're still in, uh, pretty good shape, then? We're going to be riding some pretty hard trails, and the bikes are kind of big, so…"

Mr. Jones had a chuckle and was matter-of-fact. “I just finished eighth overall in the Glen Helen 24 Hour. Me and my team were all over 50, won the plus-40 class and we only missed sixth overall by 30 seconds.”

two riders checking the trail map on their motorcycles

Multi-time motocross champ Gary Jones surveys the map held by fellow guest-tester Ed Mann on our sunny riding day, looking, no doubt, for suitable trails on which to ditch the two big bikes.

Okay, great, you can take care of me, then...

The planned trails were tough, and we always decide to do harder things than we plan, so proper dirt-worthy tires were procured. The KTM’s Pirelli Scorpion A/Ts were swapped for Metzeler Karoos, standard on both the BMW and Husky, while the Honda got Dunlop D606 DOT-legal knobbies.

Autumn had stayed fairly warm, even in the Sierra foothills, so when we arrived, there was a chill in the evening air, but no more. In fact, we reveled in the sunshine and warmth of the first day, just playing around with some street riding and fairly easy trail work.

Naturally, the BMW HP2 was of greatest interest to everybody, because it is hard not to be interested in an 1170cc, 86-horsepower, $20,000 dirtbike. The dirtbike part is both the bike's strength and weakness. The HP2 is narrow and tall, with a hard seat that is, by the CW tape measure, 37.0 inches above ground (a 1.6-inch lower version is available). In other words, not the most comfy place to sit while riding on long stretches of asphalt, and full-on tip-toe material on or off the road. The lack of wind protection also somewhat limits street usability, especially in cold weather on the highway, but available heated grips help in this regard.

BMW HP2 studio 3/4 view
UPS DOWNS
BMW HP2 +Coolest Beemer ever –Rear brake pedal hard to find
+Did you really just get away with that? –Needs more fuel range
+Spacious and roomy –Drivelash
+Rally-ready –W-i-d-e cylinders
+GPS, heated grips available

The HP2 feels as though it is made for big people, with the handlebars abnormally high in front of the rider. A few corners into the ride, the ergonomic weirdness is forgotten, and if you are an apeman, it actually feels pretty good. You are simply in command. Power is excellent and seemingly never-ending. There was a section of tacky fire road that underlined how magnificent this bike is in its element. Slides were perfectly easy to control, the front end felt stuck like velcro, and we could dial in with the throttle any degree of wheelspin or lift the front end with ease.

Rocky uphills, however, challenged rear traction, even with BMW’s fancy air-only shock (air functions as both spring and damping medium). The shaft final drive is said to be quite light, but unsprung weight is still greater than with chain-drive rears.

BMW HP2 snow action

“This bike was more awkward to jump than the KTM because of the engine torque effect and drivelash,” commented Jones. “And it landed a little harsher, too.” Dudek echoed these comments after seeing Jones hurling the KTM off a pretty big jump and demanding possession of the BMW to go do the same with it. Summed up The Dude: “Too big to be a serious dirtbike, and it doesn’t have all the features and comfort needed for a true adventure-tour. But it does kick butt off-road, and you can charge harder than on the KTM almost everywhere, as long as you mind the width of the engine.”

We did bash some pretty gnarly single-track trail, and following the BMW was like following a farm combine, cylinders mowing foliage quite effectively. Also, rocky crags and narrow passages were tricky.

That being said, this bike shredded almost every trail, torched the knobs right off the rear tire, and when Dudek finished chucking giant sand roostertails and generally playing desert racer on a huge beachfront near one of the lakes we visited, I never saw a smile larger.

Honda XR650L studio side view
UPS DOWNS
Honda XR650L +No surprises –Like HP2, needs more fuel range
+King bargain –Time for a six-speed gearbox
+Almost unstoppable –Cramped riding position for tall people

While there were places the big Beemer might fear to tread due to its width, there was no such trouble with the tried-and-true Honda XR650L. In some regards, you want to call it tired and true, if only because the bike has been around in its air-cooled, single-cylinder, 644cc glory since 1993. Where the BMW is almost too spacious in its seating, the Honda feels cramped, with low bars and a fairly tight seat-to-footpeg relationship. Tipping the bars forward from the as-delivered position alleviates some of this. Then you just keep on riding, no matter what.

“The old XR650L is an old XR650L,” said Jones. “It never did anything bad. It started easily, it ran good and was a smooth runner. And for the price, you can’t beat it.”

As with the other bikes, we made a few trail-friendly mods. The BMW and Husky got aftermarket handguards (Acerbis and Cycra, respectively), for example, and in the Honda’s case, the countershaft-sprocket size was reduced by a tooth. This made first gear a real rock-crawler and dropped second (a big jump from first gear) enough to make it much more useful. Highway cruise in fifth gear was still happy, and fuel efficiency was quite good.

Honda XR650L on-road action

Unfortunately, the tank is small, which limits range to well under 100 miles, including reserve. This was the bike we always had to think of in regard to fuel stops (although its 2.8-gallon capacity was hardly smaller than the BMW’s 2.9-gallon capacity). Power was softest of all the bikes, which was reflected in performance testing.

Said Mann, “For a bike that hasn’t changed much in almost a decade and a half, it still provides a solid ride on the street and in the dirt. The suspension can be adjusted to handle anything the bike is designed for. I own an ’05 and use it extensively in Baja and for dual-sport rides, as well as commuting. The bike is rock-solid and reliable but could use a well-spaced six-speed and a diet.”

Husqvarna TE610E studio side view
UPS DOWNS
Husqvarna TE610E +Feels like a real dirtbike –Reliability questions?
+Strong power, smooth engine –Not as much of a real dirtbike as the street-legal TE510
+Lightweight (in this group) –Where's my chrome-paneled fuel tank?

Despite some of the XR-L’s shortcomings, there is no doubt that this is much more of a true dirtbike than either of the biggies. While you might cry great big tears if you dropped your 950 Adventure or HP2 on a rocky uphill (the latter has an epoxy valve-cover repair kit available as an accessory!), you wouldn’t even flinch with the XR-L. A bike that costs $5799 gives a man a certain feeling of freedom.

Of course, you could simply bypass tipping over at all on that rocky uphill by riding the Husqvarna TE610E. While this ain’t no enduro-race-ready off-roader-with-lights like the 2006 TE450 and 250, in this group, the 610 feels like a flame-throwing lightweight trail-shredding device.

“The Husky did great berm shots,” enthused Jones. “You could just bury the thing in corners and lay it down like a really good motocross bike—it was the most dirtish out of all of them.”

Husqvarna TE610E off-road action

Dudek, a Pro-level rider in his own right, concurred. “This Husky is the most current dirtbike-like machine in the group. The controls are up to date, and it feels lightweight and slim, making it the most comfortable for me because dirtbikes are what I ride all the time. Power was decent, though nothing spectacular, especially compared to the big boys. But I would not be afraid to take this bike on any trail.”

Unfortunately, the jetting was off to the point that the bike didn’t like to run cleanly at altitude. We also had trouble with the digital speedo/info display, which worked intermittently. In the course of continued testing, first the display quit altogether on a nighttime off-road ride back in Southern California, then the engine barely ran at the end of the loop. Husqvarna USA (headquartered in Pennsylvania) chose to send us another bike as an expedient, which ran better but popped the main fuse to the instruments, also killing the electric start. So, the bike had to be push-started because, like the rest of this group, there is no kickstarter. We replaced the fuse for less than a buck and the TE610E is running fine now, but you can bet we’re going to carry extras (perhaps in the available accessory saddlebags) on any ride. It is a shame to have such a worry in the back of your mind, because this bike–with its competent, fully adjustable suspension, accessory skidplate and 3.2-gallon fuel capacity–feels like it could conquer anything you throw at it. With proper jetting, power was snappy yet smooth, the bike was comfortable enough to ride on the road for reasonable trail-connecting distances, and it ripped in the dirt. Due to its lighter weight and smaller size, it was–like the Honda–easiest to handle when we encountered heavy snow on the second day in the mountains.

KTM 950 Adventure studio side view
UPS DOWNS
KTM 950 Adventure +Great engine! –Devours rear tires
+Wind protection –Heavy
+New lower seat height –Carries 5.8 gallons of fuel, but 28 mpg?!
+Centerstand –How about a helmet lock? (Husky/Honda have 'em)
+Handy tank-top storage compartment –Europe has EFI 990, how 'bout us?

That being said, Dudek passed my KTM 950 Adventure-mounted ass like I was standing still in the several-inch-layer of white we encountered on the morning of Day Two at 7000-plus feet, not seeming to have any trouble at all in the nasty conditions with that big Beemer he was riding. Having had 10 more years of life than him to discover the fragility of the human form, I chalked this up to caution on my part, but there might also be a slight talent deficit, too. Nonetheless, the KTM was quite a willing companion in these tough conditions. Even with 91 hp at the rear wheel, the connection with the throttle is excellent so that the rider can dial-in only as much as he needs. The tank-like, 485-pound dry weight should have been more intimidating, too, but it is carried so well that you don’t think anything of it. The seat height helped here, which dropped 0.8-inch to 34.4 inches this year and is 2.2 to 3 inches lower than the others.

And when the going wasn't frozen, the game was on. On big gravel roads, we all could stand up on the 950 and just power slide forever, in perfect control, grooving with the trail. Jones was flying through the air with the greatest of ease and didn’t even cause any earthquakes upon landing. “If you hit the right kind of jump, it felt so good,” he said, “and it didn’t land hard at all.”

KTM 950 Adventure off-road action

In the rocky stuff, it was pretty easy to go fast, but like on the BMW (itself 422 pounds), it was best to be more mellow because rims suffered dings on both bikes. In more technical going or on single-tracks, both the big bikes had their shortcomings. We always were aware of the KTM’s additional poundage (especially if the 5.8-gallon fuel tank was full), but even in the narrow stuff, everybody liked how well the KTM could be made to turn. Said Jones, “You could whip that KTM in and out of little corners and stuff so easily.” The Austrian bike invited a leg-out motocross style, while the BMW ’s cylinder heads were always in the way.

Further, the KTM is plush and cushy, and it makes you feel like you could ride from Georgia to Utah because you wanted to ride on the rocks in Moab. And then you could actually ride the rocks in Moab.

While we added carbon-fiber fuel-tank and case guards, nothing could protect the KTM’s kickstand safety switch, which was crushed and killed the motor on the trail. We wired around the trouble and got back to the adventure at hand.

dual-sport adventure bikes riding in the snow

Rode there! Epic snow riding on do-it-all-machines was a highpoint of the trip. Try these trails in your SUV…

There is no doubt that torching knobs at 9000 feet is about as much fun as you can have on a motorcycle. The pine aroma back on the daily commute was really just a bonus. Still, crawling between lanes on the super-slab made it hard to believe that two days earlier, we had this mega-bomber on trails hardly wider than the 160mm rear Metzeler. Even in this selection of just four bikes, there is one for every budget and for every kind of use, especially if there is a lot of dirt in the coming miles.

For us, however, the 950 Adventure is fast becoming a classic. It accomplished everything the smaller bikes did without too much more trouble, and while the Orange Bomber is a lot pricier than the Singles, it is also far more versatile due to its power, smoothness and comfort. At the same time, it rings in $6000 cheaper than the BMW, does just about as well off-road, particularly in narrow going, and ended up being the favorite of everybody on the ride. If you need any more convincing, just think of all the money you’ll save by not having to buy those little Christmas-tree air-fresheners.

SPECIFICATIONS
BMW HP2 Honda XR650L Husqvarna TE610E KTM 950 Adventure
PRICE $19,990 $5799 $7199 $13,898
DRY WEIGHT 422 lb. 340 lb. 310 lb. 485 lb.
WHEELBASE 63.5 in. 57.9 in. 59.8 in. 62.1 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 37.0 in. 36.6 in. 37.4 in. 34.4 in.
FUEL MILEAGE 35 mpg 35 mpg 42 mpg 28 mpg
0-60 MPH 3.4 sec. 6.0 sec. 4.4 sec. 3.1 sec.
1/4-MILE 11.88 sec. @ 111.85 mph 15.01 sec. @ 84.33 mph 13.50 sec. @ 94.06 mph 11.63 sec. @ 112.75 mph
HORSEPOWER 86.6 bhp @ 7400 rpm 32.8 bhp @ 5800 rpm 41.1 bhp @ 7900 rpm 90.8 bhp @ 8450 rpm
TORQUE 71.6 ft.-lbs. @ 5700 rpm 29.5 ft.-lb. @ 4300 rpm 31.2 ft.-lbs. @ 6300 rpm 62.3 ft.-lb. @ 6400 rpm
TOP SPEED 131 mph 91 mph 103 mph 125 mph
motorcycle toolkit

TOOLS FOR THE TRAIL

What makes the ultimate fannypack?

The very nature of adventure-bikes implies a certain self-sufficiency. So, don't be a weenie who doesn't pack any tools.

What to carry?

“The first problem you’re going to have on a modern bike is the tires, so you need a patch kit or extra tube, and tools to get the wheels off,” says guest-tester Gary Jones.

Other advice? Practice. Use your toolkit to work on your bike in non-emergency situations so you know exactly what you need. Also, don't buy a bag or pack so big that you feel obligated to fill it up—that stuff is heavy!

“A couple of hours lugging a heavy toolkit and you're going to get tired really quick, especially if you’re riding hard,” says Jones. "Do carry a masterlink, spare nuts and bolts, wire, epoxy and zip-ties. If you don't have full handguards, carry a spare lever. You want stuff that gets you out."

Of the thousands of implement options out there, we picked three different ways to gather tools for the trail:

Motion Pro motorcycle toolkit

Roll your own: Motion Pro (www.motionpro.com) doesn't sell a complete kit. Rather, it offers an excellent, comfortable-to-wear T-6 fannypack ($50) that the rider outfits with a selection of the company's quality tools. You'll have to look elsewhere for tape, epoxy putty, safety wire and so forth. Small hardware kits are, however, offered. Our kit shown here (including rubber gloves, chain breaker, spring hook, spoke wrenches) had enough tools to fix most problems on our four bikes. Coolest contents? The T-6 Combo Lever, an aluminum tire lever with incorporated axle wrench, which combined with the 3/8-inch socket-drive adapter, are must-have items. Also sweet is the MP Tool, a many-in-one fixing device that would make MacGyver jealous. Outfitted as shown and including the bag, $340, but downsizing to work on one bike will lower cost.

CruzTools motorcycle toolkit

Basic starter kit: In the case of CruzTools (www.cruztools.com), its DMX Fanny Pack Tool kit ($80) serves as an economical and reasonably complete way of getting what you need to fix most problems. In addition to steel tire levers, pliers, a screwdriver, select sockets and visegrips, there is a flashlight, electrical tape, mechanic's wire, zip-ties, a blistertube of WD-40 and even a shop rag. There also are two zip-closure pouches for additional storage, where CruzTools threw in a digital tire-pressure gauge ($17) and its folding Outback'r M14 multi-tool ($20). This alone has four hex keys (3, 4, 5, 6mm), two screwdrivers, a socket driver (with 8, 10 and 12mm sockets), 13 and 14mm open-end wrenches and three spoke wrenches, in a 9-ounce, 3.5-inch-long package. Add your own tube/patch kit, and this is a hard-to-beat combo.

Throw the toolbox at it: The Survivor Pack from DC Concepts (www.dcconceptssllc.com) claims to be "Your complete tool bag." It is hard to argue. This backpack toolkit (lead photo above) has just about everything you need to get your bike going again, from the pair of 2.5-inch lengths of copper tubing, 7 inches of radiator hose and clamps, to the tow strap, C02 inflation system and steel Motion Pro tire levers. Also included is a 21-inch tube (can be temporarily used in the rear, too), patch kit, folding knife, epoxy putty, chain breaker, universal masterlink...got the idea? With all this stuff, the pack weighs 9 pounds and is heavier still if you fill the 100-ounce Hydrapak bladder with freshly mixed Tang and electrolytes. Considering the contents and value-added of backpack and bladder, the $208 asking price makes it a good all-in-one option.

BMW HP2 on-road action

WHAT TO WEAR OUT THERE

You’re hot, you’re cold, you’re crashed...

Motorcycle trekkers’ gear options have come a long way from woolen sweaters, jeans and construction boots. Just check out BMW's Rallye 2 enduro suit, a high-tech, all-weather textile getup that can keep you comfortable and protected through steamy lowland jungle to snowy mountain pass and everything in between.

The jacket ($615) features ample venting, plenty of pockets and two zip-out liners; one is a fine nylon mesh that holds the shoulder, elbow and back-protecting armor, the other is insulated Gore-Tex to keep you warm and dry. Sleeves are removable, a back pocket accepts a drink bladder (BMW’s own Trinkbag), there is a zip-off fannypack and even a snap-on window pouch to display, no kidding, your competition number! Pants ($415) are similarly feature-laden, with stretch panels for enhanced maneuverability, plus leather patches on the inside of the knees for better grip on the bike in tough terrain. Weather-proofing worked, as Off-Road Editor Ryan Dudek reported that he was warm and dry at the end of a pretty wet and miserable day. The pants were snug at the knee braces, but fit fine without said limb-hinges in place. Add the GS1 ($275, "Felt kind of old school,” said the young Dude) Rallye gloves ($79) to become fully factory equipped.

There are myriad aftermarket gear options, including one of the all-time classics: Aerostich’s Darien Jacket and Pants ($497 and $297, respectively), as well as lighter-weight, more budget-minded suits such as AlIoyMX’s All Terrain ($230) or Moose Racing’s Expedition ($260) two-piecers (the other suits on our ride). BMW, however, is your only OEM with a complete, high-quality adventure suit, gloves and boots. And it is, of course, all color-coordinated with your HP2.

Photo #1

Group static.Jeff Allen

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Group static.Jeff Allen

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Taking nourishment on the mountainside.Jeff Allen

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Group action.Jeff Allen

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Gary Jones surveys the map held by Ed Mann.Jeff Allen

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Group action.Jeff Allen

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BMW HP2 studio.

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BMW HP2 action.Jeff Allen

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BMW HP2 action.Jeff Allen

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Honda XR650L studio.

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Honda XR650L action.Jeff Allen

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Honda XR650L static.Jeff Allen

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Husqvarna TE610E studio.

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Husqvarna TE610E action.Jeff Allen

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Husqvarna TE610E action.Jeff Allen

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KTM 950 Adventure studio.

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KTM 950 Adventure action.Jeff Allen

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The BMW Rallye 2 suit modeled by Ryan Dudek.Jeff Allen

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Survivor Pack from DC Concepts.Jeff Allen

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Motion Pro T-6 fanny pack.Jeff Allen

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CruzTools DMX Fanny Pack Tool kit.Jeff Allen