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New BMW and KTM motorcycles are very different, but meet at the same sweet spot

Charles Fleming, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Automotive News

In the titanic battle between German motorcycle giant BMW and its Austrian counterpart KTM, BMW has dominated the big-bike segment while KTM has eclipsed all rivals in the small-bore niches.

BMW's R 1250 GS and GSA remain the machines of choice for touring adventurers who think they may want to do some off-roading, while KTM's SX, EXC and XC bikes have eaten everyone's lunch in the 250, 350 and 450cc categories.

Now the fight has shifted to the middle, which is great news for consumers. Both companies are increasing their offerings of midsize motorcycles -- BMW an 850 GS and KTM a 690 Enduro R.

They're completely different, and they are both stupendous.

BMW has had a midrange bike out for some time. But their 700cc and 800cc bikes have largely been treated as watered-down versions of the company's flagship R 1250 GS.

They felt underbuilt, offering almost the same weight as the big bike but not enough horsepower to make it move, and missing some of the company's fine technology. They were often purchased because they were more affordable or seemed tamer than their big brothers.

 

KTM could have been accused of something similar. Its earlier midrange efforts seemed either like clunky versions of the bikes that are so graceful off the road, or feeble echoes of KTM's 990 and 1290 adventure bikes. They were too heavy for the dirt, some complained, but not solid and strong enough for long-distance riding.

BMW's new F 850 GS is a revelation. Powered by a new parallel twin engine that pumps out 90 horsepower and 63 pound-feet of torque, the latest model doesn't feel underpowered in the slightest.

Over the two weeks that I rode it, over the course of several hundred miles of pavement and a few stretches of open desert, I kept asking myself why anyone would ever need the 1250 version.

The new engine is beautifully balanced and steady. It spins up quick, accelerates madly through the six-speed gearbox, and makes for very dynamic riding around town and on the highway. Because it's fitted with a 21-inch front wheel, it stands tall and has no difficulty getting over obstacles.

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