Four-stroke single-cylinder dual-purpose motorcycles may not match the power of bikes with multi-pot motors of the same displacement, but Peter Mackenzie reckons these thumpers deliver a good bang for your hard-earned bucks.
Motorcyclists often say they enjoy feeling a bike's power, and the freedom of exploring the open environment on two wheels.
The state of tune of many modern motorcycles provides power-to-weight ratios that can deliver thrilling levels of acceleration.
Having torque on tap makes its easy, sometimes, to get a bike out of a tight spot - like past that truck backing blind out of a driveway right in your path that you might just miss with a twist of throttle.
Equally, less cautious or inexperienced riders can find themselves approaching an obstacle or hazard going too fast to react, having grabbed too big a right-handful. The double-edged sword of power warrants a measured respect.
With a big multi-pot motor's ample power comes bulk and weight _ they're not your friends on poorer and unsealed roads.
None of that's a problem for cruising or comfortable touring, but if you want to easily commute and prefer discovering what's down twisty minor roads over smooth highway rides, big bangers can fit the bill.
Their top speed may not be stratospheric, but they tend to produce usable torque from idle through to redline, making them tractable and easy to ride.
Most can still go fast enough to trash your licence, and they don't often feel underpowered driven legally.
Punchy, predictable torque combines with good engine compression to make for confident cornering control with just the throttle.
A narrow crankcase, light weight and low centre of gravity make steering into corners and leaning nearly effortless, and those same qualities greatly improve stability through mid-corner bumps.
That means you're far less likely to crash off a corner from hitting a big bump or any other hazard you didn't expect.
Big singles can often outcorner much larger bikes, bumps or no bumps, by virtue of lean angles.
A nimble single also gives the rider more chance to change lines though a corner; in fact riding a lighter single, rather than a bulkier twin or four, can make the road around a tight corner seem much wider and more open.
Thumper fans find a dual-purpose big single can tour competently enough, and the worse the road conditions get, the better they suit the task.
Given the challenges of minor roads and trails encountered exploring the South, enduro-style singles can make progress where road bikes have to give up turn around.
Singles carry on through challenging terrain where chunkier ''adventure'' tourers can seem a handful.
A thinner enduro bike with long-travel suspension eats up the bumps, slips through tight spots and isn't such hard work when there are obstacles on your chosen path.
You can simply go more places, more easily.
They're good commuters too: not cold-blooded, easy to park or to ride through traffic and cheap to run (usually about 5L/100km).
Maintenance is less complex for singles than multis and commonly worn parts like chains, sprockets and tyres cost less.
Enduro singles, typically simpler to make and cheaper to buy, cost less to insure too, reflecting their dirt bike features designed for laying down without breaking anything critical.
Many big new roadbikes can be written off even in low-speed spills that ding or scrape, say just titanium exhaust parts, the fairing and a few bits of pretty, but pricey trim.
Riding a Suzuki DR650SE around the South reinforced my belief in the big single as a competent all-round motorcycle.
Reliance on proven technology and straightforward engineering make for an under 150kg bike that's easy to ride and simple to maintain.
It's light enough to tackle commuting and trail riding comfortably, but has power sufficient to eat open road at a pace to suit most riders.
The flexibility of tackling any sort of road or trail you'd be likely to find touring opens a broader range of exploration than on a road bike.
It also has adjustable suspension height.
The front has units inside the forks which when inverted drop the front end 40mm.
The rear has alternate shock mounting points that can drop the rear by 40mm too, which helps riders with shorter legs or who prefer an asphalt bias with lower centre of gravity (and don't miss a slight crankcase ground clearance reduction).
The DR comes with leanish carburetion and a hefty, well-muffled exhaust (to suit Californian emissions standards, I'd expect).
The motor is basically understressed.
It is possible to get aftermarket rejetting kits and more open exhaust systems if you want to boost output.
But if even more powerful big singles are your cup of tea, then you might look elsewhere.
One thing a rider might want on the DR is stickier rubber of the front wheel for hard asphalt cornering.
It is possible to get a Motard rim spoked on to the standard hub or set up an RZ250 front wheel to suit, but if you want a faster single, it may be better just to buy one set up the way you'd like.
Which brings me to the subject of my next article, the KTM690 Enduro.
Bookmark/Search this post with: