|Honda XL 600V Transalp
Four stroke, 52 V-Twin, SOHC, 3
valves per cylinder
|583 cc / 35.5 cu-in
Bore x Stroke
|75 x 66 mm
|2x 32 mm Keihin Carburettor CV
Electronical double CD-I ingnition, 12Vdc, 12V/12Ah battery, AC-generator,
electrical starter, electronic safegard on side stand
|55 hp / 41 kW @ 8000 rpm
|52.6 Nm / 38.8 ft-lb @ 6000 rpm
|1st: 2.571 2nd: 1.777 3rd: 1.380 4th: 1.125 5th: 0.961
|Single downtube with double loop cradle of rectangular section
|41 mm Telescopic hydraulic forks
|Front Wheel Travel
|200 mm / 7.8 in
|Rear Wheel Travel
|187 mm / 7.4 in
|Single 276 mm disc 2 piston caliper
|Single 240 mm disc 1 piston caliper
Length 2260 mm / 89.0 in
Width 865 mm / 34.0 in
Width 905 mm / 35.6 in
|1505 mm / 59.2 in
|850 mm / 33.5 in
|195 mm / 7.7 in
|183.0 kg / 404 lbs
|202.0 kg / 445 lbs
|18 Litres / 4.7 US gal
Braking 60 – 0 / 100 – 0
|13.3 m / 42.1 m
|13.4 sec / 152.8 km/h
Motosprint Adventure Group Test
XL 600V vs KLE 500
WHERE THE TRANSALP rider swoops through roundabouts with a contented smile on
his face, the KLE rider grins maniacally while trying to keep the footpegs
scraping as long as possible. Where the Transalp rider uses the torque infested
midrange to push out of corners, the KLE rider is propelled by a useful top end.
Still grinning maniacally.
Attitude. That’s the difference. In colour scheme, styling and exhaust note,
Kawasaki’s KLE is Guns’n’Roses to the Transalp’s Toto. They are both a laugh to
ride, but on the Transalp you chuckle at the ease with which 400lbs of tall
motorcycle can sweep through bends; on the KLE you giggle and wonder if it’s
worth turning round to do it again.
Yet these bikes are aiming at the same goal they want to be Britain’s
biggest-selling street trailie. In the subdued green and brown corner we have
the Transalp; reigning champion since its introduction in 1987. In the hooligan
purple and pink corner we have the KLE; the latest challenger, whose launch
heralded a massive advertising campaign on London’s Tube…
Kawasaki wants townies to cash-in their season ticket and get a KLE instead.
It certainly weaves through traffic like a good’un, but then so does the
Transalp and most other trailies. What Kawasaki seems to be banking on is that,
besides being a very competent motorcycle, the KLE looks the part. Big K wants
to attract anyone who likes the aggressive styling of their ZXR750, but has had
enough of the agonising wrist ache they get every time they ride into town. And
the agonising costs. And the number of points on their licence.
Virtually unchanged since 1987, the Transalp is a different kettle of
porridge; it has long distance touring ability, reserved styling and a stompy
engine. Yet the physical similarities between the contenders is striking. Both
have tried and tested twin cylinder engines (Kawasaki implanted the GPZ500S
motor, Honda originally bored out the VT500 engine to 600cc); both have a double
cradle chassis, meaty 41 mm forks, 21 inch front wheel, 17 inch rear, half
fairing, single front and rear disc brake, bash plate… suddenly they seem
identical until you ride them.
Going from Transalp to KLE, the first thing I noticed was the weight
difference. The Kawasaki felt like a tall 250 in comparison. During my brief
excursion off road (a dusty track which I made sure was so dry it was
effectively a brown road), the Transalp’s bulk was always weighing heavily on my
mind in an “if I drop this I’m done for” sort of way. The KLE was by no means a
KMX200 beater, but at least I thought I’d be able to pick the bugger up on my
own if gravity got the better of me.
As a Viz letter writer would say, imagine my surprise when I
discovered that according to the manufacturers’ figures the 500 is 3kg heavier,
at 178kg (dry). Either the Transalp’s in-line V-twin and sturdy nose fairing
raise the centre of gravity enough to give the impression of bulk, or, as the
man from Kawasaki suspected, the KLE’s parallel-twin motor is heavy, but low
enough to make the bike feel comparatively frisky.
The KLE’s low centre of gravity shows in its handling. The Honda is not
unwilling to be flopped into tight corners and power its way out, but the
Kawasaki is positively enthusiastic, and feels safer because the rider knows a
superhuman effort is not needed to get it upright again. Perhaps because of
this, I found the KLE’s ground clearance limitations much sooner and more often
than on the Transalp. It was not a problem. Many a cracking evening was had
trying to wear down the blobs on the bottom of the unsprung pegs plus it’s
the ideal excuse to practice hanging off the side.
Both bikes have chassis capable of absorbing a lot of silliness round corners
before they return the abuse in the form of weaves, understeer and the like. The
Transalp tended to rock gently back and forwards round fast corners; the KLE was
hard to fault, although both front ends wobbled disconcertingly when
accelerating hard across raised white lines.
For relatively heavy bikes with single discs, braking is surprisingly sharp.
The dive from the long travel forks (KLE – 220mm, Transalp – 200mm), and the
squeal from the thin front tyres only add to the impresssion of stopping in a
hurry. But both would benefit from twin discs and fatter front tyres.
The KLE is the keenest to dive, and the first 70mm of travel seem wasted
shut the throttle suddenly and there’s a mere 150mm of wheel travel left. At the
rear it’s the other way round. The Transalp squats more under power or pillion,
and under both it feels like it’s bottoming out. Preload adjustment helps, but
doesn’t cure the problem.
Despite looking semi-trailie, both sets of tyres are fine on the road. The
Kawasaki comes with Trailmaxcs which are superbly grippy in the dry, and OK in
the wet. Dunlop K750’s on the Honda have more fresh air between the knobbles,
harder rubber and make the bike more unsure of the two in the wet. This of
course gives you more of an excuse to stick your leg out and pretend Paul Malin
rides a Transalp.
Coming from the sporty GPZ500S, the KLE’s eight-valve engine was always
likely to have a top-end capable of seeing off mid-range merchants like the
Transalp. It has. At around 7000rpm the KLE starts pulling strongly, and will
happily keep going to the 11,000 redline. But that is just what it does above
9000 keeps going. There is no surge at the very top, and it seemed as
pointless to take it that far in the gears as it did to force the Transalp to
its 9000 redline.
On motorways the top-end poke of the 500 is useful. Cruising at 90 is
possible on both bikes. But at that speed the 600 is running out of puff,
whereas the KLE will easily give an extra 5mph to get you past the guy in the
Cavalier who decides 90mph in the middle lane is the speed and the place to do a
spot of map reading.
Kawasaki claim to have tuned the 500cc motor for extra low and mid-range
power, and it will comfortably chug away in top from around 3000. Indeed, if I’d
ridden the KLE first I doubt if I would have noticed any weakness in the
mid-range. But the extra 100ccs of the Honda makes the Kawasaki mid-range seem
inadequate I missed being able to open the throttle at 4000 and get a useful
surge of acceleration. On the KLE you have to wait another 2000 for the same
Once you’ve sussed it, this is not important. The KLE asks to be revved
harder. The engine feels free, and despite a large silencer mounted under the
pillion’s right inner thigh, the exhaust note encourages engine abuse. It’s not
just that it’s loud, it’s raw too. It seems a waste to trundle along when
waiting a few more degrees round the rev counter is such a pleasing row.
Despite sounding coarse in comparison to the dulcet tones of the 600, the 500
is almost as smooth. Smooth is a relative term, however. Jumping on the Transalp
after riding a Zephyr 550, I thought the engine was going to shake itself to
bits. After a three hour ride on the Honda the bike and I were still in working
order, so perhaps I was being a tad sensitive. But if you want a silky ride a
twin is not the option to go for.
Over the entire rev range the Transalp suffers less v ibration the KLE
engine has a continuous slappy feel in comparison but the 600cc motor has
greater peaks. At 90mph in top, the Transalp rider receives unsubtle messages
through bars and pegs that the 7000rpm resonant frequency has arrived. It’s
bearable, but encourages your speed to become more legal – or to get your head
on the tank and be seriously naughty.
Head-on-tank antics are tempting at high speeds because of the wind blast if
you sit up. The KLE’s fairing looks more of a fashion accessory than a wind
deflector, and I suspected some forearm exercises wouldn’t go amiss before my
first motorway jaunt. The bulbous Honda fairing looked so ugly that I assumed it
had to be useful. In fact there’s not much of difference.
In a scientific test which involved riding at speed through a swarm of juicy
flies with a clean jacket on, I discovered the Transalp fairing guided the
little blighters to their deaths one and a half inches higher than the KLE,
which left a splatter line about four inches below my shoulder. Long distances
in the dry were not limited by inadequate fairings on either bike.
The rider’s bot was the heart of the matter. Honda call the Transalp a “Rally
Tourer”, and the scat is where it shows. After three hours, with one brief
petrol stop, my bum was still in a fit state to tour, if not to rally. The KLE
is a “Street Enduro” according to Kawasaki. Arse endurance, more like. It is
hard, and anything more than an hour and a half in the saddle is a pain.
The mirrors on the Kawasaki are another irritant. Above 6000rpm everything
behind takes on a ghostly shimmer white-trucks become clouds, white cars
become white trucks, and KLE riders become annoyed. The Transalp mirrors work.
In other words, the 600 is an efficient tourer and the 500 isn’t. And neither
of them are tourers, or much fun, two-up the Transalp’s mid-range stomp
disappears into raising the velocity of another body, and the KLE’s agility
vanishes because all that weight is perched on top.
Thanks to a short seat, KLE pillion are also faced with the troublesome
dilemma of whether to slide cosily into the back of the rider, or shuffle
unsociably back towards the rack/grabrail. The latter option is not recommended,
as your body is so close to the rack that even moderate acceleration sends the
pillion’s feet into the air and their life flashing before their eyes.
After riding the Transalp for three weeks I was impressed. It was comfy, good
at roundabouts, and who cares if the styling is naff? Quite a few people I
reckon. An aura of efficient dullness surrounds the bike. It is undoubtedly the
better built and finished of the two even its sidestand has a solid, machined
feel to it but it docs not inspire enthusiasm. After riding the KLE for three
minutes, I wanted one. After three hours I wanted a pillow under me bum, but I
still wanted one. I still want one now. In the fight for sales, my money’s on
the one in the purple and pink corner.
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