A thread on advrider asks the question why Euro bikes are so much more expensive than comparable Japanese bikes and, more importantly, are the Euro bikes worth the extra money. The issue was expressed by the original poster this way:
“I’ve gravitated towards BMW and Husqvarna over the past ten years with good results. However, as I really research the different bikes out there I’m forced to ask the question, is a new say, KTM dual sport in the 400-500cc range that much better (read $$$) than a new DRZ400? Is a new Euro 650 that much superior to a XR650L? I’m never going to ride the bikes at their limit, I’m just not a great rider. But I will take them into gnarly terrain for days at a time, drop them, and upgrade them as necessary. Why the huge difference in price? Will the KTM make me a better rider or just a poorer rider?”
This same writer goes on to discuss the differences and similarities:
“I’m aware of the improvements and the changes but what does “new design” really mean? Everything is in the same place, the geometries are similar, the weights are about the same, braking is about the same (with the exception of ABS on some models) so from a performance standpoint we’re really talking changes in fuel management (EFI vs carb), suspension (upside down vs standard forks), and some parts of the engine almost all in the top end. I’d say that modern materials engineering has made bikes lighter except really hasn’t. Modern engines do make more peak horsepower but from a practical standpoint, say between 2000 and 5000 revs where a dual sport spends much of its time, they are not that different. The EFI is very nice and avoids the inconvenience and trouble of rejetting, no small thing. Of course, there are the significant added costs of meeting emission standards that involve the integration of shockingly sophisticated computers, sensors, and even cats on some models, which increases the cost dramatically.
So, aside from never having to re-jet (at the added risk of a very costly fuel pump), it seems to me that the main difference is satisfying the EPA. As I understand it, the Japanese (other than the DRZ) have avoided sending a 400cc class dual sport to the US for this very reason, and is also why they just keep making the same thing which, so far, is not subject to the new standards. It would be a $10,000 bike sitting next to their $6,000 models. And if they dropped the $6,000 models, they’d lose their customer base. Government interference and the rule of unintended consequences.
One bike that does stand out, though I haven’t ridden it yet, is the 2017 Husqvarna 701 with the Duke motor. It’s basically the same weight as a DRZ-400 but from what I hear, the 701 buries the DRZ in pretty much every category. It’s maybe a little less nimble on singletrack, for those of us who take 300lb+ bikes on singletrack , but has far better highway manners and given its EFI and more than double available power, would also own it offroad. I’ve heard it called the closest thing yet to a do-everything bike. That might justify the eye-popping $11,000+ price tag: two bikes in one.”
I think this is a fine question, worth exploring in more detail.
How much more expensive are Euro dual sport bikes versus comparable Japanese bikes? Unfortunately, this is not as straightforward of a question as it would seem. Why? Because an apples to apples comparison is so hard to find.
For example, the original post speculated about a KTM dual sport in the 400-500cc range versus a Suzuki DRZ400S and a Euro 650 bike versus the Honda XR650L. Let’s start with the 400-500cc class.
Japan Inc. only makes one motorcycle in this 400-500cc class – the Suzuki DRZ400. Suzuki released the DRZ400s in 2001 and has made no changes to it other than color since. The DRZ400 is in the dual sport class of motorcycle, currently sells for $6599, puts out about 32 horsepower, weighs 320 lbs., is carbureted, and has a narrow ratio 5 speed transmission.
Now, let’s compare it to KTM.
Uh oh, KTM doesn’t make a 400-500cc dual sport bike. No, they don’t.
What KTM does sell is a 500EXC. But this bike is a dirt-bike-with-blinkers, not a dual sport bike. The 500 EXC weighs 240 lbs. (80 lbs. less than the DRZ), puts out 50 horsepower (156% more than the DRZ), is fuel injected, and has a wide ratio 6 speed transmission. They also sell it for $10,699, a $4100 premium over the DRZ.
Note that the 500 EXC and the DRZ are not in the same class of motorcycle. One (DRZ) is a dual sport and the other (EXC) is a street-legal dirt bike. It’s not an apple-to-apple comparison. Comparing them would be similar to comparing a Chevy El Camino to a Ford F-150 pickup. You can make the comparison but it’s not quite fair since they aren’t really designed to do the same thing.
Still, since both are street-legal from the factory, theoretically one can ride them the same places.
How much better is the 500 EXC over the DRZ? Having owned two DRZs and one EXC I can tell you the difference is night and day. The EXC is better than the DRZ in every situation. On pavement, off pavement, on single track, at altitude – you name it and the EXC easily beats the DRZ.
Is it $4,100 better than the DRZ?
For me the answer is an unqualified yes but only you can answer the question for you. How much do you value significantly more horsepower? Better fueling? A wide ratio 6 speed transmission? 80 lbs. less weight? Better handling? Better suspension? Better braking power?
“Okay” you may be thinking at this point, “that’s just one bike. You might be cherry-picking this example. Surely there are other Japanese dual sport bikes we can compare to Euro bikes.”
Yes, there are. And we will discuss them in the next post.