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-   -   weight vs power (http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/which-bike/weight-vs-power-4888)

ekaphoto 2 Dec 2003 04:09

weight vs power
I want an opinion from folks that have travelled throught third world countries. My understanding from reading here and other places the roads are rough, so slow speed is the norm. I was wondering if a person wouldn't be better of getting a lighter bike with less power and easier to manouver, than something large and powerful. Do you ever really use the extra power enough to put up with the extra weight, or is the lighter weight more important.


davidmc 2 Dec 2003 07:15

Well, surely you will get some very different opinions on this subject, but this has been my experience.

I did a short 1 week tour of Cambodia using an XR250, probably one of the lighter bikes you can get. The light weight was great in the cities and larger towns where traffic was dense, and of course the gas mileage was fantastic. And since I was carring only a backpack, I could really take advantage and feel the lightness and nimbleness of the bike.

Out on the open road it is a different story. Even in Cambodia which has some of the worst roads in SE Asia, many of the dirt roads were such that you could easily cruise at 60-70+ MPH. Lightness would not give you much of an advantage here. And I would imagine most riders would seek out the "road less traveled" anyway, opting to stay away from the more heavily traveled routes.

When I go on my big Trans-Asia trip, I am going to take a bigger dual sport bike. Why? Because I want all the power I can get for emergencies, such as passing large trucks, and suddenly accelerating over huge potholes which would otherwise swallow my bike, just to name a few hazards that a rider will encounter every day in developing countries. And since I will be heavily loaded down with gear, I think that any weight savings from a lighter bike will barely be noticable.

Other opinions?


Grant Johnson 3 Dec 2003 05:05

Smaller and lighter is the way to go if you're travelling solo, and to an extent even two-up.

The Euro and North American obsession with 1000cc + and mega horsepower is pointless in most of the world. Costs more to buy, carnets cost more, gas costs more, parts cost more and are needed more frequently... etc...

My R80G/S at a mere 50 hp was more than adequate 98% of the time for us two-up, and the very few times it "wasn't", such as the Atacama desert, it was enough - I couldn't cruise at 150, but so what.

KISS principle prevails - keep it super simple - and lighter. When it falls over, it's nice to be able to pick it up yourself and not need a crew.

If you're going off-road solo a lot, 650 singles are the top end of the size/weight scale. Bikes like Transalps work well, even two-up.

Lois Pryce (see links page) is currently doing Alaska to Ushuaia on a Yamaha 225 Serow and loves it. Plenty fast enough and easy to ride.

Grant Johnson

Seek, and ye shall find.


One world, Two wheels.

davidmc 3 Dec 2003 06:54


Do you think that the R100GS airhead would be in a reasonable weight/power category for a solo Trans Asia trip? One thing I like about the old airheads is the stability of the bike loaded up and I wonder if this could justify the extra weight over a 650 single? I also like this bike for a possible two-up option (not sure yet! http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/ubb/wink.gif) The R80 G/S is pretty tough to find in the US, but R100GSs seem to be out there...


Grant Johnson 3 Dec 2003 08:30


This is one of those religious discussions...

but fwiw, and imho, sure, the airhead G/S or GS is a fine bike to travel on.

For SOLO use, it's questionable though - I'd probably take an F650GS or a KLR650 depending on budget, or a KTM 640 Adventure for a lot of off-road.

The airhead beemers are great bikes, and can be very reliable if you know what you're doing, prep them right and maintain them right. The G/S is excellent solo, but definitely on the heavy end of the scale - great for primarily on-road, but loses badly to the singles off-road.

The GS is a great two-up bike, but I think too heavy for solo, especially compared to the competition.

(I'm actually more or less converting my G/S into a GS - but I'm 99% two-up)

But all the airheads are a victim of the late 60's technology that spawned them. Fantastically reliable then compared to what was available, but less so compared to what's available today.

It's a tough choice. One of the BIG things to take into consideration is your own PREFERENCES - if you LIKE a particular bike, and emotionally TRUST it, go with it over one that everyone ELSE says is a better bike but YOU don't like it.

Another biggie is your own mechanical abilities - the legendary "fix at the side of the road with chewing gum and string" capability of the airheads is useless if you don't know where to put the chewing gum. ride something intriniscally more reliable - and anything NEWish will be better.

All the non-airheads mentioned above, plus the Africa Twin, Transalp, DR650, and probably a few I've forgotten at the moment have proved themselves to be very capable and super reliable bikes. (Though the KLR needs significant tweaking, it's SO cheap that's forgiven)

Note that both the G/S and GS are available in the US, they are out there - you just have to be patient. first question to finally decide is two-up or solo.

ride what YOU like.

Grant Johnson

Seek, and ye shall find.


One world, Two wheels.

desert soul 3 Dec 2003 19:41

weight eats up power!

so if there's a 20 kw difference in official power, a light one like honda nx 250 or kawasaki klr 250 will perform better in comparison with a heavy one (bmw 650, f.e.)than you might expect.

the smaller bikes give you advantage on bad terrain: easy handling, low fuel consumpion.

if you go alone, you will be happy with a bike like mentioned above. these two bikes are very reliable, liquid cooled and (best of all) very cheap. even tough sahara sand roads don't cause too much problems for them.
going at high rpm provides agressive acceleration even at higher cruising speed.

i'm doing fine on my two nx 250 all over south america, europe and northern africa.

AliBaba 7 Dec 2003 21:57

Naaa, when you put yourself, your luggage 30 litres of petrol, 10 litres of water and your luggage on the bike you will increase the weight of the bike with 140-170kgs. Not all bikes are build for that, certainly not the ultra-light ones. The handling can be bad and what about the frame and suspension?
Yes I use a heavy bike R80GS (192kg + petrol) but it still got me to Cape Town and back. The only problem I had that might be weight-oriented was a shock, but it made 110kkm before it broke.

If you plan to carry the bike a lot I guess weight is important:-)

desert soul 7 Dec 2003 23:10

hey alibaba,

my bike's weight is 125 kg. i need very little fuel, so 15 l will always be sufficient.

let me compute:
(192+30) - (125+15) = 78!

if you still don't believe that this makes any difference in performance, put a well built man on the back of your bike and check it out!

one question: did you ever try a small bike?

well, i tried a bigger one (dommie 650) and found it much more difficult to steer on bad terrain. also, there were more reasons to stop and fix something.
if you think small bikes are built less "heavy duty", i think you're wrong. i travelled extensively on the two mentioned machines and do know what i'm talking about!

one thing i found to be happening strangely often on my many journeys: bmw gs riders looking for some mechanic (no bad joke!).

looks like things a worth a closer second view http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/ubb/wink.gif

greetings from jan

ekaphoto 8 Dec 2003 00:54

Great feed back. I did a calculation for my DR-Z400S of HP per lb. (lb/hp) Stock the street model come at 38 hp and the weight is 198 lbs so that comes to 5.21 hp per lb. I have also pulled some weight off and opened the air box that added power, but I did not calculate that in. If any of you took the dirt model and put a kit on to make it street legal, it comes with 42 hp stock.


AliBaba 8 Dec 2003 00:56

Sure weight means something, and it depends on what you would like to do with your bike. The worse the terrain is the more you will gain with a light bike.
In Africa my average-speed was 65.3 km/h (GPS) and I didn’t choose the “easiest “route so on most continents the “roads” are not as bad as people say.

A lot of people focus on the weight of the bike. They easily forget that it doesn’t matter at all it’s the weight of the bike including petrol, luggage, water ++ which counts. For a 250 it will be maybe 260kg for a bigger bike maybe 340. Sure it is 30% more but you also have better frame, better suspension, better brakes, 250% more power and torque. IMHO the suspension on light bikes are excellent for riding them when they are light but not when they are loaded. On lighter bikes frames and suspension are often designed for the weight of the bike and the driver (75kg), bigger bikes are often designed for riding two up.

No I don’t think small bikes are suited for heavy loads. The manufacturers used to think the same way so normally the max carrying capacity was lower for smaller bikes. I don’t think that has changed but I’m not sure because I can’t find this numbers on internet. What I do know is that the DR250 I used for a while was bad when it was heavy loaded. My old XL600R with luggage was more top-heavy and difficult to control then the bike I have now, even if the bike was lighter (eeeh and newer design).

When it comes to power/weight ratio it would be ca twice as high for a big bike. But does that mean anything? Yes I mean so because it means that you don’t have to stress your engine so much and it will last longer. How long can you ride a 250 before it gets tired? My bike has passed 150.000 kms…
Max torque is at half rpm and so on..

Personally I think a light bike is nice for rough terrain and play ( I also have a 250-trial bike), but for touring I would choose something else.
People have gone RTW with mopeds, it’s all just a question of what YOU like.

Grant mentioned that you have cheaper carnet on a lighter bike. Well, here the price of the carnet is the same but the size of the deposit varies with the value of the bike (old bike=low value=smaller deposit). But the price for a bank-guarantee is the same if it is for a 1000USD deposit or a 100.000USD deposit….

Maybe you have met BMW-riders looking for a workshop, I haven’t but that’s maybe because the places I like go touring there is no BMW-workshops. But I have met BMW-riders who have been unprepared and thought a standard 1150GS can do anything. That said I haven’t met 250-riders looking for a workshop either, I haven’t met them at all but I know they are out there somewhere:-)

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