Adventure With Comfort
Ask most people which brand comes to mind when you talk Adventure bikes and more often than not its BMW Dakar.Photos by Trail Zone Magazine
It seems appropriate that the first Adventure Bike test I get to do is the BMW F 650 GS Dakar. After all the name Dakar is associated with what's probably the worlds most gruelling off road race so to carry that name is a lot to live up to.
The original concept for the 650 was developed under the guidance of BMW, through a joint venture with Italian motorcycle manufacturer Aprilia and Austrian engine supplier Bombardier-Rotax to create the BMW F 650 Funduro.
Launched in 1993, the new single-cylinder machine opened up a new market for BMW. The F 650 proudly displayed the white-and-blue logo of the brand and it lived up to all BMW’s quality standards. Making the BMW brand accessable to a wider market translated into sales success.
The Funduro was as far as you could get from a serious, competitive off-road motorcycle but in 1998 after much development four BMW works riders from entered the 1999 Paris Dakar Rally starting from Granada. After 9,022 kilometres, Richard Sainct, won riding the rally version of the BMW F 650.
This along with victories in 2000 was the perfect opportunity to the launch of the new F 650 GS. The new model retained the its on-road riding qualities but with its off road capabilities very much improved. So as you can see carrying the Dakar name is justified.
What Is It?
Regardless of its racing heritage the FS650 GS is still very much a middle of the road consumer motorcycle. It is an excellent option for those looking for a bike that will feel right at home in city commuting to off road travel with creature comforts that BMW are famous for.
What Does It Cost?
The F 650 GS Dakar retails at $14,250 which puts it at the upper end of the market and is only challenged price wise by the Triumph Tiger ($15,990) and the KTM 640 Adventurer ($14,395) which to ride are completely different motorcycles. Next is the big XL650V Honda at $12,990 with a big drop to the Kawasaki KLR650 at $7,990 and the Suzuki DR650SE at $7,690.
What Do You Get For Your Money?
When you look at the specs there are a few subtle differences between the F 650 GS and the F 650 GS Dakar. The bikes are clearly set apart by the Dakars graphics and the 21" front wheel and with a 17" rear wheel with the overall wheelbase to 1.489mm. The seat height is 870mm which for my 167cm frame was managable.
The engine is the proven water cooled, single cylinder, 4 valve, double overhead cam Rotax engine. Its smooth power delivery of 37kW (50bhp) comes via a 5 speed transmission which hauls its 177.2kg (claimed dry weight) mass without much effort. One of the main features that separate it from others in its class is the underseat fuel tank.
With a capacity of 17.3 litres the low centre of gravity makes it easier to handle the bike fully fuelled at 193kg. In the suspension department it has a steel box section dual swing arm with spring preload hydraulically adjustable and rebound adjustable unit in the rear and telescopic forks up front. To pull the whole thing up the Dakar is fitted with a ABS assisted (disengageable) double piston floating calliper, 300mm front disk brake with a 240mm disk at the rear. Our test bike was fitted with Metzler Enduro 3 front and rear which did the job both on and off road.
The Dakar has a top speed of 170 kph so it was quite at home sitting comfortably at 100 kph on the highway. Making it even more comfortable is a wide seat and my favourite feature on cold mornings were the heated grips with two settings. The windshield keeps a bit of the breeze off your body making unavoidable stints on the highway a little more bearable. Instrumentation is analogue and easy to read and you also get plastic handguards and a robust rear carry rack for which there is a variety of BMW storage systems to fit.
Who's Buying It?
The BMW F 650 GS Dakar is a very reliable long distance tourer with a little more off road bias than the standard F 650 GS. So two wheel tourers with a liking for the BMW brand quality and status who plan to push it a bit harder along more challenging fire trails will tend to go for the Dakar.
Where Did We Ride It?
We clocked up almost 800 kilometres on the Dakar. Starting from the Off Road Explorer headquarters south of Sydney, the first 2 hours were early morning highway cruising and peak hour madness to the Blue Mountains. At Clarence just east of Lithgow we headed into the bush starting on greasy muddy roads to twisty loaming fire trail with the odd descents and climbs.
Along the Turon River the majority of our route was open dirt road with short sections of tar between Sofala and Hill End. From Hill End along the Bridle Track to Kelso, Sunny Corner back to Clarence. About 30% black top to 70% dirt road. The sort of terrain the Dakar just laps up. Check out the story elsewhere in this issue.
What's There To Like?
Coming from an enduro/motocross background and throwing a leg over the Dakar is like sinking into your favourite couch for a long stint in front of the television. It's probably one of the most comfortable seats on the market. Don't get the wrong idea though. The Dakar isn't short on performance and I was impressed with its smooth power delivery and acceleration. The seat paired with the heated grips ensures you're well armed to tour the country and arrive at your destination in good shape.
What's Not To Like?
Even though the grips are heated they look a bit like the grips on your little sisters bicycle except they're black instead of pink. My biggest worry about the Dakar is its weight and its one of the heaviest in its class. For off road use the rubber foot pegs are inadequate and for the serious off road tourer I'd be inclined to remove the ABS system completely. Forgetting about the ABS on a steep downhill I grabbed a handful (or is that foot full) of back brake to change direction and the bike responded by shuddering with no sign of slowing down. Fortunately you can turn the ABS off but it has to be done each time you start the bike.
The Final Word
If you have a spare $14,000 dollars laying around, looking to do some off road long distance touring then the Dakar is one of the best options. BMW have a wide variety of luggage touring accessories and there is no shortage of performance enhancements from companies like Motohansa. Funnily enough, on my way back down the mountains on our return to Sydney I spotted only two other adventure bikes travelling in the opposite direction, which were none other than a F 650 GS and a Dakar. If you have the budget, and you're looking for an all rounder the F 650 GS Dakar will definitely do the job.