2009 BMW G650 GS Test

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Entry Level to Adventure

With its new powerplant the BMW Funduro takes on a whole new personality.

Photos by Trail Zone Magazine and Lance Turnley
I feel a bit like Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear at times. Mind you I’m only half his height but I’m talking in terms of test vehicles. Most of the time you’re testing Ferraris, Porches and the like, then you have the occasional excursion to the other end of the scale with something like a Hyundai Getz. You wonder if its mentally possible to extend a fair comment when your use to experiencing far more superior machinery.

So there I was at the beginning of the 2009 BMW Safari setting up a new BMW G650GS for a five day tour around Tasmania. It was fitted with a BMW Tank Bag and a BMW Large Sport rear bag. To give it improved off road manners it came with Continental TKC 80’s knobbies front and rear. On the 2008 Safari I rode a 2007 R1200GS and this time around I was gagging for a new F800GS. Mind you this wasn’t a holiday as I was charged with the job of capturing the Safari on video and the G650GS was my workhorse. When you’ve got a job to do, picking up a R1200GS loaded with camera gear up off the ground is no fun. Nevertheless I was still gagging for the 800. However that would change 500 metres up the road from BMW headquarters when I found out G650GS is better at staying upright on the blacktop than an F800GS. But that’s another story.

What is it?

At first glance the G650GS looks like an earlier model BMW F650GS Funduro. Low ground clearance, a 19” front wheel and no cosmetic changes. It’s a clear case of ‘why bother’ until you notice the black powerplant has been slotted straight into the old F650GS frame which powered the G 650 Xcountry, Xchallenge and Xmoto trio which the G650GS now supersedes.

Ultimately the BMW G 650 GS is LAMS-approved and provides BMW with an entry level adventure bike suited to novice riders restricted under the LAMS system. Its best suited for commuting but when push comes to shove it will happily take on any adventure ride you could dish up for an F800GS or R1200GS and sometimes do it easier as we found later.

122_0905_08_z+2009_bmw_g650gs+trip_computer What Do You Get For The Money?

You can’t help but think that the G650GS is aimed at riders who just want the BMW experience and find the F800GS or R1200GS just too big or out of their price range. For some people, that’s enough to steer them towards the german marque.

The main feature is the heart and lungs of the G650GS which is the same 652 cc engine as previously fitted to the later G 650 Xchallenge models. The water-cooled single-cylinder power plant is a four-valve four-stroke unit with twin overhead camshafts, and dry sump lubrication. It confidently pumps out 37 kW (50 hp) at 6,500 rpm and delivers 60 Nm of torque at 4,800 rpm. The BMW G 650 GS top speed is rated at around 170 km/h and the highway performance left us little doubt that it was possible on the open road.

This engine is the Rotax unit previously supplied in the Xcountry and is built in China like everything else on the planet. Of course the engine is quote ‘built to BMW quality standards solely for BMW and is not supplied to any third parties’ unquote. I can’t help but think in ten years an identical bike will export from China called a Chin Cheng Double U. The bike is finally assembled in Berlin to the highest specifications as are all BMW motorcycles.

The G650GS is fitted with a five-speed manual gearbox, which drives through a wet clutch to a chain drive. The frame is a bridge steel section type which contributes to it’s 175kg dry weight which puts it on par with other mid range 650’s but nevertheless it feels heavy.
The tank capacity is 17.3 litres and has a 4.5-litre reserve and resides under the seat filling towards the rear. When you have a tank bag that’s a cool feature but it does increasing fuel capacity a non option.

The good news is that it’s equipped with wire sokes as opposed to the F650GS that has solid spoke wheels.  The standard seat height is 780 mm and the bike if offered with low suspension option reduces it to 750 mm.

Colour options are limited with the only choice is red or black bodywork. The engine is finished in black and I’ve got to admit it looks a lot better than the silver of the previous F 650 GS and Dakar models.

Braking uses a single, 300 mm front disc with a double piston floating calliper and the rear has a single piston floating calliper acting on a 240 mm disc. The BMW ABS system may be switched off for off road use but more about that later.

Compared to other bikes in its class the ride is more steered towards dual sports use as opposed to hardcore adventure riding. The front suspension are telescopic forks and at the rear by a box-section steel dual swing arm with a central spring. Very basic to say the least. The spring is  pre-load is hydraulically adjustable via a hand-wheel, and rebound damping is also adjustable. Front suspension travel is 170 mm, with 165 mm at the rear. The front wheel is 19-inches by 2.50, while the rear is a 17-inch x 3.00 item.

Despite its limited off-road prowess, the single-cylinder powered BMW G 650 GS is a lot more off-road oriented than the parallel twin-cylinder F 650 GS that we tested in Trail Zone issue 18, which has a greater on-road bias, and runs alloy rims. So at around $3,000 less (when fitted with ABS) the G650GS is a much better option.

What's It Cost?

The BMW F650GS is reasonably priced from $11,990 and that’s with ABS standard compared the twin cylinder BMW F650GS ($13,800). The Honda XL700V ($11,700), Kawasaki KLR650 ($8.499), Suzukis DL650 V-Strom ($10,290) or the ABS equipped DL650 V-Strom ($10,790), DR650SE ($7,990) or the Yamaha XT660R ($11,499)

2009_BMW_G650GSWho's Buying It?

In many ways the G650GS is in a class of its own and most people considering buying one just want a BMW. The G650GS strength is in its versatility as a very well behaved commuter bike that can transform into an adventure machine that can be equipped for any trip that you might want to throw at it. Having said that it’s very popular with the wives and girlfriends of R1200GS owners.

Where Did We Ride It?

Can’t say that we didn’t give the G650GS a thorough adventure test. Our test was nothing less than the 2009 BMW GS Safari around Tasmania. It ranged from the Hobart city streets to the advanced alternate route where the nimble G650GS turned heads in the most difficult sections.

What's To Like?

The best thing about the G65GS is it’s powerplant. It’s definitely strong and will pull from almost nothing and it’s not shy of breaking rear traction on open off-road sections. It’s a big improvement over the previous Rotax engine that powered the previous F650GS Dakar. Like every BMW the build and finish are second to none and over 5 days and 1690 kilometres it didn’t miss a beat.

The G650GS really showed its worth in the difficult section on Day 4 of the Safari. Compared to the F800GS and R1200GS and GSA’s on the route it powered up the tight rocky sections that took all of the participants by surprise.

On the open road its smooth and comfortable and at the end of the day didn’t leave me feeling trashed. Out of all the bikes I’ve ridden with ABS the BMW systems work the best and the front works very well but the rear will freak you out on a steep slippery downhill section.

What's Not To Like?

As I mentioned the ABS is very good and saved me a couple times pulling up in some open sections when something unexpected turned up. However the rear ABS on loose ground offers nothing when you need to lock up the back wheel. Unlike more current BMW models you need to hold down the ABS switch when turning on the bike to turn the ABS off. I guess that’s one of the lack of features that kept the price down.
For the more experienced off-road rider the suspension is way too soft and ground clearance is not adequate enough. Having said that though on the open trails it performs as well as any other in its class.

The Final Word?

When we tested the BMW F650GS Dakar back in issue 14 almost 2 years ago the F650SE (Funduro) was listed at $13,500 and the Dakar was listed at $14,000 with its 21” front wheel and greater suspension travel. Not surprisingly the new G650GS felt very similar to the Dakar but the updated powerplant makes it a much better bike to ride. Now at only $11,990 RRP its more in reach for those that want to throw their leg over a german motorcycle.

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