Words: Rob Harris Photos: Richard Seck
So we’ve had the Dakar for a while now, ridden it through some serious off-road stuff , used it as a daily commute and taken it on the annual CMG tour to British Columbia. We’ve racked up 7,000 km and gotten to know the beast quite well.
So how is it? Good question.
Firstly, let’s take a quick jaunt back to where the Dakar idea came from. A few years ago, BMW managed to score wins in the 1999 Granada-Dakar Rally and the 2000 Paris-Dakar-Cairo events on a heavily modified F650GS, called the F650RR. Of course, these modifications did not all make it to the Dakar, in fact I’d hazard a guess that very few did, but what’s the point in spending the big $$s racing if you can’t get some extra mileage out of it on the showroom floor? Enter the Dakar.
|Extra long suspension.|
For those unfamiliar with exactly what the Dakar variant of the F650GS is, in a word (or two), it’s the more serious off-road brethren of the standard F650GS. Thankfully, it’s not just a standard GS with a white & chequered paint job and the word “Dakar” painted on the side panels. There’s also a longer suspension set up (and increased ground clearance), a larger 21″ front wheel and slightly more aggressive dirt-orientated dual purpose tires. Add to that some subtle modifications for good measure, such as a taller screen, hand protectors, front fender extension and a handlebar impact protector (basically a foam tube across the handlebar support), and you have the Dakar.
But does this make the Dakar any more off-road worthy? And maybe more importantly, does this justify the extra 750 bucks over the standard 650GS model?
Okay, that’s a bit of a basic answer, but having ridden the two models (and I’m a big fan of the standard), the Dakar has improvements where it matters most. For starters, the additional suspension means a rather tall seat height of 870mm (up a massive 90mm over the standard). Being of the tall and lanky variety, I appreciate this, although if you’re less than 6 feet tall, you might want to think twice about these ‘benefits’.
|Two pipes and bag mounts.|
These suspension adjustments translate to an increase of 40mm up front and 45mm at the rear in travel – If you’re going to do anything near some serious off-roading, you’ll appreciate these changes. And appreciate I did as I spent a couple of weeks last August riding around Vancouver Island (with photographer Seck) and traversing the Rockies, catching as many dirt roads as possible.
Although we avoided veering off into the woods and making our own trails, some of our supposed ‘roads’ did get pretty rough. The worst being an old mud track that had nicely developed some serious ruts during its wetter times, now solidified into snake-like miniature valleys. The Dakar coped with all this pretty well, as we threw caution to the wind and hit them as fast as the bikes (and riders) could take them. The bigger front wheel helped too, the larger diameter meaning a wider curve to the tire, allowing it to roll over the ruts rather than sink in and throw you over the bars.
|Feeling at home in the gravel.|
However, the majority of the off-road ride was confined to gravel roads, varying from hard-packed, almost asphalt quality, to an uneven scattering of large rocks, interspersed with deep lakes of loose gravel. Here, the Dakar’s adaptations aren’t really noticeable over the standard’s. In fact, they might even be a bit of a detriment, as hitting a gravely corner at any kind of speed would cause the Dakar to start washing out the front end. More often than not, a foot down and an anal clench would get you through, but at least once I was forced to quickly assess a good run-off route and abandon the ideal cornering curve for a jaunt across a shallow ditch and a short excursion up an embankment.
There’s no change in the motor or gearbox over the standard. The DOHC, four-valve single cylinder is a much more effective mill than you might think. Although it takes a bit of getting used to after a peaky multi, the single is very tractable, with a goodly amount of pull, especially between 5,000 and 6,500 rpm. The latter is where you’ll find it’s maximum 50hp, and with a redline at 7,500 rpm, you have plenty of time to slap it up a gear before the rev-limiter kicks in. All in all, I really like this motor.
Although BMW reckon that it’s good for a top speed of 166 km/h, it got a little weavey above 130 (especially with the bags attached), something I don’t remember noticing on the standard. However, this did tend to lesson as the Metzeler Sahara tires progressively wore away, implicating the potential cause in the process.
|Motor good. Box bad.|
As the tires wore further, I found a steady 140 would be a happy-happy compromise with engine revs and the small screen (more on that later). Interestingly, top gear (fifth) is not an overdrive gear, which means the revs are up there on the highway, but also means there’s still some pull left in the motor should you suddenly realize the urge to push above 140. Even at these speeds the motor remained smooth with no noticeable annoying vibes reaching the rider.
What I didn’t like about the motor was the gearbox. It’s a tad notchy through all the gears (requiring a firm foot movement), drops into 1st with a big clunk, and also had an annoying tendency to fall into neutral when quick shifting from 1st to 2nd. Of course, this would always happen when you were blasting down main-street in front of a bunch of girlies – “Warrrrr … WAAHHHHHHH .. AH … Ah … ah … clunk … warrrr”. Sigh. Thankfully, at least the clutch is a super light action.
The fuel injection gives clean carburation, even from cold, although our bike did tend to idle rather high during the warming process and then a tad erratically thereafter.
The small screen up front does a good job at diverting the majority of airflow away from the rider. Even after two weeks of BC riding, I never felt windblown and my neck diameter remained the same as before I left. Although not a big problem, I found it a bit odd that the bars would make contact with the screen when fully turned to the right lock. It just didn’t seem quite BMW.
Thankfully, heated grips come as standard (good for traversing those Rockies) and the hand protectors found good use to keep some of the wind away from my digits.
Brakes, front and rear, suit the bike rather well. However, the front is a little on the soft side and would require a tight squeeze to go from moderate “I see trouble ahead” to panicked “trouble now” modes. Of course, the long travel suspension would then join in on the fun, diving excessively and giving you a good view of the road at your front tire.
Although originally the Dakar did not come with ABS as an option, as of 2002 it now does. Although I wasn’t overly impressed with the F650 version of BMW’s ABS, it would have probably come in handy entering a corner at 120 and realizing that there’s a big patch of loose gravel mid-turn.
THE GRIEF FACTOR
|‘arris contemplates the meaning of the bags|
With 7,000 km on the bike, a few things did give us some grief, most noticeably the optional bags. At first glance the aluminum finished rear bags seem very cool. Easy to hook on and take off and with an ingenious expandable capacity system, what’s not to like?
Okay, for starters, even fully expanded they can’t accommodate a full-face helmet. The rubber pads they rest on compress and leave them quite loosely attached (there is an adjustment for this, but we had a BMW dealer on it for a good 15 minutes with minimal improvement). Each bag also has little rubber feet on the bottom which regularly fall out whenever you place the bags on a floor. And the creme de la creme? After a particularly dusty day’s ride in the dirt they were proving rather hard to remove. Mr. Seck stepped in, gave them a tug upwards, only to be left standing there, with a rather confused expression, and a handle in his hand (the rest of the bag opting to remain with the bike)!
I would only consider adding these if you never intend to actually use your Dakar for what it designed for (i.e. back road touring).
|Zen and the art of tank bag maintenance.|
But wait, the bag bashing doesn’t end there. For the BC trip we were also supplied with a small tank bag (thank you BMW). This little fella clips to the front of the tank and zips to the rear and provides a handy compartment for essentials storage. All is well until you use it’s expandable zipper, at which point it becomes too tall for it’s attachments and becomes as floppy as a drunken sailor in a cheap Mexican bar. And, much like the sailor, it managed to give Mr. Seck a goodly punch to the gonads during a rougher section of dirt when it let loose at the front attachments all together. However, I must admit that that was also rather entertaining.
Other casualties of abuse include the loss of two bolts that hold the rear fender extension thingy (although easily replaced) and the severe scoring of said fender thingy. I’m not a 100% sure why this is, but I suspect it’s the result of reckless abandon down rock laden roads (the rocks getting kicked up by the rear tire and onto the guard).
And finally, a few bungee hook points at the rear end would have made carrying our excess baggage a little easier and left less scoring on the plastic rack. Oh, and saved me burning one of my bungees on the exhaust pipe. Bastards, that cost me $2.00!
However, all in all (and accessories aside) the basic package is a real gem.
By Shane Bruton
|Shane finally gets a bike in Calgary.|
When Editor ‘arris called me and said that he’d be in town with the BMW F650GS, and that I could ride it for the weekend, I jumped at the offer. I was particularly interested in riding the Dakar as it is direct competition and a good comparison to my own bike, a KTM 640 Adventure.
After making sure Editor ‘arris got to the Calgary airport and not miss yet another flight, I took off to put this machine through the ringer. During my weekend of riding I was able to rack up about 400 km over a variety of terrain consisting of dirt, gravel and tarmac.
First of all, the Dakar is a very cool looking bike, with graphics and design inspired by the Paris Dakar Rally bikes – which is odd to me, as BMW no longer participates in the Dakar Rally. But don’t let that fool you….this bike is certainly no Paris-Dakar contestant. Anything more aggressive than 4WD roads or trails will have you begging for more suspension and a couple hundred less pounds under you.
Having said that, the Dakar is great for what it was designed for and that is gravel roads touring, travelling and exploring the back-country.
This bike is incredibly smooth and comfortable on the pavement, even at excessive speed. Little or no vibration was noticeable through the pegs or bars and the 650 single provided plenty of power for open road cruising. It was a blast on the gravel and back roads, although it did get out of shape a few times in the deep gravel. I can’t say that it was so much the bike, as the tires were really worn and the gravel was quite deep in some areas.
All I know is that when the rear end is swapping sides at 100 Km/h on a gravel road, it’s a recipe for messy underwear. Perhaps a new tire or not wearing underwear would correct this problem, but since my name isn’t Andrew Boss, I’d choose the new tire.
Overall I was impressed with the handling and capabilities of the Dakar and found it to be a lot of fun to ride, as long as you keep it to exploring back roads or just cruising on Sunday afternoon.
THE PRICE OF OWNERSHIP
|I think the tire’s shagged!|
So how’s the bike fairing in the $ department?
The first service at the 1,000 km mark cost $137.56 (before taxes). That’s basically an oil and filter change and check over from front to back. Of course, our bill was a couple of hundred bucks more when you factor in the broken signals (courtesy of Mr. Boss), and the bag mounts for our BC trip.
The rear tire lasted till about the 6,500 km mark, but that’s heavy usage down rocky roads. The front still had some life left in it when we took it off in favour of a pair of new Pirelli’s which are much more dirt orientated.
Fuel economy averages out to 22 Km/l or 4.5 litres per 100 Km. The reserve fuel warning light would come on anywhere between 260 and 290 Km, and proved to give at least 40 km in reserve one dark night in the middle of no where.
|Can knobby tires and some aftermarket stuff make the Dakar more comfortable in this crowd?|
So now we’ve done the test, what’s next for the CMG long termer? Well you may have noticed that it’s turning a tad colder out there, so we’ve decided to squeeze in a last off-road test. To give the Dakar a chance at traversing deep mud puddles and other gruelling entities, Mr. Seck has managed to bag a pair of Pirelli MT21s and a whole load after specialist off-road goodies from our good friends* at Touratech.
All we have to do now is find a big mud hole and have some fun!
* They’re not really friends as we don’t actually know them. However, they were good enough to send us the gear we asked for, but failed to include a birthday card for Mr. Seck in the process. Now what kind of friends would neglect to do such a thing?
BMW CANADA – for providing the bike and arranging the required shipping.
BAVARIAN MOTOSPORTS – for the service work and fitting the Pirellis and Touratech stuff.
|BMW F650GS Dakar|
|dohc single, liquid cooled|
|Five speed, chain drive|
|90/90 – 21|
|Single 300mm disc with two piston calipers|
|Single 240mm disc with single piston caliper|
|870 mm (34.2″) Lowering kit available|
|1,479 mm (58.2″)|
|192 Kg (423 lbs) (claimed)|
|Desert Blue/Aura White|