Editor ‘Arris samples BMW’s soft and cuddly G650GS. Has anything really changed since the F became a G?
BMW first introduced their single-cylindered F series to North America back in 1997, even though it had been available to Europeans for three years prior to that.
Still, it was the start of a new era of BMW “adventure” singles, launched under the soft and cuddly moniker “Funduro.”
The bikes were powered by a Rotax four-stroke single with DOHC and four valves, powering a mildly dual-sportish chassis (mildly as in gravel roads, not mud holes).
And they were pretty good — I rented one when I was in New Zealand with my girlfriend at the time and it did a remarkable job of carting us (and luggage) around the two islands (if maybe slightly cramped).
A major update occurred with the new 2001 model which saw the motor get fuel injection and the gas tank moved to below the seat for a lower centre of gravity (the dummy tank now housed the air box and electricals). ABS and heated grips were options and the bike was retailed at $9,990.
BTW, 2001 also saw the introduction of the Dakar version, which came with a larger 21 inch front wheel (the std has a 19 incher), more suspension travel, a taller screen and a lofty 870 mm seat.
This is the bike that CMG contributor Rene Cormier took around the world with barely a whiff of trouble for the duration.
There was a slight upgrade in 2004 with the addition of dual spark heads and an updated fuel injection system to address some surging issues.
But the bikes remained essentially unchanged until they were finally dropped from the lineup in 2007 for the ill-fated G650X line that used the same motor in a dual-sport, super-moto and road going chassis.
Then in 2008 the F650GS came back but oddly as a twin cylindered, 798 cc machine …. BMW had seemingly drank the Kool Aid and left everyone scratching their heads wondering why a German company would choose to call an 800 a 650 and use the same name that they gave to a very different machine only two years earlier. Was ist das?
But there seems to still be some demand for the lovable single as this year BMW announced a “new” bike to their lineup: the G650GS (yes, it’s the F650GS, but now designated G for gingle, I mean single).
The new/returning 650GS is pretty much the same beast we saw in 2007 but with a new ABS system (now as standard) and the addition of heated grips as standard too. And all for $8,750, a chunk less than the 2001 price of $9,990 (and the $10,800 asking price when it was last available in 2006).
FORREST GUMP FRIENDLY
Since the last time I had ridden the GS was in 2001 I needed to be reminded just how wonderful that motor is. Not in a pop your socks off kinda way, but in a friendly, competent, there-when-you-need-it kinda way.
Power delivery is very unintimidating with a claimed peak of 50 hp at 6,500 rpm. It pulls slow and steady through the revs, with a welcome increase in urgency as you near the peak power at 6,500 rpm, until it drops and then abruptly cuts the ignition in and out at the 7,500 rpm redline.
It’s enough oomph to pull you steadily all the way up to a respectable indicated 140 km/h. At this point it has some to spare and it can get into the 160 km/h range but it’s into straining territory, whereas it feels strong and happy up to the 140 mark.
It’s also relatively smooth and without too much wind pushing on the rider at this speed too. The small screen may look relatively useless, but the GS has a deeply cut seat, which puts you more “in” the motorcycle than atop, thus aiding wind protection.
With a seat height of only 780 mm (there is an 820 mm tall option for $354) it is on the low side for me, but it all adds to the confidence-building style of the GS that should appeal to any new rider that the bike is obviously aimed at.
I found my knees would tend to be above the “tank” cutouts as a result, which was mildly uncomfortable though I could get relief by placing my feet on the rear pegs, a position that I found myself in more often than not.
In line with the softness of the bike, the brakes lack initial bite but come on strong with a bit more of a squeeze, something that wouldn’t catch out a newbie by surprise. But then the bike now also comes with ABS as standard so even if someone did grab a ham-fisted mitful, they wouldn’t end up eating dirt.
Talking of dirt, I did try the bike down some gravel roads and easy dirt trails and was confident to wick up the speeds and start sliding it around very quickly. The ABS can be turned off via a button at the bars (press and hold when starting) to allow for dirt antics and the Bridgestone Trailwing tires offer a remarkable amount of traction too.
It would be more dirt friendly if there was a 21 inch wheel up front instead of the 19, but then you may find yourself getting in above your head too, as although the suspension is fine for pot-holed gravel roads, I think you’d overwhelm things quite easily in the rougher stuff.
Oddly I found the gearbox to need a bit of a prodding to get it to change. Nothing to complain about but these days it’s almost become the norm for a box to be so smooth you don’t even notice that you’ve changed gear.
The clutch lever is very light though and the clocks and switchgear have a chunky, childlike look to them, as if even a drooling cabbage could use them easily.
Options include a $200 factory fitted lowering kit to bring the seat down to 750 mm (for the really vertically challenged that walk beneath us) and a centrestand for $170 (which should really be standard).
During my brief test I saw 21.5 km/litre (4.08 litres/100 km), which would give a theoretical range of 372 km from its 17.3 litre tank.
THE BLAST BUELL NEVER BUILT
If you’re looking for a dual-sport bike then the G650GS is probably not the bike for you. It’s definitely much happier on asphalt where it behaves impeccably but it does feel very happy on gravel roads too.
In fact, it would be almost criminal to have one of these bikes and not use it to check out some of Canada’s glorious back country that can be easily accessed by a bike like this.
Where the GS really shines is in the easy-to-use, won’t-try-to-kill-you domain that is the new rider. It’s the Blast that Buell never built and could see a new rider through a sizable chunk of their riding career without the need to upgrade once their riding skills are honed.
Hell, it’ll even tour quite comfortably too.
It’s also the cheapest way to get on a BMW and at $8,750 (the F650GS twin retails at $9,775) it’s now priced competitively with other brands to boot.
|Engine type||Four-stroke, DOHC single, liquid-cooled|
|Power*||50 hp @ 6,500 rpm|
|Torque*||44 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm|
|Tank Capacity||17.3 litres|
|Carburetion||Electronic Fuel Injection|
|Final drive||Five speed, chain drive|
|Brakes, front||Single 300 mm disc with dual-piston caliper|
|Brakes, rear||Single 240 mm disc with single-piston caliper|
|Seat height||780 mm (30.7 “)|
|Wheelbase||1,479 mm (58.2 “)|
|Wet weight*||192 kg (423 lb)|
|Colours||Deep Black, Red|
|Warranty||36 months, unlimited Km|
I’ve just bought an old Suzuki Freewind XF650, a rival to this bike. It has outstanding comfort and handling, and very smooth on the highway. Suzuki sold over 7000 in Germany alone (BMW country) because the Freewind handles better, is lighter, and less susceptible to damage if dropped (unlikely). I compared it to a Kawasaki W650, which caused a lot of aches and pains in a short ride (I have a bad back), but I ended up buying the Freewind because it fits like a glove, is comfortable, and handles like a dream. Why Suzuki stopped making it I’ll never know. I’m not a dirt rider, but if necessary the Freewind will allow much safer travel on our sometimes shocking gravel roads. There were only 40 Freewinds sold here in New Zealand, but they are pretty well perfect for any road travel.
After reading this article I think they just earned a potential future customer. Great idea bringing back the single, I love my thumper, and this seems like a step up :grin. BMW really knows how to help out the shorter crowd like myself.
Nice to see BMW re-introduce their 650cc Thumper! Way to go! BUT, I would have to say that the front end does little for me … loose the “beak” and I could warm up to it’s looks!