BMW G650GS Sertao

Words: Steve Bond. Pics Steve Bond and Tony Vinent

How cool is it to be riding along at a GPS-certified 80 mph and have a Highway Patrol cruiser breeze on by without even glancing over? How about a sign advising traffic to slow to 70 mph for an upcoming curve?


Arizona is an amazingly diverse area where, if you tire of twisty pavement with no cops and very few other vehicles, just turn onto one of the thousands of dirt roads and tracks that criss-cross the landscape. And nary a “No Trespassing” sign can be found.

It’s a place where residents don’t associate rivers or bridges with water; they buy salsa by the gallon and think six tons of crushed rock makes for a beautiful front yard.

The first thing to know about Arizona is the speed limit on interstate highways is a civilized 75 miles per hour (120 kph in Canuck-speak) and most two-lane roads are posted as 65 mph (around 105kph). The second thing to know is that everything in the desert either bites, chews, stings, pokes, jabs, ventilates, pierces, punctures or perforates you.

By The Time I Get to Phoenix…..

Bondo chilling in Arizona. And why not? It’s a lot more interesting than Florida.

Why is Bondo in Arizona, you ask? Another fully paid press jaunt at somebody else’s expenses perhaps? Five star hotels with hot and cold running chambermaids featuring exotic, endangered species tidbits on the menu? Nope. Cherie and I were here on our own dime, spending a full month away from an Ontario winter to see if we liked it. And we do. A lot.

The old and the new. Not much difference save for the clocks and headlight … and of course, name.

Tony Vinent (a good friend of mine from Oshawa), and his lady bought a house just south of Tucson and invited us to visit. I’ve known Tony for over 20 years; we ride together a lot and were vintage endurance racing partners, collecting several podium finishes along the way. Tony rides a 650 V-Strom in Canada but keeps a tricked-out ’09 KLR650 down south.

I started laying out feelers to see if I could borrow a motorcycle and a Herculean effort by BMW Canada had me astride a new G650GS Sertao two days after we arrived at our wintering spot.

When BMW introduced the 800GS a few years ago, the 650cc, single-cylinder Dakar was dropped from the lineup. Even though the larger GS models are wonderful, competent motorcycles, angry torch-bearing mobs stormed the company parapets, demanding that BMW bring back the simple, lightweight and low-priced 650 Dakar.

The old F650GS Dakar is born again by popular demand with the name moving north from Senegal to Portugal. Any bets that it’ll be called Eyjafjallajökull by 2020?

So last year, BMW reintroduced the single-cylinder G650GS. Now we have a more dirt-oriented version called the Sertao, which is Portuguese for “wilderness” and almost a dead ringer for the old 650 Dakar. The only visible differences are the updated headlight, the front beak, a taller screen and a revised (but not for the better) instrument package.

Sertao gets a nice big 21 inch front wheel - very handy for riding over rougher terrain.

To get the chassis up to full potato-farming specs, the Sertao’s suspension checks in with 211 mm of suspension travel front and rear – 40 mm more than the 650GS. The GS’ cast wheels are gonzo, replaced by dirt-friendly spoked units – a 21-incher up front and a narrower, 3.00×17 in the back. Serious cultivators will say the Metzeler Tourance rubber is too street-oriented, but anyone into hard core off-roading will replace the rubber anyway.

With taller suspension comes more ground clearance and a lofty seat. My 37-inch inseams easily summited the 861 mm peak, but anyone less than six feet tall may have difficulty and, unlike the Dakar, the Sertao has no lower seat option at present.

A lanky bugger. Note rock under side stand

One thing Dakar owners griped about was the short sidestand and the taller Sertao seems to have the same unit. This causes excessive lean when parked and it takes a good heave-ho to get it vertical, even on pavement. On crumbly or cambered surfaces, this could be cause for difficulty when trying to re-mount the bike. You’ll note that in most of the static shots, I propped a rock under the Sertao’s sidestand and it’s still leaning way over.

You must be six feet tall to go on this ride.

Once aboard, the upright riding position gives an excellent view of your surroundings, with the added bonus of looking over most cars when in traffic. At 193 kg (425 lbs) gassed up and ready to go, the Sertao isn’t exactly a lightweight, but the wide bars and narrow chassis make it very easy to throw around.

Acceleration is decent and, a 75 mph cruising speed puts you around 4,300 rpm. An Ontario-legal 100 kph is 3,800 rpm but surprisingly, it’s smoother at Arizona velocities.

The Sertao’s windscreen is higher than the standard GS and provided significantly more wind protection, although I noticed some buffeting at speed. When offroad, it also deflected much of the debris kicked up by other riders.

The large analog speedometer is flanked by an LCD display with time, twin tripmeters, total mileage and a tiny LCD bar-type tachometer that’s virtually unreadable in sunlight.

Twisties, Arizona style

There are some really good twisties not far from Tucson and, once I cranked up the rear preload (easily done by hand, courtesy of a remote adjuster on the right side) to raise the rear end a bit, it steered a lot better. It was still a bit reluctant to turn in the faster stuff so I raised the fork tubes 5mm in the triple clamps and it was spot-on. It’s amazing how you can hustle these dual purpose bikes around on pavement.

Right, Let’s Get It Dirty Then

The wilderness beckons, but Bondo, off-road? Never thought we'd see the day!

I’ve never really done that much dirt riding because when I was younger, pursuing a pro roadracing license was so all-consuming that I had no time or interest for riding on anything that wasn’t black and sticky. So I told Tony that if it looked like we were getting into stuff where the only way I was coming out was with a toe tag, I was taking a pass.

We started off with dirt roads in the desert and then some wide trails through the Santa Rita Mountains that smaller four wheel drive pickups and Jeeps could navigate. The Sertao proved to be so confidence-inspiring, I soon got comfortable and realized skills learned on the racetrack are valid on the dirt too. Just have a loose grip on the bars and keep your eyes up.

Originally I was tense, holding the bars with a death grip and looking directly in front of my front tire but as soon as I relaxed and started looking up, both my speed and comfort level increased and I felt more in control of the motorcycle. When we hit some open fireroads, I was soon blasting along some stretches at an indicated 50 mph.

Taking a moment to contemplate why the hell he never did this before.

See an approaching soft sand wash? No problem. Slide back on the seat and give it gas. The narrow 21-inch front tire skims along the surface (rather than digging in and plowing) and away you go. Once I got used to the bike moving around under me and realized it wasn’t going to pitch me off, I started to quite enjoy it.

Suspension is simple but adequate.

The handling was steady and consistent with no surprises. And, as I got more relaxed and comfortable with the Sertao, I was able to pick cleaner and less bumpy lines, which lowered the stress level even more.

Damping in the Sertao’s plush, long travel suspension was an excellent compromise both on and off-road; surprising considering the only adjustment is rear preload. Over rutted washboard surfaces, I stood up on the pegs and the bike just floated over all the debris with nary a jolt getting through the bars.

At the end of the day’s riding, we’d put down 275 miles (460km), of which better than half was dirt. The Sertao’s low fuel light consistently came on when the tripmeter showed between 170 and 180 miles (283 to 300 kilometers), which is a decent range for the smallish 14-liter tank. Fuel consumption ranged from 55 to 62 miles per US gallon or 3.8 to 4.2L/100km. Fairly impressive.

Arizona has just about everything you need for a winter riding holiday.

The built-in luggage rack is small but nice to have, as is ABS you can deactivate for serious off-roading. BMW’s optional heated grips were welcome in the morning as winter temps dip to just above freezing at night in the desert. By 10am it’s in the teens C and by noon, you’re into mesh jacket with no liner mode. If desired, the rubber footpeg inserts are removable, leaving grippy, grooved metal surfaces that keep boots from slipping off. And, the Sertao comes with BMW’s 36-month, unlimited mileage warranty.

Arizona Bound?

Who else?

So you want to go south for the winter? Here are a couple of things if anyone is thinking about heading to Arizona. There is no humidity and without frequent applications of Chapstick, your lips will look like two innertubes exploded.

Border Patrol checkpoints are everywhere south of Tucson, even on the Interstate highways. It’s not a big deal. Stop, be polite and make sure you have your passport with you.

We probably went through 20 of these checkpoints and only once was I asked to produce my passport. I asked one officer what would happen if I didn’t have it with me. He smiled and said, “We could tie you up for a few hours, filling out forms and answering questions.” Just carry the damn thing. Overall, I found them all to be friendly and courteous and most times, they just waved the bikes through.

The US/Mexico border. Sad sign of the times.

Now Cherie and I have most of this coming year to figure out how we can spend two or three months in Arizona next winter. Even though the winter of 2012 has been relatively mild in Canada, plus 25 is much better than plus 4. I think the plan would be to buy a bike and keep it down there. Insurance on Tony’s KLR is $150 per year for complete coverage except collision.

No longer a Dakar.

I’d definitely consider having a Sertao as an Arizona vehicle. It’s great for pavement and most off-road conditions, economical to operate and comfortable. It’s definitely worthy of BMW’s heralded GS monicker and if it can handle Arizona’s amazing diversity of riding conditions, anywhere else will be a piece of cake.





Technical Specifications:

Price: $9,750
Engine Type: 1-cylinder, 4-stroke, 4 valve, liquid cooled
Displacement: 652 cc
Output: 48 hp at 6,500 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed
Seat Height: 860mm
Dry Weight: 177 kg (390 lbs)
Fuel Tank Capacity: 14.0 l
Consumption – claimed (l/100km at 120km/h): 3.2 l
Warranty Coverage: 36 months, unlimited kilometres
Roadside Assistance: 36 months


  1. My wife has the old version F650GS (not Dakar as she is too short).  Having looked at getting a KLR myself, but getting a YZF600R instead back in the day I would say it is worth the extra.  Even compared to the new KLR fit and finish and build quality in my opinion are better.  I like having the fuel under the seat and it lowers the centre of gravity.  The three year warranty is a plus as well.  Julie has had a number of incidents with hers – mostly in the dirt – and other than a couple of scratches here and there all is good.  She did break a turn signal lens once which the dealer replaced for free seeing as she dropped the bike in their parking lot (turning too sharp on a painted wheelchair sign that was covered in water – it was rather funny).  The new KLR looks like it would not handle a drop as well.  The F650GS is very popular with world travellers.  Heated grips on the BMW as well…need I say more…

    •  Stagster – The KLR is still a bargain but there are pros and cons to each. The post from adventurecrv says a lot of it. The KLR is heavier but has more fuel capacity giving it a much longer range. The Sertao was going on reserve at about 170 miles or so (275 km) which isn’t bad but my buddy Tony’s KLR was up to 240 miles and still going. Fuel consumptoin on the Sertao is really good (EFI compared to the KLR’s carb), the Sertao is lighter and narrower. Both need better rubber for hard core offroading. Lots of aftermarket stuff available for both. One tidbit – Tony actually bought an 03 650 Dakar and had it delivered while we were there. He’s short of stature and found the KLR really good but tall for him. The first thing he bought was a lead-ion battery that cuts about nine pounds off the Sertao – and it’s mounted up under the fake fuel tank so it helps mass centralization. We did a road run and he said he really noticed the difference in the handling just by losing ten pounds up high. Fit and finish is good and the three year BMW warranty is the best. Boils down to personal choice, doesn’t it?

      • I forgot about the battery.  What a hunk of junk the OEM one was.  Lead acid, not sealed, not maintenance free.  On a dual sport? Looks like the bean counters won over the engineers on that one.   Needless to say the vent tube came off, and on a tip over acid came out of the battery and on to the igniters, spark plugs, the engine casing, frame, etc.  BMW covered the igniters and spark plugs under warranty believe it or not.  I cleaned the rest up myself.  The battery has since been replaced by a sealed unit, with more starting power (CCA).

        As for fuel range the 2007 F650GS has a 17.3 litre tank.  Reserve light does come on a bit early, but the bike goes 350km+ if you ignore the light – dependent on riding style of course…

      • Good report Steve, I have told the lads we are all heading to 650 land at the end of the day for many reasons not least of which would include weight, flickerbilty, insurance cost, fun factor!,

        The KLR is a two wheel jeep, I have pounded one across Mexico on one and all over Costa Rica on a later model both real workhorses,

        The BMW is like a KLR with a suit on, You spend more time trying to keep it clean, That said they both make me smile! just like Tony.

        Cheers George

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