2009 BMW G650GS Review

Enter the GS world at an entry-level price

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It seems bike makers are starting to listen to U.S. customers again. Only recently Harley-Davidson finally brought the formerly Euro-only Sportster XR1200 home, so to speak, after two years of American riders writhing in agony over the XR’s absence. Now, BMW brings back the popular 650GS, but with a slightly different name.

Last seen in 2007 as the F650GS, this 652cc fuel-injected, liquid-cooled, four-valve DOHC Single raked in the sales between ’00 and ’07; 105,800 units, including the Dakar model, were sold during that eight year period.

2009 BMW G650GS

According to Roy Oliemuller, Communications Manager for BMW North America, the G650GS returned largely for an American audience, but a few other mostly non-European countries will see the littlest GS in limited numbers as well. Hurray for us!

So, after hearing the cries of American consumers for an affordable Beemer with a humane seat height, the GS returns as the G650GS. Seems BMW has finally cleared up its sometimes-confusing naming conventions once and (hopefully!) for all. All Single cylinders will start with the letter G, all parallel Twins will begin with F, all Boxer Twins will still begin with an R, the in-line Fours will still be K models, and soon we’ll see S models like the S1000RR. Cool! Now I get it, for the most part. There's still BMW's confusing logic when it comes to the name of the new F650GS. As most now know, the F650GS, brother to the F800GS, is in fact also an 800cc parallel Twin, and not a 650. Just when we thought it was clear...

New name, same great bike, and then some!

Though this same Thumper that’s used in the G650Xcountry is based upon the 2000 Paris-Dakar winning F650GS Dakar model, it now produces three more horsepower (53 hp @ 7,000 rpm and 44 ft-lbs @ 5,250 rpm) than when in the F650GS and is now built in…China! Oh, my!

Though now built in China, BMW tells us we can rest assured that the 650 Single meets the high standards that all BMW engines must meet.The Xcountry was the first model to have its engine built in China, so naturally the G650GS would follow. BMW assures us that engine construction meets the same strict standards that all Beemers must meet, but the China connection is obviously a cost saving initiative, with labor in particular. No surprise, right? Were the engine built in Germany, or some other European nation, it would be hard for BMW to keep the G650GS as a price-conscious model. It’s worth noting that the remainder of the bike’s construction continues in Germany.

There were a lot of questions volleyed at BMW staff during the tech briefing over this move to Chinese outsourcing, but I say, “Big deal.” Have your opinions on the labor issue, but in terms of quality I’m not going to be worried one iota until the cylinder walls start melting like green tea ice cream. After all, the engine is a carbon-copy of the former 650 that was sourced from Rotax.

Styling and ergos are also nearly identical to the previous little GS, but the new bike has a couple of key features that make it easier to justify the bike’s cost over its dual-sport oriented competitors. For $7,670 the 2009 G650GS offers switchable ABS and heated grips as standard. Yes, these two niceties are on every bike, not as available options, but as regular goods on the elusive “standard” model BMW.

The G650GS will come in Deep Black and Red for 2009.

Furthermore, this bike offers the lowest standard seat height in the class at 30.7 inches. For an additional $175 the bike can be ordered with the lowered suspension and seat kit that drops height to 29.5 inches.

Certainly, even with spoke wheels (19” front, 17” rear), 6.7 inches of travel from the 41mm Showa fork and 6.5 inches from the shock, the G650GS may not be in quite the same adventure league as some are willing to put the Kawasaki KLR650 ($5,599), Honda XR650L ($5,999), Suzuki DR650SE ($5,299), or even the venerable Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS ($7,499), but then again most folks have a helluva time boarding most of those towering two wheelers.

With its standard seat height, the G650GS sits nearly two inches lower than the V-Strom, itself an inch shorter than the lowest of the three dirt-bike-like dualies. For posterity, the DR sits at 33 inches, the KLR at 35 inches and the XR at a lofty 37 inches. Additionally, consider that two of the three are air-cooled and all are carbed and the GS’ only real competitor is the fuel-injected Wee-Strom. Sure, the Suzuki saves you a whopping $171 over the BMW, but get yourself a set of aftermarket grip heaters for the ‘Strom, and factor in shop installation or the time-robbing grief of installing them yourself, and the savings is moot.

That the GS’ ABS is updated for better feel, weighs three pounds less than the previous ABS, and is easily switched on or off via a simple toggle located at the base of the handlebar makes the BMW all the more attractive.

A three-position adjustable clutch lever combined with light clutch action makes the G650GS a good option for many women and shorter men. These same traits also make the bike more enjoyable during commuter rush hour traffic.

Budget Beemer with classic Beemer character

All of the test units for our ride were the standard seat height, still with the carved out saddle, flat footing at a standstill was a cinch. There were more than a couple lady motojournos in attendance and most said they felt comfortable with the seat height. Let’s face it, though not specifically targeted at women, this will clearly be a large part of G650GS sales. I should note, however, near day’s end (a 200 mile day!) that even at an average five feet eight inches I felt some stiffness in the knees. Also, the footpegs are entirely too small. The ability to remove the rubber grip in order to expose the metal portion of the peg is a nice touch; nevertheless, even for mild fire road riding the pegs should have a wider platform.

The wide handlebar provides plenty of leverage, and reach from the seat is easy, yet I found myself sliding ever so slightly forward into the 4.0 gallon fuel tank due to the saddle’s shape. Action from the adjustable three-position clutch lever and five-speed gearbox with chain final drive was very light. Thinking that much of the G650GS’ life will be spent in commuter traffic, this light-effort actuation is a boon.

The littlest GS holds its own in the twisties thanks to a stable chassis, however, keeping the tach spinning around 6K rpm and above is necessary to keep faster riders or bigger bikes in sight.

Fueling was flawless, and though rather sedate below 4K rpm, power starts building considerably by 4,500 rpm with the revs spinning rapidly and linearly from 5, 000 all the way to the 7,500 rpm redline. “Spirited” riding through twisting, turning roads is best served by keeping the Thumper humming at no less than 6 grand, and slightly tall gearing usually meant running near redline in order to prevent downshifting when chasing a buddy.

Handling is what you might expect from a BMW - stable and sure. Running the middleweight Single near the ragged edge often resulted in some squirm from the soft rear suspension, but winding down preload via a remote dial located just fore of the rider’s right knee improved handling. Though front suspension isn’t adjustable, the shock also offers rebound damping.

The brakes offered good power and feel with or without ABS activated. Despite the system being updated to an analog versus digital ABS system in order to prevent an “on-off” harsh pulsing feel when ABS kicks in, the rear brake still pumped back a bit through the pedal. The front single-caliper brake was more easily modulated.

The 2009 G650GS isn’t marketed as a rugged enduro machine, but you can see in this photo, the G is, after all, a GS model.Wind protection is sufficient primarily because the rider sits low in the seat. The analog speedo and tach are easy to see at a glance, however, the LCD inlaid in the speedo only offers odometer and a single trip meter. An LCD clock rests in between the gauges as do the usual array of idiot lights.

A deal to be had

Though BMW’s G650Xcountry has the same engine and costs $170 less than the 2009 G650GS, switchable ABS and heated grips as standard on the GS obliterates the marginal price difference. Consider again the resurrected GS’ price in light of the competition’s more basic engines and way-tall saddles, and the G650GS brings ‘em all down to size.

The Perfect Bike For...
Someone, anyone, not just women, shorter men, new or re-entry riders that want a bike with all-around practicality, tremendous value and a GS lineage.
 Highs:     Sighs:
  • Low, low seat height for a GS
  • Switchable ABS and heated grips
  • Great value
  • Small, narrow footpegs
  • Forward-sloping saddle
  • All your buddies will want it when gas hits $4 again

Related Reading:
2009 BMW F650GS Review
2009 BMW F800GS Review
2008 BMW R1200GS and Adventure Review

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