2011 BMW G650GS Review [Video]
A value-priced BMW with a utilitarian heart
BMW’s R1200GS is an icon in the adventure-touring category, but for many it’s big and unwieldy, not to mention expensive, with an entry price of $15,000. For those shorter of stature, lighter of wallet and a little less adventurous, BMW offers the G650GS for less than half the price of its big GS brother.
You’ll know the 650GS if you’ve followed BMWs for awhile, as the G650 is an evolution of the long-serving F650 that has roots stretching back to 1993 based around a Rotax-designed 652cc single-cylinder engine. Our last experience with the platform was when it was revised and renamed in 2009 as the G650GS, with the G designation becoming the nomenclature for all single-cylinder BMWs. F-series Beemers now use only the parallel-Twin powerplant that debuted in the 2009 F800GS.
Two years after its launch, the G650GS receives several notable refinements for 2011, including new bodywork, headlights and a larger windshield, with some bits borrowed from the confusingly named F650GS which has the 800cc engine. Spoked wheels are replaced by cast-aluminum hoops but retain the 19-inch front and 17-inch rear diameters, with the rear rim gaining width to mount a 10mm-wider 140/80 tire. The 2011 G has a base price of $7350, but it’ll jump to $7850 for 2012 because ABS will be included as standard equipment instead of as a $500 option.
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Unlike the hulking bigger GS models, the G650GS proves to be remarkably easy to manage. Its seat sits just 30.7 inches above the ground, making it easy for short riders to feel confident and quite a feat for a bike with more than 6.5 inches of suspension travel. Our bike was fitted with BMW’s Low suspension option ($250), which brings the seat down to a non-intimidating 29.5 inches. Taller riders should opt for the higher accessory saddle which brings up the seat height to 32.3 inches and provides considerably more legroom.
And it’s not just a petite seat height that makes the G easy to ride. At its 423-lb curb weight, it scales in nearly 50 lbs less than the 800, feeling even lighter thanks to its mass-centralizing underseat fuel tank. Its clutch pull is very light, and the 652cc Single has a bottomless powerband that is ideal for noobs or for crawling around off-road.
The transmission’s low “granny” gear runs out quickly, requiring early shifts up to second. An LCD bar-graph tachometer keeps tabs on revs, but its small size makes it difficult to read effortlessly. An easily spotted shift light compensates for the small tach. The G picks up speed relatively quickly as the fuel-injected motor churns out its Thumper exhaust note from twin undertail mufflers.
An amazingly flat torque curve climaxes around 5000 rpm with a 37.1 ft-lb peak at the rear wheel, with max horsepower coming in 2000 revs later at a gentle 44.2-horse gallop. Its stepless power curve isn’t particularly invigorating, but it gets the job done well enough to wheeze through the 100-mph mark if given enough road. The single-lung motor is built in China under BMW supervision then shipped to Germany where the rest o f the G650 is built. The understressed engine is a proven design, so we have no reason to question its durability.
The responsive motor makes squirting through urban traffic child’s play, aided by a highly cooperative chassis that presents no surprises. A wide aluminum handlebar provides a comfortable upright stance for its rider and offers plenty of leverage to knife through turns with great agility. Footpegs are placed well forward and accommodate the G’s three seat-height options.
The G650GS excels in the commuter role due to its nimble nature and simple operation. A decent-sized luggage rack sits aft of the passenger seat, below which resides a locking undertail storage nook that is small but usefully deep. Side-exit valve stems make checking inflation pressures a snap. As always, we enjoyed having the optional ($250) heated grips, which greatly enhance rider comfort. Our bike was also equipped with a 12-volt accessory socket, a $50 option. We were happy to see a tool kit under the seat, but we were shocked to notice its lack of a helmet lock.
Freeway travel is reasonably painless for a single-cylinder bike with some dirt intentions. Its small windscreen is surprisingly effective, aided by its sunken seat positioning a rider relatively low, and 6.5 inches of suspension travel ably suck up road imperfections. Vibes from the engine are subdued by a counterbalancer, but higher speeds had us wishing for a sixth gear. The wide handlebar that helps make it nimble can also cause unintended inputs at freeway speeds; I’d cut it down an inch if I owned it, which would have the side benefit of improving its lane-splitting ability.
The G650’s excellent fuel economy is a real asset. A steady hand might be able to achieve BMW’s claim of a possible 66 mpg, enabling a nice 215-mile range from the 3.7-gallon fuel tank. Even under our greedy wrists, we netted nearly 55 mpg.
Brakes are by Brembo, using a single disc at both ends. Outright power is only modest, but sensitivity via braided steel brake lines is quite good. Our bike was fitted with the standard-for-2012 ABS system, providing a heightened sense of security on the street and can be switched off for use in the dirt.
Speaking of dirt, the littlest GS proves easy to manage in those low-traction situations, aided by its low seat. An aluminum bash plate protects the engine from damage should you foolishly run out of ground clearance. Hardcore off-roading will require a knobbier tire than the versatile Metzeler Tourances on our tester, which nevertheless is excellent rubber for the kind of street-biased riding most owners will use it for. A wide steering sweep adds to its ability in the dirt and often comes in handy on the street.
Okay, we’ll be the first to admit the G650GS isn’t the hardcore adventure-tourer that inspires so many riders with their fanciful dreams of globe-trotting excursions. And yet our time with the G proved that you don’t need to shell out beaucoup bucks to get a highly versatile and competent adventure-styled motorcycle, a machine BMW aptly describes as “youthful and uncomplicated.”
For 2012, the G650GS is available in Aura White or Orange Red, and it’s joined by a new Sertao version that increases the G650’s off-road capabilities via extra suspension travel and spoked wheels with a 21-inch front.