2012 BMW G 650 GS Sertao | First Ride

2012 BMW GS

While BMW’s twin-cylinder F 650 GS and thumper G 650 GS make fine upright street bikes, they don’t quite fill the GS (Gelände/Straße) portion of their names.

Taking its name from the feral badlands of northeastern Brazil, the new 2012 G 650 GS Sertão has more off-road potential than its preceding brothers-so much so that BMW calls the Sertão “the new Dakar.”

Certainly, the F 650 GS (actually a detuned 800cc motor) is too heavy for even semi-serious off-road service, so the mainland Chinese-sourced G 650 GS twin-spark motor was the natural choice. To get the chassis to full GS specs, the Sertão gets longer suspension-8.3 inches at each end-wire spoke wheels, a fork brace, and a wider 17-inch rear rim (a 21-incher is laced up front).

BMW, unfortunately, didn’t go full Adventure with the Sertão, as the rims are shod with street-focused Metzeler Tourance tires. Dunlop and Michelin make direct replacement street-legal knobbies. However, our first ride on the newest G 650 GS was on the Tourance rubber.

When rain and snow fell in the mountains north of Los Angeles in the days before our first ride on the Sertão, BMW had to be a bit nervous. Proper tires are crucial for all types of riding, and nowhere is this truer than when the pavement ends.

My initial forays on the Sertão were on fairly hard-packed dirt that had been turned into slippery mud. The Tourance tires immediately became slimy slicks, putting a tremendous burden on the motor and chassis to pick up the slack.

The smooth delivery of the 652cc motor was challenged by its willingness to rev. Spinning up quickly is great on the pavement or when traction is plentiful, but it definitely makes things more difficult on the BMW Sertão in slippery conditions.

Throttle control is one of my strong points, so I was able to control the fuel-injected motor precisely enough to find what little traction was available.

BMW has the right geometry for exploratory off-road riding. The Sertão is not a hard-core dual-sport bike. It is still a street bike that is dirt-capable, and this newest 650 GS is the most accommodating off-road of the BMW 650s.

Once away from the damper terrain, the 2012 BMW G 650 GS Sertão becomes quite enjoyable off-road for adventure riding. Jim Hyde of RawHyde Adventures (one of nine Official BMW Off-Road Academies in the world) made sure I had a chance to get a solid off-road experience on the Sertão.

There were some rocky water-crossings (fortunately, I didn’t test the new skidplate), and the suspension, geometry, and motor did their best to make up for the tires. Even a mudhole was rideable with some momentum, and the Sertão’s huge high front fender kept me from getting mud roosted off the front wheel.

I was able to keep a good pace on tacky dirt roads, where there was enough room to allow for error. With the standard ABS off, the bike could easily be backed into corners. Switching off the ABS requires that you come to a stop and push a button. Turn off the motor and the ABS resets to the on position when it is restarted. That meant that I forgot to turn off the ABS a few times.

Much to my surprise, when dirt roading the BMW ABS rarely engaged, even though I was pushing fairly hard and the streetish tires still were not fully suited to the task at hand. I will give myself some credit for judicious brake actuation and reliance on downshift for much of my deceleration.

That brings up what is clearly the Sertão’s biggest drawback–a very notchy five-speed gearbox that sometimes flat refuses to shift. It’s surprising that BMW would let such a crudely shifting gearbox out into the world, but it may be that they expect the typical Sertão owner to ride so conservatively that it is rarely an issue.

Certainly, the harder you push, especially on the street, the more recalcitrant the G 650 GS’s gearbox is. When trying to take advantage of the free-revving motor, you can forget about quick shifts. The Sertão wants you to accelerate moderately and make deliberate shifts. Play drag racer and the 8000 rpm redline appears too quickly and an upshift becomes impossible. So, you either adjust your riding style or accept constant frustration.

The Showa suspension works well in both street and dirt environments. It is firm, so the Sertão is steady in the paved corners, despite its tall stance (34 inch seat height is standard, with no low option) and 426 pound wet weight.

It sucks up potholes and rain ruts nicely, and tames washboard roads. You won’t want to start skipping whoops, of course, but the suspension is more than adequate for its intended adventure bike mission.

As a street bike, with the caveat that you cannot be in a hurry from a standing start, the 2012 BMW G 650 GS Sertão is quite enjoyable.

The upright seating position, wide bars, and taller windshield all work in the rider’s favor. The taller seat also gives a bit more legroom, though the Sertão still has tight ergos. Touches like hand protectors and optional heated grips further extend the Sertão’s utility.

On downhills, the 50-horsepower, Sertão will work its way up to over 100 mph and stay rock steady, due in no small part to its generous 58.6-inch wheelbase.

Happily, 90 mph sweepers are confidence inspiring, so the sport-touring aspect of the 650 GS is not to be overlooked. At more sensible speeds, the Sertão is completely intuitive to ride. Point it where you want to go, and it will take you there. You might not get there as quickly as you want, but you will get there.

BMW positions the 650s as an introduction to the species, and it is a good one. These aren’t beginner bikes, however. The Sertão could easily be a final stopping point for a rider who finds enough performance in the 652cc motor and won’t feel the need to go to the larger and heaver 800 and 1200 GS bikes. Properly outfitted, the Sertão could be the most off-roadable of the GSes.

We’ll be finding some appropriate street-legal knobbies for the 2012 BMW G 650 GS Sertão and take it on some real off-road excursions. In the meantime, the G 650 GS Sertão adds some much needed off-road credibility to the 650 GS line, while not compromising its streetability. Now, if we can just get the R&D department on that balky transmission.

Photography by Kevin Wing

Riding Style

  • Helmet: Arai XD3
  • Jacket and pants: Rev’It Cheyenne Pro
  • Gloves: Icon Patrol Waterproof
  • Thermal underwear: GatorSkins
  • Boots: Sidi Discovery

2012 BMW G 650 GS Sertao Specs


  • Type… DOHC single-cylinder
  • Bore x stroke…100.0 mm x 83.0 mm
  • Displacement…652 cc
  • Horsepower…50 hp @ 6500 rpm
  • Torque…44 lb/ft @ 5000 rpm
  • Compression Ratio…11.5:1
  • Valve gear… chain-driven with bucket tappets
  • Valves…2 x 36 mm intake / 2 x 31 mm exhaust
  • Engine oil capacity…2.4 quarts
  • Engine management…BMW Motor Controller-Compact (BMS-C II)
  • Fuel…Regular unleaded
  • Fuel tank…HDPE, internal pump and external filter
  • Fuel capacity…3.7 U.S. gallons, incl. approx. 1-gallon reserve
  • Charging system…400 watts @ 14 Volts
  • Battery…12V, 12 amp/hours
  • Cooling system…Single radiator, 50/50 water/anti-freeze mix


  • Primary drive…1:1.946
  • Final drive ratio…2.937:1
  • Clutch…Multi-disc, oil bath, mechanical actuation
  • 1st gear…2.75:1
  • 2nd gear…1.75:1
  • 3rd gear…1.31:1
  • 4th gear…1.05:1
  • 5th gear…0.84:1
  • Final drive …520 O-ring, roller-type chain


  • Frame…Bridge-type with bolted-on rear section
  • Front suspension…41 mm telescopic fork w/ fork brace
  • Rear suspension…Single linkage-assisted shock
  • Front/rear travel…8.3″/8.3″
  • Rake…28.1 degrees
  • Trail…4.8 inches


  • Brake system…Single front disc with ABS
  • Front brakes…Four-piston floating caliper w/ 11.8″ rotor
  • Rear brake…Two-piston floating caliper w/ 9.5″ rotor


  • Front rim…1.60 x 21 wire-spoke
  • Rear rim… 3.00 x 17 wire-spoke
  • Front tire…Metzeler Tourance 90/90 x 21
  • Rear tire…Metzeler Tourance 130/80 x 17


  • Overall length…86.0 inches
  • Overall width…36.2 inches
  • Wheelbase…58.4 inches
  • Seat Height…33.9 inches
  • Wet/dry weight…425 lbs./390 lbs. Maximum load…838 lbs. GVWR
  • Standard Color… Aura White / Arroyo Blue
  • MSRP: $8,650.00, plus $495 destination charge