2012 Ultimate MotorCycling QuickShift Review
The history of the BMW 650 GS series is a constant tidal shift between the ebb of off-road and the flow of the pavement. In recent years, the 650 GSes, both the single-cylinder G models and the twin-cylinder F series, have trended toward the pavement.
Named after an untamed region in northeast Brazil, BMW’s new G 650 GS Sertao pushes the envelope in a more dirt-worthy direction. The suspension travel (8.3 inches at each end) and ground clearance have been increased, and the front fender extended, so the changes are limited. Metzeler Tourance EXP tires signal a continued allegience to the street, so our initial testing of the Sertaro has been focused on pavement and high-quality dirt roads.
Sitting high with a standard 33.9-inch seat height, the Sertao gives you a commanding view of the road. Ergonomics when sitting are excellent and the windscreen provides more protection than you would expect. I was able to take the German-designed/Chinese-manufactured 652cc DOHC engine up over 100 mph, with the tires sticking nicely in 90 mph sweepers. It’s a capable street bike at any logical and legal speed.
Handling is agile, and lean angles are limited by your bravery. On the tightest paved roads, you can even surprise a cocksure sport bike rider. Brakes are predictable, and the standard ABS allows you to push them to their maximum.
Claiming 50 horses at 6500 rpm and maximum torque of 44 ft/lbs at 5000 rpm, there is plenty of power for the intended use of the 425-pound bike (claimed wet). Hampering its performance, however, is a notchy gearbox that occasionally refused to downshift, as well as a dragging clutch that made in-gear starts a battery-draining proposition.
Careful adjustment helps, but does not solve the problem. BMW needs to resolve these shortcomings, as we experienced the same issues with more than one example.
Dirt roads are best tackled sitting down, as a lump in each side cover creates a bowlegged riding position. This makes it difficult to firmly establish your boots on the undersized footpegs (we removed the rubber inserts immediately).
On dry, smooth dirt roads, the Metzelers are satisfactory, and you can switch off the ABS if you choose so you can slide the wheel at will.
We are planning an off-road adventure sequel to this review, and have already shod the Sertao with Pirelli Rallycross street-legal knobbies, which greatly increase the bike’s dirt capability.
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