Basic Beemer appeals with price
The simple BMW single is back, revealing once again a different side to a brand that often indulges in complexity for complexity's sake.
Not for the G650 GS complicated technical features like Telelever single-wishbone front suspension, nor the heated seats, traction control, and smart corner-tracking headlights of far more expensive models.
The six-50 G series is as Stone-Age crude and billy-basic as a BMW is ever likely to come these days, even though it does include switchable-ABS brakes and heated handlebar grips as part of its $15,293 package.
That affordable price has some significance, for the G650 GS is by far the cheapest new BMW motor vehicle in New Zealand.
Hence the recent return of the most singular BMW here to allow a more accessible entry point to the brand. About the newest thing added to the bike is the model name, as it is now badged as a G series rather than the F series designation that the 650cc single wore previously when last sold here in 2008.
The change in nomenclature is part of a resort of BMW bike families: G-bikes are now single cylinder-powered, F-cycles are parallel-twins, R series are boxer- twins, K-bikes are multis, and S-RRs are super-sportbikes.
I hope that all makes sense, as the only real opportunity for confusion now is that the single's previous F650 GS classification is now attached to an 800cc parallel twin. Now, if only the Bavarians could sort out their silly car-model classifications, which now make one of the company's price lists appear like a random selection of letters and numbers.
As mentioned, the G650 GS is in essence the F650 GS of the previous decade, given a bit of a spruce-up and made into a more valuable buying proposition by the addition of desirable extra equipment like the ABS system, the electric hand warmers, and the handy centrestand that makes a more stable parking alternative to the slightly too short sidestand.
The fuel-injected single- cylinder engine can trace its roots all the way back to the first one- lunged BMW 650cc, a carburettor- fed child of the early 1990s that wore an apt name: Funduro.
The moniker summed up the ancestral 650 single perfectly, for it combined wide-ranging adventurous touring ability with long-distance comfort and practicality, and I can remember happily declaring that the bike would be my first choice of any to ride around the world.
Those same qualities are still at the heart of the G650 GS, although the redesign of the Funduro in the mid-noughties that replaced the twin 33mm Mikuni carburettors with fuel injection stoked by a 43mm throttle body, and moved the fuel tank from in front of the rider to under the seat, did result in a slightly less comfortable perch and reduced fuel capacity. Call it an own goal for Bayern Munich.
So consider the G650 GS to be a BMW stuck in amber, marking time technically while the most of the rest of the motorcycle world moves on. Back in the Funduro's day, an output of 48bhp from a 650cc single was considered revolutionary, but the peak-power figure of the G650 GS doesn't look quite so spectacular on paper when some road-going KTM singles of similar size are making 69bhp in 2012.
The BMW has always been one of the heaviest single-cylinder bikes on the market, resulting in a power-to-weight ratio that ensures performance feels adequate, rather than thrilling or exciting.
However, equally unchanged is the 650cc single's ability to sip fuel gently, and while the tank now only holds 14 litres, the G-bike can travel more than 300km on this modest amount of fuel.
If you're the sort of rider who is more excited by impressive fuel economy than power output, the G650 GS deserves a place near the top of your new-bike shopping list.
Perhaps the area where the bike most shows its age technically is the five-speed gearbox. This has the same long- lever action as the Funduro, suggesting to me that it is exactly the same transmission. A tighter- shifting six-speed would help the bike make more of its modest engine performance in almost every riding scenario imaginable.
Fortunately, the same frisky, flickable handling of the Funduro also remains intact. The intervention of the standard-fit ABS system is smooth and unintrusive, and the off-button allows less experienced riders to practise their own stopping skills without electronic assistance and the experienced to brake-slide the rear wheel at will on loose surfaces.
For those who want a more off- road-oriented G650, the $16,198 Sertao version expands the 19in front-wheel diameter of the GS to 21in, and adds welcome extra- wheel travel and adjustment to the suspension. However, you lose the heated grips and the centrestand with the Sertao, and the ABS system becomes an option ($829). The best thing about the G650 GS is its price. When was the last time anyone said that about a BMW?
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 652cc liquid-cooled DOHC 4-valve single, stoked by electronic fuel injection to develop 36kW (48bhp) at 6500rpm and 60Nm at 5200rpm.
Transmission: Five-speed sequential gearbox, chain final drive.
Frame: Steel twin-spar frame and box-section steel rear swingarm; 41mm unadjustable Showa front forks with 170mm of wheel travel; rear Showa monoshock adjustable for spring pre-load and rebound damping adjustment with 165mm of travel.
Hot: Lowers the entry point to a new BMW motor vehicle by more than $2000, despite including ABS, heated grips and a centrestand in the specification.
Not: Single-cylinder engine now assembled by Loncin in China instead of Rotax in Austria, although it still uses Rotax- made parts.