2011 BMW G 650 GS

Road Test Review

When I started working at Rider a few years ago, a friend of mine asked, “Now that riding is work, what will you do for fun?” I scoffed at the suggestion that motorcycling would ever feel like work, but my friend’s comment proved to have merit. Since I ride and write about motorcycles 9-to-5, my weekends, which used to be spent escaping into the hills with my riding buddies, are now often spent pursuing other pursuits. That changed recently when a high school friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years showed up in California desperately needing some two-wheeled therapy. My brother agreed to let my friend borrow his Suzuki V-Strom, and I prescribed a high-potency, three-day regimen of the most mind-altering roads I could think of. Just two guys and two bikes, burning miles by day and jawboning around the campfire by night. Grabbing the keys to the 2011 G 650 GS meant my long weekend still involved work, but riding BMW’s entry level thumper was so much fun it felt like anything but.

For 2011, BMW outfitted the G 650 with a fresh set of duds, bringing it more in line with the rest of the Gelande/Strasse family. It has all-new bodywork, with an asymmetric headlight and rugged black plastic panels on the fairing and below the new two-tone seat. The windscreen is taller, the instrument panel has been redone, the midsection is narrower (thanks to a smaller underseat fuel tank) and the wheels are now cast aluminum and shod with tubeless tires instead of the spoked hoops with tube-type tires of the previous model. This last change, along with a redesigned handlebar that lacks the motocross-style cross member and foregoing the bash plate and small rear fender found on its predecessor, make the new G 650 GS somewhat less dirt-worthy. The base price of the 2011 model you see here ($7,350) is a few hundred bucks cheaper than the last G 650 GS we tested (Rider, May 2009), but ABS and heated grips are now optional—adding $500 and $250 to the bottom line, respectively—whereas they used to be standard. Production of the 2012 G 650 GS began in August, and as part of BMW’s initiative to offer ABS as standard equipment on all models, the bike will be so equipped and its price bumped up to $7,850 as a result. Got it?

Unchanged is the 652cc, liquid-cooled single-cylinder engine, with electronic fuel injection, twin-spark ignition and a compression ratio of 11.5:1. On Jett Tuning’s Dynojet dynamometer, our 2009 test bike chugged out 43.4 horsepower at 7,300 rpm and 37.7 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm. Such modest figures meant that I gave the easy-shifting, five-speed gearbox one heckuva workout, but rarely did I wish for more power. Light and agile, slicing-and-dicing the G 650 GS on tight, rough roads is oodles of fun, and when completely wrung out it’s good for an indicated 100 mph. The counterbalanced single is remarkably smooth, with the chugga-chugga typical of a thumper evident only at low rpm. And talk about fuel economy! Topped off with regular unleaded, the 3.7-gallon tank is good for well over 200 miles. Over the course of my 1,100-mile test, the GS got anywhere from 48.6 mpg (WFO for miles on end) to 64.2 mpg (plodding along at cruising speeds), with an average of 57.3 mpg (take that, Prius!). There’s no fuel gauge, but the warning light comes on and the reserve fuel tripmeter kicks in when one gallon remains, somewhere beyond the 150-mile mark.

The box-section steel double cradle frame and swingarm aren’t fancy, but they’re bulletproof. I’ve seen guys on dual-sport rides do everything they can to destroy the previous-generation G 650 GS with the same chassis—jumps, rock hopping, hair-on-fire trail rides, even crashes—yet the dang thangs took it all in stride and asked for more. The long-travel suspension—6.5 inches front, 6.7 inches rear—is basic but stout. It soaked up rough stuff and maintained composure no matter how bad the road was or how quickly I pitched it into a corner. You can’t adjust the fork, but you can dial in the rear shock’s rebound and preload, the latter with a user-friendly remote knob. Brembo-made, single-disc brakes provide adequate stopping power, with good feel at the nonadjustable lever. A second front disc would add unnecessary weight and cost since the skinny 110/80-19 front tire (10mm wider than before) could be easily overwhelmed, especially off-road. If you do venture beyond the pavement, the ABS can be turned off. The 3.5-inch-wide rear wheel is a half-inch wider than before, but the 140/90-17 rear tire is just 10mm (0.4 inch) wider. And the Metzeler Tourance tires are good all-around tires, on- and off-road.

Even though the new windscreen is taller, wind protection was wanting (an optional taller windscreen is available). The 30.7-inch seat height suited my 34-inch inseam legs perfectly, and the seating position was comfortably neutral, though the seat itself caused me to fidget after about an hour. For an extra $250, a factory low suspension option drops the seat height to 29.5 inches. A sturdy aluminum luggage rack is standard, and the Swiss-cheese holes in the exhaust heat guards provide solid attachment points for bungee hooks. At the end of each day, I had little to complain about. Bulky soft luggage may block the fuel cap under the seat on the right, but so would a tankbag if the filler were in the customary location. The low setting on the optional heated grips was lukewarm at best, and the LCD vertical bar graph tachometer was too hard to read, but that’s pretty much it.

It seems you can’t read a GS review without the author suggesting you could ride around the world on one, but you really could. All it takes is time, money and chutzpah. Since I’m usually lacking one or more of these, I’d be perfectly content having the G 650 GS in my garage, ready for anything but used mostly for commuting, dual-sport rides and the occasional multiday trip. I’d load up on options, like Vario side cases and mounts ($714), centerstand ($175), hand guards ($123), heated grips ($250) and accessory socket ($50).

When you’re doing what you love, it’s easy to lose yourself in the experience. Whether I’m working or not, riding does that for me. And when I’m riding a bike that feels right, that’s effortless, intuitive and playful—a bike like the BMW G 650 GS—I turn into a big-pawed puppy, blissfully chasing a ball for hours until my tongue is hanging out.

(This article The Little Bike That Could: 2011 BMW G 650 GS was pubished in the November 2011 issue of Rider magazine.)