19 Jul 2012 | Rod Chapman reckons BMW's latest single is well worth a look.
It was an odd moment. There I was, flitting through the serpentine roads of Victoria’s Gippsland region, a former 250cc World Motorcycle Champion ahead of me, and the reigning Australian Superbike Champion just behind. I’d like to say Marco Melandri couldn’t shake me and I was staving off Glenn Allerton’s attempted passes, but, alas, I’d be lying – because we were cruising along in convoy.
What made the moment all the stranger was the motorcycle beneath me, as BMW’s new G 650 GS Sertão was about as far away as you could get from a race bike. However, if bikes are measured purely in terms of how well they address their design brief, the little single-cylindered Sertão was already well on its way to proving it was up there with the best.
Fresh from their outings at Phillip Island in late February, where Melandri grabbed second and sixth aboard BMW’s S 1000 RR in the opening round of the Superbike World Championship and Allerton claimed second and fifth on his S 1000 RR in the opening round of the Australian Superbike Championship, both were looking forward to some R&R and a break from the pressures of racing, as was the head of the BMW Motorrad Motorsports division, Bernhard Gobmeier, who was also along for the ride. Cue the national press launch of the Sertão, which was just what the doctor ordered.
Sadly the doctor forgot to order some half-decent weather, and with several participants warily eyeing the fairly conservative Metzeler Tourance EXP rubber – standard fitment for this bike and leaning more towards tarmac than off-road exploits – we saddled up and headed for high adventure in Victoria’s High Country.
WET AND WINDY
The Sertão (pronounced ‘ser-tow’) may well be named after a semi-arid region of Brazil, but the dark skies and intermittent rain weren’t taking any notice. However, the name was originally a Portuguese term meaning ‘backcountry’, and in that sense the route for the bike’s Aussie launch was bang on target.
It might not be one of BMW’s ‘glamour’ models, but the Sertão is destined to do well. At $12,700 (plus ORC) for the standard Sertão, or another $650 for the ABS model reviewed here, it’s a budget wonder – far cheaper than the marque’s multi-cylinder duallies, and arguably more capable in the rough stuff thanks to its lighter weight (a claimed 177kg dry). Sure, it’s a good whack more than other single-cylinder dual-purpose machines like Suzuki’s DR650SE ($8090 plus ORC) or Kawasaki’s KLR650 ($7999 plus ORC), but for your money you’re getting Euro styling, up-to-the-minute technology and that fabled BMW longevity. Many an overlander has guided its predecessor, the F 650 GS Dakar, around laps of the globe, and now we’ll be seeing the Sertão in far-flung lands before too long, I’m sure. A LAMS Sertão will also be available, and thanks to its easy handling and upright ride position, it’s sure to be a hit with the entry-level brigade.
As for differences between the Sertão and its more road-focussed sibling, the standard G 650 GS, we’ve got longer-travel suspension (210mm front and rear, as opposed to 170/165mm for the roadie) and a subsequently higher seat height (860mm versus 780mm for the roadie). A 900mm high seat is also available, but it’s extra – you can’t just swap them over at the time of purchase. The Sertão also has spoked wheels (with a 90/90-21 and 130/80-17 combo, instead of the roadie’s 110/80-19 and 140/80-17), and it comes with a higher screen, an alloy bash guard, handguards, a longer front guard, and its own unique white/blue colour scheme. Oh, and the Aussie-spec Sertão cops heated grips and an auxiliary power socket as standard (they’re extras in other markets).
The Sertão acquitted itself well over Gippsland’s potholed, winding roads. The 860mm seat is actually quite manageable because the seat itself is rather slim, and once aboard the high(ish) perch, its broad handlebars and upright ride position place you in total control. At 188cm (6ft 2in) tall, the legroom was decent but not massive – I’d probably fit the higher factory accessory seat if I bought one.
The 652cc single-cylinder donk is a gem. From memory it actually seemed quite a bit more refined than the Rotax units I’d sampled in the old F 650 GS Dakar, and its counterbalancer neutralises all but the smallest of vibrations. These days the engine is built in China, to BMW’s and Rotax’s spec. Amazingly flexible, it’ll chug away from below 2000rpm in top without a worry, and while it’s happiest within its broad and chunky midrange, it’ll still spin up to its 7000rpm redline with ease in most of its five gears. It’s on the money for mega highway miles too, recording a lazy-ish 4200rpm in top gear at 100km/h, and it’ll see you through to 150km/h – and maybe the old tonne, for those with a little less ‘ballast’.
It might only be punching out 35kW (48hp), but I was able to harness all of what it had on offer, and that adds up to a satisfying ride experience. It’s also incredibly easy to ride, with a light throttle, clutch and gearbox, and the extra surety of some conservative steering geometry and a large 21in front wheel.
On the road the suspension gave a good account of itself. It’s basic – a non-adjustable front fork and a monoshock with preload and rebound adjustment – but it did a great job of soaking up the worst VicRoads and various shire councils could dish up. The Brembo brake package also held up its end of the bargain, offering good progression, decent feel and adequate power, backed up by the safety net of switchable ABS – a welcome thing given the wet, slippery conditions.
As the morning wore on we made our way north to Mount Baw Baw, diverting off the blacktop onto sodden fire trails and then single-track as we pushed into Victoria’s High Country. As I lamented the Gore-Tex jacket liner I’d left at home, and enviously eyed the power socket into which my BMW heated vest (also left at home) would have slipped so sweetly, I cursed the southern state’s fickle weather – it was still summer, after all – then chose instead to focus on the Sertão’s impressive performance in trying conditions.
The bike’s biggest test came after refuelling in the historic gold mining hamlet of Woods Point. After successfully tackling several rocky river crossings, the trail headed back up to a ridgeline – almost straight up, as it happened. So there we were, piloting bikes that weigh 192kg wet, on pretty conservative rubber, in the rain and fog, tackling slick hill climbs on clay. It was enough to see a dedicated enduro rider pause for thought, but with the promise of a warm fire, a cold beer and a roast dinner awaiting us at the top of a mountain at McAdam’s Gap, we were giving it all had.
Momentum was the key, and all was going well until mine abandoned ship – and I punched the side of the embankment lining the climb. I’d seen how well the Sertão went, now I was witnessing how well it crashed. Pretty well, actually – the brake lever was bent but still useable, while the front guard had been ripped off. The latter looked expensive, but the actual bit that snapped was worth $62, which wasn’t so bad.
After Glenn and Lance, another journo, came to my rescue, we were off again – until the mutha of all hillclimbs a little further up the track saw most of us ‘down tools’. Marco showed off his motocross skills to make it on his second attempt, but bar one or two exceptions most of us were happy to let BMW’s dirt experts strut their stuff – while we walked to the top.
HIGH ON A HILL
Fast-forward to the hospitality of the pub – where Marco seized the opportunity to live out his private fantasy of being a barman – and everyone agreed the Sertão was amazingly capable on the loose stuff. We’d pushed the bikes to their limits, or at least the limits imposed by the wet conditions and, in my case at least, the off-road skills of their riders. Still, this is a bike on which you can commute home from work in the city, strap down a bag and then escape to the bush for a weekend of exploring, and all without even having to lift a spanner.
It’s extremely practical, too, in all sorts of ways. The oil filler is on top, where you’d find the fuel tank in a traditional bike (the tank actually sits low, under the rider’s seat), so there’s no bending down to top it up. The sidestand has a broad footplate, the mirrors work well, it’s easy to strap a bag down on the rear carrier, the heated handlebar grips are a godsend in cooler weather and the ABS can be switched off (unlike the latest iteration of Suzuki’s V-twin adventure tourer, the V-Strom 650 ABS). It’s incredibly efficient too – our first fill-up registered an economy of 21.4km/lt when we’d been ‘pushing on’ – but a paltry 14lt means a working range of somewhere over 300km (BMW says as much as 350km) with restrained use. Not bad, but I’d like a little more in a bike with this long-haul potential.
The old F 650 GS Dakar was a winner – the consummate all-rounder – and the G 650 GS Sertão continues its legacy. If escaping the clutches of the urban jungle and exploring the backblocks of the Aussie bush sounds like your idea of biking bliss, the Sertão will do it in style. It’s an impressive bit of gear, and, as I’ve said, great value for money for a Euro model.
– So easy to ride
– Incredibly capable
– Great value for a Euro bike
– Small tank limits range
– No centrestand as standard
Type: Liquid-cooled, four-valve, DOHC, four-stroke single-cylinder
Bore x stroke: 100mm x 83mm
Compression ratio: 11.5:1
Fuel system: Electronic fuel injection
Final drive: Chain
CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Frame: Steel bridge
Front suspension: 41mm telescopic fork, non-adjustable
Rear suspension: Monoshock, adjustable for preload and rebound
Front brakes: Single 300mm disc with twin-piston Brembo caliper (optional ABS)
Rear brake: Single 240mm disc with single-piston Brembo caliper (optional ABS)
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Claimed dry weight: 177kg
Seat height: 860mm (900mm accessory seat)
Fuel capacity: 14lt
Max. power: 35kW (48hp) at 6500rpm
Max. torque: 60Nm (44.2ft-lb) at 5000rpm
Price: $12,700* ($13,350* with ABS)
Colours: Aura White/Arroyo Blue
Bike supplied by: BMW Motorrad Australia
Warranty: 24 months, unlimited kilometres
*Manufacturer’s list price excluding dealer and statutory costs