BMW G650 Xchallenge - Challenging Times

01 July 2007
Words and pics: Barry Ashenhurst

BMW likes to do things differently and that ethos comes out in just about every bike it makes. Nothing on the planet looks like an R1200 GS, for example, and the opposition would certainly have to work hard if they wanted to make a bike that resembled the new G650 Xchallenge.

Mind, you, that presupposes that they'd want to. This is not your average trailie, because for BMW the objective is always to make bikes that look different from the very formulaic competition, and to make the design work.

But what is this new Xchallenge all about, and does it work? BMW Motorrad's marketing manager, Miles Davis, answers that question with, "What we aimed for with the 650 was a solid, reliable and low-maintenance machine, something along the lines of the Honda XR650 or Suzuki DR650. It's not an adventure bike, it's a trail bike."

But that's open to interpretation. In my opinion the Xchallenge is whatever you want it to be -including being a distinctive piece of jewellery for any Beemer fan who thinks he'd like BMW's version of a trail bike. It does fly in the face of convention though, and if you want a list of how it avoids the WR/CRF formula you don't have to delve very far into its specs.

For example, while everyone else strives for less weight, BMW produces a bike that weighs 156kg fuelled. It has a tall seat height of 960mm (although the specs say 930mm), and the 9.5lt fuel tank is under that seat, so you can't ditch it and replace it with a long-distance aftermarket tank. A lower seat is also available, which BMW claims is 910mm. The engine is a liquid-cooled, 652cc fuel-injected Rotax single that puts out 53bhp -about the same as your average 250cc two-stroke motocrosser. Finally, the fork is a 45mm USD Marzocchi, while the shock is a springless unit on which preload and damping are adjusted by varying its air pressure.

Much was made of this Air Damping System during the bike's launch ride, and I'd have to say that with a single reservation it works very well. My reservation is that with air damping, the shock is always 'topped-out', and so the bike has no static sag; it doesn't sag at all under its own weight. When you combine that with the very tall seat height it can be difficult just getting your leg over the beast, or touching the ground with a boot when manoeuvring at low speed.

But overall the suspension seems to work very well. Neither end bottomed during a fairly physical 170km test ride, and I think ride quality is very good. The fork behaves well and the rear end never kicked me in the arse, even over 100-odd maliciously-shaped drainage humps. The bike steers well too, accurately and predictably, and as someone who doesn't care much for big, heavy bikes, I think it more civilised than an XR650, although it doesn't accelerate as quickly, and is a damn sight faster than Yamaha's old but fondly-remembered TT600.

This dry sump engine is also used in BMW's F650 GS and GS Dakar, but it's been tickled in this version to produce slightly more horsepower. Maximum grunt is said to be 53hp at 7000rpm, while torque peaks at 60Nm at 5250rpm, giving you a 2000rpm playground where either power or torque are close to their best.

The engine's characteristics I would describe as strong and friendly, kind of like the old XR600 or that likeable old TT600. This bike wouldn't smell the aftershave on a Husaberg 650 in an acceleration shootout though, so in that sense I wouldn't describe it as 'fast', but it does have a top speed of between 160-180kmh, and that's worth a letter to the relos'.

The good thing about this engine isn't speed though, it's torque. It pulls like a dentist. It doesn't rev hard and the throttle has a very slow action, but there's torque all over the surgery, which means you don't have to rifle through the box for the right gear every time you see a corner.

All the tractive effort is shunted through a five-speed transmission and frankly I think the shift action is coarse compared to the best from KTM or Honda, with a noticeably long throw between ratios. The mechanical clutch uses a very long lever, and its action is comparatively stiff, although given this engine's chug-a-lug personality you won't be doing a lot of clutch dancing. All in all though I think the clunky shift action is one of the BMW's least attractive features.

I hope the men who buy this bike are looking for more than another lump of distinctive jewellery because it does have a lot to offer, especially if you're looking for a modern version of an XR600. The range may be an issue with some long distance riders -BMW claims that 200km from the 9.5lt tank is a reasonable expectation -but I guess only trial and error will sort that one. Right now, if you want extra fuel on this bike you'll have to carry it in external tanks, adding to the already substantial $14,350 plus ORC purchasing price.

I have to be honest, this is not my kind of bike; I found it too heavy and way too cumbersome at low speed, but if I had to go to Cape York tomorrow I know an XChallenge would get me there quickly and with very little drama.

BMW G650 XChallenge

Engine: 652cc, liquid-cooled, four-stroke, DOHC, four-valve, single cylinder

Bore and stroke: 100 x 83mm

Compression: 11.5:1

Fuel system: electronic fuel injection

Power: 53bhp @ 7000rpm

Torque: 60Nm @ 5250rpm

Transmission: five-speed

Frame: steel bridge

Front brake: single 300mm disc with twin-piston calliper

Rear brake: single 240mm disc with single-piston calliper

Front suspension: 45mm Marzocchi USD forks, adjustable for compression and rebound

Rear suspension: Air Damping System monoshock, adjustable for preload and damping

Wheels: spoked alloy

Tyres: 90/90S21 front, 140/80S18 rear

Seat height: 930mm (or 910mm)

Wheelbase: n/a

Claimed dry weight: 144kg

Fuel tank: 9.5L

Price: $14,350 plus ORC

Colours: aura white uni

Warranty: 24 months/unlimited kilometres


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