WORDS: Aaron Frank
My First Adventure Bike
The sawed-off BMW G650GS looks positively runty alongside its mantis-legged siblings, which explains why it’s the only bike left when I’m the last one out of our condo at Snow Summit Resort. We’re headed for California Forest Road 3N10—the notorious John Bull Trail—and no one wants to tackle that dried-up scratch of Satan’s own singletrack on adventure touring’s “girlfriend bike.”
Except me. With the inseam of a 12-year-old girl and almost zero off-road experience, I’m a perfect match for the G-sport. Measuring just 30.7 inches between street and seat (or 29.5 inches with the factory-installed low-suspension option), the G650GS undercuts the next closest bike, the F800GS, by a full 4 inches. And with an impossible-to-stall 652cc single delivering 44 lb.-ft. of obedient torque, it couldn’t be easier to paddle-foot up a dry creek paved with baby-heads. Did I choose this bike, or did it choose me?
Restyled for 2011 with sharper creases and BMW’s signature high-beam-wart asymmetrical headlights, the sway-backed G650GS “looks like a Shetland pony with a birth defect,” Carrithers says. I prefer to think of it as a Muppet—grotesque yet cuddly, and friendly enough for even a complete dirt-noob like me. This is confirmed after Commander Kramer, our sadistic trail captain/photographer, leads our misfit band of ADVers up a gnarly singletrack lined with spiny acacia bushes on the left and a 100-foot drop to the right. I grit my teeth and pray to David Knight, while the G650GS just plows over, around and through every obstacle in its path like some unstoppable Teutonic garden tractor.
Keep the rear Conti Twinduro knobby spinning and the 19-inch cast front wheel pointed mostly forward, and the G650GS will go anywhere the Husqvarna TE449 can go—and many places the Clydesdale-class R1200GS can’t. An underseat fuel tank and 423-lb. curb weight keep the littlest GS on-line better than the taller, lighter, more-easily-deflected Husky, at least until you bottom the soft, non-adjustable Sachs fork. A smooth clutch, perfect injection and plenty of flywheel makes this Thumper easy to ride at a walking pace, and the cradle frame even doubles as a (very necessary) bash guard. Give it enough time and inertia and this Little Adventure Bike That Could can take you just about anywhere off-road.
If you’re a penny-pinching adventurer ready to take the Short Way Round.
It’s not bad on-road, either, though the compact size cramps anyone shopping from the Big & Tall section of the Aerostich catalog. Ergos are upright and a bit tight, especially between the pegs and the forward-sloping seat, though an available, 2-inch-taller accessory saddle provides some relief. With just 48 horsepower on tap, acceleration is more Prius than Porsche, and despite a counterbalancer the little single still gets too busy beyond 75 mph. Can’t argue with 55 mpg, however, and handling is neutral and surprisingly agile when climbing the Angeles Crest at a don’t-upset-the-LEOs pace, even with knobs. It could do with a bit more cornering clearance, though.
Don’t be fooled by the girlfriend’s-bike rep: The G650GS is a genuine adventure bike. If I had to choose one of these four to circle the globe, this would be it. At just $8400 complete with switchable ABS and heated handgrips, the G650GS costs less than half as much as BMW’s alpha Adventure bike. But economics aren’t the only reason the majority of motorcycles sold around the world—especially in the over-crowded, under-paved Third World—are small-displacement singles. I’ve had the “pleasure” of exploring the French Alps on an R1200GS, and after a long day tiptoeing down medieval alleys and negotiating endless toe-scraping hairpins, even levering the big Boxer off its kickstand is exhausting. For dodging pedestrians in downtown Dehli or avoiding ox-carts outside Phuket—never mind the John Bull Trail—the lighter, lower, easier-to-manage G650GS would be my choice 10 times out of 10.