In the current state of off-road motorcycles, there are few firsts. New models are mostly updated copies of copies with originals brought in every third or fourth revision. Thankfully, with the arrival of the BMW G450X, that sequence has been interrupted.
Every aspect of the 450's engine has been developed for a specific purpose and benefit. The countershaft sprocket and swingarm spin on the same centerpoint, allowing for a longer swingarm and increased traction and stability. The motor is thus placed farther rearward in the frame, tilted farther forward to raise the mass, moving it as close to the bike's center of gravity as possible. It's all about balance and ease of movement.
The crankshaft and clutch also share a common centerpoint, which means the smaller clutch spins 2.6 times faster than a traditional design. The engine placement allows for a long, straight intake tract for the dual-throttle-body EFI system. Fuel is held under the seat with filler access via a pop-in cover and screw cap. Two different seats (regular and short) are available, and the handlebar mounting position is mega-adjustable to fit small to large pilots.
While the engineering is unique, the performance mirrors traditional bikes. As we thumbed the starter button (there is no kickstarter) and pulled onto the trail outside the Spanish mountain town where the international press launch was held, the 450 quickly lived up to BMW's powerhouse reputation. In stock configuration the delivery is smooth and strong with the driveability of a smaller-displacement bike, and when needed the bike comes alive and accelerates into a long top-end.
For bonus power, BMW offers a plug-in patch that adds 11 more horsepower. So set up, the bike rips with full-on motocross ferocity, completely filling in any soft spots in the stock, emissions-friendly programming.
The coaxial countershaft sprocket/swingarm pivot arrangement, first seen on 1980s Bimotas,
The pull on the cable-actuated, diaphragm-spring clutch is manly, and engagement is solid and quick-there isn't a lot of fudge room. It's easily modulated, but a little tiring on the digits.
Suspension consists of a Marzocchi fork and linkageless hlins shock, but the stainless-steel hanger frame feels rigid with minimal flex and wallow. Setting sag is ultra-important. The bike doesn't squat in the rear, and if anything, the seat feels higher than most, reluctant to settle under acceleration or when entering corners. This could have been caused by the Metzeler Six Days Extreme tires, though.
By the time we called it quits for the day, I'd come to appreciate the front suspension. Initially, the fork felt stiff and tended to deflect in true trail situations, but it stayed up in the stroke and resisted bottoming sweetly, even over motocross jumps. Production bikes will feature 15 percent less initial compression damping for a plusher ride.
Overall, the venerable German manufacturer's first real dirtbike is stable and capable of accelerating with the best of them. The biggest problem I had was with the right-side engine guard, which I kept stepping on thinking it was the rear brake pedal. That had me sailing past a few corners and right by some surprised photographers!
The unknown surrounds this bike. As of press time, we're told the G450X will be 49-state street-legal with California close behind. We don't know if the machine will come with the alternative mapping plug-in installed or available from dealers; if it will be offered in a competition-only race model (like KTM's XC line); or even what it will cost. So, we'll wait. And impatiently look forward to a time when we'll have a truly new test bike in our garage.