Dirt, street and something in betweenRiding past the 18th green at this four-star golf resort on a dirtbike visibly horrifies the golfers. The fact that we're on BMWs provides some small reassurance, but these aren't like any BMWs they've ever seen. Or us: After a four-day flog over the twisty roads and cheese-grater trails of southern Arizona, BMW's new trio of 652cc singles aren't what we expected either.
But first, let us assure you that rumors of the F650's demise are premature-the adventurous GS will survive for at least another year. These Generation-X singles are intended to inject some (relatively) affordable fun into BMW's lineup, hopefully generating younger foot traffic in showrooms in the process. Though these bikes exhibit none of its flagrant cheapness or orthopedic shoe styling, the basic F650 recipe carries on with welcome improvements and fresh ingredients.
Engines still come from Rotax in Austria, and the rest of the package is still a cooperative effort with Aprilia; bikes are screwed together at the firm's Scorze works in northern Italy. All three flavors rise from the same basic platform-one warmed-up version of the F650 engine in a modular steel and aluminum chassis-but head off in three very different directions with mission-specific brakes, wheels and suspension.
The Xcountry is Munich's take on the all-purpose scrambler, which means it's capable of heading off in just about any direction-paved or not-so long as you're in no great flaming hurry to get there. The new engine is the star: strong, smooth and good for an indicated 100 mph on top. The lowest seat of this bunch is still 2.4 inches taller than an F650GS, yet a better fit if you're 5-foot-9 than 6-foot-3. Suspension is on the soft side, and the suspension bits are relatively pedestrian. The non-adjustable 45mm Marzocchi fork and Sachs shock wilt rapidly under aggressive treatment.
Still, the Xcountry handled 250 miles of paved and unpaved roads well enough at a conservative clip. The G-spec 652cc twin-cam single is stronger, smoother and 4.5 pounds lighter than its predecessor, pushing what BMW claims to be a 353-lb. (wet) package. Metzeler Tourance tires are potentially treacherous at speed in actual dirt but grip fine on the road. So? Treat it like a modern interpretation of Honda's 1970 CL350 and you'll be fine. Though it's hard to say how many people will shell out $8675 (add $670 for BMW's 3.3-lb., two-channel ABS on all G650X variants) for this brand of casual all-surface travel, the Xcountry fills the role quite nicely.
The Xchallenge is much happier in the dirt...as long as the challenge du jour isn't keeping up with a KTM 525 EXC. Forget BMW's brochure palaver about "extreme enduro riding." Dirt-worthy dual-sport is more like it, though the 2.5-gallon gas tank under the seat precludes extended play on all three bikes. On the plus side, BMW's numbers make the fully fueled Xchallenge 79 lbs. lighter than an F650GS with its 4.0-gal. fuel payload.