Sporting an innovative frame design and compact engine, the 2009 BMW G 450 X looks to make a name for itself in the sport enduro market.
If you were a gambling man, you’d have laid money on BMW’s first-ever production enduro race bike being quirky and interesting but ultimately uncompetitive. After all, entering a whole new segment of the market against established competition, on a bike that follows BMW’s mantra of offering bikes with unusual and often odd engineering looks like a recipe for disappointment. Especially when you throw in to the mix that the bike uses an engine designed by BMW but built by Kymco in Taiwan.
Even though pre-production race bikes that MCN tested were truly potent, there was always an inkling the production bike would be a less capable, sanitized machine. Well, it’s not. The new BMW G450X is a genuinely fast enduro bike that’s even more race-focused than its slightly softer Japanese rivals. It’s a direct threat to the king of real enduro race bikes, KTM.
Yes, the BMW has some radical new engineering which gives it a feel all of its own. But it’s as light as its rivals, as powerful, costs the same and actually feels more nimble. And unlike other off-road race bikes, has BMW’s 24-month warranty just like its road bike siblings.
But be warned: this isn’t a nice Sunday green lane toy for owners of BMW’s mighty R1200GS looking for something a little less lardy. It’s a road-legal race bike that takes proper setting up to get the best out of it, thanks to its whole raft of new technical innovations.
The first of these is the seemingly unlikely key to the whole bike’s performance, and that’s the position of the swingarm pivot. The knock-on effect of this is huge.
The revolutionary design of the G 450 X’s frame and swingarm place the pivot point and drive sprocket along the same axle line.
– The swingarm pivots on the same axis as the gearbox sprocket, so as the suspension moves through its arc the chain tension is constant, unlike on normal bikes. This means that the suspension isn’t affected by how hard you are on the gas, which leads to better traction.
– This pivot point demands the swingarm is 30mm longer than on a conventional bike, which aids stability.
– It also means the engine has to be further back, so it’s closer to the centre of gravity of the bike. This mass centralisation makes the G450X easier to flick around.
– Having the engine so far back means there’s plenty of room to have the cylinder more laid down rather than almost vertical. Laying the cylinder down means the intake from the fuel injection can be vertically downwards from under where the fuel tank usually would be. So the intake tract is straight, and the airbox is in place of a conventional fuel tank. This makes changing air filters a breeze, and makes the bike less drownable in deep river crossings.
– The laid-down, rear-set engine allows the frame to be more compact and, therefore, stiffer.
– And to make the bike even more flickable, the crank spins backwards. Crank inertia has a huge effect on how quickly a bike turns into corners, so by having the engine spinning the “wrong” way, the inertia helps the bike change direction.
But all this techno wizardry would count for nothing if the bike just didn’t work well. Fortunately it does. The bike feels lighter, slimmer and more nimble than any other 450. It turns well and holds a tight line – as long as you get the bike set up precisely. The rear suspension doesn’t use a linkage, but has the shock bolted directly between the frame and swingarm. The suspension is progessive, thanks to clever shock internals in the Ohlins shock. Well, not that clever. The linkless system was pioneered by Ohlins for KTM almost a decade ago. But quite quickly KTM bought suspension firm WP, and development on linkless shocks has been pioneered by WP.
The Ohlins is supple and soaks up bumps well, but must be carefully set up with 110mm of sag with a rider on board, and 40mm of free sag. If you don’t get this right, handling suffers.
The front end of the bike has 45mm Marzocchi forks that use old-school technology abandoned by the Japanese and KTM a few years ago in favour of sealed-cartridge systems and 47mm legs. The damping isn’t as good, and they are definitely more flexible, which is usually a bad thing. But on the BMW, the frame is so stiff that having some flex in the forks is good and they work well. Not fantastic, especially compared to the super-nimble handling and light feel of the bike, but raceable in standard trim.
The engine, though, is not race-ready. To make it completely road legal and compliant with the tough Euro 3 emissions legislation, it comes with a catalytic converter and is electronically limited to 41bhp to keep the noise down.
For competition use, you simply plug in a new electronic gizmo that comes with the owner’s manual, and toss the lardy tailpipe for BMW’s aftermarket Akrapovic in sexy, light titanium. It sheds 5-lb off the weight and adds a huge 10bhp. Not only that, it actually makes the bike smoother right through the rev range. You get the feeling there won’t be a single BMW G450X on the planet that retains its standard silencer. In this “race” form, the motor is torquey and feels as powerful as anything on the market. It may not quite have the smoothness of the legendary KTM engine, but it’s pretty close.
As for the details, the Brembo brakes are good, the plastic is top-quality Acerbis and the tires are top-quality Michelin. The fuel tank is under the seat, which is accessed by a rubber bung towards the rear of the seat. It looks vunerable but BMW claims they never fall out. Despite throwing the bike down several times on hilly, rocky terrain, it stayed put. Whether you’d put money on it staying there while handlebar deep in a Welsh mud bog is another thing.
Try before you buy
You will be able to try the new BMW G450X before you buy on amazing trails in the Spanish mountains near Malaga, led by seven-times world enduro champion Kari Tiainen.
Tiainen, who helped develop the G450X, offers riding trips in the mountains of southern Spain and will be getting the first supplies of BMW’s new enduro bikes. Finnish hard-man Tiainen, 41, is a Dakar regular but tailors his trips to the skill and experience level of the riders. No prices have yet been announced, but you can reserve dates by going to www.karitiainen.com.
Cost: £5599 ($8,198 US)
Power: 41bhp (51bhp with optional silencer)
Torque: 42.8Nm (44Nm with optional silencer)
Weight: 111kg (244.7 lbs.)
Fuel capacity: 8 litres (2.11 gal.)
Engine: 449.5cc (98 x 59.6mm) liquid-cooled four-stroke single-cylinder. Keihin fuel injection. Five gears. Chain final drive.
Chassis: Stainless steel tube frame, removable aluminium sub-frame.
Suspension: 45mm upside-down telescopic forks, adjustable for compression and rebound damping. Single rear shock adjustable for pre-load, compression and rebound damping.
Brakes: 260mm disc with two-piston caliper. 220mm rear disc with single-piston caliper.
Tires: Michelin 90/90 x 21 front, 140/80 x 18 rear.