brought back its off-road version of the single-cylinder G650GS for 2012 and called it the Sertao. This new GS is a fresh version of the previous Dakar model and how adventure riders get a foot in the door with the GS family. German adventure motorcycles command a decent chunk of change, but the Sertao is the most affordable and entry-level machine with a pricetag of $8650.
Straight off the bat the BMW takes a ding for being the most expensive in this test. However, with the added investment comes a few amenities and features that the other machines cannot match. For instance, it has heated grips and hand guards, an aluminum skid plate and fuel injection. Starting with the standard G650GS, BMW installed longer-travel suspension, wire spoke wheels, a 21-inch hoop on front and aggressive styling. It became clear right away that this is the bike that wants to go hardest in the dirt.
A 652cc Single cranks out noticeably more power than the Kawasaki, but not as much horsepower or torque as the Suzuki’s V-Twin. BMW uses dual overhead cams with four valves and a 100 x 83mm bore and stroke that spins up more quickly than the Kawi’s Single. At just shy of 41 horsepower and 38 lb-ft of torque, the Sertao has respectable output. The engine works best when revved into the upper rpm range and the power delivery is fairly soft until surging into the top end. The fuel injection makes for more direct throttle response. While all of our riders easily identified the power as second best, they were quick to find fault in the delivery characteristics. The exhaust note is entirely unremarkable from its dual cans, but more importantly the Single delivers massive amounts of vibrations. They travel through the seat, pegs and handlebars, buzzing the pilot from every angle.
The Sertao holds its fuel under the seat to help lower the weight as much as possible. However, it only holds 3.7 gallons, which gives it the shortest range (203.5 miles) despite an excellent 55 mpg average. The Beemer sips its fuel, besting the V-Twin and crushing the inefficiently carbureted Kawasaki. It might get even better mileage if it were equipped with a sixth gear. Freeway riding is high in the rpm which also exacerbates the vibration issue. All of our riders were unimpressed with the gearbox. The five-speed transmission needs another gear and our riders keep reaching for it with a shift lever that never gives tops out. Shifting quality is notchy and false neutrals lurk between every gear.
The BMW G650GS Sertao is the lightest bike in this test and is the thinnest as well. It's long-travel suspension loves to play in the dirt as long as the rider is aggressive.
“The sloppy transmission is far from sorted,” says Madson. “Shifts from first to second often find neutral – but at least it’s the real neutral as there are plenty of false ones to be found elsewhere! The drivetrain is the least attractive feature on this bike and just felt loose to me in all aspects.”
Like the engine, the suspension and chassis work best when pushed aggressively. A 41mm fork handles the front end. It is not adjustable and the valving is pretty stiff in the top half of the stroke. This makes for jarring impacts on speedbumps or potholes, and the ride is very rigid on washboard chatter. The shock is adjustable for preload by a convenient hand crank, giving it some touring credibility. With 8.3 inches of travel at both ends, the Beemer can absorb more violent punishment and it prefers if the rider goes looking for it. Once ridden aggressively the stiff suspension starts behaving more agreeably. The BMW is the best at carrying a high pace in the dirt, but the rider still has to stay on top of its slightly overactive handling.
At 434 pounds it ties the Kawasaki as the lightest in this test. That weight is distributed very differently from the KLR and the Beemer’s wide handlebars let the rider toss it from side-to-side with little effort. It has a tall seat and wide ergos that makes transitioning from sitting to standing fairly simple.
“The slim BMW chassis feels the most comfortable sliding around on the dirt – at least by my novice off-road reckoning,” Madson notes. “While it feels the most dirt-biased of the group, I find the Beemer’s slim ergos make for a quick handler on the street, though the knobby tires don’t serve it well in this regard.”
The comfort level isn’t up to par with the other bikes. The BMW’s narrow profile and wide bars make it quick from side-to-side, but also has the least wind protection. The handguards help protect the rider and the heated grips are a great comfort item, but the rider’s head, shoulders and legs get buffeted. It’s common to see whoever is riding the Sertao with their knees out wide. Narrow footpegs and no front bodywork to speak of lets wind push the knees away from the motorcycle. It becomes annoying during long, straight sections.
“I don’t feel comfortable on the BMW,” says Riant. “It’s tall with stiff suspension and only seemed to work acceptably when ridden hard in attack mode. It always needs corrective input to keep it headed in the right direction. The Sertao shakes and vibrates, has no wind protection and is just plain uncomfortable.”
The double-piston front caliper pinches a 300mm floating disc and single-piston rear snags a 240mm rotor to provide stopping power. The problem is that the ABS system feels archaic. Engagement is abrupt and too aggressive for our taste. ABS should increase the rider’s confidence, but it has the opposite effect, especially if running knobby tires. A moderately aggressive downshift while on the rear brake results in alternating freewheeling and skidding. Fortunately it can be switched off very easily at a standstill with a left-side button. Combined with the vibrating engine and rigid suspension the German motorcycle feels much less refined than we’ve come to expect from the Bavarian brand.
“The front stopper requires a hefty pull and left me wanting a whole lot more bite, particularly for those occasional panic stops,” says our Managing Editor. “The ABS system is easy to switch off, which is nice, but if feels quite abrupt in its application.”
The other bikes will sit and watch as the Sertao gets playful in the dirt. It's unrefined, but clearly the best in certain situations.
Styling is clearly part of the GS family with the iconic beak. Touring performance is hampered by the small luggage rack and minimal tie-down points. Also, BMW could have ditched the extra exhaust muffler and made more room for aftermarket saddlebags.
Riders looking for aggressive off-road performance in a BMW dual sport will appreciate the Sertao. But, when ridden with the other machines in this 650 Adventure Touring test, the Beemer is rough around the edges and requires the right type of mindset to be a favorite. It scored second place in the objective categories behind a light weight and decent engine, but when it came to our riders’ individual impressions the BMW is clearly at the back of the pack. It didn’t win a single subjective category and the end result is third place.