2012 BMW G650GC Sertao Review
If the BMW G650GS is a lightweight urban runabout ready for the occasional trail, the G650GS Sertão is its more rugged big brother, the one decked out with enough suspension travel and beefed up bits to inspire serious offroad journeying.
The Sertão gains its namesake after the rugged badlands of northern Brazil, and it’s priced at $8,650 (or $8,950 equipped with heated grips and a power accessory)—spendier than no-frills rides like the Honda XR650L ($6,690) and Kawasaki KLR650 ($6,299), but closer in line to more recently updated dual-purpose specimens like the Suzuki V-Strom 650 ABS ($8,099.)
On top of the G650GS’s equipment list, the Sertão receives spoked wheels with a larger 21-inch front hoop, hand protectors (plastic) and an engine shield (steel), a fork brace, and a deleted inner fender. Suspension travel has been boosted 1.6 inches up front and 1.8 inches at the rear, for a total of 8.3 inches fore and aft.
Motivation comes from a single-cylinder, liquid-cooled 652cc engine that produces 50 horsepower at 6,500 rpm, and 44 ft-lbs of torque at 5,000 rpm. A five-speed gearbox with a mechanical clutch delivers power to the rear wheel via chain drive, and the whole package weighs in at 426 pounds, wet. As with all current production BMWs, the Sertão comes standard with anti-lock brakes which can be switched off at the rider’s command.
It’s quite a climb to the Sertão’s 33.9-inch saddle, and if you’re of freakishly tall stature, there’s an optional seat setup that goes all the way up to 35.4 inches. The single-cylinder mill cranks slowly to life and settles into a rather industrial sounding exhaust note; this is no exotic engine, but rather one that’s designed to get the job done reliably and effectively, sipping fuel to the tune of 74 mpg at a constant 55 mph.
Our time aboard the Sertão began with some light offroading at Jim Hyde’s 120-acre RawHyde Adventures compound in Castaic, California, where the Beemer’s street tires did their darndest to grip the muddy terrain and dew-soaked greenery—and succeeded, most of the time. With a few PSI bled from the rear tire for traction and rubber inserts removed from the pegs for grip, the Sertão maneuvers easily through slow-speed riding courses, though bigger grips would encourage more secure footing.
Onward to nearby trails, the BMW’s copious suspension travel proved capable of soaking up severe ruts and heavy surface irregularities. The bike’s leggy proportions also came in handy during several river crossings, where the Sertão’s generous clearance kept the engine safely out of moisture’s way.
As the sun dropped behind Gorman’s hilly landscape, a blast down California’s Interstate 5 revealed light but predictable road manners thanks to the torquey engine and relatively low curb weight. Though the Sertão has an innate inclination for wheelies off the line, the mood gets mellower as the miles per hour increase, with 60 mph in top gear translating a 4,000 rpm hum. There’s some buzziness to the engine (and high revs in 5th gear, despite the transmission being overdriven), though that annoyance is somewhat countered by the upright posture, the protection offered by the height adjustable windscreen, and the grip heaters which help ward off cold air. Though the saddle loses a bit of charm after the miles pile on—we’d prefer a softer perch—the Sertão commands stability at higher speeds, enough to warrant loading it up with saddlebags for dual purpose touring duty.
Is the G650GS Sertão the ultimate offroad machine or the perfect long distance tourer? Though quite good at handling challenging terrain, canyon roads, and open stretches of highway, this BMW isn’t quite charismatic enough to make an indelible stamp on any of those particular two-wheeled scenarios. But for an all-around bike that’s ready for almost any on or off-tarmac experience, its well-rounded capabilities make it attractive to riders who don’t mind paying a bit of a premium for BMW’s latest expression of dual-purpose transport.
It’s got a modest engine and a relatively narrow body, but the Sertão also has a tall seat height and a tendency for first gear wheelies; there are more approachable options in this segment for beginner riders.
Dirt-curious riders with some experience (and reasonable inseams) should consider this Beemer, as it offers enough offroad ability to make it a bike worth keeping for the long haul.
Though speed freaks will find its 50 hp engine unsatisfying, experienced riders will be assuaged by the Sertão’s exceptional suspension travel and rugged capabilities.