MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: BMW G 650 GS: Versatile and Affordable

A bike aimed at new and returning riders

By Perri Capell, Photos by Jonathan Beck

BMW, the German motorcycle maker, is banking that success in the U.S. motorcycle market now and in the future requires grabbing hold of newcomers and not letting go. It defines many newcomers as women, older or returning riders, and often, the vertically challenged.

To reach this group, of which Im a prime member (shortish and oldish), BMW is offering a 650 single-cylinder dual-sport called G 650 GS for 2009. Its a smaller, easy-to-handle motorcycle with a low seat height and plenty of zip at a reasonable price. The companys goal is to lure newcomers into buying it and hope theyll trade up to more powerful BMW models (apparently a high percentage do, within 18 months of purchase).

Nimble and easy to ride, the G 650 GS takes the sharp uphill mountain curves like a gazelle in second or third gear.

The G 650 GS is actually an update of the former F 650 (often called the Funduro), which was discontinued in 2007. (Since then, a new twin-cylinder Beemer has been christened the BMW F 650). I was invited to test the G 650 GS on switchback and country roads around Palomar Mountain near San Diego. Since I had once owned an F 650, I was excited to visit with this new version of my old friend and see how it compared.

Aesthetically, G 650 GS has a refined, sweeping appearance.

Taking sharp turns that fold over themselves up and down the mountain, I found that the G 650 GS handles exceptionally well making it fun to ride and easy to control. At rush hour around San Diego, motorcyclists must stay up with normal traffic speeds on the highways which often exceed 80 mph or risk certain death. The G 650 GS held its own and even had extra reserve power for passing giving me confidence and a feeling of safety as darkness fell.

Perri is wearing a matte black Icon Rubatone helmet, Datoka II jacket by Power Trip, textile pants purchased in Asia, and Oxtar boots.

As a 5-foot 6-inch rider, I like the low seat height of 30.7 inches (low for a dual-sport) which allows me to sit astride the bike flat-footed and with my knees bent. Since heated grips and anti-lock braking systems two must-haves in my book come standard, you dont have to pay extra or dink around with getting aftermarket parts installed later on. The three-position clutch lever is nice for those with smaller hands. You can adjust the setting to bring the lever to the hand grip.

While the G 650 GS is excellent on pavement, it also fills a void in the dual-sport market. Dual-sport bikes are designed for pavement and dirt road riding. But most 650cc dual-sports have 35-inch or higher seats that shut out many women, shorter riders or late entrants from this fun sub-segment of motorcycling. My demo bike had a standard suspension and standard seat height of 30.7 inches, good news for riders like me who didnt hurtle down back roads on tall motorcycles as tykes, learning to slide half off the seat to get a foot down so the dang thing didnt tip over when stopping.

This photo shows that Perri#39;s flat footed with a slight bend in the knee providing her the control she needs to move the bike around easily in parking lots.

You can even order this BMW with a low suspension system that reduces seat height to 29.5 inches, which is no doubt the lowest seat height ever offered in the dual-sport segment. (Not to be confusing, but for those who want a little more height, a taller seat can be ordered as an accessory through BMW dealers.)

In this front view, it#39;s easy to see the relatively low seat height of the 2009 BMW G 650 GS. Perri sits flat footed with her knees slightly bent. The bike comes in this bright red color or shiny black.

Not that much has changed in the design and manufacture of the 2009 G 650 GS from earlier versions, except that its engine is made at the Loncin Engine Co. in China, while the chassis is made in Berlin, where the bikes are assembled. The 652cc liquid cooled motor has an output of 53 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and a maximum torque of 44 foot pounds at 5,250 rpm. BMW insists that the China-made engines will be trouble-free due to the application of strict German manufacturing standards in China.

This Beemer offers the same wide handlebar width, upright seating position and a low center of gravity due to the location of the gas tank under the seat as earlier versions.

The rider#39;s upright position is due to the nearly 36 inch wide handlebars and their proximity to the rider#39;s body. The seat slopes at a downward angle toward the front, which some of the male riders in the press group didn#39;t care for, but Perri found it comfortable enough.

Due to a fluid (wet multi-plate) clutch and control lever, I found it easy to shift through the five gears. The 650 has considerable torque-y power at the low end, and while first gear has a relatively short range, second has enough oomph to take riders around tight switchback turns and up the next incline. When shifting from first into second gear, I was caught off guard a few times when the bike slipped into neutral and stayed there. Applying some extra foot pressure solved this problem.

A standard feature on this Beemer is the ABS system, which helps riders remain in control while braking by preventing the wheels from locking. On this model, new technology allows the ABS to maintain a precise level of brake pressure by continuously controlling the inlet valves through an analog sensor versus being either on or off with digital. What mattered to me is that the brakes provided quick and smooth stopping power without shudders or pulling during my one-day outing. The ABS can be deactivated for off-road riding. In this case, a red flashing light shows the rider that ABS has been disengaged.

While Perri didn#39;t take the G 650 GS off road, it#39;s as capable of handling dirt, gravel and uphill climbs as it is the pavement, as this press photo shows. BMW reports that this single cylinder uses about 50 mpg, giving riders a range of about 200 miles between fill-ups.

The bike handled smoothly thanks to a consistent output of power from the fuel injection system, as well as the sturdy 19-inch front wheel and 17-inch rear wheel. Both are spoked to provide extra control when riding off-road. The G 650 GS also offers a three-way adjustable clutch lever (great for smaller hands) and broader footrests with rubber sleeves which can be removed for the more active off-road riding.

A larger front wheel provides more control for on or off-road riding.

Temperatures were nippy at times during this December ride and the two-setting heated handlebar grips were a welcome comfort. I would have liked the protection of a windshield or a higher wind deflector, not just the 2 inches of curved plexi-glass over the gauges. Another quibble is the lack of a dashboard gas gauge to show the level in the four-gallon tank. With todays advanced technology, that doesnt seem too much to ask for.

This picture shows the optional hard-sided luggage available for the BMW G 650 GS. The bike has an affordable price of under $8,000.

Riding the 2009 version of BMWs single-cylinder 650 was much like riding my Funduro only a whole lot better. If I had owned this model, I probably wouldnt have sold it.

Specs at a Glance: 2009 BMW G 650 GS
Displacement: 652cc
Seat Height: 30.7 inches
Fuel Capacity: 4 gallons
Weight: 431 pounds
MSRP: $7,670

WRN Recommendation
The BMW G 650 GS is an affordable entry-level motorcycle thats most suitable for newcomers, the “vertically challenged” and experienced riders who want to downsize to a smaller and lighter bike. Its the lowest and most luxurious dual-sport in the 650cc category allowing riders the freedom to zip off on dirt roads theyve always wanted to explore.

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25 thoughts on MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: BMW G 650 GS: Versatile and Affordable

  1. What rack system are you using for the side bags. Also, who makes the side cases pictured?

  2. I just bought the 2010 F 650 GS and absolutely love it. This is the eighth bike I’ve bought since 2006 and I have finally found a keeper. I am 5 feet 4 3/4 inches tall and the height is perfect. I do have off-road experience, and have taken stock tires on caliche, sandy roads and it has been okay, but do plan to put more aggressive off road tires on the bike in the future for an off road trip. My last bike was 07 Harley-Davidson Street Glide. Due to ruptured disc in my low back this bike was painful for me. The F 650 GS tilts me forward at a perfect and for me “custom” angle and no back pain! I have not found the “bottom” to this bike yet. Not even sure why there is a sixth speed as it doesn’t seem necessary. At 80 mph cruising speed on interstate this past weekend, when passing the big semis, would speed up to 90+ mph and still not be past 4000 RPMs with incredible acceleration for a 650 (it is an 800 in disguise). Not to push speed, but for an experienced rider this enduro is awesome, yet I can see how a new rider would love it. It is very easy to handle, very forgiving, and fun!I am totally in love with my new BMW. Even at high highway speeds see no reason for a windshield. Of course, I wear a full face helmet, and all the gear. I love to “dance” with my motorcycles and this bike is certainly ready for dancing. Very flickable.

  3. I just bought the 2010 F 650 GS with lowered suspension and love it. I’m feet 5 inches, 30-inch inseam. I’m flat footed and can roll the bike with a passenger on it when stopped. This bike is amazing with its torque, balance, and, of course, the amenities. The heated grips made a huge difference in the foggy cold today, and the ABS has saved me twice already. While I’m a fairly new rider (1 year), this bike actually teaches me how to shift better, brake better, turn better. The weak points: the clutch is stiff and requires a bit more strength than my Hyosung GV250. However, this is my 5th day of riding and my hand strength has caught up. I no longer feel it. Also, the seat is quite firm. After 45 minutes, my butt is numb. However, I have an Airhawk cushion so I probably won’t bother replacing it. I did find the insurance lower than expected. And the bike takes only 87 grade gasoline, pumping out 60 mph with a 4.2 gallon tank. Can’t beat that!

  4. I have a 2010 F 650 GS and absolutely love it! I have yet to take it off-road, but if you’re wondering how well it does check out There are plenty of folks there who take their 650 GS’s off road and have a blast.

  5. I'm interested in hearing more about how this bike handles off road. I ride a BMW F 800 ST and love it but am interested in riding off-road.

    The low seat and the price of this bike are appealing but I'm also considering the F 650 GS with the lowered suspension.

    Would love to be able to ride one of the Kawasaki or Honda 650s but seat heights that start at 35 inches are just too much for me.

    If this bike is kind of a joke off-road I'd sure like to know. The reviews are pretty vague – most state “didn't ride it off road but BMW assures us it can do it.”

  6. This article is extremly helpful. I have this bike with the lower suspension. I am 5-feet- 1 and when I have not been riding for a while it takes some getting used to. I cannot flat foot this bike which concerns me but I love the bike so much I go out of my comfort zone. My husband thinks I am crazy and my thoughts are confirmed by this article.
    He has a big bike and cannot flat foot his either but he is a much more accomplished rider than I.

    Thank you everyone for your comments. I want to go riding again and need encouragement.

  7. I have been looking at the G 650 GS. Currently own a DL650 V Strom, while the power is amazing, the weight and bulk not so good. I am basically looking at a adventure tourer that won't drive me crazy commuting. This looks like is my next bike.

  8. I am considering buying the G 650 GS, but am concerned about the possible vibrations from the single cylinder at higher speeds. I have a Suzuki S40 now, and with the single, there is very noticeable vibrations above 40 mph. I plan on doing more long-distance rides, so I want a bike that will have enough power, and be smooth at the same time. I went to a dealer and checked out the bike. It was extremely comfortable but I was unable to test ride due to the weather. Now I'll have to wait until spring to give it a test ride. Can anyone out there give me some feedback on the vibration issue?

  9. I have been looking for the right bike for four years and have dreamed of the perfect machine. Well this bike is it. I am 5 feet 4 inches and a low seat height is a must for me. Knowing that the BMW is a very high quality and long lasting bike, I assumed they would be too tall. I was wrong.

    Now that I have my new G 650 GS it fits great and is a pure joy to ride. After reading the riders' input I am glad to know that I can remove the rubber feet on the foot pegs so my foot will be in line with the rear brake peddle. I look forward to a long life of ridding this great bike.Thanks BMW for thinking of us little people.

  10. Women with shorter legs might also want to try the BMW F 800 ST. It comes with lowered suspension and in addition has an optional lower seat available. The forward part of the seat is rather narrow also.

  11. Very nice. I could see this being a suited for my wife. Leave it to BMW to get it right during times when that is just what the doctor ordered.

  12. I owned a 1998 F650 GS which had far less power (40 HP) and put nearly 60,000 miles on it in the Pacific Northwest. I am a large man and often rode through the Cascade mountains two-up with my wife. Always kept up with other touring bikes.

    The 1998 remains one of my favorite bikes and was the one I kept the longest out of the 21 motorcycles of all kinds that I have owned in the last 20 years including hard core touring bikes as well as full blown race bikes. My 1998 cost me more new then than today's G 650 GS and mine had neither anti-lock brakes nor heated grips. This bike is a phenomenal value and I intend to have one soon.

  13. Until now, I felt left out of the dual-sport market. At 5 feet 2 inches with an inseam of 26 inches the majority of bikes were just too tall for me. The low option of the G 650 GS is wonderful. While I can't flat foot both sides simultaneously, I have a very comfortable reach on a bike with such a low center of gravity.

    This bike is very easy to ride. It corners well and will keep up with any legal speed (and beyond) on the freeway. It's a ton of fun in the dirt. The low frame does have a reduced ground clearance, so the bash plate takes a pounding from rocky trails. I chose to remove the rubber inserts from the footpegs because they were very slippery after crossing a few fords.

    The hard bags are neat looking and can be used either as shown in the pictures, or extended. Sliding out the extension is a bit fiddly but not difficult.

    The G 650 GS has a single switch for turn signals, unlike most other BMWs. It's also a bit fiddly but the rider will soon get used to it. Not as firm a click as other bikes but it works OK.

    The fuel filler cap is on the right side (remember to pull up the easy side of the pump) and accepts the funky California fuel nozzles with ease. The rider doesn't have to hold the vapor guard back, as on other bikes. The heated grips are luxury indeed, with two settings, to keep your hands toasty.

    So far, I'm delighted with this bike and looking forward to getting to know it better.

  14. I am thrilled about the possibility of finally getting a true enduro (as compared to my Honda CRF238L, street legal dirtbike) to add to my motorcycle collection. Last year at my dealer we tried six million ways to get a Suzuki V-Strom 650 to fit me and there was just no way to the bike lowered that was practable for my 5-feet-4 height. While I can slide a butt cheek off a dirtbike if need be to put my foot down, it never seemed like a safe idea on the top heavy enduros.

    I have seen a review of this bike by a new owner who is 5 feet 3 inches and got the lowered option and she has done great with it. My plan is to have this bike by the end of the year. Utah here I come!

  15. 29.5 inches (the low option) is the lowest seat height I've ever seen on a dual-sport! But if you're like me and seat height isn't an issue, take into consideration the fact that the Beemer's competitors are nearly $2k less. See below:

    BMW G 650 GS $7,670, 30.7 inch seat height, (29.5 inch low option)

    Suzuki V-Strom 650ABS $7,499, 32.3 inch seat height

    Suzuki DR 650 SEK9 $5,500, 34.8 inch seat height, (33 inch low option)

    Kawasaki KLR 650 $5,599, 35 inch seat height

    Also, I'd like to know a little more about why BMW decided to start producing this engine in China.

  16. I know this is a Beemer review, but for the vertically-challenged like me (5 foot 4 inches practically) the Kawasaki Versys fits better. The OEM custom gel seat, aftermarket lowering kit, and dropping the suspension brought the seat down to 29 inches. The modifications cost about $500, still under $8,000 total. Because it is more top-heavy than our 650 V Star, and because I don't quite flatfoot it, I'm glad it wasn't my first bike. But I can get both feet down enough to walk it backwards, and the smoothness and fun factor make up for the height!

  17. This bike is nimble and lots of fun to ride. It can keep up with bikes twice its size. The posture is very comfortable and the luggage system allows you to ride far with ease.

  18. 30.7 inches low seat? Not! I was considering this beautiful bike, but with my 5-foot-2 frame and short legs I, rather BMW, is loosing out. The economy isn't as bad as the fear mongering media is portraying. People do have the money to purchase a bike so make one that fits both short and tall or make two different models of this beautiful bike. Frustrated Shorty.

    1. Dualsport bikes have to have a certain amount of ground clearance to be handled safely off road. As stated in the article, 30.7 inches is on the low side for a motorcycle than can be ridden both on road and off. Any shorter and the bike would bottom out and it would be no fun to ride.

  19. With a seat height of 30.7 inches and a 652cc single-cylinder engine, this might be the perfect motorcycle for weight-conscious dual-sport long-distance touring aficionados.

  20. I understand that BMW motorcycles are well build machines, however when did a 30.7 inch seat height be considered low? There are more than a handful of motorcycles available for a competitive price that have much lower seat heights. This is a big consideration when feeling comfortable riding any bike.

    1. It's considered low for a dual-sport bike. Dual sports require high suspension to allow for the off-road part. A seat height of 30.7 inches combined with the light weight of this bike makes this 650 GS easy to maneuver compared to other bikes in its class.

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