2012 BMW G 650 GS Sertão: A New Adventure Bike Joins the Fray!

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Ken Freund, BMW North America

Named after an arid savanna region in northeastern Brazil, the Sertão is designed for the growing adventure motorcycle market and essentially replaces the Dakar version of the F 650 GS, which was discontinued in 2008. (BMW changed its model designations beginning with the introduction of the F 800 series; single-cylinder models have the prefix G, and twin-cylinder models use the F prefix.)

The new Sertão is based on the current G 650 GS, but there are significant differences between the two machines, particularly to the wheels and suspension. The Sertão gets more suspension travel, a larger front wheel, a higher windscreen, an aluminum bash plate, hand guards, a fork brace, and sturdier spoke rims.

Powertrain and Performance

The new G 650 GS Sertão uses the same liquid-cooled, 652cc single-cylinder engine as the current G 650 GS, with two overhead camshafts, four valves, dry sump oiling, and a counterbalancer. However, it’s no longer made by Rotax in Austria; BMW now sources the engines from Loncin, a motorcycle manufacturer in mainland China.

Closed-loop BMS-C II fuel injection and twin-spark-plug ignition control the engine. There’s no cold-start lever; hot or cold, thumb the starter button and the engine lights off immediately. Despite a high compression ratio of 11.5:1, BMW calls for unleaded regular gas, and the bike seems to run fine on it. Exhaust gases route under the engine through a stainless-steel head pipe and pass through a catalytic converter and a pair of high-mounted mufflers. The left muffler has the outlet plugged and is only used to attenuate noise by using its internal volume. This noticeably reduces available luggage space as the saddlebags wrap around the mufflers, and likely constrains power output somewhat.

BMW states the bike gets 74 mpg at 55 mph and is capable of traveling 270 miles on the 3.7-gallon, under-seat gas tank. But who rides 55 mph all day in fifth gear on flat roads with no wind until the tank runs dry? Riding in real-world conditions—including rural, suburban, and highway flogs with hills and traffic lights—we saw around 50 mpg, and the low-fuel lamp typically illuminated at about 135 miles past the last fill-up.

The five-speed gearbox connects to the engine through a cable-actuated wet clutch. Final drive is by a size 520 O-ring chain. Clutch lever pull is light and engagement is smooth. Neutral can be readily found, and we had no problems with missed shifts or false neutrals. However, shifts are not as smooth as we’d expect, and for the bike’s price, it should have a six-speed.

BMW rates the engine at 50 (crankshaft) hp at 6,500 rpm, with 44 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm. The best of the power band seems to hit around 4,500 rpm and tapers off about 7,500 revs. The Sertão has enough power to merge onto freeways, keep up with interstate highway traffic, and pass slower vehicles, although long steep grades, high altitudes, and riding two up definitely take their toll on speed. Maintaining 75 mph in fifth requires about 5,000 rpm. A counterbalancer keeps vibes under control at most speeds, but there is a significant vibration around 65 to 70 mph which can be felt strongly through the handgrips. The Sertão is actually smoother at 80 mph in top gear than at 65. Top speed is just over 100 mph.

Chassis and Handling

Up front, the 41mm nonadjustable fork legs have a brace to reduce flex. The rear wheel is controlled by a single shock with adjustable rebound damping and remotely adjusted spring preload. Sertão’s suspension has 8.3 inches total travel at each end, which is longer by 1.6 inches at the front and 1.8 inches at the rear than the regular G 650 GS. BMW also changed to a 21-inch front wheel and sturdier spoke wheels front and rear. Metzeler Tourance EXP tires—90/90R21 front and 130/80R17 rear—are standard fitment.


A single front rotor with two-piston caliper and a single rear rotor with one-piston caliper provide stopping power. That’s sufficient for a bike of this size and weight, particularly with a large single-cylinder motor that delivers plenty of engine braking. Antilock braking is standard equipment, which BMW says is unique among 650 one-cylinder motorcycles. When used on loose dirt, the ABS reduces braking to the rear wheel way too much.

Fortunately, it can be disabled by pushing the red button by the left handgrip (only while you’re stopped). Restarting the engine resets the ABS to the on position. The Sertão’s ABS works fairly well on paved roads, although I noticed under ideal conditions I could get slightly shorter stops on dry pavement with it turned off.

With the long-travel suspension, the ride is plush, and most shocks from rough roads are absorbed before reaching the rider. Out on the road, the Sertão feels light and nimble and ready to go. The tires grip sufficiently well for exciting canyon rides and feel stable on the highway. On dirt, the bike acquits itself quite well too, although the street-oriented tires lack grip in mud and loose dirt.

Features and Ergonomics

The Sertão’s upright riding position, dirt-bike-style handlebar, and footpeg locations promise a comfortable riding posture that also allows riders to stand on the pegs when needed. Tall riders may find the handlebar position too low; a taller bar or risers will cure that.

Standard saddle height is 33.9 inches (higher than the regular G 650 GS). This gives taller folks like me a little more room to stretch out. The seat narrows at the front to make it easier to reach the ground when stopped, which helps accommodate shorter riders, but the thinly padded saddle takes away from riding bliss. Apparently BMW’s designers think everyone has long legs, because they offer an even taller 35.4-inch accessory seat but none that are lower. We think riders of smaller stature who find the R 1200 GS too tall and large would like to have at least a low-seat option.

The compact instrument cluster consists of an analog speedometer, which is easy to read, and an LCD display with a bar-graph tachometer that is small and hard to see. It should have an analog tach and digital speedo. The LCD screen also displays the odometer, a clock, and selectable twin tripmeters. Besides the usual indicator lamps, there’s a warning light if you approach redline.

Sertãos use conventional left-hand switchgear rather than BMW’s traditional two-handed turn signal controls. Mirrors are far apart and provide a wide view behind. In cold weather, the windscreen, hand guards, and optional high/low heated grips make long rides more pleasant. Having said that, the narrow windscreen allows strong buffeting from crosswinds and when passing large trucks; a wider one would be better. The wake turbulence behind large vehicles also causes the bike to weave noticeably. We were surprised at how far the bike leans on the sidestand; it really needs to be corrected. Also, a centerstand is not standard and must be ordered.

Our test bike had BMW’s accessory hard bags, which are lockable and weatherproof but have limited capacity because they are built around the high-mounted mufflers. Each will hold about a gym bag’s worth of luggage. A large tailbag or trunk can be mounted on the standard rear luggage rack for more storage.

Warranty coverage is three years or 36,000 miles. Routine maintenance services, including valve adjustments, are called for at 6,000-mile intervals.

Final Thoughts

BMW fans will be pleased there’s another choice for them. The 2012 Sertão has a base MSRP of ,650 (add 0 for optional heated grips and a power outlet), which makes it the most expensive 650cc single sold in this country. While the competing Japanese 650 singles cost considerably less, they do not have ABS, even as an option. If you are determined to have ABS on a 650cc motorcycle, there are alternatives, such as Suzuki’s 2012 V-Strom 650 ABS twin (,299) and the V-Strom 650 ABS Adventure (,799).


The Sertão may not be cheap, but it is a capable dual-purpose motorcycle on which you can adventure tour, commute to work, whisk through the canyons, and play in the dirt. It manages to have good road manners without giving up too much off-road capability, which is always a difficult-to-achieve compromise.