Photography by Kevin Wing
BMW has a word game for you. Where you might think Dakar, now say Sertao, referring to the vast badlands of northeastern Brazil. Why? Because the 2012 G650GS Sertao is nothing less than a reactivation of the popular F650GS Dakar. Turns out that BMW’s desire to take its entry-level machines upmarket—confusingly calling the starter version of its new 798cc parallel-Twin the F650—caused U.S. dealers to complain about the loss of a steady-selling, under-$10k model. Munich responded, restarting the Singles for 2010 with the renamed G650GS and now adding the Sertao.
Following the Dakar template, BMW gave the Sertao longer-travel suspension and a 21-inch front wheel for improved off-road abilities. The Showa cartridge fork strokes 8.3 inches, as does the rear axle, controlled by a single Sachs shock with remotely adjustable spring preload. The front and rear travel for the basic G650GS is 6.7 in. and 6.5 in., respectively. Two-channel ABS is standard. Minor styling changes separate the Sertao from the Dakar, including plastic flank scoops like those on the R1200GS and a redesigned instrument cluster.
We were introduced to the Sertao at RawHyde Adventures, a BMW-sponsored off-road riding school. Rain just days before the event made the ranch and surrounding trails muddy in places, yet BMW staff elected to keep the Sertao testbikes on their standard Metzeler Tourance EXP tires. The gathered journalists gave each other the “this should be interesting” glance.
We needn’t have worried. The Sertao proved sure-footed on the tight training courses at the RawHyde ranch as well as on the trails around Castaic Lake in Southern California. It feels lighter than the claimed 426-pound curb weight—just 6 lb. less than the Kawasaki KLR650—would suggest. A compact riding position allows you to move about the cabin to maintain balance. On the fire roads and water crossings that made up most of the ride, the Sertao flattered the abilities of those of us who don’t get off the pavement as much as we should.
A relatively lightweight Single makes a great backroad weapon, the tighter and less well-maintained that road the better. On occasionally snow-fouled secondary roads, the Sertao was indeed a sharp tool. Basically unchanged from its last appearance, the 654cc, dohc, liquid-cooled, fuel-injected engine has good power from 4000 rpm to the 7000-rpm redline. As you’ll spend much time in the upper half, it’s good BMW fitted a red shift light to augment the fussy bar-graph tachometer.
BMW claims 50 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 44 foot-pounds of torque at 5000 rpm. A counterbalancer keeps vibration at a distance. In fact, the Sertao is smoother at 80 mph in fifth gear than at 65, and is amazingly highway-competent for a dual-sport in this weight class, more serene than a KLR by a long shot. A gap between first and second gears big enough to lose a K1600’s engine block comes as our only powertrain complaint.
The $8650 Sertao seems expensive if you’re cross-shopping KLR650s and the like. But BMW dealers don’t see it that way, and should welcome back the Dakar… er, Sertao with open arms.