First Ride: 2009 BMW G450X

Riding BMW’s all-new G450X.

2009 BMW G450X - First Ride

2009 BMW G450X - First Ride

Surprise! BMW's dirtbike is here. Who would have thought five years ago that BMW would be building a full-on, race-ready 450cc enduro? Not us. The reason behind this madness? BMW wants to diversify, to hit a new performance-driven market segment, to basically captivate and snap up a younger clientele. The Germans have produced, and the 450X is set for a fall release in the U.S.

BMW has never been a company to follow traditional concepts. At least not the traditional concepts of others! So even though this new 450cc machine is a dramatic departure from the company's more usual touring fare, the engineers also didn't play it safe by simply copying current dirtbike designs.

In fact, one look at the G450X shows you how unconventional it is. On the outside, the frame is a bridge-type unit constructed of stainless-steel tubing and sideplates. Note how the tubes go around the sides of the engine and also how far forward the swingarm pivot is located. While this makes for a long aluminum swingarm that fits into a fairly standard 58.1-inch wheelbase, the real trick here is the concentric mounting of its pivot with the countershaft sprocket. In addition to the extra length, this also allows chain tension to remain constant throughout the suspension's stroke. Axle adjustment is quite large, which allows a wide range of gearing possibilities while retaining the stock chain length. A downside of the concentric pivot/countershaft is that changing the front sprocket requires removal of the swingarm. BMW says an "experienced mechanic" can do the job in about 15 minutes.

Less obvious departures from the current norm are found inside the BMW-developed, counterbalanced, electric-start 449cc Single. To allow the swingarm pivot to mount so far into the transmission's normal area of width, the clutch was moved to the end of the crankshaft. Also, the crankshaft spins backwards, operating an intermediate geared shaft (with an integrated timed breather) that transfers power to the input gear of the wide-ratio five-speed transmission. The four-valve cylinder head incorporates finger followers for the intake cam and direct shim-under-bucket actuation for the exhaust valves, a la the four-cylinder K1200S

The frame design and compact engine allow the cylinder to be tilted forward 30 degrees, creating a larger area above the powerplant for the airbox and dual-throttle-valve fuel-injection—an enduro first—as well as giving the intake tract a straighter shot down into the combustion chamber. The injection is a closed-loop system and uses an oxygen sensor and three-way catalytic converter to allow the 450X to pass Euro III on-road emissions standards. The airbox displaced the fuel tank, so the 2.1 gallons of fuel is carried under the saddle, with a filler recessed into the rear section of the seat.

The very nature of the bike and its different technical path make it pretty evident that even though off-road specialist Husqvarna is now owned by BMW, the Germans pretty much did the whole job of development of the G450X. And they intend to keep the brands quite separate, with Huskys still developed in Italy, and BMW doing its thing in Germany, although technology will be shared.

Journalists' first ride on the bike was just outside of Malaga, Spain, where BMW set up a few hardcore off-road courses. Conditions were similar to what is found in Southern California, and the terrain was anything but smooth. Lots of rocks, rain grooves and bumps were accented by changing types of dirt. Props to BMW for letting us loose in tough, real-world conditions, perfect for putting the new Beemer through the wringer

The demanding terrain meant this new BMW would really have to work to make a good impression. Evidence? I was changing suspension settings for the better part of the day to get the 450X into its handling sweet spot.

First things first: The G450X does not ride the same as a traditional enduro. The feel is similar, yes, but the bike takes some getting used to. For example, fitting the fuel tank under the seat both elevates the rear end and makes the back of the bike feel a little large. In contrast, the center of the bike toward the front of the seat is very natural-feeling and narrow. The radiator shrouds are comfortable, with no weird projections that would snag or rub my legs.

While its claimed dry weight is 245 pounds, a few pounds under that of the street-legal competition, the X feels about average in steering response and flickability.

Normal body input yields expected chassis movement and response. The bike handled best when ridden standing up, as if I was attacking obstacles in a trials-like position. The linkageless Öhlins shock (offering 12.6 inches of travel) has to be set precisely at the maximum recommended spring preload (35mm of free sag), otherwise the rear of the bike doesn't track well out of turns. But with the shock set stiff enough to work properly, the rear end sits up too high, furthering the "stinkbug" feel brought on by the underseat fuel tank. This makes overall chassis attitude more tipped-forward feeling than the Japanese enduro competition. I felt perched up and leaned forward on the BMW, whereas I feel more laid back and "in" a Japanese enduro.

In contrast to the shock, the 45mm inverted Marzocchi fork is set on the soft side and responds this way through its 11.8-inch travel. It also is unpredictable in its response and has a deflection issue. When I brought this up with the engineers on hand, they said this was not the final spec and that production bikes will have a better setting. Perhaps they can try the Öhlins fork used by the race team...

With the chassis set to work at its best, the rear feels as though it "pushes" the front through turns. I found this difficult because I like to steer on the throttle using the back of the bike (sliding the rear tire around), but the Beemer didn't like to work this way.

At this point, the overall balance of the bike is not yet at top level, at least not for aggressive racing-type riding. We reserve judgment until we get a "final" spec bike for testing stateside. For more casual riders out to play, the 450X's overall handling is good and the bike is fun to ride. It is part dual-sport, after all.

"Dual" also describes the X's engine tuning, which utilizes two different fuel/ignition maps. The first map, which allows the bike to meet Euro III emissions, utilizes the stock silencer with catalytic converter and an unplugged ECU wire (more about that in a minute), producing a claimed 40.8 horsepower. In this form, engine response is a little flat, but the available power and engine character feel similar to that of KTM's 450EXC street-legal enduro racebike.

About that ECU wire: A small plug connects a circuit that alters fuel and ignition mapping to boost output by 10.9 horsepower. This really brings the motor to life, but only on a closed course, of course. Power then is very good on the top end, making the X about as fast as an Open-class enduro. Bottom-end power is also strong and can even be a little too aggressive for loose terrain.

BMW techs also installed an Akrapovic silencer, which made the 450X run more like a motocross bike. Barky!

After my ride in Spain, I have a good idea of how the G450X will perform when it hits American dirt. But several questions remain, and the first is price. With the dwindling value of the dollar, that figure won't likely be set until close to the bike's expected fall release. Also, BMW says the X initially will only be 49-state street-legal, leaving Californians out in the cold, at least until the planned certification is achieved.

In the end, this is a solid ride that uses non-traditional methods to get the "dirty" job done, and it performs on a level that is competitive with traditional platforms. In its current state, though, it doesn't work any better than the conventional offerings, so the G450X's defining factor is its uniqueness, a trait that will make people stare, question and converse. But make no mistake, the BMW dirtbike has arrived!

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

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2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X

2009 BMW G450X