• Stage 1 mods
• Swapping the subframe
• X-tank and X-rack
• Tutoro chain oiler
• Midsummer update
• The Spanish Plain
• 10,000 mile review
Time and need for a new project bike so next on my list is the BMW G 650 Xcountry (that being the correct BMW appellation). I snatched a 2008 model off ebay for £2300 with just 6300 miles and seemingly in great nick. Even with just a month of tax, for that sort of money it’s hard to think what else comes close.
Over the last few months I’ve been watching the discounted prices on the similar and recently discontinued Husqvarna Strada (right; similar to the Terra I rode in Morocco). But at least for the moment the reduced prices never added up to more than about £4500-5000 for a low mileage ex-test bike that still weighs a good 20-25 kilos more than an XCo.
I like to think the X bikes are belatedly becoming recognised as an under-rated travel bike for the simple reason that, compared to the post-Funduro F650s and the current G-GSs which followed after a two-year hiatus in the UK, the X bikes were powerful and light. With bathroom scales I combined the upright wheel weight on my ABS machine (as I did with my GS500R) and came up with 163kg with a full tank, very close to the official wet figure. Deduct the 9 litres (6.5kg) and you get a more broadly comparable 156.5kg dry. The only accessories my bike has are plastic hand guards so let’s call it 155.5kg. Compare that to the following claimed dry weights.
- BMW XChallenge 149.5kg
- Husqvarna TE630 151.5kg
- BMW XCountry ABS 155.5kg (verified)
- Yamaha XT600R 170kg
- TR650 Terra ABS 176kg
- Suzuki GS500R 181.5kg (verified)
- BMW Sertao and G650 GS 182kg
You probably know all this but I’m going to say it anyway. Ready, here goes: the Xs were only sold in the UK from 2007 to 2009 using the same Rotax engine in three models: the XChallenge was pitched as an off-roader 18/21-inch wheels and taller air suspension (below left), the XMoto was a blacktop canyon basher with 17-inch wheels (below right), and in the middle below, the XCountry was a retro/street scrambler with 17/19-inch wheels and normal suspension. For me the XCo was always the best compromise for a dirt-capable travel bike and from the figures below, the best selling model. No dodgy air shocks, a much lower seat (see image below left), a steel rear subframe (or so I thought) and a do-it-all 19-inch front wheel. You know how I feel about 19s.
At a bike show one time I asked the BMW Motorrad marketing bloke why they’d been a flop but he couldn’t pin it down to one thing. Perhaps it was just a ‘perfect shit storm’ of too high asking price (around £7000 back in 2007 when a Tenere went for £4500); spartan equipment levels, lukewarm reviews, not such great looks and whole lot of teething problems. They included clutch covers which led to early wear of the unit, premature battery failures and all sorts of starter solenoid/non-starting/charging issues. The full list is here and it put me off buying a well equipped XCh when I was in the US in 2013. The thought of being stranded out on a southern Nevada track was just too galling. I got a Honda CRF 250L and never looked back. But I did miss the satisfying stomp of a 650.
The 2009 XCos was the only makeover that any of the three models got. They used engines still made from parts manufactured by Rotax in Austria, but the engines and the entire bikes were assembled by Loncin in China. Some of these bikes had hot-starting issues, but $50 replacement exhaust decompressor fixes that. The main difference on these Loncin XCos was the yellow paint job as well as a lower seat with less suspension travel, softer springs and adjustable levers. You can see above how much lower a Mk1 XCo is compared to the two other models. A more useful improvement included a steel rear subframe.
Blink and you’ll miss the fact that the XCountry was the only Xbike that came with pillion footrests and too much wayward pillioning on the original alloy subs common to all three models brought up cracking issues so a steel version was quietly slipped on. As is well known, Touratech sell a replacement steel subframe for all the early Xbikes (separately from the pannier rack, also shown below right). It weighs 4.7kg against the original alloy’s 1.9 – another example of overzealous weight savings on the X range, though of course it depends very much how you load and ride your Xbike. The yellow XCo’s steel subframe bolts onto an earlier alloy model without a hitch.
When BMW finally pulled the X plug prices crashed at what were seen as overpriced turkeys. I see from the papers that came with my bike that after just over a year at the BMW Off Road Centre in Wales, it had any scratched or bent bits replaced and was sold in 2009 by Vines for just £2600. Since then it’s clocked up a thousand miles a year and just got a new clutch fitted. Presumably it was the usual problem of ruined clutch fixed by an updated clutch cover plate with a proper bearing or steel bush to support the actuating mechanism.
Sounds like a nightmare but I’m prepared to take a chance; unusual as for me reliability is a high priority for the sort of riding I do. My plan is to use the bike to support my Morocco tours later this year and then take it on a longer desert trip of its own.
XCo, first impressions
I picked up the bike in flood-struck Somerset and rode down to flood-struck Cornwall which has been the source of some phenomenal pictures over the last week. I then rode it back to London, all up about 600 miles. Rain gear report here.
Out of the guy’s house it felt a bit odd, not much up front, but everything worked as it should and by the time I’d sat in the pouring rain and headwinds for a couple of hours I was warming to the bike despite being a little underdressed myself. The Metz Tourances were rock solid in the wet, and the unscreened bike sat easily at 70mph while returning about the same mpg (average over 600 miles was 72.7mpg or 25.7kpl or 60.6US or 3.88L/100km).
Mirrors were good, so surprisingly was the stepped seat with the hump far enough back. Hand and foot positions suit me too, though the levers felt a bit far away, dash info is basic with a huge speedo read-out. I have yet to meddle with the setting buttons.
Front light seems a bit lame, the gear lever doesn’t click n’ snick like my mate’s 45,000-mile old Transalp (below right), though there’s notably no driveline lash on the BMW, and that is an annoying Jap characteristic in my experience. I can’t fault the glitch-free fuelling and engine sounds reassuringly whirry rather than rattley; quieter than my 1000-mile old Tenere. Looks wise, the XCo is a bit ungainly; along with the massive cat the front end looks odd though may well be remedied or subdued with blackened fork uppers (right). Apart from black rims – good to see on the XCo – the quickest way to improve the looks of a bike like this is to lever on some knobbly rubber! Suspension is pretty firm, especially round town, though I’ve not meddled with that yet either. They say a Hyperpro spring can help out back.
The machine looks like it has a better than average build quality, something I can’t say for last year’s CRF-L or of course the Suzuki before it. Biggest nag is the 9.5 litre fuel tank which at the above fuel consumption is good for just 150 miles (244km) though I’ve yet to calibrate the BMW’s speedo and odo against a GPS. Something will have to be done about fuel range. The 6.5-litre Xtank (left – XL version) looks neat in that it uses what little dead space the X has and could be integrated into a rack, but costing nearly £70 a litre it’s more of an RTW investment. I’m mulling over various other ideas to improve the X’s fuel range.
Less weight: it’s as simple as that
Best thing by far is the power and the weight. They say it makes 53hp which is 3.05 when divided by the 162kg weight. The very similar Husky Terra (186kg/58hp) which I tried a year ago and also enjoyed running in Morocco is 3.2 – less good by a factor of 0.15. Write that down!
The Terra felt more cammy and crisp, though that could partially be down to the noisier pipe. In Morocco the Terra’s fuel consumption over 1000 miles was 67.9 mpg. So the significantly lighter and slightly less powerful BMW is more efficient and may well match a Terra on performance if not noise. One thing’s for sure; it’s nice to have that surge of power after running the otherwise excellent CRF-L up on the high plains.
And like I say, compare that power and weight to the current G650GS/Sertao, both claiming 48hp at 192kg which equals a staggering 4 – you read it right: FOUR or about 30% less good/more bad than an XCo. Mark my words, soon they’ll all be analysing bikes like this.
Looking more closely at my mud-splattered bike to fix a front wheel puncture, you can see where they made efforts to save weight. The front wheel nut is barely half a centimetre thick, the spindle wall is thin and doubtless other stuff like the front mudguard and fuel tank were all pared down to lighten the scales.
There’s not even anything to attach a hook or loop to on the back and I saw a picture of a broken swingarm on advrider which makes you wonder. You occasionally hear about failed alloy sub-frames too, but that won’t be unique to this or any travel bike. See this thread and how the XCh was loaded on page 2; you’ll probably agree with the comments which follow.
As for handling and roadholding, the bike inspires more confidence than I can currently deliver. Much of this is down to that 19-inch front and Tourance road tyres and ABS brakes which I’m still not sure are working but read somewhere that they are ‘unobtrusive’. All in all I’m pleased to be more impressed with the XCo than I expected to be. Just as long as the electrical gremlins keep away I hope to stay that way.
WTF is happening to this Country?
It’s going to be a shame to plaster over that 163kg but the thing needs the usual functional junk to become a travel bike. Even with its XCh bias, this adv thread (right) will be useful while this one is all XCo and is over 500 pages long. One night soon when there’s nothing on telly I might wade through it.
The fuel range was mentioned above – I like frontal and low tanks; time will tell. Meanwhile a mate has sold me a full metal bash plate off his XCh. I’m waiting for new clamps from the US for the fat bars to re-use my q/d Spitfire windscreen from my CRF-L. A brief stand on the pegs found the bars were not too much of a stoop (and the legs/knees slotted in better than a Sertao) but some bar risers may help.
Front guard needs an extender if not replacing with a full length item; crap was thrown all over the bike from both ends. And some sort of rear rack is needed as well as engine bars on which I’d like to mount extra fuel cans. I see now my hand guards are only plastic but my CRF’s Barkers are going spare. I also have an LED light which will hopefully spare the 280W charging system once I disable the headlight for day riding. Plus the Trail Tech Computer to fill up the data gaps on the dash. And as ever, a plate needs welding on the side stand for soft terrain support. That lot shouldn’t add up to more than 8 kilos. Would be nice to save that on an alternative silencer but scanning this lengthy adv thread, X-Man Walter C finally nails it: noise ≠ power. The best you will do is lose 3.4kg off the 5.6kg stocker with an SR Racing stainless pipe for a cool €600. This late 2013 thread shows all the optional pipes as well as cat removing instructions.
First though, I ought to run my X for a while to make sure it doesn’t spit back in my face.
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