Tag Archives: BMW X-country

BMW G650 XCountry ~ 10,000 mile report

XCountry Index of Posts
Introduction
• Stage 1 mods
• Swapping the subframe
• X-tank and X-rack
• Suspension
• Tutoro chain  oiler
• Midsummer update
• The Spanish Plain
• Mitas E07 tyres

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The BMW 650X range came and went between 2007-08. They were light and powerful but early reliability issues as well as a high price saw the models sell poorly and then get dropped. After a pause which saw the 800cc parallel twins make their mark, within a couple of years the lardy Sertao and later G650G reset things back to the pre X-bike F650s in terms of weight and performance. Some people think that was a shame.

bmw-650x-series

The bikes from Planet X were a one hit wonder and you get the feeling that the X range – helped in no small way by Walter Colebatch’s extensive Siberian travels and associated development of his XChallenge – might be turning into a cult travel bike, not least due to their limited availability. There’s more on the history of X on the XCo intro index page.

My plans for my XCountry were to run it on a couple of Moroccan tours and maybe take the bike deeper into Mauritania. The later part didn’t pan out this year, but over ten months I racked up 10,000 miles, including 4000 to Morocco and back. I sold it at 16,000 miles.

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Photo: David W

My XCo set up
Soon after buying it I adapted my X bike as follows (see intro index page for more details on fitting these accessories).

  • xco-bishbashUsed Touratech bash plate (right)
  • Used Barkbuster Storms
  • Used Spitfire screen (right)
  • Full width KTM wheel nuts (right)
  • Throttle handrest
  • Used Yamaha steel shifterxco-shield
  • Assembled a used tool kit from ebay
  • Added a 12v accessory plug on the bars and a DIN plug under the seat for the air pump (Later discovered OE accessory plug near the shock top)
  • Replaced alloy subframe with steel unit off a MkII XCoxco-nuts
  • Hyperpro 3D shock and progressive HP fork springs and oil change
  • Hot Rod Welding Xrack and Xtank
  • Hot Rod brake/sidestand protectors (right)
  • Adv Spec Magadan II Bagsxco-protek
  • Booster plug (fuel mixture improver)
  • Used RAM mounts on the bars
  • Mitas E-07 tyres
  • Tuturo chain luber
  • Wunderlich fender extension
  • Used Touratech sidestand foot
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All those items I’d fit again without hesitation except maybe the TT side stand plate which fell off in Morocco as I was warned it might. I spotted a better, vibration-proof solution (right) while at Hyperpro. Not totally won over by the Booster plug, but if it runs cooler (richer) and hardly affects mpg then probably worth it.

Comfort
When I first sat on the bike I was surprised how small and short it felt and wondered if this might affect comfort. I dare say I may look big on it if I saw myself reflected in a shop window, but at 6′ 1′ and ~92 kilos the XCo proved to be much more comfortable than it looked. By the time I sold it, 700-km days in winter didn’t mean flopping onto a hotel bed exhausted.

Soon after buying it I refitted the small and cheap Spitfire screen from my CRF. There are doubtless better and flashier windshields, but the Spitfire did a brilliant job in keeping most of the wind blast and rain off me. It did this without introducing any handling anomalies at high speeds or in strong winds, nor feeling like it was in the way when riding technical dirt. Fitted on just a pair of stalks clamped to the bars, it didn’t ever budge in all that time. I may well fit it to my next bike.
Following a trip to Scotland, at round 8- or 9000 miles it felt like the foam in the seat had collapsed a little and the pad was less springy. However, that didn’t have any effect on long-day back-end comfort which suggests the shape and profile of the seat works as well as the foam in it. I came off a 750-km day in Spain with no soreness in the limbs or my butt, even if getting off to refuel every 2–3 hours revives the circulation. I also suspect leather trousers – or perhaps any fabric that doesn’t slip on the seat vinyl – extends posterior endurance. This whole experience was the opposite of the crippling seat pf the F650 twin I ran on a similar trip a couple of years ago.
Vibration at cruising speeds was never intrusive, though as with all big singles I’ve had, air-cooled or otherwise, some days at some speeds or engine or ambient temperature or load or fuel quality it feels harsh. I’ve never got to the bottom of it, but as it’s common to big singles it must just be the way they are. My main theory is fuel octane and overall engine temperature.
I bought some Wunderlich bar risers but never got round to fitting them. I had a feeling the added leverage on the rubbery bar mounts might not do them any good. On the dirt in Morocco I was a little stooped when standing up, but not enough to be uncomfortable. Had I also fitted the Hot Rod footrest lowering brackets I would have had a very comfortable standing stance, though I can’t say my legs felt cramped during regular seated riding. Part of the reason was I suspected that lowering the gear lever and brake lever may have been a faff and made them more exposed to damage on the dirt. As it is, on the dirt I tend to sit when I can and stand when I must. The Hyperpro suspension went a long way towards enabling such lazy riding.
The OE cast-alloy gear change lever is light but too strong and is said to transmit shocks to the gear shaft rather than bend. I fitted a folding-tipped steel gear change lever from some Yamaha or other. Although it was identical to the OE unit, it never felt in a natural position for easy gear changes, though the long throw of the clunky gear change doesn’t help.
Although they’ve been around for years I’ve never used a throttle hand rest (or whatever they’re called) but this XCo really benefited from one. The throttle spring must unusually hard. Other’s who rode the bike also commented on the handy hard rest which can be spun out of the way in a jiffy when off-road.

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Fuel economy and Booster Plug
Like my Tenere which I ran over similar mileage and use, the fuel consumption on the XCo varied for not always obvious reasons. Twenty four fill ups before the Booster Plug saw an average of 70.5mpg. Worst was 53mpg (18.8 kpl) – the only reading below 60mpg so may have been a miscalculation. The best was 79mpg (27.5 kpl) with a few others in the high 70s, so probably not an error.

boosterai

With the Booster Plug (~£100, right) I expected slightly worst readings: the average was 67.2 with a low of 56.5 in mid-Spain cruising at up to 70mph (on under inflated tyres, it turned out) and 80.5mpg over the Tizi n Tichka pass in Morocco (the same place my Tenere recorded a similarly high mpg one night). Reading the ambient temperature below the headlight and not in the air box, they say the Booster increases (richness) fuelling on acceleration but levels off back to normal settings at cruising speeds. If Morocco could be said to be less cruising and more accelerating on and off the piste, the lower average is less bad than it looks.

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To double-check and to see if I could feel any difference, I unplugged the Booster on the way back. Within a couple of miles tooling round a small Spanish hill town looking an ATM, I’d stalled a couple of times at low speeds; never did that with the Plug. And later, pulling off the motorway to do something, the fan soon came on. The bike was running a little hotter as expected, but two fill ups saw an all time low of 56.5 and 54mpg for no good reason. Can’t think why that was unless the ECU mapping had adjusted to the Booster settings and was over compensating. Apart from the stalling and possibly mpg, I can’t say I detected any genuine difference with the Plug while riding the bike. I replugged the Plug in north Spain. Next mpg was 61.5 – less abnormal.

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As is well-known the X bikes come with a 9L tank giving a range of 150 miles/250km -too small to be useful. The 6.7-L Xtank increased this to a comfortable 370 clicks/230 miles at average mpg.
After fitting the Xtank, a couple of times I got outlandishly high readings of over 100mpg when filling only the Xtank which I assumed emptied before the BMW tank. On the second occasion I realised that with both tanks full, the bike probably initially draws some fuel from both tanks, but definitely drains the Xtank first.

BMW Xcountry fuel data

So overall the X bike’s average fuel consumption was identical to the F650 twin at 68.3 mpg, and about 5% less than the XT660Z Tenere while being a lighter, lower and more powerful machine (Had I meddled with a similar Booster on the XT it too may have used more fuel.) Click Esso for Xcountry fuel data pdf.

Oil and water consumption; drive chain
I changed the oil to fully synthetic at around 10,000 miles and used about 1.5 litres on the 5000-mile Moroccan run – more than a Tenere, iirc. I was told the bike might consume more oil using fully synthetic. But the bike also felt like it ran better by this mileage, though that may have been the more open, day-long steady riding doing the engine some good. It sure would have been handy if they’d designed the dip stick to be more accessible without removing the seat. And I never really got the whole oil level business: run it till the fan turns on, then walk round the bike three times, turn off and wait two minutes. I’m sure previous dry sump bikes weren’t so fussy (actually they were). Good thing is it’s an oil tank and so has more leeway for running low than a wet sump engine.

One hot summer’s day in London I noticed the coolant level down an inch – it may have been that way for ages. Again, it’s hard to tell the level without carefully peering in the slot. Once I topped it up it never went down again. I’d heard of X bikes suffering mysterious episodes of coolant drop with no actual leaks. The bike will get hot and the fan come on in town or on slow tracks with a backwind, but the fuelling never went off in such conditions, as it did with the F650GS twin in Morocco.

With help from the Tutoro oiler from about 7000 miles, I only adjusted the chain twice in all the time I had the bike and when I sold it at 16k, there was still had plenty in it. Was it these bikes that had chain problems when they came out? Whatever’s on there now is as good as anything.

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Performance
The XCo was one of the most powerful 650s around. I imagine a KTM 690 has more poke (but closer gearing?) and the Husky TR650 I rode last gear has five extra hp and certainly sounded more sporty but carried proportionally more weight. There are times on technical dirt when the X power feels too much with the hot engine and pokey response, but of course there are as many other occasions when you blast past a vehicle with assurance. This extra power didn’t seem to affect the fuel consumption or chain and tyre wear, but does make the engine harsher and lumpier than say a Tenere or a docile Sertao/G650G. The fastest I ever went was a true 85mph, briefly. The Xco was happy to sit at a true 65-70mph (75 indicated).

The brakes feel pretty ordinary but there was only a small single disc up front. The front pads were going by the time I sold the bike so lasted at least the 10,000 miles I had the bike, maybe more. The back wore very quickly – at 9000 miles they were gone and I didn’t notice till I damaged the disc. A used rotor off ebay.de was £30. ABS works fine. I never had to rely on it on the road and on the dirt it could be forced to actuate, but in a useful way. I don’t see the need to turn off ABS for the sort of dirt riding I do.

Suspension
On the road, initially the OE suspension felt pretty good and firm compared to Jap bikes and considered it had been a BMW Off Road School bike. Best thing was the easy-to-use knob on the Sachs shock though on the front the UPD forks are unadjustable.
But what works OK riding UK roads may come up short loaded on the piste. After just a couple of thousand miles the rear Sachs gave out no matter how high I cranked the knob. Various options existed to re-spring the back end including rebuilding the Sachs unit for about £120 while maybe adding a firmer or progressive spring. That’s probably the route I’d have taken but for an intro from Walter Colebatch to Hyperpro suspension in the Netherlands. I rode over and got the full custom set up from Bas at the HP workshop. The full story is here but there are more or less three levels of shock: a progressive spring replacement; an emulsion shock and spring; and the full-on gas-charged, remote reservoir, preload, compression and rebound adjustable version.

P1150379

That was what Bas did for me, along with a fork oil and progressive fork spring replacement, chrome slider polish and neoprene gaiters plus a new headset which had gone in an incredible 7000 miles?!
It was only months later when I experienced the real benefits of the custom Hyperpro set up while battling with five other bikes over an abandoned old track up the Jebel Timouka in southern Morocco. The difference is control: correctly tuned suspension responding predictably to riding over football-sized rock cubes without bottoming out. Although the Desert Riders Honda XRL was notably better sprung than the XTs I’d used up till then, I’ve never had the luxury of a properly suspended machine. And certainly on the dirt I can now see the value.

hebs8

I bought a chunky and adjustable 48mm DRZ400 fork (right) but never got round to fitting it so assumed the reworked OE UPDs would be ill-matched with the full-on 461 back shocker. But over the Jebel and on other tracks the fork responded predictably and the whole bike felt well-balanced. At the bottom of this must be the progressive springing front and rear and the shock’s adjustable damping. Progressive is nothing unique to Hyperpro but it works in using the near-full range of movement without bottoming out. That and the hydraulic preload adjuster knob similar to the OE Sachs made the shock very useful. The settings for compression and rebound damping on the remote reservoir I didn’t touch. The Hyperpro set up transformed the XCo on the piste and I’ll get one or something similar for the next bike.

Road riding
With its do-it-all 19” front wheel, the bike swings predictably through bends compared to the more dirtsome 21″. After a few months the front end developed a heavy feel which I put down to the weight of the gear (rack, screen, plate, etc) I’d fitted. Turns out it was just the tyres and on replacing the worn Tourances which came with the bike with more dirt-ready Mitas E-07s the bike was entirely transformed in the bends – maybe even  better than when I bought it. I won’t be in a rush to buy Tourances – not the sort of tyre I use anyway – though by this time I had the Hyperpro set up which probably didn’t do any harm to the handling.
The XCo was notably better – lower C of G – than the XT660Z on the road, though not as low and long and stable as the F650GS twin. And the XCountry was a lot less scary than the Tenere in gale force crosswinds too.
In town the worst thing about this bike is the clunky gear change, especially from neutral into first. Add to that the length of the throw needed. Trying out an XR250 Tornado in Morocco was snick-snick-snick and this unobtrusiveness to something you may be doing every few seconds makes a real difference to riding enjoyment.

Off road riding

Photo Chris W
Photo Chris W

Off roading in Morocco mostly involves rocky or gravel tracks, and while not TKCs, the Mitas E-07s did the job without any drama at full road pressures. Add to that the top-notch suspension and the XCo – loaded with maybe 15-20kg – never got out of shape on the dirt. I never came close to falling off and rode some gnarly shite on occasions.
Like all trail bikes, the gearing is too high and especially on the 650X, too widely spaced for technical off-roading. You just can’t go slowly enough at tickover in first gear which at times was too fast to negotiate some hairpins or rubble sections. The clutch worked hard on Jebel Timouka but with frequent rests for bike and rider, it never complained. I can’t say I missed a 21-inch front wheel on the dirt – that only comes in to play if the bike is usefully light and agile. I’m 6′ 1″ and the XCo was easily low enough to get my feet on the ground when necessary. I didn’t have a single hit to the bashplate. Again, I put that down to the progressive springs.

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Even at £450 I didn’t hesitate in replacing the OE alloy subframe with the steel version from the Mk2 XCo (right). having said that  it’s unlikely my Morocco trip would have stressed the alloy item. As on my Tenere, this is one part of a travel bike where I don’t resent the extra weight.
On the side the Hot Rod Welding Xrack gave the Magadans something to lash to and I especially like the wide ‘sheep rack’ design at the back (Walter C’s idea – right). I know it’s not the latest in adv bling, but a wide back rack made of good old-fashioned tubular steel is much more useful than the mini CNC plates you get these days, especially when it comes to manhandling the bike or even just tying things on. CNC is just flash and quick/cheap to cut. On my next bike I hope to adapt a Hod Rod sheep rack.

xco-speedo

Equipment
The dashboard is about as basic as they get – just the speed reading (can be changed to kph with a bit of a faff disconnecting the battery) and a trip or odometre plus an array of colourful warning lights. I would have liked an oil or water temp gauge but didn’t go as far as fitting my Trail Tech gadget. A fuel light comes on with about 2 litres or 40km left in the main tank.
The speedo was typically 8% over compared to a GPS read-out, but the odometer (used for mpg calcs) was spot on over 100 true ground kilometres. No tools came with the bike and even if they had, they’re probably not enough to be useful, as is the trend these days.

Durability and problems
With BMW’s reputation of late, initially I didn’t feel so confident in this bike. Using it as a tour support vehicle you can’t take chances. One time in Wales the ignition didn’t come on with the key, but switching on and off again fixed that and it never happened again. When did that last happen with a Jap bike? The coolant level drop proved to be a one-off anomaly and in fact the XCo took its month and 4000 miles in Morocco in its stride.
I sold that bike feeling a lot more confident about it than when I bought it. A better gear change and smoother running would have made it much easier to live with, but the answer to that may be just round the corner.

xco-cw-draa
“You go first.” “No, no, after you, I insist.” Photo: Chris W

Mitas E-07 tyres on BMW G650 Xco

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With so many good tyres around these days, for each trip I try to use something different. For me that’s usually a trail tyre for the getting there and being there (Morocco in November). So far, in terms of all-surface grip and longevity, it’s hard to beat the Heidenau K60s I used a couple of years ago. Someone told me recently that Heidenau is the modern iteration of the notorious Pneumant East German brand from the 1970 and 80s. Many a prematurely grey MZ rider will know what I’m talking about.

This time round I’m trying the similar, Czech-made Mitas E-07. Front and rear delivered to the middle of nowhere for under £100 a pair. That will do nicely. In the Mitas  range you could say it’s the trail bike tyre out of the four pictured above left. I did consider the 09, but it’s a long winter’s ride to Morocco and once there, on dry rock pretty much any tyre will do. Knobs only help on the occasional loose surface like sand. I’d like to try an 09 one time to compare with the much admired but fast wearing TKC80.

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Getting the old Tourances off proved the usual struggle. The Mrs had to drive repeatedly over the tyre to break the bead that it had me convinced there was some annoying, tubeless-style safety lip in there. Far from it, so you do wonder how you’d manage alone out in the desert. It’s why I prefer tubeless with Slime. The less need for lever swinging the better.

mitas-lever

But when there’s no choice I’ve found tyre mounting is greatly eased with a pair of 350-mm Italian Buzzetti Pro tyre levers. I’ve had my pair for years, as well as a little BMW number which is so old it says ‘Made in W. Germany’. Quality steel means both can be as narrow and thin as possible to help tuck under the bead without bending. In the UK this place in Buxton sells then for about £11 each.
The other thing I discovered recently is using Aerospace 303 as lube. It’s actually a UV vinyl/rubber protectorant I use on my kayaks, but lubes up nicely. Anything will do of course, but once dried 303 gives a teflon-like slipperiness, rather than an oily or soapy film. Next time I’ll pre-spray the beads and the rim and let them dry – less wasteful that way. The blue things in the picture are home-made rim savers (bits of thick split garden hose), though they work best when removing a tyre. Going the other way, there’s a risk of them being pulled into the tyre. That will not do nicely.

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Despite all this superb equipment, a task that requires some application can produce a hasty ‘right, let me at ’em’ attitude – or perhaps that’s just me. So much so that I fitted the front against the recommended rotational arrow. It’s not that critical unless I start pulling stopies for a living, though the tread pattern may wear better (i.e.: cup less) in the correct direction. And on the back I failed to give the tube a few psi to give it some shape so as to clear the levers – with predictable results. Oh well, all good practice which I clearly need. AdvSpec were doing Conti tubes for under £11 a shot.
It does remind me that familiarising yourself with the whole wheel-removal/tyre changing/wheel refitting business back home can save a lot of stress on the road. When you’ve done it once in the back garden (however much of a mess you made of it), you know you can do it again and are familiar with any required knacks or order-specific procedures unique to your bike.

mitas5

Even with the 303 all over the front, it took a lot of pressurising/deflating/lubing/a run round the block and more repressurising up to 75psi to get it to sit fully. With that done it was time to do the 50-mile round trip to the shops as the larder was looking as bare as my old Metzelers.

Most of that run is a bendy single track road between mountain and loch (left) with plenty of hard breaking into pull-outs to dodge oncoming traffic. With the new E07s the XCountry was transformed, reminding me how it ran when I picked it up less than nine months and a surprising 4000 miles ago. Where have I been? Since that time the bike has acquired a lardiness which I put down to the 10-15kg of extras I’ve fitted. Including a steel subframe it adds up to 10% extra weight. The front end especially felt heavy, even after a Hyperpro make-over.

Seems it was only the worn down Tourance after all. Now that both tyres have round profiles, the 650 swung along that narrow road as if on rails. Cornering confidence was much improved and there was none of the new-tyre edginess that the ‘Catspaw’ K60 initially demonstrated on the BMW twin. Far from it; it just encourages you to push on towards the new limits. I did feel a bit of headshake at 70, but that could have been the strong crosswinds, the surface, the screen or just the fresh tread.

mitass6

I imagine the chevron-bar ‘tractor’ pattern will work well enough on gravel, letting the tyres roll off small stones which will fall between the tread’s bars. In mud I’m not expecting miracles unless I drop pressures substantially. The depth of the centre tread – about 6mm front and back – seems less than the K60s. We’ll see how it performs on the road to Morocco where, as long as it was dry and you rode accordingly, last year’s Husky TR650 managed pretty well on the Dunlop Trailmax tyres. I expect the Mitas to be a bit more sure-footed on the pistes.

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Three months later
Back from Morocco, Xco sold and as expected, I’m a convert to the Mitas E-07s. Sure-footed on the road, rain or dry, and for the way I ride, fine enough on the piste at road pressure. No weird edginess when running in, rarely made any road noise that I could hear and about half worn at 5000 miles (pix left and right) after a lot of fast road and a few rough stony tracks.

mitaspiste

BMW X Country – Introduction

XCountry Index of Posts
• Stage 1 mods
• Swapping the subframe
• X-tank and X-rack
• Suspension
• Tutoro chain  oiler
• Midsummer update
• The Spanish Plain
• Mitas E07 tyres
• 10,000 mile review 

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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.

stradaOver 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
xbikeadvertYou 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.

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xcospexAt 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 they  and the entire bikes LoncinG650XCowere 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. bmw-650x-seat-heightsYou can see on the left 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 steelsub 46 51 7 716 439weighs 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 sub frame 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
P1140810I 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 (see top of the page). 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).

P1140817

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-mileblackcountry 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.

P1140844The 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 xcoxtankXtank (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. Walter Colebatch writes more on the importance of light bikes here, or should that be questioning why adventure bikes so heavy?

P1140824Looking 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?
advxchIt’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.

P1140805

Husqvarna TR650 Terra – quick spin

November 2013: 1000 miles on a TR650 Terra in Morocco
Jan 2015 – It seems these Huskys may be being reborn by Shineray under the old SWM brand.

As long as it’s smooth, a big single comes close to the optimal configuration for a do-it-all travel bike, especially if you intend to  ride dirt roads occasionally. You’ve enough power to pull a load, the economy to carry it a long way, and all without too much mass making the rig hard to handle on muddy or sandy tracks. And these days efi has managed to introduce smoothness and hopefully seamless starting too.

huskbroI’ve done Sahara trips riding, or riding with just about every big four-stroke single going, so when I read of Husqvarna’s new TR650 Terra and Strada I was curious to see if I might like to add one to that list. There are no press bikes in the UK for a couple of months so I paid up and took a short test ride from a BMW dealer in central London. FYI, this review adds up to no more than an hour’s ride around west London on a 650 Terra.

I’ve never owned a Husky, but it’s quite likely that in their 1970s heyday they were a better known brand in the US than the UK. I recall in the late 70s and early 80s reading in Dirt Bike magazine about US enduro champion Dick Burleson’s epic annual battles with the Blackwater 100 enduro aboard a two-stroke Husky 390WR (below left). And a few years earlier we had no less than Malcolm Smith, flat tracker Mert Lawill and the ‘Cooler King’ Steve McQ (all flying above left) hooning around in On Any Sunday – a film so good I’m going to slap in a clip right here. In fact his 400 Crosser (right) was up for auction soon after I wrote this.

Globalise it Husqvarna is the name of the former Swedish maker of off-road competition racers who were bought off Italian owners Cagiva (MVA) by BMW in 2007; it’s said to give the German marque a bit of dirt bike credibility. Then in early 2013, in the course of realignment towards urban mobility and nothing less than e-mobility, BMW Motorrad sold the brand to Pierer Industrie AG, a private company owned by Stefan Pierer, the CEO of KTM. As things stand Huskies continue to be made in northern Italy, with the new TRs using the Chinese-assembled 650 engine made by Rotax that appears in BMW’s Sertao and GS650G among others, two models more or less separated by wheel size with the implied trail- or road bike use. It’s a common ploy these days; use one motor/chassis platform to sell two or more options.

The two TRs are in this mold; identical frames and motors with the road-oriented Strada running 19/17 cast wheels and tubeless tyres (left) and the Terra trail bike with 21/18-inch spoked rims. In the UK the Strada gets ABS as standard; on the Terra it’s an option. Most expect the Terra will be the better selling of the two, although I’ve found a 19-inch front wheel rides fine on the sort of unsealed roads you do when overlanding. I believe tubeless tyres are better too. Don’t think you’ll be doing the modern version of the Blackwater 100 on a Terra just because it has a 21-inch front wheel.

Replace ‘X’ with TR? I wondered whether the two Husky TRs were reiterations of the failed X-series of 650-single BMWs from around the time BMW bought Italian-owned Husky in 2007.

That may be the vague idea, but in fact the new TRs bear a closer resemblance to a previous Husqvarna, the 2010 TE630 (right: 160kg wet; up to 57hp claimed; £6200 in 2010). Only now they’ve moved away from the TE’s off-roader attributes towards a trail and road bike using a significantly worked over BMW engine, which may help explain the drop in price.

Using this same base engine, in this respect the Terra would compare with the old X-challenge (left, on the gnarly MH5 piste in Morocco) while the Strada would equate with a 19-inch X-country. In AMH, Walter ‘Sibersky’ Colebatch describes the substantial mods he made to his air-shocked X-challenge to create a hardcore overlander, while I myself might have erred towards a tubeless 19-inch X-country.

I still haven’t got to the bottom of why the X bikes were a flop other than perhaps looks and that buyers didn’t associate BMW with light trail bikes. As far as I know it certainly wasn’t down to a disastrous reliability record out of the crate. I always thought BMW gave up on the Xs too soon – or did so to focus attention on the new 800cc twins which came out around that time (and initially had more teething problems than a chocolate gearbox).

According to the power specs issued on the TRs’ launch in Spain a couple of months ago, the Huskies both claim a notably higher 58hp over the 650GS BMWs’ 48hp, but for many the weight specs were disappointing. At 186kg a Terra with the ABS option is said to weigh just 6 kilos less than the portly Sertao (right) and some 26kg more than the preceding TE. The old BMW X-challenge with its air suspension but no ABS clocked in at just 156kg wet. And yet looking at a Sertao while sat on the Terra in BMW Park Lane’s underground hangar, it’s hard to believe there’s only 6kg or 13lbs in it. The Terra is slinky slim alongside the Sertao – like an old TT600 sat by a Tenere. And it can’t be that the motor is inherently heavy if they managed to get an X-challenge some 30 kilos lighter. This all assumes the factory figures are correct – one day some diligent publication will spend some quality time with a pair of scales. Yes we all know that the weight of something even as large as a GSA1200 magically evaporates once on the move along a nice road, but in the real word of overlanding there will be muddy diversions or gravel track opportunities where that weight (combined with tyre choice) becomes very much apparent. When the going gets tough, weight does matter.

Claimed kerb weights (wet) • TR650 Terra 186kg (with ABS) • BMW Sertao 192kg • Yamaha XT600R 181kg (no ABS) • BMW X-Challenge 156kg (discontinued) • Husqvarna TE630 160kg (discontinued)
The KLR650, and pre-Cambrian DR650 and XR650L continue to be churned out for the US and maybe other markets.

Testing testing
Like I say I’d sooner run a 19-inch front-tyred bike for long distance travels which are mostly roads, but figured more would be interested to read about the Terra. Apart from appearance, only the handling would differ; according to the specs seat height is just half an inch and non adjustable.

Manoeuvring out onto Park Lane, first impressions where of a slim, small bike with what felt like an oddly heavy front end. That and the conspicuous thud from the high-compression engine. High comp motors don’t do so well with low octane fuel out in the world, but up to a point modern computerised ignition and efi systems can cope with it. As for the heavy front, I don’t know if the Sachs UPDs and the rim are cheap items, but at least they’ve not lumbered the TRs with an unnecessary second front disc as on Yamaha’s Tenere. Even at 180 kilos, a bike can surely manage with a single, well calibrated front disc, especially when you have ABS as a back up.

The Terra is as slim as a rake (right) – my knees were about 8 inches apart which gave confidence to split the West End traffic like a pushbike. Even the pipes are slim and tucked in, compared to some cans you get. The Terra’s agile dimensions and snappy engine helps here too in a point-and-squirt sort of way, while popping on the over-run as some efi does. The high-comp blat reminding me of a TT600 from years back.

I pulled over in the park to have a closer look over the TR650. There’s really not much to it; you can see they’ve equipped it down to a price (the rack – more below – is about the sum of it) although the fit and finish were of a high standard compared to some Jap bikers I’ve owned.

The dashboard has the usual array of Christmas lights which chime up on ignition as the rev counter needle does its sweep. The salesman had inadvertently set it up to read kilometres and I couldn’t work out how to reset to mph without RTFM. (The salesman also said one of the menu buttons was a redundant ‘mapping’ button, although the LCD on the right indicated an enigmatic ‘Map II’…). All I could do was scroll the LCD read-out below the speedo between temperature, trip and odometer. A light also comes on when ambient temperature nears freezing, you need a service or the fuel gets low. The ABS can be disengaged in the usual way with a button on the bars (right).  I was also pleased to see non-BMW indicator switchgear: left, right and press to cancel like my aged Suzuki. The radiator (left) is wide and when you fall hard the plastic wing scoops may not protect it.

Where trail bikes or 21-inch-tyred bikes with high mudguards often lose their composure is at higher speeds, so I swung up onto the urban Westway freeway to see how the Terra responded. Back in my despatching days this was always a welcome blast out from the heart of town. Up to around 70 the Terra felt stable, though of course without any protection, sitting like that for a while would have its limits. The step-free MX-style seat plank felt firm, though as we know it takes an hour or two for a saddle’s true measure to shine through too. As in town, out on the flyover’s expansion joints the suspension felt reassuringly firm, but I don’t recall seeing any adjustment other than preload and maybe damping on the back. When needed, the brakes pulled the big single up sharply, though with suspension dive I couldn’t manage to get the front to ABS. Again, as in town at lower speeds the five speed gear change was slick and notch free. And on the short high-speed run along the flyover I can’t say I noticed any vibration from the seat or even the tell-tale mirrors. Despite its high-comp motor, this must be one of the smoothest big singles around which bodes well for long-range comfort. My test bike had 19 miles on the clock.

Further down the A40 I pulled over again for another look over the bike. The lack of  any protection around the engine jumps out at you – though of course a bashplate will be on the options list which includes luggage, a tiny fly screen, hand guards, heated grips and other stuff (see below). With drain plugs (below right), oil lines and exposed brake linkages (left), you’d think a chunky bash plate is one thing they could slap on, out of the crate, if for no other reason than to make the Terra look the part, alongside the Strada.

Oddly, the Terra never starts first dab of the button as you’d assume efi bikes would; it takes a few churns. It stalled on me only once. Unexplained stalling was the bane of the early F650s and could be extremely dangerous when it happened as you pulled out onto a major road. Big singles especially seem prone to efi anomalies – the big swept volume of the single cylinder makes it tricky to get it right first time, though it can be done (on an XT660Z for example, despite ropey fueling on earlier 660 XTs). Trickling through traffic on a near-closed throttle I did detect a very slight unevenness, but nothing as bad as has been said of the previous TE630 – or on my carb’d GS500 for that matter. And though I’ve not read up on it yet, there’s been a lot of talk about hot-starting issues with the new Sertao; you’d hope Husqvarna have worked around that using their own efi and ignition combination.

On the back what feels like an alloy rack doubles as a pillion grip and baggage loop, but it hangs way out behind the fixtures; a weighty box combined with a sudden thud might just snap it. As mentioned, the Terra appears a basic package after looking over the better equipped Sertao back at the shop. Even with its comparatively flabby looks, it did look like you get more of a bike with the Sertao, especially when I was told by the salesman they were about the same price.

In fact the original price difference was huge – at £6700 the Sertao costs some 28% more than a Terra without ABS at £5271. ABS manages to raise that by a rather staggering £700 to £5971 – making the Sertao now 13% pricier. Factor in the Sertao’s screen, fatter seat, thin bash plate and hand guards and you may still be ahead with a Terra if choosing better or better value third party equipment as opposed to what are often lame or over-priced OE accessories (see below).

In the UK, at around £5300 the Husky Terra matches up very well against say, Yamaha’s  XT660R at £6500 (right). There’s no ABS and the weight is similar at a claimed 181kg while making only 47hp on the 10:1 compression ratio (actually better for running on low octane fuel). If you can live without the ABS, the grand-plus saved over the XT or Sertao buys a lot of equipment for a Terra. First though, I’d like to be sure that seat delivers the miles. Cushier looking pads such as on the BMW twin I rode in Morocco proved to be a disaster.

The 14-litre under-seat tank (left, filled up from a conventionally located filler cap) is the same size as on the Sertao and so is difficult or costly to enlarge, but at what you’d expect will be a reliable 23kpl (65 mpg UK) it should be good for over 300km or nearly 200 miles. Another 3 or 4 litres would see it up to my overlanding benchmark of 400km/250 miles.

So at around five grand in the UK or under $7000 in the US they’ve pitched the Terra as a minimally equipped, budget priced, big single trail bike with an exotic Nordic pedigree and the highest power in its class. For overlanding the same-engined Sertao may be better equipped, but that comes at quite a premium, while losing the Terra’s perceived agility.

The British press have been typically lukewarm about the new Huskies, but in the US they seem to get it as a close competitor to their ageing KLRs and DRs. This massive Adv Rider thread has plenty to read, including recent owners’ reports, and there’s more TR chat on this thread at Cafe Husky. Official parts are listed on the right – or click this.

Me, what I’d like to see is a direct competitor to a Tenere, KLR or the old KTM 640 Adventure; a big tanked, out-of-the-crate overlander with an all-day seat and the necessary protection from wind, rocks and falls (a bit like this mock up).

It’s unlikely Husqvarna are going to go that way, but at the currently reasonable price without the ABS, you do have something a bit pokier and different from the usual XTs, BMWs and (in the US) KLRs, XRLs and DRs. Just remember in the UK the Italian-built Tenere was a £4500 bargain when it came out in 2008 – now it’s £7k…

It’s a shame that turning the Husky TE into a TR added so much weight without any noticeable substance, but as on a Tenere if that means a chunkier, load-carrying steel frame, then it’s weight in the right place. It’s hard to think where else it can be on the Terra. As one guy on Adv observed “Maybe this is good enough with the typical $2000 thrown at it…”

Husqvarna TR650 Terra specs UK price: £5271 (with ABS, £5971) Engine: single cylinder, liquid cooled, dohc 4v, 652cc Power: 58bhp  @ 7250rpm Alternator output: 400w Torque: 44lb.ft (60Nm) @ 5750rpm Economy: 66mpg (23.4km/l, 4.3l/100km, 55mpg US) (at 75mph/120kph) Fuel range: 3.1 gallon (14 litres, 3.7 gallons US) / 200 miles (320km) Seat height: 33.9in (860mm) Terra: 34.4in (875mm) Wheelbase: 59.1in (1501mm) Weight: 410lb (186kg) wet with ABS
Like
Looks
Smooth, responsive engine
ABS and brakes
Firm suspension
No detectable vibration at speed
Slick gear change
Slim profile
Competitive price
Useful rack
Lump
Heavy, for what it is
At the very least, needs engine protection
Needs a windscreen too – OE accessory fly screen looks way too small
Tank a bit small.

Husqvarna Baja

If you’ve managed to read this far, hang around and check out the Husqvarna Baja retro desert racer. The concept bike from early 2012 is here and the top pic below. Then in November 2012 at the Milan Show Cycle World, among others, reported on a street-ready Baja with all the necessary paraphernalia and twin pipes. There are several more studio pix of the street scrambler on the BMW press site where you can be assured that ‘the multi-section architecture of the body displays a very clear, purist style’. Now you know.

Looks good and low with a fat 19 on the pointy end (I told you 19s are the future!) and retro Husky styling, but with the BMW engine and chassis from the TRs. Had Husky not folded it seems likely the Baja will have reached the US where Husky is better known. But, like the Yamaha Ryoku, it looks like just another interesting concept bike that will never make it to the showrooms. Good on Husky for joining the retro bandwagon with an original and cool looking machine.