so it is really a dirt bike. It is very tall, has miles of suspension
and runs on chunky nobblies. The very name "Dakar" conjures
up images of huge central European motocrossers storming across
miles of unforgiving desert tracks. You might be forgiven for
thinking it would therefore be a pretty compromised road bike.
You'd be wrong. Very wrong.
The BMW F650 Dakar is one of
the most versatile and competent road bikes it has been my pleasure
to take anywhere. It makes a fantastic town bike as you would
expect, our limited off road test (we like to give our test bikes
back in one piece!) confirmed its usability off road but incredibly,
it would chug along quite nicely for mile after mile of motorway
too. All this and BMW reliability, BMW engineering and of course,
the BMW badge.
I must admit, I was pretty apprehensive
before picking up this bike. Drop off a full house BMW touring
bike and bring back the Dakar down the same 200 odd miles of the
M1. Oh dear. What chance would this offroader stand with my first
impressions blighted so severely, or so I thought.
The first thing you notice as
you swing your leg over 34" of seat is the five inches of
free space this leaves between your feet and the ground, that
is of course if you only have 29" of leg to swing. This fairly
fundamental mismatch is far less of a problem than less vertically
challenged bikers might think. Most tall bikes are crossers or
supermoto and therefore pretty lightweight, a slight angle and
there's not so much tippy toeing. I have never been one to paddle
a bike around anyway and once you get your feet up this bike balances
This particular bike was fitted
with a Laser end can and started up with a startling bark. Nice.
Almost un-BMW-like but perfectly appropriate for such an aggressively
styled machine. The throttle doubles as a volume control (!) and
you can pretty much choose how much noise you make by being more
or less violent with it.
on pulling away you are struck by how balanced the bike is and
how much control this gives you. Good job too because the first
thing I did on this bike before
joining the motorway was to test the handling on a lovely long
lefthander. Oops. The corner appears to tighten up as I drift
wide with that sinking feeling. But there's no fuss, no drama
and the balance helps what might have been a long graceful oversteer
into the bushes is a gentle reminder that only half of the rubber
on this tyre is actually reaching the road. The chunky enduro
nobblies seem to walk across the tarmac but they don't really
let go and you soon get used to the slightly wider line.
And so onto the motorway. I
do like big singles and I am a confirmed short shifter by nature
but in the interests of science, thrash this bike up through the
box. The exhaust note changes from a deep visceral bark to a machine
gun staccato and the engine spins up without complaint or, thankfully
any nasty vibration. No great surprises from the Rotax waterboiler
in the power department and no great alacrity in the resulting
velocity curve but a very pleasant surprise with the respectable
pace at which this machine will comfortably cruise.
Having been worried I would
be spoiled by the immediate experience of the BMW1150RS I had
just dropped off, I find I am actually much happier cruising on
this machine at the same, if not slightly higher speed. Bizarre.
More to do with the speeds you can get away with in the UK than
any criticism of the bigger Boxer engined machine. A "barely
legal" (that will keep our search engine busy!) cruising
speed on the Dakar is more comfortable (and more fun) than it's
bigger brother. The tall fly screen works particularly well at
keeping the windblast at bay while the engine just feels indestructible
without any intrusive vibration. A slight weave sets in at 90
plus, as you would expect given the aerodynamics of such a bike
but things never get out of hand. Two hundred miles later and
I could turn around and do it again. No numb bum, no vibration
whitefinger and no complaints.
is only when I start wheeling the bike into the garage I begin
to notice the size and weight of this machine. For a single cylinder
four stroke, albeit watercooled and all that, it is a heavy bike
tipping the scales at 192kgs. The figures don't lie but it is
just a number and in motion the bike carries this weight well.
Fuel is carried low under the seat and the designers must have
got something right with the geometry because, well, it just doesn't
feel heavy at all.
Looking around the bike, you
are struck by the attention to detail and the build quality of
the cycle parts. You have to look pretty close though, in the
same way that "money talks, wealth whispers", the BMW
doesn't shout at you with garish acronyms and loud logos. It is
the simplicity and elegance of construction that almost hides
itself but let's not forget, this bike is designed for reliability
and durability. The simpler the better. Controls, often a moot
point with BMW bikes generally are pretty good on this example.
You get heated grips as standard and if you've never experienced
this on a bike, you are missing out big time. The warmth is welcome
on all but the sunniest of days, especially in the UK and creates
a whole new relationship with the bike. We digress.
Rear suspension is adjustable
for preload from a chunky dial on the right hand side of the bike
and also for damping on the shock body. Cranking up preload makes
wheelies a doddle but the softer setting makes for a much more
comfortable ride. And the ride is comfortable. One of the advantages
of a higher sprung weight is the ability to soak up bumps without
upsetting the rider. No bumpy, flighty supermoto tendencies here,
my only criticism of the comfort was that I couldn't share it
with a passenger. Our bike came with a single seat and hard plastic
compartment cover although the rear footrests were still fitted.
I can't really see the point of the single seat option and I would
have to worry about landing on the solid cover in the event of
a forced landing. Right on the coccyx.
The Dakar makes an excellent
town bike, especially given the bumpy roads around London. Dirt
bikes are the two wheeled equivalent of the ubiquitous SUV (Sport
Utility Vehicles aka shopping trucks) and you get the same high
and mighty feeling when riding such a tough looking machine as
this. The Dakar is in it's element dicing around town, strafing
errant motorists with a loud crack from the exhaust. This bike
encourages hooligan behaviour which contrasts wickedly with the
erstwhile sensibility of the BMW moniker. I find myself jumping
speed bumps and deliberately aiming at potholes, just because
I can. The Dakar will soak up just about anything you can throw
Given BMW's excellent record
in winning the gruelling and highly competitive Paris-Dakar on
bikes like this, it is almost heresy to suggest that the F650
Dakar is the perfect commuter. But it is, so shoot me. There is
also a whole host of optional accessory luggage and given the
way this bike shrugs off its weight, I would expect a fully loaded
bike to behave with the same delicate balance and sure footed
Dakar differs from it's closest relative, the unfortunately titled
"Funduro" not only with it's striking "Desert Blue"
paint job but an extra couple of inches of suspension travel at
either end and larger diameter 21" front wheel. ABS is not
an option on the Dakar (unlike the Funduro) but then I am personally
not a fan of ABS on bikes, especially on bumpy town roads or in
heavy traffic, so no complaints here. For those of you who haven't
experienced ABS it feels like the bike shoots forwards just when
you really want it to stop. Heartstopping when it kicks in. The
science is sound and there are figures to prove ABS will stop
you quicker but I'd rather feel the tyre begin to slip rather
than the brakes begin to go away...
So who should consider a bike
like this? Well frankly, who shouldn't? The Dakar does pretty
much everything; on-road, off-road and everything in between.
I must admit I really missed the Dakar when I had to hand it back
to BMW. More so than any other bike I have been fortunate enough
to test. It was just so easy to live with. Reliable, comfortable,
practical and the ideal vehicle for weekend outdoor adventure
and day to day traffic dodging.
Sure there are better enduro
bikes but they are usually compromised for serious road use. What
about the current surge in Super Moto machinery? Well the best
of those are really competition bikes, hilarious for short trips
but tiring on longer journeys. You'd need a road bike too or a
good proctologist. The closest all rounder in this category has
to be the Funduro of course but "Funduro"? Oh dear.
Great bike I'll bet but wouldn't you rather have a Dakar in your
stable? I would. In fact one of these days I rather hope I will.
List price £5400
- Water-cooled 652cc, 4v single cylinder
- Fuel injection.
- Five gears
- Aluminium perimeter frame
- Telescopic forks Single rear shock with
rising rate linkage.
- Tyres 90/90 x 21 front, 130/80 x 17 rear
- Brakes 300mm front disc, 240mm rear disc
- 50bhp @ 6800 rpm
- Torque 44ft-lb @ 5500rpm
- 17 litre tank
- Engine 4 star
- Handling 4 star
- Braking 4 star
- Comfort 5 star
- Fun factor 5 star
- MotorBikes Today overall rating -
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