By Rowan Page | Published on 2020-04-17
Someone once told me; “There are two ways to ride a dirt bike. Either you let the bike go where it wants to, and move along with it as it goes, or you grab it by the scruff of the neck and tell it where to go.” Since I definitely fall on the scrawny side of the spectrum, I have always gravitated towards small capacity two-strokes. When I feel like it, I can throw them around how I want. But it is often even more rewarding to focus on riding smoothly and using every bit of the limited power you have. Put the power down properly and you will have no problem keeping up with the bigger dirt bikes, except of course in a straight line. But hey, you can catch them back up in the corners and that’s the whole point.
After many 125 and 200cc two-strokes, it was a pretty radical change up when I bought myself a BMW G650 XChallenge. I was struggling to find the time to ride my dirt bike as often as I would like to. I thought that a dual sport would eliminate the wasted time of getting to the riding spot, since I would just ride straight out of the garage. When I was shopping around, I pretty much knew that the KTM 690 Enduro was exactly the bike I needed, but sadly was well out of my price range.
Then I came across and advert for the XChallenge. I had long appreciated the BMW 450X’s. I remember watching Jade Gutzeit racing (and winning!) national offroads on them. How different could the 650 be? It seemed like a great compromise of on-road and off-road capability, plus, way more horsepower than the Honda XR650L’s I was also looking at. Was this the next best thing to the KTM 690?
I organized a test ride and fell instantly in love. The Rotax motor in that bike is magnificent. I bought it on the spot. Not a care in the world for the transfer papers; those could be sorted out later, I was riding this bike away! Jaco and I rode straight to a sand quarry near my house. On the way I had the chance to become acquainted with the bike’s road manners. With the air shock pumped right up it was pretty tall, taller even than my previous dirt bikes, but this suited me just fine. To be honest it handles road riding just as you would expect it to; very nippy and agile in the slow stuff but pretty sketchy when things get fast. With fairly road orientated knobblies things got pretty sketchy north of 150km/h, but the motor definitely had the legs for it. The power delivery was great for some nice twisty roads, but with the knobblies and pretty rudimentary ABS pushing the limits was at your own risk.
Then we hit the thick sand and the XChallenge came alive. It had the grunt to roll up to hills like I never dreamed of on my 200. Luckily the ABS can be totally disabled, letting this thing become an absolute beast in the sand, just make sure you can hold on! This wasn't a bike you could just throw around. While it could start to feel sluggish compared to a 1200 boxer on the road, that 650 single has plenty of power to get you into trouble off-road. It is in its element on 2nd gear single track, but also blasting down gravel roads at 140km/h.
So is it the poor man’s 690? Well for full disclosure, I still haven’t actually ridden a KTM 690. But when I was bike shopping, I had an image in my mind of what the 690 would do for me as a bike, and the XChallenge blew those expectations away completely. It put up with the occasional work commute, two-day adventure rides and even full out enduro riding. There are definitely some polarizing characteristics of this bike, such as the air shock, but for now it deserves some serious appreciation for all the things it does so well. There aren’t many decent ones on the market, but if you see one you should definitely give it some serious consideration.
We will be emailing weekly digests of new content. We won't sell your details and we'll never spam you.