Would You Recommend an F650GS to Someone Living in Developing Country?

Discussion in 'Parallel Universe' started by gfloyd2002, Dec 18, 2011.

  1. gfloyd2002

    gfloyd2002 Title Free Since '12

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    I'll be in the market for a new bike next year, and am seriously considering a new F650GS. My circumstances are a bit unique: I move every 2-3 years for my job, and I could be assigned anywhere in the world. Anywhere. (A nice career for adventure touring. :D ) So, I need a bike that can handle a variety of conditions for a commute and touring fun in an unknown location that will change several times during the life of the bike. Because I can't rely on the presence of a local dealer, the bike needs to be one that I can wrench myself (importing parts is uniquely easy at US prices because of my job.) I've got some experience working on my own bikes, carb rejetting, exhaust, brakes, LED install, etc, but nothing too complex. I was scared sick taking apart my carbs :puke1, for example, despite good outcome.

    I'm really interested in an F650GS, because, well, I'm emotionally attached to them. Drawn like a moth to flame in fact. I'm used to a sportbike and want on road performance, but with flexibility for those times I'm touring and the developing world demands better off road capability. The F650GS seems just right. But I've been reading about some problems with the F series bikes (like the alternator thread active atm) and also wonder whether BMW's love of electronics is a poor match for a novice mechanic living away from a dealer. Do I need to break my emotional attachment and consider a Japanese bike for better reliability? My backup bike would probably be a Versys, and while I'm used to working on Kawis (I've owned and worked on my own Kawis since 2005) somehow it just isn't that appealing.

    So I'm asking a crowd of F owners . . . if you were living somewhere without a BMW dealer as a novice mechanic, but had good access to parts, would you make your purchase again? Any advice or recommendations? Please don't say "buy a KLR650". :ear
    #1
  2. lmclamore

    lmclamore Citation Collector

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    It seems to boil down to the individual F650GS you are considering. There is an equal number, if not more posts of F650/800GS owners that have had no trouble compared with unfortunate owners that have had one problem after another with their specific machines. I have had my "798" for 18 months and ridden close to 17,000 miles. I get mine serviced by a knowledgable independent mechanic. It has only been towed to the dealer once for an overheating problem that was remedied by replacing the radiator cap.

    Bottom line...I would be confident using my specific machine for the conditions you describe.
    #2
  3. lmclamore

    lmclamore Citation Collector

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    I do want to mention one more thing. My confidence is boosted because of the inputs from MANY knowledgable inmates on this and other sites. Their experiences, solutions, and theories have proven invaluable to my understanding of the benefits and limitations of this design. If you haven't already, take some time (there is a lot of material) to read as much as you can under Parallel Universe at least. Keep in mind that this machine attracts a lot of thinkers. I do not believe the volume of posts is an indicator of excessive design flaws as it is an indication of the type of riders/owners we are. Inquisitive and helpful...we are in our separate ways simply trying to fully examine every facet of this complex machine.
    #3
  4. vtbob

    vtbob wanderer

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    I love my F650GS....and other than the evaporative canister recall, have had no problems in 17+k miles. I am planning a 10k cross country/alaska trip next spring...will change the oil, get new tires and maybe a preemptive new chain.

    Having said that...any modern BMW, Ducati, most hondas, suzukis, etc have computers, electronic injections and other sophisticated electronic which does not lend itself for "home wrenching".

    If you are going some place really remote and a serious about wrenching your self.....maybe you should consider something really simple like the KLR 650 or similar. Simple design, well sorted for many years now.
    #4
  5. JoelWisman

    JoelWisman Long timer

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    I don't work for BMW anymore but did for some time. The impressions one gets from reading any forum, this one included, have almost no basis in reality. It's not that bad things mentioned didn't happen, it's just that peoples perception of how common or uncommon, major or minor, is emotional, not objective. Things that are common and expected and only a minor annoyance on one brands thread become massive issues on another brand that experience the problem less often.

    The electrics on BMW's are VERY well sorted. The harness is first rate, connectors are critical infrastructure grade. As far as the wiring harness, connectors and power distribution go, BMW is at the very top of the game for reliability.

    The fuel pump, fuel injectors, and control system design of same, BMW's suck. This is a bit of a problem with 3rd world riding but not insurmountable with some skills and spares.

    The wheels are soso, alloys of 650 are actually better then the spoked ones on the F8's. No brand I know of puts super strong wheels on a bike but many are better.

    The frame has outstanding durability and is easily repairable. There is a zillion page thread about bent rear shock mountings. It's a bunch of sniveling as far as I'm concerned. Bottom the shit out of the suspension of any bike and something will break or bend. What bends on the F650 and F8 is easily repairable. It has never broken a frame, when neglected and abused its only bent a piece that any 2nd rate 3rd world welder could fix in his sleep.

    The rear sub frame is a little easy to bend, but even easier to bend back and wouldn't be hard to beef up either.

    Parts availability is good world wide, and as with all bikes, bmw's are built with universal parts that could be sourced from anywhere.

    The engine is somewhat questionable, unfortunately. Timing chains, some pistons HLM,s and gear box bearings have failed with no certain answer of why. The failures are in the minority but they are happening more then some other engines on adventure bikes such as Aprilia, buell, BMW's 1200 and 650 single, Honda, Kawasaki, some KTM's Moto Guzzi, and Yamaha.

    Of chief concern is engine failures that seem to be from bad gas induced detonation. Bad gas is a concern in many country. Many engines have knock sensors and maps for dealing with it as well as warnings to riders. The F650 and F8 do not.

    The F650 and F8 handle great and there is a huge aftermarket for ergo's and protection.

    The stator problem is only occurring frequently to a few riders with no clear reason why, the others it's happening every 30-50 thousand miles.

    It's a toss up and personal desire is going to weigh heavily.

    I would happily take an f650 to another country, but it wouldn't be my personal first choice. That in no way means it won't be the best bike for you.

    On the plus side, the 650 isn't having unusually high wheel bearing failures.
    #5
  6. gfloyd2002

    gfloyd2002 Title Free Since '12

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    @lmclamore, thanks for the opinion. A few things you said worry me, like "serviced by a knowledgeable, independent mechanic", "been towed to the dealer once" and "every facet of this complex machine." I'm imagining what those things mean if I'm living in Ecuador. (Hey, actually I just found a BMW mechanic in Quito. Maybe this is not as difficult as I'm imagining . . . ) I do appreciate and tend to agree, however, that active, thoughtful owners are going to discuss issues very thoroughly in a way that may not accurately reflect the risks of the bike. Thanks for that reminder, very helpful.

    @vtbob, you are the winner of the "first person to recommend the KLR650" award. :clap Vegas had the odds on it coming up in the 5th post, but only because I'd discouraged it in the OP. All those who bet the under give thanks. :) Seriously, though, that really is a great option for a self wrencher in the developing world who has good access to cheap parts in the U.S. like me. I bet I could find a DIY for how to rebuild a KLR carb with chewing gum, tinfoil and a beer can. It is tempting for that reason, it's just that I've ridden one and it didn't stop or turn well and the vibration from the thumper annoyed me.

    @joelwisman, that is outstanding information, thorough and objective. Just what I was hoping for. Let me ask the follow up question -- you mention it wouldn't be your first choice in the developing world. Out of curiosity, what would your choice be and why?
    #6
  7. Dorito

    Dorito Dreamer and Doer

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    22 months and 32000 miles. Been a great bike for me. ***KNOCKS on wood**, I've not had so much as a blurp go wrong which required towing or a mechanic on stand-by. Although I would say that hubby is more than well-qualified (and not because he has a martial relation), it's still been nearly entirely maintained at home. We did get the first maintenance (because it was included in the sale), and the charcoal canister, and air filter recalls but other than that she has been dealer-free.

    Although I can't say enough good things about the F650GS, maybe a thumper G650GS might be a a better match for "robustness" for you as it is more time-proven?
    #7
  8. JoelWisman

    JoelWisman Long timer

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    Aprilia Caponord, Honda Africa twin, Moto Guzzi Stelvia, Yamaha super tenere.

    The Caponord's are out of production but good used ones can be found. The wiring harness is weak but plenty of forums show how to sort them, Aftermarket ergo's and protection are getting tough to find. Performance on anything short of single track is awe inspiring. It's engine and fuel system can drink anything short of diesel.


    The Africa Twin is getting old, but used ones are still more robust and reliable then just about anything else. Performance on road is lackluster

    The Stelvia shaping up to be THE round the world machine. Super low maintenance, Super robust components, power and comfort. I've never ridden one in anything nastier then rutted gravel but the bike has a following. Fuel system components are ok with sub optimal fuel.

    The Super Tenere has performance, fit and finish that will rival all the others, but it's not much more reliable. It is a very inspiring bike to ride and does have better fuel pumps and injectors then BMW and like all but BMW it pings the pump and injectors at each startup to help avoid corrosion or lacquer induced stiction.

    The BMW F650 twin and F800GS are great bikes, don't get me wrong, but they do have some weak spots that have not been solved if you are going to be riding too far from a BMW dealer. They have made it around the world but usually with multi day or week repairs especially RE bad fuel. The Caponord and Africa Twin also have their share of weak spots but they are all known and well accepted mods are out to fix them.

    The Tenner has fewer weaknesses but they like the BMW are unresolved. If the Stelvia has any significant weaknesses, I don't know about them.

    Just my thoughts. For perspective, theres not a bike listed above including the BMW's that I wouldn't love to own and wouldn't ride around the world on. There are just some I would have a better chance of making it on with fewer days down.
    #8
  9. Baloo

    Baloo Itinerant jackass Supporter

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    I can vouch for her statement. ***Knocks on wood*** I have seen her knock this bike on wood ,rocks, bushes and other bikes.. Her F650GS keeps on going..:lol3.
    #9
  10. joe camarda

    joe camarda Been here awhile

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    Two bikes I'd consider in your situation would be the single cylinder BMW 650 as well as a Suzuki VStrom DL650... check out http://www.stromtrooper.com/ re the VStrom.

    I'm envious re your employment opportunities.... I think(?)
    Good luck and safe travels.
    #10
  11. gfloyd2002

    gfloyd2002 Title Free Since '12

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    @JoelWisman, thanks for the ideas. The Guzzi and Aprilia I hadn't considered due to prejudice against reliabiity of the brands, but research supports your analysis. And not only are they really solid, they are each completely gorgeous. Perhaps heavier than I was looking for, but worth consideration. I'd been thinking Tiger800, F650GS, Versys, Wee Strom, but this opens up some other options.

    @Joe Camara, the Wee Strom is one I've thought about, thanks. And I do have a great career for a motorcyclist. Though the downside is that you can get stuck, as I am now, on an island only 21 miles long by 14 miles wide. Tough to get the miles in, though I've got no complaints about the views. :D More importantly, all the uncertainty is an excellent excuse to drop 10 grand on an adventure bike.
    #11
  12. JoelWisman

    JoelWisman Long timer

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    The Tiger wouldn't be in my list ONLY cause it is so new that blessed little is known about it's reliableness.

    I'm not familiar with the versys. I've never ridden one, never worked on one, don't know anything about them.

    The BMW singles are actually Aprilia's rebated by BMW, or rather they were till a few years ago when BMW started building them themselves. They are reliable bikes under both badges but I didn't name them because they vibrate like a KLR on the open road though are a bit more stable at speed.

    The Wee's, and this is completely subjective, to me are the KLR's of the highways. The KLR is completely competent off road but not exactly exciting. They are great to putt from location 1 to location 2, or ride easy and enjoy the view. They will go almost anywhere, but it's super rare for me to get a face splitting grin while riding one. On road they kinda suck. You can go from one coast to the other on them, but I sure don't want to. For those viewing a motorcycle as a tool for transportation, the KLR is awesome, but it isn't inspiring in and of itself. I view the Wee exactly the same way but reversed. They are completely competent on the freeway or country road but never have excited me, off road they kinda suck though given time they can be herded almost anywhere. The Wee has a cult following, but so does the old VW bug. I have never wanted an old VW bug, but many do and for those, the Wee is worth a test ride as well.
    #12
  13. Mike.C

    Mike.C Stelvio Dreamer!

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    I believe I am inspired to post :wink:

    Oh how times change - A Guzzi getting the nod as a RTW reliable machine - Hallelujah.

    I can tell you that the current Guzzi designs are fundamentally bloody brilliant, but then I am biased.

    The F650 however is my travel bike of choice (one each for the two of us no less). The problems are all solvable (well maybe the charging system is a work in progress) and the bike is a joy to ride and with the right setup and unfortunately therefore a lot of dollars a very capable off road machine.
    #13
  14. Law Dawg (ret)

    Law Dawg (ret) Been here awhile

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    We have some friends living in Kenya and (according to them) there is only one brand of motorcycle easily found there...could be wrong but I think it is Suzuki. That said it is a subject I have been toying with for the fun of it. To me my Suzuki DR 650 (maybe a KLR) is the one I would take on any trip. It would have some modifications like;
    larger tank (at least 6 gallons)
    bash plate
    real dirt bike handle barsetc
    better gas filters
    better air filters
    suspension to fit all the extra weight
    a more comfortable seat
    removable luggage

    The reason is dirt simple mechanics and repair, durable bike all around, and you will not stick out quite as much. You WILL still stick out in a counrty where a 250 is a big bike, just not as much as with a farkled out BMW and all. Now y'alls version of travel priorities and mine might be radically different. My DR will go fast enough for all but the Autobahn but I am not in a hurry when traveling anyway. I want to see things and meet people...live the journey. IMO that would be better done at a slower pace with time to stop in places that call.

    Also IMO moto travel is much like backpacking (infact we tend to use a bunch of backpacking type gear don't we?). Some folks are completely happy humping a 60 lb (or more) pack and some go ubber minimal with a 12 lb. My take is a lighter bike makes for a happier rider...more fun to ride. The Devil is in the details though; like what comfort item is worth the extra weight, or is an extra 4 gallons of fuel more important than say those hiking boots and fishing kit?

    Love my F800GS to pieces but take it to the sticks for an extended stay? Probably not. Now if someone would create a business that locates old airheads or works on modern bikes to simple them up from the ground up for world travel...that would sing. Joel, you reading this? You could do this.
    #14
  15. docsherlock

    docsherlock Been here awhile

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    If you can get one, a Yamaha Tenere XT660Z ticks just about all the boxes for me; I just put my money where my mouth is and bought one for a pending Africa trip some time next year.

    An earlier trip to Morocco may be on something a bit bigger but that's not finalized just yet. If it does not come through, I'll take the Tenere like so many others before me....
    #15
  16. gfloyd2002

    gfloyd2002 Title Free Since '12

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    The F650GS is moving down my list due to concerns over lack of ability to handle bad gas well. That is a reality of life in the developing world. Seems like someone designing an adventure bike would include the right maps and sensors to avoid engine damage from bad gas. Are you listening BMW? I'll buy one of your bikes if you fix this for next year's model. Deal?

    Moving up on the list is the Versys, which has the very reliable ER6 motor, which was itself derived from the uber reliable ER5. Years of good info on those. Complaints on the Versys are really limited from what I'm reading, and I'm struggling to find ANY serious reliability concerns. Still need to get more info specific to issues in developing world, including FI system and ability to handle bad gas. And, more importantly, I need to get inspired. As Joel mentioned regarding the VStrom, I'm having trouble getting emotional about the Versys. Still longingly looking at BMW videos. Sigh.
    #16
  17. JoelWisman

    JoelWisman Long timer

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    I'm in love with technology and performance and honestly, with some simple knowledge and 3 tools, you can diagnose absolutely anything in an ABS, EFI, or electronic ignition system.

    A carburetor usually requires taking apart to figure out what has plugged up, cracked, or blown. I can figure out what has quit on a high tech system by observing the tach, feeling the pulses in the fuel line and smelling the tailpipe, only occasionally needing a multimeter. I needed a scope half a dozen times to quickly pinpoint an intermittent problem but only on those bikes that other techs couldn't solve all day, and even then mainly just to prove it to BMW for warranty authorization.


    Honestly, I learned 100% of my motorcycle repair skills 12 years before I worked for BMW while a lowly tech at a volvo dealership. I picked up some knowledge previous to that in training to be an industrial electrician and some after at technical training to be a field service engineer, but the bulk of what I know and can diagnose came from reading the first chapter in a Volvo EFI repair manual, a Volvo ABS manual, and a Volvo Ignition manual.

    The first chapter in each of these manuals was called "design and function". It's just 20 or 30 pages long and explains in simple english what the geegas does, how it does it and why. That coupled with a solid understanding of how internal reciprocating combustion was all the info you needed 90% of the time

    Toward the end of these books was "pin out and expected values" Here you would find what each wire to the ecu did and what measurement to expect in various conditions, so when things get rough, you pull the back off the ecu connector and measure pin X pin. For example "Pin 1 is switched power B+. when the EFI module receives B+ on pin 6 from the ignition switch, it compares the key code it received by Can protocol and if the code matches the register, sends B+ on pin 4 to energize the coil of the main relay which connects pin 1 to battery" Ok if the whole EFI is not turning on, measure pin 6. B+ and no EWS displayed on cluster, must be deeper. No B+ on pin 6, must be the ignition switch or power to it.

    Assuming B+ was present on pin six, whats pin 4 doing? No B+ on pin 4, the efi module has a fault, jump pin 4 to battery and she will probably start. Yes B+ present on pin 4 but not on pin 1, wiring to or from the main relay is bad or the relay itself is bad. That relay went bad all the time on red block volvos.

    Another example, pin 21 was O2 sensor signal. If the engine ran but smelled of raw gas, thats the terminal you looked at first. The design and function section explained that the oxygen sensor was basically a battery. It produced about 1 volt anytime the oxygen content in the exhaust was 1% or lower and produced less then 0.5 volts when oxygen content was more then 1% in the exhaust. It also explained how it did that and ways it could fail, and that normally it should cycle up and down a couple of times a second as the engine was running as everything in the fuel system was designed to forever hunt and peck just above and just below perfect mixture.

    Tail pipe smells rich, pin 21. If it's showing to be constantly above 1 volt, the EFI module knows it's running rich but can't do anything about it. Hmm, check the fuel pressure, good?, Ok, design and function tells us theres an engine temperature sensor that can affect the mixture by as much as 40% and an air temperature sensor that can affect it 15%, also and this is car centric, an air mass meter that can affect it 2000%.

    Pin out chart says the engine temperature sensor is pin 16 and what voltage should be on this pin at various temperatures. The temp gauge says normal so we should see 3 volts but we only see half a volt which corresponds to -20 degrees. Found the problem :) or if it was right, move on to the pin for the air mass meter cause the air temperature sensor can't change things to be as rich as this baby is running.

    Design and function and pin out with expected values is MISSING in all BMW manuals and training. The vast majority of techs have no idea what they are doing, they just know how to connect the often wrong MOSS diagnostic computer and how to call there field service engineer, who DOES know design and function and has access to the pin out.

    What I really should do is write a manual of design and function on these bikes and reverse engineer the pin out from known good operating bikes. That and a few chapters on simple electrical and combustion principals and you could diagnose the worst problems in the jungle with a 10 dollar multi meter, your eyes ears and fingers.

    I never used the MOSS to find a problem, only to prove what I figured out in less time then it takes the MOSS to boot up to bmw for warranty authorization, and half the time the MOSS couldn't even do that, would indicate a problem that didn't exist and I'd punish BMW by ordering the bad part as well as what the MOSS claimed was wrong and charging them for both.

    Sadly my typing is slow and I'm about to become immersed in the quirks with another brand, but a 100 page book that doesn't exist and a $10 multimeter is all thats needed to diagnose most any problem a zillion miles from civilization. A jumper wire and a few small and durable components are all you need to fix or bypass the fancy stuff. With a carbed bike u need a bunch of delicate stuff and god help u if u drop something tiny in the dirt.

    Just my ramblings, return to normal programming :)
    #17
  18. JoelWisman

    JoelWisman Long timer

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    Go ride some bikes. If BMW's inspiring performance is as important to you as it is to me, ride a Capo, Stelvio, and Tenere.

    I love the BMW's but like you, would hesitate to put 3rd world gas through them. Hell they have enough problems with E10 here in the states.

    Most Piaggio group dealerships have demo bikes, if not, vacation here and I can get u rides on both. The Tenere is harder. Japanese brands generally say no to test rides which pisses me off, but got to be a member here that would let u ride one, I would hope.

    Any bike is fun but if you find a bike that moves your spirit, WOW! you can only figure out so much flying a keyboard, you need to test ride too. BMW and Piaggio group subsidize their dealership demo costs which is something I deeply respect. You should be able to test ride all of those. To heck with typing, I'm off on a ride :)

    Good luck
    #18
  19. HighFive

    HighFive Never Tap-Out

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    Hey Joel.....I'm "IN". Put me on the order list for this manual. Heck, pm me about it.....I'm a professional commercial printer, make books all the time. I could even right a manual about it. :D Seriously, this manual could have some major traction if done correctly.

    I'm very sad to learn that I've lost my Insider at Gateway. What's next?

    HF :ear
    #19
  20. JoelWisman

    JoelWisman Long timer

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    Thanks man :D Honz and Paul still have your back on the sales side and Ryan is a darn good tech thats still with Gateways service.

    Whats next for me is TBD. I have solid opportunities but to be honest, am enjoying the break.

    The book idea really would be cool. Service manuals in their current guise totally suck in my opinion. I would however have to spend a couple days measuring voltages, resistances, current and behaviors and for that I would need an F800 to use as a test subject. Anyone feel like sharing the couch with my 2 dogs for a few days lol.

    Anyway I'm not disappearing. I still have friends in high places with a number of manufactures. I'm sure my next job will be a technical one, but wether its in power sports, autos, trains, ships, or sail boats I can't say yet. Either way I'll always own motorcycles and always help out and come for help here.

    Take care of that ex demo, I was always rather fond of it.
    #20