My Weekend in Stonyford: A BMW Product Evaluation Exercise.
You may have heard that BMW wants to get into the off-road market. There has been a lot of talk this past six months about BMW's purchase of Husqvarna and BMW campaigning a bike secretly on the European Enduro circuit this year. In fact, they have had quite a bit of success with the bike winding up on the podium a few times and winning the final race of the season! It also competed at the GNCC event three weeks ago in Crawfordsville, Indiana and recently it was announced that Scott Summers will field a full factory enduro team (with BMW support) for the coming year in North America. Yes that's right, Scott Summers, the legendary Honda Factory rider is moving to BMW. So I guess BMW is serious about this!
Well, I was lucky enough to be chosen by BMW to participate in a product evaluation exercise this past weekend in Stonyford, CA. The premise behind this excursion was to attend an enduro event and get to know the potential customer for BMW's widely anticipated 450cc street legal enduro bike (No, it's not a rebadged Husqvarna). BMW chose a handful of dealers nationwide to participate in four events across the country where we would ride the competitors' bikes, race in the race if we wanted and talk to the real hardcore enduro riders about the new G450 Enduro bike.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Stonyford, it is an OHV park in Northern California just northeast of Clear Lake in Mendocino County and this was the weekend of the W.F.O Enduro event. We arrived on Friday evening and went to dinner so we could all get to know each other and talk about the next few days. The plan was to make the trip to Stonyford early Saturday morning where we would meet at the staging area. BMW would have 6 G650 X-Challenges (set up with knobbies), 2 Honda CRF 450Xs, 2 Kawasaki KLX450Rs, 2 Yamaha WR450Fs and a KTM 450 EXC for us to ride and the Valley Climbers Enduro Club members would show us around Stonyford and guide us on a portion of the race course. On Sunday we would make the trip back up again and 4 of us would compete in the E class of the enduro and put a pre-production version of the G450X enduro on display for the crowd. Finally on Monday we would gather again to review what we had learned and to discuss the potential of this future BMW Enduro bike.
Saturday brought us perfect enduro riding conditions. A light rain was falling (no dust!) giving us great traction and keeping us all cool. The Valley Climbers were great hosts and kept us on track all day. I started off the day on a BMW G650 X-Challenge and rotated my way through all the competitors' machines as the day went on. All of the 450 Enduros have something going for them. When you get to ride all of the bikes back to back it is clear that they all have their strengths. Some fit me better than others, some have better motors, and others shine in the suspension department. The only clear impression I got was that the KTM has earned its reputation as the best balanced, overall machine. What really blew me away was how good the G650 BMWs were in the dirt! Despite weighing almost 100 pounds more than the 450s the BMWs had great usable power from the motor, an absolutely plush air suspension that really worked well off road and the advantage of not having to kick start them to get them going after the inevitable crash! On top of that, it was the only bike good enough on the street to have ridden to the park instead of having to trailer. I was impressed!
Sunday was race day. We headed back up to Stonyford and set up the display of the G450X and prepped the four bikes that would run in the E class of the Enduro. David Hall from BMW of Western Oregon, Thom Lynn from Sierra BMW, Leiv Ellingson from Ride West and Kelly Rodgers from Big Twin in Idaho would run the race.
All of these guys are accomplished enduro riders and at the end of the day we were thrilled to learn that the BMW's had taken 1st, 4th and 5th leaving a bevy of KTMs and Hondas in the dust! David took top honors with Thom and Kelly coming in 4th and 5th. I told you the 650s were good in the dirt!