2009 BMW G450X first ride review

They’ve flirted with it for years, but now BMW finally get stuck into the business of serious off-roading with their new enduro tool

Click to read: BMW G450X owners reviews, BMW G450X specs and to see the BMW G450X image gallery.

Just a few years ago the very idea of serious enduro riding on something with BMW on the tank would have been preposterous. Huge trans-globe adventure busters, absolutely. Rounded commuters with off-road style, brilliant. But a serious, sharp-edged dirtbike to take the fight to KTM and the Japanese? BMW? Don’t think so.

But here it is, the 450X, and it’s designed to do exactly that. Three years in the making during which time BMW have acquired Husqvarna, so that will make things slightly complicated at an upper-management level. But while they figure that out, here’s the 450X. It’s a proper weapon. 111kg dry, 52bhp, and stark white plastics that look stunning when new (but quite possibly less so after a few weeks of knocks and tumbles.) The RRP is £5,595 and the 450X comes fully road-legal, all EU-III silenced and everything. This makes it almost unique in the performance enduro world, but since most people who ride off-road wouldn’t even know what EU-III means the 450X is easily de-restricted for full-bore performance. All you do is complete a circuit with a £5 plug and the BMW goes instantly from 41bhp to 52bhp.

It may only be a 450cc four-stroke single, but the BMW is boasting heaps of cleverness like that. At the heart of its innovation is the genius drive-sprocket arrangement. The entire motorcycle has been built around the gearbox sprocket, and here’s why. On conventional dirtbikes, the drive chain is constantly tightened and slackened as the swingarm pivots up and down over bumps. This puts enormous stresses on the chain and drive system and means the connection between the throttle and rear tyre can be snatchy.

On the BMW, the swingarm pivot goes directly through the gearbox sprocket, straight through the entire gearbox and out the other side. Therefore there is no movement between the swingarm or the run of the chain, and therefore no stresses are placed on the drive system. This allows BMW to run the chain with hardly any slack for maximum feel at the throttle, and boy does it look weird. “This chain looks way too tight, can you ask one of your mechanics to slacken it off, please?” I ask project manager Markus Theobald when I see my bike. He just laughs and explains that since the chain is at constant tension, it doesn’t need any slack. There is every reason to suspect that this clever design may well find its way onto high-powered superbikes in the near future.

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To get the gearbox sprocket in-line with the swingarm pivot meant BMW had to move the clutch so it runs directly off the crank, and the starter motor sits at the front instead of the back.  The whole engine is canted forwards 30° and it gives the 450 an angular, funky look that immediately sets it apart from the Japanese competition. There’s a beautifully simple Öhlins direct monoshock at the rear, a pair of Marzocchi forks up the front and the petrol filler lives under a rubbery cap in the seat.

Enough talk - let’s ride. The 450X is pliant to sit on and feels incredibly light as we head out into the hills behind Malaga. It’s pretty lofty and short people will struggle, but the stretch to the bars is comfortable and the bike feels good beneath. It feels right. Compared to the RMZ250 I’m racing this year the BMW doesn’t feel that much heavier, although it is wearing the Akrapovic race exhaust (£250 extra) which shaves 2kg off the dry weight and gives a wonderfully sharp ‘blatt!’ to the exhaust note. We may only be in 41bhp mode but there’s plenty of crisp power, the bikes spinning their chunky enduro tyres across the tarmac as we prepare to head out into the rocky, dusty, Spanish wilderness.

Christ, this thing can climb. There’s two routes marked for us, yellow and red, and I point the 450X towards a gnarly single-track and off we go. I’m hopelessly out of practice at enduro riding, but the BMW makes light of the vertical, gripless mountain trail in front of me while I huff and puff and make a right meal of things. Leaving the bike in second gear and using the torque means it will just grunt up steep slopes, and the long swingarm and constant-tension chain mean the X finds grip where a conventional off-roader may well be scrabbling for traction.

What this does mean is that the X will wheelie on steep climbs as the rear digs in and shoves you forward, so you’ve got to constantly balance your bodyweight and the clutch. 10 minutes later and I have my first crash of the day. Five minutes after that my second, and I think 30 seconds after that, my third. Through no fault of its own I thoroughly tested the BMW’s survivability that day, dropping it onto rocks, boulders and myself, and apart from a slightly tweaked sidestand the bike proved entirely unbreakable.

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With the ECU circuit completed with the ‘power plug’ and the full 52bhp released, the 450X turns into a completely different animal. In low-power mode it is perfect for fast trail riding and easy power, but with full power on tap there’s a big slug of horsepower on top that allows the BMW to rev out and stretch its legs. On the faster, more open sections of the massive loop we were riding the 450 showed real pace, blasting across gullies without being intimidating to the average off-road rider (that being me.)

The suspension is remarkably supple – faster riders reckoned that it was too soft – with that satisfying Öhlins squish as the rear shock sucked up all the stones and abuse I could throw at it with ease. Many enduro bikes, notably KTMs, have steep steering-head angles which make them quicker to brake and turn but also lively and prone to tankslapping. At no point did the BMW feel anything other than stable and reassuring, all the while steering precisely and giving the rider loads of feedback. You’d have to be switched right off to lose the front end on this bike.

All is not perfect, however. When hot the 450X displayed a tendency to stall just off the throttle, and all the journalists were experiencing this so it wasn’t just me. My record was three times in a row followed by one over-balance and a topple, which was massively annoying. BMW are pretty quick to identify and act on things like this and I would imagine a software update to the fuel-injection’s ECU would cure this overnight, but it shouldn’t have made it this far to be fair.

It’s bloody great to see BMW finally make the move into serious off-road sport. The 450X has been substantially tested in enduros already and is aimed straight for KTM’s jugular, although it will take a while to get used to seeing BMW enduro bikes alongside vast R1200RTs in the poshest motorcycle dealerships in the country. They’ve got a full 10-year plan (at least) behind this model and the chances of a 17”-wheeled supermoto version within the next two years are reasonably high. Competition is good for business, and the arrival of the 450X can only be good news for the European dirtbike scene. It’s certainly very good news for the serious off-road rider.


Price: £5,595
Engine: 449cc, liquid-cooled, 4-valve single
Power: 52bhp @ 7800rpm
Torque: 40nm @ 5400rpm
Front suspension: 45mm adjustable marzocchi
Rear suspension: Öhlins monoshock, fully adjustable
Front brake: 260mm disc, four-piston caliper 
Rear brake:  220mm disc, two-piston caliper
Dry weight: 111kg (claimed)
Seat height: 955mm
Fuel capacity: 8l
Top speed: 85mph (est)
Colours: White/blue