Click to jump to maintenance and failures information

The bike(s) started life as 2004 BMW F650 GS(s). They are ex- BMW-offroad school bikes and came to us scratched, bent and discounted. Unable to present the following information as I would like (due to website template restrictions) I have prepared .pdf files for the modification lists.

Pre-Departure Bike Modifications.pdf

Post-Departure Bike Modifications.pdf

dsc_0398-my-f650My BMW F650

dsc_0389-gps-bracketGPS Mounting Bracket for braceless handlebars


Jump-start socket


Footrest hanger

dsc_6026-oil-hose Modified Oil Return hose

dsc_6024-stove-tapStove Filling tap

dsc_0395-pannier-framesPannier frames

dsc_6020-toolbox1Tool & Spares boxes

Tools –When the need arises for big tools they are generally available but the same can’t be said for hand tools. Especially as BMW use a lot of sizes the Japanese don’t and also use Torx.


Spanners – 8mm/10/11/13/14/16/17/19 Reversible Screwdriver
Sockets  – 8mm/10/13/14/16/17/18/21/22/24/30 Extendable Magnet (pen size)
Torx bits (3/8″) – T30/40/45 Drills & Taps
Allen sockets – 6mm/8/12 Tyre levers x2
½”-3/8″ Adaptor Valve Tool
3/8″ Ratchet drive Clamp (bead breaking)
8″ Extension Chain Tool
Allen Keys – 2.5mm/3/4/5/6 Feeler Guages
Torx Keys – T20/25/30 Syringe (filling Scotoiler)
Spark Plug spanner & bar Mole Grips (small)
Special Tool – Steering Head bearings Bicycle pump
Junior Hacksaw & blades Gas soldering iron
Pin punch – 3mm Tyre pressure guage

Maintenance and Failures

SUSPENSION – Having used Ohlins suspension units extensively during my Roadracing career and again on my DRZ and Gas Gas Enduro bike, they were the natural choice once we had decided to replace the OE units. The supplier we chose (who will remain nameless) was known to Danny and was whom I had purchased my DRZ unit from. We explained what/where/when we were planning and the supplier spoke to Ohlins to seek there advice. As a result, a heavier spring was fitted and the unit re-valved to suit. The hydraulic pre-load adjuster was also removed. Because we had fitted 21″ front wheels to our GS’s we used a unit from a Dakar and had it shortened internally so the lenght was exactly half way between that of the GS and the Dakar (make sense?). The front was 1″ higher thanks to the 21″ whell and now the rear was 1″ higher. Problems – The problems started even before we left home. When I torqued up the lower bolt, the threaded insert in the U-bracket split so I had a bronze one made at work and fitted a longer bolt with a nyloc nut. Danny didn’t have time to do this and a routine inspection in India revealed the original insert had split and fallen out, damaging the U-bracket, linkage, bushes and bearings (see Chapter 8 for how this was resolved). When we removed Dannys unit we found the rubber bush in the top mounting had collapsed, allowing the cylinder head to foul the frame (see photos below). When I checked my shock, I to had vertical play and removed the unit to find the top bush collapsed just as Danny’s had.

Broken Spring Collar Collapsed Bush Broken U-Bracket Damaged Cylinder Head


We concluded that the rubber bush was not compatible with the heavy spring and that the bush was being overworked by the spring. What was needed was a spherical bearing as you would find in one of their Roadracing/Motocross/Enduro units. We contacted our supplier who said no such thing was available and sent us six replacement bushes (which we paid for). We queried the unavailability of the spherical bearing stating that it was ridiculous to expect us to keep replacing the rubber ones. When the new bushes arrived I removed my unit to replace the bush only to find the spring collar had broken. Caused by the shock of the unit cylinder head hitting the frame. I replaced the bush and wound off as much pre-load as I dared as I was entering the Raid de Himalaya, a Raid style event held on public roads in the north of India. At the end of the first day I checked my unit for vertical play and found to my disbelief that the bush had collapsed in a mere 473km. I had no choice but to withdraw from the Raid and fit my second bush. Danny and I searched every bearing shop we encountered in India and Thailand (without success) before another routine inspection of Dannys unit in Cambodia revealed another collapsed bush. As we unbolted the unit to replace the bush so one side of the U-bracket fell off! Having already paid out for a whole new OE linkage and bearings after the failure in India you can imagine how Danny (and I) felt. This was not repairable in Cambodia and Danny’s father retrieved his OE unit from the garage and sent it at great expense via DHL to Siam Reap. Danny would be returning to England whilst our bikes were on-board ship to New Zealand a few months later and would take the Ohlins unit home for repair. By now, a friend working for a British Superbike team said they were off testing with the MotoGP crew in Malaysia and he would bring the subject up with the Ohlins technician. This led me to the e-mail address for the ‘right’ man to contact at Ohlins in Sweden. Negotiations opened and the first thing they said was “You need a spherical bearing fitted to the cylinder head”… “NO SHIT”…that’s what I’d been asking our supplier for for two months. Initially Ohlins suggested replacing everything necessary at ‘trade’ prices. Whilst these ‘negotiations’ were underway we arrived in Malaysia from where we would ship the bikes to NZ. As I removed my unit from my bike for Danny to take back to the UK, so the side of the U-bracket fell off!. Ohlins offer had increased to supplying the parts FOC but us paying for the labour. I was insensed. All of the parts failures stemmed from the fact a spherical bearing had not been fitted. Our supplier couldn’t be bothered to check the availability for us and now he was set to profit from not being bothered to get off his arse. I told Ohlins we had told them exactly what we were planning right from the beginning and that what we had been sold a product not fit for purpose. Both units needed new Cylinder Heads, Rod kits and spherical bearings fitting (not minor bills). Mine also needed a spring collar. Eventually they conceded and arranged for all the work to be carried out FOC. I contacted our supplier prior to Danny leaving Malaysia to make an appointment for the units to be repaired. I contacted him again once Danny arrived in the UK and agian a few days before Danny drove the 250 miles to the supplier. The supplier then tried to make me look bad in front of Ohlins by sending them an email saying “That Adam Lewis has just turned up on my doorstep. How quickly can you get the parts to me?” Had he had the sense to check the cc’s of his emails he would have know that Ohlins were fully aware of my keeping him informed of the situation.

August 2009 – (Taken from Chapter 19) – When I removed the rear wheel I made my customary check for vertical play in the swingarm as the link arm bearings have a tendency to fail. On a good day there would be no play, on a bad day there would be perhaps ½”, today there was 2”. FM!! 2”!! The whole shock unit was moving up and down.

It’s a long job to remove the shock as the whole pannier frame assemblies, rack, seat and tanks and exhaust have to be removed before the subframe and underseat fuel tank can be unbolted and tipped up to reveal the top mounting bolt for the shock. At least it would have revealed itself had it been there. It had in fact sheared off allowing the shock body to impact the frame damaging the top of the unit (cylinder head), the shock of which had snapped the U-bracket on the opposite end – OH FUCK!!!


I emailed the Manufacturer – Ohlins – in Sweden to get the part numbers I needed, then emailed all the South American distributors – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru. It took a few days but they all replied – nobody had the parts. I emailed Ohlins USA who had most of, but not all, the parts but even if they did they wouldn’t sell them to me. I would have to ‘find’ a dealer prepared to post to Bolivia and have them order the parts from Ohlins USA who would, in-turn, order them from Sweden! I did find a dealer in California who’s website claims to be the ‘World’s largest Ohlins dealer’. I figured there had to be a chance they’d have the parts in stock so I emailed them only to have them contact Ohlins USA. I received a reply saying “It seems you already know what’s going on” ! I emailed the UK distributor who also had most of, but not all of the parts I required. Again I emailed Ohlins in Sweden, told them who I had contacted and asked if they could supply to me directly. I received a reply saying they had spoken to the UK distributor who had told them they had all the parts! I promptly forwarded them the message saying theUK didn’t have the parts and received a reply saying “Please order your parts through the UK distributor”.

Even if I did manage to get the parts I would still have to fly to Santiago, Chile, to have the distributor make the repair. At GBP156 a plane ticket was the cheapest way to get my shock to an Ohlins agent. The Chilean dealer quoted U$250 labour only and the bill for the parts was running at U$350 + shipping…not good for the piggy bank.

Whilst all these emails were flying around I walked miles up and down the hills around La Paz seeking a solution. It’s tarmac all the way to the Ohlins agent in Lima, Peru, approximately 1600km away and if I could make a temporary repair to get me there I could avoid paying for a plane ticket to Chile, have the parts delivered regular mail instead of paying for a courier and leave Bolivia before my visa expires

Conclusion – I have ridden 72,000km since the shock was fitted and with the spherical bearing it has worked superbly. We stuck it out with Ohlins because the ride quality, for such a heavy bike, is exceptional. In Austrlia I had the unit serviced and apart from a standard service kit it needed an internal bush replacing (the coating had worn off)and the spherical bearing needed gluing into the Cylinder Head. I have lost NO faith in Ohlins and WILL use their products again in the future. However, I wouldn’t cross the road to piss on our supplier should he burst into flames!

August 2009 Conclusion -My opinion of the Ohlins ride quality has not changed. However my opinion of the company is very low. On a RTW trip you need to rely on suppliers/manufacturers for spares/information and Ohlins have proven they cannot be relied on. Never again would I use an Ohlins product for a big trip. Perhaps I’d never use an Ohlins product again, period.

Water Pump – I learnt this was a weakpoint prior to departure and so always carry a replacement impeller kit with me. The fault stems from a poor design in that the impeller end is supported by two seals which, over time, wear a groove in the shaft causing water to leak. This is visible from the drain hole between the two seals which exits under the pump. It is not a difficult job but it is a time consuming one. To help with the time and the need for finding a container for draining the engine oil, I replacedthe steel oil return pipe (that runs from the sump, around the clutch cover behind the gear lever and up to the oil tank), with a flexible hose routed around the front of the waterpump.


Steering Head Bearings -BMW have their own way of adjusting and securing the steering head bearings . I have now fitted four sets which suggests their method is not as effective as that of the Japanese. In Australia I had the opportunity to make the special tool listed by BMW and the first set I fitted using the tool did last longer, however they still didn’t last as long as I would expect them to and the tool still requires the use of a torque wrench (the only hand-tool I don’t carry). I fitted the next set using a non-calibrated torque wrench (all I could get hold of) and of course this set didn’t last as long. Link arm bearings – I have had to replace these on three occasions. They seen to be under a lot of stress (probably due to the heavy spring). They have dried-up, flat spotted, seized and on one occasion stretched, elongating the holes meaning I had to replace both arms as well as the bearings, bushes and seals.

Link arm bearings – I have had to replace these on three occasions. They seen to be under a lot of stress (probably due to the heavy spring). They have dried-up, flat spotted, seized and on one occasion stretched, elongating the holes meaning I had to replace both arms as well as the bearings, bushes and seals.

Batteries – We both fitted Hawker Oddysey batteries prior to leaving home. Dannys is still working. Mine failed in Pakistan. All that was available was a $8 Pakistani made one which lasted a week. In India I bought a cheap Indian battery which lasted until Thailand where I bought a decent (though not Yuasa) Japanese battery. When the bikes arrived in NZ my battery was dead (despite having been disconnected during the voyage). I finally managed to buy a genuine Yuasa battry (Yippee!) however, thanks to my own stupidity, when I replaced the waterpump in Queenstown I forgot to remove the battery and managed to partially dry out a few cells whilst the bike was led on its side. My bike regularly failed to start on cold mornings and on those occasions I would park it in the sun whilst I had breakfst. This usually did the trick. Although operating below par it did last until Chile where I bought another Japanese one (couldn’t get Yuasa anywhere). The location and type of battery is also an issue. With the fuel tank under the seatthe battery sits just above the cylinder head in the hottest part of the bike and being a lead acid type proceeds to boil its brains out. Regular checks and topping up are necessary.

Rear Brake – I don’t know whether its aF650 thing, a single cylinder thing or a single front disc thing but I find myself using the rear brake more on this bike than any other I’ve ever ridden. Unfortunately though the rear caliper is prone to binding and overheating and has boiled the fluidand glazed the pads on several occasions. This excess heat seems to have damaged the seals on the sliders preventing them from staying clean and exasperating the problem. I have found that a repair kit (Caliper Pin Cover set; Motorworks pt#BRA30312) – from an 850 I think – contains exactly the same seals.

Miscellaneous – The Touratech flexible indicators bounce around a lot causing the arms to split and I have glued them several times. The 225mm bolt at the rear of the engine cradle broke so many times that I bought a length of M8 threaded bar and started making my own. I stopped counting after six. Other than that, two fork seals, one clutch cable, one Oxygen sensor (see Chapter 16), numerous head & tailight bulbs, a few fuses and a fuel tank Q/R snapped whilst riding (see Chapter 18)

F650 – Pros/Cons and Conclusion

Pros – Comfort, Fuel Economy, Reliability (roadside)

Cons – Wears parts prematurely, Cold starting, Starting at altitude, need to carry a lot of tools

Conclusion – Would I reccommend it? Yes & No. Yes, if you are happy to carry the tools you will need and to do the work yourself. No, if you need to rely on dealer maintenance. I would have been pissed off a long time ago if I had to pay dealer prices to service and replace all the parts I have.


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Gilles Bacon
Gilles Bacon
15 years ago

Hi to both of you

I met you in Pakistan at the polo events.
I am now on my way to south America with my motorcycle. I should cross Mexico from California next week

Maybe we can meet in the south

Stuart and Anita
Stuart and Anita
14 years ago

Hi Adam,

nice website. we looked for you on the road to Cuzco but you and Bryn must have passed us while we were having lunch.

Where are you now? We are in Cuzco.

Stuart and Anita

Kris [
Kris ["Krusty ..." at ADVrider]
14 years ago

Hi, Adam…

I followed your link from ADVrider, and am looking forward to pics of your Suzuki DR650SE upgrades, now that you’ve made the switch.

I hope you have many trouble-free miles, and many more stories to tell…


J. A. Levi, BMW Performance Specialist

Great post. I emailed it to a few of my friends who also read it. (We operate a source of high-endBMW tuning goodies and stuff!). Anyways, Keep up the good work!

13 years ago


do you think it’s a waste of cash to buy a f650gs twin w abs, i mean its hard without generalizing to answer but i guess i just need affirmation before purchase. It just seem that the BMW quality should be there for the extra cash, you know what i mean? All i know is that i want a nice, fun, comfertable, longridingable, reliable, getWhatUpayFor type bike, and i had a BMW car once, where i felt that ‘quality-ooze’ so i kind of look for the same 🙂

thx for any advice!

13 years ago
Reply to  Morg

“It just seem that the BMW quality should be there for the extra cash, you know what i mean?” – You obviously haven’t read my blog!

13 years ago

I am considering to start a long trip around the world. I am your same height and I was worried about seat height.
What models can you recommend for shorter riders? Will I need to lower the seat?
Thanks for your help.

13 years ago
Reply to  Eliseo

It’s not so much your height as your leg length. The BMW F650 GS is about the lowest 650 available which is one of the reasons we chose them originally. My DR650 is considerably taller but has a much narrower seat so the height isn’t such a big issue. The seat is the easiest way to lower a bike but consider the comfort factor. A horizontal seat is much more comfortable than one that slopes forward so keep that in mind when modifying your seat. If you can’t get the bike low enough by altering the seat then you’ll have to modify the suspension but to do so properley is expensive. I do NOT recommend using lowering links if you’re going to ride off-road.

Good Luck!