Si’s first Dakar was aboard a Honda XR600 and he’s even competed the rally on a CCM. But ever since his tie-up with the Bavarian Motor Works he’s headed for the sands on Munich-made tackle. And at the start of this century that meant there was really only one bike to choose from: the F650GS.
Si’s 650GS is a bike which has evolved in itself as it’s been to Dakar three times. Okay, strictly speaking it’s only been to Dakar once, as Si’s two DNFs from eight starts came aboard this bike. Each subsequent outing brought with it a number of changes, which ultimately resulted in him reaching Lac Rose aboard the bike in 2005.
The red and white machine started out as a 2002-model F650GS. You might be expecting to learn that it came out of a crate and was stripped for rally prep - I know I was - but that certainly wasn’t the case. The bike did a season at the Off Road Skills school before it was torn-down for the transformation into a rally racer.
At the time the only real option for a privateer team running BMWs was to use Touratech parts, so Si and then-teammate Nicky Plumb put a call in to their HQ. The Germans said ‘ja’, and the pair subsequently spent a week in a Niedereschach workshop ‘eating pizzas and spinning spanners’. Incidentally ‘eating pizza is very important for the privateer rally racer’, laughs Si, referring to the long hours spent prepping bikes in the workshop.
The 650’s motor, electrics (aside from the rally additions), swingarm, and airbox were all left as standard. The only powertrain parts that were changed were the exhaust and the air filter.
The fuel tanks (front and rear) and nav gear are Touratech parts, albeit the tanks were adapted with Dzus fasteners so that they could be removed quickly and easily. ‘They need to be when you take them off every day’, remarks Si. And those weren’t the only parts which came in for some modifications. ‘Every time we build a Dakar bike, well, we don’t get everything quite right’, he explains, referring to the enormous number of changes required in a rally racer. And those changes can be both off-the-shelf parts and small but crucial build-details, such as the cable routing - crucial so that they don’t chafe through. ‘There are probably more trick bits on this than on any of my other bikes because we had to come up with stuff.’
Another area crucial to the 650s was knowing how to solve problems using other parts from the BMW brand. The bike runs Talon-built wheels with the Somerset company’s front hub, but at the rear the F-GS doesn’t run a conventional hub so a Talon part wasn’t an option. Instead Si fitted a cushdrive from the forerunner to the bike - the ‘Funduro’ - as it’s stronger than the stock part.
The suspension set-up was another area where Si had to work around a problem that was borne from using what is essentially a ‘roadbike’: no-one really made a proper off-road shock for it, largely because there wasn’t really room to fit one. ‘No-one’, as it transpired, except for the French suspension specialists, Fournales. And so the bike runs one of the Gallic brand’s air-sprung/oil-damped units, whilst the front-end is fitted with a pair of 50mm Marzocchis.
‘The suspension evolved and everything needed to be made stronger’, Si recalls. ‘We took a roadbike off-road racing in the harshest conditions. And we made a heavy bike heavier!’