May 2, 2007 BMW whipped the covers off its new 450cc enduro prototype on the starting line of a World Enduro Championship race in Puerto Lumbreras, Spain last weekend. It's BMW's first serious enduro contender - the brand's GS twin-cylinder bikes and recent 650 singles have all been more adventure-sport oriented than built for serious enduro racing. Still, the new bike leapt out of the blocks, scoring championship points in both races and looking like a genuine contender. Clearly BMW is set to invade the lucrative serious off-road segment which has helped to build its Austrian neighbour KTM into Europe's second largest motorcycle manufacturer.
The bike was developed around a simple concept: if the mounting axis of the rear swing arm were to coincide with the axis of rotation of the drive chain pinion, there would be no change in length of the chain on compression and rebound. Then, without changing the wheelbase, with a longer swing arm, the engine could move further back, allow more cylinder tilt and thus create space for long, straight induction tracts with a dual throttle valve system (to help with Euro III exhaust emission compliance). The fuel tank could be placed directly beneath the rider, the clutch could go on the crankshaft, with the frame tubes straight ahead of the swing arm pivot, and the airbox could be placed as high as possible for optimum protection.
The concept promised mass centralisation, weight reduction and stability, and also a longer swingarm without a longer wheelbase, for better traction.
The BMW Motorrad team have hired two outstanding riders to develop the machine - a sign of their commitment to developing the bike at the top level. Five times world enduro champion Joel Smets and German enduro champion Sascha Eckert were happy with the bike's first competitive outing, scoring 13th, 15th and 17th places with one retirement by Smets in race two due to an electrical fault.
"I'm so happy with the way the weekend went," said Sascha, who has been involved for some time behind the scenes with the development of the new bike. "This is my first World Enduro Championship race in a long time and of course BMW's first World Enduro Championship event as well, so to finish both days is great. We came here to see how the bike would perform in high level competition and we have learned so much. The track was difficult for me and the four laps on both days were tough, but the bike performed perfectly, so I couldn't have asked for a better weekend really."
Joel Smets was a little disappointed not to have finished the second day but was well aware that participation in the World Enduro Championship was always a continuation of the development programme: "I knew that we might run into some trouble but I really enjoyed the first day. It was as tough as I expected but finishing in the points in 13th was great. I was quite tense initially but after the first lap I relaxed and I really started to enjoy myself. I never looked too closely at my times in the special tests during the first day because I wasn't there to try and win - my job is to develop the bike and give the engineers detailed feedback. Everyone at BMW is really pleased with the way the weekend went and having scored world championship points first time out made things even better."
BMW have said nothing about if or when the prototypes will be developed for production and entry into the highly competitive consumer enduro market, but the sales potential is enormous given the segment's popularity around the world.
After such an encouraging start, surely it won't be long until we get our hands on one of these!