GS/Dakar Hard Starting/Poor Running FAQ

compiled & edited by Kristian #562
Edited and Updated by Winter, 29 December 2005
Please read the Disclaimer before attempting any work in this FAQ.
4 January 2006

See also the:


Starting the newer Fuel Injected F650's (GS, Dakar and CS) can be somewhat different for beginners. Some people find the official starting method does not work, and use a slightly different method or add an extra step. There is now also a diagnostic table in the Classic Hard Starting / Poor Running FAQ that will help you figure out what is wrong.

Throttle Debate: To use or not to use, that is the question!

Much of the FAQ opinions comment on the use of the throttle during the starting procedure. If you are experiencing problems starting or running your bike, you are encouraged to check other possible causes first. If nothing else fixes your problem, you may need to apply the throttle when starting the bike. However this is not the recommended procedure.

Temp Light Debate: When to push the starter?

Another debate is over when it is safe to start your bike (ie Can you start it before the temp light stops flashing?). Some say it is okay, however the recommended method is to wait. Besides - what is waiting an extra 3 seconds or so?


Attempting to start your bike with a low or failing battery is a really bad idea because there is a real risk of the starter solenoid contacts welding closed due to low voltage arcing. If this happens you will have to disconnect the battery (because the permanently closed solenoid contacts will crank your battery dry) and either replace or repair the starter solenoid.

[From the BMW Dual Spark Rider's Manual (Australian Version)] If you attempt to start the engine when the battery is flat, you will hear the relay chattering. Further attempts will damage the starter relay and starter motor. Before trying again: recharge the battery.

Section 1: Starting Your GS/Dakar

Starting Procedure (Short Version)

The following is the short version of the starting procedure. It is based on information within this FAQ (and the Dual Spark Riders Manual). For details on WHY you should use this procedure, see elsewhere in the FAQ.

  1. Ensure the kill/cutoff switch is in the operating position
  2. Turn the key to the ON position
  3. Wait until the coolant temperature warning light stops flashing (See the Temp Light Debate)
  4. Retract the side stand
  5. Select neutral
  6. Press the starter button and do not release it until the engine is running smoothly (max. five seconds)

The BMW Riders Manual also provides the following tips:

  • Do not apply the throttle when starting the engine (See the Throttle Debate)
  • At ambient temperatures below 0C/32F (freezing), pull the lever to disengage the clutch
  • If the engine does not start after releasing the starter button, wait at least five seconds before trying again
  • If you switch the key to the off position, wait at least three seconds before switching the bike back on
  • The engine will stop (and will not start) if the bike is in gear and the side stand is extended

Starting Procedure Mark II

from Trevor#999's Expert-who-never-lies, in the BMW Head Office in the UK.

  1. Switch on ignition. (The BMS unit carries out a self test at this time, checking that it is receiving it's signalling data. This includes throttle position!, engine and air intake temp. It will then calculate the exact inject time required for when the starter button is depressed). Saying that you had to "wait for the light to go out" was just a way of ensuring customers did not hit the button too quickly! (ergo, if you wait for the temperature light to go out that's probably long enough to complete the self-test. ed.)
  2. Press the starter button until the engine fires and then release. (The engine will have to turn over and maybe will rotate for what seems a long time. The control unit counts the rotations so it can work out the exact position of the piston and will calculate the correct timing and injection sequence) (( DO NOT be tempted to open the throttle whilst cranking. The control unit does not memorise the setting for the throttle position potentiometer and takes a new base setting each time the ignition is switched on and engine started.)) (It would seem NOT touching the throttle is still a requirement, despite the above feedback from BMW rep Canada. ed.)
  3. When the engine has started and is running the following things will happen. The BMW system will richen the mixture at all times when cranking for a start and also when the engine temp reads cold. When the engine reaches 80-85 degrees the oxygen sensor part of the programme starts to operate. The electronic engine idle valve controls the tick over speed and uses the throttle potentiometer signal, base setting as a reference point. You also get fuel injection shut off on overrun as a form of additional engine braking and improved economy. I.E. If you close the throttle whilst riding at 5,000 RPM the injector stops injecting until the engine speed has dropped down to about 2,200 RPM where upon the injectors are again operated.
  4. The electronic idle valve can cause some confusion as when the ignition is switched off, it takes 7 seconds to retract to it's rest position. There was some discussion that this could cause problems during a failed start or if the rider stalled the bike, however I can only see this being a problem if the ignition was switched off and on quickly. (Hence the warning in the BMW manuals to wait at least 3 seconds before turning the bike back on - ed.).
  5. The ignition pick up from the crankshaft is very simple indeed as has no way of working out piston acceleration etc as suggested on the "weird" website. It quite simply causes a spark to fire each time the sensor is pulsed. This means that the system runs a 'wasted' spark process which allows the spark plug to fire on the exhaust stroke.
  6. Version 10 software and higher does not remember the throttle position but may be able to calculate a changed value. The control unit memory is a 'volatile' type and the software version cannot change this.

Should the temp light come on when you turn the ignition to the on position?

Cold Starting

The F650GS has a strong battery and is okay for doing prolonged/repeated starts. It can be normal for the F650GS to have to crank for several cycles before firing. Neutral is always the place to start. Correct oil weight for cold starting is an obvious thing to have right (some people do a full cold-weather prep and others just ride like normal). The normal starting procedure should work, however here are some additional tips:

Push Starting

Thanks to Richard #230, davidhpark711, Raymo #1173, NLS, Al from Oregon, Flash #412, Trevor #999

Is it possible to push start a GS? I couldn't get it to start yesterday evening, coming home from work. Seemed to be just the cold (heated grips running all the time, and left the bike for a week). It Worked fine after I got a jump from a car. But I was trying to figure out how I would start the bike if I couldn't have gotten the jump. The starter is disabled when it is in gear with the clutch released. I need to hit the starter (I think) to get all the electronics going. I need to have it moving in gear to turn the engine over.

Short Answer: YES...

  1. Find a hill (or a friend that can push like h*ll)
  2. Put the bike in 2nd or 3rd gear (see hint below)
  3. Pull the clutch in and let the bike roll down the hill
  4. When you think you are going fast enough, pop the clutch (release the clutch)
  5. Be prepared to pull the clutch in quickly once the engine starts, otherwise you may stall the bike
  6. Also be prepared for the rear wheel to skid

Caveats / Hints and Tips:

For more detailed information on how the FI system works (during a push start), check the Fuel Injection FAQ.

Can I start my GS without a battery (or totally flat battery)?

The general answer is NO...

Section 2: Troubleshooting

General Questions

I've been told that Surging & Stalling may be sensitive to Starting Procedure

That's what BMW say. Here's the procedure. See GS Starting Procedure.

The battery terminals on the GS come loose easily. Is this normal?

In off-roading the bikes I definitely have found a few times the loose connections in the batteries which cause 'mystery' starting problems. It's a PITA because the covers have to come off, but fixable/avoidable nonetheless. DHP #711

See also the General Battery FAQ.

Other Things to Check Reference
Fuses: Are they all okay?  
Battery Voltage: Check with the key off, key on, and pressing the starter button Battery FAQ
Battery Connections: Check they are tight, free from rust etc. Battery FAQ
Big ECU Connector: Check for rust and bent pins FI FAQ
Oil Temp Range: Are you using appropriate oil for the temperature range Oil FAQ
Throttle Cable: Make sure it is not damaged, and moves freely Cable FAQ
Throttle Housing: Check the spring for the throttle cable is working Cable FAQ
Plug Caps: Plug Cap FAQ
Reset the ECU: Try resetting the ECU FI FAQ
Temperature Sensors (The GS has TWO): AIR Temperature Sensor
COOLANT Temperature Sensor
Air Pressure Sensor: Try swapping your ECU with a similar model FI FAQ

Table: Other Things To Check

Section 3: Opinions

Starting Procedure Mark I

If this is followed, the computer boots correctly and the S&S is minimal whatever the software or injector versions are. I usually switch on and stand by the bike putting on my gloves, watch the pretty lights. That takes the right sort of time for the comp to boot.

For the F650GS, the Water Temp Warning Light goes through the following cycle:

  1. With gearbox in neutral and run switch on, the water temp warning light will come on when the ignition is switched on (and kill switch set to run!).
  2. Wait for the water temp warning light to go out (it takes 2-3 seconds). The electronics have now gathered information on the engine temperature etc.
  3. Now press and hold the starter button for a few seconds until the engine is running smoothly, I usually wait for the revs to drop by a notch on the dial as the tick-over is set. DO NOT twist the throttle at all during the process, you'll just confuse the electronics.

When you turn the key.., the ABS (if you have ABS), neutral (if you are IN Neutral), the oil and water temp lights go on. In the still of a silent garage you will hear a low whirring noise under the seat. That "whirring noise" is most likely your fuel pump coming on, building up pressure and then shutting off when the regulator tells it to. The ABS light goes out and shortly thereafter the temp. light goes out. The grinding noise has stopped and you can start the bike. If you do not start the bike and turn the key off, the little grinding noise goes on again for about 1 full second.

As you can see from above, there is some debate about whether to WAIT for the Temp light to go out or not before starting the F650GS. The Classic doesn't have this Problem. Only the oil light should come on with the F650 (carburetted models).



Cold Starting

Cold Start Note 1

by Supertech, 02-Feb-02

The above tip for cold weather starting says to turn the twist grip a couple of times to aid starting. This WILL cause problems in the form of a surge or stall. The latest BMW APPROVED way to start this bike is to:

Turn on the key, wait at least one second, do not touch the throttle, push the starter and keep the button pushed until after the engine starts, then ride the bike .

Do not warm it up. It will warm up fast by riding.

(According to the Note above, under Starting Procedure, the 10.1 upgrade tells the software to IGNORE the throttle position on start-up, and the stalling problem goes away. Given this change to the software, the total ban on touching the throttle during start-up is no longer the big issue that it was. )

Cold Start Note 2

by Trevor #999, 02-Feb-02

The throttle *should* remain closed for all starting, cold or hot, because the software *should* take account of the starting conditions and automatically increase air or petrol for the correct fuel/air mix in whatever conditions the bike is in.

The *Throttle Position Sensor* gets its information during the first couple of revolutions of the engine, (info from BMW expert), so there's no reason why you can't then crank it a little after the first couple of revolutions. That won't affect the running of the engine afterwards.

If you need to crank the throttle from the outset it *should* affect the way the FI works, by having a different "Closed Throttle" position in its memory until you next stop the engine.

If you feel you're the bike is not running right after starting it with the throttle cranked slightly, then let it run for a few minutes till it's warm, switch off and just restart it with closed throttle. That will set the "throttle position sensor" correctly for the *new* start.

(According to the Note above, under Starting Procedure, the 10.1 upgrade tells the software to IGNORE the throttle position on start-up, and the stalling problem goes away. Given this change to the software, the total ban on touching the throttle during start-up is no longer the big issue that it was. )

Cold Start Note 3

by Bill #1031, 02-Feb-02

Every bike is a little different.  It makes sense that upon KEY-ON the ECU senses the throttle position and assumes it to be closed. OK, so we have the throttle closed when first turning on the key. While that position sensing is almost instantaneous, you can wait until the temp light goes out and then press the start button.

Allow a couple of revs. If no start, then ABRUPTLY open the throttle about 1/2 way. The sudden opening is sensed by the ECU and activates an enrichening sequence. And for me this gets the bike to start instantly. And then quickly close the throttle and let the ECU take over and keep the bike idling.

I noted that the ECU does the enrichening thing by observing the high speed LED indication on the Fuel Nanny. Opening the throttle slowly does not invoke the richer pulse signals to the FI unit. Fast opening of the throttle does.

Even slow opening of the throttle helps my '01 Dakar start. Do whatever works for your bike. Just make sure the throttle is closed when you first turn on the key.

(According to the Note above, under Starting Procedure, the 10.1 upgrade tells the software to IGNORE the throttle position on start-up, and the stalling problem goes away. Given this change to the software, the total ban on touching the throttle during start-up is no longer the big issue that it was)

Cold Start Feedback:

Hard Starting Opinions

Hard Starts - Problem 1:

Symptoms: The other day I found that my 01 GSA would crank over and fire up, but would quit running once the starter button was released. This happened a few times, but after a while, it started up. When it finally started and ran, it seemed to be loaded up and had to clear out for a second or two. This loading up was probably due to the repeated starting process, and I'll assume was not related to the cause of the starting failure.  Once it started, it continued to start fine, but the oil pressure light would change from bright to dim while running, and after an hour or so of starting and shutting down, the light was working properly. I believe the oil pressure light was not on due to low oil pressure, but due to an electrical gremlin. It seems to me that there is a relay problem, if not a ground problem. Anyone experienced anything like this on their FI'd bike? If so, what was the solution?


Hard Starts - Problem 2:

Symptoms: GS will not start Today I rode my bike to work, then to lunch, but after work I put the key in the ignition, turned the bike on, and the instrument panel turned on like always. However, just like when a light bulb burns out, the system quickly went down and will not start. There is a very faint humming noise and the instrument panel is very dim when I turn the key on (I only noticed this after the sun went down and I was making one last effort to start it before loading it in my pickup). I checked the fuses and they're ok. The way things went from good to bad all-of-the-sudden makes me think it is not a battery problem either. I am not sure if it is related, but my horn quit working about 1 month ago. This bike has 9000 miles and was built in 09-2000.

Hard Starts - Problem 3:

Symptoms: My '01 GS, about 7k miles, wouldn't start this morning. It turns over OK but won't start. I get a faint whiff of gas, so I'm guessing that the fuel system is OK. The sidestand switch seems to be OK (the temp light goes on and off like it should but I didn't actually short it). I've looked for connectors that may be loose to a sensor of some sort that would cause the computer to freak out, but everything looks OK. The bike sat for a week and a half while I was out of town, but I fired it up briefly on Saturday - and all seemed fine. Any other ideas of things I should check before calling someone to trailer it to the shop? Many thanks in advance! Michael


Hard Starts Feedback

Push Starting a GS

Cannot Start Bike in Gear even with Clutch Lever In & Sidestand UP?

Q. Cannot start in gear. 2001 F650GS (Australian Spec).

Reading the manual (a good thing) and the forum replies (better) I understand I CAN start the bike in gear - sometimes a good thing when stalled and moving. Trouble is the bike will not start in gear.
- seated, ignition on, kill ok, stand-up, FIRST, CLUTCH-IN, starter - NOTHING
- seated, ignition on, kill ok, stand-up, NEUTRAL, CLUTCH-IN, starter - OK

My guess - electrical: reading the GS wiring diagrams - there seems to be clutch switch much like the side-stand switch - could this be it, and where is it, and how might I test it?


Indeed it is the micro switch inside the clutch lever housing - at the end of the second smaller lead from the clutch handle which does not contain the clutch cable. After my original post, and reading the electrical docs, looked for the switch and found it, engaging the clutch and pulling switch plunger out with a pair of tweezers, the bike started quite happily. Unfortunately, too much gymnastics in that manoeuvre to do it while moving. Looks like the spring loading in the switch has broken. Minor 2 dollar part.... major fiddle to get, handgrips protectors off, replace switch, hand protectors back on. Richard Sydney, Oz

Note: The bike will start in gear, unless you have the sidestand out. The sidestand has a switch, wired to the starter (and kill switch) that prevents the engine from starting. Also, if you put the sidestand out while the engine is running in gear, it would kill the engine. Sojourner (Toronto)


Motronic Requires Reprogramming

Problem 1: Dakar wont idle (sometimes). Has anyone had this experience and what did you (or the dealer) do about it? Engine starts and runs normally. No surging. A month ago during a ride, it would not idle. You could keep the engine running at 2-3k rpm at a light, but if you took your hand off the throttle, it died. I arrived at my destination shut the engine off and went about my business. On the way home I suddenly realized, hey its running ok. Runs, starts normally for a month/500 miles. Last weekend same thing happens. Normal start-up, normal running for 15 minutes, then it wont idle. Stalls at a light every time. I went home, put the bike in the shed. Came out ten minutes later and it started up and ran normally. Took it for a two hour ride. Perfectly normal operation. I do find it unnecessary however to even touch the throttle during starting, even in temps of 15 degrees f. (which is what is was yesterday) It starts like a shot, always. I checked the tightness of the battery terminals when I recently changed the oil. That was in between failures and they were tight. Definitely tightening the battery terminals should be part of maintenance whenever the faux tank comes off. I was thinking about something Trev had said about the computer resetting itself. This problem, which was pretty consistent when it happened (engine will not idle at all and stalls when throttle is closed) went away after the ignition was turned off and then turned back on again. Perhaps the computer was readjusting itself to whatever the problem was. Also I was thinking this perhaps could be icing. The first time this happened it was very humid and this weekend it was very cold. Shutting off the engine with ice in the works would allow the heat to reach where the ice formed and melt it. (the cooling happens only with air flow) But in aircraft icing is not much of a problem with fuel injected engines and generally affects only carburetted ones. No I have no aftermarket lights on the bike. Just the BMW power outlet which I plug my electric vest in and on long trips the air compressor. I've never had a problem with a low battery and I the bike just started fine this morning at 13 degrees F. I did have a little problem with surging the first winter I had the bike and I make it a practice to add a little gas treatment every couple of tankfuls. Haven't had any surging since then. But the bike has only 3k miles on it and I doubt very much there is anything there for injector cleaner to clean. That is a remedy that is common to try out, but IMHE it does not work. I just counselled a friend with an expensive car who was having trouble NOT to allow the dealer to add that stuff to his gas to correct his problem. Well, the friend did it anyway, paid $$$ to have it done and still had the problem. He eventually took the car to another dealer who found a sensor problem and fixed the car. I'm thinking injector cleaner isn't going to help my problem either. But I wish it could! Echo.

Problem 2: All of a sudden my 2001 650GSA won't remain idel. It'll remain idle normally for any amount of time, as long as you don't ride it. But as soon as you start riding it the problem happens. I took it to my BMW dealership (Wild West in Katy, TX). After putting the bike to the computer, they have replaced the idle actuator and the speed sensor. Yet the problem remains. They have put a support call into BMW of NA. Any ideas what the proeblem may be??

Another update. Spoke with WW service this week, they confirmed they have changed spark plug, unpluged all sensors, rest and remap the FI (several times) and the problem is not gone. The bike can idle for hrs, but will not do it while driving it. They are awaiting the tech rep from BMW NA to come in and check the bike. Totally cluless... fahz #1221

Fuel Sump Screen

Problem: I have the same thing happening on my 2002 GS. It seams that if I simply unplug the 20A fuse and replace it all is fine (for a while). Turning the ignition off for a short period and then back on also seems to "clear" the problem and the bike will restart. After this event occurs see if your temperature light stays off. If it does, your computer (for some reason) is preventing the engine from starting. I have not figured out the cause. I have checked all cables as well as the connections in (and behind) the fuse box. David San Rafael, CA '02 650GSLA

Solution: Mine turned out to be a clogged fuel sump screen. Not sure how the tank got contaminated with 626 miles on it, but at least they found the cause (of course it was a fuel related problem and thus billable). The dealer told me that if you turn the key off (among other things) it forces the fuel pump to run again which forced fuel through the somewhat-clogged screen. This allowed enough fuel to pass the screen and allow the engine to restart and run until it clogged enough again to stall the engine. To make matters worse, the "clog" also caused the low-fuel indicator to malfunction. This caused the low-fuel light to not work and I could have run out of gas. So… if your problem is intermittent, check for a fuel related problem. Try draining your fuel tank (ensure the low fuel light comes on as you do this), blow out the tank using an air hose (ensure no debris is in the tank), and refill your tank while watching for the low fuel light go out after you have put about .75 US Gal back in the tank. Continue filling. Lesson learned. David San Rafael, CA '02 650GSLA