Test Ride: BMW F650GS

Words: Rob Harris


Top: The standard F650GS in red.
Bottom: The Dakar version has more suspension travel, higher seat height, larger front wheel, taller screen and heated grips as standard.

I was a big fan of the (now) old F650 Funduro. In ’98. I toured around New Zealand on one, two up with luggage, and the 650 never missed a beat, coped well in all situations and allowed us to explore a lot of the more interesting dirt roads which would have been otherwise left undiscovered. Initially however, I was in a state of shock; it felt cramped, under powered and just not the bike for a long tour. But that’s the F650, it took a while to adjust to but then became my favourite bike to date within just a few days.

Why? Glad you didn’t ask. Because it is one of the few bikes I can think of that is truly an all rounder. It takes highways, byways, dirtways and a passenger and luggage well – shit, it even works well around town. It may not be the master of any of those fields but it does them all really quite well, and that’s not an easy feat.

But enough praise of a bike that is no longer officially available, let’s take a look at its successor, the new F650GS, now officially a member of BMW’s dual sport family; the GS’s. I’m writing this piece from Arizona, after a long and adventurous day, carving through canyons, both on and off road, on the 650GS. But enough on that, let’s take a look at what BMW have done to the Funduro to make it into a GS ….

The engine has received a major going over in the cylinder head department. The old carb being junked for fuel injection, allowing a straight and vertical inlet port for improved volumetric efficiency and thus more power.

Well it’s actually just a couple more horsepower (now maxing out at 50), along with 3 extra ft-lb of torque (that now maxing out at 44 ft-lb). BMW do stress that this also has the effect of a smoother torque curve, which is important in the way a bike ultimately responds, especially if it is to be used as an all rounder.

In reality, I found it very difficult to notice these changes in the saddle. BMW had thoughtfully brought down a Funduro with them so that we could do some back to back testing, and switching from one to the other unveiled maybe a slight reduction in vibes (which are already very minimal) and a tad more civilisation in general engine usage. Not so much massive changes, but rather more subtle refinements.

The single cylinder is redlined at 7,500 rpm at which point a limiter cuts in … and out, in quick succession, making the whole bike jerk back and forwards until you knock it up a cog.

Surprisingly, the motor wasn’t a keen starter, requiring a few seconds of starter button depression and then a quick twist of the throttle once the motor caught. Not the end of the world, but not something you’d expect from an up to date fuel injected bike either.

‘Arris

Once the bike was running the carburation was smooth and glitch free. Top speed that I saw was 170 Km/h, and that was a slow climb for the last 20 Km/h, but do you really need that much more? Okay, but at least you’re more likely to keep yer licence with this one.

While we’re still (almost) on the subject of inlet tracts, with the vertical intake the fuel tank is now an air filter (with a load of electrical gubbins thrown in and air scoops molded into the casing for good measure), meaning that the real tank is now under the seat, something BMW chose not to hide by putting a loud ‘n’ proud filler cap on the rear right of said seat.

It also has the added benefit of keeping heavier masses (such as 17.3L of gasoline – that’s a range of 300 Km) down low, giving an overall lower C of G, and making the bike handle better. Did I notice this? Not really, the Funduro was still very comfortable carving from sharp left to rights at high speed, just as much as the GS was.

One thing I did notice however, was an overall tighter feel of the GS in the handling department. Maybe this was due to the new fork brace, new frame or it could be simply down to the adjustable knob for rear spring pre-load. Eh? Yes, in typical BMW style, the rear preload can be easily changed by a large plastic knob sticking out of the rhs at engine level.

Its 40 positions meant that the layman (i.e., all lazy bastards – and that includes me) can easily change rear suspension setting at the twist of their knob … so to speak. A 25 setting gave a firm and very respectable highway ride, and a 10 setting gave the give required to absorb most of the washboards on our off road excursions.

Scot gets stuck in the soft sand

Talking of which, yesterday we hit a dry riverbed (yet to see a wet one) during a shoot for the Motorcycle Rider TV show and quickly found the off road limits of the GS, axle deep in sand.

The GS is not an off road bike, nor does it claim to be. What it does do (and it does it well), is gravel roads, of which there are plenty all over the world. It does have an advantage over its 1150 big brother twin in the weight department, making the F650 more of a bike that you’d try the dry riverbed on and at least get it back out through a mixture of wheel spins and legwork.

Only a fool would try that on the 1150. Wow, I believe that’s a segue to the 1150GS and thus the new styling of the 650GS. Funnily enough it’s based on the 1150 somewhat with the beak like front fender, only this one turns with the steering.

The cockpit also gets a much needed overhaul, with fancy solid screen, funky headlight and instrument cluster to match. The screen’s a tad smaller than the Funduro’s, though it still does a reasonably good job at diverting the air. Apparently you can buy a taller option, which would be a good investment if you plan a lot of highway miles.

 

The old and new F650’s. L to R – Rears, with twin pipes belonging to the GS version. View across both seats. Fronts of both bikes showing GS beak fender.

The overall effect is to give a rather more aggressive edge to the bike over the bulbous (but oh-so-friendly) Funduro. It’s a job well done – especially the twin mufflers exiting out the arse end – sweet. Did I just mention arse end? I believe I did.

And that would bring me to the seat. Our test rides came with the low (780 mm) standard seat which I personally (at a stunning 6’4″ tall) found too low. There is an 820 mm option available which consists of a whole new seat (unfortunately there’s no BMW style multi height adjustable seat here) which can be ordered with the bike at the dealer.

Apparently it’s the same base with more foam added, which sounds like a plan to me because the standard seat was a little hard, especially at the end of the day. If you’re vertically challenged and want a bike to spend your hard earned circus money on, then the GS’s ultra low kit is for you. It too needs to be ordered when buying the bike but actually involves a different rear subframe as well.

While we’re on the subject of freaks, if you have big stubby fingers then you’ll be pleased to know that they’ve gone and BMWerised the Funduro’s switchgear to make it big, bright and chunky. Actually it’s meant for those with winter gloves, and is a neat touch. They’ve also retained the world standard turn signal switch of left and right all in one switch – as opposed to the customary BMW thang of one for left, one for right and one for cancel. Hurrah.

Excellent front brake is good enough to do this! It’s even better with the ABS turned off – -I’m joking … calm, calm

At this point (the end) I guess it’s a good time to quickly cover the options. The biggie is BMW’s excellent Antilock Braking System (ABS), which was not previously available for the Funduro. Only this time it runs on a different system, costs significantly less ($850) but then doesn’t quite work as well.

To quantify that, the GS system pulsates at the lever as the ABS starts to work, as opposed to the clunk, clunk you’d get on the other BMW versions. Nothing to worry about there, the only prob being that I found the front brake to be a little under-sensitive (sounds like me) resulting in brief lock ups before finally allowing the wheel to turn again. This was more noticeable at lower speeds where it matters least, but it left me never quite trusting it enough to try for real in mid corner on gravel.

The back worked just dandy by the way. Oh, and it can be deactivated for off road use, though I still found the ABS ‘on’ option in the dirt to be preferable over the ‘off’. The other option is the heated grips, which at $250 are well worthy of consideration, getting used to good effect during the cool desert mornings.

And finally, I guess the Dakar model could be defined as an option, although it would seem to be more of a model variation to me. We didn’t have one here to ride so I won’t go into details, but if you do want to know more, check out the article we wrote on the release of the GS info a few weeks back.

And so I’ve run out of space. At $9,990 is the F650GS a good buy? Damn, yes. It does it all. Okay, it might not be the fastest, slickest, bounciest motorcycle out there, but it has to be the most useful and enjoyable for your dollar. Granted, at first look the GS may not be all it should be over the Funduro.

A complete redesign has seen a vast improvement in styling, and a modicom increase in performance in all other areas. My main complaint was with the seat, but I reserve judgement until we can get our grubbies on a tall seated version for a longer term test in the summer.

Although I maybe expected a little more from a much hyped makeover, the result is an overall gain on the previous, and that was already a sweet package. Unfortunately, the North American buyer does not traditionally go for this type of bike – remember, the fun is not the destination, it’s the getting there, and the GS has all the routes covered. The standard version should be available in dealers on March the 5th, with the Dakar version released sometime around June/July.

 

Bike

BMW F650GSBMW F650GS Dakar (comes with heated grips as standard)

MSL

$9,990$10,740

Displacement

652 cc652 cc

Engine type

Liquid-cooled DOHC four-stroke singleLiquid-cooled DOHC four-stroke single

Carburetion

Digital Fuel InjectionDigital Fuel Injection

Final drive

Five-speed, chain final driveFive-speed, chain final drive

Tires, front

100/90 – 19 57 S90/90 – 21 54 S

Tires, rear

130/80 – 17 65 S130/80 – 17 65 S

Brakes, front

Single 300 mm discs with two-piston calipersSingle 300 mm discs with two-piston calipers

Brakes, rear

Single 240 mm disc with single piston caliperSingle 240 mm disc with single piston caliper

Seat height

780 mm (optional taller and shorter seats)870 mm

Wheelbase

1479 mm1489 mm

Wet weight

193 kg (claimed)192 Kg (claimed)

Canadian colours

Titanium Blue Metallic, Red, Mandarin YellowWhite/Black

Join the conversation!