Photos: Zac Kurylyk/Ramona Rodden
Title photo: Ramona Rodden
Back in my university days, I had a buddy who drove a 1990 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera. It was not a particularly nice vehicle in any respect, but it did one thing very well: it was a sleeper.
I saw the scenario play out many times. He’d pull up to a light, some kid in a slammed Civic would burp his fart can in the next lane over, and give The Look. The light would turn green, and The Look would be replaced by a flush of embarrassment, as Johnny Honda and his janky four-cylinder were left in the dust by the mom-mobile with its V6.
The BMW C650 GT is kind of like that Cutlass Ciera, except it’s a really nice vehicle, and it isn’t a red-light rocket. But it has the potential to surprise many other motorists.
The BMW C650 GT is the only BMW scooter currently imported into Canada (the C400 is coming later this season), and it’s been on the market for a while (Costa wrote the original review here; the current model was updated in 2015).
It’s a very Euro-inspired design. Scooters are mostly seen as budget transportation in North America, but they’re a respectable part of the continental lifestyle, and BMW has made this a step-through for the scooterist with money and taste. Forget the 49 cc two-stroke that powered millions of scooters for decades. The C650 GT has a four-stroke liquid-cooled 647cc parallel twin, combined with a Continuously Variable Transmission and enclosed chain final drive. It’s built by Kymco, in Taiwan.
That’s the biggest scooter engine currently available on the Canadian market (the Suzuki Burgman is 638 cc), but there’s more. To go with the muscle (allegedly 60 hp, and 46 lbs.-ft. of torque), BMW includes USD forks (non-adjustable), ABS and traction control as standard. If you want to crash this bike, you’ve really got to try. There are dual 270 mm discs up front with twin-pot calipers, and a single 270 mm disc in back. “Usable tank volume” is 15.5 litres, with three litres of that in reserve. That’s good for 225-to-275 km between fill-ups, depending how hard you are on the throttle.
Front and rear wheels are both 15-inchers, and wet weight is 261 kg. And that’s enough detail for now. Let’s get to the ride.
Back road blaster
Most of the mileage I put on the C650 GT was on back roads this month across the north-eastern US and Canada, ranging from busier secondary highways to forgotten byways, with the occasional small town en route. This is where I spend most of my riding time around my home base in New Brunswick, but I’m usually behind the bars of a single-cylinder dual sport, with my bones rattling as the thumper dishes out punishment.
That sort of barbaric, uncivilized approach to back-road meandering was a distant memory when I sat behind the bars of the C650 GT. Take the motor, for instance: instead of having to aggressively bang through the gears, shifting constantly to stay in the sweet spot of the powerband, I could just smoothly roll on and off the throttle, letting the CVT do the work. Ahhhh, the luxury. If only the dashboard wasn’t flashing a warning about freezing cold temperatures …
But even those cold temps weren’t the end of the world, thanks to the Beemer’s accessories (mine had the optional, $790 Highline Package 1 installed). Heated grips with low, high and auto settings? Sure! And a heated seat, with those same three settings? I’ll take it! And an electronically-controlled windshield as standard, which moves the windblast from my chest to my helmet, without buffeting? Don’t mind if I do!
Although I could not have completed this early-season ride without the heated grips, the heated seat was a huge bonus, one I’ve never tried before. The seat itself is extremely comfortable, locking you into place at speed and making you feel like you’re piloting the world’s fastest, cushiest bar stool. Add in the heating elements, and you’re toasty while riding at slower speed, and still getting quite a bit of warmth on the highway, even in cold temperatures. Corbin makes an aftermarket saddle for the C650 GT, but given the comfort of the stocker, I think you’d have to be crazy to swap it out.
I didn’t have a pillion on this trip, but it’s worth noting there’s separate heating control for the passenger seat as well (low, high or off). The seats are stepped in the classic king-and-queen configuration that went out of style when the Big Four stopped making low riders in the 1980s. For some, that’s a fashion faux pas. For me, it’s a bonus. It means your pillion’s helmet is much less likely to be banging into the back of yours at stops.
(There’s also a Highline Package 2 option as a $585 alternative, which lowers the seat by 20 mm for those riders who are more vertically-challenged, but does not offer the heat for your backside. I know which I prefer.)
To add to the scooter’s comfort, BMW also included a foot-forward position on the floorboards, letting me stretch my legs out in the more boring sections, allowing the world’s fastest bar stool to morph into a La-Z-Boy. But in the fun stuff, you’re going to want to keep your legs in the sensible mid-mount position, and focus on the ride.
The 60 horsepower means it doesn’t have too little power, nor does it have too much. You can take on a curvy two-lane just fine with 20 hp, and you can do it with 100 hp, but a small bike always leaves you wanting more horsepower and a big bike always leaves you wanting to carry more speed.
The C650 GT’s power is just enough to keep the pace up, but not so much that you start doing stupid things because you’re bored. And when you get to a populated area, there’s less frustration with the busier traffic. Out of town, you can pick up speed smoothly, while enjoying the view. You can even pick off an unsuspecting car or two, and when you hit the twisties, start harassing cruisers.
Now, because I rode the Beemer in early spring, I didn’t meet any other motorcyclists on the back roads, but I can envision a meeting at a gas station in the summer:
BIKER: What you got there, little boy? A SCOOTER?
C650GT RIDER: Yeah, it’s a BMW, with a 650 cc engine
BIKER: HA! I ride a V-TWIN! With an 1800 cc engine, a stereo, and a big flag! Cuz FREEDOM!
C650 GT RIDER: Sure man, whatever—see you on the road.
BIKER: (Blasts off to the sound of Steppenwolf)
C650GT Rider: (Waits about 20 minutes to leave, then catches up to BIKER in the first set of twisties)
BIKER: (To himself-“Where did HE come from?”).
From my own previous experience on a maxi-scooter, I can tell you that the cruiseratti do not appreciate being hunted down by a step-through in the twisties. Not one bit.
Of course, a competent rider can still say Sayonara to a maxi-scooter pretty quickly. While the Beemer has very good handling, turning in quickly due to its 15-inch wheels, it still doesn’t have the snappy acceleration of a proper gearbox. And while its suspension does a good job of smoothing out the beating of a bad road, it doesn’t have the suspension travel to truly rip up a stereotypical Canadian byway, with potholes and frost heaves. Lean the machine over in a corner, hit a bump, and you might start scraping, at least in the left-handers as the centrestand or sidestand might touch down. But on a properly paved road, the 650’s handling is a dream. Just remember to take it easier in the bumpy sections. Don’t worry, you’ll still be faster than the cruisers.
I did knock off quite a bit of highway mileage aboard the C650 GT as well, and found it excelled in a role that the motorcycle industry has largely forgotten: the middleweight touring bike.
Once upon a time, touring kits (Vetter, and assorted knock-offs) were fairly common on 750-class UJMs. Honda built the Silver Wing, a scaled-down Gold Wing, for several years, and at one point, Kawasaki even had a touring version of its KZ400. But these days, if you want a factory tourer that comes with OEM luggage, you’ve got to start looking around the 1000 cc level for the most part. The motorcycle industry has decided if someone wants to go touring, they want a lot of engine so they can haul a lot of luggage (and maybe a lot of passenger) down the highway with a lot of speed.
But that doesn’t necessarily describe every touring enthusiast, and if you prefer a slightly less bloodthirsty approach to two-wheeled travel, maybe you should look at the C650 GT. Not only is it a fun back-road burner, but it can also knock out the highway miles very easily.
It’s not as buttery-smooth a ride at highway speed, but you can still hold 130 km/h all day with no trouble. And you’ve got 60 litres of underseat storage to haul your luggage (a couple of pieces of accessory luggage are also available, enough to get total capacity to about 100 litres).
There’s no cruise control, which is a big oversight in my opinion, but otherwise, it’s still a pretty comfortable machine for blasting down the freeway. The cruisers you passed in the twisties might catch up to you now, but who cares? Let them ride ahead and get the traffic tickets. You’re settled in behind that big windscreen and all the bodywork, so you can tick off the miles with comfort, maybe stopping every couple of hundred clicks for fuel, espresso, and a croissant. Enjoy the good life, you’ve earned it (hopefully).
Just be careful you don’t forget to watch your speed (a little easier to do with a CVT), and end up blowing by a state police officer well above the limit, like I did. Thankfully, he changed his mind about pulling me over once he saw I was on a scooter. Perhaps he didn’t trust his radar gun when he saw I was on a step-through, or maybe he just didn’t want to be known as the officer who pulled over a scooter? Either way, I’ll take it!
But now the backroad meandering and highway blasting is done, and you’re back home in the city. Take heart! The concrete jungle is really the natural habitat for the C650 GT. This scoot was designed with cramped European urban centres in mind. Remember those 15-inch wheels I mentioned earlier? True, they do hold the scoot back a bit on bad roads, but here in traffic, they rock. The scooter’s low centre of gravity combined with small wheels, a wide bar and fantastic brakes mean you can slice your way through gridlock with ease.
This is where the CVT really shines. The transmission doesn’t make a big difference on the highway, and while it makes for smooth back-road riding, it does hinder performance. But in the city, in bumper-to-bumper traffic, the CVT is the business. It’s a lot less work than a standard manual transmission, and still has enough off-the-line snap that you can zip in and out of gridlock openings with ease.
The C650 GT is a big scooter, but it’s still a scooter, which means you can try to take advantage of things like free parking in the GTA (but don’t blame us if it goes wrong). The heavier weight might make it tougher for petite riders to muscle it around in a parking spot, though the optional lower seat might help.
By now you’re thinking “Zac’s really drunk the Kool-Aid.” But, nope, there are definitely some things BMW could do to improve this scoot, starting with adding the cruise control I mentioned earlier.
Another issue that pops up Every. Single. Time. you stop for fuel is the gas tank fill guard, which doesn’t allow you to fill the tank at full pump power (it splashes gas everywhere). Not a huge deal, just an irritation every 200 km or so while you fill the tank at half-speed.
The styling isn’t bad, although I wonder how scratched-up that plastic bodywork will be after a couple years. However, the colour choices are a bit muted, and I think it detracts from the design; along with the normcore blue, black and white (my favourite) paint, why not offer one of the brilliant red or yellow schemes BMW offers in the rest of the lineup?
Lastly, this scooter really needs a TFT display screen. TFTs are available even on entry-level bikes now, and make interfaces easier and dash displays more attractive. If the C650 GT gets another update in the near future, I expect BMW will include a TFT.
The BMW C650 GT is a surprisingly fun machine to ride, capable of around-town utility and long-distance touring. At a base MSRP of $11,750, however, it’s more expensive than its only competition in Canada, the Suzuki 650 Burgman, which lists for $11,099. The Burgman has a lower seat height (760 mm) and an option for sportier paddle-type transmission shifting, but weighs more (277 kg curb weight, compared to the BMW’s 261 kg) and doesn’t have stability control as standard. Depending on who you ask, it also makes a bit less horsepower.
A step-through with CVT isn’t for everyone, but once you get past the stigma of riding a scooter, you might find this machine offers a blend of comfort and competence that isn’t available in any other mid-level motorcycle. If you want a 650 touring bike, it’s worth checking out this Beemer, especially if you live in the city.
Check out all the pics that go with this story!