Test Ride: BMW F650CS

Words: Rob Harris   Photos: Rob Harris/BMW


I don’t think I’ve ridden on better roads!

“This is the life!” I pulled over at a viewing point along one of many such points at the side of the canyon roads that carve through the mountains, just outside of L.A. in southern California. The view was fantastic, my adrenal gland empty and the BMW F650CS was purring obediently after some serious riding through the gnarly mountain roads. Life was good. No, life was excellent.

This was the first day of a two day BMW organised launch. The starting point was the Mondrian hotel, located on Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills. To state it was swanky and surreal would be an understatement. The designer outfit -clad staff (all in matching camel suits) gave me a feeling that I was entering the headquarters of some wacky cult, rather than a standard place of food and lodging.

It took ‘trendy’ to a new level, with dimly lit hallways, minimalistic furniture and a Martha Stewart presence in the elevator. Okay, she rode one with me just once and I must say, did an excellent job at respecting my privacy as the big knob of motorcycling, going so far as to pretend that she didn’t even recognise me. That’s class.

… for some strange reason I went out and bought a camel suit and sent a large cheque to my friends at the Mondrian.

Oh, before I stop ranting about my ‘uplifting’ experience, the elevators even had odd little LCD screens in them attempting to mesmerise me with either a show of waves, blowing fields of wheat or… a pair of hypnotic eyes! Apparently waves and blowing fields are supposed to be very good at calming the nerves and subduing one’s defences (in preparation for cult induction?), but the eyes just pissed me off , along with Martha, I believe. The eyes just opened and closed and grimaced, in that order.

I actually tried to poke at them once, in an attempt to get that multicoloured distorted LCD wave effect happening, but the establishment was prepared and had put a glass screen over the display. I figured a sharp kick of the boot might work, and even Martha might appreciate that remoulding attempt, but the thought of being taken to the “non-desirables” backroom by my matching-suited hosts persuaded me to remain the staunch professional I am.

But enough of fancy hotels, bizarre elevator experiences and people in camel suits, we’d actually come here to ride bikes. And so after a large meal, several drinks, a look at the disturbing in-room amenities price list ($3.50 for a bloody coffee for christsake!), I was ready for bed and the next day’s ride on the new F650CS.


Lining it up for a tight sweeper …

The F650CS is BMW’s latest incarnation of the F series single-cylinder powered bikes that were first introduced in 1993, complimenting their current F650GS (a road-dirt machine) but aimed directly at the nouveau, road based rider. Design wise it also portrays BMW’s trend towards funk based machinery – sporting translucent coloured plastic parts and a wavy, flowing style. It’s quite radical, but I’m not going into the design philosophy here as I’ve already done that in a handy separate section at the end of this article.

The CS uses essentially the same motor as its GS cousin, with a slightly altered intake and new single muffler which gives a tad more torque, but the same max horsepower of 50 (albeit 300 rpm higher up at 6800 rpm). The engine redlines at 7,500 rpm and will pull from 2,000 rpm, (2,500 in top) and very cleanly and smoothly all the way too.

The fuel injection starts from cold without need of a fast idle and is relatively faultless, save for a slight surge around the 3700 mark, although you have to be looking for it to notice it. Also, the cut out at redline was not too soon come by, unless you were trying to wind it up for a fast entry onto the highway, at which point it would let its disdain be known by intermittently firing and rapidly jerking the bike. Once on the highway though, it would happily cruise in top, with enough oomph to hold its own and even accelerate some more should you decide to take advantage of the legal-in-California lane splitting laws – and that I did thank you very much.

Gobs of torque make for easy corner exits sans gear change.

It’s a surprisingly willing motor and a very useful one, with the low down torque pulling the bike out well from the endless succession of hairpins that carve their way through the Hollywood Hills. If you were in lazy mode, say just after a large dinner and sumptuous breakfast, you could enter a corner with the engine spinning around 6,000 and still pull the same gear on the exit. Sportier modes only required that you drop it down a cog at exit to sweep out with speed, then back up a gear and into the next corner – the spacious seat even allowing for some arse sliding action should you be feeling real fruity.

Around town the usable torque characteristics, narrow profile and easy steering geometry made it a blast to carve around traffic. In standard trim it’s still a relatively tall bike, with a seat height of 780mm, although for the vertically crippled a lower cut seat in combination with a lower profile rear tire, will drop the height down to 750mm – both of which can be ordered at time of purchase for no extra cost.

As far as riding positions go, it’s nigh on perfect for this type of bike. You’re pretty well bolt upright, though the screen keeps the majority of wind blast off your chest, the little that does slip over seems pretty smooth and doesn’t rattle your helmet. Although highway time was rather limited, I did hold an indicated 135 km/h without feeling like I was about to be blown off, or my neck snapped. BMW claim a top speed of 175 km/h, which I think is pretty impressive for a 650 single.

You either stop to admire the view or ride with full concentration on the road!

Since we’re talking about top speeds, it would seem like a good time to mention the dash (as that’s where you’ll be looking anyway). Speedo and tach are both dial type, but done in a most funky way, housed in a simplistic, brushed aluminum pod that incorporates cut outs for all the usual idiot lights. Alas, they forgot to add a pair of googly eyes in there as well, which is apparently all the trend right now (not).

It’s also quite spacious and the seat didn’t have any numbing side effects even at the end of a long and vigorous day’s ride, which I personally find a pleasant but rare occurrence. There is some vibration present though – mainly felt through the foot pegs, the bars being saved thanks to the use of some large end-weights.

Although the gearbox ratios are the same as for the GS (except top), the smaller diameter rear wheel effectively lowers the ratios between first and fourth, thus enabling stronger acceleration.

The final drive has been swapped in favour of a belt drive over the chain, which gives a smoother, cleaner and quieter system – something that BMW was able to do on the CS, as it no longer has to cope with the rocks and dirt of off-road which will quickly kill a belt system. The transmission is very smooth as a result, with no noticeable snatch, allowing for smooth gear changes (with no missed shifts), aided by a light and progressive clutch. All in order there then.

Taking time out on the beach.

Also different form the GS is the luscious single sided swing arm which smartens up the rear end, although it’s full effect is somewhat hidden by the Flash Gordon style muffler they slapped in front of it. Any chance of getting a GS high piped version BMW? It would also help to see the lovely three spoke alloy wheels (which allow for a sporty set of tubeless radials to be fitted).

Talking of suspension it’s really quite competent, although non-adjustable (much like myself I might add). It is also on the soft side which meant that although it would behave itself very well under high speed cornering conditions, you never quite got all the feedback you’d have liked, especially when just over the edge was a 2000 foot drop, lined with buckets to kick, big cookies to bite and sometimes rivers at the bottom to enable you to “sleep with the fishes” … actually, you probably wouldn’t know much except for a brief flight of fancy after the initially “oh shit, I’m going off the road” thought.

Cornering clearance seems adequate although I did manage to touch down once. I’m sure if you really tried you could have a grind-fest with the CS, but then I’d have to pose the question “why did you buy this bike?”. After all, it’s not aimed at that kind of rider.

Aaahhhh … shanti, shanti.

There is optional ABS (at an additional $850) and I was initially grateful to find it fitted to my test bike. Having said that, the brakes aren’t exactly eye-popping. Again, the front was competent, and a sharp handful would quickly squish the soft front end, but the rear was softer than a half inflated beach ball and required you to stand on it before the ABS thought it necessary to cut in. Maybe that’s a good compromise when you keep in mind the style of rider that this bike is aimed at (novice), but then I’m not convinced you need the ABS when it’s so hard to lock them up in the first place.

A main part of the CS design is the usage of the conventional tank area for luggage carrying duties (the gas tank is now under the seat). In the F650GS, this area was used for the external oil tank (dry sump engine), and so a new oil tank had to be found to free up the space. The answer was borrowed from the first generation F650s – put the oil in the frame. Thus, the oil is now fed into the twin spars near the steering head and then cools and drops to the bottom, from where it re-enters the motor for more oil type duties. As a result, the frame spars do get hot and thus the reason for those odd looking heat shields.

One odd thing that BMW offer as an accessory is the “onboard computer”. No, it’s not something to check email or play games with, rather a wrist watch sized component that bolts onto the bars and tells you … umhh, what speed you’re going? I believe it had some other options too, but it did seem a tad silly to have two speed measuring devices (especially when they didn’t necessarily agree with each other).

Enough bang for the buck?

Definitely on the not-silly side is the fitment of heated grips as standard (although we didn’t need to use them – gotta love California in February) and the use of an ellipsoid low beam (the high is standard halogen), although again, we didn’t have to use them. However, there is no centre stand, BMW offering a special stand tool should you wish to try and do your own maintenance.

So, will the CS take the market by storm? Well, a lot of people are still having a problem with the idea of putting down $10,990 for a single cylindered bike. After all, most of the competition’s entry levels go for between $7,000 and $8,500, with such bikes as the Bandit 1200, CB900F and even the Triumph Bonneville being alternatives in the CS’s $10,000 – $11,000 range. But the CS does offer a well thought out, competent and, let’s face it, a lot of fun to ride motorcycle. It also has a three year warranty, BMW engineering and, if you lean that way, possibly the trendiest bike on the block.

Me? For $800 less I can get the GS model which can keep up with the CS on the road, but still has the added bonus of being able to veer off and sample some dirt at a whim, and I like that. But then who am I to say? I’m just a scumy motorcycle journalist that gets to ride the canyons (and elevators) in California when it’s doing its worst in wintry Canada.

Some additional detailed shots …

Rear pulley and toothed belt is just gorgeous.
Stylish clocks have optional chrome cover.
Rear pack fits over the rack, expands and doubles up as a back pack.
The motor.


David Robb

As part of this lavish launch, David Robb, chief designer at BMW’s Munich facility, flew in to join us for dinner and a ride and to explain his vision of why the CS came into existence.

The design goal for the CS was to come up with a machine that could be used for shorter trips, cutting through the urban traffic and, of course, appealing to the ever growing female element of the motorcycle market.

The translucent elements remind me of Mac computer’s foray into styling with their “i” line, a connection emphasised by Robb’s usage during his presentation, of the “think different” phrase (one used by Mac for many years). However, with a three year process from concept to final product, the design had to be able to still be current upon launch, and although Mac have recently departed from their translucent theme, Robb cites many other current product lines that are still heavily adopting this philosophy.

Much thought was also put into the choice of colours used. With two choices of paint, seat colour and side panel inserts, all the various permutations had to compliment each other in every selected combination. The paint goes so far as to morph to a complimentary colour when exposed to sunlight, the orange turning a shade of blue and visa versa.

But this is only one part of the final product. Since the F650 has the gas tank located under the seat, it was decided that the traditional tank area could be hollowed out and used for storage. Although Robb concedes that a pair of hard bags at the rear are hard to beat when it comes to carrying your gear on a long tour, the CS was not designed for that kind of rider.

The philosophy is that the urban/short haul rider is much more inclined to throw on a knapsack or strap a bag to the rear. With this in mind, the CS not only includes the aforementioned storage area, it also includes a line a “lifestyle” accessories to boot. The line of accessories for that storage area include a couple of knapsacks (although one is for the rear rack), a baby boom box (requires an audio player to be inserted inside to work), a hard case (for whatever) and a lockable tank spider (that fits over a helmet to keep it safe from thieving hands).

Translucent rear rack.

But the plan doesn’t stop there. With Harley’s success in the lifestyle aftermarket stuff, none of the manufacturers would deny that they didn’t want a piece of that. BMW is no exception, but instead of going down the more traditional route of black leather or conservative styling currently on the market, they have opted for an altogether funkier and hip line to match the style set by the CS.

The hope is that the clothing will not just be used by CS riders, but will be able to stand up and be trendy in their own right. Whether they’ve achieved their goal or not, I’m unable to say. Hey, I can’t even by a pair of black jeans without someone to give me a second opinion. I don’t think of myself as a fashionista, more a fashion void, so I’ll let you decide if what they’re offering is what you’re looking for.








652 cc

Engine type

Single cylinder , liquid cooled


Fuel Injection

Final drive

Five speed, belt drive

Tires, front

110/70 ZR17

Tires, rear

160/60 ZR17 or 150/60 ZR17 (optional lower seat)

Brakes, front

300 mm single disc with two-piston caliper

Brakes, rear

240 mm disc with single-piston caliper

Seat height

780 mm (750 mm with lower seat and lower profile tire)


1493 mm

WET weight

187 Kg (412 lbs) (ready for the road – no options added)

Canadian colours

Beluga Blue, Golden Orange Metallic, Azur Blue Metallic

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