In the last year, the most anticipated new model to come from BMW was a scooter! Well a pair of scooters, actually: the sporty C600 Sport and the more tour-oriented C650GT, both made in Berlin. And what better way to be introduced to new scoots than at the international press launch in Madrid, Spain?
For the first day of the two-day event we were thrown into the heart of European traffic chaos within Madrid, among midweek traffic. And after a day in the urban saddle, I can attest that there’s no way I would have even attempted to negotiate the jumbled mess that tries to pass itself off as the daily Madrid commute in a car. No effing way.
Spanish drivers heed very little attention to traffic laws. They block intersections at traffic lights, rarely obey lane markings, cut off each other indiscriminately and drive so close to one other that most cars bear the makings of this warzone in the form of scrapes, broken rear-view mirrors and paint transfer. The result is chaos and ultimately gridlock.
But, there is something good to be said about these seemingly reckless drivers: they treat two-wheelers with more respect than they do other automobiles. Lane spitting is the norm in Madrid, and when traffic is at a standstill, the only vehicles in motion are two-wheelers, and the majority of those are scooters.
They weave in and out of traffic, making their way to the front of the line at traffic signals, and are the first to get moving when the light turns green. Cars move over and make room for scooters, and despite what seems a chaotic scramble it is actually all quite coordinated. Also, scooters are allowed to park anywhere there is room for them, including on sidewalks.
And the people riding them are not your typical motorcycle enthusiasts; they are average office workers, labourers, businessmen and women – many of them wearing business attire beneath their riding gear, which for some women includes pumps.
The two Steves and I (Steve Bond and Cycle Canada’s Steve Thornton) weaved about in this mayhem, for the most part giggling because, as Bondo put it, “We can ride like assholes and no one gives a shit.”
Well, assholes by North American standards, maybe, but here in Madrid, we were just going along with the flow, sometimes even getting a curious look by passing riders as we waited behind cars in traffic, not yet fully converted to the European “if there’s a gap, go for it” riding style.
Most of these European riders are the polar opposites of their North American counterparts. Here, two wheelers are primarily used for recreation: casual weekend rides and touring make up the majority of their use.
In Europe, more specifically France, Italy and Spain, they are used as workhorses, primarily for commuting and the humdrum of daily chores. Scooters are popular across the ocean because of the highly congested city centres; they are regarded as being — and are — much more practical than automobiles. And in most parts of southern Europe, the riding season spans the whole year.
This is why BMW forecasts that 70 to 75 percent of C-model production will be heading for those three markets, with only the remaining 25 to 30 percent slated for the rest of the world.
This is also why you won’t be seeing a BMW scooter in Canadian showrooms before sometime in September; the company aims to fulfil those three markets before it reaches out to others.
TWO SCOOTERS, ONE PLATFORM
Both the C600 Sport and the C650 GT share undercarriages. As you’ve probably already ascertained with the F650/800 models, engine displacement doesn’t mean much when naming models at BMW, and these scooters follow along this vein.
They use identical 647 cc parallel twin engines with cylinders canted forward 70 degrees to lower the centre of gravity. The crankshaft is a 270-degree design, and uses twin counterbalancers to smooth vibration. The engine produces a very rewarding 60 hp, with torque peaking at 48.7 lb-ft at 6,000 rpm.
The transmission is a simple CVT, which uses a dry centrifugal clutch and a rubber belt. As such, there are no riding modes a la Burgman, though it is designed more for robustness than for complexity, another indication to its larger focus on the European market; riders there care little for frills and more for trouble-free operation.
A low-maintenance drive chain enclosed in an oil bath is used to transfer power to the rear wheel. There are no provisions for adjustment, but rather there are replaceable chain guides of different thicknesses that can be installed if too much slack develops.
Inspection intervals will vary depending on how hard the scooter is used, though I was told it should be checked every 10,000 km. The oil bath keeps the chain well lubed and cool, and combines with a countershaft sprocket located on the swingarm pivot that maintains a constant tension throughout the suspension travel to greatly extend the life of the chain.
The chassis consists of a tubular steel forward frame section, which includes the steering head, and a cast aluminum rear section in which the swingarm pivots. The engine ties the two frame sections together as a stressed member, and the whole thing makes for a remarkably rigid assembly.
A 40 mm non-adjustable inverted fork is up front, while a single, horizontally mounted shock, adjustable only for preload is at the rear. Both bikes have identical chassis geometry and suspension settings.
The C650 GT, with its larger fairing and electrically adjustable windscreen (manual, three-position adjustability via two knobs for the C600), adds 12 kg to the C600’s 249 kg (549 lb).
Both machines use the same instrumentation, which includes a large analogue speedometer and very little emphasis on the tachometer, which is a small LED bar display to the right of the speed counter. A large LCD bar-type fuel gauge is adjacent to the speedo, and other info like temperature, fuel economy and tire-pressure info (the last is an option) can be scrolled up using a rocker switch on the left handlebar.
The C600 Sport was the ideal weapon of combat for Madrid’s urban battlefield. It’s narrower profile and more aggressive riding position (the handlebar is lower and the seat a bit higher than on the GT model) allowed me to thread effortlessly through traffic.
It easily out-accelerated cars from a stop, as well as other scooters, and its powerful brakes hauled it to a stop with light lever effort. Even the mirrors aided in my urban assault by providing an unobstructed rear view for making those swift, last-minute lane changes.
On the winding roads in the hills north of Madrid, the Sport rewarded with sporty agility that, with an experienced rider at the helm, would put to shame some sport bike riders.
The Sport turned in rather quickly due to the 15-inch wheels and very low centre of gravity, and its close-coupled riding position (the combination of a low handlebar and chair-like seating position places your hands close to your knees) gave it a distinctive scooter-like feel. But, it was quite comfortable, and setting the windscreen in the highest position kept the morning, single-digit weather at bay. The optional heated seat and grips also helped in this respect.
Because of its sportier penchant, the Sport is narrower overall than the GT, and as such has less cargo volume beneath the seat. To compensate for this, the clever folks at BMW incorporated what they call a “flexcase”. This expandable compartment is located at the rear of the under-seat storage compartment, and when extended allows the storage of two full-face helmets with some room to spare. Because the flexcase almost contacts the rear tire when extended, the engine won’t start until it is retracted.
The GT feels much different than the Sport without even moving an inch. It feels bigger, especially wider, and the seating position is more motorcycle-like, as its higher handlebar and slightly lower seat gives it a more neutral, upright riding position. It also has an adjustable seat bolster for the rider, though it has to be unbolted to be relocated.
Once moving, the added weight makes it turn in with less urgency than the Sport, as most of that weight is located high and far from the centre of gravity (the weight is in the fairing, which is larger, and in the hardware and electric motor that operates the windscreen).
It, too handles the twisties with enough poise to make sport riders sweat, and it offers even better wind protection than the Sport due to its larger, wider screen and wider fairing.
Under seat storage is 60 litres, and it does not have the flexcase, but will hold two helmets. Both bikes also benefit from twin storage compartments located in the fairing’s inner panel, and the GT’s are larger than the ones on the Sport.
THE SUM UP
BMW’s second attempt at mass-production scooters will definitely be more successful than the ill-fated C1. There are several innovations that the company has incorporated into the new C models that everyday users will find greatly convenient.
The parking brake, for instance, is applied automatically when the side stand is deployed. The scooters freewheel at speeds below 25 km/h, a higher threshold speed than other maxi-scooters I’ve ridden, making slow-poking in traffic much smoother and with less helmet bunting when carrying a passenger. And both come with standard ABS and optional heated grips and seat.
I suspect the GT will probably do better in Canada than the Sport, primarily because it is a more practical mount for covering long distances, and sporting riders would probably opt for a sport bike anyway. It would be a tough call for me to choose between the two, but I’d probably go for the Sport; it’s narrower, looks meaner (when was the last time someone said that about a scooter), and provides almost as much weather protection as the GT.
Either way though, both of these machines have just upped the ante in the maxi-scooter segment, and both are surprisingly competent. Either one is highway capable and will readily cruise all day long at 140 km/h (don’t do it here, it’ll cost you). I got the bigger GT to 160 km/h and it was still climbing.
However, it’s unlikely North Americans will take to them like the Europeans most likely will. But for those who appreciate the ease of automatic running and the practicality these machines offer, these new BMWs will be hard to beat.
Of course, it will also depend on pricing, which won’t be available until sometime later this year.
SECOND VIEW – by Steve Bond
Excuse me while I start this with a little rant. Europeans “get it.” North Americans don’t.
In North America (with the sole exception of California), two wheelers are required by law to sit there with all the idling, polluting cages and suck exhaust fumes. With their crippling city traffic, the Euros allow motorcycles and scooters to get through it safely and efficiently by lane splitting and filtering.
In Madrid’s guerilla warfare traffic, even the largish BMWs could easily thread between lines of stopped vehicles and the rapid acceleration easily catapulted me ahead of the four-wheeled hordes in the Stoplight GP.
They’re stylish too. I’ve never had so many people ask me about a press vehicle, and this included a couple of police officers who ignored the motorized mayhem going on around them to ask us about the new BMWs. Yep, the Euros definitely “get it.”
I prefer the GT for the electric screen, extra wind protection and more relaxed ergonomics. It’s slightly heavier than the Sport but loses nothing in the handling department. Both models could use a little better feel and feeback from the front brakes but despite some very hard use (including having the ABS kick in a couple of times), I experienced zero fade.
One day’s ride incorporated some freeway cruising at 130 km/h (a velocity easily maintained by the C-series scoots), some two lane thoroughfares and then some simply awesome sportbike roads up in the mountains.
We arrived early at the lunch spot and a BMW rep suggested an amazing, one-hour loop through the mountains that “you might be able to complete before lunch.” As a testament to how well the maxis handled the twisties (and how hard we were able to ride them), we did the loop, stopped for pictures twice and were back in 40 minutes.
|BMW C600 Sport and C650 GT
|Parallel twin, liquid cooled, double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder
|60 hp @ 7,500 rpm
|48.7 lb-ft @ 6,000 rpm
|EFI with twin 38 mm throttle bodies
|CVT, enclosed chain final drive
|Dual 270 mm discs with two-piston calipers.
|270 mm disc with two-piston caliper.
|C600: 810 mm (31.9 in); C650: 780 mm (30.7 in)
|1,591 mm (62.6 in)
|C600: 249 kg (549 lb); C650: 261 kg (575 lb)
|C600: blue, silver, black; C650: red, bronze, black