Let’s get this straight: I will never own a scooter, or at least I won’t admit to it. Like the old joke says, I’ll ride one and enjoy myself, but I don’t want to be seen on one. I’ll never wear chaps either – same thing. Insecurity, I guess. I borrowed a 49cc scooter a few times for the Mad Bastard Scooter Rally and had a great time, but that’s it. I’m not a scooterist. And yet here I am, reviewing BMW’s mid-sized scooter. Funny old world.
In fact, the BMW C400 isn’t all that different from a motorcycle. The wheels are a bit smaller – 15 inches at the front and just 14 inches at the rear – so the bike tips into turns quickly, but once it’s up to speed, it’s every bit as solid on the road as a mid-sized motorcycle would be.
BMW sells two versions of the C400 scooter in Canada, both new to us this year. The C400 X is the less expensive of the two and has an MSRP of $7,400, while the C400 GT is the plusher, longer-legged version and rings in with an MSRP of $8,700. That’s the bike I’ve been riding and which I’ll be telling you about here.
(Of course, if you’re really serious about your scooters and want something with more power and all the doohickeys, BMW also sells the C650 GT. Zac rode one last year from Toronto to New Brunswick, and you can read his definitive account here.)
Like BMW’s cars, the options don’t stop with the MSRP. Aside from the extra $1,200 for Freight and PDI, and all the various sales taxes, our test bike included the Select and Premium packages for an extra $1,695. This provided a heated seat and grips, an anti-theft alarm, and full Bluetooth connectivity to your smartphone with a colour TFT display. In Ontario, this makes it a $13,000 scooter out the door.
For a scooter: $13,000. Just so’s we’re clear on that.
What’s the point of it?
Of course, a scooter is a lot simpler to ride than a motorcycle because it’s just twist and go. That’s the whole point. Walk up to the bike, lift one leg gracefully through the space between the seat and the handlebars (which is intended to accommodate a skirt or dress, since few scooterists adhere to ATGATT), kick up the kickstand, push the start button (with the fob still in your pocket), twist the throttle and that’s it.
There are no gears on a scooter, just a CVT transmission and a small driveshaft, and no foot controls. The rear brake is activated with a lever on the left side of the handlebar, just like with a bicycle. ABS is standard, and so is traction control. There’s no cruise control though, and nor is there a parking brake, as there is with the C650 GT, and that’s too bad. If you’re on a slope, you’ll need to use the centrestand to be sure the scooter doesn’t roll away.
How is it to ride?
When the C400 does start moving, it does so with more of a surge than a jolt. It’s kinda like you’d expect a rubber-band-powered machine to be. There’s no neck snapping, but it pulls itself up to speed with ever-increasing momentum. Twist the throttle hard over and the engine will rev to 4,000 rpm and stay there while the scooter takes off and its actual speed catches up. There are no surprises; it’s really quite pleasant.
This does not mean the C400 GT is a slouch, however. BMW claims its water-cooled 350 cc single-cylinder engine is good for 34 hp, which means zero-to-100 km/h happens in 9.5 seconds. More important for urban riders, zero-to-50 km/h takes just 3.1 seconds. You won’t be left behind at the lights with the mopeds and electric bicycles.
I’ll let you make up your own mind about the scooter’s sound. If you go to BMW’s web site and scroll down a bit, you can click on “Experience the sound of the C400 GT” and listen to some scooter dude revving the engine. It does sound pretty good. However, it’s not the noise I remember at all. After one highway run, I wrote in my notebook that “the little Beemer makes the same satiated noise when running at speed that I recall from watching Titanic: it’s the same sound that I expect Jack made when he slipped off the plank beside Rose and slid beneath the water, burbling contendedly into the cold Atlantic, knowing the job was done.” A bit purple perhaps, but you decide for yourself. [What were you smoking? –Ed.]
In fact, one of the best things about the BMW scooter is its totally unassuming nature. Go out onto an empty highway and pin the throttle wide open and, after a suitable period of time has passed, you may well see the top speed of 139 km/h come up on that digital display. And a cop behind a billboard on the same highway will see the same thing on his radar readout. “Well, it can’t be that little scooter,” he’ll think, and will instead give the speeding ticket to the innocent Mustang driver behind you, who’s still in shock from being overtaken. Score!
There’s plenty of fairing for the radar beam to latch onto. The C400 GT is fairly broad and very well finished, with two lockable storage cubbies (and accessory charge point), better lighting than the C400 X and a larger, more effective windscreen. The screen doesn’t adjust for height, but an even taller screen is available as an option, as is a lower seat. You can also buy a small top box, but there’s reasonable room underneath the seat, including BMW’s clever FlexCase that’s standard.
Is it practical?
The FlexCase is an expandable luggage compartment under the seat that is exactly the right size for a full-face helmet. It can only be used when the bike is parked, because it extends from under the seat to just above the rear tire when the shocks are not compressed, but that’s when you need to store your helmet.
The seat on the C400 GT is a little deeper and better padded than the X, and there’s an integrated back rest for the driver. This means the scooterist can travel longer distances in comfort. Sure, you could cross the country like Zac, but in practice, this means the scooter is practical for riding into work from the suburbs: a bit of highway, a bit of city, park it for free and use barely any gas. What’s not to like?
The engine is even powerful enough to carry a passenger. There are integrated footboards provided for the person on the back (the X has rear pegs), while the driver can move his or her feet between straight down and slightly forward. Captain America it’s not, but the principle of feet-forward positioning is the same.
BMW claims the C400 GT will consume an average of 3.5 litres of (premium!) gas over 100 km, though my own use slurped back an average of 4.6 L/100 km. Whatever. If you’re willing to pay $13,000 for a scooter, you shouldn’t complain about already-negligible fuel consumption.
Is it worth it?
So why buy a mid-sized scooter over a mid-sized motorcycle? It’s very simple and non-intimidating to ride, and it’s more elegant in some ways, because it offers better weather protection, with no exposed oily bits. After all, people in Europe ride scooters in winter and in the rain while wearing blankets over their lower half, to keep their legs warm and dry.
The biggest reason is probably precisely because it’s not a motorcycle. Many people don’t want that image of dirty biker while just trying to get from A to B; they want something friendly and clean, with two wheels for simpler commuting and parking.
The C400 GT is not cheap – it costs more than a Nissan Micra, which is a year-round vehicle – but it’s a BMW, with all the premium brand snob value that brings to the image. It’s very well thought-out, comfortable and fun to ride, and will stretch its legs on a run in the country if asked.
I’ll never buy one, and that’s too bad. Maybe I can persuade my wife to buy one and let me ride it sometimes. Yeah, that would work.