Test Ride: BMW F650CS

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Test Ride: BMW's F650CS

Winding Through Washington's Wine Country on BMW's latest

Back in 1999 when BMW decided to import it's Funduro 650 into the United States it was an exciting moment for both dealers and enthusiasts alike. While other manufacturers continued to up the horsepower on their machines, many were losing touch with both the new rider and low horsepower enthusiasts. The Funduro was an oxymoron on the landscape of American motorcycling to most other manufacturers.

But the Germans know how to have a good time, and taking back roads at close to the posted speed limit is one way many people choose to do that.

The first generation American F650s succeeded and BMW went to stage two introducing the F650GS which had more to offer for the dual sport enthusiast.

Onto stage three - the F650CS, or shall we call it the F650 City Slicker? BMW's first street fighter that brings with it the look of a sexy mosquito, and plenty of torque to spare.

We test drove our model over the course of an adventurous Memorial Day Weekend that took us from Seattle to the tri-cities wine country, along the Columbia River Gorge and eventually home via Mt. St. Helen's and Mt. Rainier.

The first thing one notices is the size. This is not a large motorcycle and BMW makes it even friendlier for shorter riders by providing a shorter seat and smaller wheel option. Finally, someone besides cruiser R&D divisions are thinking about shorter riders. Dwarfs can mount this option as easily as a Honda Rebel. If you're short and cruisers aren't your forte, this may be your bike.

If you're taller, be certain not to get the short version. You may throw a kink in man's evolutionary process by trying to get comfortable on it.

This bike is all about three's. Three lines everywhere. In the time it takes to wolf down a burger, fries and a coke, you can count ten places on the bike where three lines have been tossed into the design. Why? Who knows? After all, we're from the Northwest. What could we possibly know about such contemporary design? Even a walk around the outside of Paul Allen's Experience Music Project doesn't provide clues. Our guess - It's BMW's underlying way of saying this is the third generation F650 - we've done it. And they have in terms of efficient, lower cc'd bikes. If you know BMW's car line, you'll also note the smaller models are the three series. Hmmm…

Get on the bike, test ride it and find the torque curve. It comes in around second gear at 4,000 rpm. Crank the throttle and you've got passing power from here and all points beyond. Surprising stuff for a 650? Well, consider the technological curve and then consider the fact that Honda built a reputation on the CB750 which was only 100 cc's larger and had an inline four. Point being - this is an awesome performer for a single cylinder 650. This is the passing power you look for in a motorcycle, an area most scrutinized on lower cc machines. It's here and available at the flick of the wrist.

Belt Drive? Gee, you must have thought that was for Harley's or something? In fact BMW has put together a tooth belt drive that works well. Our test model was out for 1,200 miles and nobody flinched. Unlike chains, belts stretch little and require no lube. And because it's got teeth, the responsiveness is as stunning as any shaft drive machine.

But there's something else that was engineered at the same time which is just as efficient, but available only as an option. The Luggage. Get It! When you get this bike be certain to buy the optional luggage package. BMW developed soft luggage for this bike anyone can live out of for weeks. It consists of three bags. A tail, seat and tank bag.

The tank bag you may not need as the hard case serves it purpose well, although the little back pack straps are dandy for day hiking.

The tail and seat pack are another story. Couldn't live without them. The two zipper together to provide more than 80 liters of storage. For this weekend I stuffed a laptop, two changes of clothes, various shave kit items and a whole other riding suit (I alternated the weekend between an Joe Rocket Phoenix and a First Gear Kilamanjoro). And there was room to spare. It looks much like a backpack when joined, and in fact... the insides seal water tight like much of the latest outdoor gear. In fact, the tail bag has hidden shoulder straps so you can actually wear the rig like a back pack. Can I say "In fact" once more?

In terms of looks and comments, this is the one that gets the attention. You need attention? You'll get it with the CS. It never failed that wherever we rode, the CS always got the googles and comments. "I like the way that looks" noted one Goldwinger," "I'll bet that's a real smooth machine," said a Harley rider. The best comment of the weekend was when I mentioned to Renee at the gas station that the bike was getting 70 mph. The woman in the Ford F250 truck next to us said they were getting 8.

After getting used to the bike, you'll find yourself falling into the BMW groove. At slow speeds the bike just starts to suck you into a relaxing state, almost hypnotic at times. I'm still romanticizing those last few miles home along the southwest shore of Lake Washington.

I enjoyed playing with the heated grips which even felt good as the warm air of the Columbia Gorge surrounded the rest of my body. Something about having your palms warm.

BMW says the bike is quick and nimble and it is. But their emphasis on the fact it's got a single swing arm may not mean much to you when riding, but in fact the entire suspension system is smooth and dynamically sychornized.

BMW's website also wants you to know about how easy the rear wheel is to remove, which is not something we had to deal with over our weekend, but makes a lot of sense in the long run.

One drawback you'll notice are the mirrors, which are round like grandpa used to have on his old Dodge. Ditch 'em and get some real mirrors. The round mirrors provide little visibility to the far right, or far left, critical areas for safe lane changes.

East on I-90, winding through the Yakima Valley, along the Columbia River Gorge, from Morton to Elbe, Kennewick to Lowden, the F650CS had the power and efficiency both new riders and low horsepower enthusiasts admire in a motorcycle. If you're looking for something that's not a hulking cruiser, and not a rapid sport bike, has looks and performs, the F650CS may be just what the doctor ordered. SR!

TM/Summer 2002

The Female Perspective
by Renee Bliss

As a preliminary matter, I should begin by telling you that I am a fairly new rider, obtaining my endorsement early in 2001. Since September I have been riding a Kawasaki ZR7S (750).  I jumped at the chance to test ride the BMW F650CS.  This would be my first opportunity to ride a BMW and I was excited. 

The bike is good looking and has some really great practical features. For example, there is a compartment where you have come to expect a gas tank, eliminating the need for a tank bag.  There are heated hand grips which really come in handy for all season riding. There is also a custom pack which sits on the end of the seat and holds a LOT of gear.  

Wherever we went, people turned their heads. The bike gets lots of attention. The shape is distinctive, as I've said, there is no gas tank in the usual place.  There's also a sporty little fairing and the color is very distinctive. Even the seat color is coordinating. While we were out with the BMW parked right next to my Kawasaki, it was always the BMW with the circle of admirers (and my Kawasaki's practically brand new). 

When I sat on the F650CS, I noticed the seat was quite low. This makes the F650CS perfect for either beginners, or for those who are under 5 feet, 6 inches. The bike is very lightweight, and thus, easy to maneuver in tight spaces, like parking lots. This will certainly give the new rider a head start. 

When I rode the bike, I noticed that it certainly had all the power I needed.  Since we were touring for 3 days, Tom had the custom bag completely full (yes, he even brought a lap-top computer).  Even with this load, the bike was simply unstoppable.  One evening, we rode two up.  The bike had plenty of power for both of us. With all that power and those extra features mentioned, this is a versatile motorcycle, to say the very least.  

In short, I was impressed at how perfect the BMW F650CS would be for the beginning rider.  If that beginner were also a lady who is average height or a little shorter than average, she would have difficulty finding a better bike to get around busy city streets. The versatility of the bike also means it is less likely to be outgrown, like so many other starter bikes.

Thanks to Ride West BMW for providing the demonstrator used in this test ride.

The BMW F650CS is available at the following Puget Sound BMW dealers

Ride West BMW
8100 Lake City Way NE
Seattle, WA
Cascade Motorcycles
13205 NE 124th St
Kirkland, WA

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