Those who choose the F650GS may do so not only for the smaller proportions, but
also the smaller impact on the pocketbook. For all the cost savings gained by
purchasing the 650 over the 800, the differences between the two are fairly
minimal. Though the street-oriented F650GS hasn’t as much spring in its step,
there wasn’t any need to give its cylinders any different positioning, so it
shares the same basic engine as the F800GS with a few subtle differences.
Although the engine is essentially the same, the 650 has lower horsepower and
torque. After switching the cams and de-tuning the electronics, the F650GS pumps
out 71 hp and 55.3 ft-lbss of torque where its 800 sibling offers 85 hp and 59.7
ft-lbss of torque. So what other differences exist besides 14 hp and 4.4 ft-lbss
of torque? The 650 also has a slimmer radiator, lower seat height, low
wind-screen, conventional telescope fork, cast wheels, 19-inch front wheel,
single front disc brake and a lower spec mono shock.
BMW’s vision for the F650GS was that it would be the
introduction model into the larger adventure motorcycles.
This is smart
marketing on BMW’s part. Not everyone is ready to tackle the power and size of
the 1200, but they now have various options available to them to get into a
smaller, more manageable platform with the intention of one day graduating to a
larger model. If BMW manages to steal a few potential Suzuki DL650 customers in
the process then that wouldn’t hurt its cause either. The fact that I stand six
feet tall, I wondered about how I would fit on the mini GS. But with the lower
seat swapped in favor of the original standard seat, it proved to be more than
adequate. In fact, a number of my vertically challenged friends couldn’t touch
their feet to the ground while in the saddle. It appears this mini GS isn’t so
mini after all.
Although the 650 is the entry-level version of the family, it by no means feels
cheap or inadequate. The digital display, rear-mounted locking gas cap, controls
and the Twin powerplant all exude quality in the fit and finish. Knowing full
well that the turnsignals switchgear of Beemers are a significant point of
contention, I must say that I came to enjoy the placement of the switches. I do,
however, feel that they should be cancelled like Harley-Davidsons instead of
having that third signal kill switch. Much like my brother-in-law, the signal
cancel switch is pretty much a waste of space that could be better used by
something, anything really. The switchgear on the 2009 BMW K1300s eschew this
long-derided system in favor of a traditional single-button control.
While I did find myself hitting the horn instead of
the turnsignal switch a number of times initially, I found the brake fluid
reservoir to be much more of an oddity. The relatively large plastic container
sat precariously on the handlebar above the windscreen so that it would bounce
around like a bobble-head doll at high speeds. It almost seemed like an
afterthought like the Scooby Doo horn my Dad zip-tied to the handlebars of my
first two-wheeler. I digress.
Enough with the gripes, I truly did enjoy riding this bike. Perhaps my favorite
element was the heated hand grips. They may seem pointless or insignificant to
those who enjoy favorable temperatures year round, but testing the 650 amid
autumn conditions in Ontario meant that the toasty grips were a welcome
addition. Not only did they allow me to ride longer, they allowed me to ride
safer as my hands stayed dexterous and able to shift and brake quickly.
The seat was fairly comfortable and allowed for
various positions for the rider as well as space for a passenger or gear if you
wish. The only time I felt that the 650 was rather anemic was while I was riding
up a steep, winding road with a lady ‘friend’ on the back. She wasn’t a heavy
gal by any means, but I found myself dropping gears from fourth, to third, to
second in order to not get bogged down. Other than that, it felt more than
capable and had no problems leading a pack of my buddies riding CBR600s on a
weekend tour through the country.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was how the F650GS handled. Given the
suspension travel and height of the bike, I expected it to be bouncy or timid in
the corners, but it was nimble enough to toss into turns with reckless abandon.
My knees weren’t touching tarmac, but in relative terms to adventure riding I
was notably impressed. The handlebars are positioned comfortably while the light
steering linkage, relatively steep rake and suspension setup results in very
light steering. The wide, sturdy footpegs and controls allow the rider to stay
surefooted and in control even with boots on, as well as the ability to stand
comfortably while venturing off-road. My press bike had the street tires on it
so I didn’t venture into the wilderness, but I did tackle some narrow dirt roads
riddled with potholes to see how it would fare. It passed with flying colors.
Although the F650GS is more street-oriented than its F800GS sibling, it did take
some time to get accustomed to the relatively long suspension travel. With most
of my experience being with bikes made specifically for the trail or street and
not meant to tackle both, I found that the nose of the littlest GS had a
tendency to jump and dive under acceleration and braking, although the rear
suspension damping can be adjusted quickly and easily by hand.
The F650GS is a fabulous little bike that exceeded my expectations. My hope is
that it doesn’t become overshadowed by the hullabaloo surrounding the launch of
the new 800. While the term “little” may be accurate regarding the name and
relation in size to the rest of its family, it certainly doesn’t describe the
value it offers.