Keeping with the 650-ish psuedo Adventure/Enduro bike theme started last week with the 1997 Suzuki XF650 Freewind, this week brings us the 2003 BMW F650CS Scarver. At the time few would call the Scarver a good-looking motorcycle, and unfortunately, the same is true today. We can thank American David Robb, former head of design for BMW Motorrad. Nonetheless, the F650CS Scarver was a new bike for 2003, shedding much of the off-road capabilities of its F650GS cousin with its 17-inch cast wheels, though the engine remains. How does it stack up? Here’s Yossef Schvetz to tell you…
Aug. 20, 2002
Photos by Yossef Schvetz
Italy, 09 August 2002 —
Ever heard of David Robb? Well, now you have. This bespectacled chap stands behind all of the controversial two-wheeled stuff that’s been coming out of Munich lately, prompting the established Beemer fraternity to wonder where it’s all going to end. Before you rule him out as just another sophisticated European designer, the guy’s an American, a bachelor of the famous Pasadena Art Center Automotive Design department. His team’s latest creation, the F650CS, has left many a journo a bit perplexed to say the least. What the hell IS that? I mean, previous incarnations of the F650 family could still be somehow related to street-oriented dual-purpose mounts–“Funduros” in BMW’s terms.
For instance, one look at the available color range for the CS (with mix’n match panels) will convince you that some fashion designer had a hand in the choice, surely not the sort of stuff that’ll attract the hardcore black leather crowd. But that’s entirely OK with BMW, the F650CS is clearly targeted at a non-traditional, new riding crowd. Snowboarding youngsters that haven’t grown up on Triumphs, maybe girls who want their scoot to look as cool and up to date as the transparent faceplate they just fitted to their Nokia cell-phone. Rule yourself out if you are over 30 or have grease under your fingernails–and check out Robb’s interview on the CS.
The cool and fashionable theme is apparent in endless details. Satin finished transparent plastic parts abound and are not limited just to little details. Major parts like the whole rear luggage rack, tank handles and front screen mounts remind you of current computer peripherals such as HP ScanJet printers. It’s nice to see, though, that some serious thinking went also into making the life of those young urban professionals much easier and not just cooler looking. A multi purpose cargo area is carved into the fake gas tanks (real one is under the seat) and the mentioned handles allow for easy strapping of a backpack, helmet, optional hard case or even a dedicated stereo into said cavity.
Mechanically, it’s a totally new model, with only the engine being carried over rom the GS. While leaving its off-road origins behind, the CS got rid of its spoke wheels, which are replaced by cast 17″ items shod with street tires. A belt final drive replaces the old chain and is mated to a single-sided rear swing arm. The novel combination of these elements, especially the bold rear belt wheel, gives the rear end peculiar and powerful looks while requiring near zero maintenance or cleaning. The frame, although similar to the one on the GS, has larger section tubes which serve as the oil tank for the dry sump engine. Those strangely decorated panels on the flanks are there to prevent any fashionable baggy nylon trousers from melting on the hot frame tubes.
We could start here our own little debate about the F650CS’s design but since I am almost sure that I don’t belong to BMW’s target market population, I’ll keep my mouth almost shut on this one. Buck Rogers design or not, the CS turns out to be a pleasant road machine, even surprising in some aspects. After swinging a leg over it, I am rewarded with a really low and comfy seat and my hands fall naturally on the bars. A serious complaint with the 650GS was the proximity of the handlebars to the rider and this has been remedied in the CS with a lot more arm room. The black plastic lined “tank” cavity in front of me almost begs for some stuff to be stowed in. I haven’t got hold of BMW’s dedicated backpack so I gingerly throw in my regular courier bag, which seems happy to sit there even without strapping.
Switch on, injection fuel pump does its little whirling noise, ABS check light turns off, press the starter button without ever touching the throttle and engine starts pumping steadily. First gear goes in with a slight clunk and off we go. In the first urban maneuvers, the CS feels a bit strange, the long reach to the handlebars feels a little odd initially but after a few minutes and at higher speeds, the seating position comes into its own. The CS is amazingly happy to change directions and avoid the city’s potholes, while the low seat height conveys a sense of security that new riders will surely appreciate. Gut feeling also says that the engine management chip has been somewhat remapped since throttle response is far less abrupt than the one I remember from the GS. Although a single, the 650’s power unit likes to rev rather than plonk Honda-XR style.
Soon as we enter the highway the free breathing allowed by the CS downdraft throttle body lets the rider use all the available rev range without much tapering off of power near the 7500 rpm redline. A good 110 mph showing on the clock tells how strong the CS single runs up high. Back to a sedate 90 mph pace, which is more in line with the riding position, the slightly canted-forward ergoes transforms the CS into a better open-road mount than its predecessors. (On a long trip on a 650GS, I remember having to sit on the passenger portion of the saddle to fit my 6’4″ frame within the confines of the handlebar.) Speaking of highway comfort, a little more wind protection than the one supplied by the existing screen would be welcomed by tall pilots, also better mirrors that don’t turn around at speed. A single will never be without vibrations, but those of the CS are pretty well contained by its balance shafts.
And now for an interesting trick, cover with your hand the body work of the CS in a side view picture and you’ll notice that under the swoopy covers, all the basics of a good supermoto are right there. BMW might want us to believe that the CS is just a Yuppie tool, but with that 160-section rear tire, sticky Bridgestone Battlaxes and stiff frame, the F650CS excels in slow twisties. The CS loves being thrown with abandon into hairpins and other mountainous stuff, while the suspension keeps things in check remarkably well considering they were calibrated for quieter action. It’s the kind of bike on which it’s easy to search for your limits. Eventually the pegs drag, but that’s only when you are already using the last few millimeters of untouched tread. OK, its no real competition for a KTM Supermoto; for that it’d have to weigh a good 80 pounds less and have stiffer suspension, but as an entertaining tool for the occasional canyon jaunt, the little CS is more than impressive. The ABS brakes fall in line with BMW’s policy of keeping you from hurting yourself, but for sporting use I’d rather have the normal (and available) setup. The front is a bit tough to modulate, and I think I felt a little fork flex now and again, or was it my courier bag shifting?
It’s hard not to acknowledge the audacity of BMW in taking such a big step into uncharted territory–trying to attract non-riders. The Big IF is, is this going to work? Aprilia tried to pull a similar trick with its Moto 6.5, penned by celebrity designer Phillip Starck. It looked unlike any street bike before and earned a place in the Gugghenheim’s Art of the Motorcycle exhibition, but not in the hearts of riders.
Maybe times have changed? Judging from the success of past David Robb creations, such as the R1200C, maybe the man knows what he’s doing. Just don’t tell the upwardly mobile young professionals that besides being a contemporary design showcase, the CS is also a fun curvy road tool.
$9190 with ABS
652cc DOHC liquid-cooled four-stroke single; 4v/cyl.
Bore x stroke: 100 x 83 mm
Fuel delivery: EFI Bosch-BMW
Claimed power: 50 hp at 6.800 rpm
Claimed torque: 46 ft-lbs at 5.500 rpm (6,2 kgm at 5.500 rpm)
Tires: 120/70ZR17; 160/60ZR17
Fuel Capacity: 4 US gallons (15 L)
Telescopic fork, 125 mm travel
Single sided swingarm with progressive single shock linkage, 120 mm travel
Claimed wet Weight: 417 lb. (189kg)