Upon picking up the new BMW F650GS, I was overwhelmingly curious about how it would compare or differ from the F800GS. After reading that the 650 and 800 both utilize the same 798cc parallel-Twin powerplant, I wondered if perhaps there would be some redundancy within the Beemer line-up. So if it has the same engine as the 800, why call it a 650? BMW allegedly felt it necessary to continue the outgoing F650GS’s nomenclature to carry on its lineage but also to increase the accessibility of a brand known for being somewhat exclusive.
Perhaps my favorite element was the heated hand grips..
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-lbs of torque where its 800 sibling offers 85 hp and 59.7 ft-lbs of torque. So what other differences exist besides 14 hp and 4.4 ft-lbs 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.
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.