How do we fight it? Suzuki may have the answer for you. It's called a Burgman, and it's been a very successful line of scooters for them in both the USA and Europe. They sell them here in 400cc and 650cc versions, and they invited Motorcycle.com to San Francisco, CA to try out the new-for-2007 400.Pipe down, out there! We can hear you all scoffing at scooters. "They're for girls! Test > some real bikes! Wheelie pictures! Burnouts! Custom choppers! Concours stunt rydas!"
Take a chill pill, homie. Worry not; Motorcycle.com is not in danger of becoming scooter.com (the URL is taken), but Suzuki hipped us to a few things we didn't know about scooters and the US scooter market. This information may surprise you and inform you as to why considering a scooter might not be such a bad idea.
Our editor filtered Suzuki's tech brief through a fine screen of free Johnnie Walker Black Label, but it was most edifying nonetheless. Scooters are a Big Thing, sayeth Suzuki; overall scooter sales were up nine percent (note; all the statistics Suzuki gave us about scooter sales are applicable to what are known as "MIC" or Motorcycle Industry Council members. Non-MIC sales -- and this includes the zillions of Chinese importers we discussed in our report on the 2006 Indianapolis motorcycle dealer's expo -- are much greater than MIC sales, but since many of these bikes aren't registered or sold through traditional dealers their impact on the market is hard to figure) in 2005 and Suzuki's sales year-to-date are up 60 percent over 2005. In fact, MO couldn't even get a 2006 Burgman 400 for a story we had planned in July; they were all sold out.
In fact the two Burgman models (Burgmen?) -- the 400 and the 650 -- are the biggest sellers in the over-250cc scooter category. Much of Suzuki's success may be attributed to an aggressive advertising campaign in major US markets in 2003, although we are sure the Burgman is also an excellent product.
Who are buying these bikes? The answer might surprise you. Of Suzuki Burgman buyers, 75 percent have already owned motorcycles. They have 12.4 mean (average) years of motorcycle riding experience, mean age is 52 years, and they have annual household earnings of $71,000. 24 percent are women.
To contrast, Suzuki buyers as a whole make $60,000 annually, are 12 percent female, and are spring chickens at a mere 38 years of age. Among Suzuki owners, Burgman buyers are older, experienced, and make more money. These Burgmans (Burgmen? Burgsman?) also get used heavily. Although 97 percent of the scooters are used for pleasure riding, and 59 percent are used for light (under 500 miles) touring duties, 88 percent get used for commuting or errands. To compare, only 70 percent of Suzukis in general are used for commuting or errands, and just 56 percent of Suzuki owners tour on their bikes. Suzuki thinks Burgman owners (Burgmenners?) are pretty serious enthusiasts.
To make sure these enthusiasts have the edge over Silverwingers or Scarabisti, the 2007 Burgman 400 has some pretty significant updates. These updates were aimed at providing the consumer with better power delivery, lower emissions, improved handling, updated styling, and more comfort and convenience features.
The Burgman's motor was given some serious upgrades. The motor was stroked to yield an extra 15cc, so it's a genuine 400 now. More importantly, the cylinder head was redesigned to make it dual overhead cam rather than SOHC. The fuel injection system gets a new 38mm throttle body and idle speed control system. A new exhaust system and emissions equipment clean up icky hydrocarbon residue. All these improvements improve power delivery (even if they don't increase power much) and reduce emissions, according to Suzuki. It's clean enough to pass both the strict Euro3 and CARB 2008 emissions laws. The chassis has also received improvements. It's still made of thin-walled high-tensile steel tubing, but it's now wrapped in a slightly larger, sleeker package. The windscreen is reshaped, along with the headlights and other plastic. The front wheel is now a 14 incher (were we crass we would make a crude joke here, but we will refrain) with dual 260 mm brake discs with two-piston calipers instead of a single disc with a four-piston caliper like last year's.
"Outta the way, Vespa people, I'm on a Burgman!"
There's a parking brake to keep your scooter where you left it, and the storage compartment under the seat will hold 62 liters (last year's was a mere 55) of Jell-o, or two full-face helmets if you don't like Jell-o. (But honestly, who doesn't like Jell-o?)A 12 volt outlet resides in one of the front storage compartments to recharge your cell phone, electric razor or hair dryer. Do not immerse the Burgman in water. What Suzuki giveth, they can also take away. The 2007 has lost the hydraulic preload adjuster for the rear shock and replaced it with a regular stepped one, although it retains the suspension linkage (a rarity on a scooter).
Also gone is the passenger backrest and the programmable oil-change indicator. However, you gain a cool mileage meter so you can gloat about how much money you are saving while riding and an adjustable backrest for the rider. You also get to keep the magnetic cover for the ignition switch to keep Johnny Screwdriver from stealing your $5,899 ride. The next morning the journalists don their gear and head to the curb where a fleet of gleaming Burgmen awaits them. The first impression is one of an imposing size and heft, which dissipates once you discover the low, 28-inch stepped saddle with adjustable back rest and even lower center of gravity. The bike is easy to lift off the stand and purrs to life very quickly and quietly.
The bike rolls through city streets with twist n' go simplicity, even in San Francisco's challenging, hilly terrain. The brakes are great and the ample wheel travel aided by that new 14 inch front hoop make short work of bumps, manhole covers, potholes and cable car tracks. Power is well beyond adequate for a city with 30 MPH speed limits almost everywhere, and getting to the top of some very steep hills indeed is not an issue, a muted thumper exhaust note filling the air. "Outta the way, Vespa people, I'm on a Burgman!" says our editor. Our only complaint for city riding would be the heavy, albeit manageable, weight.
After some photos in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, it's time to head across the large orange span for Marin County to stretch the big scooters' legs. On the wide 101 freeway they strap on more sail, twisting the grips to see what the bikes can do. There's no problem badly breaking the law, as the scooter seems to have no problem cruising at an indicated 90 MPH. The ride quality is composed and relaxed, although the windscreen jiggles and wobbles in our editor's field of view so much he says "it's like swimming behind a jellyfish".
The parade of scooters exits Sir Francis Drake and heads out to West Marin for some scenic photography. On the way out, there is a chance to brave some high-speed sweepers. At a brisk pace, the scooter feels great; easy to ride as it plushly soaks up bumps and bends gently into corners with plenty of ground clearance to spare. However, some of the more aggressive journalists -- why can't they all be more like the nice people from the scooter magazines? -- manage to scrape metal things on the pavement and overwhelm the rear shock. Linkage or no linkage, the unsprung mass of the drive unit on this scooter doesn't track over bumps like the more motorcycle-like Burgman 650 does, and the 41mm front forks don't impart the confidence a motorcycle unit would.
For one, the scooter has less weight over that front wheel, so the rider will have less front-end feel. In addition, the two fork legs bolt into the single triple clamp, which is fitted to a steering column that goes into the steering head. The result is a less-than-motorcycle-like feel from the front end when you are trying stupid antics on a twisty road.
But that's not what the Burgman is about. It's about being good-handling and powerful enough to keep experienced riders entertained while having the convenience features that make a scooter such a great transportation tool. To prove it, Suzuki takes the assembled editors to a high-end olive oil producer in Marin, where they park the scooters and enjoy a guided tour and tasting. They pick up a few items in the gift shop, and have no trouble stowing them in the cavernous space under the wide, comfortable seat. There's room for two helmets under there, or for a couple bags of groceries, as well as three smaller compartments in the front of the bike. A hook for hanging a man-purse or shopping bags would be a handy item, but you can still hold a lot of stuff, and a bolt-on trunk (which could be attached to the optional rear luggage rack)would expand the Burgman's carrying capacity to subcompact car-levels.
After some action photography, they take some more twisty, snaking backroads to visit a small winery in Sonoma (no tasting, though!). On the way, our editor gets more into the groove with the competent handling manners, snappy power and decent brakes the Burgman offers. The bike handles well in the tight stuff, held back only by the heavy back end and limited cornering clearance. He races another journalist, hitting 90+ MPH indicated, then has fun locking up the rear brake to leave smoky black streaks behind him. The binders work well, but still require a he-man squeeze on both brake levers to really brake hard. We don't know how good last year's brakes were, but this year's model eliminates the linked system the 2006 offered.
After a full day in the saddle, there's not too much numb bum from the soft, low seat. At dinner, the mileages from the day's ride are tallied, with prizes awarded for highest and lowest fuel economy. The most judicious among the journalists, one of the aforementioned nice scooter magazine people, managed over 57 mpg according to the on-board MPG gauge. The most aggressive rider -- a certain ex-motocrosser from a print magazine -- somehow managed to burn a gallon of our precious non-renewable resources every 43 miles.
Snuggled into crisp white linen while digesting yet another sophisticated Northern Italian meal that night at the elegant Sonoma Mission Inn, our editor thought about why Suzuki decided to present the Burgman to us in this manner. As aged Parmiggiano and delicate mollusks worked their way through his duodenum, he reflected on the prior night's briefing, thinking about the army of sophisticated, aging motorcyclists who demand comfort, convenience and economy mixed with their performance and styling. A scooter -- especially a big one like the Burgman -- is a perfect way to achieve this.
On this Burgman, a rider and passenger can enjoy handling and power about on par with the average middleweight cruiser while offering touring bike levels of seating comfort and wind protection. At the destination, protective gear can be doffed and stowed in the cavernous storage compartments, allowing care-free exploration. Maybe you can even change your shoes for more comfortable walking. Setting off for home, purchases or maybe the remains of a picnic can be packed under the seat without affecting the balance or comfort of the scooter's riders. When your riding day is done, hands are not sore from working the clutch and shoes are undamaged from shifting. Try that with your average 400-pound, $6,000 motorcycle.
The Burgman isn't about ultimate performance, ultimate style or even being the member of some exclusive two-wheeled club. It's about using two wheels as fun, practical, convenient transportation. It delivers. For $5,899 the Burgman is half the price of some pretty crummy new cars and infinitely more cool and fun. The updates to the 2007 model should make it even more attractive to consumers, although passengers might miss the backrest. At this price point, 2007 will surely be another dominated by Suzuki in the large scooter category.