2008 BMW F650GS – Exceeded Expectations

bmw_2008_f650gs_1Worldwide BMW has engineered a moto-media furor over the upcoming F800GS, a bike that is flying off virtual showroom floors with a popularity matching air, or water, or coffee. In that hubbub the F800GS’s sibling, the F650GS, has been all but forgotten in the media’s glare. That’s a pity, because this unpretentious offering, soldiering on under a name that doesn’t quite fit could be BMW’s main event.

Worldwide BMW has engineered a moto-media furor over the upcoming F800GS, a bike that is flying off virtual showroom floors with a popularity matching air, or water, or coffee. In that hubbub the F800GS’s sibling, the F650GS, has been all but forgotten in the media’s glare. That’s a pity, because this unpretentious offering, soldiering on under a name that doesn’t quite fit could be BMW’s main event.

Right off, there’s the name – F650GS. That doesn’t fit at all, given the new F650GS shares a 798cc parallel-twin engine with the F800GS. Confused? BMW felt it important to carry on the outgoing F650GS’s lineage of friendly and approachable access to a brand noted for being rather exclusive. Let’s call that gateway Beermer’ism, an all access pass to the GS line’s startled Cylon looks for those of reasonable means.

The engine has been de-tuned from the F800GS version; a switch of cams, a bit of jiggery-pokery with the electrics, and the F650GS is shoving out 71 hp and 55.3 ft-lbs or torque versus its fraternal twin’s 85hp and 59.7 ft-lbs. Which begs the question, beyond the extra off-road accoutrements, how much is that extra 14hp and 4.4 ft-lbs of torque worth?

Hitting maximum on a long steep uphill, OneWheelDrive.Net’s testers are hard pressed to see the need for the $3260.00 price jump to F800GS based on power.

The F650GS’s torque comes on strong and low, hitting maximum output at 4,500RPM. The F650GS pulls strong off the line with an abrupt immediacy that might intimidate new riders. The engine belts you to a proper highways speed of 120kph with grunt that completely belies the spec sheet, and from there offers free-revving, linear joy, with roll-on that belittles engines of larger displacement.

Does that re-engineered exhaust note contain a subliminal message in its raspy and fruity tone? “You will love the parallel twin… You will love the parallel twin… Please stop trying to hit the rev-limiter… You will love the parallel twin…”

Maybe the message lies in the idles’ tweeting overlay? Certainly the F800S’s and ST’s peppermill drone has been ditched. Whatever, those insidious BMW engineers have made a lover out of a hater ( https://onewheeldrive.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=697&Itemid=120 ), leaving me thinking the GS BMW’s parallel-twin has found its perfect home.

Feeling single-cylinder slender beneath you, at 199kg (wet) this capering, larking, steel and plastic imp romps through traffic and rails through the corners with equal aplomb. There’s none of the loose-limbed weave or wobble common to most enduro-inspired bikes when taken to the sweepers.

Running a local set of curves at speed, the F650GS is stable, planted, and utterly confident, asking only one question of the rider, “More throttle?”

In tight turns, the F650GS can be tossed around with utter impunity. The tip-in and follow through in the corners is light and precise, yet stable and completely predictable.

The wide bars provide ample leverage, the narrow 19-inch 110/80 and 17” 140/80 rear Bridgestone Trailwings transition quickly, stiff chassis and shorter travel suspension provide good feedback and weight distribution, all this gives exceptional balance, factoring into your upcoming hooliganism.

With the slick and long-legged six-speed transmission working in conjunction with the torque-y twin you’ve a range of gear choices for any turn. A forgiving setup embracing new and returning riders.

At moments I contemplate foot down supermoto antics, except they seem completely unnecessary on a bike this sorted. I expected to want more out of the braking given the single 300mm disc out front, but another a pleasant surprise. Clamped by a double pistoned caliper the binders burn off speed with good feel well matched to the bike’s mass. Even the suspension, which generally suffers on lower end models, exceeds expectations.

You have to hit some pretty vile potholes to upset the F650GS, or even feel discomfort through the seat.

With the punt and handling you’ve a sleeper of a road tool that will upset the local sportbike set. We like that, we like that a lot.

What we like more is that once you’ve gotten all the antics out of your system the F650GS is perfectly willing simply to idle along.

On the highways the F650GS is contented to sail along in sixth gear at legal highway speeds with the engine turning in its smoothest range, 3500-4000RPM. Here the parallel-twin’s vibe is a minimal tingle through the bars and pegs.

The seating position begs longer rides; it is dead on comfortable and utterly neutral. Without having to make any sport-tourer compromises in ergonomics the posture is upright and relaxed, there’s no weight on your wrists and visibility therefore is fabulous – a statement that even extends to the stylishly shaped mirrors. Unlike its soft-road competition, the Suzuki V-Strom, the F650GS’s ergos don’t encourage slouching, making for better for comfort.

For those of a smaller stature, there’s an optional fit kit consisting of a lower seat, modified suspension and linkages, which could accommodate Frodo. Certainly the F650GS would be up for a tour to Mordor, and certainly would have sped the epic along.

Three things foil the F650GS’s long haul potential. One, the windscreen needs to provide better coverage, though the air-flow from the current screen is clean and free from buffeting. Two, the electrical outlet’s location next to the ignition switch at the front of the tank is totally inappropriate for the use of a heated vest. Three, the firm seat, with all its stylish hard edges, does not mesh well with the soft rounder curves of the human butt. Of the three, only the latter would be a mandatory change.

At a moment’s notice I’m prepared to become a BMW Guy with a dead sheep for a seat heading out for a little bit of a ride around Mexico. While the F650GS, with its cast aluminum rims, road biased tires, and shorter travel front suspension (41mm versus the F800GS’s 45mm), doesn’t carry the F800GS’s off-road pretense, the F650GS’s happy-go-lucky nature says pack the chain-lube and a tent.

I’ll caveat this with the standard, “I’m not an off road rider” , but a quick sample of the F650GS’s dirt prowess shows its competencies extending into dirt and light gravel. Switch-off the ABS, aim for the mud, and the light and lithe F650GS replaces the pale faced and clenched experience of the R1200GS, and the frightened pucker of the R1200GS Adventure with a goofy-dumbstruck grin and a newfound interest in unpaved destinations.

Back on the asphalt, the throw of the headlight illuminates our local Moto-GP section of sweepers. I can’t help myself, rolling on the throttle the F650GS thrums into the night. Shooting though the curves I wonder how much of a compromise this bike is in comparison to the F800GS. If the 800’s intended owners were truly honest with themselves about their actual off-road usage rather than Long Way Down dreams, could they settle for the F650GS?

Slim, light, and slipping though traffic the F650GS seems like no compromise at all. The F650GS starts at $8,990 with the ABS option setting you back $850.00, but its already displaced Suzuki’s $8,999.00 V-Strom 650 ABS as our soft-roader of choice. Indeed the F650GS’s versatility, exuberance, practicality and off-road ability has it gunning for the Ducati Multistrada on our favorite bike list. Count us completely enamoured.

Maybe the brightest thing BMW has done with the F650GS is the name, the designation sets an expectation of a soft 650cc displacement offering. Throw a leg over the F650GS and that expectation is over-fulfilled by a rollicking engine, a fruity exhaust note, light handling and true all-rounder capability. Now, everyone, let’s keep quiet about the F650GS, maybe just nod knowingly as your friends ramble on about their F800GS’s extra features and specs while they fill the time till the fall. The F650GS feels like the F800GS we though we were going to get, before the publicists were unleashed.

Whatever you do, don’t let out how good the F650GS is… if the marketing people realize they’ll want to slather it in lifestyle and throw it to the media. Sometimes good things are better as an unexpected surprise, especially when they exceed expectations.

– Words Neil Johnston, Photos by Kevin Miklossy and Glenn Simmons

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Bret Edge says:

    As an owner of a 2009 F650GS I can confirm your findings. I initially wanted an F800GS. I even put down a deposit on the bigger bike. However, this being my first “real” motorcycle I was intimidated by the height of the F800GS, being 5’9″ w/ a 30″ inseam and all. So, I reluctantly opted for the F650GS. I immediately set about adding all the stuff it needed for adventure touring and got busy on road and off. Almost immediately I realized the Battlewing tires sucked off-road and weren’t that much better on tarmac. I swapped them for Heidenau K60’s and haven’t been able to wipe the grin off my face. Although BMW may not have intended for this little gem to be hammered off-road but in my experience, it does just fine in the rough stuff. The only deficiency I’ve found is the low-ish ground clearance. I added the aluminum bash plate before my first trip and it’s a good thing I did. That sucker has seen some hits!

    All in all, this is a hell of a great motorcycle. I don’t regret the purchase for a second. Thanks for the great write-up!


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