The bikes in BMW’s GS line all share a common trait: They’re ready for adventure. The smallest and cheapest dual-sport is the G 650 GS single, followed by this one, which dons a F 650 GS badge, but whose 800cc parallel-twin power plant has more in common with the F 800 GS. In fact, what we see here is not a 650cc at all, but a detuned version of the F 800’s engine. So, we could even say the F 650 is a mix of the G 650 GS and the F 800 GS.
Confused? Apparently, the odd choice of name for this bike had something to do with reorganization and discontinuing of certain GS models. According to BMW, the G now designates single-cylinder engine machines, while F bikes are all twin-cylinder models. And so on that note, let’s take a look at the 800cc twin they call a 650.
Compared to the F 800 GS, at roughly two grand less the ’fiddy is more budget-minded and street-oriented. The most notable difference between the two bikes is in the detuned engine; while the 800 makes 85 horses, the 650 makes a healthy 71 hp, detuned by different cams that produce the characteristics of high torque at lower engine speeds, while maintaining excellent fuel economy.
Spoked wheels are standard on the 800, but are replaced on the 650 with metal rims sporting street-enduro radial skin. And the 800’s inverted USD fork is 2mm thicker and travels 4mm farther than the 650’s traditional telescopic fork, making the 800 the obvious choice for overcoming obstacles found off the pavement. However, the 650’s suspension is quite capable and sure-footed in corners, and leaning the bike over is easy and tons of fun. No dampening adjustment in front makes for a bit of front-end jump on acceleration, but you get used to the light front-end feel pretty quickly. Other details, such as dual-discs on the 800’s 21″ front wheel versus the single disc on the 650’s 19″ front wheel, further justify the lower MSRP.
I don’t particularly enjoy riding off-road, but for the sake of giving the GS a more complete test, I took a few turns riding on gravel and dirt with plenty of deep ruts. Even with the street-oriented Bridgestone Battle Wing radials mounted, the GS handled the light duty well. Getting the center of gravity low by standing on the good-sized footpegs was easy, and light steering made maneuvering around the potholes effortless. But for the unavoidable ruts, the long spring travel does a good job of absorbing the impact. If you’re going to spend some time in the dirt, BMW designed the rubber on the pegs so you can just pull them off, leaving heavy-duty dirt bike pegs with serrated teeth.
Back on the pavement, the 650 is light, nimble, and quick. The closely stepped six-gear transmission is smooth, and offers plenty of range within the gearbox. The sitting position is quite comfortable, with a nice bend in the elbows and knees, and easy reach to the wide bars. The seat allows the rider to position himself in a variety of places, but the farther back I put my booty, the more lean (and stress) I felt in my upper torso. I found the most comfortable position was as far forward as I could get. Of course, guys may have a couple of issues with this particular position, where the crotch meets the tank. The cushiony seat padding has good give, but its small width places too much weight on the center point of the tailbone. On my longest trip with the bike, I began to feel a dull ache in my lower back after about an hour of riding. I tolerated the discomfort for the length of my ride, but when I reached my destination, sitting on a chair sent pain from my coccyx all the way up my back. If this were my bike, I’d have to look into other seat options.
Our tester came with the standard option package installed, which for an additional $1,505 includes heated grips, ABS, on-board computer, and white turn signals. The low seat option, which knocks an inch off the stock 32.3″ seat height, is available for no charge. If you need to go even lower (down to 30.1″), you’ll have to buck up another $250 for the lowered suspension.
The tiny fairing doesn’t offer much protection on the highway, but even so, I didn’t struggle against the wind. The cockpit is smartly designed, displaying the speed up front and center, with the tach underneath. To the left are the various instrument and warning lights, and to the far right, an LCD readout with a clock, odometer, trip meters, and service data display. If you opt for the onboard computer like our bike had, you’ll also get a fuel capacity and coolant displays, and a gear indicator. Toggle through the onboard computer by using the info button located on the left grip. Also on the left grip is a big ABS button, which is used to turn the antilock brakes off should you decide to venture off the beaten path. The heated grips work well, and operating the high/low/off switch is simple with the push of the right thumb.
I’ve heard a lot of gripes about BMW’s big paddle turn signal buttons, with the cancel button on the right grip. Yeah, they’re big and utilitarian looking, but even though it’s not a conventional setup they work really well. I only hit the horn button a couple times while getting used to them. And you also get hazard flashers. I still can’t figure out why they aren’t standard issue on every streetbike these days.
The gas tank is located under the seat, keeping the center of gravity low and centered. The filler is located in the right rear, which makes fill-ups easy for when you’ve got a tankbag attached. I prefer to mount tailbags, and the flat seat combined with the metal grab rails and plenty of bungee mounting options made it easy. Making chain maintenance and tire swapping easier, a somewhat crude-looking, optional centerstand will cost you an additional $175, but it’s worth every penny when you need it most.
Quite frankly, this is a fantastic bike. Its low seat, narrow body, and standard seating position makes it ideal for commuting and back road exploring. It’s easy to ride, but also tempts the more experienced rider to test his capabilities by pushing it to new limits. For more comfortable touring duty, converting the GS into a real adventure bike is easy, if you’ve got a pocket full of cash to scout through the Motorrad’s catalog of accessories. But even if you don’t, purchasing the 650 is a great way to be introduced into the club. As one of BMW’s most affordable streetbikes, the F 650 GS offers plenty of bang for the buck.
—By Tricia Szulewski, Photos By Bob Feather
Low Suspension, $250
Heated Handgrips, $250
Tire Pressure Monitor (TPM), $250
Onboard Computer, $295
White Turn Signals, $60
Anti-Theft Alarm, $395
Center Stand, $175
Low Seat, $0
LIST PRICE: $9195
ENGINE: Liquid-cooled, parallel twin
VALVETRAIN: DOHC, four valve
BORE X STROKE: 82mm x 75.6mm
COMPRESSION RATIO: 12.0:1
FUEL SYSTEM: Dual throttle valve injection with BMS-KP engine control
MFR HORSEPOWER: 71 hp @ 7000 rpm
MFR TORQUE RATING: 55 ft-lbs. @ 4500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: Six speed, multiplate wet clutch
FINAL DRIVE: Chain
OVERALL LENGTH: 89.7”
RAKE/TRAIL: 64 degrees/3.8”
SEAT HEIGHT: 32.2” (30.11” with optional lowering kit installed)
FUEL CAPACITY: 4.2 gallons
ESTIMATED MPG: 42.6 mpg
WEIGHT: 439 pounds (wet); 387 (dry)
WARRANTY: 3 years/36,000 miles
2009 COLORS: Flame Red, Iceberg Silver Metallic, Azur Blue Metallic