Thrifty, but an 800 by any other name
BMW's model classification for the F650GS really does the bike an injustice. For the bike is powered by an 800cc parallel twin engine, and it performs more like an 800 despite the efforts made to detune it so that it imitates a 650 dynamically.
For some, the powerplant of the $17,844 F650GS will even feel superior to that of the $4400-more expensive F800GS sister-bike. For the softer grinds of the cheaper F-bikes' camshafts and the changes in engine management software have resulted in a more easy-going power delivery due to the increased access to torque at low revs. With the changes come a decent reduction in fuel consumption. With an ability to drink fuel at a rate of less than 4.0litres/100km (70mpg in the old currency), the F650GS is one of the few large-capacity motorcycles that's capable of thumping a Toyota Prius in feats of frugality.
In a perfect world therefore, commuter motorcyclists would form orderly queues at BMW bike dealers to buy F650s. The middleweight Bavarian non-boxer twin is damn-near perfect as a weapon of mass mobility, and overseas studies have proven that if just a few more of us rode motorcycles to the workplace and back, a substantial reduction in the travel times of all road users would result. Such are the simplistic virtues of the F650GS that a Stalinist or Maoist state would happily embrace it as transport for the proletariat. Its frugality would make it the mechanical hero of such a state for its ability to conserve precious fuel for food production, and the appeal-free non-frills design of the bike would align itself instantly with the political ideology. All that's needed is a brand change, as bourgeois BMW won't sit too comfortably with the commissars of such states. Something like the badge of former East German bike maker, MZ, would suit the strictly sensible nature of the F650GS perfectly.
Perhaps it's just as well that the F650GS is such a great commuter, for it really isn't much of a GS. The last two letters in the model nomenclature stand for gelande-strasse, and the BMWs that sport the tag are supposedly capable of cross-country travel, as well as road use. However, unlike the adventure-ready F800GS, the 650 is more of a one-trick pony. It gets a cast-alloy 19-inch front wheel instead of the 800's more bump- immune spoked 21-inch hoop, and the more basic suspension package prunes back both the available wheel travel and the quality of the spring movement control. Other differences include a single front disc instead of two, a smaller windscreen, and a cut- down seat that will have you shifting your cheeks around after an hour in the saddle instead of two. Anyone with long miles and dirty deeds planned for an 800cc GS should check that the bike has a F800GS sticker on its flanks instead of one with a smaller number.
Then again, those with short- haul road-only aspirations for such a bike will question why anyone would spend another $4400 on the F800GS, instead of opting for the F650GS. For most of the chassis changes make the cheaper version of what is essentially the same bike easier to ride on the road. The bike is some 7kg lighter than its better-equipped sibling, and the seat height is lower as is the centre-of-gravity, making parking-speed manoeuvres just a little bit easier. The smaller front wheel results in quicker steering, and while the extra braking power and suspension quality of the 800 is always missing from the 650-badged bike, the latter is still a friskier handling bike on the road.
As mentioned, the engine detune has hardly handicapped the F650GS, as it is stronger than the mechanically similar F800GS version at the engine speeds used most. It's only when revving the twin out to the redline that you begin to notice the unnecessary meddling with the peak outputs of the F650GS. Where the 800 starts to run stronger above 6500rpm, the 650 merely runs flatter.
As a result, the engine of the F650GS develops 10 fewer kilowatts than that of the F800GS, a difference that is a deal-breaker for many potential buyers here.
Anecdotal comments by New Zealand BMW dealers suggest that the F800GS outsells the F650GS by about three to one in this market. That doesn't surprise me given that the latter has been handicapped in just about every dynamic aspect bar its lighter, more enthusiastic steering. If the intention of the emasculation of the F650GS was to ensure that people would buy the F800GS instead, that's an accomplishment BMW Motorrad's marketing department can feel proud of.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 798cc liquid-cooled dohc 8-valve parallel- twin, stoked by electronic fuel injection to develop 52kW (70bhp) at 7500rpm and 75Nm at 4500rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed sequential gearbox, chain final drive.
Frame: Steel-tube trellis frame and cast alloy rear swingarm; 41mm unadjustable Showa front forks with 170mm of wheel travel, rear Showa monoshock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping adjustment with 165mm of travel.
Hot: Drinks fuel like Helen Clark sips wine at a UN function, light neutral steering and slim dimensions enhance corner carving.
Not: Everyone will know that you couldn't afford an F800GS if you show up with one of these.