Multi-Purpose 650 Single
I must admit that the BMW G 650 GS was not my first choice of bikes to ride. Usually there are plenty of test bike in the Ultimate MotorCycling garage, and the single-cylinder 650 GS was consistently getting overlooked in favor of faster and sexier machines, such as the Triumph Street Triple R and Buell Lightning XB12Scg. Like the best friend who is sometimes taken for granted when a fast-paced personality shows up, steals the limelight, and is more fun to hang out with–such was the 650’s initial fate.
One day, however, I needed to make a stop on the way to work for a short bouquet of flowers for my sister’s birthday. Those were not going to fare well in my Ogio backpack and, as I debated this dilemma, my eyes fell upon the BMW G 650 GS with its optional side cases installed. I could carry the flowers in a small vase and leave them fresh on her doorstep. I got on and rolled the bike out of the garage.
Since then, I have found myself choosing the BMW G 650 GS more often when doing commuting chores on the local congested freeways. It is a non-intimidating ride, both in size and power. While the G 650 GS is a decent commuter bike, I am perpetually running late and mixing with heavy freeway traffic, so I prefer a more aggressive mount. The affable thumper runs out of steam quickly at highway-plus speeds. Not much is in reserve at 70 mph, so a downshift is required, along with a handful of throttle, to have any sort of passing capability. Also, at engine speeds over 4200 rpm, the mirrors’ images turn into a blur. The bike was certainly more enjoyable on holiday-light traffic days.
On surface streets and backroads, the BMW G 650 GS is much happier, and so am I. At 423 pounds (claimed wet), the bike isn’t light for a single-cylinder 650, but the bike handles well at low speeds due in part to the under-seat four-gallon fuel tank keeping the cg low. With an inseam-friendly seat height of 30.7 inches (an optional Low Suspension kit brings it down to 29.5), it is easy to feel confident and in control. However, the handlebars sit a little bit too high and feel awkward. At 5′ 6" the neutral-position of the pegs is fine, but they are closer to the seat than I would like. Taller riders will definitely need a much thicker seat which will, in turn, lower the relative height of the bars.
Early one Saturday morning, I took the sturdy little BMW G 650 GSon a longer excursion–I was off to watch an off-road competitive event out in the hinterlands. I had already been making good use of the stock heated handgrips while commuting on brisk mornings and late evenings, but found them even more welcome on this extended, chilly ride. Though my hands stayed warm, after a couple hours of uninterrupted riding at 70+ mph, the single-cylinder 5-speed engine’s buzziness–which I had not noticed on my 20-minute weekday commutes–left my fingers tingling. The seat itself was quite comfortable, though, and the sit-in ergonomics allowed decent wind protection from the fairly short windscreen.
A happy surprise was how well the Gelände (off-road) part of the BMW G 650 GS worked. My route required a few miles of challenging dirt on a fairly steep, and sometimes sandy, road through a hilly area. I had been dreading one climb, in particular, which had a tight turn at the bottom, giving me no opportunity to take some speed into the ascent. Happily, the BMW surprised me, as the tires held their ground and the plentiful torque allowed me to keep both traction and speed up.
Later, the BMW G 650 GS handled securely on Dirt Mulholland, a rutted, potholed road scattered with occasional sand, as well as a rollercoaster single-track, hard-packed trail. The 650 GS is not a real dirt bike by any stretch of the imagination, but the bike is willing to get its feet dirty without complaint in reasonable circumstances.
The BMW G 650 GS is an enjoyable ride in the canyons; the bike is nimble on its 19-inch front/17-inch rear tires and steering is quick. The single-disc front brake capably slows the bike down, thanks to the 650’s modest weight and performance, and the standard equipment ABS gives added confidence.
Certainly, the BMW G 650 GS is comfortable, reliable and easy to get along with, features I had, of course, noticed on first introduction. But as we got to know each other better, I was appreciating these solid character traits. And I’m not the only one.
BMW has sold over 105,000 of the popular BMW G 650 GS singles since 2000. Introduced as the F 650 GS, it enjoyed eight years of success. However, in 2008, BMW replaced the 652cc single-cylinder powerplant with a 798cc parallel twin engine (but still calling it a 650–strange but true), and kept the F 650 GS name. To add to the confusion, BMW brought back the 650 single in 2009 (with the engine now made by Loncin in China, rather than by Austria’s Rotax) , renaming it the G 650 GS–the bike in this test, if you haven’t been able to follow the convoluted story.
The odd story behind the names aside, the BMW G 650 GS’s consistent success comes from its everyman appeal. Like any motorcycle, you have to ride it on its terms. Not a freeway flyer, the G 650 is an excellent city bike, especially with the expandable side cases installed. On backroads, the GS is easy to ride and there is no reason to let a lack of pavement get in the way of that day’s adventure. Besides, any bike that can make it possible for me to put a nice smile on my sister’s face is a winner in my book.
BMW G 650 GS: RIDING STYLE
Helmet: HJC SY-Max II
Jacket: Firstgear TPG Monarch
Gloves: Firstgear Fargo
Pants: Firstgear TPG Escape
Boots: Sidi Discovery
Photography by Jon Beck