BMW F650GS SE long term test – first impressions

BMW F650gs SE Index Page

My immediate thought on riding a new F-GS SE off of Vines forecourt was ‘What a nice engine!’ Easy to pull away briskly and spins up fast enough to normal road speeds. And it sounds great too – didn’t know new bikes could still do that. It has the recognisable snappy blat of the bigger flat twins – perhaps a cunning marketing ploy to get new GS-ers used to the sound and induce an upgrade to a GS12 when the time comes.
Brakes are fine too – switchable ABS – and nothing to complain about with the steering either. Feels a bit more confidence-inspiring on slimy late-February backroads than the 21-inch 800GS I rode for a day or two in Arizona last year.
You get tricked into thinking this sure is ‘nippy for a 650’, but of course it’s actually a 15% detuned and regeared F800GS motor with 10% less torque, but 1200 rpm lower down the rpm scale which explains why it’s nice to ride. And however they do it, these twins have pretty good economy in their class. I’m told the 800 Triumph Tiger or Transalp 700 don’t get close.
Along with the leaden, butt-end-of-winter skies, the low screen and hard seat stopped it all being too cushy a ride – that might come later. The 250-mile ride down to Cornwall was not so tiring, but on the way back it got to me, even with a heated vest. Perhaps because I took more back roads and I’ve not ridden a bike for a while. However, the nifty heated grips won me back. Never had these before but it’s surely the way to go if you ride in temperate zones. No more of that desperate, numb-fingered clawing for your zip as your struggle to contain your bladder’s needs by the roadside. I have a more clumpy set waiting to fit to my GS Overlander for later; the BM’s are as thin as normal grips.

Fuel consumption over the first 500 miles was as follows:

• Heading down, headwind, <4000rpm = 70mph. 66.5mph / 23.6kpl / 55.4US
• Heading back, backwind, same rpm but with heated vest/grips. 73.5mpg / 26kpl / 61.2US

So not quite as good as the XT660Z when it was near-new, but it’s early days yet. I expect the 650 to be a little better overall. I’m still not sure if a heated vest affects mpg; as in more draw on the alternator magnets takes more bhp to overcome. Anyway, after two full days on the bike:

• Looks good
• A surprisingly rorty exhaust note
• Low seat
• 19-inch front wheel
• Tubeless tyres
• On-board computer data (time, air temp, trip + more)
• Light clutch
• Engine response and fuelling
• ABS
• Firm suspension
• Heated grips
• Great fuel consumption

• Low OE screen, even if this is the ‘high’ option
• Uncomfortable seat
• Would prefer
• Indicator cancel switch on the non-throttle side
• Gearing too tall for slow dirt use
• Reliability legacy, though that was all over three years ago. Full story and more info here
• Would prefer a clearer, bigger Tenere-style digi speedo and ability to change it and odo to kms
•  Would be nice to switch the lights off too, when heading discretely for a wild camp for example.

Regarding the gearing, I read on UKGSers that …the gears on the F650GS twin are higher than … the F800GS due to different sized … sprockets. But also both bikes use the gearbox from the F800S and ST road bikes So that explains the road gearing. At tick-over it’s still doing 10mph – just like the Tenere I recall – and at 70mph is less than halfway to red line. I’m hoping that one tooth less on the front sprocket may make it rideable at 5mph without slipping the clutch, because you can certainly balance it easily enough at near-walking pace.
The seat was notably narrower than my Cornish mate’s Transalp; there’s no getting round it: fat, middle-aged backsides need a perch to match. But at least it doesn’t have the step of the Tenere and so enables shuffling fore and aft as the discomfort increases. Suspension is supposed to be more basic than the dirt-oriented 800, so time will tell if what felt like ‘firm’ equates to ‘harsh’, but it’s sure better than too soft. I haven’t meddled with the shock settings yet.

Why the 650, anyway?
I’m going through a ‘mid-weight twins are the best all-rounders’ phase, and now they’ve had their teething problems sorted, I believe the ‘650’ is the better of the two F-GSs. I speculated as much in the AMH, although the book has an F800GS on the cover.
BMW Motorrad did suggest I might like a new Sertao for the Morocco job, but I believe that bike has little to prove. Overall, I prefer the lack of snatchiness of a twin and as for weight, there’s less than 10 kilos in it while you get a lot more smooth power and nearly as-good economy. With enough protection, moderate speeds and alternative tyres, the 650 should be fine on dirt roads.
Perhaps with the exception of gearing, everything that differentiates the 650 from the 800GS makes it more suited to my preferences, and while the new SE version has been scoffed at as a ‘parts bin special’, on top of the snazzier paint job, all those extras (computer, centre stand, ABS, heated grips) make it better still.

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