Tag Archives: Maurice Seddon

Bonneville ’78

An illustrated and lightly massaged excerpt from The Street Riding Years
View the 1978 Gallery
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Triumph Motorcycles are doing all right, particularly77-union with the parallel twins on which the company made its name. But forty years ago success wasn’t a word you associated with Triumph, or much else manufactured in a Britain blighted by industrial unrest. The late seventies may have seen an evolutionary spike in motorcycle development, but the British bike industry had been crippled by a complacent, post-war mentality and no longer ruled the roads.
z900    Meanwhile, the modern motorcycle era was taking shape, exemplified by Italian V-twins and Kawasaki’s sexy Z900s. Acquiring a full bike license at just 17, I could let rip on any of those; bikers could then have their cake and eat it – usually served by a nurse with a limb in plaster. Only my £20 weekly wage kept me in check – well for another year at least.
    What then, would be my first proper bike? The big Zeds apart, I mindlessly subscribed to the pejorative ‘UJM’ (Universal Japanese Motorcycle) tag: reliable, fast but bland. BMW produced 78-bmwmeisterexpensive, well-engineered flat-twins ridden by smug, know-all beardies, not dashing young blades like me. Harleys were largely scoffed at in the UK while Italian bikes were gradually consolidating their glamorous image, outriding the best of the Japs so long as the electrics held out.
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    You might think the Brits only had nostalgia and heritage on their side, but there was another less tangible attraction that over-shadowed merely riding what your dad rode. In ’78 the surviving flagships from Triumph and Norton were still something to aspire to, virile survivors of the Jap invasion with something your yen couldn’t buy: lashings of ‘character’. Proper bikes of the era possessed this love-hate quality, paraphrased by TV comedian Dick Emery’s catchline: ‘Ooh you are a maddening bastard, but I love you’.
78-comando    There was something about the understated charisma of Triumphs and Nortons that was unrelated to blind patriotism. I’d never really fancied a T160 Trident, but in black and gold, Norton’s 850 Interstate Commando looked like a rumbling bundle of motorcycling bliss. Commando – what a great name for a British bike! What red-blooded young seventies male wouldn’t want to be associated with a plucky wartime saboteur, crouched in readiness with his77-nortonape Sten gun. The same could be said of Triumph’s Bonneville, by this time only 20 years old and assembled in Meriden by a loyal and motivated workers’ co-operative where fitter and director all earned the same low wage. Sure, both these bikes were dinosaurs on their last gasps after the Japanese meteor impact changed the motorcycling climate for good. But they still managed to exude a rugged pre-PC manliness that left a seventies teenager starstruck.
    In the spring of 1978 I ordered a UK-spec T140V in burgundy for £899. What I actually got was a blue, US-spec model with a few bits loose or missing, and “mate, you can take it or leave it”. Despite the efforts of TV consumer champion Esther Ranzten, American levels of customer service were still some way offshore.

T140V

The US model came with a smaller teardrop tank and high bars – foretelling the naff ’mock chopper’ trend that was just around the corner. But high bar or low, the T140V displayed an attribute I’d not experienced on my execrable MZs: torque, or low-down pulling power. I don’t think I ever became immune to the loin-stirring, smile-inducing shove persuasively unleashed between 2500 and 3000rpm before the vibration really set in. The Triumph had another sort of pulling power too. Girls quite possibly gave me a second look as I torqued along in my Fonze-like, high-bared pose.
    After three-too-many MZs, riding the Triumph was like being carried out of the castle’s dungeon into a field full of buttercups on the shoulders of the town’s fairest maidens. Suddenly I knew what biking was about – the surge of a powerful engine, the throb from the pipes and the actual stopping power of hydraulic disc brakes.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA    With my new-found status, I eagerly bought into the ‘Brit biker look’: open face lid with flat-glass Stadium goggles. A cream silk-like scarf just like Biggles or Douglas Bader fluttered jauntily from the top of a nylon Belstaff Trialmaster jacket. My outfit was topped off by gigantic gauntlets resembling something you might attach to a cow’s udder.
Kick-starting the Bonneville demanded an exacting ritual. Turn on the fuel taps and ‘tickle’ or prime the carbs by pressing on tiny plungers. Once petrol was dripping onto the gearbox, you turned the ignition key then pressed the kickstart against the engine compression. Swing it back up and you were now ready to enact a triumphant lunge by coming down on the kick-
starter with all you had.

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It was a mechanism perfected over the eons so there was no risk of overdoing it, but any pussyfooting resulted in a knee-snapping backfire. This beast had to be grabbed by the mane and wrestled into life. I never failed to get a thrill from starting the Bonnie, and so long as you lunged down with gusto, it worked every time, hot or cold, rain or shine.
    In 1978 one in three new 750s was a Triumph, but unfortunately, I’d bought mine during a three-month ban for riding on a motorway with L-plates stashed in my pockets. Like many others at that time, I carried on riding discreetly, cunningly taking the back streets to sixth-form college.tri-cenotaph
    Once my A-levels were done78-tiger I enjoyed a fabulous summer’s riding with a mate on a similar 750 Tiger, visiting the climbing crags in the Weald, Peak District or the famous Llanberis Pass, then down to the Gower and back via Avon Gorge for more of the same. Near Shrewsbury one time the battery exploded, but it was all part of the adventure – a carefree interlude between school and further education or work.
    And once the exam results came in, work it was to be – no further education for me. At that time the back of Motorcycle News was packed with adverts for despatch riders – an exciting way to pass the time until I worked out what I really wanted to do. One phone call and I was in business at Capital Couriers in Kentish Town.
    Why was Kentish Town in North London, miles from Kent which is south of London? As I was soon to learn, the capital was not an intuitive city to navigate. At that time my knowledge of tri-monopolyLondon’s streets was based on the Monopoly board game – the expensive dark blues, greens and yellows were posh areas in the West End. The cheapies like Pentonville, and Whitechapel? Out east somewhere.
    Armed with my Monopoly mind map and a good sense of direction, I collected my very first job to Chiswick in west London by the Thames. That’ll be easy: south to the river and simply follow it upstream, a foolproof strategy refined along the banks of the Nile by the likes of Burton and Speke.
    That might have worked had the Thames run as straight as a Roman aqueduct, but rivers meander and roads followed the Thames only intermittently. Some two hours after what should have been a twenty-five-minute ride, I timidly delivered the package with no word of complaint. That came to be the abiding paradox of messengering: clients were paying twenty times the cost of overnight postage, but most of the time few gave a toss on prompt delivery.
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    At Capital I made friends with Nick on a CB750K6, descendant of the revolutionary 1969 superbike that had brought about the current megabike frenzy. Nick and I soon engaged in a ‘Brit Shit/Jap Crap’ banter that ran for days at a time, but always with a twinkle of affability. Of course, I was only partly joking. At that time I was besotted with my Bonneville, but that wasn’t the only thing. One morning I bounded up the stairs of a redbrick Edwardian block off Oxford Circus. A pretty receptionist was just tidying up some photocopies.

Ooh, are you the bike? Won’t be a minute,’ she said with a smile, glancing over her shoulder at the skinny bloke at the Xerox.
‘Are you new? I haven’t seen you before.’
Her optimal blend of nice hair, posh accent, and comely figure produced a pleasing, knee-weakening effect.
Yes, last week. I just started,’ I spluttered.
Ooh. What sort of motorbike do you ride?’
Triumph Bonneville. Seven-fifty.’
Oh,’ she replied, touching her lip with a light gasp and which I unhesitatingly interpreted as dazzled admiration.
    I reached out for something to hold on to, but then Xerox bloke chucked some documents in front of her in a huff and broke the spell.
    ‘Ah, finally. Thank you, JEFFrey.’ With a shuffle, she slipped the documents into an envelope and handed it over with another smile.
There. Don’t ride too fast now. See you soon!’

Sadly, I was never to collect from John Princes Street again, but my faith in the Triumph’s magical charisma was enshrined. Another time while leafing through my A-Z an Australian tourist asked to take my picture.
My son back in Melbourne will love it. He’s always wanted a real motorbike.’
    And another day in Victoria Street I came trotting back to the bike to see a pinstripey old chap stooped over the Bonnie’s Smith’s speedo.
Oh, do excuse me. I was just admiring your superb motor cycle. Does it really do a hundred-and-sixty-miles-per-hour?’
tri-bonrecord    Non-biking civilians who didn’t know a pushrod from a pram responded to the Bonnie in a way no other bike of mine ever inspired. I put it down to a warm nostalgia for British engineering in its gentlemanly post-war apogee: sporty, but never aggressive or ostentatious. And the appeal was international. In the sixties, three out of four new Triumphs went triumph-parasite-motorcycle-dragster-1to North America. After all, the Bonneville was named after the Utah salt flats where in the fifties American daredevils had set land-speed records on Triumph twins.
    One evening at Colindale Blood Bank I had a chance to enact my own speed record. Handed a padded case with ‘Urgent – Human Tissue’ emblazoned across the top, the woman asked
How long will it take to get there?’
Er… Children’s Hospital, Great Ormond Street? About twenty-five minutes?’
Oh,’ she said with a frown. ‘Well, please be as quick as you can.’
    Crikey, this was urgent. Was some child actually hemorrhaging on the slab, nine miles away? I thought for a few seconds, then kicked the Bonnie over and flicked the headlight on full. Tonight the Highway Code was being temporarily suspended.
    With a squeal from the K181, I roared off down the Edgware Road for Staples Corner, hitting sixty-five along the North Circular before slicing through the traffic for the roundabout under the Brent Cross flyover. From here the Hendon Way was always a reliably fast run apart from the lights. I screeched in then pushed out past the cars. Cross-traffic swept from left and right, but once a space opened up I launched myself across the red light and belted on towards Finchley Road.
    This stage was dicey, with heavy traffic and at least half a dozen lights before Swiss Cottage. So where necessary I skipped round the traffic islands, pulled up on the reds, watched for a gap, then gunned it. Around Regent’s Park I kept it down to 55mph: we all knew that in a ‘30’, 40-ish was the working limit. Stray beyond that for too long and things happened too fast or fines involved a ban.
    The Bonnie’s side-stand scraped hard towards Hampstead Road, ETA just a couple of minutes now. Down the side of Euston Station – watch out for taxis! – then barge onto the busy Euston Road and heave over to the right for the turn into Woburn Place. Once barrelling towards Russell Square I ran all the reds like 78-ogrisomething out of Ogri, then mounted the pavement for a pedestrian passage that led directly to Great Ormond Street. Tourists froze, startled by the revving Triumph’s full beam and my determined glare. With the tormented engine baking my shins, I sprinted down to the hospital, grabbed the blood, leapt the steps in a single stride and landed at reception like a hyper-caffeinated cat.
Hi. Got some blood from Colindale.’
I checked my watch. Fifteen minutes and as many reds. No bad.
    That memorable cross-town blast was typical of the ‘you’ll-never-take-me-alive’ immunity we despatchers felt from the Law and the laws of physics, engendered on this occasion by a well-meaning if missplaced sense of entitlement. And it was why we were to become notorious and targeted as London’s dormant economy began to recover.

78-toff-security-bike-1978An article appeared in Bike magazine about Security Despatch, one of the big players, based in trendy Covent Garden,. It depicted SD as an exclusive club of louche, articulate dropouts, and the antics and attitudes of this maverick band of bikers sounded a lot more glamorous than crumby Capital Couriers, opposite a pub with lunchtime strippers.
    Now with a bit of experience, I signed up at SD, my T140V slipping in well with the other unconventional machines. SD wasn’t for those bib-wearing saps at Mercury; it drew on a pool of free-styling, hard-charging dissenters committed to expressing their individuality and belief in personal freedom.
    hj-seddonbikeShaun ran a Z900 with a raucous four-into-one; swaggering Tim rode an R80 with a Windjammer fairing, GDR escapee Klaus ran a bat-shit R90 proddy racer he campaigned on weekends and the late eccentric, Maurice Seddon, part-timed on a bonkers BSA older than me and which powered his hand-made electrically heated silk underwear.
    At the Friday evening spin-down wages were paid, spliffs rolled and beers cracked open. The throng would offload their week’s burdens, query payments and then head for the pub, milling among the smartly dressed trendies we’d soon be calling yuppies.
     Considering the use it was getting, my young Bonnie was doing a lot better than I had a right to expect and had never let me down, hard though that is to believe. I didn’t run it hard as the grin-factor was all about exploiting that low-rpm torque – high speeds were unpleasant.
My ride home to mum’s included a grippy left-hander at the bottom of Brixton Hill. Even after a long day in the saddle, I’d always do my best to line myself up to hit it ahead of the pack and shower them in a long trail of sparks. Banked over far less than I imagined, the Triumph remained planted like a chubby genie on his magic carpet. Shifting into fourth for the charge up to the lights by the prison, it was a great way to sign off the day.
    I joined SD in early winter when the students and fair-weather dilettantes had scarpered like rats from a shipwreck. There was loads of work and soon I was regularly earning over £250 for a fifty-hour week. With all this money and learning the craft, it seemed a waste to throw it all away and do what, exactly? Unemployment was rising, and with Thatcher’s imminent ascendancy, it was about to go off the scale. So I decided to turn pro and knuckle down on a more conventional machine (what a mistake that was). The Bonneville was too good for all this rushing about, and the hefty kick-starting ritual was losing its shine when done forty-four times a day. 

I sold the Triumph to another young pup enamoured by the cult of the Bonneville. Years later I saw it parked off Fleet Street and gave it an affectionate pat on the tank, like McQueen caught in the wire at the end of The Great Escape. Then, as now, I recall the reg’ without hesitation: WHX 791S. Can’t say that of the dozens bikes I’ve owned since. Rock on Triumph!

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Heated jackets for motorcycling

Turn on, Plug in but don’t Chill Out on winter’s long road.

hj-2jax1-gloIf you live outside the tropics and like to ride on anything other than sunny summer days, heated clothing makes sense on a bike. Your bike produces excess electrical power which, with the benefit of modern technology and materials, can make a near-freezing ride tolerable in a way you couldn’t imagine. The two jackets looked at here are Aerostich’s 75-watt Kanetsu AirVantage (above, on the far right) and the lately discontinued 60/105 watt Powerlet RapidFIRe which you can still find used for as little as £100.

hj-seddonbikeI remember back the late 70s there was a batty guy at work called Maurice Seddon who rode a BSA made before I was born and who sold hand-made heated clothing on the side (left). For London-based despatching that wouldn’t have been such a great idea, as with all the stop-start and on-off you never got that cold. But out on the road between cities you sure could. Even then, heated clothing had a reputation for inefficiency and unreliability and so didn’t seem worth the investment compared to piling on the layers and gritting your teeth.

WindChill_ComparisonCompared to the northern US states and eastern or northern Europe, the southern UK rarely gets that cold in winter (anymore), but sat on a bike in the wind it’s always colder than you think. Apparently, in bikers’ lore over in the US there’s something called the ’60 60 30 rule’: 60 mph at 60°F (ambient) feels like 30°F on a bike (100kph / 15°C / -1°C).
That may be easy to remember but is clearly exaggerated. There’s no way doing 60 at 15°C feels like just below freezing. It’s an embellishment of what they now call the ‘old wind chill index’. According to the calculator on this page, the post-2001 new wind chill index (NWCI, red, left) gives a more plausible index of 54°F or 12°C, rather than 30°F at 60-mph. Bright sunshine can also reduce the wind chill by several degrees °C.

hj-fogBut when the ambient temperature drops to a more typical, mid-winter’s ride of 41°F (5°C), the new wind chill index corresponds to 26°F or -3°C. That’s how it felt for me crossing northern Spain last week when, for the last few hundred clicks to Santander, the road rises to more or less 700m (2300′). Though it was foggy and clearly above 0°C, I felt freezing with my Powerlet RapidFIRe heated liner turned up to the max. I rode on through the murk for as long as I could bear it, then dived into a roadside hotel to thaw out. Next day it was the same until I dropped out of the fog to the coast. It gave me time to work out how to get the best from a heated liner. Apart from sealing against all possible draughts, using heated grips, hand guards and a windshield, having the liner actually pressing on your body is much more effective. Like this, the liner’s heated matrix is warming a thin base layer clinging to your skin, not the air gap between. And ironically, I feel it’s better if that base layer is not thermal – just thin polyester or whatever that’s easier to wash than a jacket full of wires. At times I was riding with my left arm pressed against my chest just to force the front of the jacket against me and benefit from the heat. But doing that for a while my hand got cold away from the heated grip. Next day I wore a thin fleece over the heated jacket to press the wires down achieve the same, all-round effect.

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Liner or jacket?
The Kanetsu is designed to zip in as a liner on your Aerostich Darien or Roadcrafter, but over the years I’ve mostly used it with various other jackets. The Powerlet zips up to itself, but does feature a textured outer shell that’s slightly tacky or rubbery so it’s more prone to staying with your main jacket as you slip both off (assuming that’s what you want). Because the Kanetsu is a zip-in liner, I found when using it with other jackets the open-ended zip would open up from the bottom. Aero could get round this by adding a stud to stop it separating when not zipped in as a liner.
hj-2jaxBoth jackets stuff into their own zippered pouches (left), with the Kanetsu benefitting from belt loops. On a long trip both still add up to a sizeable bulk when not worn, unless you choose to use it off the bike. As you can see below, they both look pretty good as regular jackets. The Aerostich has more pockets, the Powerlet has a lined and heated collar. Both weigh about 1100g.

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hj-pletbandsAs said, a close fit makes all the difference and these jackets achieve that differently. The RapidFIRe has Spandex sidepanels in the body and arms (left) to make the liner cling to you. Mine was an end-of-the-line cheapie which by that time was only available in XL – a bit too big on me. But it occurred to me I could easily close up those elastic panels with thread to achieve a snugger and so more effective fit.

Thj-plet-nukehe RapidFIRe has two heat settings – 60/105 watt which, afaict, the newer $430 Atomic Skin model has dropped. Probably because no one ever needed 105 watts. To activate this arctic setting you join up two loose plugs zipped into a dinky hem compartment (left). Knowing my Honda had the capacity to run it (see below), I tried the 105-watt setting on a 200-mile round trip down to around 8°C (which in NWCI adds up 0.5°C @ 65 mph). I found that setting 2/5 was more than enough to keep me warm in my Darien Light and a thin base layer. If I regularly rode in sub-freezing conditions I might leave it on 105 watts. More probably though, I’d get a car.

hj-kanMy 5-year-old 75-watt Kanetsu AirVantage is a version of Aerostich’s regular (and $70 cheaper) WindStopper. It differs by having an air bladder within the body linings which you inflate with a hj-inflatestem valve (left), like an airplane life jacket until you have a comfortable fit under your riding jacket. As long as you’re not wearing it inside out (an easy mistake to make) the bulging bladders press the heating elements against your torso, a clever idea that maximises efficiency and means you don’t have to whack up the dial for it to have the desired effect. Until you get used to it, it’s another thing to remember to do when togging up, and it can result in that ‘stuffed’ feeling you’re trying to avoid with heated gear. But it adds insulation and does work. The AirVantage is definitely worth the extra $70 ($387) over the regular, non-inflating WindStopper.


hj-exotogFast forward to 2019 and at a show I spotted these Exotog inflatable pull-over bodywarmer. A bit like the lifejacket mentioned above, the idea is the still air creates a thick insulated layer without excessive bulk when not in use. The truth is, down works better to keep trapped air still, but that’s impractical with humid, breath-inflated items and these must be better than nothing.
It also occurred to me they’d be a very effective way of pressing a heated jacket down on to your torso to derive maximum efficiency. It weighs from 270g and costs 100 quid.


godofhellfireWhat both jackets highlight is that once warmed up and doing their thing, you won’t necessarily feel like The God of Hellfire (left) reposing in front of a roaring log fire with a warm cup of cocoa. But you’ll sure notice the difference should you switch them off. [This is actually a slightly misleading test as switching off is a bit like stepping out of a shower all wet: in the short term you’ll feel chilly until things evaporate]. And, depending on the wind protection on dsc00040 (1)your bike, you’ll also notice your heated but exposed arms will feel notably less warm than your hopefully balmy torso, as well noticing the slightest cold spot. In fact this whole temperature differential can be a bit of a distraction.
The Powerlet uses something called Carbon Nanocore technology (thin wires) producing far infrared heat (hence Rapid FIR e); the AirVantage simply uses ‘hotter’ wires in the arms. Whichever one you’re wearing, this is where those velcro arm cinches on your riding jacket come in useful to press the heating elements against you. The Darien I recently reviewed has them both above and hj-cinchbelow the elbow (right), but they still couldn’t spread the heat evenly. If I was heading for a really long, cold ride, I’d find a way of binding the heated jacket’s sleeves close to my arms. All these measures will enable you to run as low a setting as possible, so giving you an extra margin when things really chill down.

Electrical consumption
One good thing about modern bikes is they should have plenty of alternator capacity to power electrical accessories – and heated jacket liners probably make the biggest demands. My CB500X produces 500 watts at 5000 rpm – my late-80s era GS500R dished out just 200 watts at the same rpm. Even a modern 250 single might produce over 300 watts. Modern lights draw less power too, but add fuel pumps, some LED or HiD spots, heated grips as well as the possibly lower engine speeds when riding at night in freezing temperatures, and on the old GS the alternator may have struggled to keep up with the demand.

Heat Controller
These thermostats usually come as accessories to the heated liners but are a good idea unless you’re happy with all-or-nothing heating. After all, what other heating application – domestic, industrial or otherwise – has no adjustment settings? Often, as you slow down to ride through a built-up area you’ll feel too warm – you don’t want that but you may not want to switch right off either.

heatrollersThe Aerostich Heat Troller ($70; left and below right) is a little box with a dial knob and molded SAE leads. You can feel the knob’s soft click as you turn it on and in less than one clockwise turn it’s at max. Tucked down by a tank net as below right, it’s easy to operate on the move using feel alone when wearing thick gloves. No need to take your eyes off the road. I just dial it up to max then back off as needed. There’s a red LED that flashes proportionally – handy for a quick hj-aerocontglance to see if it’s actually working or if it’s just you and you need to dial in more heat. Direct from Aerostich it seems the Heat Troller only comes with SAE connectors but I just bought one with QuiConnects coax here). Their Kanetsu jackets now comes with BMW, SAE or QuiConnect fittings.

 

hj-pletcontThe Powerlet uses a similar black box and the co-axial QuiConnects all round (left), but with a flat pad to turn it on and keep pressing up to five levels. The problem is that pad is very hard to locate and feel through a thick glove, so you’re not always sure if you’ve done anything or gone too far and turned it off. You need to glance down to check the position of the red LEDs – not handy on an icy hairpin at six in the morning. It’s nowhere near as user-friendly as a dial knob. The current Atomic Skin Powerlet liner uses a remote wrist-mounted wireless controller. Me, I’d sooner fit an Aerostich-style Heat-Troller unless you mount the controller on the handlebars.

Overall, the discontinued Powerlet RapidFIRe gets the nod as it’s a tad less bulky, has two core heat settings, has accessory wires to run glove liners, has a regular zip for use in any riding jacket, not as a zip-in liner, has wire in the collar and slicker QuiConnect fittings. But chances are you can’t buy it anymore unless you’re huge, and neither the Kanetsu not the Atomic Skin are currently sold in the UK.

My tips for heated liners:

  • Get a full heated jacket with heated arms, neck and full torso, not a waistcoat or a jacket with partial panels
  • Get an easy-to-use heat controller
  • If the body’s elasticated, aim for a close fit
  • Wire direct to the battery via a fuse (leads often supplied)
  • Don’t bother with remote, battery-powered options. Your bike has a  battery and charging system: make use of them.

Click this for a recent review of Aerostich and Klim shells which were used with these heated liners

Good 2012 article by ABR magazine (pdf)

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.