MOTORING: New BMW maxi-scooters

Think of a scooter. Odds-on you are thinking Vespa or similar, a cheery little thing with an engine capacity around 175cc and automatic transmission.
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Fun and desirability factors dissect at about nine on the scale and get higher as summer approaches. Just the thing for zippy tripping around town and across the suburbs.

Now think of a sports/touring motorcycle. Big, beefy, looks a little mean, lots of power, good handling, the sort of bike that makes a long ride easy.

Finally, think of a merger of those two extremes, a high-tech scooter with a big heart, sophisticated suspension, excellent brakes and ride comfort and handling that simply don’t belong on a scooter. Or, on the other hand, a mid-sized bike with a comfortable riding position, onboard luggage space and an automatic transmission as well as the ride, comfort and handling features.

Welcome to BMW’s new C600 Sport and C650 GT pair, the German company’s take on the increasingly popular maxi-scooter concept and arguably the best execution of it to date, drawing on its experience with big touring bikes and parlaying it into the parameters of the traditional scooter. Sort of.

Forget air-cooling and small-to-moderate capacity single-cylinder engines for this machine and think liquid-cooling for a 650cc (OK, 647cc to be absolutely correct) parallel-twin with double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and fuel-injection.

The engine (made by Taiwanese motorcycle manufacturer Kymco, incidentally) is laid almost horizontally in a complex tubular frame so that its head is approximately level with the rider’s feet, a move that necessitates a high bulge in the floorpan and negates the notion of scooters having a flat floor.

Power output is a hefty 44 kilowatts at a reasonably low 7500 rpm and the 66 Newton metres of torque is at full strength at 6000 rpm. That means a weight to power ratio of 5.65 kilograms per kilowatt for the Sport and 5.93 for the GT. Put another way, BMW’s popular and quite sprightly 320i sedan, with 135 kilowatts available, has a 10.92-kilogram-per-kilowatt ratio.

In one of those ‘‘by the way’’ things, BMW designed and tuned the engine to have an offset firing order in a bid to make it sound and feel like a V-twin. It doesn’t, by the way, except for a nice little snap, crackle and pop moment when the throttle is snapped from wide open to fully-closed. But it is a reasonably smooth and lively power unit and its continuously variable automatic transmission means it is never caught napping, even on a spirited ride.

And this is where it becomes interesting because, by definition, scooters are urban runners with storage for a backpack and a lunchbox, manoeuvrable lightweights that can be slotted into invisible gaps in traffic and tucked into tight corners for parking.

The new Beemers? They can do some of that. The storage issue is a given, the under-seat space generous but with a 249-kilogram ready-to-roll weight (Sport) and 261kilograms for the GT the maxis are not quite as easy to throw around and, coupled with the overall length (2155mm for the Sport, 2218mm for GT) means they don’t nip quite as easily into tight spots in traffic, nor are they quite as easy to walk into a tight parking space and the width doesn’t help.

Sport is 877mm wide and GT 916mm and while the measure is made at the handlebars, both scooters have reasonable bulk below the rider’s backside, about the point the feet are placed on the ground during parking. I stand 185.5cm and take that to 188cm in boots and even I was on tip-toe whenever I stopped.

No, the C600 is more at home on open roads, living for those moments when it can cruise happily or have its throttle cracked open for some serious acceleration (BMW claims 7.1 seconds for the 0-100km/h dash for the Sport and 7.5 seconds for the GT and after giving both bikes a bit of stick I have no reason to doubt those claims).

Suspension design of the C600 pair (for clarification, the scooters share frames, engines, transmissions, wheels, tyres, suspensions and brakes but vary on bodywork, seats and standard equipment levels) is extremely sophisticated for a scooter with 40mm-diameter inverted front forks and a rear aluminium swing arm that mounts to the rear of the frame (the usual motorcycle practice) rather than the rear of the engine casing (the usual scooter practice).

Its coil-over spring/damper unit lays almost horizontally and connects at the rear to an extension off the swing arm and at the front to the frame’s midpoint.

Riding on 15-inch wheels with quite beefy rubber both Sport and GT give good accounts of themselves and on a seriously good rider’s road are solid performers, even in the hands of a relative novice such as myself, the sort of rider, it must be said, at whom BMW is aiming this pair.

Firing a scooter down a tight, twisting road with lots of undulations, switchbacks, hairpins and a fair degree of poor surfacing is not something that would normally be contemplated. But doing so on, at first, the Sport before making the return trip on the GT, was a piece of cake and any apprehension over my inexperience decreased as the day wore on and the fun factor rose.

Both machines, it must be said, are extremely forgiving and respond beautifully to throttle control and slight touches on the brake levers.

The 270mm diameter cross-drilled brake rotors and four-pot calipers are more than capable and one huge emergency brake application going into a tighter-than-expected corner showed not only the practicality of putting anti-lock brakes on a bike but the massive stopping power available to riders.

And the price differences? Sport is moderately bare bones in terms of equipment and it is reflected in the price. Anti-lock brakes are standard as is the ‘‘flex case’’ storage unit for helmet storage when the bike is parked. It gets a windscreen but it is manually adjustable through three positions. Everything else is on the options list.

The GT, on the other hand, gets LED indicators, heated hand grips and seats, a tyre pressure monitor, 60-litre under-seat storage bin and electric windscreen adjustment.

After riding both I can say that the GT would be my cup of tea. Bigger and heavier, admittedly, but comfortable for long rides.

Riding in city traffic though would be a bit of a chore and that remains the difficult bit to reconcile.

BMW C600 SPORT (C650 GT)

PRICE:

$13,990 (Sport), $15,990 (GT). Prices do not include statutory and dealer charges or options.

DIMENSIONS:

Length: 2155mm (2218mm)

Width: 877mm (916mm)

Seat height: 810mm (780mm)

Wheelbase: 1591mm

Steering head angle: 64.6°

Weight: 249kg (261kg)

MECHANICAL

Fuel-injected, 647 cc, liquid-cooled parallel twin with double overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. 44 kW at 7500 rpm, 66 Nm at 6000 rpm. Continuously-variable automatic with centrifugal clutch.

CHASSIS

Aluminium bridge frame with bolt-on rear frame, mid-mounted engine, chain drive, twin 270mm front disc brakes, single 270mm rear disc, floating double-piston calipers, anti-lock braking.

SUSPENSION

Inverted front fork with 115mm spring travel, single-sided rear swing arm with 115mm travel. 15 x 3.5-inch front and 15 x 4.5-inch rear alloy wheels with 120/70R15 front and 160/60R15 rear tyres.

OTHER

Fuel type/capacity: Premium/16 litres.

Efficiency: 4.8 litres/100km (claimed).

Like: Comfort, engine, ride/handling.

Dislike: Low-speed heaviness and manoeuvrability.

Main rivals:

Honda Integra, Suzuki Burgman 650, Piaggio X9 Evolution 500.

EASY RIDER: BMW’s new cross-over scooter.

RESPONSIVE: The new BMW scooter is extremely forgiving and responds beautifully to throttle control.

SPEED AND COMFORT: BMW’s C650 GT and C600 Sport pair are the same but different and represent the new upper limits of the scooter class.

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