Although we are a motorcycle magazine, we cannot ignore large-displacement scooters that have become a viable alternative for many motorcyclists. A couple of years ago, we reviewed Honda’s Silver Wing here. Overall, we were impressed with the Silver Wing’s performance and utility. It presented a fun and interesting alternative for some motorcyclists.
Newer to the US market is the even larger and more sophisticated Suzuki Burgman 650. With a 638cc eight-valve, twin-cylinder engine fed by electronic fuel injection, the Burgman 650 includes a trick continuosly-variable transmission that allows the rider to select one of three modes, including power automatic, normal automatic, and manual shift.
In this one feature (ie, the transmission), the Burgman scooter actually offers more sophistication than any motorcycle currently available in the United States. This is an indication of how important scooters have become outside the United States (such as Europe), where large-displacement scooters with sophisticated transmissions are becoming somewhat commonplace.
We put more than 1000 miles on our test unit, and were again impressed with a large-displacement scooter as a viable alternative for some motorcyclists. For touring, in particular, the ability to move your feet over a great distance on the floorboards of the Burgman significantly increased comfort. Also, the fact that your feet are closer together than they would be on a motorcycle, and entirely protected from the wind by the fairing, was appreciated the more time we spent in the saddle.
The only ergonomic negative we noted was related to the backrest. Even in its most rearward position, we found the backrest a bit too far forward for our liking. It tends to push your butt forward to an uncomfortably narrow part of the seat. Aside from this, the ergonomics were faultless, with the handlebars at a reasonable height and distance from your seating position.
The Burgman looks large, and it is. With a claimed dry weight of 524lbs, it outweighs many full-size motorcycles. With its four-gallon gas tank filled to capacity, the Burgman is heavy to lift off its sidestand.
Once underway, however, the low center of gravity created by the scooter layout makes the Burgman feel nimble, but stable.
Indeed, there are clearly handling benefits associated with placement of the engine so low in the frame. One of these is during aggressive braking, where a traditional motorcycle will typically exhibit a fair amount of fork squat, while the Burgman stays remarkably flat – creating very little dive forward during braking.
Those brakes are extremely impressive. With three discs (one rear and two forward), the Burgman 650 hauls itself down quickly and controllably. As we did while testing the Silver Wing, we came to enjoy using our hands to operate both the front and rear brakes on the Burgman 650. Hand braking allows a finer level of control.
As your feet relax, the automatic transmission does all the work on the Burgman. We tried all of the modes available from the fancy transmission, but ultimately left the transmission in the “normal” automatic mode. The bike did not seem to accelerate any quicker using the other modes, although the manual mode did allow finer control of engine braking and midcorner gear selection.
That transmission worked flawlessly during our test. Similar to a quality automobile transmission, shifts were smooth but decisive, and kick-down for passing seemed to work well enough. Acceleration is plentiful, even if it won’t impress modern sport bike riders.
Both of our test riders experienced a fair amount of wind buffeting at the helmet level during freeway travel (speeds over 60mph). This turned out to be the largest concern we had with the Burgman 650. Perhaps because it is otherwise such an excellent freeway machine (with an indicated top speed of 115mph), the wind buffeting became a major annoyance.
The rest of the Burgman impresses, however, and makes you wonder whether windscreen options are available. Even an aftermarket windscreen accessory such as a Laminar Lip is worth investigating to smooth the airflow at the helmet level.
One of the most impressive aspects of the Burgman 650 is its luggage capacity. The underseat storage is plenty big enough for two large full-face helmets, for instance, and there is plenty of additional storage in the dash area. With this much luggage-carrying capacity, fuel range was a bit dissapointing, however. The four-gallon tank needs to be replenished every 130 miles, or so, in our experience.
The Burgman 650 never did anything unexpected from the standpoint of handling. It cornered reasonably well (although not quite as nimbly as the lighter Silver Wing) and remained stable at all speeds. We did find it beneficial to increase the preload in the rear shocks – placing a bit more weight on the front end of the machine.
The instrument display is very thorough, with analog tach, speedometer, fuel gauge, temperature gauge, LCD odometer/tripmeters and a clock. The dash also provides a DC electrical-accessory outlet as standard equipment.
Although we tested a 2004-model Burgman 650, the 2005 model is unchanged except for color choice. The 2005 model will be available in March here in the US at an MSRP of $7,799.