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MD Ride Review: 2007 Suzuki Burgman 400

Just a few years ago, the line that marked the division between scooters and motorcycles was crisp and clear. Of course, you straddle a motorcycle like a horse, while you typically sit in a scooter like a chair, but it didn’t just have to do with seating position. It had to do with performance. Generally, scooters that handled well enough (mainly due to their light weight), but they were SLOW. Most had small-displacement motors (250cc or less), and while they were great for getting around in city traffic, with few exceptions they were much too slow to be appealing for a long trip, and you certainly couldn’t take them on the freeway!

In recent years, that once-crisp line has become more and more indistinct. The seating position is still different, but many of the other distinguishing factors have dissapeared. The Burgman 400 isn’t the first scooter I’ve tested, but I still feel a tad silly climbing through the step-through bodywork while wearing a racer-replica helmet, along with gauntleted racing gloves and a race-styled leather jacket. However, that feeling only lasts until the first chance I get to out-accelerate a big, heavy cruiser away from a red light, or until I pass a sportbike while buzzing down the freeway. Who do you think feels silly then?

When Suzuki set out to re-design the younger brother to their bigger (and much more expensive) Burgman 650 (see MD’s ride review here), their goals were clear – improve handling, style, and economy, while still maintaining adequate performance and long-distance comfort. The Burgman 400 was intended to be a viable (and cheaper) alternative to the 650 for cross-town commuting, and while not quite as ‘touring-oriented’ as its bigger brother, it also maintains comfort and plenty of power for freeway riding.

Hidden under all that bodywork is a new 400cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC four-valve powerplant. The motor’s output is translated by means of a V-Belt driven CVT (constantly variable transmission) clutchless trans, and from there reaches the rear wheel via a shaft drive system. Although slightly less undersquare than most motorcycle engines (81mm bore x 77.6mm stroke), the Burgman’s powerplant is in all other respects quite similar to many current motorcycle powerplants – featuring 11.5:1 compression and electronic fuel injection.

Up front, a larger 14-inch wheel carrying a 120/80 series tire is damped by telescopic forks and slowed by dual hydraulic disc brakes. A 13-inch wheel out back mounts a 150/70, rides on a link-type suspension setup (the shock is mounted horizontally, under the bike and paralell to the ground), and is clamped by a single hydraulic disc.

Hop on the 2007 Burgman 400 for the first time, and you’ll notice the relaxed seating position right away. The seat is flat and comfortable, and the adjustable backrest provides excellent support for the rider’s lower back (something I’ve appreciated since I fractured 3 vertebrae in an MX accident a few years ago). When we first received the Burgman, the backrest was set in its rearmost position, which put me a tad bit too far from the bars – a problem easily solved by moving the backrest forward two positions. For those riders with even shorter arms, there was still one more forward notch available in the adjustment range.

The windscreen offers excellent protection for the rider’s head and upper body, and offers none of the head buffeting we experienced on the Burgman 650. The lower fairing protects the rider’s legs as well, which is helpful on a cold winter night – especially when you’ve got a warm riding jacket on up top, but nothing but jeans keeping your legs warm! Another benefit of a scooter is the large amount of storage space, which again can come in handy on a cold night – that is, if you’re sharp enough to remember to throw some warmer layers in the underseat trunk before leaving your home in the midst of the mid-day heat.

The aforementioned underseat trunk is cavernous, with plenty of room for two full-face riding helmets, or several jackets, a notepad, and pretty much anything else you can thing to cram in there! At one point, headed back to the office from a quick lunch, the under-seat locker of our tester swallowed two bags of sundries from Target (I was packing for a press intro in North Carolina), along with an 18 pack of canned soda, and topping it off, flat and face up, was a large pepperoni pizza from Little Caesars! Yeah, I know, it sounds impossible, but when the Little Caesars people let me test the idea with an empty box, I was one happy, hungry journalist to discover that it fit! There are also two small compartments in the front fairing, one under each handlebar, which are perfect for cell phones, wallets, etc. Not to mention the cavernous ‘glove box’, which is wide and deep enough to hold a baseball cap without crumpling, and is useful for gloves as well.

The long floorboards give the rider plenty of room to move around, and he can choose to set his feet either on the flat area just in front of the seet (putting the knees at a 90 degree angle), or to stretch his legs out and rest his feet on the upward-sloping section at the front of the bike (giving a “lazy boy”-style leg position). On long freeway trips, I definitely appreciated the ability to switch foot positions, and would frequently move my feet forward and back to keep my legs from stiffening up.

Long freeway trips on a 400cc scooter, you ask? It surprised me too, considering the relatively small displacement. However, possibly due to the effect of the CVT (which, in theory, can use any gear ratio necessary to keep the bike in its power curve), the Burgman 400 packs extremely respectable performance. Around town, a bit more throttle opening than expected is necessary to get the bike moving, but the motor picks up fast and has plenty of pull. Merging onto the freeway aggressively is no problem (I often hit 80 before the bottom of an onramp!), and even at freeway speeds there’s still some pulling power available – acceleration from 65mph to 80mph is crisp and authoritative.

Of course, I don’t want to over-exaggerate the power of the Burgman 400 – you’re certainly not going to be beating any 600cc sportbikes at the stoplight drags! However, Suzuki’s latest scooter has plenty of power for its intended purpose, which is commuting and around-town work. Combined with the efficiency of the CVT, the Burgman is quick and flexible enough for daily use.

Besides adequate power, most riders prefer that their daily mount (whether motorcycle or scooter) have quick, stable handling, letting the bike slice through traffic or carve ’round corners with equal aplomb. When we first picked up the Burgman 400, the handling was ok, but nothing impressive, and the bike had a tendency to feel unstable at high speeds (85mph+) or when braking heavily. This instability manifested itself in a slight headshake (made worse on heavily rain-grooved roads) and a tendency to wander in the lane (under said conditions).

The only adjustability in the Burgman’s suspension is rear preload, and I was considering reducing it. However, before I got the chance, Dirck took it out with a passenger on the back, and he cranked a few extra turns of preload into the rear for this ride. He was also finally able to check the tire pressure (we had to buy a new tire gauge, as the Burgman’s tiny rims put the air nipples to close to the hub for our existing gauge(s) to fit), and found it a few psi low both front and rear.

The next time I rode the Burgman, it was like a whole different bike (scooter?). The combination of increased preload and proper tire inflation made a world of difference. With the rear riding slightly higher (and, consequently, more weight on the front wheel), the front end was more stable at high speeds and under braking, although some slight instability still crops up occasionally, particularly on rough or rain-grooved roads. Not only was the bike’s stability improved, but it turned much more crisply, and with a more natural cornering feel that gave the rider greatly increased front-end confidence. Where before I had been reluctant to test the bike’s limits in the corners, I was now confident enough to attack corners much faster. Happily, I found that even at very aggressive cornering speeds (and lean angles), the Burgman 400 doesn’t have any serious ground clearance problems.

So, we have a good handling, adequately powerful scooter, with plenty of comfort and storage space for long trips. What about the aforementioned economy? Well, according to the running account of average fuel economy kept on the Burgman’s digital dash, it maintained an average of between 50 and 52.5 mpg for our entire testing period, even with heavy-handed testers attempting to probe the bike’s top speed via long periods of wide-open throttle (indicated 103mph, in case you’re wondering). We have heard of Burgman 400 owners achieving 60mpg, and more. We attempted to confirm the digital readout’s accuracy by making our own calculations over several tanks of fuel, and found that, if anything, the dash is being conservative – my figures averaged out between 51 and 54 mpg! Quite a useful talent for a commuter machine to have in this day of near $3/gallon gasoline, the Burgman’s mild appetite for fuel also gives a theoretical range in excess of 180 miles from its 3.6 gallon tank, although in reality you’ll find yourself filling up much sooner just to be safe, since the fuel gauge reads empty while the bike should still have a gallon left (I never got more than 2.75 gallons into the Burgman at a fuel stop).

Suzuki has done a fine job of creating a scooter to fill nearly every role an all-around daily bike would be called on to perform, and in maintaining more than adequate performance while achieving miserly mileage figures. The Burgman 400 is certainly much faster than, say, a Toyota Prius hybrid, or a Honda Insight, while costing a fraction of what you’d pay for either of those vehicles, and achieving equal or better fuel economy. All this and fun to ride to? The Burgman 400 may just be the ultimate ride for the sensible motorcyclist, anyone who loves the environment, or the student on a tight budget who needs a go everywhere, do everything vehicle – especially if that student lives in a city like San Francisco or New York, where owning a car is impractical and expensive. A scooter that I could just as easily (and comfortably) ride to lunch or ride to Las Vegas, and that gets 50+mpg on the way to either, is quite an accomplishment in my book.

The 2007 Burgman 400 carries a US MSRP of $5,899, is available in blue or silver, and should be in local Suzuki dealers by the time you read this. For more information, check out Suzuki’s official site.