Scooters have been getting bigger and better for the last five or six years, although the concept of a 250cc plus sized touring scooter dates back to 1950s Germany.
Suzuki have had a great deal of success in recent years with their Burgman 250 and 400 models, which has spurred on the creation of their biggest, most well equipped super-scooter so far; the Burgman 650. Can it compete against Honda´s mighty Silverwing 650, or the Yamaha T-Max 500?
Kevin Ash reports from the Burgman launch.
You can´t blame people for focusing on the Suzuki Burgman´s funky new transmission – there´s nothing else like it, after all. It´s a familiar scooter-style twist´n´go fully automatic, except you not only get two options on how you like that to be served (normal and power modes) you can also switch to manual mode and play around with a virtual five-speed gearbox using a bar-mounted rocker switch.
Yet this is to some extent the hors-d´oeuvre. It´s the Burgman´s main course of impressive features which will matter more to an owner in the end, so we´ll check those out first. The initial impression of a big, chunky machine is reinforced dramatically if you let it lean too far off-centre: this is one heavy two-wheeler!
In fact, the dry weight is a massive 238kg (525lb), which is more than any other machine in Suzuki´s current line-up (even the Hayabusa is only 215kg). But the mass is carried very low, more so than on a motorcycle, and as a consequence most of the time it´s not noticed.
Did she just shake her Burgmans at me?
What does make an impression instead is the exceptionally good ride quality (part of which will be due to that weight), the best on any of the superscooters including the Honda Silverwing and Yamaha Tmax. Large potholes will have the Burgman shuddering and jarring, but generally the ride is smooth and very well controlled. Stability too is very good (more credit to that weight), and up to 90mph it´s outstanding for this type of machine.
As you approach and enter the three figure zone the front begins to get vague and some gentle wobbling sets in when the indicated 120mph top speed is looming (a true 112mph), but with one reservation it´s not a concern. The concern was that a handful of other journalists at the Burgman 650´s presentation near Rome, experienced more severe wobbles – it didn´t happen to me but I did see one having to back off as it started to get out of hand. Below 100mph it was fine for everyone though, and as the Burgman isn´t exactly the first choice for most ton-up hooligan bikers it´s unlikely to affect many people.
It still shouldn´t do it though!
The brakes, surprisingly perhaps, aren´t linked, and there´s no ABS option (even the 400 Burgman has linked brakes), although the stopping force available is good and there´s reasonable feedback for a scooter – only when you´re charging downhill do you feel like you want more power, and that´s because of all that mass you´re carrying. It´s in circumstances like this, with a few twists and turns thrown in, that the Burgman´s slow steering can get in the way, you have to plan your cornering and learn to swing the beast majestically through the bends, as it will no more flick than a very sticky bogey.
Once again though, that´s really asking the Burgman to do things it was never designed for. Suzuki is aiming it at older bikers as a gentle tourer, even more than riders moving up the scooter scale, so benign handling is a plus point, not a nuisance.
And for touring there´s a lot to commend it. The space beneath the front-hinged seat is voluminous, enough to easily slip in a couple of full faced lids or a briefcase if you´re commuting (and VERY few scooters can swallow one of those), while the three compartments in the front fairing are much bigger than on most other scooters. Of course, adding panniers is ruled out by the width of the bodywork, but fitting a topbox would be easy enough and it shouldn´t affect the handling too much.
Comfort is outstanding, even for taller riders who often feel cramped on scooters. Engine vibration is almost zero and the screen works very well, despite not being adjustable, turbulence is slight and noise not excessive. As for the pillion, there´s practically enough room on the back to lay down and go to sleep, but even sitting upright, the footrests are well placed and wind buffeting isn´t severe.
Use me, cruise me
Oh yes, then there´s the transmission.
In fact, most of the hardware operates on the same principle as any other scooter – a V-belt and two pulleys, which expand or contract, to alter the radius of the belt, changing the gearing.
On most scooters the drive pulley diameter is varied by bob-weights on springs, so the gearing simply gets taller as the engine revs higher. On the Burgman this is controlled instead by a computer which tells an electric actuator on the drive pulley what to do. The driven pulley is spring loaded, so as the drive pulley expands the belt out, the driven one extends against the spring, ensuring constant belt tension.
This electronic control is far more sophisticated than the usual scooter set up and it should, in theory, make the transmission more efficient as the perfect gearing for any speed or revs can be determined by the transmission computer. Adding electronic control also opens up other possibilities – Suzuki has programmed in three different modes which you can switch between with some buttons on the left handlebar.
Normal mode is, well, normal. Turn the twistgrip and the scooter accelerates, sliding seamlessly up its infinite ratios more or less like any other scooter, although it holds onto the optimum revs for longer in the mid range, which improves efficiency and acceleration. It feels reasonably strong at first, as you´d expect with a fuel-injected, eight-valve 650 twin to power it, quicker than a T-Max and slightly faster than a Honda Silverwing, which was previously the fastest superscoot.
Then you push the power mode button: this enlists a new transmission map which lets the engine rev higher (generally about 1500rpm more) at any given road speed, meaning more power and torque at the rear wheel, and with that a sharper throttle response plus harder acceleration. Fuel consumption no doubt gets worse, but we had no chance to test that, although you´d want to use this most of the time anyway as the standard mode inevitably feels more lethargic when you switch back to it. You´d use that for gentle cruising when you´re not in a hurry and power mode for a bit of instant zip.
Then comes the bit we were getting all frothy about – manual mode. With this the electronics fix the transmission pulleys into one of five different non-variable ratios, copying the behaviour of a proper gearbox. So when you´re in first gear the transmission ratio stays the same (at 1.8:1) while the engine revs up the LCD tacho to the 8500rpm red line.
Then push the bar-mounted rocker switch (no clutch, and don´t shut the throttle) to select second – the revs will drop before spinning up to the red again. Keep this up and you´ll be flying.
It´s fun at first but you do have to work at it, keeping one eye on the tacho to change ratio before the rev limiter cuts in, and in the end the novelty wears off and it becomes a chore instead. The Burgman is no quicker in manual mode than in automatic power mode anyway, but what the hell, it probably added almost nothing to the cost to include it, and if you don´t use it much, it´s still there to impress onlookers.
So don´t be swayed by the manual transmission, look instead at what else the Burgman 650 has to offer, which is a lot. But look too at the Italian opposition in the form of the Aprilia Atlantic and Piaggio X9 – they´re only singles but performance is still impressive, and they´ll save you up to £1500. Against the Tmax and Silverwing, the Burgman looks good. Against the Italians, it looks pricey.
Get Suzuki motorbike insurance for the suzuki burgman 650.
|ENGINE||Twin-cylinder four-stroke liquid cooled, DOHC|
|BORE X STROKE||75.5mm x 71.3mm|
|CARBS||None, fuel injection|
|POWER||54bhp at 7000rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||Variable pulley automatic with electronic control, optional 5 virtual gear ratios|
|SEAT HEIGHT||750mm (29.5in)|
|DRY WEIGHT||238kg (525lb)|
|FRONT TYRE||120/70 x 15|
|REAR TYRE||160/60 x 14|
|TOP SPEED||115mph (est)|
|FUEL CAPACITY||15 litres|