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The BMW F650, better known as the Funduro, has been one of the success stories of the 1990s for the German company, with over 64,000 units sold.

 

The heart of its appeal is the simple, easygoing nature of the Rotax derived single cylinder engine, which makes it an ideal bike for beginners, or those who just ride for relaxing fun.

Formerly manufactured under license by Aprilia of Italy, the all-new F650 for 2000 onwards is now made in Germany and features a redesigned chassis, more powerful engine, and a welcome dash of street style too.

With optional extras like heated handlebar grips and variable rider´s seat height, the F650 makes a credible solo touring machine, with the ability to cruise comfortably all day in the 60-75mph speed range.

For BMW the F650 is an important bike, representing as it does a serious effort to break into a totally new sector of the market with an entry-level machine. The Funduro name is a combination of fun and enduro, which sums-up the bike’s dual-purpose nature. But it’s the price that reveals more, as it puts the F650 in a different league to previous BMWs. In Britain, at least, the F650 is barely more than half as expensive as the R1100RS. It costs only £140 more than Honda’s NX650 Dominator, and will almost certainly be cheaper when the yen’s strength forces Honda to raise prices in the near future.

 

Whilst the F650’s engine is impressive, its chassis is more so, at least for the road riding for which the bike is primarily intended. The steel frame, which uses the engine as a stressed member, and the steel deltabox swing-arm are suitably rigid. Perhaps though, the key to the BMW’s road going poise is in its suspension, with 170mm of axle movement at the front and 165mm at the rear.

 

Serious dirt riding is not perhaps what the F650 was built for. Most enthusiasts will never take it off-road, and instead will be impressed by such road-friendly details as the wide and clear mirrors, the broad dual-seat with its built-in carrier and pillion grab-handles, and the four-gallon tank that allows a range of well over 150 miles. This is a practical roadster that you could ride around town in the week, and load up with a passenger and luggage for a longer trip at the weekend.

 

The bike may have been named the Funduro, but this winter ride was no fun at all. The motorway was slippery and jammed with cars, the temperature was barely above freezing, and the low afternoon sun was combining with my dirt-smeared visor to make visibility almost impossible. It’s on cold, damp days like this, I reflected, that you really appreciate traditional BMW comforts such as a big fairing, ABS brakes and heated handlebar grips. Ironically the bike I was riding had none of those things, which in the circumstances was unfortunate, but not exactly surprising. For the F650 is the machine with which BMW abandons tradition to take a bold leap into the unknown. The familiar blue-and-white propeller badges are in place on its petrol tank and instrument console, but there are few other clues to link this bike with the long line of previous BMWs.

 

The F650 is a revelation, and not just because it’s the first single-cylinder BMW since the 1960s, and the first bike in the German firm’s 70-year history to have chain rather than shaft final drive. More importantly it’s the first BMW to be built not in Germany at all, but in Italy using components from Austria, Italy and Japan. Radical stuff indeed, for a firm with such a conservative image.

 

The desire to reduce development costs, and to complete the production process in a relatively short two and a half years, explains the German firm’s decision to team with Aprilia and Rotax in building what they call the first European motorcycle. Naturally BMW are quick to emphasise that this is much more than a rebadged model from Aprilia, whose Pegaso trail bike also uses a 652cc Rotax engine. There are indeed significant differences between the two singles, which each have dimensions of 100 x 83mm, and use chain-driven twin overhead camshafts. Most obvious is that the BMW’s cylinder head has four valves to Aprilia’s five, and is cooled by water, like the cylinder barrel, instead of air.

 

The F650 motor also differs in having a plain-bearing rather than roller-bearing crankshaft, a gear-driven balancer shaft and a new stainless steel exhaust system. The chassis is derived from that of the Pegaso, based around a steel, single-downtube frame which incorporates the oil tank in its main spine. Suspension is a modified version of the Aprilia’s Showa units, incorporating 41mm non-adjustable forks. The vertical, rising-rate monoshock can be adjusted for rebound damping, with a conventional screw at the bottom of the unit, and for spring preload using a remote knob on the left of the bike. A handful of items, notably the Honda-like switchgear and Pirelli-shod wire wheels (in 19-inch front, 17 rear sizes), are shared with the Pegaso. But for all the similarities, the F650 is a unique bike that has BMW’s stamp running right through it. Although many other components originate in Italy, they are produced to the German firm’s specification. And construction is overseen by a group of BMW engineers permanently situated at Aprilia’s plant at Noale, near Venice in north-eastern Italy.

 

Styling is a personal matter but I’ll admit to being impressed with the Funduro’s looks, and also with what seems to be good build quality. Cost-cutting measures are apparent in the bike’s lack of equipment, at least by BMW standards, and in the fairly basic nature of a few parts such as the small metal fuel tap, potentially disastrous spring-loaded sidestand and non-adjustable hand levers. But the bulbous bodywork, styled by British freelance designer Martin Longmore, looks fresh and interesting, fits well and appears well finished. More importantly, the F650 radiates thoughtful design from the moment you ease yourself into a seat which, at 810mm, is both low and wide by the standards of big dual-purpose bikes (most of whose seats are higher by 40mm or more). Even fairly short-legged riders should have few problems here. The riding position is typical trail bike, with wide, raised handlebars and fairly forward-set footrests, but the bike feels light and manageable despite, at 189kg, weighing 25kg more than the Dominator and almost as much as the twin-pot Transalp.

 

It accelerates pretty handily, too, thanks to an engine that feels pleasantly punchy despite a modest peak power output of 48bhp at 6500rpm. (Aprilia’s Pegaso 650 produces 50bhp at 7000rpm.) The maximum torque figure of 57Nm at 5200rpm is more relevant, in conjunction with the flat curve. Aided by crisp response from its pair of 33mm Mikunis, the F650 pulls seamlessly and respectably strongly all the way from below three grand to the 7500rpm redline. There’s enough power for a genuine top speed of around 100mph, but a more relevant figure is the comfortable cruising speed of precisely 80mph. Below this figure, which equates to 5000rpm in top gear, the BMW’s balancer-shaft helps give a ride that its impressively smooth by single standards. Go any faster, and the vibration that comes drumming through the otherwise comfortable seat soon reminds you that there’s only one big piston banging up and down below. By then, the exposed riding position normally means you’re going fast enough anyway. Even BMW couldn’t possibly fit this bike with shaft drive, and its transmission works well. Certainly the five-speed gearbox is slick, positive and generally the best I can recall on a BMW. In fact my only real complaint with the motor is its occasional tendency to cut out at low speed, generally when I was trickling through traffic on cold mornings. In each case I’d ridden only a few miles, but the engine had warmed up enough to idle without choke. It always restarted instantly but the fault was annoying and untypical of an otherwise sophisticated bike whose manoeuvrability made it excellent in traffic.

 

If the F650’s engine was impressive, its chassis was more so, at least for the road riding for which the bike is primarily intended. The steel frame, which uses the engine as a stressed member, and the steel deltabox swing-arm are suitably rigid. To my mind, though, the key to the BMW’s roadgoing poise is in its suspension, which with 170mm of axle movement at the front and 165mm at the rear has substantially less travel than that of rivals such as Honda’s Transalp (which has 200/190mm front/rear), let alone the more dirt-friendly Dominator (220/195mm) and Pegaso (210mm each end). What that means is that the Funduro can not only sustain its modest top speed with no hint of a weave, but that it can be braked and cornered considerably harder than a typically squashy big trail bike. There’s enough travel at both ends to give a comfortable ride on all but the worst road surfaces. But although a handful of front brake makes the front end dip more than is sometimes ideal, and for hard road riding even less travel would help, the forks are well-damped and the BMW retains control far better than most rivals.

 

It’s a similar story at the rear, where the Showa unit kept everything taut even when the roads eventually dried out and the pace hotted up. Although I’m heavy at 90kg the F650 coped well on the shock’s standard setting. Adding a few turns of the remote preload adjuster and a couple of clicks of rebound damping gave a marginal improvement on bumpy bends, though the real benefit would be for two-up riding. The F650’s wide bars and reasonably light weight meant that it was fairly easy to flick around, despite a conservative 110mm of trail. The Pirellis are biased towards road use, and provided more than enough grip to allow peg-scraping lean angles. The front brake, a combination of twin-piston Brembo caliper and 300mm disc, gave plenty of feel and as much power as you’d want given the relatively narrow, 110/90-section front tyre. I was less happy with the 240mm rear disc, which locked too easily. Naturally you can’t have things both ways, and the BMW’s road-friendly suspension and tyres are far less suited to the off-road excursions encouraged by the bike’s name and the hefty bash-plate protecting its engine.

 

The Funduro coped well with the gentle trails I ventured down, happily blasting through loose dirt with the same blend of grunty motor, balance and suspension control that worked so well on the street. But faced with mud, water, sand or big bumps, it would inevitably be outclassed by bikes with serious suspension travel and grippier tyres. Serious dirt riding is not what the F650 was built for, though. Most people who buy this bike will never take it off-road, and instead will be impressed by such road-friendly details as the wide and clear mirrors, the broad dual-seat with its built-in carrier and pillion grab-handles, and the four-gallon tank that allows a range of well over 150 miles. This is a practical roadster that you could ride around town in the week, and load up with a passenger and luggage for a longer trip at the weekend. The F650 may not have a 100bhp motor, shaft drive, a big fairing or ABS brakes (and plenty of times during my midwinter test I wished it had the fairing, at least). But heated grips are an option as are hard luggage, an alarm system and a catalytic converter. Despite its Austrian engine, British stylist, Japanese suspension, Italian construction, and despite its equally non-German price, the F650 Funduro offers much of what is traditionally good about BMW.

 

Vital Statistics

Engine

Engine Water-cooled single. DOHC, four valves
cc 652
Claimed power (bhp) 48bhp at 6,500 rpm
Compression ratio 9.7:1 twin 33mm Mikunis
Transmission Five-speed

Cycle parts

Instruments speedometer, tachometer, water temperature gauge, lights for turn signals, neutral, high beam, low oil pressure.
Wheels Front: 2.15 x 19in; spoked with aluminum rim. Rear: 3.00 x 17in; spoked with aluminum rim.
Front brake Twin-piston Brembo caliper, 300mm disc.
Rear brake Single-piston Brembo caliper, 240mm disc.

Performance

Top speed 100mph
Fuel consumption 80 plus mpg cruising.

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