Conveniently Cool

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Tom Riles, Brian Nelson

There's something fascinating about the lore and lure of San Francisco. Think Steve McQueen catching air in his '68 Mustang and Dirty Harry demanding to know if luck is in the offing...Well, is it? And let's not forget about Alcatraz, Lombard Street, Chinatown, Haight-Asbury, and Coit Tower. Very few places truly exemplify the rigors of urbanity more than the vertiginous City by the Bay. Maybe that's why Suzuki chose a flat site, Fisherman's Wharf, as the meeting place for a bunch of journalists ready to take a little scooter ride.

Scooters in the city, that makes perfect sense, doesn't it? They're economical, easy to park, and just plain fun to ride, even in traffic. And their hip look often squeezes grins from even the stodgiest of neighbors and passersby. For these few reasons alone, although there are many more, it's easy to understand why many consider a scoot the ultimate commute. In bringing the merry band of us "ride it like you stole it" types to San Francisco to assess the new Burgman 400, the folks at Suzuki heartily demonstrated that they have great confidence in their city-slaying single. Crazy traffic aside, this location is fraught with all the hazards and pitfalls capable of putting the most rugged of vehicular designs to the test. With obstacles ranging from trolley tracks embedded in the street, to hills with grade percentages that rival some of the most extreme stages in the Tour de France, even a brief ride through this urban teeter-totter can reveal an awful lot about any machine's mettle. But don't think that we were relegated to a city safari. Some of the finest country twisties can be found east, north, and south of the city limits - nearby in the Oakland Hills, across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, or down Highway 1 toward Half Moon Bay and beyond. The designers at Suzuki knew that we'd be interested in more than carryout dashes and cable-car dodging.

Engine and Transmission
The new-for-'07 Burgman 400 is still powered by a single piston, but the performance gnomes have definitely been running amok in Suzuki's design department. Displacement is up 15cc to an honest 400, thanks to a 6.4mm longer stroke. The addition of a second cam also helps to serve up a little extra oomph. The DOHC allows for optimum intake and exhaust valve positioning, thus promoting more potent combustion that adds up to smoother, improved engine performance across the board. The updated fuel injection system now features more efficient throttle and sub-throttle bodies. Working in conjunction with an Idle Speed Control (ICS) system, the sprayers ensure that the engine idles optimally in any condition. The net result is smooth acceleration even before the engine is warm, and reduced emissions that, thanks to a large exhaust catalyzer and an O2 sensor feedback system, stand in compliance with strict Euro 3 standards. All of theses updates are a lot more than just hype. The engine responds smoothly and with surprising strength no matter the conditions. Getting going from even dead stops on San Francisco's steepest hills was a snap for the Burgman. Even at highway speeds, a twist of the throttle rewards with acceleration that belies the liters.

How that power gets to the ground comes as no surprise to any scooter enthusiast: just twist the gas and go. The V-belt drive and CVT transmission work flawlessly whether slaloming down the switchbacks of Lombard Street, doing Sherpa impressions on some of the more serious uphills, or zipping around awed sightseers lingering on the Golden Gate Bridge. Simply give the command and the Suzuki jumps, no questions asked.


Chassis and Brakes
There's no doubt that the Burgman's new engine passes muster. But the real test is how well the bike takes a pounding and comes back for more. On the spec sheet, the 41mm front forks promise a respectable 4.3 inches of travel to go along with 3.9 inches offered by the rear, link-type single shock. Again, no surprises. Both ends work just as they should. In town, the suspenders adroitly soak up nearly every asphalt anomaly with little to no upset. The rear shock is preload-adjustable to accommodate a co-pilot and/or gear whenever the urge to roam strikes. Though the conventional, telescopic front forks are not adjustable, they do offer a positive, planted feel on the road and never seem over-taxed. Along with the quality suspension, the Burg benefits from a new 14-inch front wheel, a one-inch improvement over last year. That's good not only for added stability, but also for an increased bank angle of 43 degrees. In-town maneuvering is a breeze, and running hard across country roads is a blast. In the twists, the Burgman inspires enough confidence to easily have the center stand scrape the tarmac should the desire hit.

In navigating the asphalt jungle, go is good, but stop is better. With twin pot calipers supplying the compression on dual 260mm rotors up front and a respectably beefy 210mm rotor getting squeezed out back, stops proved to be not only effortless, but also nicely predictable. The rear can be a little "grabby," but it works fine once you get a feel for it. All in all, the rigid, steel backbone frame, quality suspension, and excellent brakes further blur the distinctions between a motorcycle and scooter.

Accessories and Arrangements
It's plain to see that Suzuki's design team went the extra mile dressing and accessorizing the Burgman 400. The new twin headlight setup is nestled in an aggressive fairing that looks like it would be right at home on a sportbike. From fore to aft, the willowy yet racy lines offer a treat for the eyes and a slick aerodynamic profile as well. The large, vented windshield does its job quite nicely for my 5'10" height. My minor complaint there concerns the screen's optical clarity.

And Suzuki certainly hasn't skimped on delivering the amenities we've come to cherish on our scooters. Beneath the seat, there's 62 liters of lighted storage, up seven liters from last year. That's enough for two full-face helmets and then some. Up front, two compartments on either side of the fairing offer quick access to smaller items. Another larger "glove box" provides yet more stowage, as well as a DC power outlet to keep your battery-powered goodies at full strength. An attractive and easy-to-read instrument cluster features an analog tach and speedo along with a fuel gauge, odometer, two trip meters, a clock, ambient temperature reading, and an average fuel consumption indicator.

In the comfort department, the large, firm seat features an adjustable driver's backrest and is well worthy of all-day forays. Attractive, integrated passenger grab bars and floorboards also assure that your navigator has a proper perch as well. Though we only rode about 100 miles, the urge to keep scooting was hard to suppress, especially once we arrived in the Sonoma Valley. And we could have kept rolling on awhile without stopping. Even with some aggressive throttle hands aboard, the 3.6-gallon tank and fuel economy, checking in at over 50 mpg, guaranteed there was plenty more exploring at our disposal.

Conclusion
Ease of operation, ample storage, and economy are the main reasons many choose to take the step to scooter ownership. In Suzuki's Burgman, there's plenty of that and much more. From the time you thumb the starter in the morning, to the moment you effortlessly drop the center-stand at the end of the day, this ride constantly delights. The Burgman's comfort and power for any length of road, the light, easy handling, and attractive styling are quite seductive. And once all of its practical aspects, like the storage capacity and impressive fuel economy, are examined, even the most stalwart of car commuters may well consider losing a couple of wheels. On top of everything else, the Burgman delivers on the sense of élan that's felt when aboard a two-wheeler, with a distinctive, urbane style that turns heads in town and out. And with horizon-chasing mileage figures and a comfort zone to match, it's predictable that after just a few rides, most new owners will discover that touring is just as viable an option as commuting is.

When queried, company spokesmen were tight-lipped about the availability of over-the-road gear. But somewhere in the accessories department, there are bound to be a few Burgman color swatches taped to a drawing board.