With their short-stroke suspension, 3/4 scale wheels, and middleweight engines, has the scooter market caught up with the motorcycle market? Or has the right machine for the job finally become the right size for the task at hand? Let’s find out.
They’re inexpensive compared to most touring motorcycles. They’re easy to ride. And they might be smaller and more manageable than the full-sized motorcycles you used to ride. There are several things to consider during the buying process of middleweight maxi-scooters on the market. They run on relatively small wheels (lending to an often less-smooth ride) and despite the pass-through body design, they still require you to swing a leg over them (so you still need balance and flexibility to get on). They also run close to 10 grand on the showroom floor.
Where today’s maxi mount does shine, however, is the twist-and-go simplicity of its automatic transmission (with a few possible pseudo-shifting features added on) and relatively massive engine sizes when compared to normal scooters. These 600-plus cc machines can reach speeds of 100 miles per hour and easily carry a load of groceries (or luggage) neatly beneath their saddles.
Whatever your reason, you’ve made the decision to go with a CVT versus a manually clutched ride for your next purchase. Here’s how the current market breaks down and the units stand up to everyday life in the city. While your big-bike days might be over, the riding doesn’t have to stop … nor does the touring for that matter!
Europe vs. Asia
Thanks to technology and austerity, the range of available scooters seems infinite these days, from both the Asian as well as the European makers. American manufacturers no longer play in this field as we know, leaving us to buy foreign whether we like it or not. Known euro entities like Vespa and Piaggio don’t offer us any such monster scoots (maxing out around 500cc), but BMW does. Some Asian manufacturers, however, see the potential for sales in this country recognizing our want for bigger and better, (if not the most extreme and fastest) of anything! As such, Kawasaki and Yamaha are still out of the comparison with nothing greater than 400cc, which leaves us with BMW, Kymco, Suzuki, and Honda. Honda’s Silver Wing does offer ABS brakes with a clever combined braking system but falls short on ccs (582cc) and was unavailable at the time of testing. Ultimately, that’s how we chose the BMW C 650 GT ($ 9,990), Suzuki Burgman 650 ABS ($ 10,999), and the Kymco MYROAD 700i ($ 9,699). Let’s see how they stack up.
The Nitty Gritty
With MSRPs spanning only $ 1,300 among the three, what they offer in add-on features and styling becomes a more valuable decision-making tool. With two continents on the same battlefield, however, creature comforts and technological features begin to stand out.
BMW’s foray into the maxi segment includes two models, the C 650 GT touring model and the narrower C 600 Sport for the city. They are built upon a BMW-designed and Kymco-built 647cc engine (claimed 60hp and 49 lb-ft of torque) and offer strong touring features seen on their larger, clutched line-mates (like heated grips and saddle, adjustable windscreens, and tire pressure monitors). They snag the obvious attention from any potential buyer. Strong fit and finish put the C 650 GT on par with its brand, however, the usable performance of the engine brings it back down a notch. Sadly, the rattle and rev of the engine and transmission package make for difficult slow speed maneuvering and require a pair of deaf ears, as the noise level is discouraging.
On the highway, the BMW feels most comfortable cruising at 70 mph at an rpm somewhere in the 5,000 band of the LCD bar tachometer (numbers are hard to read at speed). The Suzuki, on the other hand, happily buzzes along at 85 mph, at a calm 5,000 rpm and (too!) easily whips along at the ton mark.
With a tall 31.7-inch saddle (the tallest; even with the low option), the top-heavy BMW prompted my pillion to wonder what happened to my usually calm riding style. The throttle response and power delivery are twitchy and take a fair bit of riding to master and for the revs to smooth out (since there is little control on the “shift” ratios). This is a feature the Burgman does offer with its manual drive mode. The pillion saddle is reportedly more comfortable with easily reached grab rails compared to the other two.
As a chip off the RT block, the ultimate scooter also offers a few ultimate accessories that help make any rider happy. A 35-liter topcase offers more comfort on longer outings, and the titanium Akrapovic exhaust puts a smile on your face on the shorter rides as well as the long ones.
As David Burbach points out in our November/December 2013 issue, Kymco’s MYROAD 700i is the “King of Displacement” in both the market segment as well as this test. Boasting 59 horsepower (at 7,250 rpm) and 46 lb-ft of torque (at 5,500 rpm), this King carried the most weight of the three (608 pounds “dry”) and an electronically controlled on-the-fly three-position (Soft, Medium, and Hard) front and rear suspension package. Pre-load is also adjustable but not electronically.
A comparably more silenced engine lends to a happier ride, and a better-suited transmission package allows for smooth sub 10 mph parking lot trolls. A trio of disc brakes (280mm front: 10mm larger than those on the BMW, 20 over the Suzuki; 240mm in the rear) bring the overall widest mount to a halt with standard ABS.
A static windscreen offers good protection without being in the way visually, but the BMW and the Suzuki offer electronically adjustable screens. The curious dashboard features, however, remind you that you’re riding a machine built in a foreign land, especially the “Mode” button, which only serves to switch between metric and standard units of measure (a button you’ll use once, if ever, unless you plan to cross a lot of international borders). A grayed-out “TPM” button does nothing beyond lead you to wonder why the tire pressure monitors weren’t carried over to the U.S. model, and a very-long-press “ADJ” button does the yeoman’s work of toggling through, but not resetting (never did figure that one out), the trip and odometers.
Going the extra mile, however, the MYROAD includes a few little features not seen on the other models. There’s a bag hook under the ignition key for a handy grocery bag or handbag portage. And the passenger footpegs are styled to hide within the bodywork and spring out switchblade style when needed.
While the Suzuki doesn’t offer much in the way of suspension adjustment beyond the easily reached, manually adjustable twin rear shocks, it does have super smooth transmission and power delivery, a mellow demeanor on the throttle, an adjustable windscreen, and three drive modes (Drive, Power, and Manual) as well as a part-time rev-boosting “Power” button useful in the standard Drive mode for making freeway passes. It also has the gimmicky (but helpful) push button retractable mirrors (keen for parking as well as lane sharing) and tons of storage. The Burgman 650 ABS is the gold standard in storage capacity with enough room for two full-face helmets, all under the lowest saddle in the bunch at 29.7 inches. Suzuki makes no claims to horsepower and torque.
With one massive locking glovebox and two smaller compartments above the former, the Burgman beats Kymco’s single dashboard compartment and handy saddle-tip spaces as well as the BMW’s pair of non-locking dashboard gloveboxes.
Everything but the Kitchen Sink
Fuel entry points take some curious turns in this set of units: the Burgman’s automobile-like fuel door is above the rear wheel, porting four gallons to the tank beneath the saddle. The BMW’s entry point is in the tip of the saddle. A word of warning: to access underseat storage, a forgetful operator might push in the ignition key and twist both ways until a click happens in the right place. This also opens the fuel door in the process, leaving the possibility of jamming and breaking off the fuel door when you flip open the saddle. Be careful. Lastly the Kymco makes filling up the easiest with its filler port right there on the dash.
In the saddle, the ergonomics run pretty similarly among the three models with the Kymco being the tightest. If you’ve come from a sporting background, the foot-forward riding style will put you sitting on your tailbone and will take some getting used to. For cruiser riders, it’ll be old hat and perhaps even more comfortable!
Each unit has a king/queen type two-step, one-piece saddle, the Burgman with an adjustable lumbar pad with two inches of fore/aft movement. The BMW’s lumbar pad is not adjustable, but they make up for it as the only one with heated elements built in as part of the $ 605 Premium accessory package.
Out the Door and on the Road
The buyers considering these maxis are a focused bunch, seeking a simple twist-n-go ride without much compromise in power or storage capacity as in their “other bikes.”
Having more in common than in difference, these maxis leave little room for division. Perfectly pitched competitors offer buyers a winner in any form, leaving the ability to shop by our favorite color alone, and delivering a fully capable machine to your garage. A demanding buyer, or one that wants everything, wouldn’t be disappointed by today’s offerings. Nothing is amiss. With the power, range, and carrying capacity (if not more) of many “real” motorcycles, the maxi-scooter craze is only just beginning—and beginning in stride!
Can you ride across the country on one? Sure. Our crazier brethren do it on hard-tail choppers all the time. But only the buyers know how much cartilage they have left in their spinal columns.