Who You Callin' Scooter?

Who You Callin' Scooter?
In America, more is more. Size matters. We like things big  -  upsized, super-sized. From Jumbo Jets to Jumbotrons, we're Dumbo for humongo. We relish taking everything to the next level. Did you ever think the Big Gulp® would get bigger? Me neither. Well, now you can get something called the Super Big Gulp®, a plastic monstrosity that ought to come with a harness to help you lug it out the door. They're thinking big and bigger elsewhere, too. And I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn there's a 7-11 near Suzuki's design headquarters, because one of their scooter engineers obviously started doodling with a giant soda in his hand.

Not that long ago the term "big scooter" was right up there on the oxymoron list with jumbo shrimp. The previously unobtrusive scooters at the dealership always seemed to be tucked away in the corner with the mini-bikes and the mopeds. You know, in the kids and drunks section where "no license required" was the only selling point you needed. Don't look now, but times have changed. Sure, you can still go down to the shop and pick on the little scooters, but you better be careful. That little scooter's big brother Burgman may be waiting to bust your hump at the next stoplight, with a load of groceries under the seat.

Hey! Has That Thing Got a Hemi?

If you're riding Suzuki's Burgman 650, that's a perfectly logical question to ask any cager giving you that snide "nice, uh...scooter" look. Because, unless they have something as burly as a Hemi, they're likely to see nothing but diminishing scooter taillights when the green comes down. Beneath the rather ample yet traditional, unassuming scooter design sits the heart of a dragon, fire and flying and all.

The 638cc DOHC parallel twin sports four valves per side and liquid cooling. Couple these goodies with an electronic fuel injection system boasting a 32-bit ECM and conventional wisdom dictates that you've got something going on down there. Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't add this gem from Suzuki's website: "Direct-type valve actuation system and downdraft intake (similar to GSX-R models) for strong engine performance." Did you catch that GSX-R reference? OK, so on paper and on the street, this thing's got power to spare, but twin cylinder engines can have a tendency to vibrate. No worries on the big Burg. The vibes are kept to a cool minimum thanks to a dual gear driven countershaft system. That's right, there's road thumping power without the thump.

Thanks to sporty handling and robust power, taming back roads is a breeze.

Yep, we've established that the Burgman has the goods in the motor department, but how does that juice make it to the road? That is an excellent question, and the answer is the truly unique feature that separates the Suzuki from the rest of the players in the large scooter market. The secret lies in the SECVT. No, that's not the small college conference that sends the 64th seed to the NCAA basketball tournament every year. It stands for Suzuki Electronically-Controlled Continuously Variable Transmission. Similar to the CVT scooter transmission we all know and love, it's just been taken to the next level. The CVT ratio is tweaked via electronic sensors that change the diameter of the drive pulley based on vehicle speed and throttle position as opposed to the standard system that adjusts the ratio only in relation to rpm. The rider's choice in how hard he or she wants to accelerate actually becomes part of the equation as the SECVT makes its calculations.

This system actually offers the Burgman rider three transmission modes to choose from. The Normal automatic mode keeps the CVT ratios at the optimal level for the best fuel mileage. The Power mode adjusts the ratios for better acceleration and a sportier ride. And yes, Virginia, there is a Manual clause. It's not a manual in the true sense of the word because there's no clutch, but like those paddle shifting sports car guys, this mode allows you to bang through five ratios (gears?) with a button on the left handlebar. Despite the temptation to pluck an apple from the burnout tree, I refrained. Yet there's little doubt in my mind that manual first gear + front brake + heavy throttle would easily result in low-level cloud cover on an otherwise sunny day. There's also a nifty feature that emulates engine braking when you let off the gas. This does give you a better feel on downhills and when decelerating in traffic. Just be aware that it disengages as you near a stop; so keep ready with the brakes to avoid kissing the bumper in front of you.

Commuter This, I'm Going Riding

Get it out of your head right now that the Burgman is merely a commuter machine. Oh sure, it's perfectly adept at commuting and does it well, but the scope of this ride is so much wider than the 8 to 5 Mon-Fri track. With a Burgman in the garage, sporty jaunts through the mountains and even long-distance tours can now be included on the to-do list. The high-tensile steel-tube frame is very rigid and gives the Burgman great stability no matter the quality of the pavement. The 41mm front forks couple nicely with the swingarm-style rear suspension that features two preload adjustable shocks. Whether riding two-up or solo, the chassis components harmonize well and give the rider a supreme feeling of confidence.

Twin discs and four-piston calipers supply aggressive stopping power.

Upsetting the Suzuki's stable nature would require a lot more effort than I was willing to put in. But if you think the list of sport-inspired "motorcycle" goodies has ended, think again. Lightweight aluminum rims are dressed in radial tires and sport triple-disc brakes with twin-piston pinchers all the way around. A handy lever-actuated parking brake is a nice added feature to have on a machine you can't kick into gear when parked on a hillside. No matter the journey, quality chassis components ensure that the Burgman is suited to tackle the tarmac with any amount of gusto the rider chooses.

You're Going To Put What Under That Seat?

Did I hear someone rambling on about size earlier? Sure, the engine is big and powerful; we've established that. Frankly, it has to be because the scooter has rather substantial girth. Weighing in at 524 pounds dry, the Burgman works the scales harder than many motorcycles. Despite its portly numbers, it doesn't feel as heavy as it is. A low center of gravity, compliments of the engine's "lay down" design, allows for easy maneuverability even in low-speed and tight conditions. This works well in places like supermarket parking lots. You're not going to glide into the local Safeway to do your weekly shopping for a family of four while on your Burgman; but I guarantee you'll consider it the first time you take a look at the weatherproof under-seat storage compartment. The illuminated 55-liter cavern is big enough to suck up two full-face helmets with ease. A wagon it ain't, but a bottle of wine and dinner for two should easily fit inside next to the tackle box, hiking boots, camera bag, and the spare jacket you forgot to unload last Saturday.

Once the goodies are stowed, you'll find the seat itself is another item on the Burgman's lengthy list of things done well. Plush, yet firm, it welcomes the rider and passenger with luxury touring machine comfort. The bars and floorboards are placed perfectly and drew no complaints from any of our riders. There's plenty of room to stretch out and move about, and the wind and weather protection are easy on the business attire. Once learned, all of the controls are simple to use, and the glove box and storage compartments are very convenient and perfect for smaller items and bothersome necessities like toll money.

I'm Callin' You Scooter

Yeah, it's a scooter. The automatic transmission and step-through design pretty much give that away. From a functional standpoint, it has all the conveniences that make scoots so appealing, The practicality, ease of riding, under-seat storage, and the undeniable hip factor that comes along with smaller wheels is all there. What's also there is a real world, any-road machine that has the capacity to keep up with all but the fastest motorcycles.

So how should we best describe the Suzuki Burgman 650? Shall we say it's a motorcycle that acts like a scooter, or a scooter that acts like a motorcycle? For my money, the answer is yes, yes  -  and who cares? When you have a machine that works this well, that's this much fun to ride, I'll just take the keys and some vacation days: Big Burg and I are outta here!

Technical Specs

Suzuki Burgman 650

Importer/Distributor American Suzuki Motor Corp.
Retail Price $ 7,799
Warranty 1 year, unlimited mileage, limited warranty
Engine Twin cylinder, four stroke, 638cc, DOHC, 4-valve
Fuel unleaded
Fuel Capacity 4gal (15l)
Fuel Mileage 45mpg (5.2l/100km)
Theoretical Fuel Range 180mls (289km)
Bore and Stroke 75.5x71.3mm
Max Power n/a
Ignition digital transistorized
Starter electric
Lubrication wet sump
Cooling liquid
Transmission automatic CVT with manual option
Front Suspension 41mm telescopic fork
Rear Suspension twin shocks, adjustable preload
Front Tire 120/70-R15
Rear Tire 160/60-R14
Front Brake dual twin piston calipers, 260mm rotors
Rear Brake twin piston caliper, 250mm rotor
Length 89in (2260mm)
Width 31.9in (810mm)
Seat Height 29.5in (750mm)
Wheelbase 62.8in (1595mm)
Dry Weight 524lbs (238kg)