Scooters? They’re only liked by sensible people aren’t they? Chris Moss certainly isn’t one of those! The massively experienced bike tester likes thrashing sportsbikes and having fun on dirtbikes. But he reckons Suzuki’s new Burgman 650 Executive is an utterly brilliant two-wheeler. And after touring round Scotland on one, he didn’t want to give it back.
Now I’m well aware that more than a fair bit of prejudice exists within bikers towards machinery with lots of bodywork and small wheels, and winning them over is no easy task. But as the remarkable Burgman deserves complete approval, I’m happy to give it a go.
It’s a shame the 650 has to be termed as a scooter really, as in the eyes of some that will effectively seal its fate. However, the fact is, the Burgman is one of the most capable, practical and convenient machines ever produced. It can do so much, and do all of it so well and easily, it seems unjust to overlook it. My couple of days in the plush seat of the new 2013 model highlighted its superb versatility just about perfectly.
Starting my first day by the shores of Loch Lomond in Scotland in fairly chilly, wet weather didn’t dampen my spirits in the slightest. With so much protection offered by the newly-styled and sharper-looking bodywork to fend off the worst of the elements, not to mention heated grips and a heated seat to maintain my warmth, I wasn’t bothered in the slightest by the inclement conditions.
Space under the seat is slightly less cavernous this year thanks to the slimmer rear end, but its 50litre capacity is still big enough to swallow two full face helmets. As someone who’s never known to travel lightly this welcome feature helped the Burgman’s suitability, letting me pack plenty of kit. A 12v power point in the lockable compartment up front kept my mobile on charge, further adding to the convenience, as did the two smaller boxes either side of it. If that’s not quite enough for you, then a large top box is also available as an accessory. Armed with that lot, you’d probably have enough room to move house.
With hands and bum warmed, and electrically operated screen set high, I happily headed north on the Suzuki to begin a 200-mile tour along the twisting and undulating roads of the Highlands in total comfort. That level of luxury wouldn’t change.
Something that has altered though, thanks to a few subtle differences in geometry and weight distribution, is the way the Burgman can change direction. Feeling appreciably more agile than the older model is a welcome bonus, and something I would particularly benefit from later on. Covering ground is very easy work on this scooter, thanks to the stress-free way it rides and level of civility you constantly feel cosseted in.
Despite the less than ideal conditions, and the smaller diameter wheels, the 650 still has a stable and sure-footed feel to it overall. With its slightly quicker steering it’s easier to handle, and when I did have a little slide over some wet road markings when pushing things on a little more, good feedback from the chassis ensured the movement was easily detected and corrected. I wouldn’t say the way the new Burgman corners is radically different to the old one, but it’s definitely noticeable. It certainly always felt at home on the demanding Scottish routes, even at speed. Strong ABS brakes and compliant suspension add to the feeling of security.
Getting up to pace is something well within the capability of the scooter’s parallel twin engine. Suzuki aren’t claiming any more power from the new motor, though they say a reduction in mechanical friction does makes it 15% more economical on fuel. That was a bit hard to quantify during such a short test, but I’ll happily testify to the engine’s zest. Easily strong enough to accelerate up to 90mph quite readily, the Burgman has to be considered as a more than nippy machine. Out on the open roads of the Highlands, keeping the average speed high was a doddle. Anyone thinking scooters are unable to cope with life outside towns really needs to give the 650 a try. It’s easily quick enough to hold its own and I’m confident its pace will surprise many, just as it did with me when I rode one for the first time before becoming ‘converted’.
Among the many buttons on the handlebars of the Burgman is a ‘Power’ option which when selected makes the twin cylinder engine even more responsive. Effectively lowering the overall ratio of the automatic gearbox and giving more revs, it provides the Burgman with some useful extra surge to make overtaking even easier. Think of it as a KERS button and you’ll get the picture. There is the choice of selecting gears manually should you prefer, though I couldn’t be bothered with that. The Burgman is just so easy-going it makes any need to regularly push buttons to make progress seem like too much effort!
Before long we arrived at a lunch stop in Fort William having despatched the 100 mile trip with almost zero-effort. This really is a top tourer and truly good enough to compete with some of the best on the market.
Facing a mixed selection of weather on the return leg to Loch Lomond never bothered the Burgman or its rider who was constantly isolated from the effects any unpleasant wind or rain. The Suzuki is almost as civilised as a car, though with none of the drawbacks. And anyone thinking the 650 is a boring or uninvolving machine really needs to give one a go. There’s more than enough engine and chassis performance to make it good fun, with a surprising turn of speed that can help it to compete with conventional bikes of similar capacity. Its pace certainly can’t be judged as average or modest in any way.
I know by the time I got to the end of the superb mini tour of the Scottish Highlands, my admiration for the super versatile scooter was very much in evidence. It had completed the trip so well, and so easily, it was hard to think of another bike I would have preferred to have been on. That feeling continued long enough after the ride to ask the Suzuki hosts if I could return home on the scooter in preference to the plane I’d flown up to Scotland on. To my mind, the seat of the Burgman would be way more pleasurable (not to mention roomier) than the one of Easy Jet’s. And so it proved.
It might have been a lengthy journey, but in the end the 380-mile trip proved so straightforward it was hardly worth boasting about. I learnt even more about the 650’s virtues and was entertained and impressed by it all the way. After just six hours, I arrived home feeling virtually pretty much as fresh as when I set off, with no part of my body requiring any special revival. Returning to Scotland on it the following morning wouldn’t have been something I shirked at all.
Despite the rain and the cool 5°C shown by the scoot’s ambient temperature gauge for the greater part of the run down through England, I remained warm, dry and clean of any road muck. On the motorway it was easy to record over 50mpg. Restricting throttle use helped to keep the ‘ECO’ light illuminated, even at over 80mph, to let me get a best of 63mpg. That sort of economy would allow a tank range of around 200miles, something the Burgman’s comfort will easily allow without rest breaks. More normally you should expect around 50mpg and 150miles though that figure will dip in town, and if you use the ‘Power’ mode a lot, then expect noticeably less.
Getting lost in busy Leicester nearer the end of the trip was a bit of a pain. However, even through the fairly congested streets the Suzuki made good headway. With buttons pressed to instantly fold in the mirrors and reduce the width of the scooter to filter through the cars quite easily, and ‘KERS’ to be activated to boost acceleration, the Burgman ended up making light work of it all. The improved handling agility was definitely more obvious, representing a noticeable improvement over the previous model which could feel a little cumbersome in such circumstances.
Just two days and 600miles with the 650 was all it took to realise just how utterly brilliant the Burgman really is. And it took no longer to realise just how disappointing it would be to hand it back – just as it proved to be a few days on.
I know it’s probably difficult for any biker who’s not ridden a maxi-scoot to consider a Burgman. And I do accept in the image-conscious biking world, the word ‘scooter’ isn’t too far short of an obscenity in the minds of some. But that doesn’t alter the fact that the Suzuki is a highly impressive piece of kit that deserves to be tried before it’s judged. It’s a real jack-of-all-trades that can match the accomplishments of some of the very best tourers such as Honda’s VFR1200 or BMW’s R1200RT.
All that’s really needed is a shift in attitude, and its qualities would stand a chance of becoming understood. Until then, I suppose it’s only the few lucky owners who’ll realise just how brilliant the Burgman is.
Engine – 638cc liquid-cooled, 8v, DOHC, parallel twin
Maximum power – 54bhp @ 7000rpm
Maximum torque – 46 lb/ft @ 5000rpm
Maximum speed – 115mph
Wet weight – 277kg
Fuel capacity – 15litres
By Chris Moss