The Perfect Tourer?

/ November 8, 2013
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Chris Moss is an experienced motorcycle journalist, having worked on and written for a wide range of publications. He’s also raced the Isle of Man TT. After being invited on a trip that involved riding around the Scottish Highlands, he needed the perfect machine for the trip. So he took a Burgman 650.

The prospect of riding a scooter all the way up to Scotland for a four day tour of the Highlands may sound daunting to some. But I’ve just done that on Suzuki’s Burgman 650 Executive, and it really couldn’t have been much easier. As a tourer, the scooter can match the very best.

Now I know that might sound like a big claim, but with its high level of convenience, comfort, and practicality it’s fair to say it’s one of the most versatile two-wheelers on the market. The effortless fashion in which it covered the 2,500-mile journey is full evidence of that.

I chose the Burgman specifically for the trip. As the lucky tester I am, I had the pick of pretty much of any bike I wanted. Yet opting for the 650 carried no risk for me. Not long ago I rode one 375 miles from Loch Lomond to Cirencester in total comfort. Based on that successful run, I had high expectations of the scooter being able to complete the lengthier task just as well and competently. And so it proved.

Whizzing up from Gloucestershire on the afternoon preceding the tour to stay with a mate in Kendal was a doddle. With kit for the four-day break easily packed in the roomy underseat storage compartment and optional top box, the Burgman handled the 250-mile motorway trip with almost nonchalant ease. Cruising at around 80-90mph is no strain at all thanks to the total protection offered by the fairing and electrically-controlled screen. And returning 66mpg is an indication the trip didn’t take much out of the motor either. Selecting the auto option of the three gearbox settings available, and keeping the ‘eco’ light illuminated on the dash guarantees that sort of economy.

Feeling just as fresh the next morning I met my new touring companions at the nearby Tebay services ready to head north of the border. Along excellent and well-planned routes the Burgman continued to handle all that was asked of it. Matching the abilities of the more conventional big-engined tourers I’d joined, posed no problem at all for scooter. It has a good turn of speed with keen acceleration provided by its twin cylinder engine.

You have a choice of how responsive you’d like motor to be via the gearbox settings but even in the standard ‘Drive’ option, just twisting the throttle open (and not having the inconvenience reaching for a clutch or gear lever) is enough to despatch traffic and attain healthy speeds. Hitting the ‘Power’ button sharpens the engine reaction further, and using the manual setting to flick through the six gears via the bar-mounted rocker switch gives even more performance. One thing is certain, the Burgman’s speed is impressive whatever option you choose. The surprised look and comments of my fellow tourers as they witnessed the 650’s pace confirmed that, and was a regular source of amusement for me.

I’d learned of the Suzuki’s excellent pace some years ago, having ridden the previous model for several thousand miles. Though I have to admit, just as it did to them, its impressive performance came as a surprise to me at first.

Scotland is an absolutely superb place to ride. Not only are the roads utterly fantastic in the way they twist and turn, climb and drop, but the landscape they cut through is sensationally staggering to view. Its scale and grandeur is breathtaking. Quite simply, it’s a fantastic place to ride a bike – or scooter for that matter.

With another 450 miles added to the clock, we arrived at the Bridge of Cally. I can honestly say I felt just as fresh as I had done at the start of the day, and such is the Burgman’s comfort, doing it all again would not have brought any objection from me. Instead we left further mileage for the following days.

And so the pleasure of it all continued, with more miles bringing more smiles. And that was the case even when circumstances weren’t perfect. Light rain which greeted the start of the second day couldn’t dampen my spirits. Such is the excellent shelter offered by the generously-sized bodywork, even lighter clothing is sufficient to stay dry and warm. And with heated seats and grips assisting the comfort still further there’s rarely any need to physically suffer on the Suzuki.

The tight and twisting nature of the Scottish roads didn’t affect my contentment in any way either. The routes can be challenging in places and it’s important to avoid any riding errors to stay safe. But on the scooter that’s pretty easy. Sure there’s a bit to get used to, with the smaller diameter wheels and feet-forward riding position making the handling feel a little different for a while. Familiarity doesn’t take long though, and after a while you can appreciate the Burgman’s agility and sure-footedness through the corners.

Adding to the security are the excellent brakes. It’s not often you trigger the ABS system into action. And even when you do it’s not intrusive, restoring brake pressure very promptly. Allied to the Suzuki’s capable suspension, quicker and sportier riding is definitely possible on this machine. A fact regularly commented on by the other riders in the group who were impressed at just how well it kept up with their bikes.

Fuel consumption will drop to around 45mpg when you’re being a bit keener with the throttle, and with a tank size of 15 litres ideally you should start considering a refuelling stop at around 120 miles in the more remote parts of Scotland. Though in fairness it can do 200 miles between re-fills when you’re not sampling so much acceleration.

More than acceptable I’m sure are features like the fold-in mirrors. They’re another thoughtful feature of the scooter which helps to make life run all that bit more smoothly. Admittedly we saw very little congestion throughout the Scottish trip. But I do know from previous experience with just the touch of a button they swing back to reduce the width of the Suzuki quite markedly allowing easier, time-saving filtering through cars. It’s an advantage that adds to the bonus of the scooter’s already reasonably-sized girth.  And bearing in mind it has 50 litres of storage capacity without having to double its width with panniers as normal motorcycles do, the 650 scores highly as a traffic-buster.

Up in the idyllic biking world of Scotland where deserted roads mean progress goes generally unhindered, the Burgman continued to impress. Of its many virtues perhaps the fuss-free fashion in which it just gets on with the job of despatching miles is the best. Its such an easy bike to manage. By now the daily routine of quickly storing the day’s needs, enjoying the easy nature and civility of the ride, arriving at the hotel when all done, then unloading before reflecting on yet another fine day’s touring became the highly pleasurable norm.

Two nights based at Tongue on the northern coast gave us the chance to further explore the many joys of two-wheeled life up in that region. Unsurprisingly the Burgman lapped it up and continued to provide nigh-on perfect service mile after mile. Yet as the saying goes, all good things come to an end, and almost as quickly as the spectacular landscapes and stunning routes seemed to have been experienced, the time to head south and back to reality arrived.

Fortunately, though spirits on the way home were markedly lower than they had been previously, the matter-of-fact manner the Suzuki got on with its job prevented any further dissatisfaction. It doesn’t matter whether you ask it to tour Scotland, sit on a motorway for hours on end or, as I did of it when I got back home, perform like a dutiful servant and deal with a multitude of mundane tasks, the Burgman just gets on and does it. And performing in such an effective and efficient way, it just has to be hailed as a totally brilliant workhorse. A magnificent two-wheeled Jeeves.

After Scotland, it took me shopping, to work, and coped with all manner of other miscellaneous duties so well that I used it every day, ending up clocking 3000 miles on the 650 in the three weeks I had it, and then wondered how the hell I was going to cope after I gave it back. The Burgman really is something that makes a difference to your life, completely simplifying your transportation, regardless of the nature of the journey. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and I’m confident anyone who tried one would feel exactly the same way.