You Can Be Fast On a Scooter – if it is a BMW

How to Ride Fast (sorta) on a Scooter

Caveat: the following comments are based solely on my own experiences and conclusions and are not intended to serve as instruction, advice, or recommendations. So there!

The Sunday demo rides I put on for Ride West BMW from time to time are always interesting. Customers sign up in advance to take a demo ride on from one to three new BMW motorcycle models on a ride I lead of about 100 miles or so. Depending on how many wish to sample which models, and with a close eye on which demos we have in the Ride West BMW fleet at any given time, there are usually 3 to 9 customers with one or two members of our Team Ride West group coming along on their own bikes just for fun.  A different route is used each time.  The most recent one a new experience, which is somewhat unusual.

A customer had what seemed to be an unusual request.  He wanted to try out the BMW K 1600 GTL and the BMW C 650 GT scooter.  Why would someone be interested in machines with so little in common – a scooter with a 650cc single and a 6 cylinder 1600cc mega-luxury tourer?  Turns out he was interested in the K 1600 GTL for himself and the scooter for his wife who is just learning to ride, so his request was practical.

Someone else would need to ride the scooter for the sections where he was on the K 1600 GTL and that created the first lesson of the day. A lot of men, evidently, feel their masculinity is threatened by the concept of being seen on a scooter.  Isn’t that amazing?  You might have thought we were all past that, but no. I’m comparatively ancient and evidently have either evolved beyond such silliness or have been so numbed by the vicissitudes of life that I’ve lost the will to care.  I hope it’s not the latter.

This group of six bikes left Ride West with me, since there were no volunteers, on the scooter. I’d ridden the scooter previously, of course, but never on the freeway, so for the ten miles or so of freeway riding used to transition to more interesting roads gave the chance to work with the two seating positions.

On the BMW, unless you’re very tall, you can choose to place your feet in the “normal” motorcycle position with the soles of your feet flat on the floorboards, or stretch them forward to a 2nd set of foot rest spots inside the front fairing.  You don’t need to worry about reaching the shift or brakes with your feet because with a CVT (constantly variable transmission) there’s nothing to shift, and both of the brake levers are on the handlebars.

Off and on again rain also provided an excuse to experiment with the electric windshield.  You can enjoy the blast, ride in a silent and dry bubble, or blow the raindrops off your face shield by adjusting the windshield height.

In Issaquah we stopped for the first time and Avi switched to the scooter while I was able to ride “my” R 1200 R for the first section of twisty roads.  My practice when leading rides is to accelerate from stop signs or whatever at a brisk rate and then to ride with some aggression for a few corners to stretch the group. This method allows those in the middle who are either on faster bikes or who enjoy a faster pace the room needed to play.  Coincidentally, it’s more fun for the lead rider as well. Running away from the group for a bit is not a problem on the R1200R, plus I have the advantage of being the only one who knows where we’re going!

For the 2nd set of twisty roads I was back on the scooter, and yet even with a presumably lower level of performance on hand I wanted to follow my usual practice. 

Brisk acceleration from a stop was not a problem. With a CVT the engine slots into its best torque band immediately and then chunters along adjusting itself. It reminded me of those bracket drag racing cars with timers on the clutch packs that rear up at the starting line, often pulling the wheels off the ground, and then seem to pause to gather their thoughts before a dash toward the finish. The scooter’s sound also reminded me of the unlikely combo of a big block Chevy V8 and a Powerglide transmission.

In any case, straight line speed was ample, but how about cornering?  The first few corners were pretty clumsy, and the corner entry speed too often seemed higher than the scooter liked, or me. Then the light dawned.

A CVT provides very little engine braking. On most sport bikes and all BMWs, the engine compression ratio is so high that if you’re at a reasonable rpm the engine will slow the bike dramatically if you merely back off the throttle.  Not so the BMW scooter, and the effect created was of charging into a corner with more pace than needed or wanted, and then braking inefficiently and arcing around the corner in a series of jerky lurches. Not pretty, or safe.

One common technique on a motorcycle is to cock your hips slightly as you enter the corner, which helps the bike turn.  With my feet in the forward position I could not do this at all, and so I started out with my feet down, but it was still not all that effective. Eventually I learned to swivel both shoulders and my upper torso, and things got much better.

I then adjusted my cornering technique to use the brakes more aggressively and earlier than I would on the R 1200R. The BMW 650 GT’s brakes do not have all that much feel, and remind me more of the brakes on a Harley – effective with a firm squeeze but rather wooden.  With that in mind I would approach a corner, squeeze both brakes pretty hard, and then augur in to the curve.  Now we’re talking!  The BMW scooter seemed to really like the technique, and I could almost sense its relief that the dim bulb behind the bars had figured out the obvious.

With the body position and braking technique adapted to the technical features of the machine, the speed chosen could be as fast as desired, with the all-important caution of “within reason.”

The pace was lower than it would be when leading a group of sport bikes, but this was a group where everyone was on a bike unfamiliar to him or her,  so the needed pace was more within reason that at other times.

It’s important to note that the BMW 650 GT scooter was able to romp away from the group with enough alacrity that I had to slow down from time to time to let them catch up. I also had to slow for some time because a Mini Cooper was too slow in front of me! This was not the rider’s talent but the talent built into the machine.   During all of this the scooter was quiet and composed, and delivering the usual good mpg figures.

Most current riders will not prefer either of the BMW 650 scooter models to a “real” motorcycle such as the BMW R 1200R, F 800R, and K 1300S.  Then again, most current riders are not the intended market – yet.  

The primary market, as a guess, is people who want to ride without “the hassle” of learning to shift, trail brake, and other motorcycle techniques. There are also people looking for a commuter, people who want to bring along a useful vehicle for their RV, and people who for one reason or another have a physical challenge with a standard motorcycle.

But!… as the overall rider demographic continues to rise and people decide to opt for lighter and simpler machines, they may “age in” to the scooter.  Initially reluctant, perhaps, they will be very pleasantly surprised.

Everyone who has purchased either the GT or the Sport raves about it.   It makes a fine commuter machine, has a lot of luggage capacity and should be extremely reliable.  I expected that.  But a scooter with enough capability to offer sportive riding?  A scooter you could tour the country on and actually enjoy some advantages over a motorcycle while doing so? 

Didn’t see than one coming.   Impressed.


Copyright 2013                             David Preston

About david

I am a 69 year old motorsports nut who lives in Bothell, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I have been married forever and have two grown children. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Bonneville T 120 , a Triumph Thruxton, a Fiat 500S and a VW Tiguan. What else would you like to know?
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