Pros: Reliability, handling, looks, easy/cheap to maintain.
Cons: Vibrations, clunky gearbox, top speed.
I have bought the BMW F650 GS as my first bike about 2 months ago. Despite my relative lack of experience riding other bikes, I think I have become well informed enough on the subject of the F650 to write a brief review on it.
This model has been virtually unchanged since it first came out in 2000 the 2006 model has had some minor, mainly cosmetic changes.
I was surprised enough to find out that the engine is not a BMW original, but is manufactured by German engine-maker Rotax. It is a single-cylinder, four valve engine which is also shared with a model of Aprilia trail bike (the name of which slips my mind).
This bike handles superbly in city-traffic: the fuel tank is located under the seat which lowers the center of gravity, and also helps keep its profile narrow, thus enabling you to weave past lanes of stopped cars without too much trouble (the wide handlebars can somewhat cancel out this advantage, though). A possible disadvantage of the unusual location of the fuel tank is that theres no space left for storage under the seat.
I bought this bike with a longer-term plan of preparing myself for a long overland trip sometime in the future (not necessarily on this bike); as expected, I hear it handles even better on rough terrain. I will have to update you on that after I take one of BMWs offroad courses which they offer here in the UK (funnily, the opportunities to go offroad in densely-populated England are somewhat few and far between).
As a newly qualified rider, there are two important additional aspects which have drawn me towards this model: firstly, because it is a medium-sized bike at 652cc, and because BMWs are not frequent targets of bike-thefts the insurance premium was a pretty tolerable #640 (around U$1200 pretty cheap here if you are a new rider and living in bike-theft ridden London). I was told that another reason why insurance premiums are relatively low is that BMW bike owners are more sensible people who use their bikes as tools to get them from A to B rather than speed freaks. I think Id fall in between those two categories!
Another good point is that the fuel economy is quite good and I can get around 170 miles on a tank. I think this works out at 45 mpg on heavy traffic. All in all a this was a great move for me from the horrible London public transport system to a fairly cheap to maintain bike.
The F650 also scores highly on comfort; because you are seating upright you can see quite far ahead above the cars, and because the bike is fairly thin, your legs are not wide open and thus you dont tend to get splitting pains on the inside of your thighs after a while as you do with some larger bikes. The downside of this is that it is fairly high, and if you are 5ft9 like me you can just about comfortably rest your feet on the ground, and getting on/off the bike takes a bit of practice for someone with short legs like me. The F650 Dakar is actually 4 inches taller than the standard GS, so that would put it off limits for most people under 6ft. There are other nice little extras like heated grips and ABS, which can give you even less to worry about and let you concentrate on your riding.
BMW bikes are also well-known for being fairly easy to maintain and not give too many problems in their lifetime. Servicing it in authorised BMW dealerships can cost a small fortune, but the services are quite easy to perform and any competent workshop can do it for you at a fraction of the price. I bought this bike with 23500 miles on the clock and it is entirely trouble-free, having been regularly serviced.
Finally, this bike just looks awesome, with it high front mud-guard and rear deflector; it definitely looks like it can take on the roughest terrain, but like I said, Ill give an update on that later
OK, so I have to admit the bike has a few shortcomings.
The most annoying to me so far seems to be the vibrations. When you pass about 4500 rpm the whole thing starts vibrating and at 6000 rpm it becomes pretty unbearable so that you have to work up through the gears quite quickly. I am told that this is due to the fact that it is a single-cylinder engine, but my lack of mechanical knowledge prevents me from knowing the reasons behind this.
Likewise, its motorway performance is very mediocre it struggled to reach a top speed of 90 mph, and when it did the whole thing just didnt feel too safe. Then again, its aerodynamics are not those of a super-fast racing bike.
The battery alternator is also located in a bit of an awkward spot, next to the air vent fin by your right thigh, and it gets VERY HOT. It can feel really uncomfortable on a hot summer day. Again, this problem can apparently be circumvented by changing its location, but if youre a layman like me youre probably better off leaving it alone.
Finally, more of an annoyance again, is that the gearbox clunks a lot between N and 1st gear, and between 1st and 2nd. I have heard this complaint from several other riders so I guess its normal, although itd be nice if the gear changes were smoother.
As with every bike, you must know what use you will put it for. If its commuting within traffic-packed streets or for offroad adventures, you probably cant beat this bike, as its just the right size, maintenance-free and cheap to insure. If, on the other hand, you plan to use a bike for long road trips, you would probably better stay away from this model altogether.
Id still give this bike a solid 4 out of 5, although Ill probably want to move to a larger model for my next bike, in 2-3 years. Until then, this will definitely provide me with good fun, as well as being a great tool to get me to and from work.
Theres a cool community dedicated to this bike on http://www.f650.com where every conceivable FAQ on this model has been written. It is a wealth of information for owners of this model.