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|Bike Tale - Posted 17th July 2015|
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BMW F650ST Strada / Funduro
BMW's 652cc Rotax engined singles have a charm all of their own. Nigel Shuttleworth bought one after much careful consideration eighteen months ago and now declares it 'just what I want'...
Although still a couple of years to go until they attain VMCC 'vintage' status (the F650 Funduro first appeared in 1993) these two models are already being called 'Classic' amongst BMW aficionados. This review of the Strada is probably of minority interest but I am putting it up as there may be others who find themselves in a similar situation and my buying experience could be of help in their choice of bike.
Firstly some background - I am 67 years old (although my wife will tell you I have a mental age of 17) and I bought my first motorcycle, a BSA C11G in 1964 and progressed through some interesting stuff like BMW R60/2, Kawasaki S2 triple, Yam FJ1200, and various Harleys along the way. However, I had a gap of 10 years in bike ownership until January 2014, owing to work and other commitments. I should also add that funds are limited, so after the boss finally gave way to my persistent whining that I really needed a bike again we agreed on a limit of £1750 to include the bike, riding kit and putting it on the road - as pensioners every penny counts!
Being by nature fairly methodical, I wrote down my buying criteria starting with 'cheap' and including 'light weight' and 'low seat height' (can't get my leg over nowadays!). It was also imperative that the bike I chose should be mechanically simple so I can work on it myself. I don't like crotch rockets and I don't like too many cylinders, but I do like Brit Iron and old Boxers although an internet search soon showed that unless these were advertised as projects or barn finds (heck of a lot of barns out there, it must be said) they were way above my price.
As I continued my search on Google, something called a 'Funduro' kept on popping up but I thought with such a silly name it must be a child's field bike or a fairground ride that had become detached. However reading some of the user reports and biker blogs, including one by the incredible Benka Pulko who did 120,000 miles and circumnavigated the globe on a Funduro in the late '90's, I sat up and took notice.
My local dealer specialises in trailies and amongst a row of pristine (expensive!) Tigers and Transalps was a scruffy '97 BMW F650ST Strada with under 20,000 on the clock and MOTs which seemed to back up the mileage, so we commenced negotiations. We settled on £1,550 and for that I also got a new battery, new Pirelli Scorpion Trail tyres front and rear and a new DiD chainset; it had a 7 month MOT but I had to tax it. The dealer told me he would PDI it but as that extended only to an egg cup of petrol in the tank, when I got it home I did a full service which set me back another £70. I also sanded the corrosion off the swing arm, centre stand and engine cases and splashed it all over with Hammerite silver together with touching up the plastic bits with BMW Orlando Red, and at the same time I put on a tall screen (£45 from ebay). My original budget was now holed below the waterline as I spent another £200 on Cordura CE armour jacket and trousers, £30 on Crane leather boots from Aldi (same as last sold by Hein Gerick at £180) some winter gloves, and insurance was another £60.
Over the last year and a half I've done over 3,000 miles including laps of the TT course on a visit to the Island (wife on the back banging the top of my helmet on the Mountain Mile when she saw the speedo over my shoulder) and the more I ride it the more pleased I am with my choice. Firstly its not heavy so I can manoeuvre it easily in and out of the garage, it's agile, tracking well through fast open curves with a feeling of sure-footedness and it steers well on the throttle. Having said that, I have noticed it tends to 'flop in' on tighter turns because of the tall engine and the weight being a little high. I haven't ridden one but I'm told by a friend who owns a Dakar, that on the petrol-under-seat models the slow corner handling is a lot better. I am 14st so I've tightened the adjustable rear shock to Standard + 3 turns and find that gives a good firm ride without making it 'pogo-stick' over uneven surfaces. The relatively long-travel suspension soaks up the bumps and ripples of our modern potholed highways, and is ideal for B roads and country lanes. On motorways, the Beemer bumbles along at 75+mph two up with luggage and still gives a good burst of acceleration should the need arise.
The brakes, single disc Brembos at each end, are good with plenty of feel without biting too sharply. The riding position is spot on for someone of my height (5'9”), although I have replaced the bars for ones from a Funduro which are slightly wider and lower. The footrest-seat-hands triangle is just right but the BMW seat is as hard as a park bench – an Airhawk 2 Cruiser, again from eBay, has sorted this problem and I can do 140- 150 miles between fill ups without getting 'numb-bum'.
The best bit is undoubtedly the Rotax 652cc water-cooled single. The engine is quiet and although there's some residual vibration, it's well dampened by a balance shaft. It pulls willingly from 3,250 to past 7,000 rpm, allowing a selected gear to be held through the twisty bits and steer on the throttle. At 48bhp and 42lbs/ft of torque, power can be said to be 'adequate' and although its certainly no sportsbike, its fast enough to be fun without being frightening. In 1972 I had a T120 Bonneville which also produced 48bhp but with drum brakes and a crapulous frame and suspension that could be scary! From time to time I go out for a bit of a ride around the country roads of Hereford-Shropshire with a mate on a 650 Versys and I have no trouble keeping up with him. In fact I have noticed he has to change gear up and down the box all the time whereas I can keep it in third and play on the throttle – much faster out of slow corners than the Kwacker and the handling is better.
The five speeds in the gearbox are quite sufficient, the gears well spaced although its not a particularly fast change either up or down but neutral is easy to find. A sweet gearchange is achievable with care and precision but good throttle and clutch co-ordination is required or the dreaded BMW 'clunk-click every shift' manifests itself. I haven't so far taken much notice of economy (as petrol is so cheap nowadays!) but I would say from the amount of 97RON I've used against the miles I've covered I'm getting about 50mpg.
The equipment level is about par for a '90's motorcycle - speedo, tacho, clock, warning lights for water temp, oil pressure and indicators, engine kill switch, headlight flasher and horn. It also comes with a centre as well as side stand, which on a lot of trailies is an optional (expensive) extra nowadays. Talking of trailing with it, I wouldn't. I used to belong to the TRF 35 years ago and did a lot of mud-plugging but the F650ST is too high geared and has too much plastic for anything more serious than 200 yards up a Forestry Commission track to find a picnic spot.
One of the important aspects of my return to bike ownership is that I get as much pleasure out of working on the thing as I do riding. First used by BMW in 1993, the Rotax engine was at the forefront of technology in its day. It's not too complicated, water cooling is a little bit harder to work on than traditional air cooling but with twin Mikuni carbs, two plugs on a four-valve single and the only electrickery the CDI ignition, its not all that complicated: no ECU's, no fuel-injection, no EGS, no fly-by-wire throttle, no ABS, no diagnostics, no fuss, no bother, less to go wrong, simple to fix – you get the picture! The frame, suspension and brakes are easy to get at, apart from having to remove acres of plastic panels but even they are fastened with Allen bolts and captive nuts so nothing too difficult.
I have now had the F650ST for 18 months and it's never let me down; indeed looking at blogs and BMW forums the original Funduro and Strada models were well built at the Noale Aprilia factory and pretty reliable and some have racked up huge mileages. The model does have a few well-known weak spots to look out for; the headstock bearings need regular checking as the oil-in-frame melts the grease resulting in increased wear, the clutch is a little on the small side for that much torque (mine has recently been replaced) the voltage regulator is under the seat and can overheat and waterpumps can also be an issue - again mine had a new impeller fitted at the same time as the clutch was done (both under the same cover).
A classic BMW F650 might not have suited me twenty years ago but at my time of life now its just what I want from a motorcycle; cheap to buy, cheap to run, reasonable weight, a good chassis with excellent handling and enough power to bring a smile to one's face without turning the bowels to jelly.
Words and Pictures: Nigel Shuttleworth
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