I still remember the hype when Honda first debuted its NC700 series, particularly the NC700X. Everyone was tripping over themselves to congratulate Honda’s thrifty design. And look at that forward storage compartment! What a feat of engineering!
I spent thousands of miles on the NC700X as a long-term tester when it first came out, and there were definitely some high points with the bike—and also a few major low points. But the things I liked about the bike, and even some of the things I didn’t like, weren’t really original Honda ideas. In many ways, the NC700X was the evolution of an idea BMW had tried about a decade earlier, with the F650 CS Scarver model.
Rummaging through the parts bin
These days, I think it would be fair to say BMW’s 650 singles have not aged well in the court of public opinion. The Funduro and its descendants and cousins are not coveted to the same level as their counterparts from that era. There’s always interest when an R-bike from the ’90s or ’00s comes up for sale, while it can take a while for one of the singles to sell (and often, the price is lower).
You could speculate as to why that’s true. Maybe some buyers don’t like the 650s because of the Rotax connection, or the Aprilia connection, or the Chinese connection (Rotax built the engines on the early bikes, and Aprilia helped design/assemble the machines. On later bikes, Loncin manufactured the engines). However, the 650 singles were big sellers for BMW while they were in the lineup.
The Scarver, when it hit the market in 2001, recycled many parts from the existing F650 series. Most importantly, it used the same 652 cc liquid-cooled DOHC single, with four-valve head. This was tough enough for real ADV travel, but also more refined than the Japanese-built 650 singles on the market at that time (EFI was standard, for instance). It didn’t have the same low-down grunt as the DR650 or KLR650, but had more high-end power (around 50 horsepower at the crank) and a reputation for smoothness. This was important for the Scarver, as it was intended for asphalt use only, and commuters were less forgiving of vibration than dirt bikers.
A walk on the wild side
Much of the rest of the bike looked familiar to 650 GS owners, but it wasn’t quite the same. The frame was visually similar, but with larger tubes, which served as oil reservoirs. The Scarver came with a single-sided swingarm, an odd choice for a commuter bike. Instead of a 19-inch or 21-inch front wheel (the F650 GS and Dakar models, respectively), the Scarver had a cast 17-inch front rim (and 17-inch rear, too). “All the better for street handling, my dear,” said the Big Bad Wolf—definitely not aimed at dirt riding. There was a belt drive, instead of a chain drive, which was another hint the machine was for asphalt only.
Then, there was the unusual styling. Like the second-gen 650 GS series, the Scarver had an underseat fuel tank, with translucent grab handles, and boldly-styled cockpit and bodywork in the area the the gas tank would usually be on a motorcycle. Reviewers at the time compared it to an iMac, or maybe a computer printer. Remember, this was designed before the dot-com bubble burst, and you could put “e-” in front of any product name and sell it under the illusion of high-tech excitement. Maybe BMW figured that would work with motorcycles too. To further mix things up, BMW also offered a wide range of different side panel colour options, which could swap in for a completely new look (similar to Indian’s current mix-and-match tank covers for the FTR series).
You could blame the Scarver’s looks on wacky Europeans, but it was actually American designer David Robb who came up with this. Robb had a good reputation with the American moto-press, and some of his other work was less controversial, and better-selling. If you dislike the Scarver, you could perhaps forgive him, because he was also involved with the R1200 GS, the K1600 and the original S1000 RR.
The bodywork was funky, but the real interesting feature was a storage area over the engine, where the gas tank would normally sit. BMW sold packs that were custom-fit to this storage space, making it easy for commuters to haul their laptops, etc. Riders could even buy a stereo that was custom-built to fit into one of those hard plastic cases, with volume control programmed to automatically increase as the engine picked up speed.
It wasn’t quite scooter practicality, but it was a good start towards thinking outside the lines of standard moto design.
It’s the same idea that Honda recycled with the NC700X, but Honda did it right, by building a small hatch that could actually securely store a small motorcycle helmet. BMW, alas, pulled its usual tricks by making the storage space semi-functional, with included soft case, but only truly useful if you bought the luggage to fit there, as an add-on accessory. Riders would be forced to spend more so it was an ingenious move, right? Nope, because many riders did not buy the accessories, missing the potential functionality of the space. As such, the Scarver went down in history as an oddity, not a practical runabout like the NC.
It’s too bad, because the Scarver really was a practical ride. Upright ergos, all-round comfort, decent suspension, sensible real-world power—it just plain worked. Add in ABS, and you might have had one of the most sensible street bikes of the early 2000s, able to cut city traffic all week but still hold its own on the highway to the
danger zone cottage on the weekend. Contemporary testers had lots of good things to say about it in the early 2000s, even if they thought it looked funny.
But, people didn’t buy it, at least not in large numbers. The Scarver lasted until 2005, and then disappeared into ignominy. They’re not unobtanium today, but they’re certainly more rare than 650 GS models
You could say it was a case of BMW being ahead of its time, sort of, with Honda putting some finishing touches on the design 10 years later. The NC700X had its own design woes, but it’s lasted in the lineup a lot longer, probably thanks to those improvements (particularly the waterproof storage hatch).
As for the BMW in the photos here, it’s for sale in Nova Scotia, Canada, for $2,500. That seems like a pretty good price, especially because the bike (a 2004 model)BM doesn’t appear to be hard-used; 43,000 kilometres isn’t new, but it’s not worn-out either. However, as anyone who’s been around BMW 650 singles knows, there are a few trouble points to look out for. And, Nova Scotia is pretty much off-limits for out-of-province visitors. Still, if you’re interested, it could be worth visiting the Facebook page and giving the seller a shout.