Say you want to ride across the continent, but you want to do it on a scooter. You could do it on any step-through you want, really; I know someone who’s been to the four corners of North America aboard a Honda Ruckus (with his licence plate reading 99 MPG).
But if you want a scooter that’s comfortable for covering big miles, and can do it in a hurry, then a Suzuki Burgman 650 might be your best bet. You might even be able to embarrass a few sportbike riders along the way, if you find some twisties.
The end of the 1990s was a dark time, in many ways. Avril Lavigne found mainstream success. Microsoft released Windows 2000. Terrifying, indeed! But in the midst of all this uncertainty, there was a bright light: For some reason, the moto manufacturers decided it was time to start building maxi-scooters.
In the past, manufacturers had built two-stroke scooters that could more-or-less keep up with highway speeds. But by the late ’90s, the OEMs realized two-strokes were done, thanks to environmental regs, and they started the great shift to four-strokes. This was particularly noticeable in the world of trail bikes, and scooters. Big-bore step-throughs were in, and the Burgman 650 was the biggest maxi-scooter of them all.
The Burgman 650 hit the North American market in 2003. With a liquid-cooled DOHC parallel twin engine, at 638 cc, it made a claimed 50 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 40 pound-feet of torque at 5,500 rpm. Those were only middling numbers for a motorcycle, but they were very respectable for a step-through. It weighed 524 pounds dry, and came with dual disc front brakes and a big, big underseat trunk.
Magazine write-ups of the time were impressed with the machine, and early buyers were very happy to discover the Burgman exceeded their expectations. Many of the first purchasers were middle-aged buyers returning to two-wheeled life, or maybe replacing a bulky cruiser or other less-than-spritely motorcycle. Although the Burgman wasn’t considered a great-handling rig at high speed, it was nimble at lower speeds. That 15-inch front wheel helped it turn on a dime in city traffic, and the Burgman did OK in the twisties as well. Here’s a typical satisfied owner write-up from MotorcycleSurvey:
“I went for a ride with all my friends from church with all their various bikes (every brand represented). The eyes rolled as they thought of an underpowered ‘scooter’ in the midst, and the idea of having to ‘wait’ on me was prominent. Well elevation to 8,800′ and 1.5 hours ‘twisty’ corners later and out came the questions to every degree. The Burgman 650 kept up more than fine, and I found myself rolling off the throttle as I awaited their shifting. Without it you spend more time thinking about the road.”
Any experienced maxi-scooter rider can tell you there’s no better feeling than spanking a bigger, more expensive motorcycle in the twisties. A couple of my own friends have had the same fun riding their own Burgmans, much to the embarrassment of accompanying crotch rocketeers.
When MCN staff did a write-up on the Burgman in 2006, they called it “a mid sized touring motorcycle under its plastic panels,” although they also said it was “short on luggage capacity for serious touring riders.” That depends on your perspective; with about 55 litres of storage under the seat, you could certainly bring enough clothes for a hotel-based tour. GIVI and other manufacturers made a selection of soft and hard saddlebags and topboxes for the Burgman. Add in that bulbous front fairing, a super-cushy seat, and excellent lighting and you had a recipe for long-haul comfort. As always, some riders had complaints about the seat being too soft, or the windscreen too short, or whatever, but for those Goldilocks complaints, there was always the aftermarket. Plenty of companies made parts to improve your Burgman experience.
The Burgman 650 came with a CVT for twist-and-go riding. If you wanted to up the fun factor, the Burgman 650 also came with a paddle shifter on the left handgrip. Punch the button, and the CVT would shift to a pre-determined ratio. No clutch needed, and you could still have the fun of a manual gearbox.
As time went on, CVT issues were some of the most commonly-reported problems with the Burgman 650, so this is something you’d want to check out when buying a used unit.
Later in the Burgman’s production, there was an Executive sub-model with ABS and other perks. The 650 saw some other tweaks as well, but eventually disappeared from North American showrooms around 2018. Head over to ADVrider’s Battle Scooters forum for other useful advice, or the BurgmanUSA forum, and you can get up to speed on other things to check out.
Worth the buy?
This 2017 model for sale at Wow Motorcycles in Georgia is selling for $7,460. At least, that’s what the mildly confusing ad looks like.
It’s got 21,423 miles on the odometer, which isn’t terribly high, although it would be worth making sure the CVT is problem-free. Aside from that, the scoot looks pretty clean. These were pricey when they were brand-new, and a price around $7,500 US would be a nice saving. Go down to Georgia, sign some dealership paperwork, and head to the twisties looking for some over-confident bikers to embarrass.
Photos: Wow Motorcycles