New Suzuki breaks all the scooter rules

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      Scooting to a different drummer, the Suzuki Burgman 650 takes the concept of two-wheeled practicality up a level or two—or three. It’s definitely practical, but aside from its basic layout, it bears little resemblance to the gas-sipping puddle jumpers most of us think of as scooters. In fact, aside from Honda’s extremely similar Silverwing and perhaps the Piaggio BV500, there really isn’t anything quite like the Burgman. It’s unique from one end to the other.

      And the 650 Executive model, which is what I rode, is definitely in a class all its own. It comes with an ABS, a parking brake, CVT transmission with two settings, an electrically adjustable windscreen, electrically powered foldaway mirrors, a clock, a gas gauge, and even an automotive-style gas filler flap. If this is a scooter, I’m a basketball player.

      The thing is, it’s an absolute blast to drive. You climb aboard, just as you would any scooter, turn the key, and away you go. No gears to fuss with and no clutch. Power delivery is a little on the snatchy side, especially when exiting a turn, but the Burgman has all kinds of get-up-and-go. It’ll cruise effortlessly at 120 to 130 kilometres per hour and so keeps up easily with city and freeway traffic. I took my test bike up to 160 in no time at all, and it surprised the hell out of me. Scooters aren’t supposed to have this much snap.

      Power is provided by a 638cc twin with dual overhead camshafts, fuel injection, liquid cooling, and four valves per cylinder. Suzuki doesn’t release horsepower or torque numbers for its products, but if I had to guess, I’d say the Burgman 650 Executive is good for at least 40 horses. You can hardly hear the engine tucked away below you at the back of the bike, and it has a honkin’ big, chrome, canister-style exhaust pipe that blends in nicely with the bike’s lines. The aforementioned two-speed CVT can be set via a handlebar-mounted button to “power” or “normal” mode, with the former setting dropping engine revs down about 1,000 rpm to provide a sportier riding experience.

      That in itself is oxymoronic for a scooter. Since when has sport had anything to do with scooter riding? Radial tires are standard equipment, and braking duties are handled by a pair of dual discs up front and a single disc in back. Both levers on the handlebars operate the brakes and I’m hard-pressed to think of any other scooter I’ve ridden that scrubs off speed this well. These are outstanding brakes.

      I also loved the power folding mirrors. Need to squeeze in between some cars or in a narrow alleyway? Just hit a button on the left handlebar—or do it by hand—and they’re out of the way. And if you have to carry something with you, the seat pivots up to reveal an absolutely cavernous storage compartment—55 litres, in fact, enough to accommodate a couple of full-size helmets. There is also a pair of fairing-mounted storage pockets up front good enough for a camera or cellphone, which is handy. And, like most scooters, the Burgman 650 has a side stand and centre stand, both of which are easy to get at and operate.

      Sizewise, the Burgman 650 Executive is about as long as a typical full-size cruiser, tipping the scales at 235 kilograms. It’s not light, which is good for extended highway riding and not so good for city schlepping. This must be one of the few scooters around that can be taken on long-distance touring jaunts without compromising comfort or performance. Suzuki also sells a 400cc version of the Burgman, and although very similar in performance and size, it lacks that extra bit of oomph that makes the 650 so enjoyable and ridable.

      Once aboard, you can stretch your legs out in front or leave them in the traditional perpendicular position when you ride. There’s also a nice little lumbar support that really comes into its own over the long haul, plus this is one scooter that can actually handle a rear passenger. I’m still not that fond of having to step through a bike when I mount it, as opposed to throwing a leg over it, but maybe I’d get used to it after a while—it does come with the scooter territory.

      In fact, the Burgman 650 Executive really caught me off guard. I enjoyed the hell out of this bike and took it out every chance I could. It still has a substantial dork factor that I struggled with, but that aside, it’s a fun-to-ride, lively, and versatile bike that breaks most of the rules when it comes to scooters.

      Uh-oh. Am I a closet scooter buff?

      Prices for the Suzuki Burgman 650 Executive start at $11,899, about $900 more than the regular 650 model.