Buyer Guide: BMW F650 Series

The ultimate buying guide for BMW’s lightweight adventure bike

Click to view: BMW F650 Series owners reviews, specs and image galleries.

Secret identities. Superman had one and so did Hong Kong Phooey. Yes they were a local reporter and a mild mannered janitor, but they were capable of much more besides and hardly anyone knew. And it’s the same story with BMW’s original single cylinder F650 series of bikes. Maybe it’s more a split personality than a secret identity but, whatever you call it, the bike’s got two distinct facets.

First, it’s a practical, reliable, well-finished, usable everyday machine with some of the lowest running costs of any proper-sized motorbike. But it’s also the tool of choice for the hardcore adventure traveller. Where the bulkier, heavier R1150GS and R1200GS can’t really cope with the toughest off road conditions, the more manageable, compact F650 will keep chugging forward. It’s more reliable too. As Colin Luhrs, who owns a 2005 F650GS, says: “If Ewan and Charlie had used F650s they wouldn’t have needed so many back-up trucks”.

Seventy F650 owners took the time to fill in our online survey this month. Thirteen own the original Funduro model, eight the Strada, sixteen the Dakar, six the CS and 27 the GS version. They’ve ridden almost a million miles on their F650s in total. Broadly speaking the F650 can be divided into two groups: the pre-2000 original models, the Funduro and Strada, which have carbs, and the 2000 onwards bikes with fuel injection and the fuel tank under the seat, which are the GS, the Dakar and the CS.

All are overlooked machines – loads of owners had bigger bikes previously, yet they’d fallen for the F650 and ended up keeping it and getting rid of their other bike instead.

A twin-cylinder version was released in 2008 but it’s not included in this guide.

The nuts & bolts

Running costs
This is something most owners flag up as one of the bike’s virtues; low running costs. As well as the low insurance grouping and low list price, fuel economy is generally excellent. The overall average is an impressive 64.7mpg. The highest is a staggering 91mpg and the lowest 40mpg. The older carburated models are less efficient, averaging 57.3mpg, while the injected bikes manage 67.4mpg. Although many owners say the post-2004 twin-spark models are the most frugal of all, our survey suggests those bikes use exactly the same amount of fuel as the earlier, fuel-injected bikes.

Servicing is something that divides opinion. Some owners say it’s expensive at BMW dealers, but others use independents or do it themselves and reckon it’s not at all pricey. All models need attention every 6,000 miles, which includes basics such as oil and filter but also valve clearance checks.

A larger service is due at 12,000 miles, which includes stuff like replacing the spark plug(s), air filter and fuel filter. The 24,000 service only has more work listed for the ABS model, but typically more needs doing anyway by this point. Average prices paid for the minor service are £142, £227 for the 12,000-mile one and £328 for the 24,000-mile biggie. It’s a pretty simple bike to work on and 51% of owners do all their own servicing, 42% do some and just 7% don’t do any.

Our survey respondees voted the Metzeler Tourance their favourite tyre, followed by the Continental TKC80, Avon Distanzia and Michelin Anakee respectively. Metzeler’s evergreen Tourances are road biased but work well on dry trails. Continental’s TKC80s are much better suited to dirt riding but less impressive on the road.

Avon’s Distanzia are similar to the Tourances, but most who’ve used both prefer the Metzelers. Michelin’s Anakees are favoured by Dakar owners, partly because they’re the OE fitment. The information on the Strada and CS models is patchy, but Metzeler Z6 Roadtecs seem a good bet on the road-biased CS.

Ignoring the CS and Strada models, which use more road-orientated rubber, average tyre life is 9,332 miles at the front and 8,410 miles at the rear. More road-biased rubber tends to last longer. James O’Connor eked 22,000 commuting miles from a pair of Tourances.

Owner Case Study: "I’ve done 40,000 miles commuting"

Darryl Coates bought a 1996 F650 Funduro five years ago. He’s taken the mileage from 15,000 to 55,000

“It’s been a very reliable bike. I haven’t had any problems with it except one time some fuel crystalised in the carb float chambers and partially blocked them. I cleaned them out and they were fine. The paint on the engine casings is flaking off too, but otherwise it’s not given any trouble.

“On road it’s a good plodder and always gets me where I want to go. It’s surprisingly good off-road. I ride with some other guys who have Honda XR400s, KTMs and other more dedicated bikes and I don’t get left behind. It’s not quite as capable as those on the really rough stuff, but it’s pretty good as long as you’ve got knobbly tyres fitted.

“I find BMW’s main dealer prices pretty reasonable. I use Motorworks and Motobins, but some parts are the same price from authorised agents. It’s a bit snatchy below 3,000rpm in the higher gears. Keeping the chain well lubricated and without too much slack helps. I’ve just found out my front sprocket’s a 17-tooth one. Standard is 16, so that probably isn’t helping either. “I’ve got a spare exhaust which I cut open and took the baffles out of. It’s noisy but the bike does run smoother with it on. I’d consider swapping it for something more off-road focussed, but that’s because I’ve got a Triumph Tiger just for road use.”

What goes wrong
Out of 21 owners of the original bikes, 12 (57%) reported no problems beyond normal wear and tear. The most common fault was regulator failure, which affected four bikes. Three needed replacement head bearings and while they could be regarded as consumable, the hot oil runs near them and may cause the grease to melt. Two had major clutch problems and two had the inlet manifold crack. The rest were isolated issues.

Of the 49 owners of the newer, fuel-injected bikes, 22 (45%) had no problems beyond normal wear and tear. Six complained about fork seals. More worryingly, four had problems with the wiring loom, causing fires in different parts of the bike. Another four thought the head bearings failed more often than they should. Two owners reported the indicators failing (one due to corrosion on terminals, the other due to diodes failing). All other problems were one-offs, including water pump issues.

Overall, other than regulator and head bearing failures on the older bikes and fork seals, head bearings and wiring loom fires, they’re very reliable machines. These bikes do a lot of miles in all weathers and head bearings and fork seals could be considered consumables.

The finish is better than most bikes but the engine paint has disappointed quite a few owners. The older bikes seem more durable than the injected ones, but there’s still a few grumbles about engine paint and wheel condition. Overall the finish is tough except on the engine.

It’s a bike with a strong following. and are well worth checking out for lots of information, organised rides in this county and abroad and more. There are also specialist new and used parts suppliers like Motorworks and Motobins who are very knowledgeable.

Hard luggage is popular. The number one choice is BMW’s own top boxes and panniers, with 27 owners in our survey using them. They’re broadly liked, but there’s some complaints about the Vario panniers being heavy, expensive or fragile. The next most popular is Givi, which are cheaper.

Aftermarket exhausts are rare with just 18% having had one fitted. The most popular is Remus. Next is Scorpion.

There are loads of other bits available, especially for the Dakar model, including a huge range of Touratech ( overland goodies, including kits to turn the fairly plain standard bike into an edgy desert basher. Handguards are also popular and cheap. Taller screens are too, although opinion on which works best is divided. The Wunderlich Ergo is highly regarded. Chain oilers are quite common. Most have Scottoillers, which everyone rates except one owner. Bonus points to Phil Turner who’s currently installing full TT Rallye suspension, the same as some Paris-Dakar bikes, and ‘Snoopy’ who says: “I’ve made lots of gizmos in me nan’s shed.”

Owner Case Study: “I rode 9,000 miles to the Gambia on mine"

Faser Woolley bought a new 2006 F650GS Dakar with a trip to the Gambia in mind, but also to use day-to-day afterwards. It’s currently got 15,000 miles on the clock

“I’d done some research and the 650 Dakar seemed like the best bike for the job. And it was excellent. It never missed a beat from sub-zero temperatures in the Pyrenees to 40° heat in Mauritania. It got some pretty rough fuel at times too, but it coped superbly. I bought new because I hoped that’d mean the bike didn’t cause any problems. I hear they can have issues with head bearings and water pumps, but mine was fine. One highlight was hooking up with some Dutch guys in 4x4s. They carried my luggage so I was able to ride through the dunes unladen and that was amazing.

“Most of the way people were very friendly and helpful, but in places it did feel a little threatening, especially in Mauritania because it’s so poor. There are mines at the border of Western Sahara and Mauritania too but I’d heard if you stuck to the tracks you’d be ok. I did and I was, but some guys coming through a few weeks later weren’t so lucky and got blown up.

“The trip took five weeks and I had a completely amazing time. I’d love to go back, especially to Morocco. I’d take the same bike again. A lighter machine would be better for off-roading but you’d struggle to carry all your gear on one, and they’d be worse on the tarmac.”