Motorcycle vs. scooter? There was a time when, if what you wanted was a machine that could break the speed limit, the answer was always "motorcycle." In fact, "scooter" is used by non-motorcyclists to describe any small, low-powered two-wheel vehicle that requires limited skill to ride (or the perception of needing limited skill). When I tell people I have ridden up and down the length of California and even cross-country on scooters, they look at me like I just announced I flew to Aruba on a giant parakeet. But motorcyclists and scooterists know about "Maxi-Scooters," larger scoots aimed at intracity transport, a class spearheaded by Honda's famed Helix of 1986 (yes, scooter nerds, I know there were touring-oriented scooters on the market before the Helix, but the Honda was the first modern Maxi I can think of). This has changed: meet the Maxi-Scooter.
A Maxi aims to provide the power, range, luggage capacity and comfort of a large motorcycle with (some of) the convenience, mobility, ease-of-operation and economy of a smaller scooter, overlapping both worlds and hopefully picking up new customers from both. BMW places its scooters in its "Urban Mobility" line, an all-new classification that will both pluck new customers from other brands as well as create brand-new ones. People like scooters, says BMW Product Manager Sergio Caravajal—they're cute, friendly and accessible, even if they are 575-pound bruisers like the C650GT we rode for this test.
Read up on the GT with our tech brief
as well as my first-ride report
, but here are the basics. The BMW C650 and C650GT are really closer to motorcycles than they are to scooters. If a scooter can be operated without using a clutch and gearbox, has a step-through design and a combined swingarm/motor unit holding the rear wheel, the BMW is no more a scooter than the dual-clutch equipped Honda NC700X. The BMW's tube-steel, bridge-type frame mounts the liquid-cooled, 647cc twin-cylinder, dual overhead cam with a claimed 60 hp below the rider's feet, keeping unsprung mass—the bane of scooter handling—off the big aluminum swingarm. That and the low-profile 15-inch wheels make the center of gravity very low. It also makes the big machine harder to mount than smaller scooters. It still has room for underseat storage (almost 16 gallons worth) and has the riding position and friendly styling of a scooter. Is it a scooter? Technically no, but functionally, what you get is a scooter-like experience with the performance of a middleweight commuter motorcycle.
That's the claim, and since we're moto-journalists, writer/artist/welder/fabricator/illustrator Alan Lapp and I rustled up a 2013 Honda NC700X
to see how what was once perceived as disparate riding experiences compared. "You got the dual-clutch version, of course?" you say. Actually, we did not—this is scooter vs. motorcycle. A twist n' go vs. a twist n' go wouldn't answer the question of which we liked more, so we opted for the base-model NC700X.