2013 Burgman 650 ABS Scooter First Ride

August 12, 2013
Bart Madson
By Bart Madson
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Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for nine years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to industry analysis and motorcycle racing reports.

Maxiscooters have carved out a specialized niche in the world of motorcycling. The big-displacement step-thrus offer motorcycle-like performance in a myriad of roles: trusty commuter, weekend play bike and even a touring rig. Suzuki helped define the maxiscooter segment in America when it introduced the Burgman 650 in 2002. Now a decade and 83,000 units sold worldwide later, Suzuki gives the 2013 model a well-deserved redesign.

Suzuki press folk claim changes to the latest Burgman stems from direct customer feedback. Burgman customers are typically older, a lot of whom are experienced riders that have selected the step-thru design specifically because of mobility issues. The focus groups didn’t demand wholesale changes, but instead specific refinements.

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Foremost on the fix-it list was alleviating the Burg’s heavy feel coming to a stop and during initial roll on. Riders also wanted to make the 613-pound scoot easier to push around in the parking lot (see also those mobility issues mentioned above…). To resolve the first request, engineers altered the Suzuki Electronically-controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (SECVT) settings to spin out a lighter, more responsive engine at lower rpm. The final drive gear utilizes a new low-torque bearing and clutch plates are revised as well, with Suzuki claiming a 35% reduction in drag friction. So while the scoot’s curb weight remains a portly 613, there’s less resistance from the drivetrain – making it easier to roll around in the garage or parking lot.

Burgman owners also requested a styling facelift to freshen up the dated look. Arriving at Suzuki Motor of America’s headquarters in Brea, California for our two-day test ride, the Burgman’s new lines aren’t dramatically different, but a definite improvement. The more slanted, angular bodywork trim up a sportier look that makes the predecessor seem quite conservative by comparison. Small touches like the black wheels and LED position lights in the front cowling also improve the curb appeal. Same goes for the new triangular exhaust.

Straddle the Burg and it’s an easy reach to the ground, with the 2013 model featuring cutout footboards for this exact reason. And while the Burgman remains a heavy machine to be sure, it’s easy enough to push around without herculean effort. If it doesn’t move, like at all, check to make sure the parking brake is disengaged. Not that I’d know from personal experience or anything… Speaking of which, the parking brake was repositioned from below the right-side dash to under the left side of the seat.

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The move improves the storage up front, with the 650’s cockpit totally redesigned. The front dash features three compartments – a pair of flanking 1.3-liter spaces up top and a lockable 5.2-liter compartment on the bottom right. The latter sources a relocated DC outlet, recessed to make room for the GPS and phone chargers – subtle refinements courtesy of Burgman customer feedback. The wiring harness below the instrument console is also ready and willing to be plugged into aftermarket systems or Suzuki accessories, like heated grips and seat (this year’s Burgman 650 is effectively the Executive model, sans these last two accessories). The switchgear and instrumentation is revised too… but we’ll touch on that in a minute.

Kickstands up and the liquid-cooled 638cc Parallel Twin purrs to life. The Twin’s internal dimensions are unchanged, but new valve springs and piston rings reduce tension and the fuel injectors emit a finer spray. These tweaks combined with the revised transmission settings and reduced friction make for a more efficient powerplant, with Suzuki claiming a 15% increase in fuel efficiency as a result.

Operating the zesty Burgman’s twist-and-go throttle is idiot simple. It’s easier than driving a car! And, like a car, you don’t see the engine at all. So the steady Twin is disembodied, but transmits an ample supply of steady, accessible power. A Hayabusa it is not, but it’s not supposed to be, and the Burg makes for a pert ride. It delivers rapid acceleration as the CVT spools up with more than enough oomph for the freeway.

Riders demanding more engine performance can source the Power mode, which contrasts the standard Drive mode setting in the SECVT system. Throttle response is much snappier after riders literally press the Power button on the Burgman’s crowded handlebar controls. Also noticeable in Power mode is that heavy handling sensation at low speeds. Thankfully, the CVT settings in Drive mode totally wash this out. So riders can Drive through the urban stop-and-go, then Power up for the freeway and backroad fun – it’s easy to swap back and forth on the fly.

Hopping on the freeway our Burgman-mounted posse charged into LA traffic – the belly of the beast as far as nightmare commutes go. At first the traffic flow accommodated 70 mph cruising no problem – where the Burg proves more than game for superslab maneuvers, like high-speed passes. At such speeds riders appreciate the electronically adjustable windscreen, which deflects air without a ton of turbulence and even at its highest setting I was afforded a clear view of the road ahead.



The Burgman’s switchgear features a whole lot of buttons, particularly on the left handlbar. Meanwhile the LCD dash looks much better and offer plenty of information, but the easy-to-read digital speedo is now a smaller analog gauge.

And in LA that view often means thousands of cars parked on the freeway. Time to engage in that cherished birthright of California riders – lane-splitting. I minded the tech presentation before our ride and recalled how the mirrors retracted – so I reached up, folded them in and then filtered through the maelstrom unhindered. Then a colleague sped up and showed me the blue button atop the left switchgear. I pressed it, and the mirrors folded out. I pressed it again, and the mirrors folded in. [Queue the bright lights and angels singing hallelujah!]

Yes. I like that magic blue button. Does it have any palpable effect on the splitting? Not really, maybe gaining an inch or two of mirror clearance at most. But it did transform my non-Californian brain’s thou-shalt-not-lanesplit-for-fear-of-dire-retribution hesitance into damn-the-torpedoes-rush-hour kamikaze. I love the Burg’s retractable California mirrors way, way more than they warrant – but unapologetically so!

However, the magic button on the left switchgear encompasses my main beef with the Burg – its confusing switchgear and instrumentation. The left side handlebar hosts a passing light trigger, aforementioned magic blue button, high/low beam toggle, the Power button, turn signal toggle, a horn and yet another toggle at the bottom to switch between Drive/Manual mode. That last one, Manual mode, requires the up/down gear shifter toggle – also on the left switchgear! That up/down toggle on the left side not to be confused with the electronic windscreen control toggle, located on the top of the right handlebar… It’s a lot to get used to.

I welcome Burgman owners to disagree, but a Manual shift mode seems unnecessary. I used it on occasion during our two-day test ride to Santa Barbara and back – at first out of curiosity and later to see if I just wasn’t getting the point. But every time I tired of manual shifting almost immediately. The CVT does a better job in the Drive/Power settings. Instead Manual mode clutters things and spoils the new instrument cluster, which now features analog speedo and tach.

Who looks at the tach on a scooter? I suppose folks who ride a scooter in Manual mode. And the previous model’s large, easy-to-read digital speedo front and center on the LCD is replaced by a smaller left-side analog unit – less easy to read. The actual LCD screen on the new Burgman is a vast improvement, highly visible and beautifully backlit much like the new V-Strom 650. The flanking information displayed – including a fuel gauge and clock, as well as a frost-warning idiot light (a nice touch) – is well executed, but the info displayed on the LCD’s central display toggles between ambient air temp, fuel consumption and gear position, if in Manual mode. I spent the first half of the freeway jaunt flabbergasted that every time I looked down the Burg was so smooth and stable at 82, 83 and 85 mph! Oh wait, of course, that’s the air temperature dummy… So riders can stare at how hot or cold it is, or their estimated fuel economy – another bit of info from which I’ve never acquired an appreciation (for a separate spoiled motojourno rant, read sidebar exegesis on the Burgman’s ECO light).

By the way, the Burgman can go 85 mph – a lot higher actually. And it’s a deceptively sporty package for its size and weight. Surviving LA superslab our test ride snaked up through the curvy roads around Malibu. Tight, technical and sometimes choppy, these roads gave an honest account of the Burg’s handling capabilities.

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Riders can lean the big scoot over a surprising amount before any hard parts touch down – and only on the tightest right handers did we scrape the centerstand tangs. The base suspension is setup for commuting comfort, and rightly so. It smooths out the ride, but gets overwhelmed when the heavy Burg starts to hustle in the curves. The shocks offer easy hand-turn adjustment, and ramping up pre-load two turns on Day 2 made a marked improvement in the handling, though at the expense of some of that commuting comfort. But considering the ease of adjustment, riders can quickly switch it up depending on the expected roads or pillion/cargo loads.

The Burgman 650 comes with ABS standard, and the 2013 model sources a smaller, lighter unit. The dual disc front brakes also now source floating instead of solid rotors. In regular applications, the brakes get their job done just fine. But sportier riding demands see them wrestle with the Burg’s hefty dimensions. As we pressed the pace on a steep canyon descent in Malibu, the Burg skipped and chattered as I scrubbed speed for a rapidly approaching corner. The ABS shuddered and levers pulsed. I pulled off the pace considerably after that close call, but still encountered more uneasy ABS moments on that descent as the system cuts in early and often.

The Burgman makes for an intriguing touring platform. Our test ride odometer ticked 250 miles, give or take, without major complaint. The seat is comfortable and riding position relaxing. Tall riders may wince for a little more legroom, but it’s not uncomfortably cramped. The Burgman’s standard storage capacity makes for effortless short tours, and I packed all my own gear on our overnight trip – including a laptop, backpack and camera case shoved into the 50-liter underseat compartment. The main compartment is big enough for two full-face helmets as well, which can also be strung thru the helmet lock. The three dashboard compartments can hold a bevy of gear – and there was plenty room to spare even with two water bottles tossed inside. To top it all off, the Burg should manage a respectable range from its four-gallon tank. My dash claimed fuel economy in the high 40s for the trip, and I noted one gas stop at 52 mpg.

Pricing is where the $10,999 Burgman 650 ABS faces some challenges. It has always been billed as a premium scooter offering, but the 2013 Burg is a thousand more than the model it replaces. At $9990 the all-new BMW 650 GT also comes in a full grand less. The Burgman does offer features unavailable on the Beemer, namely the various engine maps and manual transmission selections. But the pricing disparity is there, no question.

Pulling into the parking lot at Suzuki, however, and worries about MSRP weren’t in my mind. Scooter haters won’t ever get the step-thru appeal, but we were quite pleased with our riding experience. Overall we reckon the Burgman 650 delivers on its promise. It checks those specific upgrades demanded by its existing loyal ridership. Plus, it’s an engaging, versatile platform for those not initiated into the maxiscooter ranks. The next decade figures to be a good one for the big Burgman.

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