Urban planners project that in fewer than 20 years, 60 percent of the world’s population will live in “megacities.” In the Fifties, only two metropolitan areas, Tokyo and New York, had 10 million-plus inhabitants. A little more than a decade from now, the number of such cities is expected to be a dozen times that, with eight of them boasting 20 million (or greater) residents. That’s a lot of traffic, a heaving asphalt ocean of twinkling taillights.
BMW has a solution: the Urban Mobility Vehicle.
Hot off a record sales year, BMW invited 240 journalists from around the world to Madrid, Spain—Europe’s third-largest city, home to roughly 3.3 million inhabitants and spanning 230 square miles—for a first-hand look at its new UMVs, the C650GT and C600 Sport.
Before touching down in Madrid, all I knew about the GT and Sport is what I’d gleaned from the press kit: that they are supposed to combine the “outstanding riding properties of a motorcycle with the specific agility and conceptual comfort of a scooter for a new kind of dynamic riding experience.” The Sport is for riders with “sports ambitions,” while the GT targets customers “attaching greater importance to comfort and touring ability.”
Before we’d even been briefed on the bikes, our small troupe of U.S.-based writers was hustled to an underground garage jam-packed with GTs and Sports for a 15-mile, 85-minute guided tour of Madrid. That may not sound like much of a ride, but the final stages coincided with rush hour—trial by fire!
I drew a Platinum Bronze Metallic GT. Weighing a claimed 575 pounds ready to ride and measuring 87.3 inches from K-bike-esque fairing tip to taillight, this richly finished, sophisticated-looking machine is the heavier and longer of the two models. The GT has a large windscreen that is electronically adjustable over a 3.9-in. range, a 30.7-in. seat height and nearly 60 liters of underseat storage, plus two in-fairing gloveboxes, one of which is lockable. What appear to be sidecases are merely decorative body-color panels; actual expanding sidecases were considered during development but would have yielded little additional stowage capacity and been too costly to produce, says BMW. A 35-liter topcase is optional.
I inserted the key, switched on the ignition, watched the needle for the analog speedometer spin clockwise then counterclockwise around the big dial and thumbed the starter button. The engine sparked to life and settled into a low idle. I kicked up the sidestand (there’s also a centerstand), releasing the clever auto-deploying parking brake. I then rolled open the throttle, planted my boots on the long, rubber-covered floorboards, and the continuously variable transmission with its no-maintenance-chain-in-oil-bath final drive did the rest, shooting me smoothly into traffic. All very scooter-like but with a lot more punch from the engine bay.
That’s an important point: The GT (and the 2-in.-shorter-overall, 25-lb.-lighter Sport) is not a gutless grocery-getter. Both C-bikes are powered by the same liquid-cooled, dohc, eight-valve, 79.0 x 66.0mm, 647cc parallel-Twin, its cylinders sloping forward 70 degrees. BMW claims 60 horsepower at 7500 rpm and nearly 49 foot-pounds of torque at 6000 rpm, well up on the measured-at-the-rear-wheel 36 hp/30 ft.-lb. of the 638cc, 588-pound-dry Suzuki Burgman 650 that Cycle World tested almost a decade ago. Honda’s stratospherically priced 680cc DN-01 of 2009 produced 45 hp and 36 ft.-lb. and weighed 591 lb. without fuel. Unlike the tri-mode-trannied (two automatic, one manual) Burgman and DN-01, the GT and Sport are simply twist-and-go.
This all-new, dry-sump German entry redlines at 8500 rpm, indicated by a liquid-crystal display visible to the right of the speedometer. The instrument cluster also includes fuel and engine oil levels, distances traveled and, via the onboard computer, miles covered on the 1-gallon fuel reserve, date and time, average fuel consumption and rate, ambient temperature and service information.
So, what’s behind all that bodywork? BMW didn’t have a naked example of either the GT or the Sport on hand at the launch, but ghosted press-kit photos reveal the upper two-thirds of a non-adjustable 40mm inverted fork, plus the steel-tube “bridge” frame/subframe, solid-mounted engine and CVT. The left-side, non-linkage, spring-preload-adjustable shock and single-sided aluminum swingarm are partially hidden on the GT, more exposed on the Sport. The gas tank sits between the rider’s lower legs and holds 4.2 gallons—premium, unfortunately.
Motorcycles and scooters were everywhere in Madrid. I zipped easily through traffic, dodging delivery trucks, squeezing past minor jams, splitting lanes where necessary and taking advantage of motorcycle-okay bus lanes. Handling is light, and twin balance shafts reduce engine vibration to not quite electric levels. Pulling firmly on one or preferably both of the span-adjustable hand levers (right for the dual front brakes, left for the rear) brought the GT to immediate, shudder-free stops. The 270mm, twin-piston-caliper brakes are not linked, though ABS is standard. Cast aluminum five-spoke 15-inch wheels are fitted with 120/70 front and 160/60 rear Metzeler Feel Free (GT) or Pirelli Diablo Scooter (Sport) tires.
Back at our hotel, I spoke with product manager Peter Maier, who said the GT and Sport offer distinct advantages over conventional motorcycles, even BMW’s own models.
“Is it a step-through?” he asked. “That means easy access. Is it the agility? It’s easy to handle. The engine has a lot of performance, and you don’t have to shift. You always have enough storage.
“For me, it’s a completely different world compared to motorcycling. I don’t have to consider things that I do while riding [a motorcycle]. I don’t have to wear my complete gear. It’s just so easy.”
Next morning, I was back on a GT for a 100-mile run into the outlying canyons. Chilly temperatures offered an opportunity to further evaluate wind protection (excellent, even at an indicated 110 mph) and the three-stage—Auto, Levels 1 and 2—heated handgrips and seat (also highly effective). The heated elements are part of the Highline Package that includes tire pressure monitors, an LED running light (Europeonly, at least for now) and LED turnsignals on the Sport. When the GT and Sport become available this fall (pricing has not yet been set, but the GT will likely go for $10K, the Sport a few hundred bucks less), accessories will include a GPS, power outlet, tipover protection and an alarm system.
After lunch, I swapped the GT for a Sport, which has a manually adjustable windscreen, a narrower, flatter handlebar and a stepped, 31.8-in.-high seat that doesn’t include the well-shaped, variable-height backrest of the GT. You sit on the Sport and in the GT. Floorboards are nearly as long as those of the GT but more sharply angled at the front; passengers get conventional folding footpegs. A hinged, drop-down FlexCase greatly expands the Sport’s smaller underseat storage area; a safety switch makes sure the engine will not start when the flap is open. As on the GT, the compartment is lighted.
Rolling on 62.6-in. wheelbases, the GT and Sport are as long as some cruisers. But with sportbike-like steering geometry (25.4-degree steering-head angle, 3.6 in. of trail), plus a low center of gravity, they snap into corners with authority. The Sport feels lighter, narrower, a tad quicker and can be ridden even more aggressively. Fork settings are identical, but the GT has a slightly stiffer shock spring due to its greater load capacity.
I never felt like my hands were tied to the front axle like on a racer-replica, but both machines handled everything the road and I threw at them without complaint. Even at extreme lean angles, only the “feelers” screwed into the centerstand touched down.
BMW figures three-quarters of its “planned sales volume” for the GT and Sport will come from Southern Europe, specifically, France, Italy and Spain. What about the U.S., where, unlike across The Pond, motorcycles are still considered by many to be recreational vehicles, scooters are not part of our culture and mass transit is generally reserved for, well, someone else?
“Public transportation is not a solution,” admitted Maier. “For many people, they would never, ever do that. [With the GT or Sport], I am still mobile. There is no problem with traffic congestion. I always find my parking spot because my footprint is much smaller compared to a car. These are the reasons why I see a huge potential in the U.S. market.”
Makes sense to me. What about you?