F650 Power on the Highway

My ’97 BMW F650 will supposedly put out 48 horsepower at 7500 rpm, but in practice I don’t cruise much over 5000 rpm (75 mph in 5th gear). Why? Vibration, engine sound, intuition and fear. Mainly fear.

Significantly, 5000 rpm is the smooth, high-power sweet spot for the F650 Rotax engine.

At 5000 rpm I can go up the hills typically found on the interstate or roll on more power to get past a truck. I can slow down a bit and then speed up without shifting. And the bike will keep it up all day long.

That said, I am usually more comfortable riding around 65 mph at about 4300 rpm. Everything feels more relaxed. I don’t have as much horsepower to work with but it is manageable.

But if I have to slow down to 55 mph for some reason, I will have to down shift to go up a hill or accelerate. At 3600 rpm, the engine isn’t putting out enough power to do those things in high gear. After all, the bike weighs about 430 lbs. and I’m 170 armored up plus about 60 lbs. of luggage. So about 660 lbs. total. And I have a big windshield pushing the air off me.

I do have stock sprockets, so if I changed the front 16 tooth for a 15, I would be running 5000 rpm at 70 mph. That might give me a machine that is better matched to my style of riding.  Some of the guys on the F650 Chain Gang recommend the 15 tooth sprocket. I may try it.

I’m basing my thinking on a recent 6500 mile trip with much of it over 60 mph on a loaded bike.

If you are going to ride the interstate or the high speed two lane roads in the West, especially with a load, the kind of power I get from the F650 is probably a minimum. Otherwise, you will be shifting all day long and constantly reminded that you are on the wrong bike.

Even on the F650, the Road Kings rocket by me, their riders seemingly carefree with their feet stretched way out in front. They look like they’re watching TV.

 

 

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2018 Trail of Tears

7:30 AM September 15

The F650 and I lined up in Bridgeport, Alabama at the start of the 2018 Trail of Tears Commemorative Ride:

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Better shot of the trike in the foreground:

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The trike rider:

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73rd birthday. He was riding for Native Americans and friends lost in Viet Nam. But it was also “Adventure Before Dementia.” Right on.

More riders behind us. And still more kept joining all along the 220 mile route through Huntsville to Waterloo:

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Police with their cruisers manned all the intersections, letting the bikes through. Farmers parked their big equipment at the edges of fields along the route. Local fire trucks turned out.

People in cars, on motorcycles, bicycles, tractors and trucks waved. The police waved. Fire people waved. Old couples waved. Families with young children waved.

Respect for those who sacrificed much more than their share.

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By the time the lead motorcycles got to the Cherokee encampment and commemorative powwow at Waterloo, the bikes stretched out for 25 miles.

Staying Dry

On September 10, 2018 I left Gilford, NH on the F650 bound for Alabama. I put on my rain gear west of Hartford, CT just before the patch of blue and green and yellow (yes, yellow heavy rain!) on the radar.

Boot covers, rain pants and jacket. The handlebar muffs and 20″ Clearview windshield were already on the bike.

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I could see on the radar that I would have to ride through a band of rain. Couple of hours. No problem.

Except I didn’t realize what was going to happen on the 11th. It doesn’t really show up on the radar, but you can get a dense, foggy mist with the air saturated with water. Not much of it hits the roadway. The road is wet, but there are no standing layers of water on it. No hydroplaning worries. But riding through that wet air will soak you just as much as a light rain. And it lasted most of the day.

I had a bunch of ink-jet printed maps in my tank bag. They were right where the water dripped off my helmet onto the front of my jacket and then onto the bag. Totally ruined. Threw them out. The maps were gone before they were ever used. I didn’t even get into unknown territory.

Quite a bit of other stuff in the tank bag was in plastic bags and was okay.

I had a few new rags to use to clean up things but they got soaked before I could use them. I knew I wouldn’t get them dry so I tossed them. Brand new.

Most of my clothes in the rear bag were in plastic bags and were fine.

My top box will admit water also, so really all three of my storage spaces got wet and only the secondary waterproofing saved things.

The boot covers worked well enough except the soles were slippery on wet pavement (you could drop the bike) and they are a bit awkward to wear into a convenience store to buy something or use the restroom after fueling the bike. But they are cheap, don’t take up much room and will keep your feet dry.

BootCovers

Boot Covers from Amazon. $18

So I learned a few things:

  1. If you don’t want something to get wet, keep it in a plastic bag.
  2. Your feet are the first thing to get soaked. Spray off the front wheel, I guess. Boot covers take care of it.
  3. The bottom of your helmet liner is going to absorb water and you will be  sliding this cold, wet thing over your head when you put the helmet on.
  4. Rain jacket and pants help, but where the water continually hits the fabric, it will saturate and pass some water through.
  5. The Oxford RainSeal Handlebar Muffs help, but some water is still going to get on your gloves or mittens. Enough to eventually soak through.
  6. I think $300 waterproof motorcycle boots would be better in the rain than boot covers. On the other hand, the covers will get you through a little rain just fine.
  7. A good riding suit or pants/jacket set would be ideal for extended travel in the rain.. The fewer separate items to deal with the better.
  8. A couple hours of light rain is one thing, but a whole day or multiple days of rain will get you pretty wet.
  9. The helmet clear outer faceshield gets wet, but you can see fine in the daylight. At night, the light refracts off the droplets and makes it hard to see. Don’t ride at night in the rain.
  10. Use radar to minimize your exposure.
  11. Traffic on the interstate will kick up a spray that will soak you.
  12. You have less traction in the rain, especially on the painted lines.
  13. Carrying extra weight on the bike is more dangerous in the rain.
  14. Run tires that are decent on wet pavement. Less to worry about.
  15. The windshield does generally keep the water off things behind it. The iPhone navigator is okay on the handlebars in a light rain or mist. It’s dry when moving but will get sprinkled on when stopped.
  16. Your face shield will fog up when stopped in cooler weather, but will clear out when moving. Opening the vents will help. You might need to flip it up until you get moving.
  17. How are you going to pay a toll in the rain? My EasyPass didn’t work reliably. In one case there was a bar in front of me that would’t lift until I backed up and took a ticket. Where are you going to put a ticket in the rain?
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Face shield will fog when stopped

It’s possible to let the rain get you down, but an alternative attitude is to decide to get really good at it. Solve the problems. Plan better for it. Gear up for it.

And if you own a BMW, there is a de facto expectation that you are a competent rain rider. I don’t know why.

 

 

 

UFO Encounter

I was doing 60 mph in Burlington, Iowa approaching the Great River Bridge over the Mississippi when a light colored object flew into the left front of my F650. It was just a blur, but I felt it hit. The bike began to stumble, losing power, and the staggering continued so I pulled over and shut it down.

I was in an awkward spot between a steep embankment on the right and heavy traffic on the left.

I got off and looked over the front of the motorcycle for damage. Couldn’t find any. Tried a restart but it would barely run. I was unhurt. Nonetheless, the situation was getting dicey.

After some minutes of wondering what had happened and what could be wrong with the bike, I came up with nothing. I toyed with the idea of a coincidence because that opened up a bigger range of possible explanations. Still, nothing made sense.

Then a vague thought came to mind. Have I experienced this sort of engine staggering before? Maybe. When the enrichment lever is on when it shouldn’t be?

The enrichment lever is like a choke, except it adds more gas to the mix instead of restricting the air. You start the F650 in cold weather by moving the enrichment lever toward you, press the start button, and then release the enrichment lever once the engine is running.

Could that be it?

I looked at the control pod on the left handlebar. Sure enough, the lever was half on. Something had hit the lever and shoved it back until that something hit the left mirror post also, stopping any further movement.

I pushed the lever all the way off, started the bike and it ran fine.

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Enrichment lever mysteriously turned on

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I moved the lever forward to the off position.

UFOs may be imaginary, but that one shut down my motorcycle.

F650 Tank Bag

A tank bag would be nice for my upcoming motorcycle odyssey. I have looked at them off and on over the years but I’ve never connected with anything. They’re either too expensive, too hard to attach to a non-magnetic tank, too small, wrong color or style, or specific to a different bike.

Then I remembered I had an old backpack in great condition that is just the right size.

Yes!

It went right on the bike without a whimper.

Okay, it whimpered a little when I cut the backpacking straps off it.

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Here is the bag mounted securely to the bike with nothing in it.

 

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It’s a nice LLBean backpack/laptop carrier with 4 exterior pockets facing the rider. Mesh pockets on the sides. Large internal storage space.

The top of the pack has a couple handle loops and a sturdy fabric wrapper enclosing both loops and fastened with Velcro. That was so you could carry the pack with the top handle.

I passed the fabric handle in between the handlebar risers and then attached my phone mount. The fabric handle loops around the base of the phone mount and can’t slide back out. That’s how I attached the top of the pack to the bike.

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The phone mount base sticks down below the handlebar enough to prevent the fabric pack handle from sliding out.

The straps had connected to the bottom of the pack with snap hooks. I retained the bottom section of strap, punched a hole through the nylon webbing with a pointy tool and attached the webbing to the bike under an existing body screw, one on each side.

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The snap hook with adjustable strap is anchored under existing body screw.

That’s all there is too it.

A place up front for all my quick-access stuff.

 

Windscreen for the ’97 F650

The original 16″ windscreen has a 21-year-old yellow effect and since I lowered the bike it has been sending air into the middle of my face mask. Noisy.

Also, I’m planning a 6000 mile trip in a few weeks. Time for a new, bigger windshield.

So I bought a 21″ high, clear, widened screen from Clearview, which seems to be the only supplier still offering a big windshield for the classic F650.

Clearview says you need to look over the top of the screen and be able to see an object on the ground 50 feet away. The problem is your windshield angles back and the original is 16″ along this slope, but it’s hard to know where the top of the new windshield will be. My new one curves upward near the top and so reaches higher than I thought it would.

But it went on fine. You leave the protective film on until you decide to keep it. I test rode it and discovered that my head got tossed around at 55 mph and above. Serious buffeting. Dramatically so.

It was looking like I would be sending it back, but I’m not one to give up that easily, especially after experiencing the seductive coziness of a big windshield.

Maybe I could shift the turbulence further back. I tried angling the screen back by effectively moving the two center mounting holes upward by making a 1/4″ x 5/8″ x 1 1/4″ adapter block out of black Nylon 6/6 (one for each hole) that has a flat head screw going into the rubber sleeve/nut in the dash and a tapped hole offset 5/8″ to receive a screw through the windshield. The screen pivoted on the outer two mounting screws, opening up a gap in the center. I also added some spacers on the outer mounts.

I could see over the top of it much better and the buffeting was somewhat improved with some air coming in under the lead edge.

But then I checked online and discovered the need for “lowers”. Baffles near the side of the gas tank near the front. At 55-60 mph I could put my hand right there and the buffeting would go away.

So I fashioned baffles from 1/4″ black acetal and screwed them onto the front fairing. I would have used 1/8″ but I didn’t have enough of that thickness on hand.

The buffeting is gone. What a pleasure doing 55-70 mph in relatively calm air. Still enough air moving through my helmet, though.

 

Cockpit

Cockpit view of windshield and lower baffles

RightRear

Clearview Windshield and custom lower baffles

FrontView

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Baffle screwed onto the front fairing.

I’m definitely keeping the windshield.

Even angled back though, I still had to modify my bike shelter to accommodate the taller screen.

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Drive the bike in and it stands up by itself. Pull the tarp over the back part of the bike. Minimalist, but effective.

Lowering the F650

Yes, I’ve seen those videos of a short guy riding a DRZ400 with a 37″ seat height, mounting it like a bicycle. And read about “sissies” who lowered their bikes only to reverse them back to the more manly original height. What’s the big deal about dropping a bike anyway? Some people do it several times a season.

On the other hand, most of the bikes on the road are low-seat cruisers. Why is that?

I also see Can Am Spyders and a surprising number of HD trikes and a few sidecar rigs like the vintage Ural up the street from me. Adding a third wheel helps keep the whole thing upright, but you lose a big part of the 2-wheel magic.

I can ride a tall bike, but I don’t have to. I could ride a short one. A light one. Or a  three wheeler. But I have yet to find a bike that beats my 1997 BMW F650, all things considered, so why not just see if I can make it a little easier to ride.

The stock seat is 32″ high and about 10″ wide. It’s hard to stretch your legs over something that wide and still get your feet down onto the ground. My modest 30″ inseam doesn’t help.

I can flat foot it if I really work at stretching my legs over the narrowest part of the seat. Typically though, sitting at a light my heels are a bit off the ground or one foot flat down and the other touching down on the ball of the foot.

I had dropped the bike once, four years ago while duck-walking a turn over a rough spot in my primitive driveway. It was early days of getting back into motorcycling. That’s my excuse. Since then, I’ve managed to keep the rubber side down.

So I can manage 450 lbs. of relatively high center of gravity motorcycle with my feet not comfortably flat on the ground, but I thought I would see what a lower version would be like.

I bought a used $150 BMW lowering kit on eBay that included the longer links, shorter side-stand and shorter center-stand.

The links change out pretty easily with the bike on the center stand and the rear wheel removed. The side stand is easy and the center stand is a little less easy. The difficult part is stretching the stand return springs back on.

The seat is now 29.5″. I didn’t touch the front end.

Yes, it’s easier to handle the bike on rough or uneven ground or in parking lots, backing up and generally horsing it around in the driveway, but what I didn’t expect was the improvement in side wind gust resistance at speed on the highway. It tracks better and is more of a straight line machine than it was before.

Of course, it doesn’t steer quite as quickly as it did. Something to get used to. But I’m a conservative rider and it doesn’t seem to be a problem for my riding style. And I can still swerve around obstacles in the road.

Rake and Trail

The lowering kit increases the rake by about 3 degrees to 31, putting it into cruiser territory. The trail also increased and is now about 5 inches. Rake is the angle the fork makes with the vertical. If you extend this line to the pavement it will be in front of the point where the tire contacts the road and the distance between those two points is the trail. The rake/trail of a sport bike is typically 26/3, a dual sport 28/4, and a cruiser 32/5.

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CycleWorld rake and trail illustration. A is the rake angle. B is the trail distance.

I could reduce the rake and trail by lowering the front end also, but I want to get used to it the way it is before changing anything.

Summary

It looks and feels a bit less dual sport and a bit more standard than it did before and that is okay with me.

Easier to handle when stopped on uneven ground. Easier to back up. Steering a little slower. It was probably too quick before anyway. Fantastic wind stability.

The original windshield is now throwing more rough air at my helmet so I want to try a taller windshield to see if I can quiet things down. As it is now, no windshield at all is better because the helmet air is not turbulent.

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My ’97 F650 lowered to 29.5″ seat height