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.

Screenshot 2018-06-02 at 7

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.


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.


My ’97 F650 lowered to 29.5″ seat height





BMW F650 Maintenance – Brakes – Part 2


Where I left off before going to get the rear tire mounted at BMW

I took the rear wheel down to the BMW dealership in North Hampton, NH and they mounted a new Metzler Tourance 17″ tire on the rim.  Balanced it. They always put in a new tube as well. The technician said the Tourance has an extremely stiff sidewall and the tire machine wouldn’t handle it and he had to fall back to using the spoons.

I said, “Yeah, they’re like concrete.”

He said, “No, concrete has some flex to it. These don’t have any.”

I knew what he was talking about because I had mounted the previous one myself, using the spoons. Well, that experience is why I wanted them to do it.

He said a Dunlop tire, for example, is much more flexible.

But here is a new concept for me. In case of a flat tire or nearly flat tire, I could probably ride on the Tourance with very little air in it. The technician said as much. It’d be tough to change beside the road, but I would be more likely to make it to a garage or home riding on it nearly flat.

I hope I don’t have to test this theory but, on the other hand, it would be good to know if that stiffness is worth anything in a pinch.

Next time around I might try something else. Not sure. I do like the idea of being able to reasonably get the tire off the rim myself and that’s not the case with the Metzler Tourance.

Brake caliper with new pads and new rotor


Before putting the wheel back on, I used a c clamp to move the brake piston back to make room for the new pads and disk. I had to loosen the bleeder valve before it would move. The bleeder valve is the thing with the rubber boot on it near the top left of the photo above. Take the boot off and open it a quarter turn. You should slip a hose over the end to let the brake fluid flow into a container instead of onto the swingarm, etc.

Supposedly, brake fluid will eat the paint off your bike. But I didn’t have a suitable bit of tubing handy, so I just washed it off afterwards. Of course, later, I came across just the right length and size of hose.

With the bleeder closed, I just slipped in the new pads and ran the retainer pin through them and put the spring clip back on. The copper colored parts are the new pads and you can see the retainer pin and spring clip above. With the pads in the caliper, I could slide the new disk in between them as the wheel went on. I had the chain looped over the swing-arm out of the way and after the wheel was more or less in place, there was just enough slack to slip the chain over the sprocket. It all takes a little finesse to make it happen.

By the way, I described the exact brake parts I bought in the previous post.


Wheel back on.

I decided to change the brake fluid. I started with the reservoir half full, opened the bleeder, depressed the pedal, closed the bleeder, let the pedal back up, and repeated until the reservoir was nearly empty. Added new fluid and repeated until the fluid coming out the bleeder looked clear. You can’t let the pedal up while the bleeder is open or it will suck air into the system.

I didn’t mention it earlier, but while the wheel was off I essentially swapped out the original links for lowering links. I had bought a used lowering kit for $150 on eBay which included the links, a shortened side stand and a shorter center stand.

I put on the new center stand and that works perfectly. The side stand was too short, so I put the original back on and it is just about right with the bike lowered. Before, it was too short IMO. I like the bike standing up and it’s now a little long but completely workable. Just be careful, as always, how I park it.


F650 back together and ready to roll. Winter muffs retired.

The seat is 2.5″ lower than the 32-inch original, and I am liking it so far. I didn’t touch the front end, so the steering is a little slower, which I like anyway. The wind coming over the windshield hits me in the middle of the helmet instead of the chin and throat, and a taller aftermarket screen might throw it entirely over my head.

EBC says I need to “bed” the pads and rotor by taking it easy on the brakes for awhile, while applying them often in varying conditions.

My rear brake repair is now complete and I got some other nice improvements while I was at it.

Rear Brakes: $200, Lowering Kit: $150, Rear Tire/Tube mounted and balanced: $230

BMW F650 Maintenance – Rear Brake

Made a trip to the grocery store the other day and I noticed my rear brake wasn’t really working. Front was okay. I don’t use the brakes much but when I do it’s usually the rear brake I go to when I need to slow the bike down a little.  So even without the vehicle inspection issue, I have become quite fond of having a rear brake and I’m sufficiently motivated to fix it.

I’m a shade tree mechanic until I can get my bike shed built, hopefully later this year. That’s right, heartland New Hampshire tactics. At least it’s not a BLUE tarp.


I’m getting a new tire and also lowering the bike and I have it up on the center stand and covered with a tarp in case of rain. I took the rear wheel out first and cleaned it up. I hope to take it to the BMW dealer and have them put a new tire on it, balance it, and check out the spokes and wheel run-out.  I mounted the last tire myself, but thought I would let BMW do this one. I’ll get the wheel to the dealership and wait for it. That’s the plan. I want another Metzler Tourance tire. I put 15K miles on the last one.

Got the tire out by removing the mudguard, taping up the rear brake lever, loosening the chain tensioners, loosening the shaft, blocking under the wheel so it wouldn’t fall, slipping the shaft out, pushing the wheel forward and working the chain off the rear sprocket, and rolling the wheel straight back and letting the brake disk come out from between the pads.

Separated the sprocket and cush drive from the rest of the wheel. You have to be careful of the brake disk, although it would take a fair amount or force to bend it.

I look at the Clymer manual occasionally to make sure I’m not getting way off course. I’ve had it all apart more than once before.

With the wheel out I could see the inside pad looked pretty thin and I would likely have to replace the pads. With the wheel out, the brake caliper tends to fall off the bike, so I reinserted the shaft and clamped the caliper onto the swing arm so I could tap out the keeper pin after removing the spring clip retainer.


The left end of the keeper pin has a hole for the spring clip retainer.

As you can see, the pin is fairly corroded and I should replace it, but I’m not going to. For one thing, even if the pin is corroded, you can still tap it out easily because it is the brass springy collar that is holding it it. Once you tap the pin about 1/8th inch towards the wheel, it just comes out easily the rest of the way. Also, the corrosion is superficial and it’s just a keeper pin to keep the brake pads from falling off the bike. The braking forces don’t go through the pin. Also, it’s easy enough to replace later when it’s convenient to pick up a new one.

With the pin out, the pads come right out. As suspected the inside pad was worn down to the minimum thickness, .060″, about 1/16th inch. (1.5 mm). I measured it with a dial caliper. I got .130″ for the metal part and .190″ overall.


The way the light is hitting the photo of the pad, the striations seem pronounced but the disk itself still seems reasonably smooth to me. I checked the disk thickness with a micrometer and got .180″ where the pads contact it. You can’t use the vernier because the outer edge of the disk is unworn and the straight caliper jaws would simply give you a reading of the unworn part. The outer edge was about .200″, which is the thickness of a new one.

Whoa!  I checked the BMW spec and it says .180″ is the minimum thickness! Looks like I need a new disk (rotor).

I poked around the internet and decided the pads I want are these:

EBC Brake ads

They are on order. Two days, prime. Tough to beat. $36.21

Here’s what I bought for a rear rotor replacement. $148.28.  Prime shipping also. I got the MD651 part number off the EBC web site.

EBC Rotor

In the center of the caliper is the cylinder (piston) that pushes on the outer pad. The inner pad just rests against the stationary inner (wheel-side) wall of the caliper. The piston is the thing about 1.5″ in diameter.


As the pads wear, that cylinder moves more to the right and the level of fluid in the reservoir will drop a corresponding amount. When I install the new pads, I’ll have to force that cylinder to the left to make room and that will raise the reservoir level. Mine is about half full, so there should be enough room for it to back up in there. Brake fluid can damage your paint, so you don’t want it overflowing.

I think the master cylinder and caliper are fine because I don’t have any fluid leaking anywhere.

After I get it back together, I’m going to replace the brake fluid, but I’ll leave that to another post.


F650 Valve Adjustment

The BMW F650 has one cylinder with four valves and solid (non-hydraulic) lifters, two exhaust valves in the front and two intake in the rear. The clearance between the cam and the lifter is supposed to be .004″ to .006″ for all four valves with the engine cold.

On my bike the left intake was .003″ and the right exhaust was .007″ and the others .005″ and it has been that way ever since the bike had a few thousand miles on it. Now with 15K miles, I decided it was time to try adjusting them.

Checking the clearance involves removing body panels, the fuel tank, the valve cover and then positioning the engine rotation properly, and then slipping feeler gauges between the cams and the lifters. The Clymer manual covers it well, and the process is straightforward, but it is still a lot of work. Adjusting the clearance is much worse because you have to remove the overhead cams, remove the adjustment shims on the offending valves, measure them and compute what they should be, order new ones and wait for them to come in, and then reassemble everything.

The shims are about 1.125″ in diameter and come in various thicknesses in .002″ increments. They sit in a little recess in the top of the lifter, which is shaped like an inverted cup. BMW uses the metric system but my 1″ micrometer is in .001″ increments, so I had to convert to millimeters. Incidentally, it’s easy to interpolate between marks to a precision of .0005″, and that’s what I did.


The old shims were not worn and still had the original thickness.

The exhaust valve with the loose .007″ clearance measured .0985″ (2.50mm). I reasoned that I needed a thicker shim to make the clearance less so I ordered a 2.55mm shim from BMW. (.05 mm is .002″ and .002″ thicker would theoretically give me the desired .005″ clearance.)

The intake valve with the tight .003″ clearance measured .0945″ (2.4mm). I needed a .002″ thinner shim to get the .005″ clearance, so I ordered a 2.35mm shim.

I’m a “shade tree” mechanic, so I covered the open top end of the engine with a clean plastic bag and then put the tarp over the bike and waited about three days for the new shims to come in. I reassembled everything using a torque wrench, some Loctite 235 on the internal bolts and a slathering of oil on sliding surfaces, rotated the engine a few times and checked the clearance. It was .005″ on all four valves!

The two main difficulties I encountered were one, deciding not to be daunted by it and two, adding and subtracting appropriately with confidence. Maybe I should have been daunted.

The good news is the valve clearance seems to not change at all once the engine has been run in those first few thousand miles. I think it’s better to have a system that is hard to adjust but stays adjusted rather than one you have to keep adjusting all the time.


You have to remove a spark plug in order to easily spin the engine into position, and I used my pressure washer with the 15 degree nozzle to blow the dirt out from around the base of the plugs so it wouldn’t wind up in the cylinder. But after removing the tank, I noticed there was some grit sitting on the frame and the spark plug wires. I had already put the washer away so I left the grit there, but it was sitting right above the valve cover and could have dropped into the cam area. I was careful, but I should have taken the time to clean off all the dirt above the area where the engine would be wide open. At least I covered it while waiting for the parts to come in.

Coincidentally, when I was on my way to Stowe, Vermont I stopped in Barre to check my navigation on the iPhone. A guy walked up to me and struck up a conversation about the bike. He had worked on them and knew all about adjusting the valves on an F650 and other makes as well. He said they would often leave them alone if they were only .001″ out of spec. I prefer to feel righteous about having my valves dead on spec rather than stupid at having wasted a lot of time and effort. But my instincts were right in taking my time before actually getting into the cam tear-down scenario.

A valve that is .001″ out of spec allows you to buy a shim that is .002″ different and bring the clearance right to the middle of the .004″-.006″ tolerance. I think that is the exact scenario it was designed to handle, given the spec and that the shims come in .002″ increments. And…if you are checking the clearances every 6000 miles, like you are supposed to, and at some point make the adjustment like I did, I doubt you will ever see anything more than the .001″.

Stowe, Vermont

If you are going to Stowe to attend a wedding, I recommend riding your motorcycle. I took the occasion to do just that and try out my new Saddlemen TS3200 rear bag.  I had recently adjusted the valves, changed the coolant and put in the 20W50 summer weight oil. The bike was loaded and I ran 32 psi in the front tire and 34 in the rear.


Saddlemen TS3200 bag with the bike rain cover on top of it.

The bag sits on the passenger seat and just clears my back. I can lean back onto it or not. Pretty much ideal in that respect. I have to help my leg bend enough to clear it when getting on and off. I can still open the top box enough to get at the contents pretty well. The bag hangs down over the sides of the seat, but is still well above the exhaust, and it sits just in front of the rear directional lights. It’s held securely with quick-disconnect straps, sort of pulled back against the top box, conforming to the shape of the available space.

The bike is more top heavy when loaded this way but it handles fine once you get rolling.

I was headed to the Field Guide Inn there and got Google Maps to cook up this 123 mile “back roads” route through the mountains northwest of Plymouth, NH and into Vermont. It was a sunny, 70 degree day. Perfect. I wore my Revit Wind summer weight armored jacket my wife recently bought me. Very comfortable all the way up.



Bridge over the Connecticut River between Piermont, NH and Bradford, VT

The roads typically follow small rivers flowing towards the big Connecticut River and I leaned into a lot of curves on the way to Stowe.

I arrived at almost the same time as my wife, who prefers her Infiniti G37X over anything with only two wheels.


The newlyweds

In addition to a great wedding, great food and company, we enjoyed hiking in the area, visiting Moss Pond Waterfall and Bingham Falls in Smuggler’s Notch.


Moss Pond Falls – about 60 feet top to bottom

Stowe is a wonderful place to spend some relaxing time.

On the way home, though, the iPhone radar was showing rain approaching from the west. It was 42 degrees. I layered up and wore the Sedici three-season jacket that I had squirreled away in the TS3200. Also the down mittens with wool liners. Got on I 89 for the short run from Waterbury down to Barre, but the bike felt so good with little wind that I decided to cover some quick miles by staying on the interstate down to New London and then taking NH Route 11 east. I was comfortable running 65-75 mph with an occasional unintended streak near 80 mph. The bike always runs silky smooth in 5th gear and the torque peaks by design at 70-75. I only passed a few vehicles because I was mostly just keeping up with traffic in the right lane.

Stopped for gas and then again for a quick snack. Pulled into the driveway just ahead of some heavy rain. I love radar!

New F650 Seat Cover


The seat had suffered some cosmetic damage way back in the late 1990’s. Also, the cover had started to crack in a couple places. A new seat from BMW is $376. A custom seat from Corbin or Sargent is even more.

I bought a new cover from Northwest Classics in Canada (via eBay) for about $70 including shipping.

The seat foam is supposedly attached to the original cover so it is recommended to install the new cover over the old one, which is what I did. You can use staples or pop rivets, but I didn’t have a suitable staple gun and I thought the rivets would work better. The plastic seat shell is about .080″ (2 mm) thick so I bought some rivets what would squish down to about .125″ (3mm) in length. They seemed to work well. Drill a .125″ hole through the cover and the shell, insert the rivet and collapse it with the tool.

I taped a metal spacer onto the drill bit and chuck so that only about 1/4″ was exposed. I didn’t want to drill through the old cover, the shell, the seat foam, the old cover again and (game over) the new cover.


The cover had a white chalk line on it where it should align with the edge of the plastic shell. I attached the cover at the front and back and then stretched it side to side and riveted it at the ends of the seams. Then stretched and riveted as needed to get the cover tight against the old one.

I used a heat gun to make stretching easier, but it would have been better to do it in the sun on a hot day, I think. Also, the stretch for the first of the side rivets later became insufficient as I had to gradually stretch it more to get the cover tight. The cover seems to perform just fine, but I can imagine needing some flat washers to prevent critical rivets from tearing out.

After the seat was on, I had to clean and wax the rest of the bike to match the new look.


Serious Riders

There are several MAX BMW dealerships in the northeast, but the one closest to me is in North Hampton, NH on the old scenic Route 1 that hugs the coast from Fort Kent, Maine down to Key West, Florida, making it the longest north-south road in the USA. It’s no accident that BMW Motorrad would show up on a long road.

I buy my 1997 F650 parts from MAX BMW and I’ve had a bunch of deliveries over the past couple years, but I had never actually been in the dealership. Until Friday. I don’t consider myself part of the BMW scene, but I was curious to learn more about it.

It was the best day so far this spring and I headed for the coast by way of National Powersports Distributors in Pembroke, NH on Route 3.


National Powersports Distributors. About 2/3 of the showroom.

At NPD, I was looking for the DR650 they had for sale, just to sit on it and check the suspension sag with my 155 lbs on it. Curiosity. Well, I think the 35 inch seat height may not be as bad as it sounds. You can routinely drop it to 33 but is it really necessary? Don’t know. But it was under deposit and not on the showroom floor. They sell Royal Enfield and Triumph new, but most of the inventory is pristine pre-owned bikes from all the major brands. And…mostly cruisers. Lots. I like this place. You can sit on everything from the smallest Ruckus to the largest Goldwing.

I continued south on Route 3, then east on Route 27 through a bit of the heartland to Raymond, NH.

As it was today, the New Hampshire heartland is often a huge shiny semi-tractor parked beside a small faded double-wide, a patch of grass with a few flowers in a modest circle of white rocks, and a tiny pink bicycle laying on the gravel.

I stopped for lunch at a lonely Subway and then continued on 27 to Route 101 and over to Hampton, then north on the famous Route 1 past the massive Seacoast Harley Davidson dealership.

Seacoast Harley-Davidson Exterior Exterior Flags

Seacoast Harley Davidson

MAX BMW was just ahead.  I had checked GoogleMaps on my iPhone a couple times to make sure I was headed right. Easy.


North Hampton MAX BMW Dealership

The picture above is deceiving. This is a substantial dealership with over 100 BMWs on the property, most of them new or nearly new inventory. The building goes very deep on the site, with service taking up the back half of it.

I chatted amiably with a couple of the staff and discovered they only had one G650GS in house and that one only because it was damaged in shipment and needed a special part. The F650 style engine like mine has finally come to the end of the production cycle that started in Europe in the early 1990s. No more 650 engines in the lineup for the near future, at least.

The new G310R won’t arrive in the USA until after this riding season and they wouldn’t say anything about price. But they are going to offer a scrambler version of it that sounds interesting. That means a high pipe and knobby tires, plus some other more nuanced modifications.


G310R Scrambler

The big machines like the K1600 are amazing and overwhelming but one “smaller bike” that caught my eye was the RNineT. By the way, they mentioned a scrambler version of this bike coming as well.


It’s not apparent in photos, but when you approach the bike, you are struck by the massive engine. In fact, up close the bike looks to be all engine. The cylinders are huge and protruding. About 600 cubic centimeters each. It’s a modern production version of the very appealing custom cafe racers built from older K100-style and boxer-engine bikes:


A new RNineT lists somewhere in the vicinity of $15K.

I bought a quart of concentrated coolant for $8.

Well, the BMW motorcycle offerings are expensive, matching Harley Davidson dollar for outrageous dollar, but beyond price the BMW culture begins to diverge from HD, and one of the clues jumping out at me is the difference in riding apparel.

I wanted to look at the riding gear at MAX BMW, specifically jackets, and what they had was armored riding suits. And boots. $1100 and $450, respectively.

While I was there I saw a customer leaving on his bike and I was struck by the scene. A guy in a Shuberth helmet, BMW riding suit and boots guiding a big adventure bike out into traffic. His gear had some miles on it but was in great shape. He looked like a serious rider. A lot like this rider:


Typical? BMW Rider.

Think Ewan and Charlie in The Long Way ‘Round.

By contrast, Harley riders in New Hampshire often wear no helmet, lightweight clothes, and no gloves. This spring, though, I typically see jeans and a conventional leather jacket.

I think Harley riders are American riders and BMW riders are more European. On a recent trip to France and Spain I noticed the motorcyclists tended to take their riding pretty seriously. Traffic moves fast on difficult roads and both the gear and the bikes were high end. Their licensing system tends to support that theory. You just don’t ride a big bike over there without being really into it in every way.

BMWs are around-the-world machines, much more so than Harleys, both in presence and distances traveled. I want to say the riders are serious without detracting from the American style of riding, which is more iconic, relaxed, and leisure oriented.

Certainly there are posers, people who fancy an expensive motorcycle and gear, with whom the sport never rises much above a dalliance. But I think generally the BMW motorcycle culture in the USA is much more than that. Riders committed to safety while pursuing real adventure, whether it be the enjoyment of practical all-weather commuting, long distance travel, or off road exploring. After all, the R1200GS is the worldwide gold standard of adventure bikes.

North of Portsmouth I picked up Route 16 towards the White Mountains, but switched over to Route 125 to avoid the tolls. I had a vision of dropping the F650 at the booth trying to pay with my gloved-lined mittens. After Rochester, Route 11 took me to Alton and then back to Gilford.

Incidentally, on a motorcycle on a warm spring day, the view along the west shore of Alton Bay looking north to the mountains ranks among the finest scenic experiences anywhere.