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.


Cold Weather Riding: Part 4

Here in the middle of New Hampshire winter, it has actually warmed up a bit, hitting the mid 30’s F during the day. The roads are more or less bare and dry. Lovely riding weather!

But I know winter riding isn’t for everyone. If I had $16K or more invested in a showroom condition chrome goddess, for example, there might only be 3 or 4 worthy riding days a year.   More generally, though, most North American motorcycles are ridden for pleasure and pleasure rides are typically long, often a whole day. Winter is too cold for that.

Conventional wisdom assumes you will properly prep your bike for storage, squirrel it away in late fall, and then prep it again for riding in the spring. Even a serious enthusiast like Peter Egan of Cycle World keeps his Wisconsin garage door shut this time of year.

For these and many other reasons, winter riding is almost universally a non-starter. And that means I am definitely interested in doing it.

My winter prep is simple. Late last fall I changed the normal 20W50 oil to 10W40. Coated vulnerable parts with ACF50 aircraft corrosion inhibitor.  Snapped the big muffs over the handlebar controls. That’s it. Good to go.

By cold weather, I mean 10 degrees F overnight and 20 degrees or more when I start it. Nothing severe. But even with the lighter oil, the engine is pretty stiff cranking over. If I have enough time, I like to put the bike up on the center stand, start it, and then let it idle until it thoroughly warms up.


After the initial cold start, there is a big white vapor stream coming out the exhaust, but after it warms up the white puffs disappear. I usually make a few short trips during the day and the subsequent starts are more like normal warm-weather starts.

The spots on the pavement are frost droplets that melted and ran off the dark cover after the sun had been on it for awhile. Normally the bike is under a tarp/enclosure at the house we are building, but last night I left it in the parking lot behind our condo. I know where to park it so no space ranger will run over it in the dim pre-dawn light.

There is something very satisfying about firing up the trusty BMW, defying the cold. The bike is like medicine and road conditions can leave it sitting for days at a time and me in a funk. Sure, I can borrow my wife’s Infiniti and enjoy those heated seats and the “snow-mode” AWD traction, but the F650 is the thing that puts the happy magic on me. It’s what I need.

I do a lot of shuttling back and forth between the new house and the condo. It’s about 1/4 mile. For these brief trips I don’t need any special clothing no matter what the temperature, just what I would normally wear outside. Plus helmet of course.

A serious winter ride for me is 20-25 minutes at 25 degrees, and I dress warm.

The head gets a close fitting black balaclava under the full face modular black HJC helmet with internal sun shade. When stopped, the clear visor can fog up so I try to exhaust my breath out the bottom of the helmet. Worst case I can partially raise the visor to see while stopped then drop it when I get under way. The sun shade seems to help with the fogging, somehow altering the air flow in front of my face.

Here’s a secret: The full face modular helmet is like sticking your head into an insulated case and it’s amazing how a warm head will tame the cold. Huddled inside their cars, you just know people are wondering what’s wrong with you, out there in the brutal cold. For some reason a snowmobile rider (also wearing a helmet) makes more sense to them, but I’d rather be me with my short, useful rides.

The torso gets a cotton T shirt, a long sleeved mock turtle neck UnderArmor layer, a light wool long sleeved layer,  a second UnderArmor layer, a turtle neck long sleeved cotton pullover, a light down jacket and finally my windproof warm-up jacket.  Seven relatively thin layers.

By the way, bright sunshine in the cold is worth almost 10 degrees F of comfort.

Legs have tight fitting UnderArmor bottoms and Duluth canvas work pants with cargo pockets.

Feet get ordinary winter socks and my Skarpa insulated, waterproof hiking boots.  I have good circulation in my feet.

For the hands, I use an UnderArmor mitten liner glove, down mittens, and the handlebar muffs. My hand circulation is not that great, so they can get chilled on a long ride. Mittens make it harder to operate the directional button and especially the high beam switch, but the clutch, front brake and throttle are manageable and not a safety issue.

It sounds like a lot to deal with, but working on the house I already have a a lot of it on. The thing is, this configuration works for me. I can ride in comfort with confidence, knowing I will be fine. Worst case I feel a little chill near the end of the ride. I prefer the low tech approach and have so far resisted electric heat of any kind on my short trips. Winter touring would be another story.

Surprise! Wind chill is mostly irrelevant in winter riding.  Why? You are already moving through the air at 40-50 mph and that’s typically much more than any breezes in the forecast. So whether the wind is blowing or not, you have already covered that issue with your gear. Winter wind briefly becomes an issue when you are stopped and have your gloves off to organize things or work on the bike. Fueling it, etc.

Keep in mind that cold tires don’t grip the pavement as well as warm tires, and the road can have a light dusting of sand or salt, or patches of black ice in the morning from snowbanks melting onto the roadway and freezing overnight. You have to ride more conservatively. Extensive black ice is a show stopper, by the way. It is fortunate, in one sense, that the suspension is stiffer in the cold. It offers a bumpy reminder of the wintry conditions. But with the upright F650, I can easily shift my weight onto the pegs and glide over anything.

I don’t see any other bikes on the road, and I do mean none, when the temperature drops below 40F and stays there. Winter riding is apparently a secret pleasure. What is the secret? If you have a minimalist attitude, warm clothes, flexible schedule, the need to make a lot of short purposeful trips and a bike that weathers well, you can keep the motorcycle magic going all winter long.

Motorcycle Maintenance: Workspace

Motorcyle Living Room

A garage is what you want but your apartment will do in an emergency, especially in winter. The latter if you’re living alone, of course. Well, I suggest the living room because you won’t have thought of it by yourself unless you have those good hillbilly instincts. Under a shade tree, beside the road, on your driveway or a parking lot, in a travel tent, a shed, a rented van or wherever your imagination takes you, you can temporarily create a workspace to do anything from changing your oil to rebuilding your engine.

Motorcycle Workshop

Your “shop” floor should be able to stand some minor fluid spills and be clean and smooth enough to not swallow up any dropped fasteners or small tools. Incidentally, when you lose a fastener inside the motorcycle, always take the time to retrieve it, no matter how long it takes. You don’t want to lose mental control of the bike, with unknown pieces of past sessions floating around, ready to do mischief while you are riding. So before you start removing outer panels to look for it, you need to know it is actually in the bike somewhere and not already on the ground.

Outdoor Motorcycle MechanicIf I am disassembling the bike at all, I like a large plastic tarp spread out nearby. I place a part on the tarp, along with the fasteners for it. When reassembling, the correct fasteners are right there. You should carry a tarp on the bike anyway.



If your workspace is outside you’ll need access to good weather information. I like the radar app on my iPhone. The screen above shows me getting a dose of red-level rain. Try to complete your tasks in-between storms.

touring motorcycle repair

Ted Simon rebuilt the engine in his Triumph Tiger, Jupiter, several times during his four-year odyssey around the world. He did his own work and tended to rent a bay in an existing repair facility with access to tools and relevant supplies.

outdoor motorcycle repair

The reflection in the air cleaner cover evokes the scenario of having to work on your bike beside the road. I want to be able to fix a flat tire, sure, but not much more than that with traffic whizzing by. It’s a case for preemptive bike maintenance where ideally parts get replaced before they fail.

We don’t have room on our property for a garage, so heaven for me is going to be a heatable shed big enough to do some work in. I don’t count on getting to heaven, though, at least not for the next little while.

The $2500 Motorcycle: Part Two

Inexpensive Motorcycles

I would love to buy this 1997 BMW F650. It’s currently on Craigslist New Hampshire, listed for $2250, 15,000 miles, good condition, new tires, battery, chain, sprockets, with minor scratches and a slightly cracked windscreen (near a mounting screw).

Unfortunately, I already own one! And I haven’t yet figured out how to make a case that I need two of them. Maybe because I don’t need two of them. I don’t have the space, time, money or rationale for it. I just like the idea of two. Or maybe I just like the fact that for $2250 I can buy a perfectly good motorcycle that is very capable on the roads of New Hampshire. Going further, it is arguably the ideal machine for someone like me, all things considered.


First, a dual sport works well for me. The suspension has more travel than a typical street bike, making it better on rough roads. You sit upright, making it easy to take your weight off the seat when a big bump appears. You can ride it standing on very rough going. Like an SUV, it projects a satisfying utilitarian nature.

15,000 miles is not a lot for this engine. In fact the piston has only recently seated itself fully in the cylinder. Collect the last bit of swarf off the magnetic drain plug, put in some synthetic oil if you want and you are good to go to Alaska and back. Or anywhere else.

BMW parts are readily available, no matter where you live. I go online at maxbmwmotorcycles.com and pick what I need off the specific parts diagrams for my machine.

This bike has a “progressive shock” installed and the owner quotes the seat height at 31 inches, which is an inch lower than mine. 31 would actually fit a 30-inch inseam slightly better than the 32, although I can manage 32 just fine.

The F650 weighs about 450 lbs. with fuel. It’s sort of in the lower middle weight range. An XT250 is about 300 and a big Harley maybe 750. Light weight is good when the bike is stopped, maneuvering slowly on rough ground, picking up a dropped bike, transporting it, shipping it, etc. Heavy weight is good in the wind, smoothing out rough pavement, carrying more stuff, and is manageable when the bike is moving. The F650 is more fun off the interstates but it can manage 75 mph if needed. Use earplugs if you want to make a fast run to Memphis for coffee.


A 1997 is going to have some old rubber parts on it and these will need to be replaced, especially inside the carburetor, depending on what has already been done to it. So you need to be able to work on the bike yourself. Having a dealer or other mechanic work on it will be costly.

The owner didn’t confirm, but the center stand may have been removed if in fact the rear has been lowered. The stand would have needed to be modified and it may have been easier to discard it. The stand is useful when servicing the chain and working on the tires and on the bike in general. Something to consider.

I’d replace the windscreen, possibly with a taller one.

My bike came with a top box, and I think it is important to have one. This bike doesn’t. Ideally find one used for $200 or so.


If I had it to do all over again and hadn’t bought the bike I presently own, I’d be going to look at this one. It’s about 100 miles away.