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





Mid Winter Ride

“Last warm day for a while. Good day for a bike ride,” says my wife, a bonafide connoisseur of weather forecasts. She was raised on a farm with real animals and crops and stuff. The BMW F650 is the closest thing to a tractor we have. So I translate, “Get out on the tractor and do something.”

Could this be a day to go around Lake Winnipesaukee? 65 miles. You betcha. I check the temperature. 40 degrees. No sun. It’s as good as it’s going to get. At noon, the temp is going to start dropping.

First things first, I install my Iron Butt credentials on the bike.


Now I’m ready. I head out on 11A towards Alton Bay and immediately get buffeted by ubiquitous frost heaves. I imagine these conditions all the way around the lake and remember smoother days last summer. I keep going.


Bob Houses on Alton Bay

The frost heaves aren’t that bad everywhere. Before I know it, I’m closing in on Wolfeboro.


Bob houses on Tuftonboro Bay

Riding up north of Wolfeboro, I realize I’m enjoying navigating my way along these bumpy roads. I slow down, stay in third gear more. After all,  I’m on an adventure bike. Good in adverse conditions. There is something satisfying about handling the obstacles.

Bumps, wet areas, patches of sand, clumps of salt, snowmobiles. A car turning and then not turning. An entertaining amount of uncertainty.

A big truck coming the other way salutes with a mighty horn blast!


The Mount Washington cruise ship in winter quarters.

On a previous ride at 45 degrees, my core had become chilled by the time I got to Center Harbor. This time, I had the Gerbing vest and at the Moultonboro Airport, about halfway, I switched it on to 25%. Hadn’t felt any chill until then. With the heat on the second half, I was comfortable all the way around.

IMG_1727 (1)

Bob Houses way out on Center Harbor Bay

Being out here in the winter, a bit cold and damp, I remember gassing up the F650 down on the Merritt Parkway on my Iron Butt run last October. A guy walks over and says, “I was following you. Before I could see what you were riding, I told my wife only BMW riders are out in the cold rain. Sure enough.” He said he owned a BMW F800.


The winter community on Meredith Bay


Let’s Dance!

Iron Butt 1000

I want one of these license plate holders. I don’t know why.


All I had to do to qualify for membership in the esteemed “Iron Butt” Association (and get my plate holder) was ride from New Hampshire near Lake Winnipesaukee down through Hartford, skirt New York City via I-287 into New Jersey, take I-78 over near Harrisburg, PA and then down 15 to the Sunoco Station on the old Baltimore Pike Road in Gettysburg. Turn around and do the same thing  in reverse. Over 1000 miles in less than 24 hours. Then send a check for $49 plus copies of the ride documentation.

How tough could that be?IronButtSaddleSoreLeg1 copy


I left home at 3:45 am on October 15 and got back at 3:32 am on the 16th, almost one day later. Interstates all the way, cruising at 60-75 mph. Why did it take me so long? Google Maps predicted a little over 8 hours each way. Let’s say 16.5 hours of riding.

The official start and end correspond to the first and last stops for gas, not at my front door. I gassed up first at 4:03 AM on the 15th and then finally at 3:06 AM on the 16th, for a total elapsed time of 23 hours and 3 minutes.

The F650 runs about 6% slower than the Google Maps estimate for cars. That’s an extra hour. I saw the main flow of car traffic doing 80 in a 55 zone, more than once. I didn’t feel safe trying to keep up with that but I also had too much company in the right hand lane in the form of semi’s, pickups towing trailers, RVs and some just inexplicably slow drivers.  I got comfortable passing people doing less than 65.

I refueled 10 times, riding for over two hours and 125-130 miles between fill-ups, plus an extra stop near the end. I averaged about 20 minutes off the bike by the time I refueled, took a photo of the receipt next to the odometer, used the restroom, ate and drank something, switched out clothing and gear, reset the odometer, etc. So maybe 3.5 hours total for stops.

I lost 30 minutes on the first leg due to very poor visibility in the dark, foggy mist. Almost turned around. Fortunately, there was no traffic and I knew that section very well. Probably another 30 minutes total for the rest of the ride for the same reason, off and on. I rode about 11 hours in the dark and there was some misting occasionally. It’s particularly hard to see when lights are hitting beads of moisture on the face shield. I could clear it somewhat by tipping the helmet down into the slipstream.

Another 30 minutes for stop and go traffic from an accident and some single lane construction zones.

I lost another 30 minutes on the way back when Google Maps re-routed me north to avoid I-287 for some reason. I wound up riding about 1040 miles, by Google measurements. My odometer total was 1078 miles.


Final Fill-up




I knew at 60 degrees and little sun the heat was going to slowly drain out of me and after two hours or more I would be too cold to continue. So I got a Gerbing heated vest but I hadn’t gotten a controller and the vest was too hot on straight 12 V so I only used it a little. I will need the controller to keep my core “temperature neutral” while riding for hours in cold weather.

I used my summer armored Revit jacket in Pennsylvania where it was warm and sunny, but wore my three-season Sedici with more layers for the cold, dark northern sections. UnderArmor thermal underwear, of course. I mostly used my summer armored riding gloves although I did use my “Randy” (from A Christmas Story) down mittens with wool mitten liners for the first few hours.

I added some red and white reflective strips on the back of my helmet. Never had any close calls. People could see me.


I rode the venerable BMW classic F650.

I had installed a new chain and sprockets for the trip and those ran fine. The Metzler Tourance tires had about 13,000 miles on them but were still okay, the rear one getting pretty close to minimum tread depth.

Installed an EZ Pass transponder on the back of the windscreen. I went through about 6 toll booths with it during the trip.

I had the USB adapter plugged in to my Battery Tender outlet and a phone holder on the handlebars, but with the mist and the simplicity of the route, I kept the phone on my belt for most of the ride.


Intense riding for distance isn’t my thing. I prefer to meander, take scenic routes, and generally make use of the bike as cheap transportation. But I did want to get a feel for extensive highway riding and I find I am comfortable with it as long as there isn’t too much traffic and the road is good, which precludes going near big cities.

Riding at night is not attractive simply because I can’t see the road well enough, not only for spotting animals, potholes and debris, but also to see the arc of the road way ahead. It’s unsettling at speed when the road begins to curve in a way that was not anticipated.

At one low point on the ride I thought about retiring to a small scooter with my poser’s “World’s Toughest Riders” plate holder. But a day after getting home I started wondering what the next big adventure might be.

Does vacillating between “I’ll never do this again” and “I can’t wait for the next time” mean you have it just about right?


Home at 3:30 AM, but I never got drowsy.



Had a burial in the family yesterday. Went to the dentist this morning. That’s right, time for motorcycle therapy.

A nice thing about even a low-end BMW is it’s ability to provide reliable transportation. The F650 is just sitting there waiting for me to get on it and go. To Sunapee, NH.Route to Sunapee

Headed south on 11 past Mount Major, one of the most frequently climbed mountains in the world. Through scenic Alton Bay where the cruise ship Mount Washington stops in the summer on her way around Lake Winnipesaukee.

dinner-restaurants-alton-bay-nhThat’s not the Mount Washington, by the way. I’m guessing a billionaire in a vintage Chris Craft on an early-season run down from Wolfeboro.

While heading south on route 28 to 202, I noticed a BobCat dealer. When I was a kid there was one backhoe in town. That was it. Plus an old cable driven shovel at Georgetown Sand and Gravel. Now we have become a nation of diggers. With hydraulic excavators we can even dig in the winter. We dig so much that you have to notify DigSafe whenever you want to dig, even on your own property. They send out the relevant utilities to mark where their stuff is located underground, so you won’t hit it. My neighbor had a digger. I moved and my new neighbor also has a digger. I have rented a digger myself. And then hired a bigger digger. And that digger guy brought in an even bigger digger. I’m not making this up. This is New Hampshire and the rock you need to move is often the size of a Volkswagen.


I gassed up with 93 octane at the Sunoco in Contoocook after circling through the Mobil station which, for some reason, had only regular and diesel. Rode through Warren and made a wrong turn in a place called Guild, NH. I think the only thing in Guild is this mini post office and a place to get your hair cut. That’s it. The handicap access is a major (majorly bad, but to code) architectural element.


The landscape west of Concord is extremely pleasant to ride through. I enjoyed it all the way to Lake Sunapee.



I’m sitting on the side of the boat ramp at Sunapee Harbor where you can launch and retrieve your trailered lake craft. Only a few people around on a weekday this time of year, just before the season gets underway. This is a pleasant spot to be.

Sunapee means “Wild Goose Waters” and some local people have descended from the native Penacooks who “hunted geese in the autumn and fished for speckled trout using nets, weirs and spears.”

About 150 years ago the railroad reached the lake and brought a lot of new visitors. Pre-automobile era. Steamboats were used to ferry the tourists to resorts and vacation homes. There are still three lighthouses on the lake.


Met up with family in New London for dinner and a lacrosse game. It’s a bit of serendipity that I’m related to the people who dominate girl’s lacrosse in this part of the world. 18-1 this time.

Headed for home around 8 PM. Still plenty of light but the black flies are out this time of year, especially in the evening.


I recommend a full face helmet. The windshield and fairing deflect the bugs off the rest of my body. The helmet takes care of the air coming over the top of the windshield.

It’s clear I am much better off on a motorcycle than out working in my yard.


Hikin’ n Bikin’

When do you and your wife take a vacation in separate vehicles? I’m talking about the same destination, not separate vacations. She drove her Infiniti G37X and I rode the BMW F650.


We wanted to do some hiking on the Appalachian Trail, but stay in motels at night, so we needed road access to the trail that would yield hiking distances we could manage in a day. One of the few places to do just that is in Vermont, beginning where the trail emerges from the Green Mountain National Forest in East Wallingford.

We headed over there on a nice sunny day last week. Rutland/Wallingford is due west of Lake Winnipesaukee and we traveled US Route 11 and US Route 4 all the way. Route 4 coincides with Interstate 89 for about 20 miles and the F650 tooled along nicely at 65-75 mph with little effort. Some crosswind near the Connecticut River reduced the speed there to a more comfortable 65.

We Hotwired ourselves into the Holiday Inn in south Rutland for about $70 and spent the next day in the car scouting our options. It was raining and even snowed a little that night. The bike sat with the cover on it.

The following days were beautiful. Deciding to hike north to south, we dropped the bike off at the trailhead on Route 103 near Clarendon and then drove north to the crossing on Keiffer Road, where we got out our day packs and hiking poles and headed south on foot.

Late morning, we met a recent college graduate through hiker, trail-named HandMade, who had left his Virginia home at the end of February heading north on the AT. He had made his own pack and hiking poles. He wore 17-inch high mud-friendly Muck Boots. He was doing about 20 miles a day average, staying in shelters. We liked him a lot.




The Appalachian Trail and the Vermont Long Trail coincide from the Massachusetts border until you get north of Killington, where the AT heads east towards Hanover, NH, and the Long Trail continues north to the Canadian border.

It was a great day hike for us, even though we had to drop down through a steep rocky ravine near the end, accompanied by seven hawks hunting overhead. Observe the owner of the fast G37X happy now just to find the next meager foothold.


I took the F650 up to the Keiffer Road crossing and retrieved the car and then we picked up the bike on the way back to the motel. Slick enough.

Did the next section the following day, starting at the same 103 Clarendon crossing, and ending up at the trailhead in East Wallingford. This suspension footbridge over Clarendon Gorge was built by the family and friends of Bob Brugmann who “was lost here while hiking the trail he loved”.


Hiking north-south, we met several interesting people making their way north, including a guy from New Jersey whose wife was shadowing him in her car, picking him up at the end of each day at the next trailhead. He had only a vague notion of what she was doing all day while he was hiking, maybe shopping.

A young couple were traveling from Augusta, Maine to Mississippi via Georgia.

Two women were just finishing an overnight getaway on the trail.

We moved north and east of Killington and day-hiked on the AT north of Woodstock, Vermont. Woodstock stands out from the other small Vermont towns because it has a lot of character derived from the days when the Rockefeller family was active there. The Rockefeller Billins Farm is a national historic site now. Beautiful upscale rural area.

On our sixth day, we explored the Quechee Gorge a bit and then headed home. Our perfect weather was about to turn cold and rainy.

Stopped at Five Guys in West Lebanon, NH for a proper hiker’s lunch of hamburgers and fries and then cruised back down 89. The F650 was very satisfying and solid on Interstate 89, the big single purring happily along at 4500-5000 rpm. Torque peaks at 5000 rpm and the engine is very smooth there at 75 mph in 5th gear.

Back home:


Yes, that’s right, it’s a house. A minimalist stack of three rooms overlooking treetops and a stream. That smaller underground pipe on the left is where the Getting On blog connects to the internet.

The woods were wonderful but it was also great to walk in the door and be home.


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.


The BMW F650 “Tiger”

The original F650 was designed in the early 1990’s by Martin Logmore, working in the motorcycle division of BMW. The first version came out in 1994 for Europe, and with some changes, 1997 in the USA. All of them built by Aprilia in Italy.

Martin was kind enough to leave off part of the design so it could be completed by someone like me. How cool is that?


Yes, that’s right. The blank area just below the seat. Forward of that spot is the engine cover with a substantial open area revealing the top of the engine. On the other side of the bike you access the fuel petcock through a similar opening. But the panel in question has a dull flat area where you would perhaps expect another opening, revealing nifty motorcycle parts behind, but the actual parts behind are more ugly than nifty.  It seems like something visual, a graphic at least, needs to be there.

Something round? It can’t be arbitrary. It needs to belong there. Like the Iron Butt Association roundel available to members of the club for $35. But to get it, I would have to ride 1000 miles in under 24 hours.


So my plan is to ride to Buffalo, New York for a great burger at the Wellington Pub on Hertel Ave. and a quick visit to the Frank Lloyd Wright gas station in the Pierce Arrow Museum, get a validation that I was there and then beat it back to New Hampshire for a time stamp fill-up at the same station I was at earlier that morning.

But I see on Google Maps it’s just under 500 miles one way. It’s too close for a clean handling of the requirements. This plan needs work, but it’s still feasible.

The more you play around with something round the more you see an “eye”. An homage to the Bronson Bike in that respect?


But it’s pretty fierce. It would escalate a minor design lapse into “scaring chipmunks and small children” status.

By the way, I don’t waste big chunks of time on this problem. No, just countless little chunks, over the last year or so.

My friend Steve put me onto something called “vinyl auto wrap”. It’s a thin, colored/textured adhesive backed film with a release sheet. It’s relatively easy to move it around until you press it hard onto the vehicle surface. And you can easily peel it off. I bought a 24 x 48 inch sheet of light gray on eBay for $8 including shipping. It has sort of a brushed steel striation effect in one direction. Now I can experiment with some graphic schemes on the actual bike.


Well, that’s where I’m at. A bit of a “tiger” effect. Yeah, I like that. I now have an F650 Tiger.