F650GS in a parkinglot taking a break

I have now had plenty of time to get used to riding the F650GS, and to hopefully improve as a rider in general. We have taken the bikes on many trips around Maryland and surrounding states, some of which are described on these pages, and have gone twice to North Carolina.

Stream we 
	  crossed on the F650GS

I have easily gotten used to the turn signal indicator and just remember to use it before slowing down or in between down shifting. Not having a light to indicate gear is also no problem. I have found that on my bike approximately 4,000 rpm at 40 mph is 3rd gear, 4,000 at 50 mph is 4th gear, and 4,000 at 60 mph is 5th gear, which is very simple to remember. The bike can easily cruise at a fast highway speed, since its top speed is a bit over 100 mph. I am also much more comfortable in gravel or on uneven surfaces than our sport bike riding friends. The other day Martin and I forded a 20-foot stream with no trouble.

Parking the F650GS in a gravel parking lot

I have been very happy with the F650GS since it fits me well, and it is comfortable to ride. It did have a strange problem with the water pump, which failed around 8,000 miles. However, Bob's BMW cleaned everything out and replaced it, and it was all covered under warranty.

R1200R at DC Motorcycle Show 2008

The F650GS has been a wonderful first bike, but I am thinking about getting an R1200R when the low suspension version comes out in the fall. I test rode the regular suspension version with a low seat. I had a hard time doing things like backing the bike up in parking lots, and I was nervous when I was riding it in stop and go rush hour traffic since it felt noticeably wider and taller than my little F650GS. I got used to it, but I know I would be more comfortable with the low suspension option. We do almost all of our riding on pavement, and I notice that I am actually a better rider on the R1200R. I think I corner and accelerate both faster and more smoothly.

Inital Impressions Winter 2006-20007

New F650GS

Well, Martin may have felt like he had a ton of motorcycle choices, but that is not quite so true when you are a smallish woman looking to start riding. Most of the motorcycles with low enough seats are of the cruiser style, with the footpegs set pretty far forward, and that was not exactly what I wanted to start out with. Besides, I also had hard time reaching the handlebars or trying to stand most bikes upright. I know plenty of women handle plenty of big bikes. Maybe I will work up to that but even my current bike is four times my body weight, and it is considered pretty light (according to the owner's manual, its wet weight with a full tank of gas is about 430 lbs).


If I am going to go buy an item of clothing, I am definitely one of those people who will try on half the styles in every conceivable store before making my choice. I might be thorough in my search, but I am not always the fastest decider. However, that was not at all true with the motorcycle. Pretty much from the second I saw the BMW F650GS, I knew it was the one I wanted, and I have been very happy with it (I have a 2006 model). It comes in both a standard height and also with a low seat/low suspension option for shorter people. It is possible to do things to lower the bike further, but I have not needed to.


The F650GS is a “dual-sport” motorcycle, so it can ride both on and off pavement. I have ridden on some dirt and gravel parking lots with no problem, but have not tried any actual off-road riding yet. Mine comes with ABS, as well as an option to turn it off if you do want to take the bike off-road. It has a pretty upright riding position, with the foot controls basically underneath you and the handlebars at a nice, intermediate height. Unlike just about every other BMW motorcycle, the F650GS is chain driven (Martin's R1200GS is shaft-driven). The indicator panel will show if you are in neural, but otherwise does not show what gear you are in. The other indicator lights include the standard set- fuel warning light, high beam headlight indicator, oil pressure warning light, coolant temperature warning light, an ABS warning light, and the turn signal indicators. Which brings up another small issue …. The turn signals for the F650GS are operated by a toggle switch near the left hand thumb- push one way or the other to activate the signal, push in the center to cancel. I know I have very small hands, but I cannot reach the turn signals if I have the clutch pulled in. Basically, I have to be sure to signal before slowing/stopping at a turn. Or else I have to hold the foot brake and reach over with my right hand if I have already come to a stop before deciding which way to go. This is not ideal, but has not been too bad. It is probably a good idea to get into the habit of signaling early anyway!

Test Ride
	  at Bobs BMW

Martin and I just learned to ride this fall, and he got his motorcycle a few weeks before me, so I have only ridden about 1500 miles. It has been running great and I have not had any issues. It is a single cylinder engine, where Martin's is a two-cylinder. I think his might sound a little quieter, but then I get better gas mileage. Whenever we have stopped for gas it is because his fuel light has come on- mine never has. On the other hand, he definitely has a faster top speed than me (not that we have tested this to verify, but it is pretty obvious).

Before we went to Virginia for our Christmas trip, I also got side bags installed and bought the accompanying Kathy's Journey Designs bag liners. I was being wishy-washy about getting the liners, but am glad I finally did- they fit into the side cases well (on the 650, the two cases have shapes adjusted on the back side to go around the exhaust pipes. Actually, there is only one real exhaust for the 650, the matching one on the other side is the catalytic converter). Anyway, the liners are like mini duffle bags and it is way easier to pull them out to take into a hotel rather than fiddle with the cases. The side cases are expandable, using a somewhat convoluted process of unclipping several clips and shimmying the cases into their expanded shape, then re-clipping the clips. There are a few things I like better about Martin's bigger bike, and the easy adjustability of his side cases is one of them.

Test Ride
	  at Bobs BMW

One of the others is that I have no idea how you are supposed to check the coolant level on my bike without taking off the side panel. There is a tiny window cut out of the panel, and somehow you are supposed to be able to look there to see, but honestly, I cannot tell much of anything from it. I also have no idea what color the coolant fluid is. If it were a bright color, it would be way easier to identify. The motorcycle is new enough that I doubt the coolant level is a problem, but writing this just reminds me that this is something I have to ask the maintenance people to go over with me next time I am at the dealer, especially, if they have an F650GS in the shop. I did this last week and found out that the coolant is bright blue. The trick to seeing the level is to shine a flashlight from the near the handlebars along the inside of the fairing.

Like Martin, I bought my motorcycle at Bob's BMW in Jessup, MD. I have to say that everyone at Bob's is fantastic- they are always friendly and knowledgeable, and by this time Martin and I have been in there so much that we might as well live there. I have read complaints from other people that there are not enough BMW dealers in the US, and that they have to go many miles to their nearest one. I am so glad this is not a problem for us, since I really had my heart set on the BMW.

All in all, learning to ride has been super fun, and I am looking forward to more great trips on the F650GS.