Twenty years ago, radical new innovations were unveiled by BMW Motorrad, such as the all-new R 1100 RS with its eight-valve, air-cooled, fuel-injected Boxer engine and new Telelever front suspension system (see separate story). But for many, the real revolution came in the form of a new chain-driven 652cc liquid-cooled, single-cylinder trail bike known as the F 650. Some would argue that it is one of the most important BMW bikes ever built….
In 1993 at the Frankfurt motor show, BMW Motorrad returned to the single-cylinder market with the launch of the F 650 Funduro. It had been 27 years since production of the R 27 ceased, but this new motorcycle owed nothing to the past and it would have a profound long-term effect on the brand. The new model’s arrival also meant that at the time, BMW Motorrad was the only manufacturer in the world to offer a motorcycle range with a choice of one, two, three or four cylinders.
The motorcycle landscape was constantly changing in the early 1990s. BMW Motorrad was becoming more confident of the future, but its model range was undeniably top heavy. The ‘new generation’ Boxer had been introduced in 1993 and the older two-valve models were being phased out. The K series looked after the four and three-cylinder market but up to this point, there was no entry-level motorcycle at a lower price available in the product line-up.
BMW Motorrad needed a different style of motorcycle to attract new riders – those with less to spend or who were looking for a different riding experience. A new model was required and fast, with minimal development time.
The result was a technically modern motorcycle that broke all the rules. It was a joint venture with Aprilia, powered by a BMW specified Rotax engine produced in Austria. The F 650 was built on a dedicated assembly line at Aprilia’s plant in Noale, near Venice in Italy. For the first time in BMW history, this bike featured chain drive. It was also the first BMW motorcycle to be produced outside Germany. Suffice to say that it was like no previous BMW motorcycle, but that was ok, because it wasn’t targeted at the ‘purists’.
Styled by British designer Martin Longmore, the ‘Funduro’ as it became known, was a dual-purpose machine with the design cues of an off-roader and also a city motorcycle. The advantages in this distinctive design were the ability to tackle all kinds of roads – from bumpy trails to smooth autoroute – and yet be agile, comfortable and fast enough for nipping around town or even touring. It was a modern European motorcycle aimed at a very different market and the recipe worked wonders.
The 48 hp/35kW liquid-cooled, dry sump A80 motor had a four-valve head with double overhead chain driven camshafts. The head used the experienced gained in the K series with a hemispherical combustion chamber and bucket tappets similar to those on the K 1. The crank ran on plain bearings, and twin Mikuni 33 mm CV carburettors provided the fuel that was ignited by twin plugs for smoother running and emission control. Unlike singles of the past, the A80 was smooth and flexible, thanks to the engine speed gear-driven balance shaft located in front of the crankshaft.
Weighing 191 kg (wet) the F 650 Funduro was praised for its fine handling in all kinds of riding conditions and it carried the time-honoured BMW traits of being able to traverse long distances comfortably, for both rider and pillion passenger. It was economical, keenly priced, appealed to both male and female riders, and consequently, a true commercial success.
The F 650 Funduro exceeded all of BMW Motorrad’s expectations in terms of sales. It was undoubtedly a success story, with over 10,000 of them finding homes with customers by the middle of 1994. In a very short time it had repaid its development costs and provided capital to further expand the BMW Motorrad model portfolio.
In 1999 the Aprilia joint venture came to an end but by that time it had proved to be a far-sighted, successful project with over 64,000 F 650 Funduro and F 650 ST (a more road-orientated version launched in 1997) models being delivered worldwide. It was not only a hit in the showrooms but also proved that BMW Motorrad could produce class-leading motorcycles that were quite different from the traditionally perceived BMW image.
The original F 650 Funduro of 20 years ago not only created a genre of single-cylinder models that continue through to today with the G 650 GS and G 650 GS Sertão ‘thumpers’, it also paved the way for many other F Series motorcycles, such as the F 650 ST, F 650 GS, F 650 GS Dakar, F 650 CS, F 700 GS, F 800 GS and F 800 GS Adventure. Undeniably, the F 650 Funduro has a unique position in the 90-year history of BMW Motorrad, not only because of its revival of the BMW single-cylinder tradition but also because it brought many new riders even closer to the brand – and its ever expanding worlds of experience.