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BMW Powers Its Way into U.S. Scooter Market

BMW's C 600 Sport and C 650 GT are powerful entries into the U.S. scooter market.

If you visit Europe or Asia for the first time, you’ll probably be astounded by how heavily those cities rely on scooters. Heavy traffic through narrow streets make them a necessity – or at least a heavy preference – for many economy-minded users.

However, with the exception of more downtown-centric urban areas like San Francisco or New York, urban scooters haven’t caught on as extensively in America’s and car and motorcycle-centric culture. Most scooters outside those traffic-choked environments find a home in rural areas or doing utility work for short commutes.

BMW Motorrad is looking to change all that with the U.S. debut of the C 600 Sport and C 650 GT scooters to the U.S. market. Tentatively scheduled to debut in the States later in 2013, both retain the scooter design and ride ease with surprising speed and clever storage capability.

I rode both, and they’re easily one of the biggest and most powerful scooters I’ve ever tested. Even with my 6’3”, 250 lb. frame burdening its seat, the C 600 Sport and C 650 GT’s 647 cc., two cylinder in-line engine provided responsive power to spare.

Controls remain traditional with no clutch and an integrated Continuously Variable Transmission working with that engine to enable a top speed north of 100 mph.

Of course, I wouldn’t test that power as it would be dangerous and irresponsible…And I’ve already got two tickets this year. But, I digress.

Both the C 600 Sport and C 650 GT offer ample size and bulk for adequate storage and ride comfort. For motorcycle fans who feel a little awkward with a scooters more rigid up and down seating position, BMW designers placed additional foot rests above the floor boards for a a Harley-Davidson-esque “leg’s on the pegs” ride. One interesting storage feature coming out of all the C 600 Sport and C 650 GT’s space is a special helmet pouch underneath the seat.

The ride is well-balanced and confident, with the throttle and transmission making up and downshifts almost imperceivable. I’ve ridden competitor scooters who couldn’t get my arse up Russian Hill in San Francisco at full throttle. After taking the C 600 Sport and C 650 GT through city streets, winding canyons and LA freeways, it’s clear both scooters could serve as adequate daily rides.

The price is still secret, but I’ve heard rumors of both units coming in around $10,000. That might present a challenge for the scooters intro to the American market.

Considering its size, the power of its engine, its technology and storage ability, that’s not necessarily an unreasonable price. Buyers can have a brand new Star Motorcycles Stryker for about $11,000. They can ride home a new Harley-Davidson Iron 883 for $8,000. Honda produces multiple sport rides for $6,000 or less.

That begs the question of who is looking to buy a scooter for five figures if they can have a similarly (or lower) priced motorcycle. The answer would be riders who are more comfortable with the scooter’s ergonomics and easier controls – or riders more intimidated by the more raw speed of bigger motorcycles.

The C 600 Sport and C 650 GT are great rides and a worthy introductory effort into the American market. Time will tell if an automotive market historically comfortable with motorcycles decides a $10K scooter is a stretch for anyone not dead set on having that pretty BMW badge above their fork.