It's small and sensible, but on the road the BMW F650 CS is far from meek, says Tim Luckhurst

Engine: Water-cooled, single-cylinder, four-stroke 652cc
Max power: 50bhp @ 6,800rpm
Max Torque: 46lb/ft @ 5,500rpm
Max speed: 109mph
Transmission: Five-speed gearbox, belt final drive
Brakes: Front single 300mm disc and rear single 240mm disc
Fuel capacity: 15 litres
Price: £5,650
Weight: 16.9kg

I will not bore you with how it came about. Suffice it to say that, were I to select a mount on which to pursue a Police Class 1 motorcyclist on a Honda Pan European and an advanced instructor on a Suzuki GSX R1000, my instinct would not be to select an entry-level, single-cylinder 650. That would be silly - which is precisely how I felt. But not for long.

Following a police rider is usually a treat. Theyride in real road conditions and are more versatile than the quick lads who regard cornering with a knee on the ground as the only evidence of skill. The problem is that this police rider was off duty and he knew where the speed cameras were not.

The CS in F650 CS stands for "City Street" and the bike doesn't hide its practicality as a commuter. The fuel tank is under the seat, leaving the hollow, tank-shaped space in front of you ("the StuffBay") free for luggage. It was sunny, so I put my waterproofs into it and braced myself to follow two faster bikes down sinuous country lanes.

It is not just a credit to planners who designed roads for horses instead of internal-combustion engines that I was not left massively behind. The baby BMW is tuned to feel unthreatening and docile. Until you thrash that big single pot, it does. But from 4,000rpm through to peak power at 6,500 the BMW/Aprilia partnership that built this engine displays its benefits. There is a potentially brisk bike lurking beneath the sensible feel.

There is plenty of mid-range torque and the wide handlebar makes for solid, predictable handling, even while belting along through challenging bends. The five-speed gearbox is a refreshing change - many modern bikes have six just because all the others do. I never felt I needed another ratio to make maximum use of the available power. I was left behind on the straights but had a ball trying to keep up.

It is sometimes more fun to ride a modestly powered bike at full throttle than to delicately gauge how far to push a superbike. You soon gain the confidence to hammer out of corners and delay braking into them. The CS has a solitary front disc, but it was sufficient. I enjoyed myself more the faster I went. Locating 15 litres of fuel in the frame triangle beneath the seat provides a pleasingly low centre of gravity and enhances high-speed handling.

Final drive to the rear wheel is provided by a toothed drive belt. It runs quietly and contributes to high ride quality. Manufacturers claim drive belts last twice as long as conventional chains. Undamaged, that is true, and they are delightfully low maintenance, requiring no lubrication and little adjustment. For real touring, I prefer a belt or driveshaft to a chain. And the F650 CS can tour.

Top speed is just above 100mph, but a cruising speed of 80mph is possible and comfortable, and the luggage-carrying capacity is excellent. BMW offers a range of luggage accessories designed to convert the CS from city commuter to adventure tourer.

There is one final feature that gives the F650 CS niche appeal. This is elegantly conceived as a motorcycle that smaller riders can relish. At 780mm, the standard seat height is low, but there is an optional lower version that takes it down to 750mm. Other gestures such as a power socket for heating clothing or charging mobile phones and satellite navigation systems enhance the practicality. So do optional additions such as ABS.

The F650 CS is not a "girlie" bike, but it is ideal for the growing numbers of female riders keen to own a machine for commuting and holiday fun.

This is not a eulogy. There are several faster medium weights that handle at least as well and retail for less. As is often the case with BMW, there is a premium to pay for the badge. The extent to which build-quality and equipment compensate for the premium is a matter for individual judgment. This little bike is supremely competent rather than sublime, but it does offer an interesting option to sensible riders seeking versatility. It is comfortable over distance, well equipped, highly visible and forgiving. A reduced power version (34bhp) is available for restricted licence holders. A recently qualified novice will learn a lot before outgrowing it, particularly if he or she is vertically challenged.

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