From the looks I got, you'd think I was riding a unicorn. Not that my bug-splattered two-wheeler was all that, aesthetically. I was riding a scooter, breezing along at a brisk 80 mph on the sort of in-the-sticks stretch of highway with two sorts of signs: the ones that give the speed limit and the ones that say "Next gas 36 miles."
Think you can't tour on a scooter? Suzuki's Burgman 400 has been proving it's possible since 2003, when the manufacturer first brought its Burgman maxi-scooters to the U.S. Now, for its '07 model, Suzuki has upped the ante, with power, handling and emissions improvements that show it isn't just possible to scoot this four-stroke single across town or country, it's a kick.
Engine-wise, Meister Burgman has morphed from a 385 cc single overhead cam to a double with a longer piston stroke, an upgrade that jolts this mid-range maxi-scooter up a notch, allowing the Burgman 400 to finally live up to its name. And greenies will breathe a little easier knowing that the Burgman's new oval section exhaust system not only meets the current California Air Resources Board emissions standards but also the significantly stricter European requirements, known as Euro 3.
That still doesn't make the Burgman less polluting than the average U.S. passenger car or SUV, but it's an impressive feat for two wheels, achieved through the combined use of fuel injection, a new exhaust catalyzer that breaks down emissions from the pipe and a closed-loop oxygen sensor that controls evaporatives from the fuel line and tank. A new Idle Speed Control system also does its part to ease the burden on the environment, adapting to riding conditions and adjusting the idle to its most fuel-efficient speed.
That brings us to the scooter trump card: gas mileage. The first few days I rode my little pal around town, I averaged about 54 miles per gallon. I couldn't help noticing because of the Burgman's new mpg display, which is dead center in the perfectly symmetrical instrument panel and displayed with a marquee-sized font.
On a 3.7-gallon tank, I did the math and figured I could go 200 miles before I'd be riding vapors. I booked a hotel in Avila Beach on the Central California coast, exactly 199 miles from my doorstep in Los Angeles to the check-in desk.
Could I make it?
I packed an overnight bag, which easily fit in the 16-gallon under-seat storage compartment (next summer Suzuki will even offer hard luggage), and threw my cellphone in one of the two dashboard storage spaces. If my vintage candy bar phone had needed charging, I could have plugged it into the DC power outlet in the bike's fourth cubby hole -- the glove compartment.
It was three miles of street traffic before I hit the freeway, during which I encountered a pothole so large it might have landed me in China if I'd ridden through it, but the Burgman was amazingly maneuverable for its 62.4-inch wheel base and 434 pounds. Well balanced, with a low center of gravity and 28-inch seat height, it was easy to split lanes to the front of the line at red lights. And once I got the go-ahead, I had just enough juice on takeoff to get ahead of the cars -- and stay there.
Most of my trip was on the 101, where I averaged about 75 to 80 mph without the engine panting. The one time I twisted the throttle and tried my luck at 90, I was rewarded with a creepy, crosswind-inspired high-speed wobble and a near heart attack. I backed off the throttle and moved into the second-from-left lane, which is as far left as this scooter should be.
At high speeds on the freeway, my only issues with the Burgman were its wheels and the windscreen. The 14-inch front and 13-inch rear wheels were fine, for the most part, but they had me wiggling like a hula dancer on grooved pavement. And the windscreen was a little slack on the job. I'm the sort of gal who likes to keep my lid up while riding, but I had to keep it locked because the wind kept slapping me in the face.
With 60 miles to go before Avila, I jumped off the 101 and took a 35-mile detour through the paper-clip turns of the Los Padres National Forest. With an impressive 43-degree bank angle and 4.9 inches of ground clearance, I wasn't scraping hard parts or shooting sparks from the floor panel, but on a few swooping turns, I was almost wishing I'd worn leathers to throw down a knee.
A Gixxer it is not. But the Burgman is surprisingly fun and more versatile, with pretty fantastic fuel economy. By the time I got to Avila I was averaging 59 mpg. Stuff that in your exhaust pipe and smoke it!
2007 Suzuki Burgman 400
Price, as tested: $5,899
Powertrain: Four-stroke, single-cylinder, liquid-cooled, DOHC; automatic transmission
Displacement: 400 cc
Bore and stroke: 81.0 mm x 77.6 mm
Seat height: 28 inches
Dry weight: 434 pounds
Fuel capacity: 3.7 gallons