The BMW F 800 GS has been around for roughly a decade already. In that time, the mid-sized adventure bike hasn’t had a single major redesign—relying instead on subtle refinements to move it forward each year.
But that hasn’t helped it overcome its biggest drawback; between its placid motor and uninspiring suspension, it’s not a particularly exciting ride. Thankfully, BMW have now completely reengineered the F-series, with the release of the new F 850 GS (and its little brother, the F 750 GS).
To find out if it’s any better, I played tourist in my own city (Cape Town), at the South African launch of the two new F-Series bikes.
In short: Every. Single. Thing. The F 850 GS still uses a parallel twin motor—but this one’s 853 cc big, uses a 270 degree firing interval and has two counterbalance shafts. It puts out 95 hp and 92 Nm, which is 10 hp and 12 Nm more than its predecessor managed.
There’s an anti-hopping clutch and a six-speed box, and BMW have switched the exhaust and chain around to where you’d expect to find them. (They sat on the left and right, respectively, on the F 800 GS).
The previous generation’s tubular steel frame’s made way for a new (admittedly less pretty) bridge-type design, that uses the motor as a stressed member. And the fuel tank’s moved from its old position under the seat, to up top where you’d traditionally find it.
Design & Ergonomics
With its repositioned 15 l fuel tank, and re-shaped seat, the 850 takes a massive step away from the 800’s aesthetic, and moves closer to the style of BMW’s flagship R 1250 GS. It stands tall and purposeful, with a 21” front and a 17” rear wheel and 204 mm / 219 mm of suspension travel front and back.
The new layout means that the seat sits 20 mm lower than before (at 860 mm), so you’re sitting ‘in’ the bike a lot more. And that’s OK—between the seat, foot pegs and wide, tapered bars there’s more than enough comfort and control.
The real kicker is how primo everything feels. The badging and silver ‘wings’ next to the tank look killer, and the LED headlights on our test units were kitted with the optional daytime running light. You get a basic sump guard too, hand guards, and foot pegs with removable rubbers (it’s just a pity the actual pegs are so skinny). And the spoked wheels are actually BMW’s proprietary tubeless design.
Colours on offer include Racing Red, Style Rallye (white with red and blue accents, and gold wheels), and Style Exclusive (a sort of deep metallic teal, which I’m riding here). Red will set you back R 196 950, while the other two come in at R 199 950 and R 199 250 respectively.
That price tag’s pretty steep, but BMW have packed in a stack of features to entice potential buyers. Standard features include ABS and ASC (automatic stability control), and ‘Rain’ and ‘Road’ riding modes. The bikes we rode also included the optional ‘Dynamic,’ ‘Enduro’ and ‘Enduro Pro’ modes, as well as electronic suspension adjustment and quick-shifters. And they were all upgraded with BMW’s keyless ride system. *
Then there’s the stunning new 6.5” TFT display. It packs in a whole whack of info in a well-layered design—including everything from revs, speed, gear position and fuel levels, to things like your tyre pressures. The actual graphics are sharp without being overdone, and the display is clear enough to read in daylight, even when covered in dust.
BMW also list a ton of features that I didn’t have time to try, mostly centred around connectivity and smartphone integration. But judging by what I did fiddle with, those features sound promising.
Kudos to BMW for their easy-to-use switchgear too. Some functions took me a little while to figure out, but for the most part, switching between modes (or activating and deactivating ABS and traction control) was a breeze. The setup now also includes BMW’s typical ‘wheel’ control on the left of the bars. (It’s used for some functions on the TFT display, and with BMW’s optional Navigator GPS.)
* Details at the launch were fuzzy on what of the above optional extras are going to be included out-the-box, and how that might affect pricing. I’d suggest checking in with your local dealer.
On the Road
A friend asked me, quite eloquently, if the new F 850 GS has “enough get-up-and-go.” Yip, it sure does. The 850’s power plant is punchy and lively—and a little grunt-y too, thanks to that 270 degree firing interval.
Power delivery is crisp, and the quick-shifter does a great job of moving you through the ‘box, provided you keep the revs well above 3 000 rpm when you flick it. It’s a handy upgrade too, because the 850’s clutch is a pain to use. It’s a little stiff—but it’s a lot notchy—giving it a very unpredictable, ‘on or off’ feel.
The standard exhaust is something of an anomaly too. From the saddle, it sounds a bit subdued—but when you’re behind it, it growls. (I’d bet an aftermarket can would sound absolutely bananas.)
Reeling in corners on the F 850 GS is a ton of fun too. Even with Continental TKC80s on, I could push it hard along some of the Cape’s magnificent mountain passes. That’s partly down to the stellar ergonomics, but it’s also thanks to how rigid this new chassis is.
Off the Road
BMW were kind enough to mix a couple of off-road sections into our ride; a lengthy stretch of gravel with varying levels of grip, and a short, technical loop on a wine farm. I hadn’t ridden dirt in a while, and I was a bit nervous about brushing up my skills with a 229 kg (wet) bike.
Luckily the F 850 GS is massively confidence-inspiring. At 1,86 m tall I was expecting to be a little uncomfortable when standing on the pegs, but the height of the pegs in relation the handlebars was spot on. I also realised pretty quickly how narrow the 850 actually was between my legs, making it easy for me to shift my weight (and the bike) around.
I was particularly surprised by how easy it was to direct the bike over rocks and through loose corners on the more aggressive loop we rode—and by how well the suspension coped, too. Sure, it was tiring (any off-road riding on a bigger bike is), but it was so much fun, that I went back for a second helping.
The electronics package had a chance to shine here too. The quick-shifter meant that I could gear up and down quickly without having to reach for the clutch. I set the bike to ‘Enduro Pro’ mode, which cuts rear wheel ABS, modulates the front wheel ABS and optimises the traction control for off-road use. I didn’t notice any interference; a sure sign that it works.
What About the F 750 GS?
I had a chance to ride the F 750 GS too, and it’s just as much of a firecracker. It makes less power than the 850 (77 hp and 83 Nm), but it’s by no means sluggish. It also has a lower sear, less suspension travel and alloy wheels with a smaller (19”) front, so it hugs the road a bit better, and turns in a little sharper.
It’s obviously cheaper too, ranging between R 187 250 and R 184 750 depending on colour. (Again, that can change based on whatever optional extras BMW ship it with.)
The F 850 GS is lively, looks good, and is packed with useful tech—making it highly rideable in a variety of scenarios. With any luck, I’ll get another test ride soon.
Images by BMW Group PressClub.
My gear: Bell Moto 3 helmet, 100 Percent Barstow goggles, Knox Shield sweatshirt and Urbane armoured shirt, Velomacchi prototype gloves, Saint Model 2 armoured denims, and my 11-year-old BMW Santiago boots.