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BMR F800GS: Fixing a hole

 
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BMW F800GS
With a bigger fuel tank and fewer vibrations, this bike would sell even better
BMW F800GS

Kevin Ash gets to grips with BMW’s new F800GS twin

More images of the BMW F800GS



You didn't need a crystal ball to predict that BMW would introduce a GS trail bike powered by its 800cc twin at some point. The engine made its debut two years ago in the F800S road bike, filling a gap between BMW's entry-level single-cylinder machines and the big-capacity boxer twins and four-cylinder bikes. Clearly the engine was versatile enough to fulfil various roles and, given BMW's huge success in making trail bikes (headed by the R1200GS), a smaller and more manageable machine was inevitable. The F800GS doesn't just plug a hole in BMW's range - it does so in motorcycle showrooms generally: other trail bikes are either big-engined mile-eaters with vague off-road pretensions (KTM Adventure and BMW 1200GS excepted) or single-cylinder machines of up to 600cc.

There's a danger the F800GS might fall between the two camps and satisfy neither, so it's worth establishing how riders will really use it. The press presentation took place in the lush hills of Natal, South Africa, and included a fair amount of unmade roads and trails to confirm the bike's off-road ability. This matters to marketing types because, as with the 1200GS, it lends credibility in the same way that a Range Rover is validated by its mud-plugging potential. And as with a Range Rover, only a handful of GS owners will tackle anything more adventurous than a grass verge, so in practice it matters little.

Instead, the GS will be used for a wide range of duties, with a bias towards touring, and it does the job pretty well. The engine has been adapted to suit the new chassis, with more upright cylinders to provide clearance for the front wheel's extended suspension travel. Internally the camshafts are retarded slightly to provide more bottom-end torque. Even so, peak power is 84bhp - the same as the F800S but at slightly lower revs.

The engine isn't as eager as I was expecting on the road, but it pulls taller gears well from low revs and is relaxed when loaded at touring speeds. Rev it hard and it rewards you with a decent turn of speed, despite feeling flatter than the F800's at the top end.

An old BMW bugbear - vibration - becomes an issue at steady cruising speeds, when the motor buzzes harshly through the seat and handlebars. This is disappointing, because this occurs during precisely the sort of use that most owners will mete out to their GS. The unique engine balancing system is interesting - a third, crankshaft-driven conrod drives a lever arm with a bobweight at one end, which BMW says is more effective and less power-sapping than conventional rotating balancer shafts - but the engine still tingles.

On the whole the throttle response is good, but trickling through traffic isn't especially smooth because the power comes in too abruptly. This isn't the fuel injection stutter that afflicts many bikes, but a case of the power being difficult to modulate on a light throttle - open it from closed and you simply get more power than you might want. This can also make gentle off-road riding hard work.

It is, however, likely to be thrifty. The F800S returns 50mpg with little effort and BMW claims the GS's 3.5-gallon tank is good for 190 miles (an only slightly optimistic 54mpg). Even so, in its touring role most riders would prefer to find space for another gallon. Otherwise it's pretty good as a distance machine. The small screen punches a sizeable hole in the air and there's little discernible turbulence, so maintaining high speeds is not a strain despite the upright riding position. The seat is a little narrow and starts to feel hard after a couple of hours, but it's not bad (even if those of average or short stature might find it rather lofty). A lower seat is optional, but you'll still need long legs or plenty of confidence to feel happy with it.

The GS feels manageably light though, which helps in this respect. Indeed, this is one of the main reasons a rider might choose it over an R1200GS, because the bigger bike is dauntingly tall and heavy for many riders, especially if it is to be used as an off-roader. The 800 is not especially agile, though, mostly because of its large-diameter (21-inch) front wheel. This is a major asset off the road, but it's one of those areas where image and reality conflict, because it makes the 800 more reluctant to change direction on asphalt. There's also a lack of feedback from the front end, which is down to a combination of the big wheel and the softly sprung forks. Ride quality is decent, but start to push hard and there's a lot of dive under braking.

BMW's ABS braking continues to improve, to the point where you can now leave it switched on during trail riding (assuming you're not trying to ride the bike like an enduro machine). It's still obstructive in very sandy conditions, but otherwise what you lose in extended stopping distances is compensated by the added confidence it generates.

As with most BMWs there's a wide range of equipment, including an on-board fuel computer, alarm, sat-nav, heated grips and various luggage options, and no doubt it will sell well. But with a bigger fuel tank and fewer vibrations, it would sell even better.

BMW F800GS [tech/spec]

Price/availability: £6,695 on the road. On sale March 8. Contact: BMW (GB), (01344 426565, www.bmw-motorrad.co.uk)

Engine/transmission: 798cc, twin-cylinder four-stroke with eight valves; 84bhp at 7,500rpm, 61lb ft of torque at 5,750rpm. Six-speed gearbox, chain final drive.

Performance: top speed: 125mph, average fuel consumption n/a.

We like: Style, comfort, flexibility, equipment.

We don’t like: Fuel range too short, vibration levels.

Alternatives: Suzuki DL650 V-Strom, £5,399. BMW R1200GS, £9,195. KTM 690 Enduro, £5,895.

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