We all seek to find our place in this big, confusing world, and motorcycle manufacturers are no different. BMW Motorrad is known to endorse the discovery process by producing motorcycles that give riders the ability to go farther. Perhaps no machine in the Beemer stable epitomizes that more than the GS line. With a perennial best-seller in the R1200GS and GS Adventure, the German propeller gang has been seeking to bring that same mentality to a whole new segment of riders, those with weaker muscles and smaller bank accounts.
Knowing full well that many would-be BMW riders shy away from the sheer size and expense of the 1200GSA, plus the fact that it really is a street bike with only mild off-road capabilities, the 2009 F800GS specifically targets riders wanting more manageable, affordable and off-road capable equipment. In essence the idea was simple, use the competent Parallel Twin from the 800 S and ST models with a steel-trellis chassis roughly resembling that found on the HP2. But, it wasn’t as though engineers could simply pull extra stock and bolt it together. There were minor modifications that needed to be made in order to adjust to life off the pavement.
With a 21-inch front wheel thrusting just over nine inches of stroke from the inverted 45mm Marzocchi fork, the cylinder angle of the 798cc Twin needed to be moved rearward from 23.3 degrees to 8.3 degrees to accommodate the extra wheel size and movement. The engine cases are lower than the S/ST as well as a reshaped clutch and water pump housing. Other than that, the engine looks unchanged from the outside. The cams are designed for more torque and smoother power delivery needed off-road, and the radiator is adapted to slower speeds during technical riding with a wider profile.
Repeated photo passes brought the fan into action, but we never had boiling problems. More importantly, our testing found the 800’s motor to be very pleasing. We heard several comments about a desire for shorter gearing, but we didn’t share the opinion. The vast majority of our day was spent in second and third gear for the off-road sections. Up to roughly 3500 rpm is extremely mellow delivery, safe to use in slippery terrain. In the dirt, once the tach needle reaches the 4K mark, the tire starts to spin easily with any degree of lean. We short-shifted most of the morning, but once we tried to find the rev-limiter it just wasn’t the same bike anymore.
The motor acts as a semi-stressed member of the frame. Overall the chassis is comfortable for pavement touring or off-road exploration.
Riding a 456-lb (claimed tank-full) machine in the dirt with mild knobbies can be daunting, but getting the in-line pistons above 5500 revolutions per 60-sec provided the most notable surge in the super-smooth powerband. The overdrive boost extends to nearly 8K and is the most thrilling delivery available from the Twin. BMW claims 85 ponies at 7500 rpm, which is right in line with our observations. The max torque is said to be 62 lb-ft at 5750 rpm. The bike is happy to run at higher revs and even supports aggressive shifting. A six-speed transmission is guided by a cabled clutch and is much smoother and more precise than Beemer’s larger adventure tourer.
BMW assures that the motor is tuned to run on premium quality gasoline with its 12:1 compression ratio and dual 46mm throttle bodies. That’s 98 octane here in the States, but the soon-to-be released F650GS (which uses the same motor and chassis as the 800GS, MSRP: $8255 plus freight) targets more economical fuel. Due to remote fuel stops, we were unable to gather mileage figures and we had no opportunities to test the range of the 4.2-gallon tank. To keep weight distributed as low as possible, BMW placed the fuel tank under the seat with a fill nozzle on the right side. The space between a rider’s knees is taken by the airbox. We like the distribution of weight for handling purposes, but one of the few ergonomic complaints we have is that the air scoops protrude a too far from the fake fuel tank. It creates discomfort while standing by pushing a rider’s legs apart and minimizing grip. A flat surface would be easier to pinch with the knees.
The steel tubular chassis is specifically designed for the new middleweight GS using the motor as a semi-stressed component. A plastic skidplate mounts to the underbelly of the un-cradled motor. The subframe is steel as well, but the swingarm is aluminum and double-sided. An O-ring chain revolves around the right side and puts the equally seamless power and transmission to use via a spoked 17-inch aluminum wheel. Our bikes were outfitted with Continental TKC 80 tires to replace the less aggressive stockers. Our day proved that the Contis should come standard with great wear despite excessive spinning. They saw time on dirt, sand, gravel water crossings and wet and dry pavement, all with encouraging performance. We noticed a little squirming at triple-digit speeds, but otherwise they were exceptional all-around rubber. Speaking of which, we hit an indicated 120 mph before running out of nerve, but the motor still had a little room.
Ergonomics are very comfortable on the new 800 and we stood at virtually every opportunity with ease – not that sitting is unwelcome either.
Thankfully, BMW opted to use a spring shock rather than the air-damping contraption found on its previous “dirt-oriented” machines, the HP2 and XChallenge. We never had a need to spin the hand-operated, right-side preload adjustment knob, but the photographer, who is almost identical to our tester in weight, had success dialing in more preload to accommodate his extra 50-60 pounds of equipment.
We were pleased with the shock’s performance both on-road and off, and the fork was adequate as well. Even though the combo is far more conventional than the Paralever and Telelever found on the 1200, there are still some familiar GS behaviors. We spent nearly every second of our time off-road in the standing position, but with our weight hoisted forward, the front end wanted to shake under the right conditions. Build up some speed and touch an imbedded rock and the Marzocchi gives a sharp smack through the aluminum handlebars and then waggles. Fortunately, the bars are very wide and getting straightened out is no problem. We never had a really scary bout of shake, but it was enough to keep us on our toes. Also, this bike isn’t nearly as heavy as its big brother, but it’s still carrying some considerable mass. Though you can fly right over obstacles that the 1200 cannot, care needs to be taken for any sharp impact, particularly g-outs which will cause harsh bottoming. And, do we even need to say it, jumping isn’t recommended.
Our bike had the rubber footpeg covers removed since the route was primarily off-road. We did note that the peg placement forced our toes upwards unless standing directly on the balls of our feet. However, standing on the bike was amazingly comfortable overall, far superior to the larger Boxer model. Weight shift on the pegs is responsive and the cockpit layout encourages movement with the standard seat. BMW offers a free low-seat exchange which we anticipate being a popular move. At almost 6 feet, our rider isn’t short on inseam, but we spent time with both seats. The lower version (33.5 inches) has less padding which was noticeable after about 100 miles. However, swapping to the standard height (34.6 inches) provides less protection behind the windscreen. Ultimately we preferred the higher seat, especially for off-road riding, but the ease of finding the ground from the short saddle can be appreciated by anyone.
With more confidence in the machine beneath us, we were able to appreciate the surrounding scenery of southern Utah even more.
The front brake lever also offers some rider adjustability. A set screw moves the lever away from the handlebar to suit varying hand sizes, but this nice feature is far from the best thing about the 8-hundy’s brakes. A set of 300mm floating front discs are grabbed by two-piston Brembo calipers. The amount of power available is tremendous, but a small degree of initial sponginess at the lever keeps riders from getting too much too soon. It’s most effective at modulating in the dirt, but a firm grip will provide excellent performance on the pavement as well.
The rear end is just the opposite. It uses a 265mm rotor and single piston caliper that would be a great feature if the pedal was more accessible. It’s placed very low which left us searching desperately as corners approached too quickly. We had such a hard time finding it that by the time our toes reached the pedal it was usually too late and our panicked stomp would cause a slide. Unfortunately, BMW does not offer an adjustable, fold-down lever as with the 1200GS.
Our test bike was equipped with the Standard Package upgrades ($1505) which included optional ABS. And why shouldn’t it considering 95% of US buyers opt for the anti-lock system. Basically it’s easy to turn on or off with the simple push of a left-side button, and works exceptionally well on the pavement. Keep it off in the dirt.
Essentially the bike behaves itself in every situation. It doesn’t crawl over rocks like a Montesa or eat curvy pavement like a R1, but it can tackle everything in between and will challenge or outperform rider skill in many areas. It’s easy to stand on and comfortable to sit, the Bosch EFI never misses a beat, the chassis and suspension are predictable, motor is versatile and fun, wind protection is adequate, amenities plentiful, and the fuel range looks to support touring. The 2009 F800GS fits perfectly into the GS concept.
To say that we’re happy with the new AT model barely does it justice. As fans of the big GS model, there were things we wanted to keep with the smaller version. The F800 is distinctly related to the BMW adventure family. From the styling, sound and performance, there’s plenty of familiarity despite having never ridden it before. Controllable wheelspin, seamless power of a 360-degree ignition offset, comfort and available amenities out the whazoo are all distinct markers of its heritage.
More importantly, the bike’s ability to conjure thoughts of world travel and remote destinations is equally as effective. It practically oozes temptation, but, at least for our dirt-biased tester, this GS model actually delivers matching performance. We’d all like to think that we could pilot one of the big Boxers to the glory of circumnavigation, but for most it’s nothing more than a pipe dream. With its agreeable nature, movable weight and manageable cost, the F800GS can, and will, punch the ticket on Average Joe’s passport.
2009 F800GS Base Model – $10,520 plus freight
Available Colors – Sunset Yellow and Dark Magnesium Metallic
Standard Package – $12,025 plus freight
– Heated Grips
– Onboard Computer
– White Turn Signals
Additional Available Equipment
– Anti-theft Alarm
– Low Seat (no cost)
– Center Stand
– BMW Motorrad Navigator II GPS
– Engine guards
– Akrapovic Silencer
– Service Tool Kit
– High/Low Windscreen