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2011 BMW F800GS Comparison Review

Monday, May 30, 2011


BMW is the current king in this relatively new market segment, and for good reason. It isn’t just that it’s the only game in town, but the German engineers did a fine job in bringing the best features of its large and small GS motorcycles together. The only bad thing about the F800GS is that it hasn’t seen any revisions since it was introduced. In that regard, BMW was able to sit back and wait for another manufacturer to step to the plate. That time has come with the arrival of the new Triumph, but even with the Tiger’s impressive hype, BMW is not the underdog heading into this comparison. There’s plenty to love about this German Twin.



BMW's F800GS has been the definition of the middleweight ADV touring category. It's prowess on the road and exploring off-highway have made it a favorite traveling companion.
At the heart is a 798cc engine which, like other BMW machines, has a torque-laden delivery. The Parallel Twin lines up a set of 82mm x 75.6mm cylinders pumped up to a compression ratio of 12.0:1. A strong surge off the bottom makes the GS lively and easily spins the rear end in dirt.

“The low-end grunt of the 800 Twin is really stout,” says Associate Editor, Justin Dawes. “But, it begins to run out of steam. The bottom end hit is almost too much with the street tires we had on, but with a set of knobs I think the Beemer engine might have be preferable in the dirt over the Triumph. But as it was, the Tiger’s power delivery was better suited for the skins that were on the bikes. Highway cruising was no problem, but the roll-on power of the Triumph at 75 mph left the BMW in the dust.”

Not only does the BMW make just over two foot-pounds more peak torque, but it carries a significant advantage from about 4500 rpm to nearly 8000. The Twin starts to fall off in its last 1000 revs before redline, but it holds that same type of advantage in the horsepower curve. However, the Beemer maxes at just under 75 ponies while the Tiger roars its way to almost 82, which come just a hair before the 10K redline. Vibrations from the F800 keep us shifting around 5-6000 anyway, which is right in its sweet spot. It’s perfectly happy loping along at low revs. It definitely doesn’t feel as fast as the Tiger, particularly when it comes to dropping a quick shift and overtaking another vehicle.

Over the course of our testing, the BMW logged an average of 48.1 mpg, that’s 22% more than the Tiger (39.6 mpg). However, the F800 only has a 4.2-gallon tank versus the Tiger’s 5.0 gallons. That gives them a virtually identical range of around 200 miles. Considering we short-shift the GS and rev out the XC, the difference in fuel economy is to be expected. BMW houses its fuel cell under the seat, and the filler cap is located on the right side by the rear of the seat. The opening is small and it’s difficult to see the fuel level, but we like how the bike tips away from the fill side when on its kickstand.

Both machines have significant engine braking and will chatter the rear tire. The BMW is slightly more affected by a severe throttle chop simply because its front end is so soft. For as many great traits as the GS has, its 45mm Marzocchi
Highs & Lows
Highs
  • Abundant torque
  • Proven reliability
  • Extra ammenities
Lows
  • Wimpy, non-adjustable fork
  • Low seat option nice, but uncomfortable
  • Love/hate rider interface
fork is not one of them. On the pavement it dives excessively with braking. The steel trellis chassis settles into corners extremely well considering the forward pitch and we love the BMW’s stable platform on the curves. The soft front end is more raked out compared to the XC at 26 degrees (versus 23.1). In the dirt the non-adjustable fork is more of an issue as it quickly uses its nine inches of travel. It does not handle jumping very well, but the bigger issue is that it moves quickly into a mid-stroke spike on smaller impacts. This causes the front end to deflect and push, meaning we get out of shape more often and the BMW isn’t as easy to get under control as the Tiger.

“For the street the BMW was king in the corners,” says Dawes. “The lower front end was much more confident than the Triumph dipping into a turn. However, that hurt the Beemer in the dirt. The front end pushed too much in any sort of off-road situation. Then as the front would finally hook up the rear would step out. It was a much more delicate balancing act.”

Out back is a different story. The rear shock mount is located on top of the swingarm and the performance was acceptable on all terrain. A hand-operated preload adjuster makes setting up for a passenger or luggage very simple. It also has a rebound adjuster which could have used some tinkering at times to control the 8.5 inches of travel. On sharp-edges, G-outs or water-breaks the Beemer’s rear end bucked a bit more than the Tiger. It never swaps out of line, it’s just a little springy. “No issues with the rear end,” confirms Dawes, “the front is its major fault.”


The front end is a weak link for the F800GS, but the Brembo brakes
are strong. Out back the shock is better but is still a bit springy.
In the controls department, our BMW had some serious advantages thanks to optional upgrades, but that didn’t necessarily translate to a love affair for all testers. The switchable ABS ($900) is operated by the left thumb once the bike comes to a standstill, which makes it easy to forget while transitioning from street to dirt without pausing. Also, if the ignition key is turned off it automatically resets to the active position. One rider loved having the option, the other hated it as it made for some serious pucker moments when we forgot to stop and turn it off. On the road it works like it’s supposed to. A noticeable pulsating is felt through the levers which lets the rider know it’s doing its job.

Braking is provided by powerful Brembo calipers – two up front and one in the rear. The Beemer uses a 300mm rotor on both sides of the front wheel and stopping power is great. The only problem with the front binders comes from the front lever. It could stand to give a bit more feedback, but more annoying is the adjustment screw which vibrates out of position and leaves the lever too close to the rider’s hand. It’s not easy to adjust on the fly with riding gloves. Out back is a 265mm disc with single-piston caliper. It too has plenty of power but a problem with the rider interface. The brake lever is way too low and we constantly search for it while standing, occasionally finding the case guard by accident and locking up the wheel. It’s a poor design. Another crappy idea is the bulky plastic front brake reservoir on the right handlebar. It wobbles around and is just waiting for a crash to rip it off.

The clutch works better than the Tiger’s, but the transmission doesn’t. Negotiating the BMW through technical off-road, or simply coming to a stop on the street, is much easier on the F800 because it only requires two fingers on the lever. The Tiger is a four-finger affair and it penalizes the rider with a stalled engine. The six-speed transmission on the GS is just like the rest of the German adventure bikes – clunky. It takes a solid movement with the foot and then the 800 thunks into gear. It’s not a speed-shifter and we managed to find a false neutral between fifth and sixth gears – a problem we’ve noted in the past with this bike.



The F800GS switchgear is a point of contention as it looks bland even though it's functional. Our test ridrs appreciated the upgraded BMW LCD-style computer system. We are surprised they can pack that much info into this small unit.
Another trademark of the BMW family is the switchgear. Paddles on each side of the handlebar control the blinkers with a cancellation button on the right. It’s one of those designs that create a love/hate with riders, and our crew isn’t immune.

“I hate the BMW switchgear,” exclaims Dawes, “especially the turn signals. Why can’t they just stick with the standard setup found on every other bike? I spend way too much time fumbling with the controls.”

On the flip side, our other tester had no problems and usually cursed the Tiger when searching for the right blinker paddle. With temperatures in the 90s, our riders both used thin gloves, and the large signals are more appropriate with bulky cold-weather mitts. Another feature we couldn’t appreciate this time of year are the heated grips ($250). Instead, we just bitched about the hard, low-grade grip material that leads to numb hands. Functionally the mirrors are the same, but BMW definitely gets the styling nod for its teardrop shape.

BMW equipped our test unit with the upgraded computer package ($295). An information button on the left handlebar toggles through a list of relevant details on the digital display. The one we played with the most was the external temperature gauge. Dual trip meters were extra nice and managing the information system is much easier on the BMW despite more options to toggle through.

The ABS, heated grips and on-board computer are part of BMW’s “Standard Package.” A center stand is extra ($175) and it would have been nice if we needed to do roadside maintenance. Instead it rattled during off-road riding. Both the additional center stand as well as the standard kickstand needs a securing mechanism to keep them from flopping down. Something as simple as a rubber loop like is found on KTM dirt bikes would be sufficient.


BMW now has a reason to start making some improvements on the venerable F800GS.
Our machine was also equipped with the low seat option which comes at no charge from the dealer. The 33.5-inch seat height makes touching the ground very easy and helps immensely in parking lot maneuvers and during foot-dabbing dirt sections. However, it’s not as comfortable as the standard seat with sharp edges and stiff foam. It also slightly cramps the knees during long periods of sitting, though it doesn’t affect the ergonomics while standing. Having the fuel tank below the seat helps keep the bike’s midsection thinner which is most notable when standing and squeezing the faux tank with the legs. The wide aluminum handlebars make for a secure grasp and we didn’t have to adjust anything other than removing the rubber peg inserts for better traction.

All told the BMW is the same machine we’ve loved from Day 1 – literally. The Twin engine makes usable torque and the chassis/ergonomics are versatile. Now the Germans, and the buying public, have something to compare against, which makes the GS’ faults a bit more tedious. Simple changes to the controls would go a long way but mostly it needs to rethink the front fork. Once that is up to par with the rest of the machine, the F800 will be tough to beat.


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Adventure Touring the Northwest
 Its been called many things over the years  but sourced its Magruder title from the grisly murder of Lloyd Magruder and four others.
I could have laughed at the windy return from the comfort of a van, but would never have met the Nevada rancher who spared four gallons of fuel at twilight, nor any of the other countless, ephemeral details for which this story hasn’t space. The resulting blur was a mixture of bikes, terrain and personalities; eight days, five states and almost exactly 3000 miles - in my estimation, a true adventure.

Somewhere between the droning highway and the seesawing off-road traverse; between the volcanic slag and majestic glaciers, I learned a few things about touring. Not the least of which is that there are multiple ways of going about it – and that progress can be made with a step backward, or sometimes even two.

Read the full adventure in "Backtracking Forward."
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