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2010 BMW F800GS Comparison

Monday, July 19, 2010
2010 BMW F800GS Comparison
Shifting the 800 is just like we expect from a Beemer, a bit clunky, but effective. The 690 is much smoother, but has a big gap between fifth and sixth.
Six-speed transmissions are standard on both. In keeping with the general feel of the bike, the KTM is a little better suited to slow speed work. First gear is a tad tall on the GS, considering how tall the upper end of the box is. For all its new look and design, shifting the 800 still feels like BMWs from generations past. The transmission is a little stiff and hesitant to downshift in a hurry. By comparison the 690 is butter, another of the subtle attributes of the slipper clutch. Stomping down on the shifter always brings the same smooth and controlled reaction. However, the KTM has a huge gap between fifth and sixth, leading to a lot of false neutrals during upshifts.

No matter how much dirt there is in the world, at some point we are all faced with having to hit the highway. We all have to get from point A to B and trying to do so in the dirt sure is fun. Yet each day of our trip we found ourselves spending the bulk of our daylight getting nowhere fast on the dirt and had to pound the pavement to make our next destination.

Off-road the KTM was proving itself to be a sure thing in the fun department. Oh, but how quickly the tables would turn. Lesser friends pressed into this situation would probably turn to ruthless methods to secure the BMW for highway duty. Now you might think that I’m taking a pretty big swing at the 690 here, but I’m not, only at one little part of it, that damn seat! Surely no one has done more to fuel the aftermarket seat business in the past few years than KTM.

Actually the 800 seat has some issues of its own, but not even in the same universe as the 690. The GS seat is too low in front and I consistently found myself trying to sit on the sloping section and having to sort of prop myself there to not slide forward. This is probably the result of trying to accommodate shorter riders. Trying to swing a leg over the Beemer with panniers installed is quite an event. Both bikes are pretty tall feeling when it comes to getting on and off them. The KTM’s 36-inch perch is considerably taller than the GS’ 34.6-inch saddle, but is sometimes easier to manage due to its lighter weight and thinner profile.

2010 KTM 690 Enduro R Comparison
The view from the KTM is unobstructed, which means it offers zero protection aside from the handguards, which work very well, thankfully.
Riding each bike back to back down the road gives a great opportunity to really feel the differences. The smallish wind screen on the GS provides some nice protection and was a welcome feeling in the cool weather. It does give some buffeting at the helmet. The 690 with no screen was actually slightly quieter at speed, but the lack of any screen and the upright riding position mean there is a constant need to hold yourself to the bike against the wind. This, combined with wind chill and exposure to rain can tire a rider very quickly. The cold mornings are made much more bearable by the heated handgrips of the 800. Interestingly, the stock handguards on the KTM also provide significant wind and rain protection. The ideal solution would be to have both.

Aside from the seat I have one other bone to pick with KTM. The lighting on the 690 might have been acceptable 10 years ago, but is way behind the curve now. Seriously, it’s enough so that on the last evening I was calculating my arrival time in earnest just to be sure that I would not get caught out after dark on the highway. We actually stopped two different times to make sure the tail light was working because it cannot be seen in the daylight. The headlight I have on my 450 dirt bike is better than that on the 690.

By contrast the GS lights are stellar. The LED rear is super bright, enough to make you think the brake light is stuck on. The first evening we were fire roading after dark, with the 800 trailing the 690 and the Beemer dual-lamp headlight completely eclipsed the KTM.

2010 BMW F800GS Comparison
Both bikes get roughly the same fuel economy, though the Beemer should get some credit for packing extra luggage weight.
Fuel range and mileage are similar between the bikes and ranged significantly depending on conditions. The GS will hold 4.2 gallons compared to the 3.2 of the KTM. Our mpg ran pretty close to each other, but a heavy hand would bring down the mileage on the 800 quicker. Don’t forget the extra burden of weight, which surely played a role. Traveling a little over 1,200 miles side by side, the KTM averaged 52 mpg with a range of 42-62 mpg. The BMW averaged 50 mpg with a range of 39-62 mpg. That equates to an average distance between fill ups of 160 miles for the 690 and 210 miles for the 800. At other times under more aggressive riding, we have had both bikes run low at around 120 miles.

As for overall aesthetics and appeal, the BMW is the crowd stopper. I am always intrigued by the fact that a Beemer is about the only other brand that has some appeal to Harley aficionados. Personally I think the GS in the black and yellow color scheme is a little more macho looking, though ours wasn’t bad dressed in orange. As for the 690, it just doesn’t seem to grab people’s attention in the same way.

We had one evening of spectacular riding down the Salmon River, an open road with long, smooth corners. This is the type of riding where you can see why so many people buy adventure bikes with no intention of taking them off-road. They make great sport touring bikes. The upright riding position and wide bar give great feel and control. While the suspension settings on each felt very different in the dirt, on the street both work well. The 800 always plush and the 690 feeling more like a stout hooligan bike. Both felt right at home carving down the canyon.

That brings us to the apex of our story. Can we take two bikes that come from very different design platforms and find something in common between them; can we start at each end and meet in the middle? Here we have two different approaches to the adventure bike equation. One is more of a true middleweight with its strengths pointing towards comfort and distance, while the other is a strict minimalist.

2010 BMW F800GS Comparison
This was the only time we were worried about the BMW, but some helping hands were all that were needed.
It should be pretty clear by now, and come as no great surprise, that the KTM is the choice for the dirt and the BMW the preferred street mount. While that is certainly true, it also really overlooks the versatility of each bike. Neither was completely out of its element on any of the situations we encountered. There was one mud hole crossing when the water was starting to come over the top of the front fender on the 800, which was somewhere just past the comfort zone.

For me the KTM is sort of a work in progress. It is just shy of being the great single cylinder rally/adventure bike. KTM has enough bikes in its line up to cover most of the bases already, so this one really needs to create a niche where it can shine. It really needs more fuel capacity, better lighting and that Dakar style fairing similar to the old 640 Adventure. That’s a bike that would suit my personal vision of ADV greatness.

The BMW on the other hand is more of a completed concept. It’s a very capable all-rounder that excels on the pavement. It has all the amenities that we have come to expect from the brand. Anyone considering a 1200GS should take this for a spin before making a decision. It might be all the bike you could ever want, in a lighter, more agile package. It is not a full on dirt bike, but it is probably easier to manage off road than nearly every liter class adventure bike. Respect its limits and it can take you to amazing places.

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kramnamhoh   March 23, 2013 07:16 AM
I rode from California to Argentina last year on a KLR 650. I met many adventure travelers on all kinds of bikes. Every single rider on a BMW had what I would consider a major failure on their trip to south america. Three (!!) GS800s with blown engines, bent rims, shock failures, dead electronics, etc. All the BMW riders had great stories of getting their bikes repaired somewhere along the way. I absolutely brutalized the KLR, filled it with dirty gas from buckets, overloaded it to the extreme, and it kept on plugging along. BMWs are great adventure bikes for north america or europe, but the wrong tool for RTW adventure IMHO. I'll take a simple, reliable japanese dualsport for RTW adventures.
AgentFossil   November 7, 2011 10:39 AM
As I get older, weight reduction (both the bike's and my own) becomes the key to good riding. Whenever I can drop 100 lbs on an off-road bike, I'm way ahead of the game. I'll deal with the 690's road issues by gearing, adding a screen and seat replacement. I have a 990 Adv, and I rarely ride it off-road alone anymore because it's too freakin' heavy to pick up if I drop it in the most miserable places (which is pretty much the only place it gets dropped these days). I have the DR650 as the dirt-work Adv bike, but the suspension and power are lagging. Upgrading both to the level of the 690 is expensive and leads to reliability issues, so I'm selling the DR for an EFI, WP-suspended, 60 hp machine that I'll turn into the Adv bike it should already be. If it's as good as I hope it'll be, the 990 Adv will get sold, too. The 800 middle-weight doesn't serve my needs well - - too heavy for the real dirt, but not as fun on the street and fire-roads as the 990 Adv. It'll be interesting to see if my 690 Adv scheme holds up.
Robert Griffin -690 Owner  December 16, 2010 02:36 PM
I had a 640 Adventure which I sold for the 690R. And I sold that because to make it what it should be was more than the difference in price of buying the 990 Adventure. To say the seat is a torture is an understatement. The lighting is so poor that I was unable to see any distance at night. It did scream on dirt and was fast on the highway but not comfortable. In comparison to the 990 the 690 feels like a bicycle. I hope KTM makes a true Adventure out of the 690. Meanwhile I will ride something else.
Luke M -Finally found it  September 1, 2010 08:00 AM
I currently have 2 bikes in my stable: DRZ 400 and GS 1150 Adv. Just like a proud parent, I love both of them differently. I recently traveled parts of the continental divide trail on my GSA and I was left wanting something more dirt-worthy. Sure, it was do-able on the massive GSA but muscling it up, around, over and through was exhausting. My dilemma: I live in Austin, TX and much of the good dirt/DS riding is many hundreds of miles away. If I take the GSA I can ride all day in comfort only to struggle when I get to the dirty parts. If I ride the DRZ it's a medieval torture device on the several hundred miles of interstate between me and the dirt, but the dirty sections are just so much more fun. So what's the best compromise? I've been seriously considering both of these bikes, either the 800 to replace my GSA or the 690 to replace the DRZ. I'm leaning towards the 800 as it just seems a better 'all-rounder'. I'll never be a Malcolm Smith in the dirt, nor do I make any illusions in that respect. I'm confident the 800 will take me where I want to go. And if I get to a point where I can't go any further, well, I guess I should have been on the DRZ. Thanks for the write up!
Simon from Italy -Nice one!  August 26, 2010 06:25 AM
Yeah dudes, that was a great idea. I've been on dirt ready-to-race bikes (EXC models) for a while, but I'm thinking to move on something more all-rounder. In my mind 690r could be the one, it also has in Power Parts catalogue side panniers that help in travelling. Do you think that geal boosted seat (also included in PP cat) could help in reduce pain?
Ron -Awesome comparison  August 1, 2010 08:16 PM
Yes yes the bikes are not direct competitors, thankfully most of the commentors bring this point up.... I'm in the market for a dirt road, back road, 4wd road, and very limited highway bike that I can use for mainly 200-300 mile day trips and the occasional multiday motel trip. Right now both of these bikes are at the top of my list and I couldn't believe that there was actually a comparison on these two. Thanks Chilly!

I feel that with a larger tank and minimal windscreen the 690 could be great for my purposes, BUT I also feel that the 800 could also handle what I want at a slower pace off-road in exchange for easier/better street miles. I demo'd the 800 recently on dirt roads and some smooth easy desert single-track and it worked quite well for what it is.

I really appreciate Chilly's perspective on these bikes since my background is enduro racing and single-track riding, most "adventure dorks" just don't get what off-road riding really is... sorry but it's true, go spend some time on ADVrider or better yet go ride with someone off ADV, scary.


Rob -Fun article, but...  July 28, 2010 05:04 PM
I don't see these bikes as competitors whatsoever. The BMW will appeal to someone who wants to cover a lot of miles while the KTM will appeal to someone who wants lightness and performance above all else. As an owner of a 690 SMR, I can say the best thing about the 690's is power-wise, they can keep up with classes of bikes that are typically much faster and heavier than single-cylinder bikes, while maintaining that < 350 lb weight and the handling that goes with it. I agree with a few others, a 690 Adv would be the bomb. Address the seat, wind protection and luggage capacity and KTM would have the ultimate hardcore adventure tourer though. The Enduro/SMC seat does suck - the SM/Duke has a MUCH better seat. I honestly wonder if a 690 Adv would work better based off the SM/Duke platform than the Enduro/SMC.
Chilly -Tires  July 24, 2010 10:02 AM
Switchback - good eye! My bad on that one. I have tested two different KTM 690R models this year. The first one was shod with Bridgestone tires, not the OEM Pirelli MT21's. Obviously I wasn't paying close enough attention when I jotted that down.

btw, The Husky TE630 was one of our choices for the comparison, but it was not available for the time frame we had to work in. That is just the nature of the business sometimes, we will leave it on the "to do" list.
Switchback -Correction  July 23, 2010 05:54 PM
In the article you say the KTM has MT-21 Tires and later you comment on the KTM's Bridgestones. For the record the MT-21 is a Pirelli tire not a Bridgestone. On another note to call this a comparison of middleweight ADV tourers is a bit of a stretch. I second the need for a comparison of the 690 and the Husky 630 "Dual-Sports."
Dennis -tmex@KTMTalk  July 22, 2010 09:58 AM
Article says it all and says it well IMO. KTM needs to bring out a 690 Adventure to address the fuel range, and I will have one in my garage. While the F8 (which I own) can get into and out of most places, I would be able to do it easier and with less drama on the 690 for sure. BTW, I've never been hassled bringing a KTM or a BMW to a biker bar, but I have had ugly experiences pulling up in a rice burner.
Ted -Great Comparo for Someone Looking to Buy  July 21, 2010 09:29 AM
Although dissimilar, both of these are at the top of my fall purchasing list. My riding style focuses on b-rated paved and various dirt roads. Rather than compare closely matched bikes, this review compares viable options within a particular ADV riding style. I find this refreshing and extend my thanks.
Zooba -Two KLRs  July 20, 2010 02:13 PM
OK, it's not just about price, but for the cost of either of these bikes I'd go with TWO KLR's and probably have a better all-around Dual Sport ride. Better yet one KLR and a Suzuki DR350, if you can still find one. Or a Suzuki 400 despite another tall, hard seat. I've actually ridden both of the test subjects and wondered who was the genius who designed the seats. My lowered KLR is WAY more comfortable. So the question is - do you really NEED 12 inches of suspension on a Dual Sport? And a 36 or higher seat height. The engineers are competing for the buy by specs market I guess. I wonder if any of them ever actually sit on one of their own seats for 5 or 6 hours on the trail....
Tom -@Steve  July 20, 2010 02:04 PM
Too tall? Maybe for their intended purpose, but then who takes these bikes to 'long way round' conditions? Absolutely nobody, or they'd choose a ktm adventure ;) People buy these mostly because at the end of a paved road, it allows you to go just that little bit further where normal bikes almost can not take you, at a decent speed and with decent performance (although obviously not as briskly as a real dakar bike would). Every bike has a purpose, true hardcore offroading isn't one of them in the case of adventure bikes. Just expanding your trip and your horizon a little beyond the pavement... You can surely see this, right? You wouldn't blame a rolls royce for not being able to parallel park in london city centre. Different vehicle, different purpose. Anyway, about your 'too tall' observation. With my length (6'4") these bikes are my only real option as an everyday USABLE and comfortable bike. (and no, i'm not going cruisin', i'm not yet 60 years old) So it's either a GS, multistrada, thriumph tiger or similar for me. Too tall? Luckily for me they are, because honestly I can't fit on a 600 sportbike/naked (F6Z etc...)
TG -Nicely Done  July 20, 2010 09:55 AM
Great article! I'm glad to see you put some decent tread on the BMW (even if not as aggressive as the KTM's - better than stock). A couple points of interest on the BMW though: you complain about the seat - in my time on the 800GS I found the Sargent Touring seat (not the pancake flat enduro seat) to work great; I also never ran the bike with the rubber pads on the pegs - they are slicker than snot on a doorknob when wet; and to aid in general position and standing (I'm a taller guy, 6'3") I put some 20mm risers under the bar mounts. It's clear that this comparo was of two very different takes on adventure motorcycling, but interesting nonetheless. The G650X Challenge might have been a better comparison, but as a no longer available model (2009 only, and none left a BMW corporate) it would have been pointless to mention; and, the comparison of different types of adventure bikes more clearly represents the entire market.

Thanks for the great read. Oh, and how does anyone know when/where your testers are going to be? Sandpoint has some great adventure riding, and with prior notice some locals might have been able to enhance the ride/test.
Steve -Good article, silly comparison  July 20, 2010 09:44 AM
I love the articles on this site, always lots of photos and video, specs and opinions. This article feels like they had 2 bikes they needed to review and only had time for one article. These 2 are hardly a good match for comparison. The 690 is a dual sport bike, should be compared to DR650, KLR650, DRZ400, 450EXC and other dual sports. F800GS is actually an adventure-tour bike, that's why it has bags and a big windshield. It should be compared to a 650 V-Strom or the upcoming 675 from Triumph. I think it's funny the author says the adventure bike category is not well defined. I would say the opposite, all the adventure bikes I look at are too tall, heavy, and softly suspended for real off-road adventures. They all look like a 1200GS to some extent, with high "fenders", tall windshields, weird tire sizes, and big fuel tanks. If I was going on a real adventure, I would probably take a DRZ400, because it's fast enough, light enough, and off-road capable enough (not to mention 1/2 the price of these 2 bikes).
Tom -comparo  July 20, 2010 07:18 AM
I think the comparo makes for a good combination.

I would pit the 990 against the 1200 GS rather than the 800 GS. For several reasons, both are considered direct rivals, both are the top of the line Adventure bikes of both brands and fit and finish-wise they're the best each brand has to offer in this respective area. A difference in engine capacity is irrelevant in this matter. As it is for this comparison, given the similar (lets not quible about 10-15 HP either way, that's nitpicking here) power output. The focus is totally different than just shear engine capacity or power output.

Besides, the author expressed it well in the first paragraph...

"In a segment where there is really no definition of class based upon displacement or any other key factor, each manufacturer takes a design approach based more or less upon what its view of an adventure bike should be. That view can vary greatly, and so it should, just like the roads these bikes will travel. "

Adventure bikes are one of the rare breeds in motorcycling where there is hardly a definition of class as is pointed out by the author. Adventure is adventure, the rest is up to you to see where your requirements lie. Power, handling, tractability, weight, carrying capacity. In this respect you could almost place anything against each other, as long is it has enduro style tires and looks like the bikes above ;)

Only with cruisers where size is directly related to your manliness will readers be anal about comparing bikes within a couple of cubic inches apart. Same goes for sportbikes where there's no point comparing a 600cc to a literbike...

Scott -Interesting bike selection for a comparison  July 19, 2010 04:55 PM
I agree with Mark; an interesting article on some cool DS/Adventure bikes, but not really a good match-up of like models. The 800GS is more in line with a KTM 950/990, in size & intended use.

I did enjoy the focus on the DS segment, and the pro's and con's of each type of bike. Perhaps a later comparison can be done with the 690 vs 610/630, and 650X, etc. & the same for the 800 vs 990...
mark -Good article  July 19, 2010 12:42 PM
Interesting comparo, though an odd combination. I would have liked to see a comparison between the F800GS and the KTM 950 Super Enduro as those bikes are more closely matched in weight and purpose. A big-bore single-cylinder dual-sport shootout between the 690 Enduro, BMW G650 Xchallenge, and Husqvarna TE610 or TE630 would be a good read as well. Thanks for paying some attention to the ADV market segment.