BMW F 800 GS – Road Test

What is it?

BMW calls its F 800 GS the “sportiest member of the GS family” − and it certainly is. It’s a middleweight adventure bike, but with enough power to hang with the big boys, like the 1200 GS. Recently improved, it’s probably BMW’s best dual-purpose bike as it is great off road and also wonderful to ride on tar.

A blue 2012 BMW F 800 GS in the Free State veld

Engine and drive

The BMW F 800 GS was launched in 2008 and from then to this day the same 798 cc parallel-twin engine does the hard work. Over this time the engine has proved to be very reliable and versatile. It puts out 63 kW and 83 Nm. That might not sound like heaps of power, but with the revs over 4 000r/min the bike feels quite fast. The maximum speed is over 200 km/h and is almost the same as the 1200 GS. It is chain driven, in contrast to the 1200’s shaft drive.

Style, instruments and equipment

The F 800 GS has somewhat of an aggressive look with its two rectangular headlights, short mudguard in front and naked frame. None of this has been changed on the recently updated 800 GS. The side fairings, however, have changed a bit to complement the aggressive look even more.

The instrumentation got an upgrade. The most significant change is that the front brake-fluid reservoir is now fixed to part of the lever. This means there’s no longer a dancing reservoir fixed with little rubbers to a little extension on the handlebar. The indicators are now operated with only one button on the left of the handlebar.

The new model comes with ABS brakes (as on all BMW bikes, from now on) as a standard feature. Electronic suspension (ESA) and traction control (ASC) are new features to the bike, and supposed to be optional extras. However, BMW Motorrad South Africa informed dealers that no base model (without ESA, ASC and heated grips) will be available in the country.

Instruments of the 2012 BMW F 800 GS

Performance

There’s just enough torque low down to keep you going through the rough stuff at a slow pace. But it’s only from 4 000 r/min that the fun begins. The mid-range and top of the 800’s power curve are thrilling. The six-speed gearbox shifts with ease and the clutch is light when operated with two fingers. Fuel consumption is very good for a big bike such as this: 5.2 l/100km at 120km/h.

Ride and Handling

From the start the BMW F 800 GS suffered poor suspension performance when used off road; especially at the front. That’s why owners had the option of fitting their 800s with BMW’s suspension kit as an after-market accessory. The kit works very well and makes the 43mm upside-down forks stiffer and more progressive.

The new model has WP forks ex factory. Why BMW waited so long I don’t know, but this makes a major difference to the bike’s handling off road. You can actually ride the new 800 like a big enduro, without fearing that the front will bottom out the whole time. However, the forks are still not adjustable.

The new ESA and ASC on the 800 GS did not get me excited at all. I changed through the three ESA settings; Comfort, Normal and Sport (it only change the rear suspension’s setup) and couldn’t feel the difference. The ASC stops any wheel-spin at the rear. This could help in rainy conditions on tar, but on gravel it’s a wet blanket.

The bike doesn’t offer its rider a good standing position. Tilting the handlebar over to the front helps a lot − and if you raise it by just 15mm it is perfect.

Otherwise this is a splendid bike. You can have loads of fun with it off road, in the field and on tar.

Likes/Dislikes

Like: There is lots to be liked, but the very economical fuel consumption, power and versatility are its best features.

Dislike: BMW should make the suspension adjustable.

Verdict and Rating

I’m a harsh critic of adventure bikes (and no Beemer fan boy), but the F 800 GS is such an enjoyable and capable bike that I actually bought one. 9/10

Also consider

Triumph Tiger 800, KTM 990 Adventure

Specifications of the BMW F 800 GS (2012)

  • Engine  Water-cooled, four-stroke, parallel-twin 798cc engine
  • Gearbox  Constant-mesh six-speed
  • Power  63 kW @ 7500 r/min
  • Torque  83 Nm @ 5750 r/min
  • Weight  214 kg with oil and fully fuelled (wet)
  • Seat Height  880 mm (adjustable and other seats available)
  • Fuel Capacity  16 litres
  • Fuel consumption  3.8 l/100km at 100km/h and 5.2 l/100km at 120km/h
  • Tank range  307 km at 120 km/h average
  • Warranty and Servicing  Two-year warranty, unlimited kilometres. 10 000km intervals
  • Price  R109 400 for the base model and R119 550 with heated grips, ESA and ASC included. Note: only the dynamic package (extras included) is available in South Africa, according to BMW Motorrad SA.
  • Review by  Willem van der Berg, October 2012

A big thanks to Sovereign BMW Motorrad in Bloemfontein for letting us rip some routes on the new F 800 GS at the BMW Eco Challenge in Clocolan and for another Saturday thereafter.

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