By Rowan Page | Published on 2020-07-15
The 800cc parallel twin in my BMW F800GS is about as interesting to me as the T’s & C’s on its warranty contract. Just to be clear, I’m not a legal nerd, it‘s bloody boring. And it seems to be the same story for the rest of the bike; it’s all pretty vanilla.
So why when I bought this bike, did I buy from the heart? This is the type of bike you begrudgingly admit is the ‘sensible option’. But I didn’t buy this bike after looking at a spreadsheet. I just sort of ‘knew’ that I had to. It wasn’t the price, specs, or the brand reputation. It’s something only a true petrol head will understand; this bike had a story to tell me.
Just over R80 000 for a 2017 BMW F800GS with around 50 000 km. And with a 2 year unlimited mileage warrantee. Now that’s a deal if you ask me. This particular model, while not the ‘Adventure’ variant, came with some decent stock equipment:
Since I plan to test this bikes off-road capability, I swapped out the stock plastic bash plate for a something a bit more serious. I also put a plastic top box on so I can do the groceries. Sometimes I wonder about my logic. Luckily, its easily removable. The bash plate was 2nd hand and the top box was fancy, so the costs about evened out to R2 300.
The dealer dropped the bike off at lunchtime on the Friday, and a few hours later I was off on my first adventure. One of the first things I noticed was that the front end seemed very light and nimble. Many adventure bikes seem to rely on weight to keep the front end stable, but that didn’t seem to be the case here. Getting the front turned in was easy and the steering sharp and purposeful. I was very impressed how stable the bike is - not even a whiff of head-shake hitting some bigger holes at speed on the dirt. After 350 km (with a good mix of tar and dirt) on the first outing I was very pleased with my purchase.
I really wish the bike had tubeless wheels. I always get nervous hitting fast gravel sections in the fear of a pinch flat. Unfortunately the aftermarket Nutech Tubliss system I love so on my dirt bike isn't really suitable for this application.
The clutch action and feel is also a little disappointing. It doesn’t have the lightest pull, engagement point is finicky, and the geometry of the lever is just off.
I have also watched the engine temperature climb quite rapidly when sitting in traffic - apparently the fan only kicks in at around 105 celsius. These three things make me somewhat hesitant of getting into the gnarly off-road stuff, but I know I will eventually.
As I eluded to earlier, the geometry on this bike is very good. It starts with the 21 inch front wheel and the point is driven home by plain and simple good engineering. Trust the Germans to get the little details just right. At first I was a touch worried that there was no steering stabilizer on the bike, but I soon realized there was no need and glad to be without it.
I removed the windscreen when giving the bike its first wash and saw something very telling; high quality screws with clever little rubber washers. This sort of attention to detail is what leads to a bike feeling premium. It’s the same story for the controls on the handlebars; super solid and they just satisfying to use.
Yes, but there is more to it than that.
Pull up at a stop light. Slip the clutch and feed the revs. You will quietly leave almost anything in your mirrors. Sub 5 second 0-100kmh even if you don’t get it cleanly. But all business-like, the front wheel will stay firmly planted. I tried to playfully hop off a small pavement; this ended embarrassingly with a confused traction control and ABS system landing me on the neighbors driveway.
But in hind sight, in both of these instances, it wasn’t really the bike to blame. There is so much being asked of this GS;
It pretty much nails all of them, but if I am being honest, I was left feeling somewhat disappointed. A great piece of engineering, but pretty boring.
But then it all just clicked. Right near my house there is a short but steep dip through a tunnel under a railway line. I was caught behind a dump truck crawling its way up the other side. It was only a matter of seconds, but without hesitation I flicked off the traction control, gave a blip of throttle and dropped the clutch; boring no more.
That’s the thing you see, so much is being asked of this smaller brother to the R1200GS, the only way to cope is a sort of split personality. Luckily, the wild child isn’t hiding far beneath the surface. And if you look closely, you see that BMW was giving you clues all along. You just needed to know what you were looking for.
Fuel tank at the back to keep the front end light. Look down to see some serious inverted WP forks like you will find on certain orange dirt bikes, and an adjustable preload on the shock. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the button to put the bike into the lively ‘enduro mode’ in within reach of your right thumb, without even lifting off the gas. And it’s the same story on the clutch side. Hit one conveniently placed button and the traction control is off. Hold it a little longer and so is the ABS.
Now crack open the throttle and either the front is coming up or the tail will be wagging, just depends how much traction there is. Then as the revs climb you realize that ‘boring parallel twin’ comes alive after 6000 rpm - she’s angry! You will even get some snap-crackle-and-pop out of the stock exhaust when you inevitably need to lift off. I’ve yet to find the rev limiter, and trust me I’ve tried. BMW hid a dirt bike just beneath the surface of this business-like bike, you just need to look. And after all the fun and games, you have a GS to take you home.
In good time I will be able to comment on what this bike is like to live with, but for now it‘s all about how it makes me feel. This is probably the most important thing about any bike, and this BMW passes with highest honors.
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