By Rowan Page | Published on 2020-08-09
The mission; navigate the gravel backroads to the closest shop and get back with lunch before it was cold. Easy-peasy. Usually when you are taking someone’s new bike for a spin you feel obliged to be gentle, but I had been given the specific instruction to ‘open her up a bit’ and I wasn’t going to disobey.
Turn the key and the rev counter makes a very satisfying arc to maximum RPM and returns, indicating that the bike is ready to start. Look back and see two FMF pipes, sans spark arresters, peaking out. The noise is hard to describe; throaty but not lazy like a thumper. It has the urgency of a twin cylinder but a charismatic, off-beat base note. A great exhaust sound, but you would definitely need earplugs for a long ride.
Since it went out of production in 2013, these bikes have developed something of a cult following. I have a strong suspicion that the 999cc v-twin has a lot to do with it. More than a hundred horsepower, straight to the rear wheel and bucketloads of character. Quite reliable too, I’ve heard.
I head off, first making a quick loop of our ‘off-road’ track. Nothing too hectic on a dirt bike but definitely more action than most adventure bikes will see in a lifetime. No new scratches by the end means she passes the off-road capability test, at least for a first impression.
The gravel roads are heavily rutted from recent rains making high speeds a bit sketchy. Nonetheless, she feels very comfortable cruising on the gravel; I would have quite happily ridden through the flowering canola fields all day. But I had a job to do.
Just before my destination and the halfway point of my trip I spotted a reasonably smooth and straight bit of road. A left hander through a small dip and onto a long sweeping right hander up a hill. No ruts, a bit off-camber, plenty of visibility and a line of trees to tell me when to brake. A perfect spot to stretch her legs a bit.
It was a bit of a strange experience refueling with the dual fuel tanks. They seem to drain at equal rates but need to be filled separately; pretty odd if you ask me. Hot lunch in the backpack and I was on my way.
Shift down into 2nd gear and carry some momentum through the dip. Short shift into 3rd in a meaningless attempt to avoid the rear stepping out and let the engine sing. It pulls strong right from down low but there is a window around 6-7k rpm where it feels like a power-valve has just opened. On dirt you hit the limiter almost immediately as the rear wheel spins and the revs soar. I can’t remember if I shifted into 4th or not but the gearing is crazy tall and with the tail wagging I felt a lump in my throat as I looked down and saw 172km/h on the speedo. I lifted way before my braking marker; this bike is obscenely quick in the dirt. Apparently it tops out around 200 km/h but it will certainly get there very rapidly. If I’m nitpicking I would say the brakes seem a little underwhelming. But this is a second hand bike, so take it with a pinch of salt.
On initial impressions the gearing seems pretty strange, but I have a feeling it will start to make sense with some more time on the bike. The ratios have definitely been chosen with riding in mind and not fuel consumption. Around 10 l/100km is pretty good for an SUV, not great for a bike. But I doubt fuel consumption will be much of a concern for anyone riding this bike, other than possible range limitations. Needless to say I got back in time with the food still piping hot. There was even time to spare for a quick detour through a fun little section of single track.
So where does that leave me with my first impressions of the bike? Well, I am not rushing out to trade-in my F800GS just yet. But it is an incredibly desirable bike and I can definitely understand why it has the following it does.
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