The F 800 GS is now an iconic ADV bike. Just under ten years after BMW launched the weird, parallel twin, with its 21-inch front wheel, the German brand have face lifted the bike. New panelling harks at one last attempt to keep people interested before they come out with a newer generation, so we thought it’d be a great opportunity to review the bike almost ten years on.
As a bike, the F 800 GS doesn’t need much introduction. BMW brought the bike in as a mid-range alternative in ’07 and the general reception has been pretty damn positive. For the ADV rider it’s got a lot of positives, namely a 21 inch front hoop and more dirt bike styled geometry. For really long distance travelling, it was a little short on fuel, so BMW made an Adventure edition. It was a little tall so BMW produced the F 700 GS. If neither of those things bothered you, then BMW had on offer a capable adventure bike for a relatively good price.
In the nine years since BMW designed the bike it has had a few style changes as well as a few tweaks and updates to various components. Despite that, we’re essentially still riding the same bike. The bits that are touched and the things that make it go forward are the same. So is it still a great bike or have the times and the advances in technology pushed it down the list of choices?
The trail rolls out across the hill. All around cork trees coat the land, the midday spring sun beating down. Each turn we make gives way to a better, twistier and steeper ribbon of perfect trail than before. Eventually the bush closes in, the trail becomes over grown and loose. The more it climbs the lower the grip becomes. As I roll back the throttle and let the revs drop, trying the feel the grip, the 800 tickles the ground, makes friends with it and the form a solid friendship. Seconds later we’re at the top of another epic hill climb, looking across the incredible valley of folded hills.
The F 800 GS is an awesome off-road bike. It’s also a bike with some caveats.
I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a fair amount of time aboard the F 800 GS in the last ten years. If it were the only bike I’d ridden, I would without doubt have very little issue with it. However, that is not the case. The biggest problem is that in ten years of motorcycle production, some seriously big steps have happened.
For the better part of a week the Brake test team rode the F 800 GS thinking hard about the way it works, why it works and what we think BMW could do with updating. The overwhelming conclusion was that, as an all-round package the F 800 GS is a bike we all love riding off-road on. The engine is silky smooth and gets fantastic grip. It’ll rev quickly when you ask it too, it can be incredibly gentle with the ground when the grip is low and will claw up most hills at a ridiculously slow speed if you’re gentle with it. The motor is plenty quick enough on the dirt too and it has a free feeling engine that rolls along the track without letting engine braking interfere.
Likewise, the chassis is really very good. The geometry feels right off-road. The standing position is dirtbike like so the steering head angle and big front wheel allow the bike to track the ground and turn well. Its slots into small ruts as easily as a big bike can and is a pleasure to ride. The smoother you are, the more you get from the mid-range GS and on the terrain we had in Portugal, it was a brilliant machine. The endless sweeping corners of the Algarve complement everything right about the F 800 GS.
As good as it is to ride on the dirt, it isn’t without some niggles. A few of those are similar to our review of the F 800 GS Adventure; the first of which is the clutch. Quite simply, it is too heavy. Ten years ago it was fine but KTM, Ducati and the R 1200 GS have ruined that. An hour of technical riding quickly takes a toll on even the most conditioned forearm. Next on those list of niggles is the feel of the front brake. The front brake is unquestionably strong but it’s hard to modulate. It moves from not much braking power to a locked front wheel preposterously quickly. You can learn to ride around it but it’d be nice not to have to.
The F 800 GS is an awesome off-road bike. It’s also a bike with some caveats.
The last area where BMW could bring the F 800 GS into the now is in the suspension department. It lacks a little damping control or any adjustability. It doesn’t deal with bumps particularly well, and the forks dives under braking too much, making it a little tough to control on downhills. In 2015 Triumph addressed this problem with their WP fitted XCx model and it’d be awesome for BMW to unleash the last bit of off-road potential from the F 800 GS.
Much like on the dirt, the F 800 GS is a bike that takes a little getting used to but once you understand how it works it’s great. The 21-inch front wheel tips in a bit quicker than a smaller wheeled bike and can bit a little hard to judge the grip on. It’s accentuated by a steep steering angle and the longer travel suspension.
That feeling quickly mellows out as you gain confidence and understanding. On twisty roads it corners surprisingly well. It is a fun bike that rolls along and can be kept at a good pace, but the skinny front tyre and slightly too soft front fork are the limiting factors. The F 800 GS is a bike to think of as fun rather than a high performing machine. It isn’t a 1290 Super Adventure on the tarmac but that doesn’t kill the fun.
The key to getting the most on the road is being a smooth as possible. If you attempt to push hard, brake hard and corner fast it gets confused, the fork bounces around like a springbok being chased by a lion and it stops being fun. It doesn’t work well when you ride like that so we wouldn’t recommend it. Likewise, being smooth with the throttle is important. Mid corner changes of the throttle position upset the bike when trying to push on. At a nice mid-range pace, the type of speed you’d ride when still really relaxed, the F 800 GS is a happy bunny.
The engine is a little weird in that respect too, yet everyone on the test team loves it. It rides very nicely in a tall gear but lacks outright torque to pull that gear out of the corners. It makes decent power when revving a little higher and moves well but becomes tougher to turn smoothly. It’d be amazing if it had a little more torque pull from the bottom to drag itself up to speed. That additional torque would be no bad addition to the off-road capability either.
Whatever you do and however you choose to ride the F 800 GS, the engine has a weird and endearing smoothness. It makes for an extremely relaxing bike to ride over long periods. It doesn’t need to be ridden fast to be enjoyable and is smooth enough to feel like a well refined bike.
Once you move from the twisties you’ll find where the F 800 is at its weakest. Freeway riding is okay; it’ll do it with relative comfort when compared to a DR 650 but I wouldn’t pick it from the garage to go and bust out a 500 mile ride. The long distance bum comfort leaves something to be desired. The stock unit slopes downward from back to front prominently and it makes for a rather uncomfortable experience in the long run. By the time you need to stop for fuel on a long journey it’s really welcome.
Likewise, the screen is non-adjustable. At some point, with a mid-range bike there has to be compromise of components and this is one of the areas where the F 800 GS is keeping the price down. Non-adjustable, small and relatively inconsequential, we’d be surprised if anyone over 5”9’ can keep the head inside the bubble of air (Drop a comment below if you think we’re wrong.).
While the F 800 GS has some significant things it does well and others we think need updating, there are smaller pieces of the puzzle that deserve their mention. First on that list is the footpegs; they’re really good. Most bikes in the category come with skimpy, road friendly, half-baked footpegs that are about as useful as welding the remnants of a spanner to your frame. The F 800 GS has a decent sized peg that grips well and it makes a world of difference when riding on the dirt.
The handlebars are not perfect but they’re a good bend. Comfortable on and off-road, they work in most situations. I’d like it if they had a little less sweep but when compared with some of their rivals, BMW have done a good job. We mentioned the clutch before, but we’d really appreciate it if BMW did away with using the cable. Cables need too much looking after to stay feeling good and hydraulic systems have very few cons.
The side stand and centre stand design on the F 800 GS is also good. It might seem trivial but the side stand has a good length making it easy to manage in a lot of situations. The strength allows it to take the full weight of the bike many times over, so pivoting the bike on it in the workshop or the carpark works very well. Likewise, the centre stand it easy to use. On top of that, the stand lever is well out of the way so even my oversized, EU47 feet fit on the footpegs without problem. That makes riding stood up a much more pleasant experience. They’re little things but they make ownership that bit nicer.
In 2015, BMW updated the fork and a few other little parts of the F 800 GS. For 2016 they gave the bike one last kick of life before the new generation hits the show-room floors in the not too distant future. The logic of everything should suggest that the F 800 is an out of date bike that has been well and truly passed by machines like the Africa Twin or the incredible premium GS and KTM models. The reality is that, despite being a little less advanced in some areas, the F 800 GS is still a superb bike to ride.
Amazingly, it’s the dirt where the F 800 GS made us smile the most. It’s capable, smooth and finds incredible grip when the terrain gets tough. It handles well, puts a smile on my face and I’m always sad to give it back. It’s probably not a novice friendly bike, the high seat height and quickness to rev can make things ‘exciting’, but the capacity of the bike is very high.
The road performance is also good. It’s enjoyable rather than exciting but it gets the job done at a decent pace. As an all-round machine it really is capable of everything and for all us here at the magazine, it’d be a brilliant choice as an ADV bike.
The little things we don’t like about the bike are all rectifiable too, especially the fork. You could easily get the springs changed or run a cartridge kit and have an incredible handling machine. More importantly, it doesn’t seem on paper an impossible challenge for BMW to turn the existing F 800 GS into a bike that would have Honda needing nappies.
So if the development team at BMW are reading this, congratulations on building a bike that has lasted 9 years. Now we’d like to order a few changes…
Like what you’ve seen and want to know more about the F 800 GS? Click here.
- Lovely off road chassis
- Good, free, fun engine
- Not the most novice friendly bike
- Needs a little updating