Normally you wouldn’t expect to find the words “bargain” and “BMW” in the same sentence, but here they are. Because this BMW is a real bargain! Okay, you could argue that it isn’t all BMW, as the engine comes from Rotax, but that’s not such a bad thing anyway. I’d been wanting to have a ride on the F800 for a long time; and I’ve also had requests from a couple of readers to do a ride-report. So when the local dealer got one of the new F800R models in it was a good opportunity to have a ride on an F800, and at the same time, sample it from the perspective of the new naked “fun” model. The concept of the F800 is a good one. It’s big enough, but still under 200kg, so relatively light and easy to handle, and with a good size motor. (Remember when a 750 was considered a “big” engine?). In ST form it has low-maintenance belt-drive, and also a fairing to protect the rider from the elements. The perfect package really. On paper anyway. And now there is this new model, for those who prefer that style of bike and riding. Like the other BMW nakeds, this gets the “R” model designation. I’m not sure what “R” is supposed to stand for; after a bit of searching, the best guess I could come up with was the German word “rudimentar” which means “bare-boned”. So maybe that’s it. In any case, the R has quite a few differences to the ST.
As I’m relating my comments here to the ST as well as the R model I rode, it’s important to note what the actual differences between them are. The most obvious difference is, of course, the lack of fairing; and the different headlights. The R gets BMW’s trademark “good eye / bad eye” headlights. It looks squinty; like a boxer who’s taken a heavy hit. The next most obvious difference is probably the drive, which goes from belt to chain. Not sure what the thinking is behind this, as the belt is supposed to be very durable and capable of handling the bike’s power. And while you’re looking in that region you‘ll notice that the single-sided swing-arm is now a double-sided job. Other changes are harder to spot, but delving into the BMW spec-sheets there are quite a few. The engine gets 1.5kW more power. Torque is the same, but developed 200rpm higher. (I believe the technical term for these differences is “bugger-all”!). But wait, there’s more. The steering-head angle changes by just over 1 degree; another “bugger-all” amount, but I suppose it must make some difference. Of more significance is the difference in suspension travel. According to the specs, the R has 125mm of travel front and back, while the ST gets 140mm. Other than that the suspension on both is the same, with non-adjustable 43mm forks at front; and a mono-shock at the rear, adjustable for preload and rebound. The seat on the R is 10mm higher than the ST, but there are options of raising or lowering the height by 25mm each way. (There are no optional seat heights on the ST). I’ve read that the gearbox has been changed too, with the top three ratios being slightly lower on the R. This shows that BMW has put a bit more thought into this than the (in my opinion) overly-high geared R1200R. Although it’s a change that probably wasn’t necessary, given the F800 engine’s more flexible nature. Oh, and according to BMW, the R uses slightly more fuel than the ST. Okay, so quite a lot of differences, but many would fit into the “bugger-all” category I mentioned. The others just make each bike that little bit more suited to its style and typical riding conditions. In that context, I think my comments here can be applied to the ST as well. I say that because BMW has obviously changed this bike to make it better suited to what it terms “naked / urban” riding, leaving the ST to take on the “touring” duties. But the fact is this bike could take on any task you’d ask of the ST and, apart from the lack of a fairing, do it very well. So if this bike can work well as a sports-tourer, then the ST, being a little better set-up for that task, would do it even better!
BACK TO THE “R” IN PARTICULAR
Appearance is a matter of taste I suppose. I’ve already mentioned the headlights, and for me, the bug-eye look isn’t a good one. From the front I reckon it really does look like a punch-drunk fighter with a bung eye! All the naked BMs do. The odd-shaped cowling over the instruments doesn’t do it any favours either; the whole look is just all over the place! Designers at BMW obviously don't believe in symmetry! So I don’t like it from the front. The view from the three-quarter front, as shown in the photo above, isn’t especially appealing either. You can still see the punched-in-one-eye headlights, and the rest of the bike looks a bit, well, I don’t know, the bodywork (what there is of it!) has some odd shapes. Maybe it’s a bit overly street-fighter-naked. From the side though, as in the photo at the top, I think it looks good! I might mention here that I’m not overly keen on the ST either. The front is much better than the R, but I still don't find it especially attractive. And I don’t think the fairing is particularly appealing in its shape either. But, as I said, it's all a matter of personal taste and preference. On the subject of appearance, I have to mention the brake-master-cylinder. It pokes up above everything around it like some kind of strange phallic-symbol. The fact that it is rubber-mounted, so wobbles around when on the move, only adds to the phallic-symbol impression. It’s kind of distracting actually, having this big knob of a thing poking up and wobbling around as you ride along! Sitting on the bike you find a good riding-position. It’s fairly up-right, but with a nice lean-forward to the bars. (Yes, the bars are different to the ST too). The foot-pegs felt a little high at first, but I forgot about that once I was out on the road. Only later in the test did I become aware of it again; but it wasn’t a problem. The seat is quite comfortable, although the shape doesn’t allow you to move around on it. All the controls are well-placed and easy to use. Oh, one little niggle. The blinkers are operated by the usual switch on the left handlebar, but it feels weird to use because the lever hardly moves. You press it to either side and it feels like it’s stuck. It isn’t, of course, but the tiny amount of movement you get makes it feel like it is. The instruments consist of two analogue dials for speedo and tacho. The speedo goes to 240kph; and the tacho to 10,000rpm, with the red-line at 8,500rpm. Beside these is a large digital display with a computer-load of information. Pride of place goes to a gear-indicator (a very useful thing), plus fuel gauges, engine temperature, odo, time of day, and other interesting things like the ambient temperature and so on. It’s the same display as the R1200R. I tried prodding the buttons, but didn't learn how to access all this information during the short time I had with it. The engine is interesting. You’ve probably read about it. It’s a twin, with both pistons traveling up and down together. The balance problems inherent with this arrangement have been attended to by running a third con-rod with a counter-weight. It seems to work pretty well, because it’s mostly very smooth. Only at higher revs do you feel a few tingles through the bars. I read somewhere that BMW tried to make this engine sound like their boxer donks. I don’t think they succeeded. It did have the same burble on the over-run as the R1200R, but apart from that it sounds very different. Like all bikes today, it's very quiet; so quiet, and kind of “buzzy”, that it’s more like a 250 than an 800! I reckon that, listening to it, you’d put it at no more than a 500 at best. But that’s what the Euro anti-pollution requirements do for you! I rode this on the same day I rode the R1200R; so comparisons are inevitable. And right from starting it up, I was happier on this. In the report on the R1200R I mentioned the rocking-motion of the engine. Now, I must stress that I’m sure you’d get used to this, but not being used to it, I found it a bit unsettling. By contrast, when giving the F800 a rev it felt smooth, just like any “normal” bike. It produces good power, and propels the bike along very nicely. It’s also quite flexible; more so than the big boxer. This pulls from under 2,000rpm without protest, and then revs out very easily. It’s happiest above 3,000rpm, with 4,000rpm feeling very smooth and content. But there’s good acceleration from even low revs; plenty good enough to let you have fun and enjoy it as intended. My only complaint was that there was occasionally a very slight surge at low revs, but it was only slight. The gearbox on these was a source of criticism on the early models, but I think they’ve long since fixed that, and I found it smooth and easy to use. Even clutchless changes (with an accompanying flick back of the throttle) were very smooth. And on the subject of gears, top gear runs at about 25kph per 1,000rpm. As mentioned earlier, this is apparently a bit lower than the ST, but it’s still high enough to provide relaxed cruising at high speeds. And low enough enough to give it a lively feel around the ‘burbs and the back roads. And while I’m talking of cruising, even the wind wasn’t too much of a problem - especially for a naked. (See what I mean about this being able to do what would be considered more appropriate for the ST? So for the ST read it as being even better at the cruising thing!). The ride is very good. I rode this over the same test-route as the R1200R, and so encountered the same bumpy back roads. The F800 felt very compliant in its suspension. (And again, I would expect the ST – especially with its greater travel – to be as good or even better). Handling is good too. The bike feels light and easy to ride right from the moment you leave the driveway. It inspires confidence very quickly. Riding up the narrow twisty mountain road the steering was easy and accurate, and it held it’s line well through corners. The brakes were okay, but didn’t feel particularly strong. This was surprising because a test I read (of the exact same bike!) not long before said, “Extraordinary assisted braking is a joy.” I didn’t find them a “joy”, but they did work okay anyway. ABS isn’t standard, but it is optional. I’ve already made comparisons to the R1200R, and I have to say that I enjoyed my ride on this much better than I did on the big bike. It was more comfortable, and it was more responsive at lower revs. Put simply, you could have more fun without working at keeping the revs up or breaking the speed-limits. And yet it was quite happy to do the open-road cruising thing. Of course the big bike would out-gun it if you got serious with the throttle, but this is a great bike and easier to ride than the R1200R. And that alone makes it the bargain I alluded to at the top. The price might be kind of commensurate with it’s engine size, but I reckon for most people this is every bit as good as many bikes costing considerably more. Yep, I reckon it really is a bargain Beemer!
Engine: 2-cylinder, 798cc. Power: 64kW at 8,000rpm. Torque: 86Nm at 6,000rpm.
Fuel capacity: 16 litres.
Weight: 177 kg (dry). (Ready to ride incl fuel: 199 kg).
Seat height: 800mm. (Optional: 775mm, and 825mm).
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 120 X 17”. Rear: 180 X 17”
Brakes: Front: Twin disc, 320mm. Rear: Single disc 265mm.
Price: $13,990 +ORC.
AN ISSUE TO CONSIDER?
I feel that an addition to the test report is appropriate here. Most tests restrict comment to how the bike is to ride, how it handles, and so on. They don’t usually contain reference to long-term reliability. But having heard a few reports on this aspect, I feel it my duty to include them in the report. BMW, it is fair to say, hasn’t always enjoyed the top-quality reputation it once had over the past few years. There have been problems. For example, the R1150RT had a known clutch problem. A former riding friend had one of these and had the clutch disintegrate after about 35,000km of gentle use; requiring a total re-build of the gearbox and clutch. And that in addition to a few factory-recalls. He was not impressed! And with these F series bikes, there have been reports of several problems. Have a browse through some owner’s forums and you’ll see what I’m talking about. But for some more specific examples, I’ve quoted below from a couple of readers who own ST models. The first, Steve, had this to say. “Prior to purchasing the bike I searched the internet for any info on it and found that there had been a few problems experienced in Europe with the early builds. This didn't deter us from checking it out and test riding the bike. We finally took delivery in February '07. In the past 2+ years there have been a few problems with the bike that have been fixed free of charge as listed below. "Stalling due to fuel mapping issue, backlash in gearbox from belt drive, clunk into 1st gear when starting off, leak around camcover gasket (fixed with revised gasket), worn footpeg rubbers (replaced free of charge with revised harder rubbers), crack in topbox, and EWS (engine immobiliser) failure. (The EWS was the only one I had no prior knowledge of and the only one that disabled the bike).” Another owner, Robert, who has put up 94,000km in three years, said he also had problems. “I have had a lot of problems with it. Like four battery failures, two back bearing collapses, two steering-bearing replacements, and other things that have arisen on the F800s. Some of the issues were not problems as such but "recalls" (loosely speaking). These all got remedied as a matter of course. Some, such as recent replacement of front and back dampers, were considered ‘fair wear and tear.’” However, both owners say they are happy with their bikes. Steve said, “All in all, even with these problems, we have no reservations about getting on the bike and going wherever and whenever we like.” And he sees some advantages over Japanese alternatives. “As for the servicing costs, the servicing is at longer intervals than most Japanese models and mostly involves plugging in the computer to see what has to be done.” He mentions a report on a forum from an owner in the US who has done over 60,000 miles on his ST with just regular servicing and no major problems, “not even a valve adjustment required.” So the news is not all bad! Robert said, “I do like it. I guess after 94,000km in under three years it's become part of me.” In fact, he has just bought an F800GS. The Japanese have pretty much cornered the market when it comes to reliability. Yes, there are examples of non-Japanese bikes that give good service over long distances – like the example Steve mentioned – but in general, reliability is something you might legitimately question with the Europeans, while with the Japanese it is pretty much a given. The flip-side is that, for many owners, like Steve and Robert, the bike is worth putting up with whatever problems might arise. I mention it here though, because if you are considering buying one, this could be something to consider.
UP-DATE 2011. The only difference is to paint; colours have changed, but everything else is the same. With the ST though you now get the addition of free luggage! Panniers are standard now. Oh, and it has new colours too. Price is unchanged, at $15,990.
This relates mainly to the ST, which I was also referring to in the article. The ST has now been replaced by a new version, called the GT. The GT is a more touring-oreintated version. There is a larger fairing, with a sort of chubby-cheeks look that's reminiscent of their new maxi-scooters. Panniers are standard, as is a rack to attach a top-box if required. The riding-position has been changed to better suit the long-distance type duties: the bars are higher and foot-pegs lower and a bit further forward. The rear suspension is single-sided swing-arm, with the same amount of travel as the R. The power is stated as 66kW, while torque is the same. The final-drive has gone to belt, in line with the R model. Looking at the specs, it seems that the GT is using more common components with the R, rather than the different compenents the old ST used. Although there are a lot of differences between them, to make each suit their particular intended duties. Price is $16,300.
For 2015 the bike gets up-graded running-gear including upside-down forks and radial-mounted brake calipers. There is just a smidgen more power (2kW), while torque stays the same. The two lowest gears have been geared lower, making it more sprightly around town and away from the lights – not that I complained about those aspects when I rode it. Something I did complain about was those awful lop-sided headlights: well, they have been replaced by a single unit with integrated cowling to keep the bugs off the instrument binnacle. It looks much better!
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