THE ALL-ROUND MID-SIZE BEEMER
“BMW’s F800R is a perfect example of how good motorcycles don’t really need over the top complexity, power or price.” That was how Chris Pickett, former editor of Cycle Torque magazine, began his report on the F800R. Now, this is a report on the F800GT, so it might seem odd to begin a road-test by quoting the words of another tester on a different model bike; but I reckon he is right! (And he probably knows a thing or two more than I do about bikes too). I was very impressed with that bike (the F800R) when I first rode it back in 2009, and as if to reinforce what Chris Pickett wrote, I much preferred it to the R1200R (which is much more powerful and much more expensive) that I rode over the same test-route on the same day. The same comments Chris Pickett made on the F800R could also be made of the F800GT. It’s certainly not over-the-top in power or price – especially compared to other BMW models: the next level of sport-tourers being 1200cc and costing around 25 grand. And now, having ridden this latest mid-size sports-tourer, I reckon you don't need any of that “over-the-top” stuff! This is a very capable bike! In my test of the original F800R I referred also to the F800ST. Well, the ST has since become the GT, and that’s what I’ve tested here. But the GT is basically the same bike as the 800R; it just has a few tweaks to make it more suitable for touring. The main “tweak” is, of course, the fairing; and it also has belt-drive instead of chain-drive. I’d been wanting to test-ride the F800GT for some time. Quite a while ago I arranged to take a demo model out from a local dealer, but by the time I got around to doing the test the bike had been sold. When they got a replacement, I went in to ride that only to find that a part had been nicked off it to get a customer’s bike going. So the test was postponed again! Eventually I got the opportunity when they held a ride day, providing all their test-bikes (all 23 of them, from BMW, Triumph and Yamaha) for test.
IN THE DRIVEWAY
Looking at the bike, I reckon it looks good. There’s effective use of black paint – such as on the back of the front mudguard, sections of the fairing, and some parts around the tail – that makes the whole bike look more attractive, as well as eliminating the slab-sided look some fully-faired bikes have. Looks great! Especially in this blue colour. Sit on the bike and it feels low: it feels like you're sitting in the bike rather than on it. The seat is firm but fairly comfortable. I would prefer a little more padding on the seat although a sheepskin cover should go a long way to fixing that. One other criticism I have is of the shape: the scooped-out shape means that you can't move around. You can imagine the designers saying, “You vill sit here and you vill not moof!” But BMW has a fix. There is a “Comfort” seat available as an option, which not only has thicker padding, it’s also higher and with a flatter shape. (It raises the seat height by 20mm). I think that would improve a few aspects: apart from being more comfortable, it would increase the distance to the foot-pegs a bit, and being flatter would also allow you to move around more than the standard one does. If I was buying I’d tick that options box. I mentioned the foot-pegs, and that was another thing I had a slight criticism of: I would prefer the pegs to be lower. They feel quite high, so wouldn’t be good for people with bad knees. Other than that though, the riding position was excellent. The bars feel high and wide but that’s good for control, and I reckon they are a perfect width. The instruments consist of a big analogue speedo, with a smaller, but still easily read, tacho underneath. Beside those is a digital display for other bits of information such as what gear you’re in, what time it is, how much fuel you have, how hot the engine is, what the tyre-pressures are and what the ambient temperature is. All great information to have at just a glance. Pretty much a perfect set-up I'd say! All the controls are easy to use, except perhaps for the blinker switch, which is mounted quite high on the left switch-block, requiring you to move your hand on the grip a little so your thumb can reach it.
OUT ON THE ROAD
When we came to leave on our test-ride I couldn’t find the bike. I looked at every bike on the forecourt, just to make sure it wasn’t disguising itself, but no, it wasn’t there! “Oh, yeah, it was taken to the workshop, ‘cause the tyre pressures were a bit low.” Said one of the staff. I went up the workshop section and there it was sitting outside the doorway. (As shown in the photo on the left). When the staff guy asked if the tyre-pressures had been fixed the mechanic on duty said he was “sure they would’ve been.” The workshop foreman was going to do it, but he wasn’t around. “Can we check them, just to make sure?” I suggested. “Oh, he woulda done ‘em. It’s okay.” The mechanic said. “It’ll tell ya on the dash if they’re not right anyway.” Hmm, I hoped so. I looked at the tyres, did the thumb-press test, then sat on the bike and did the bounce-and-watch-the-tyre test. They seemed okay. So I started it up, joined the rest of the group and wheeled out the driveway. When the tyre pressure figures came up on the display they were 2.2 and 2.4. What??!! I assumed that was kilopascals: I hoped it wasn't PSI! (During the test the rear went to 2.5; as you might just be able to see in the photo above, which was taken at the end of the ride). Having assumed the tyres weren’t flat, I found the bike very easy to ride, and inspires confidence. It was easy to get confident with very quickly. The lower sitting position (with the bars seeming to be higher) gave good control and I’m sure helped to inspire that confidence. At low speed, and especially on take-off, it felt high geared: it wasn't really, but it felt like it. I stalled it once taking off from traffic lights. (Quick, pull the clutch in, start it and get going again!). A riding acquaintance of mine recently bought an F700GS, which, despite the name, has the same engine as the 800GT, just with a bit less power. He said he felt the bike had a very light flywheel, and he stalled it a few times until he got used to it. As he said, you've just got to give it a few more revs on take-off and it’s okay. All the controls are light and easy to use, including the clutch and gear-lever. The gear-change is light and easy, although neutral was hard to find sometimes. Once we got to the open road the gearing felt good. Top gear runs at 28kph per 1,000rpm, which makes for easy cruising. 100kph shows about 3,500rpm, and at 120kph it’s doing a bit over 4,000rpm. It cruises easily at that speed; 100kph – 120kph. The fairing helps keep the wind and weather off at highway speed too, of course, which helps make cruising a pleasant experience. The only downside, as with all fully-faired bikes, was feeling some heat from the engine. It was a warm day, not really hot, but I could feel some heat coming from behind the fairing on the left side. There’s good performance from the willing 800cc engine. It will pull away from about 2,000rpm in the lower gears without complaint, but prefers to be between 3,000 and 4,000 in the higher gears. There’s plenty of acceleration there anyway, whenever you need it. On one occasion though, this acceleration seemed to upset something. Once, when I wanted a burst of quick acceleration, I snapped the throttle open and it made a hell of a noise! A kind of loud clattery sound. It was fine afterwards, so I don't know what that was all about; but it happened, so I have to tell you about it. Handling was great! Just a light pressure on the bars and it went exactly where you wanted it to. As I said before, it is very confidence-inspiring. It’s also very accurate and smooth. There is a steering-damper, although I’m not sure how much that is actually needed. In any case, the feel at the bars is great. The ride was generally good, although I would prefer a bit more compliance. But ride-quality is high on my list of priorities, so I might seem over- critical in that area. The bike does ride well. Brakes are good, although they could have a bit more initial bite. It has ABS, so having more initial response wouldn't be a problem. But they still worked well. I have to say though, that the knees-up riding position somehow made it slightly awkward to get to the brake pedal – for my lanky old legs anyway. Those with shorter legs wouldn’t find it so knees-up, and probably wouldn’t have the same trouble. Either way, it’s something that you would get used to; but I did feel a little awkward in reaching to the brake pedal on the ride. The test-route was the same one used by this dealer for many other test-rides I’ve done from there, like the BMW F650GS, BMW K1300S, Triumph Speed Triple R, Triumph Sprint, and many others. (That's a section of it on the left). It begins with a bit of urban traffic, proceeds up a narrow winding, and at times bumpy, back-road mountain pass, opens up onto some flowing back-roads through the bush, then joins a main highway back to town. There was a difference this time though: this time the road was wet. Well, perhaps “damp” would be a better description: it wasn’t raining, but a shower earlier had left the road wet, or damp; particularly on the narrow winding mountain section. On a previous occasion when it had been wet, we were led up the mountain at a very leisurely pace by the lead rider. This time though, with the road not as wet as on that previous occasion, there was no noticeable reduction in pace from the lead rider. I said it above: the BMW F800GT is a great bike! Yes, I had a few little niggles – I always do! – but this is an excellent all-round bike. It’s easy to ride, it goes well, and is equally suited to touring as it is to enjoying some twisties. Tick the “Comfort Seat” option and it would be even better.
Engine: 2-cylinder, 798cc. Power: 66kW at 8,000rpm. Torque: 86Nm at 5,800rpm.
Suspension: Front: 43mm fork with 125mm travel. Rear: Single-sided swing-arm with monoshock. 125mm travel.
Fuel capacity: 15 litres.
Weight: 213kg (Ready to ride)
Seat height: 800mm.
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 120 X 17, Rear: 180 X 17
Brakes: Front: Dual 320mm discs, 4-piston calipers. Rear: Single 265mm disc. ABS standard.
Price: $18,126 (Ride-away).
Ridden: Late 2016.
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