The deeply rich red-rock canyons and towering mesas carved from the mighty Colorado River, and surrounding rugged desert mountain areas, provided the perfect setting in which to sample this new bike that bares the revered GS badge. BMW’s venerable R1200GS (and GS Adventure) is recognizable the world over, perhaps because many a hardy soul have gone over the world on a GS. Those two letters, for riders or want-to-be-riders, instantly stir the imagination or even memories of transcontinental adventures on two wheels.
Just you and your GS against the best the Earth can throw at you as you forge waist-deep streams and rivers, climb unforgiving rocky trails or sail across endless seas of sand, all so you can get to where it is you want to go, if for no other reason than to say, “I did it!”
That’s precisely the imagery based in reality BMW has crafted over the past decade plus, and as a result the R1200GS and R1200GS Adventure are expected to enjoy combined sales of well over 35,000 units worldwide for 2008, according to Pieter de Waal, Vice President BMW Motorrad USA. To give a sense of scale, de Waal claims the number of GS units sold worldwide is on par with Yamaha’s R1 and Honda’s Fireblade (CBR1000RR in the U.S.).
The new F800GS has a lot to live up if it’s going to be worthy of carrying “GS” at the end of its name. Is it possible, then, for this Mini Me of GSs to follow in the footsteps of its big brother? In short, my answer is a resounding yes!
Though the F800GS isn’t necessarily news anymore, as it was unveiled to the world earlier in 2008 in South Africa, it bares repeating some of the details that make up this new on-off road steed.
The F800GS is powered by a mildly redesigned and retuned 798cc liquid-cooled parallel Twin as was first seen in BMW’s F800S and ST. In street trim this middleweight eight-valve Twin’s cylinders are canted forward 23 degrees. But to allow the GS to have over 9 inches of front suspension travel from the 45mm Marzocchi sticks (yes, that’s right, traditional USD forks on this Beemer) the cylinder bank was rotated back to an 8-degree angle. Additional changes to the mill include different cams for smoother torque delivery, and new lower engine cases, water pump housing, and clutch cover due to the cylinder angle change.
Also, since the engine is a stressed member in the tubular-steel trellis frame, the engine cases were reinforced. The parallel F800GS Twin is claimed to produce 85 hp at 7,500 rpm with 62 ft-lbs at 5,750 rpm, and, according to Anthony Arbolino, BMW Motorrad USA’s Market Intelligence Manager, is 2 pounds lighter than the engine in the F800 street models. Some day, hopefully sooner than later, we’ll get an F800GS on a dyno, but for now we’re willing to bet that BMW’s hp and torque claims for the 800GS are pretty honest based on the 79.4 hp at 8,500 rpm and 55.8 ft-lbs at 6,100 rpm we saw on the F800ST we tested in July of this year in our 2008 Middleweight Sport-Touring Shootout. Finally, the street models’ final drive is via belt, yet the F800GS (and F650GS, but more on that bike at a later date) is chain final drive – on the right.
There are many more details we’ll cover in the coming weeks with the fuller review, but one noteworthy item is the optional no-cost low seat. It lowers seat height from 34.6 inches to 33.5 inches. I tested both seats and must say that the little over an inch reduction in height will be greatly appreciated by those that are intimidated by tall saddles on bikes with lots of suspension travel.
Seeing red… dust
As I said above, BMW had the U.S. bike press out to the beautiful areas surrounding Moab, UT, to give the F800GS a thorough thrashing. And that we did, with over 20 stream/small creek crossing, rutted and rock-strewn Jeep-like trails, sandy washes and even a few stretches of smooth and wide fire roads freshly flattened by county road graters.
We bounced around, into and back out again of some incredible terrain; the little GS taking it all in stride, never missing a beat. The powerplant runs a 12.0 compression ratio which happens to come in handy by using all the engine braking provided to help meter your speed through sticky situations. The engine provides ample torque, pulling second gear from just below 2,000 rpm. In addition, gearing, especially in 1st, seems ideally suited to this bike as it runs a 16 x 42-tooth combo. The six-speed tranny is Japanese-smooth, the rider triangle seemed perfect for my 5-foot 8-inch frame, and standing on the large off-road style footpegs with removable rubber covers proved to be just as effective as standing on the bigger 1200GS.
All the test units came with switchable ABS. Grabbing a handful of brake when on pavement caused the anti-lock to activate, but it does so brilliantly, never kicking my hand off the lever like some systems are apt to do. Beyond ABS, braking provided lots of easily managed stopping power. Great brakes, really.
Handling on the littlest GS is much closer to a dirt bike. Tossing the bike around or bringing it back into shape, however the case may have been, when out in the wild was much easier with its claimed wet-weight of 455 lbs., nothing at all like trying to reel in the hefty 1200GS. On-pavement handling was just as good. Initial turn-in required minimal effort, and the bike stayed on line with little to no effort needed on the inside grip. Just beware that should you order up a set of off-road type knobbies the front-end will loose some stability when pushing the speed envelope on pavement. Otherwise I was impressed with the bike’s maneuverability and handling.
Truth is I was impressed with the whole bike. There are few things to find fault with on the new GS. That’s why I’m calling the F800GS the GS for the rest of us. The rest of the riders out there who aren’t quite as enticed by, no matter its prowess and capabilities, the heftier Big GS, who aren’t quite ready to drop serious coin, and who want a little GS all their own, yet without sacrificing so much of the GS character and quality that go into a GS.
Heck, I even suspected that the exhaust on the 800 sounded an awful lot like the bigger Boxer. I later confirmed with Arbolino that BMW engineers and designers specifically crafted the 800’s note to sound remarkably similar to the 1200.
If you’re looking to buy sight unseen, so to speak, the 800GS has a base model price of $10,520 not including freight.
That’s all for now from the U.S. Press Launch of the 2009 BMW F800GS in gorgeous Moab, UT. Look for a follow up review in the next couple of weeks; I’m off to clean all that red dust out of my ear canal…