BMW Motorrad’s new ethos is to be more edgy and state of the art, much like BMW’s automotive side and exemplified by its S1000RR superbike. Not only has the RR become the best-selling BMW in America, its owners’ average age is just 34 years.
“A runaway success” is how Pieter De Waal, VP of BMW Motorrad USA, describes the S1000RR, especially considering the current depressed market. “When selling something nobody needs,” De Waal says, “you’d better give them a very good reason to buy.”
So, in its quest to get “younger, more dynamic riders,” the futuristically urban F800R is offered to American riders for the first time, replacing the mechanically similar F800S in BMW’s 2011 lineup. The 800ST remains unchanged.
The F800R is essentially a stripped version of the 800ST that earned our respect when it beat Honda’s competent VFR800 Interceptor in a sport-touring shootout.
Key distinctions aside from the 800R’s obvious lack of fairings are a double-sided swingarm replacing the ST’s single-sided arm and asymmetric dual headlights sporting H7 bulbs. The ST’s low-maintenance belt drive is replaced with a chain and sprockets in the same final-drive ratio, while gears 4 to 6 are shorter. Its sixth gear matches fifth on the 800GS.
At a list price of $9950 (plus a $495 destination charge), the F800R retails for about $1000 less than the base F800ST’s $10,990 MSRP. Deleting the ST’s single-sided swinger and belt drive keeps the R’s price under that magic $10K mark. BMW reps say a belt-drive system costs more than a chain.
As a naked sporty bike, the F800R is a decathlete of sorts, able to barge its way through commuter traffic on Monday then tear up the canyons on weekends. A comfortably upright stance yields accommodating ergonomics, with the one-piece handlebar just a slight forward reach – perfect.
Ergos fall a bit short only with marginal seat-to-peg room. The standard seat sits at a modest 31.5 inches; optional-at-no-extra-charge seats bring it 1 inch in either direction. Adjustable footpegs would be a worthy addition to a multi-purpose bike like this one. Mirrors are mounted a little too low for easy rear views.
New to our F800R is updated switchgear incorporating Molded Interconnect Device (MID) switches, in which a laser creates circuits and conductors in the plastic housings instead of using individual wires for each circuit. This allows for multi-function switches within compact dimensions. For example, the functions for the starter and kill button have been combined in a single rocker switch.
Another notable bit of info about switches: The F800R is the latest BMW model to abandon the German brand’s traditional three-button turnsignal arrangement in favor of a single combined switch on the left side like all other bikes except for Harleys. All switches on the 800R feel precise and smooth, and adjustable levers provide variable reach.
BMW’s middleweight roadster feels slim between the knees, aided by the fuel tank being housed under the seat. With its maximum of 4.1 gallons on board, the R is said to weigh a reasonable 440 lbs.
The F-R fires up readily and quickly settles into a low idle. Its 798cc parallel-Twin engine is familiar to F800 owners, using the same 360-degree firing order in which one combustion event occurs each crank rotation, with pistons going up and down together. This is the same firing sequence used on BMW’s Boxer Twins, giving them a similar exhaust sound.
Despite an uninspiring exhaust note, the F800 motor is very effective. BMW notes that it has more torque than anything else in its class, and it indeed pulls strong from just 3000 revs. The engine’s flexibility is aided by a fantastic gearbox – light, positive and seamless. Its only flaw is a clutch that engages at the end of its travel over a fairly narrow friction zone.
Although the DOHC cylinder head design is similar to the K1300 engines, using finger followers for cam actuation, the parallel-Twin is no screamer. It has a linear power build-up that comes on strong at 6000 rpm when its torque peaks, rushing forward to its 80 rear-wheel horsepower climax, as measured on the 800ST when we last tested it. BMW tells us to expect nearly identical numbers.
New to the F800R is the use of a variable-pressure fuel system that precisely supplies fuel volume and its timing according to the power requested. This makes it more efficient than a constant-flow system which varies fuel only by duration, with no variance in timing, and it eliminates the need of a fuel-return line. This sophistication requires an ECU with four times the processing power, and BMW says it offers improved power delivery, better economy and fewer emissions.
The F800 engine has already proved to be economical with fuel, averaging an excellent 48 mpg with our 800ST, although it does require premium fuel. BMW claims a 55 mpg average for the 800R, which we weren’t able to verify with our limited seat time.
Perhaps the most amiable part of the 800R’s personality is chassis tuning that feels exceedingly neutral in all cornering situations. The fairly wide bars enable swift yet secure steering from a 25.0-degree rake and 91mm of trail, while a rangy 59.8-inch wheelbase and a steering damper on the lower triple clamp provides reassuring stability. It’s a willing and capable accomplice, from a residential street to a sweeping mountain road.
Seventeen-inch wheels are conveniently fitted with side-exit valve stems and are shod with typical 120/70 and 180/55 tires, opening the bike up to virtually every type of sport rubber. Our bike had a set of Michelin Pilot Powers, and we had no complaints with them.
A naked bike’s biggest compromise is revealed during highway riding – an upright stance and a lack of wind protection brings its own sacrifices. And yet the F800R acquitted itself quite well. A slim midsection and an accessory body-colored flyscreen ($250) handle the bulk of the airflow directed at a rider, relatively speaking.
As in the F800GS and 800ST, the inline-Twin utilizes a pivoting balance arm running below the crankshaft to counter vibration, an arrangement unique among motorcycle engines. The compensation rod moves up and down in the opposite direction of the pistons in a system that’s quieter than the gears or chains that drive conventional balance shafts.
However, some low-amplitude vibes become apparent at generous freeway speeds. The engine’s turning about 5100 rpm at 80 mph, which is right around when vibration seeps its way to a rider. That said, the vibe frequency isn’t at the high end, so they are not totally bothersome. Despite a lack of legroom, an hour in the saddle induces zero pain in the butt.
The highway ride is smoothed over by a generous 4.9 inches of travel at both ends. There are no adjustments available for the 43mm fork, but the rear shock has spring preload and rebound damping provisions, both adjustable by hand dials. It’s an effective compromise of control and comfort that suits the R’s personality.
The 800R’s braking duties are handled by a pair of Brembo two-piece, 4-piston calipers clamping on 320mm discs. Feel is quite good through non-flexing steel brake lines. Our bike was upgraded with a performance ABS system, a $900 option. Like the HP2 Sport, its ABS uses an additional pressure sensor that delivers a higher threshold before the ABS computer intervenes. The system is smart enough not to intrude when only light brake pressure is applied, such as when decelerating over bumps. It’s remarkably transparent, which is to say admirable.
Instrumentation is by a variation on the gauges on other F800s, here with an analog speedo sitting atop an analog tach, flanked by an LCD info panel that can be toggled through various displays. For instance, our test bike’s optional tire-pressure monitor ($250) and heated grips ($250) each have their own readouts. A gear-position indicator is handy and easy to read – we wish the same could be said of the small numbers on the speedometer.
The F800R is an appealing and versatile platform, and one of its advantages over its competitors is a broad range of options and accessories to build it to your taste. A great place to start is the Premium package which bundles ABS brakes, heated grips and a trip computer for $1445.
Other handy options include a 12-volt accessory socket ($50), alarm ($395), expandable saddlebags and a centerstand. Cosmetic additions include a seat cowl, radiator trim panels and a belly pan. A titanium Akropovic exhaust is the only performance component.
We’ve repeatedly extolled the virtues of sporty naked bikes, believing they offer the best compromise of versatility, performance and value. Our time aboard the F800R only reinforced those views. Here’s a do-almost-all motorcycle from a premium manufacturer that retails for less than $10,000. Adding desirable options will bump up that price (as tested, ours cost nearly $12K), but we’re glad so many are available to customize it to its rider.
"Here’s a do-almost-all motorcycle from a premium manufacturer that retails for less than $10,000."
One caveat of our endorsement for the 800R is to note some simmering competition from other parts of the Old World. The BMW just isn’t as glamorous as a Ducati Monster 796, and its fun factor can’t match the riotous Triumph Speed Triple. And let’s not forget the functional exoticness of Aprilia’s Shiver. BMW’s three-year/36,000-mile warranty sets it apart.
On its own, the F800R is an entertaining take on the middleweight sports roadster, with a clear advantage in factory options. What’s left is to determine how it stacks up to its class rivals. Do you sense a shootout coming on?
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