First Impression: 1996 BMW R850R

story by Tom Fortune, Contributing Editor, Photograph by MO Staff, Created Aug. 20, 1996
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The R850R is BMW's newest entry in its ever-expanding line of four-valve Boxer twin models. At first glance the new Beemer looks just like the R1100R, BMW's flagship in the standard class which was first introduced in 1994. Actually the 850 is a scaled-down version of the big boxer, and serves as a replacement for the discontinued K75 triples and single-cam two-valve boxer twins in the more-affordable smaller-displacement standard, or naked, class.

The R850R shares most all the same features found on it's larger stablemate. The fuel-injected, four-valve twin-cylinder engine is identical to the R1100R's mill, save for a smaller bore (87.8mm vs 99mm). Combined with the Bosch Motronic engine management system, BMW claims 70 horsepower from the air-cooled boxer -- the same output as the K75 three-cylinder, water-cooled powerplant, and 12 more than the old air-cooled R100, along with a torque figure of 57 ft.-lbs -- a full seven more than the K75. The technologically advanced Bosch Motronic fuel-injected and three-way catalyst-equipped system results in what BMW claims is one of the most environmentally friendly motorcycles ever produced.

Other standard features borrowed from the R1100R include the stressed-member frame, front Telelever and rear Paralever suspension systems, 12.0 inch front and 10.9 inch rear disc brakes and four-piston Brembo calipers, three-spoke cast alloy wheels equipped with Bridgestone Battlax radials (120/70ZR-17 front, 160/60ZR-18 rear), stainless-steel exhaust system, large, easily removable saddlebags, and touring-sized 5.5-gallon fuel tank. Also handed down to the 850 from its big brother is that unique styling you either love or hate. There's no middle ground here. In fact, the R850R epitomizes the phrase "naked bike." Lacking even a tachometer, the spartan instrument layout provides only the -- dare we say it -- barest essentials; the speedo, three idiot lights (low fuel, oil pressure, battery), and the obligatory neutral light and turn indicator, all housed in a weirdly styled pod.

As an entry-level motorcycle, the BMW R850R has all the talents required to fit the billing -- except for the price

 The R850R offers an accommodating, easy-to-handle seating position for those long enough of leg to straddle the boxer -- although its three-position adjustable seat allows even those of short inseam to find a seat height where both feet touch down comfortably. The wide, cast-alloy handlebars have a tall rise, forcing a straight up sit up and beg riding position. Indeed, the bar-seat-peg relationship, coupled with the saddle style of the seat itself, makes for a very upright riding position. BMW states the R850R is one of its "entry-level" models, and we found it suited for that role, although we still believe that first riders will gain confidence faster on a smaller, more easily manageable bike. Admittedly, safety items like the side-stand cut-off switch that won't allow the engine to start unless the the stand is up are the kind of features beginning riders appreciate, but experts hate. Everyone loved its ease of use, however. With its advanced engine-management system, the motor is delightfully user-friendly. Cold starts are as simple as turning the choke (actually just a fast-idle cam) to the start position and thumbing the green start button. You can ride away immediately, with no hint whatsoever of traditional carburetor stumble. The engine pulls cleanly from idle to what would normally be called redline -- without a tachometer you are left to shift at whatever point you feel comfortable with. The middleweight boxer delivers plenty of useable, real-world torque at all revs, but more advanced riders will find this Beemer somewhat lacking in twist-grip punch -- especially if they've experienced the big-bore power of the R1100R.

The 850's handling is on par with what we found in our test of the R1100R, although the 850 seems to have a lighter feel about it. As with the 1100, the 850's suspension is tuned for comfort, not sport. The bike will wallow and move about if pushed hard into turns, but decent ground clearance and the renowned traction of the stock Bridgestone Battlaxes help keep the confidence level high. Around town and out on the freeway the BMW performs as one expects a BMW to perform -- smoothly. The Showa-built rear shock is adjustable for both spring pre-load and rebound damping, and coupled with the Paralever suspension, soaks up road irregularties both large and small with aplomb. Shaftdrive effect is negligible, and engine vibration is only noticeable at low engine speeds. The BMW-exclusive Telelever front suspension has a built-in anti-dive effect, allowing one to make full use of the excellent Brembo front discs, but the rather spindly 35mm fork stanchions do not inspire much confidence during aggressive maneuvers. BMW is offering its ABS system, standard equipment on the R1100R, as an option on the 850.

 Fit and finish is outstanding, certainly as one would expect in a motorcycle built by BMW. Typical German quality is everywhere. Nit-picks are few, but worth mentioning: The cable-operated clutch is grabby, and the heavy flywheel causes the bike to lurch forward during upshifts if the lever is released quickly. The unusually-shaped gearshift lever is short and stubby, making it difficult to get your foot under for an upshift with heavy riding boots on. The turn signal switches are difficult to use at first, since they use a different system from everyone else in the world, with a different switch for each of the three functions -- left turn, right turn, and cancel. The front shock for the Telelever front suspension is non-adjustable -- there's not even an adjustment for spring preload.

As an entry-level motorcycle, the BMW R850R has all the talents required to fit the billing -- except for the price. A beginning motorcyclist is not likely to be able to fork out that kind of dough for their first bike. Unless that beginner is a middle-aged, middle-class, firmly-planted individual. One who just might have a four-wheeled BMW already in the garage. BMW is trying to fill a void created by the extinction of the K75, and with the new R850R standard model we feel they've nearly filled the gap, but we're waiting with bated breath for the sporty Aprilia-built 650 single to arrive sometime next year.

Specifications:
Manufacturer: BMW
Model: R850R
Price: $8990.00
Engine: Air cooled/oil cooled boxer twin cylinder
Bore x Stroke: 87.8 mm x 70.5 mm
Displacement: 848 cc
Carburetion: Bosch Motronic fuel injection
Transmission: 5-speed, shaft drive
Wheelbase: 57.99 in.
Seat height: variable, 29.9 - 31.5 in.
Fuel capacity: 5.5 gallons
Claimed dry weight: 482 lbs.

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