At the beginning of the year I bought a second-hand 2009 F800GS to replace my R1150RT as a touring bike. I had the RT for 10 years, it was a fantastic touring machine at the time, but somewhere along the line I got fed up with it’s size, weight and inability to take on the smaller, rougher roads of the Alps. Even simple things like riding up gravel driveways to a country B&B and parking were regularly a terrifying experience on a fully loaded RT, and embarrassingly I’d always have to ask my wife to get off while I did this.
Being an ex RT owner I fully understand the appeal for big capacity bikes and the 1200GS is probably the king of continental tourers. But I find the 800GS is more manoeuvrable, lighter and less intimidating when the ground gets wet, muddy and rutted while still being an economical continental tourer. It also happens to make a first class everyday commuter, and as it looks better dirty the only thing I need to clean regularly is the chain. Price, practicality, functionality, reliability and value for money were the main points on my list and the new GS ticks all those boxes for me.
In March I rode the F800GS into the Kerry Mountains on the west coast of Ireland to get to grips with the bike before my summer trips to the Pyrenees and the Alps. Once you get off the Ring of Kerry and the tourist trail the forlorn Kerry Mountains are a wonderful place for bikes like these. With rough weather, rougher roads stretching the meaning of “road”, and a scenic backdrop reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings this area lends a perfect place to proof test both bike and gear. After four days of this I’d well and truly bonded with the 800GS and proved to be a revelation as a transport to freedom and to go where I please.
Since then I’ve ridden through France, the Pyrenees twice, and Spain covering over 7,000km. My first trip to the Pyrenees in May saw me ride through some frighteningly bad weather with 8 hour days riding through constant torrential rain, flooded roads, mud and high winds. On higher Pyrenean passes the temperatures dropped below 0C and the rain of course turned to sleet, snow and everything in between.
At one stage I was overtaken by a tornado on the A63 south of Bordeaux which crossed the motorway 5 miles ahead of me causing an oil tanker to crash, spilling it’s load and made the A63 impassable. The ensuing 80km traffic jam made little difference to me as I rode through a gap in the motorway fencing, through flooded, muddy rock strewn fields eventually finding a farm track leading to a D road and freedom. This is something I would certainly have not been able to do on a RT! This experience has solidified my view of trailies making great tourers.
As for my 2009 F800GS, well I now love it more than any bike I’ve owned or ridden since I first bought the RT in 2002. It’s not perfect, but there are so many aftermarket parts and accessories it’s easily possible to make it perfect for you. For me the first main issues were the standard screen and foot pegs being too small, the seat is not all day comfortable, but with some investment these problems are all fixable. My current F800GS has an endless list of bolt-ons, but there are two annoying issues with the 800GS which are not fixable.
Two problems with the standard F800GS
The first issue is just annoying, the engine has an uncomfortable habit of constantly blowing hot air against my inner leg. In Ireland’s temperate climate I never noticed it, but on baking hot Spanish motorways or navigating city traffic in Alicante things get a little uncomfortable. As I spend a large part of the year living here it’s an issue for me with my Celtic blood and inability to cope well with high summer heat.
The second issue is by far the biggest and that is of course the slightly weak tank range. For normal use the 16 litre – 300km tank range is perfectly fine. But if you want to go exploring in rural France or the Alps on a Sunday where the few petrol stations are closed, or if you need to get your head down and cover serious motorway distance this limited range can be a pain. Carefully planning petrol stops has now become an important part of planning a tour – as if I don’t have enough things to do…
And along came the F800GS Adventure!
The first reviews I read about the F800GSA did not seem to be overly enthusiastic about the model. Criticisms about the new seat, the screen, spongy front suspension, it’s weight and vibrations from the engine seemed to be the main things, ehh – most of which are characteristic of the standard model anyway. What was going on? I suspected the reason when I realised the reviewers bitching about the F800GSA had a personal bios towards, or far more experience on more powerful and road orientated bikes. Probably not the right guys to give the F800GSA a proper review! So, being a proud F800GS owner I will now attempt to rectify this shocking state of affairs with hopefully a slightly more insightful review of my own.
Luckily for me I’m currently on the Isle of Man and my local bike dealer, Jason Griffiths Motorcycles just happens to have a 2013 F800GSA available for a test ride and yours truly was the first to take it out for a spin. Taking this bike for a test ride on the iconic Isle of Man TT Circuit was an experience I’ll not soon forget, but less of that, what did I think of the bike?
The first thing I try is the weight by moving the bike before I get on. Pushing the bike around is no different from the standard, the wide bars make easy work of it and it’s weight is fine. Certainly moving this bike around while off the bike is far easier than trying to move a R1150RT or the 1200GSA. So, potentially moving it in and out of my garage is nothing to sweat about – as long as the tank is half full or less
F800GSA Seat Height
Upon mounting the F800GSA it does feel a tad taller, but the extra 10mm height makes no real difference. Shifting forward to the narrower end of the seat allows me to easily slip a leg down either side of the bike to plant one foot on terra firma, so stopping at traffic lights etc is no problem. At 5’9” / 170cm with my boots off I’m of average height and I’m fine with the seat height for the most part, but I’d like to try the low seat option before making any decision on this.
Dealing with these tall bikes is a little intimidating at first, but I assure you, if like me you’re not the tallest flower in the pot, dealing with tall bikes becomes second nature surprisingly quick.
As I pull out of Jason’s I immediately feel at home on the GSA, it initially feels essentially the same bike as the standard 800GS, but as I head south towards Castletown and the Southern 100 race circuit it’s list of subtle differences soon become apparent. To my skinny arse at least the newly shaped seat is far more comfortable with enough room to move about a fair bit. It’s narrow at the front to allow you to put a foot down, but wider at the back to spread your weight across the ass cheeks for longer rides.
In the two hours I was riding at no point did I feel the need to get off for a stretch, nor did I feel the need to do the motorway shuffle and shift around to relieve pressure. My conclusion being the seat is now more long distance orientated and I like it. Remember however, everyone’s arse is a different size and shape, it will be fine for the majority of arses, but not all. You will need at least a two-hour test ride before you’ll know if it’s for you.
Sitting on the bike two more differences came into view, the front/side fairing and the screen. The fairing obviously comes out wider than the standard 800GS, but not that much and it doesn’t feel anything like the Titanic ocean going cruise liner that is the 1200GSA! The 800GSA has not lost it’s tall and narrow feel, it still feels like the original 800GS, just a bit more substantial with a wee touch more luxury if that makes sense.
The new but still non-adjustable screen is now far more effective than the pointless fly screen on the standard 800, actually it’s a proper touring screen. I also think it’s cleverly shaped. It keeps wind off the chest area, but it’s dipped in the centre allowing some airflow to your helmet. I read one reviewer complaining that this allows helmet buffeting at motorway speeds, this may be true depending on your height. But for me it’s perfect as the downward curve in the screens centre allows me a clear view to what’s going on the road immediately in front while sitting.
At normal road speeds, especially in high temperatures I need a good airflow hitting my helmet. The great ventilation of more expensive helmets like the Schuberth C3 Pro become pointless if a touring screen is too tall, and as I always wear earplugs wind noise is not an issue. For motorway speeds the addition of a small screen extender would sort out the buffeting and would offer full flexibility. To be honest though, I don’t see why BMW didn’t just add an adjustable screen like on the 1200GS to begin with.
Fuel Economy & Range
Out on the road there seemed no difference in fuel economy with the bikes computer reporting a steady 60-65mpg at around 4000 revs in Sport mode, almost the same as I get on the standard model, maybe 2-4mpg in the difference. I was riding solo up with no panniers and a tank half full.
The F800GSA takes a whopping 24litres of fuel, that’s 39lbs or 17.5kgs in fuel weight so a full tank may well cut fuel economy a bit, but with a range of around 420-450km who the hell cares, for me the benefits well out weigh the cons. With that range I can ride from Cherbourg to Nice with just 3 fuel stops and have enough left in the tank to continue on into Italy. That’s an incredible ability!
The fuel tank brings me on to the next subject, balance. While the F800GSA is a tad heaver than it’s slightly smaller sibling it’s low speed balance is still superb. Jumping off my Triumph Tiger 800 with its fuel tank mounted high up in the traditional position and onto any F800 model the effect of the fuel tank under and behind the seat creating a lower centre of gravity is massive. Where low speed manoeuvres on the Tiger 800 require some concentration, the same low speed manoeuvres on my 2009 F800GS are effortless. I can perform a tight circle on the F800R/GS/GSA sitting or standing with my brain unplugged, on my Tiger 800 I regularly have to catch myself from tipping over. Either I don’t suit the Tiger or the Tiger does not suit me, but for fast shenanigans on country roads I deeply regret changing my BMW F800R for the Triumph Tiger 800.
ASC – Automatic Stability Control
The F800GSA supplied by Jason Griffiths Motorcycles came with the full package of toys, ASC, ESA and a list of other letters in confusing arrangements. To be honest I have very little interest in the ASC – Automatic Stability “Stupidity” Control otherwise known as traction control. On a 120+bhp bike I can see where it would be a good safety net, especially if your tyres are shot and the roads are wet, but as all the F800’s are under 85bhp I don’t see much point. If the roads are wet and slippery I’ll just leave the testosterone and stupidity at home and ride like an old lady until conditions improve as it’s the cheapest option in more ways than one.
The ASC is really supposed to make a difference in Enduro mode. The Enduro mode makes the ABS respond extremely quickly, stopping the chances of a crash due to a locked front when braking on loose surfaces, while the ASC allows the rear to slide a little bit but not too far, meaning you can look like you know what you’re doing without wetting your underpants. More experienced off-roaders can always turn the ABS and ASC off all together, for myself however I would seriously prefer to have the option to turn the ABS off just on the rear while keeping the ABS up front.
ESA – Electronic Suspension Adjustment
The ESA – Electronic Suspension Adjustmentt however is something I was truly interested in. When touring I’m constantly fiddling with the rear pre-load knob to cater for smooth twisty alpine roads, to rough D roads or tracks, with or without luggage etc. I wanted to know if the ESA really makes a difference and if it was worth the extra cash, especially as it’s not as advanced as on the 1200GS and only affects the rear suspension. On the 800GSA the ESA does not affect the front suspension.
The ESA has 3 modes, Normal, Comfort and Sport. Well try as I might I could feel absolutely no difference between Normal and Comfort, in fact I wondered if it was working at all. Maybe it only makes a difference on really bad road surfaces or/and when the bike is fully fuelled and pannier laden.
Sport Mode however is where I found a big difference, and it was enough of a difference to put a smile on my face. I honestly don’t know how it works, but apart from tightening up the rear it also seemed to tighten up the front brakes. In effect the front end felt slightly less spongy making a massive difference when cornering with gusto.
The F800GS’s long front fork travel that works so well off-road has it’s draw backs, mainly nose diving when braking, but you can easily cater for that by braking a bit earlier and coming to a full stop on the back brake. But diving into a quick corner also makes the front end dip slightly which is not a good feeling, on the F800GS getting your corner entry speed correct is especially important. When cornering on my standard toy free model I firstly get my entry speed correct. I then apply just a little pressure on both back and front brakes from entering a corner right through to the apex, releasing slowly while balancing increased throttle on exit. On most bikes you’d never use your brakes right through the corner, but on the F800GS applying brake pressure “ever-so-slightly”, tightens up the 800GS’s suspension allowing faster, and safer cornering.
I’m far from the only one using this cornering technique on the F800GS. And now on this F800GSA with the ESA on Sport Mode the “braking through the corner technique” is not needed. In Sport mode the bike feels much tighter and less spongy up front (even though the ESA is NOT itself connected to the front forks). I can only assume the Sport mode is applying slight pressure to the front brake because that is how it feels. I stand to be corrected on this point…
The end result is better composure and greatly increased enjoyment in the corners. For those not familiar to touring on a F800GS this might not seem like a big deal, but to me it’s a massive deal. Swift cornering on a non ESA model takes a bit more concentration and work which is thoroughly enjoyable for the most part. But when faced with a 400km day of countless alpine curves in quick succession while keeping up with faster cornering machines I’m betting the “Sport Mode” at least will prove it’s worth. So, while I’m not sold on the ASC I will certainly be ordering the ESA system for my next F800GS upgrade.
The next gratefully experienced change on the 2013 F800GS Adventure is the larger foot pegs. The pegs on the standard 800 are too small by far if you spend any time standing. They don’t give enough support at the best of times, making covering the rear brake and gear levers awkward, the pegs also tend to brake the soles of your boots.
The bigger foot pegs make standing steadier and more comfortable, especially when covering the brake etc. The moulding on the fake tank/fairing is also re-worked, between that and the pegs, standing feels more relaxed and intuitive then on my 2009 model. Getting up to stand from the seating position transferring my full weight to the pegs was also poised and balanced. Standing on the F800GS Adventure felt really natural, and to me at least I did not feel the need for bar risers.
Anyone jumping on any of BMW’s F800’s parallel twin will notice the vibration through the seat or handle bar from around 4000 revs. This is a characteristic of all the F800 engines, it’s more noticeable on harder sprung bikes like my BMW F800R. The F800 engine runs a little leaner than most bikes to gain fuel economy and the F800GSA is no different. My Triumph Tiger 800 is far smoother, and has quicker acceleration, but of course the down side is it’s fuel economy. In comparison to the F800GS or F800R my Tiger 800 drinks like a panic stricken Irishman on the Thursday before Good Friday when all the pubs are shut. As an Irishman myself I can say that with some confidence without fear of a class action lawsuit for slander and racial stereotyping.
Two problems with the new F800GS Adventure
I started this review by explaining that I have just two issues with the standard F800GS. The issues being, the heat from the engine on the inner leg, and the miserly tank.
Well I have two issues with the new bike too. I could not tell from my test ride if the extra fairing which makes a pocket of air around the legs will make the issue of hot air from the engine worse! I suspect it will. In winter it’s a good thing, but for me in the baking Spanish heat of summer my inherent Irish inability to deal with too much heat is a worry. But I doubt if it would be an issue for 99% of you reading this and either way, while annoying, it’s not a deal breaker.
The second issue is again relating to the tank. Yes – there is always a catch, but again this might be just a personal issue. As the tank is bigger it’s also wider! So slap a set of panniers to the hips of the new F800GSA and she becomes 2/3rds the width of the average family estate car. Filtering is absolutely out of the question with panniers wider than the handle bars, at least for me. Blind corners on seriously narrow Pyrenees roads may also become a game of Russian roulette. As it is I’ve twice nearly lost a pannier to on-coming traffic on blind corners on mountain roads in Kerry and the Pyrenees. Also, with panniers so wide leaning over too far on fast corners may need a complete disregard for personal safety. I should however point out that there are plenty of bikes out there that become catastrophically wide when hard panniers are attached.
From here on in I’m going to make an extra effort to carry less shit when touring and ditch the big metal panniers. I’m switching over to soft luggage with the exception of a top box to lock the valuables. I’ve invested in a set of soft-ish Wolfman Expedition Dry Panniers and intend to leave the aluminium hard side cases behind on this Septembers trips to the Alps and Pyrenees. For me at least, on the standard 800GS the use of hard cases is optional depending on where I intend to ride. If I choose to buy the F800GSA I wont be bothering to buy any hard cases to go with it as I think it will become a bit too wide, but, as usual, I stand to be corrected.
One last thing, there is a distinctive lack of good photographs in this review, I had to pull a few pics off the helmet cam. This is simply because I only had two hours with the F800GSA and once I mounted the bike I really did not want to get off to arse around making photographs on the countless iconic spots along the Isle of Man TT Circuit. Nor did I want to give the bike back to it’s rightful owner, which usually means I’ll end up buying it once my poor wife gets here head around me buying yet another bike! She’s almost agreed, but I’ll have to sell off my Triumph Tiger 800 which to be honest I wont really miss that much.
The 2013 F800GSA was built for more practical types who like to ride, and ride, and ride, and then ride some more to cover huge distances on almost any terrain in all weathers. The BMW F800GS Adventure is purely focused and unconfused to it’s purpose and has to be one of the very few true globe trotting adventure bikes on the market.
If anyone fancies a quick visit to the Isle of Man Jason Griffiths Motorcycles also has a great range of motorcycles available to rent and it’s only a couple of minutes walk from the airport. It’s well worth spending a couple of hours riding the iconic TT Circuit, so it’s all too easy to fly in first thing in the morning with your gear, walk across to Jason’s to pick up a bike for the day and catch an evening flight back home. Feel free to drop me an email, if I’m on the island I’ll be happy to meet you an show you round…
BMW F800 GS vs F800GS Adventure
|BMW F 800 GS||BMW F 800 GS Adventure|
|Tank volume||16 litres||24 litres|
|Standard Seat Height||880 mm||890 mm|
|Low Seat Height||850 mm||860 mm|
|Lower Option||Yes, 820 mm||No|
|DIN Unladen Weight||214 kg||229 kg|
|Max Load||230 kg||225 kg|
|Dimensions L / W / H||2,300 / 920 / 1,345 mm||2,305 / 925 / 1,450 mm|
|90 / 120 km/h||3.8 / 5.2 l||4.3 / 5.7 l|
|55 / 75 mph||74.3 / 54.3 mpg imp||65.7 / 49.5 mpg imp|
|Price||£8,595 OTR||9,650 OTR|