The U.S. had to wait a while, but the wait was worth
it. BMW has finally delivered its newest tarmac and terra firma devouring
machine, the 2009 F800GS, to American dealers. The U.S. press launch took place
only yesterday in the other-worldly and out-of-this-world beautiful Utah desert
near Moab, and Motorcycle.com was there!
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.
The BMW F800GS is in its element.
A moderately retuned and redesigned 800cc mill from BMW’s F800S and ST powers
the all-new F800GS. This engine is an ideal platform for a variety of types of
riding and riding terrain.
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-lbss 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-lbss 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
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.
Fall is in the air, and the F800GS is finally in the U.S.!
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 lbss., 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.
With the new F800GS the focus is on '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…
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