By Jared Aurentz
While I have never had a chance to take one of BMW’s F-series twins for a test ride on home soil, I was excited when I found myself in Europe, circumstances aligned, and I was offered the opportunity to ride a F 800 R (MSRP: $10,600) for nine days along some of the best roads on the planet.
The bike I received came straight from BMW corporate, picked up at a small storage facility just north of Munich. It was an almost new unit, with only 2,300 miles on the odometer, and had recently received a brand new set of Metzeler Sportec
and a new chain. It also was outfitted with saddlebags and a GPS from the accessories catalog, both of which would later prove invaluable.
For those of you who are fans of European styling, the F 800 R doesn’t disappoint. The F 800 R is modern in almost every way, yet still maintains a minimalist mantra, an attribute I feel is mandatory of any naked bike. The bike I rode came in Mineral Silver Metallic, which is only applied to the body panels. The plastics are minimal, leaving the engine, frame and suspension components almost completely exposed. No matter what color body you choose, everything that isn’t plastic comes in a black. Down below, both black painted cast aluminum wheels have a 10-spoke pattern. Up top, the controls are minimal: signals, lights, kill-switch and adjustments for the heated grips. The dash has two analog displays for the speedo and tach. It also has an LCD display for gear position, fuel level, heated grip level, ABS and mileage.
The fly screen doesn’t do much but throw a queer shadow over the dash display and the pod-like saddlebags available for BMW sport bikes always seemed like a bad joke to me – all that money and so little room. However, even though you may not be able to fit a helmet inside one, you will be able to store all those little bits of clothing that you peel on and off during the day. I was able to fit two pairs of gloves, my riding pants (which are fairly large), a pair of shoes, a road atlas and a fair quantity of snacks between the two bags. The rest of my belongings were put in a medium sized dry bag and strapped to the factory luggage rack. This set-up was perfect for me though I think it might be inadequate for two riders.
On The Road
The F 800 R is not for tall riders. At 5’11” I was near the edge of my comfort zone. The riding position resembles that of a sportbike rather than what one may expect for a naked motorcycle. This was a bit distracting since I have always chosen motorcycles for comfort rather than sport. Three things stuck out immediately the first time I swung a leg over the bike: 1) the distance from the seat to the foot pegs felt excessively cramped; 2) the riding position is very aggressive and requires a lot of arm support even though it has conventional handlebars; and 3) the bike is incredibly light and requires almost no effort to keep upright when stopped. This isn’t too surprising considering the bike’s total weight comes in at somewhere around 439 lbs. wet.
My first impressions of the bike in motion were much more positive than the bike at rest. The F 800 R comes to life with a roar and quickly settles to a gentle purr, leaving you to wonder if you received a lion or a house cat. Pulling out on the road and rolling on the throttle you realize it is most definitely a lion. The acceleration is phenomenal, which is no surprise since the bike comes with a whopping 87hp @ 8,000rpm and 63 ft.-lbs. @ 6,000rpm. When you’re ready to pass, drop down a gear and let the engine sing.
Despite the power output, the F 800 R is surprisingly efficient. With the majority of the test ride being on high mountain roads and only a few jaunts on the Autobahn, the bike consistently gave measurements of 50 mpg, often times closer to 55 mpg. The 4.2-gallon fuel tank is hidden under the seat for optimum weight distribution and balance. Thankfully the tank mixed with the bike’s high fuel economy combined for infrequent pit stops and more switchbacks.
Pulling up a stop is equally as exhilarating as twisting the Go Stick. Even with a full tank of gas and a pile of gear on the back, the 320mm dual-disc with four-pot front brake, 265mm single disc with single piston rear brake and sticky tires means bringing the bike to a stop requires little more than pinky finger effort. It almost felt like they responded too well. It would have been nice to have a little more pull between no brakes and completely locked. Thankfully the bike comes equipped with ABS to help keep you from accidentally going over the bars.
One thing I was disappointed with was the quality of the gearbox. For starters, I would prefer a little more spread in the gear ratios and a taller overdrive. Also there were several days in a row of hard riding that resulted in some inopportune missed shifts. Even in casual riding, shifting gears required excessive foot pressure. It would be interesting to know whether the shifting improves after a longer break in period.
I haven’t mentioned the suspension yet because, frankly, it worked perfectly. The rear suspension uses a single pre-load adjustable coil over in an asymmetrical arrangement. The front suspension uses conventional 43mm forks. The bike was very smooth on the Autobahn, yet on some of the poorer quality back roads it became obvious that the factory settings are very stiff – another sign this bike was built to be aggressive.
Though this doesn’t pertain specifically to the F 800 R, I can’t help but put in a plug for BMW’s GPS unit. Never once did it lead me down the wrong street or lose signal. And given the extensive number of roads traveled, even in remote locations, I most certainly would have been lost without it.
Some Last Words
Out of the mountains and back near sea level I was on my way to return the bike when I brainstormed some of the impressions I garnered from the F 800 R.
The combination of light weight design and high-output parallel-twin engine make the F 800 R a bike that is good at going fast and cornering hard. This high level of performance is achieved without sacrificing efficiency, a quality that is becoming increasingly important these days. Even with the obvious sport bike influence, the F 800 R is still capable of some moderate-distance touring – an experience improved with some basic, though expensive accessories like saddlebags and a GPS.
While the aggressiveness of the bike, translated through the quick-revving throttle, sensitive brakes and stiff transmission, may make the
F 800 R ill-suited for the first time motorcyclist, an experienced rider looking for a unique way to fill their sport bike itch but not willing to limit themselves to day trips may find interest.
Would I buy one? I’ve already placed my order.