The Fast Und Funktional BMW F800ST
by Michelle Moe
I have not ridden a large number of bikes during my 14 years of riding, but have enjoyed standard, touring, and sidecar rigs. My current ride is a BMW R850R, seat at the standard position. My husband rides a R1100RT, which I can ride with the aid of a modified seat. Being only 5’-2” tall, modifications are necessary; especially on any BMW. Although I am perfectly happy with my R850R, I have always wanted to check out the sportier side of bikes.
My chance to ride a sportier bike came when I was invited to test ride a 2008 BMW F800ST. I got the call that the bike would be mine for a week. Great! Plenty of time to get out and enjoy the winding roads I am blessed to live near. As fate would have it, this was a week that I had every moment scheduled and planned. How would I ever manage to find the time to get my hands on this machine? Grrrr!
First things first; priorities. Yes, I was otherwise committed, so where could I trim the fat from my everyday responsibilities to be able to get out? My first opportunity came one evening after dinner. Out on my own, I was able to ride free and fast.
Our test bike was metallic blue and very sleek. Wow! What an awesome looking bike!
It was fully loaded with hard bags, ABS, digital display, heated handgrips, lowered suspension, lowered seat, MP3 and a Zumo navigation system with Bluetooth. I was so psyched when I saw it in my garage. It is such a hot bike, MMM’s chrome diva, Tammy Wanchena, bought one. As a matter of fact, this was her bike and I got to ride it. Yippee! It sure is nice to have friends in high places. My favorite features are its seat height, the clean look and the gear indicator.
I was warned that first gear was a little tricky. This bike makes a lot of power despite its middleweight status. This creates the need to let the clutch out slowly when starting out in first gear. I live on a mile of gravel road, which requires caution and slower speeds. I did not care for the lower gear ratios at all, especially 2nd, which seemed to merely be a means to 3rd, which was too much for the gravel. Maybe I just don’t like to go slow. This made it difficult to find a comfortable gear at slower speeds. Out to the pavement and any hesitation was gone – both the bike’s and mine. I love fast acceleration – hang the gas conservation (did I say that??). The F800ST is fairly quick and snappy. I immediately had the sensation that I was one with the bike, hardly noticing it under me.
When I got to the curves, there was no question about this bike’s ability to take them. The front end does require a little coaxing to get on board; especially in slower gears. Again, this was something I quickly got used to as the miles passed. Braking was clean and exact, with a little bit of front-end dive. I had no need to engage the optional ABS, but it is nice to know it is there when you need it.
I am not very fond of the “sporty” windshield height, even though it is higher than the S model. The wind hit me in the face, whereas my husband was hit in the chest. Admittedly, I was leaning back quite a bit to minimize any Carpal Tunnel symptoms that were sure to arise from leaning so far forward on my hands. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a reality for many people. I have a history of it and I have learned how to modify everything I do to minimize the effects. My first ride on this bike, on familiar turf and with no other cars to contend with, I was relaxed and had no numbness. My second ride was on the freeway and into town. My heightened alert and tension caused me to constantly adjust my grip in order to wake the old hands. To be fair, I have the same experience on my own bike with a standard seating position.
The stock seat height is 32.3 inches. An optional lower seat brings the seat height down to 31”. This, coupled with the lowered suspension, is perfect for my petite inseam. The bike itself is fairly narrow in the middle, allowing me to almost touch the ground with the balls of my feet. Add boots that are two sizes too big, and I felt pretty confident in my ability to handle this bike from a stop. But it was pretty hard for someone of my stature to back the bike up without a little help.
Raised handlebars bring the riding position closer to standard than the S version of this bike. Raising the handlebars even further could help alleviate some of the Carpal Tunnel numbness. My height was also a factor in operating the kickstand. A teeny, tiny nub is all there is with which to raise and lower the kickstand. I had a difficult time finding it while mounted on the bike. When standing at a stop on my tippy-toes, it was almost impossible to lean over and look down without feeling like I was going to fall over. I had to ask for help in finding it. Once located, there was no problem as the kickstand operated with ease.
The BMW stock bags look surprisingly small, but will expand to hold a helmet on the right side. The left side is cut in to allow for the muffler. Their release and opening mechanism take a lot of getting used to. The trunk bag will hold a helmet as well. It is also difficult to open. My husband tried the bags out and was mumbling something about saving your money to buy Givis instead.
The turn signals were kind of fun to operate. I especially liked the cancel feature, which “clicked” off. This confirmed that I had indeed turned the blinker off. I am famous for leaving turn signals on, which then compels my husband to gesture wildly until I figure out what he’s talking about. Vibration was present, but minimal. Sorry ladies, this is no Maytag. Although the F800ST looks a little top heavy, in reality it is quite balanced. The gas tank is located under the seat, which lowers the center of gravity. It usually takes me a while to adjust to riding with a fairing, but this one took no time at all to get used to.
I had a blast riding this bike. I really enjoyed how zippy and light it felt. I could have ridden long distance easily, enjoying every mile. A comfortable seat, quick response and easy handling were all key factors in my enjoyment. However, this is not the bike for me right now. I have kids and they are starting to go along for rides with us. Imagine if you had a two-door sports car with kids. This doesn’t work unless you want an excuse not to bring them with you. This is why I drive a minivan. My R850R is no minivan, but I find it more family-friendly. Take a F800ST bike out for a spin. I guarantee you will have a great ride on this reasonably priced, sport-touring bike.
by Kevin Kocur
Sometimes the planets align. Back in May, after a grueling week at work, I found myself staring at a stack of overdue bills. I’m reaching for my checkbook when the phone rings with my next MMM assignment: take a brand-new BMW F800ST to southeastern Minnesota for an extended weekend. Well, if I must…….
One week later: it’s Friday, I’m on a twisty little road in Filmore County on one of the best bikes I’ve ever ridden, and I don’t have to be back to work until Monday. If there’s such a thing as Heaven on Earth, I have just found it. The Metallic Blue beauty is fully loaded with options like saddlebags, top case, factory GPS, heated grips, info center, cop shocks, cop tires…..well, you get the picture. This bike also features the low seat and low suspension option. The low seat was, literally, a pain for me (more on that later) and the low suspension makes getting the bike on the center stand very difficult. Thankfully, neither one affects the bike’s handling much.
It’s early Friday morning and I’m packed and ready to go. The expandable saddlebags are a bit tricky to operate, but I managed to stuff ‘em with a weekend’s worth of clothes. You can never depend on the weather in late May, so I’ve come prepared with warm and cold weather clothing, as well as rain gear. The bags swallowed all of this and I barely needed to expand them.
The top case is wonderful. It holds plenty, and even left room for some copies of MMM, as well as a bottle of fine, Irish whiskey to share around the campfire. Looks like a party is shaping up! All of my camping gear is contained in two waterproof bags, which are strapped to the passenger portion of the seat. The bike’s ready, and now I just need to gear up and hit the road.
The trip down is fairly uneventful. It’s mostly four lane to get to my destination, and the bike churns along without any effort. Vibration from the 798cc parallel twin is present, but not overwhelming, and the engine has an odd exhaust note to it. There’s a reason why: on most parallel twins, the pistons move up and down opposite of each other. Not on this motor. Both pistons move up and down together. Normally, this would cause a massive amount of vibration (ever ridden a big single?), but BMW borrowed a page from the Ducati Supermono engine book by adding another journal to the crank, and a third connecting rod with a pivoting weight. It’s a simple solution (as opposed to the rotating mass of a counter balancer) and it works.
By the time I got to the Interstate, my hips were starting to hurt from the low saddle. Even though I had added some foam underneath my sheepskin, it still didn’t make up for the fact that my knees were bent a bit more than I’d like. Still, I only had about 30 more minutes of slab and then I would be on twisty two lanes. Eastbound and down, I throttled the ST and settled in.
The one good thing I’ll say about Interstate riding is that it gives you a chance to evaluate a bike’s overall comfort level. I can say that the ST’s fairing and windshield both work quite well. The windshield is low, and directs the airflow to your upper torso instead of around your helmet. Obviously, this makes for a quieter ride, but once the temperatures drop, you may find yourself looking for a taller windshield. The fairing does a remarkable job of moving air and rain around you. The combination of windshield, fairing and a slightly forward riding position makes this rider very happy. It’s not unlike my BMW K100RS, except that the ST produces less wind noise, while the K provides slightly better protection from the elements. The ST’s excellent mirrors are superior to the K’s. However, the similarities end there. With roughly the same horsepower, but weighing 120 pounds less, the F800 is clearly the performance champ here.
Lighter weight and better suspension also means that the ST will absolutely leave the K behind if you’re on very twisty roads. Speaking of which, I’ve finally gotten off the slab and manage to find some good roads. By the time I arrive at the Hiawatha Rally site, I’m grinning ear to ear. Once I’ve unloaded all of my gear, set up camp and check in, it’s back on the bike.
Southeastern Minnesota is by all means my favorite local area to ride. It’s not just the majestic beauty of the Bluff Country; oh no—the roads are simply outstanding! I have a few personal favorites and they are going to give the bike one hell of a workout. Now that I’m riding some of my favorite roads , we’re pegging the Fun Meter! Down the hill, brake, down shift, lean ‘er over, and back on the gas. The F800 is amazingly easy to throw into corners. Having a low center of gravity, thanks in part to the fuel tank being mounted low in the frame, does help. I had no issues whatsoever with either the bike’s ride or it’s handling. Yes, it’s that good.
I’ve already commented on how well the motor puts power to the pavement, but it gets a little help along the way. First off, is the six-speed gearbox. It provides clean, crisp shifts with minimal effort. Then there’s the belt drive—smooth, reliable and low-maintenance. While I prefer shaft drive, you gotta love the simplicity of the belt. Not to mention, bye-bye $300 spline lubes!
The brakes are fantastic. Featuring ABS, twin 320mm front rotors with Brembo four piston calipers, and a single 265mm rear rotor and single piston caliber. This bike brakes hard enough to pull your eyeballs out of their sockets. If you’re not careful, you’ll wind up looking like a Rat Fink character. My only complaint with the brakes is with the remote reservoir for the front master cylinder. Seriously, it looks like I’m on my way to the free clinic and the only way to carry my urine sample was to mount it on the handlebars….
So we’ve established that the ST makes for a good touring bike and a competent back roads burner. In my book, that’s only two out of three things. The perfect motorcycle should also be the perfect commuting vessel. I’ve lived with the portliness and leg-baking of the mighty K for years, now it’s time to see if the ST can do better. Sadly, it loses points here. The clutch pull is stiffer, and there’s a pretty good reach to the clutch lever. After the stop and go traffic that is part of my daily commute, my left hand is killing me. Also, the bike is geared a bit tall. In first gear at barely-moving speeds, it’s a handful. We all know about liquid cooled bikes in hot weather, and this one’s no exception. Not everyone will be subjected to this type of riding, but I do it everyday, so things like this concern me if this were to be my only bike.
While I’m nit-picking, I did ride the bike two-up. The power is down noticeably with a passenger, and frequent down shifts are required. The K wins a point back for better power delivery and passenger accommodations.
So, there you have it. I set out to ride the perfect motorcycle and nearly succeeded. So herein lies the problem: up ‘til now, I’ve considered the F800ST to be the perfect motorcycle for me. So what would it take for the ST to win back my love? A proper seat (not really this particular bike’s fault) and a different set of bags would be a must. Maybe the clutch would get better after some miles are put on it. Or maybe I just commute on one of my other bikes. So it is possible that one day an ST will be parked in my garage? Maybe. I’ve gotten a bit more adventurous, and the F800GS will be released very soon…..
One way or another, it looks like an F800 will indeed end up in my garage. I can only imagine that when the garage door opens, and I’m staring at the bike, there will be a heralding of Angels. Heaven on Earth.