A BMW for the masses?
For the first time in BMW’s history they’ve launched a motorcycle with a parallel-twin engine, the new F800. With an all new 788cc engine with four-valve technology designed by BMW Motorrad in conjunction with Austrian engine manufacturer Bombaridier-Rotax Gmbh.
Not content with attacking a completely new engine design, BMW have also launched the F800 ST and its sportier counterpart the F800 S straight into the hotly contested and popular sports middleweight class; the domain of the major Japanese manufacturers. Hence at one stroke filling a gap in BMW’s model range between the single-cylinder F650 models and the much larger capacity 1200cc Boxer and four-cylinder motorbikes.
For this BMW market offensive to be successful, BMW will need to have produced a motorcycle that not only competes on design and performance, but also on price! Have BMW produced a bike that will appeal to the popular biking masses?
Our test bike was a Graphitane metallic coloured F 800 ST, fitted with a large number of factory fit optional extras including heated grips, ABS, on-board computer, centre stand and pannier fastenings. The ST model is being targeted as a Sports Tourer, whilst the S model is targeted as a Sports bike. The main differences on the ST over the S are a higher windscreen, a fairing with side panels, higher set tubular handlebars, a luggage rack, painted front mud guard and wheels as per the design on the R1200 ST; all these changes designed to enhance the bikes’ touring capability.
When you see the F800 ST for the first time its purposeful, slender looks are striking, very angular and clean, with the side profile of the fairing and the main chassis spar forming a pleasing diagonal line through the bike. In its Graphitane metallic colour the bike looks almost as if it’s been hewn from one solid block of metal and helps accentuate the quality look of this new model.
When you sit astride the bike, the seat tends to sit you slightly up and forward and for the first few miles of riding it felt like I was perching on top of the bike, but surprisingly within a few miles the seating position actually feels right. It enables your knees and legs to fit comfortably into the deep cut outs in the dummy tank and pushes your weight slightly toward the front of the bike. I thought this would educe aching wrists, but many hundreds of miles of testing only confirmed how comfortable the stock seat is and how right the rider positioning is. Although I’m tall I didn’t feel cramped, yet the bike should also suit shorter riders, BMW claim that riders from 5ft 5″ upwards should easily be able to reach the ground even with the 820mm seat height. A lower seat height option of 790mm is also available.
This bike is full of surprises and no more so than in its new parallel twin engine. If you’ve been brought up on a diet of Japanese twins you’ll be expecting something that can rev to the stratosphere before it hits the red line, not so with this all new Rotax manufactured engine, which redlines at a lowly 8,500rpm. Yet the performance from this engine is incredibly punchy. From 3,000 rpm upwards the engine really starts to get some life and from 5,000 rpm to the red-line the bike surges ahead, yet there is no discernable power peaks or troughs, just smooth linear power. In fact this fast revving engine spins up so quickly I’m surprised BMW haven’t fitted a rev limiter, its too easy on an overtake to instantly push the bike into the red. Instead BMW have fitted a warning light which flashes angrily at you in the bottom of the tacho. Keep the bike on the boil at 5,000 rpm and you can just surf the torque curve. Snapping the throttle open from 5,000 rpm produces performance you’d expect from a bike with far more engine capacity. In fact on returning from my first day’s riding I had to check the power output figure to convince myself it wasn’t more than it is.
The bike produces a healthy but not earth shattering 85bhp, but the secret of its performance lies in the torque figure which is 86Nm (63 lb-ft) at 5,800rpm, so at 5000 rpm the bike is producing 90% of its torque. BMW claim the bike accelerates from 0-62 mph in 3.5 seconds and will exceed 125mph (where legally permissible). On the road in sixth gear at 4,000 rpm the bikes is doing 70mph, so with a redline at 8,500 rpm , the bike (if it will pull to the red in sixth) has a theoretical top speed of 149 mph. I immediately hear cries of derision from the sports bikers out there, but this is to miss totally what this bike is about. This bike is not about ultimate top speed, it’s about ride-ability. The BMW engineers have put the power at medium engine speeds, just where you need it for real world road riding.
This ride-ability is in part helped by the six speed close ration gear box. This has to be the smoothest BMW gearbox we’ve tested so far; with its well placed ratios helped by the lightness and smoothness of the cable clutch action. However the smoothness was interrupted by some distractions. At low revs we did notice some vibration, however our test bike was barely run in and this improved as we did more test miles. Plus there is some jerkiness when below 10 mph, possibly caused by emission restrictions. Also at low consistent revs, the bike produces a whine from deep within either the engine or gearbox. You only noticed this when you held a constant throttle setting. This is a shame, as in contrast there is an enjoyable, raspy, barking exhaust note, which when you crack the throttle open, the stainless steel exhaust accentuates into a pleasing growl.
However performance is not all about the engine, it’s also the sum of handling, weight and aerodynamics. The bike feels light to ride and this must in part be due to its dry weight of only 187 kg; plus its low centre of gravity as the petrol tank is placed under the seat with a lockable filler cap on the side of the bike. Weight saving is helped further by BMW negating its more familiar shaft drive in favour of a belt-drive. To ride, the belt drive feels smooth without any of the lash that can be experienced on a poorly adjusted chain driven bike and without the chunkiness and tramping that can be experienced with shaft drive. The bike has a very slender full fairing which is topped by the taller touring screen. I found this combination provided a good degree of wind and weather protection, though as a tall rider I did experience some wind coming over the top of the screen, but for most average height riders this should not be an issue; however as a bike aimed at sports touring market it’s a shame the screen is not height adjustable.
Sadly BMW have chosen not to fit its very successful Telelever front suspension system to this model, possibly a cost saving measure. BMW claim that the telescopic forks are lighter than the Telelever system and are more appealing to those familiar with Japanese or Italian machinery. Instead the F800 has standard 43mm diameter telescopic front forks which lack any form of adjustment, a surprising omission on a sports touring model. For normal one up road riding these were more than adequate but under hard breaking and de-acceleration, fork dive was evident. Two up and loaded with luggage I think the standard front fork set-up may ere on the soft side. Tucked out of site inside the fairing a steering damper is fitted as standard.
In contrast I found the rear spring strut suspension standard settings very firm, but these are fully adjustable for damping and preload, with a large external hand wheel for adjusting the preload. However the combined front and rear suspension combined with the light weight aluminium frame and eye catching single sided swing-arm work well as a package on the road. The bike is very easy to ride and would suit novice riders well or born again riders well. BMW have recognised this by offering a low-output model developing only 34 hp. However do not misinterpret this statement, the bike is truly rewarding for the experienced biker as well. The handling is razor sharp and the bike instantly responded to counter steer and body weight shift, combined with the free revving, torquey engine, this bike can really be hustled along.
Although much of our road test was conducted on wet winter roads, the bike surprised us with the sheer level of confidence it inspires, clad with Michelin Pilot road tyres, the wet weather handling was good, but with the limited amount of dry road riding we achieved the handling was truly impressive. It made me want for dry summer roads to truly exploit this bike’s handling capabilities. The bike is stable under most conditions and reacts quickly and smoothly to rider input; in fact the only really handling criticism is the bike’s stability is affected by strong cross winds, a necessary sacrifice for fitting a full fairing.
Confidence levels are further increased with the optional Bosch two-channel ABS system, which thankfully we did not have to rely on. This is a new generation of BMW Motorrad ABS which has helped further with the weight saving on this bike, as the whole system only weighs 1.5 kilos. The brakes further add to the confidence level, with twin 320mm discs and four-piston brake callipers up front and a single 265mm rear brake disc with a single-piston floating calliper, all complimented with sintered metal brake pads and steel reinforced brake lines. I found braking both in the wet and dry, progressive and smooth and provided plenty of feedback. Of significant praise was the power of the rear brake, which proved very useful when riding in the wet. However two minor gripes, our test bike developed an annoying grinding noise under hard breaking from the front discs, perhaps a symptom of the sintered pads. Secondly the front brake master cylinder (the plastic pot variety) is mounted high up above the handlebar on a rubber mount. At most speeds this vibrates annoyingly and is distracting when riding.
The level of technology BMW have fed into this new model is yet another surprise. From its new engine, to its unusual belt drive system, the bike is bristling with innovative features. The high technology toothed belt has been carried over from the F650 CS, but is now wider and specially protected by a top cover. I was pleased that we did not have to fiddle around with chain adjustment during our test, nor was the rear covered in chain oil, which always seems worse in wet weather. The belt only requires checking at the first 600 miles and then only requires a tension check at every 6000 miles and best of all it requires no chain lube!
The electrics are cutting edge, being the CAN- bus system. This is a single wire system which acts like a network and doesn’t require conventional fuses. It can switch off a malfunctioning component automatically and offers a comprehensive diagnosis system.
Out test bike was fitted with an optional digital on-board computer which sits alongside the analogue speedo, tacho and comprehensive warning light strip. I most admit that I found the speedo some what difficult to read, the figures are a little on the small side to read (or perhaps I need a trip to the opticians). In contrast the digital computer display was clear and easy to read and provided a vast array of information including level of fuel and gear selected, coolant temperature, average speed, average fuel consumption, current fuel consumption, fuel range remaining, outside temperature and stop watch function. I found the range remaining readout particularly useful and the large gear selected readout is also useful for the numerically challenged.
The alloy wheels even have side mounted valves for easy access for tyre pressure gauges and pumps.
Night riding is time when you don’t need any surprises and I found the level of illumination to be excellent from the two H7 headlight bulbs in the asymmetric dual headlight. This helped by the fact that when switching over to the high beam headlight, the low beam bulb remains active. Plus the instrumentation is subtly backlit with a clear orange glow which made the analogue instruments more readable than in the day time.
In fact rider vision in the day time should also be praised, BMW have not been slaves to style and fashion and have fitted a very functional pair of mirrors to this bike, which sit on long adjustable arms on the top edge of each side of the fairing.
So at this stage of the test report I can firmly say it’s a tick in the box for BMW on design and performance, but what about the price?
Price isn’t all about the headline purchase price, which is set at a very competitive £6,495 on the road for the base bike without extras. It’s also about the running costs and here the F800 really surprises.
The bike is very economical, on the first 16 litre tank we averaged an amazing 60 mpg, admittedly this was used on wet roads, but our fourth tank was used on drying roads for which we were able to use far more of the performance, we averaged 55mpg. This gives the bike a touring range of 200 miles or more.
As the bike is belt drive there is no need to buy regular replacement chain and sprockets. The matt stainless steel plate belt only needs replacing every 40,000km, and this only takes approximately 0.5 hours of labour. The belt costs about £120, though if the rear pulley needs replacing, this costs approx £150.
A BMW dealer told me you can expect to get 5-6,000 miles from a rear tyre, but the biggest surprise of all is the extremely frugal servicing costs he quoted. The 6,000 mile or yearly service which ever comes first costs only £66.67 including VAT, if you rack up 6,000 miles earlier, the cost only increases to £83.46 including VAT. A 2 year inspection / 12,000 miles service is only £117.12 including VAT. Now if you’ve been used to servicing costs that can run to many hundreds of pounds this will be a welcome saving.
So it’s another tick on the box for BMW on price and I almost forgot, residuals, because it’s a BMW it should be worth more than many other marques when you come to sell it or trade it in.
So have BMW produced a bike that will appeal to the biking masses in the highly competitive sports middle weight class? I think the answer is a resounding “Yes”! We have a bike that’s cheap to run, relatively cheap to buy when set against other BMW models and competitive against its Japanese competitors. Yet it still manages to offer a style and performance package that is first class. Yes, there is some evidence of cost saving, but not at any detriment to the overall offering. Plus you do get that BMW quality and the coveted blue and white badge. Truly a BMW for the masses.
Article and Photos by Jon Booth – www.inter-bike.co.uk – The UK Biker Site. Note all performance figures, weights and technical specifications are as claimed by the respective manufacturers