If you visit a BMW dealer the message is clear: if you like adventure riding, BMW has got you covered - irrespective or age or ability. If you're competent on two wheels and inspired by long distances, there's the two flagship 1200cc offerings; if you're an entry-level rider looking to develop your off-road skills, there's the new G650 Xchallenge; and if you fall somewhere between the two, then one of these all-new 800cc BMW F800GS machines will suit you down to the ground.
Well, that's the thinking behind the new BMW F800GS and BMW F650G, but what's the reality? Compared to the F650 Dakar - which was something we had experience with - it's clear the new F650GS is a quantum leap forward in every respect. But of greatest interest to us was the new F800GS, a bike whose beefed-up tubular steel frame, 21-inch front wheel, spoked rims, 45mm upside-down forks, 200mm-plus suspension travel, and conventional chain-drive all scream off-road, despite no "Adventure" tag at the end of its name.
Thankfully, we had two days and lots of road and off-road terrain to help work out just how fair this adventure bike's off-road intentions are.
As you'd expect from a big twin, the BMW F800GS's fuel-injection powerplant has a grunty, smooth and refined feel about it. But it doesn't pull your arms out of their sockets with outright acceleration. This engine is all about generating a broad surge of tractable power through the mid-range. It's torque monster with user-friendly power on-tap from 2000rpm right through the 8500rpm redline, and has a throaty but respectable exhaust note.
While 85 horses is obviously more than enough to get the rear wheel spinning on the dirt, optimizing rideability across a variety of terrain has been the design focus. Off-road, its predictable and hit-free power gives you the confidence to wind it on, even on skatey surfaces. This thing was born to powerslide on flowing firetrail, and it chugs up slippery hills without a worry. With 90% of maximum torque on offer between 4000 and 7500rpm, it's not wonder the 800 is happy to be short-shifted and chugged around.
On the road, you can afford to rev the twin much harder. Its free-revving engine doesn't mind you holding gears and its 17-inch rear hooks up nicely. But daredevils will probably find this engine a little lacking in excitement; they'll think too many compromises have been made in the name of the bike's off-road tractability.
No matter what the terrain, the six-speed gearbox, is smooth and positive. With 85hp on tap, you're not inclined to powershift it too often, but it'll oblige if you insist. Blokes more accustomed to singles will notice a lot of engine braking. That can be a handy on long, sketchy downhills, as this is a 200kg bike when full of fuel, but it can throw a lot of weight onto the front wheel and upset chassis balance through sandy turns, Fuel economy is excellent. We averaged around 5.6 liter for 100km, which equates to about 300km from the 16-liter under-seat tank.
Fueled up and ready for adventure, the BMW F800GS tips the scale at 207kg. That's only 20kg lighter than the BMW 1200GS, and significantly heavier than the 650cc dual-purpose singles from BMW. You can still spin the 800cc Beemer on the spot on a tight trail, but you'll need some testosterone to pick her up if she ends up on her side.