Bike: BMW F 850 GS Ral­lye

BMW launches its all-new, mid­size ad­ven­ture ma­chine to a hun­gry mar­ket. Will they be sa­ti­ated?

Car (South Africa) - - CREDITS - BY: Ni­col Louw Ni­col­l_­car­mag

HID­ING be­hind the tiny screen of the F 850 GS, I try to pierce the thick, cool fog. The heated grips are wel­come but was it re­ally worth­while swap­ping the warmth of my bed for this or­deal at 05h30? Sud­denly the icy blan­ket lifts, re­veal­ing the turn-off to an invit­ing stretch of dirt road and all doubt evap­o­rates. This is the essence of ad­ven­ture rid­ing: life-en­rich­ing ex­pe­ri­ences at ev­ery turn.

This all-new, mid­size en­duro mo­tor­cy­cle re­places the F 800 se­ries and fea­tures a box-fresh 853 cm3 par­al­lel-twin en­gine de­signed by BMW but man­u­fac­tured un­der li­cence by Loncin in China (where the bike is also as­sem­bled). It fea­tures a 270-de­gree ring or­der mim­ick­ing the char­ac­ter of a V-twin.

Al­though torquey, the sound­track is some­what muted be­cause of Euro­pean leg­is­la­tion and I am sure an af­ter­mar­ket ex­haust tweak would re­vive the rum­ble. The 850 of­fers 70 kw com­pared to 57 kw of the F 750 (a de­tuned road-bi­ased ver­sion with con­ven­tional front shocks). Even with twin-bal­ancer shafts, a fair amount of vi­bra­tion still reaches the rider.

Walk­ing up to the bike, it’s ev­i­dent this is no mere facelift. The fuel tank has moved to the stan­dard po­si­tion (re­mem­ber the un­der-seat tank of the F 800?) and the frame is now a steel­bridge mono­coque de­sign which re­places the steel trel­lis, with the en­gine be­ing a load-bear­ing unit. In Ral­lye spec, the bike re­ceives mi­nor cos­metic en­hance­ments, in­clud­ing golden an­odised spoked wheels, hand guards and red-and-blue de­cals (on white paint). There is no deny­ing it’s a good-look­ing ma­chine.

Tak­ing cen­tre stage is a 6,5inch full-colour TFT dis­play re­plac­ing the pre­vi­ous ana­logue lay­out. Part of me misses the swipes of nee­dles but this screen is one of the best we’ve en­coun­tered from an ease-of-use and leg­i­bil­ity point of view. The ad­van­tage is, on a bike bristling with tech­nol­ogy like the Ral­lye, the clus­ter can eas­ily adapt to dis­play a wealth of in­for­ma­tion, ef­fort­lessly con­trolled with the menu but­ton and han­dle­bar multi-con­troller. The lat­ter also tweaks the sat-nav when that is in­stalled.

Dur­ing a 300 km ride on tar and dirt, the adap­tive sus­pen­sion (dy­namic ESA), which can be tog­gled sep­a­rately from the ride modes (rain, road, dy­namic and en­duro pro), did a great job of pro­vid­ing both com­fort and pre­ci­sion. Our test bike was tted with knob­bly tyres and the en­duro pro ride mode al­lowed suf cient slip and slide of the rear tyre (also dis­abling ABS) on dirt but kept a wel­come level of sta­bil­ity-sys­tems ac­tive. The rider can switch these off.

The 21-inch front wheel ef­fort­lessly found trac­tion on sandy sec­tions and the clutch­less quick-shifter was use­ful when chang­ing gears with­out eas­ing grip on the han­dle­bars in tight sit­u­a­tions. The ad­van­tage of a mid­size ad­ven­ture bike is the rider can at­tempt more tech­ni­cal ter­rain than on a heav­ier ma­chine like the R 1200 GS (the 1250 GS will be launched soon).


BMW dom­i­nates the lo­cal bike sales charts and it is easy to see why; its ma­chines are ac­com­plished and backed by an ex­ten­sive dealer net­work. The re­cent in­tro­duc­tion of the G 310 GS (tested in Novem­ber 2018) opened ad­ven­ture rid­ing to a new, young client base which will soon crave mov­ing up the ranks. That’s where the F 850 GS comes in, of­fer­ing true long-range ex­pe­di­tion po­ten­tial while be­ing less in­tim­i­dat­ing than the 1200.

The only con­cern I have is the jump of more than R100 000 from the G 310 may be too much for a young rider and this opens the door for a switch to a cheaper op­po­si­tion ma­chine. Maybe BMW should con­sider of­fer­ing a base-spec ver­sion sans all the elec­tronic wiz­ardry to ll the void left by the F 650 GS (sin­gle-cylin­der) that de­parted 10 years ago.

clock­wise from above Sandy sec­tions are eas­ily tra­versed; the ride modes and sus­pen­sion setup (note dy­namic ESA un­der seat) are tog­gled with all info clearly vis­i­ble on the com­pre­hen­sive in­stru­ment clus­ter; the F 850 GS is slim enough to slice through traf c when re­turn­ing to the city.

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