Bike: BMW F 850 GS Rallye
BMW launches its all-new, midsize adventure machine to a hungry market. Will they be satiated?
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.