If you want a do-any­thing mo­tor­bike, this is a top con­tender – but only with a bunch of ex­tras…


HERE’S WHAT YOU need to know about the new F850GS. There is ab­so­lutely noth­ing wrong with its ride, han­dling, brak­ing, steer­ing, bank­ing smooth­ness, sus­pen­sion ac­tion, tyre grip, ABS or trac­tion con­trol. On top of that the Chi­nese-built en­gine is a de­li­cious bal­ance of mid-range punch, bay­ing high revs and as­ton­ish­ing fuel econ­omy. Dis­cus­sion of these points used to be 70% of a road test. It is now two sen­tences. BMW, it seems, have got to the point where these pa­ram­e­ters are just num­bers that can be pro­grammed in. They’ve learned what they are, and they can repli­cate them. So if you like the way the 850GS looks and you’re in the mar­ket, you may as well get one, yes? Well, it’s maybe not that sim­ple. Most bikes we test have op­tional ex­tras fit­ted. It’s just that the ex­tras in this case in­clude BMW’S full elec­tronic sus­pen­sion pack­age, which is so amaz­ing it takes the GS into a com­pletely dif­fer­ent cat­e­gory. This ul­ti­mate gizmo looks at what the sus­pen­sion is do­ing hun­dreds of times a sec­ond and varies the damp­ing ac­cord­ingly. There are two base set­tings (sporty and nor­mal), and both are in­ter­linked with ABS, trac­tion con­trol, whether you have a pas­sen­ger and lug­gage, and four en­gine modes: rain, street, dy­namic and en­duro. If you can feel your­self glaz­ing over, look at it this way: you can slide and jump an F850GS through a Welsh for­est, press a few but­tons, ride it up the M5, press a few more but­tons and do a day at Cad­well in the fast group. Think about that for a minute. It’s in­cred­i­ble. The Tri­umph and Honda have ex­cep­tional sus­pen­sion, but they can’t live with this. Photo rider Chris, be­sides lov­ing the punchy en­gine, was amazed how sure footed the GS felt. I to­tally agree (the Miche­lin Ana­kee 3 tyres are su­perb). There are two schools of thought about elec­tronic sus­pen­sion. On the one hand, it’s bloody bril­liant. On the other, if it goes wrong out of war­ranty the cost tends to be strato­spheric. Closer to home, it does rather skew our test. The stock F850GS (£9400) merely has preload and re­bound ad­just­ment on the shock – firmly in the aus­ter­ity bas­ket. BMW couldn’t tell us all the good­ies on our test bike but we es­ti­mate the sus­pen­sion, modes, cruise con­trol, TFT dash and quick­shifter (plus other less per­for­mance-ori­ented giz­mos) take it to £13,120. So it’s not a stock bike. I’m not con­vinced by the full-colour dash. The 850’s is clear and rea­son­ably in­tu­itive, with enough lay­ers of in­tro­spec­tive de­tail to sat­isfy the most self-ab­sorbed rider. More an­noy­ingly, it can’t re­sist a Pow­er­point pre­sen­ta­tion ev­ery time it switches on. You can un­der­stand it the first time or two, but ev­ery ride? It’s got op­tions for me­dia and mu­sic too, just like a car. How lovely. The quick shifter is use­ful, but feels a bit bru­tal in low gears, as if it’s hurt­ing the gear­box. I lim­ited us­ing it to when a con­ven­tional change might make the bike twitch or dis­turb the throt­tle po­si­tion, such as high-gear over­takes, or at big leans. Even the base model GS has the new 850cc en­gine which, with its 270 de­gree crank and twin bal­ance shafts, shares noth­ing with the pre­vi­ous 800 twin. It revs more freely and ag­gres­sively than the 800, and de­liv­ers a star­tling amount of thrust. Peak torque feels like 6000 (98mph in top), af­ter which you get a use­ful over­rev to 9500, so you never run into a brick wall of rev-lim­iter as some twins can. The on-road per­for­mance is prob­a­bly the same as BMW’S flag­ship R1200GS. There’s far less bulk (and pil­lion com­fort), and none of the big­ger bike’s low speed purr. In­stead the 850 still feels oc­ca­sion­ally clanky round town like the 800 did, growing to a churn­ing rum­ble on the mo­tor­way and a lusty de­sire to rev on curvy roads. Mir­rors are good and the cruise con­trol is su­perb. But the big sur­prise awaits your first fill-up. Even en­thu­si­as­tic rid­ing in dry weather pro­duced 59mpg. If you tried you’d prob­a­bly get close to 80. There are a few flaws. Most egre­gious is the in­di­ca­tor switch which (as with the out­go­ing model) makes it hard to feel a click, and it’s easy to hit the horn but­ton by mis­take. There’s also a lot of tur­bu­lence off the screen which was un­pleas­ant at 80+ with my tour­ing Shark hel­met, but bet­ter with a sporty Shoei. The screen is a long way for­ward, so the air has lots of op­por­tu­nity to de­velop more tum­ble be­fore it hits your head. More pro­saically, the en­tire bike is so in­fested with nooks and cran­nies you would need a manser­vant to prop­erly clean it. But over­all, this is one amaz­ing all-pur­pose mo­tor­cy­cle.

Elec­tronic sus­pen­sion: on the one hand it’s bril­liant. On the other…’

(Above) All very func­tional, but in­di­ca­tor doesn’t ‘click’ enough (Be­low) TFT dash is on­trend, but start -up se­quence gets an­noy­ing

When op­tionalex­tra’d BMW’S 850GS is all the bike most of us could ever want

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