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