Ever since its first foray into motorcycle manufacturing in 1923, BMW has been deservedly ensconced at the pinnacle of the industry with regard to innovative design, exemplary engineering and unequaled durability. Over the years, he exalted German machines have enjoyed a fiercely loyal following comprised of the most accomplished and serious of motorcycle enthusiasts who, much like the motorcycles themselves, tend to exude an aura of sophistication bordering on elitism. In fact, BMW’s revered reputation of building such iconic machines may have actually alienated entry-level and returning enthusiasts, easily intimidated by the perception–however erroneous–that BMWs were reserved for only the most deserving and experienced riders.
Embracing this emerging segment of motorcycling, BMW has created the F 800 S (sport) and the F 800 ST (sport touring), quite literally from the ground up. The idea was to build a mid-range motorcycle to bridge the gap between BMW’s F 650 single-cylinder machines and its traditional flat-twin models. The result is a motorcycle of substantial performance and styling, imbued with the brand’s legendary engineering and quality. It’s a smart move, and one that will surely attract a new kind of customer to the brand that in the past may have felt out of sync with the manufacturer’s aims or overwhelmed with the pedigree of its offerings. With that in mind, the F 800 S and ST are a welcome mat to the top level quality and performance that has always been the trademark of the German marque, bringing riders into the fold of exclusivity.
Certainly, the most dramatic element of the F 800 bikes is the new parallel-twin engine. Developed in conjunction with Rotax—an Austrian manufacturer owned by Canada’s Bombardier Recreational Products— the liquid-cooled, 798cc, four-valve, fuel-injected powerplant utilizes a unique swivel-action connecting rod, as opposed to conventional counterweight shafts, designed to set off the oscillating mass forces of the crankshaft. The balancing of these centrifugal forces results in greatly reduced vibration (an inherent trait of parallel configurations) and a smoother running engine. The vibration that remains is a necessary by-product and actually contributes to the machine’s character. (Click image to enlarge)
The primary power delivery criteria were to produce a machine with rideability at medium speeds rather than to focus on performance at extreme revs. The engineers achieved that goal, and infused the F series with some spirit when the situation calls for it. The parallel twin produces 85 horsepower at 8,000 rpm, arriving at that figure through a solid, smooth powerband that starts strong down low, thanks in part to a decent torque curve, and progresses evenly and predictably all the way to its peak. This even, smooth delivery of power makes the bike extremely forgiving and easy to ride. Throttle response is crisp and clean, without any traces of injector hesitancy, falloff or coughs. Thanks to a 360-degree firing cycle and the determination of the engineers, the parallel twin produces a sound similar to its famous brethren of Boxers. (Click image to enlarge)
On paper, these basic figures, though healthy, don’t do justice to the performance of the F bikes. There’s plenty of power—especially when the low weight (401 pounds dry) is taken into consideration—to keep the most demanding riders entertained. The end result of the parallel twin’s performance and manageability is that both F 800 machines—while a perfect platform to learn on or get reacquainted with riding—have plenty of room to mature into.
The F 800 models, with frame and bodywork designed to fit tightly around the compact engine, are extremely narrow. A good deal of effort was put into ensuring an average-height rider would be able to solidly plant both feet on the ground when stopped. They achieved this by making the mid-point of the motor-cycle as thin as possible and fashioning a tapered seat for optimum reach. An optional lower seat is available to accommodate shorter riders.
As can be expected with a BMW, the ergonomics of the cockpit are well laid out, providing a comfortable seating position juxtaposed to footpeg and handlebar placement, allowing for a reassuring measure of maneuverability and leverage. The upright seating position lends itself to ease of reach to the throttle, clutch, front brake, and various switches. The S model, with its low-fit handlebars, puts the rider in a slightly more aggressive stance but retains a comparable level of comfort.
The ST strikes a dramatic pose at the meeting of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. (Click image to enlarge)
Once underway, it becomes apparent BMW has not skimped on its new mid-range motorcycle. The machines possess the high engineering standards of the esteemed bloodline, exhibiting the tight and responsive handling traits we’ve come to expect from the German manufacturer. The bike’s narrow profile, plush suspension, and light weight complement its stable and predictable manners, bestowing confidence with its ability to translate the rider’s wishes directly to the road. These elements make the F 800 S/ST ideal for traversing tight, twisty routes as well as being comfortable and at ease on long stretches of highway. Maneuvering the F bike in tight situations, stop-and-go traffic, lane splitting, or the frequent roadside stops encountered while touring, is a breeze.
BMW is betting that the F 800s will produce a pot of sales gold at the end of the rainbow.
A succinct, 6-speed transmission, with well-spaced ratios, feeds power to the rear wheel via a maintenance-free, toothed belt, final drive. The detour from BMW’s signature driveshaft to a belt allows for a compact system that is smooth, quiet and never needs lubrication. For those who are fuel range-minded, the parallel twin renders a remarkable average of 56 miles per gallon.
Utilizing a brake package you would traditionally find on a larger machine, the F 800 S and ST have excellent stopping power. Dual 320mm discs are matched to four-piston calipers up front and a single 265mm disc on the rear, all activated through high-quality steel-reinforced brake lines that ensure solid response and consistent feel. The brakes are capable and responsive in light application situations, such as initiating turn-in, and possess excellent, progressive feel all the way through the throw of the lever. The rider can trail the brakes deep into corners, confident that the bike isn’t going to try and stand itself up. Both machines are available with optional ABS.
The major differences between the two machines are primarily cosmetic. The ST takes the design cues of its fairing directly from its mighty K 1200 S brother, borrowing the contours and sleek lines and molding them into a sophisticated full fairing package with a clean finish. The S is distinguished by a cut, half-fairing for an aggressive look that exposes the engine, a slightly lower windscreen, and grab bars at the rear of the seat. As a sport tourer, the ST comes equipped with a luggage rack and is available with panniers and a top box. The ST’s wheels match the design of the R 1200 ST, while the S borrows its wheel design from the K 1200 S. All of the aluminum cast wheels have side-mounted valve stems for ease of access.
Oversized discs deliver impressive stopping power. (Click image to enlarge)
Nice touches and attention to detail abound on the F bikes. Engineering is top rate and an extensive array of factory after-market accessories is available: heated hand grips, on-board computer and anti-theft warning system, to name just a few. The fuel cell is located under the seat, lowering the center of gravity and further contributing to the centralizing of the machine’s mass. The rear, side-mounted fuel filler cap is smartly placed so that the rider doesn’t have to hassle with unfastening a tank bag to refuel.
For BMW, the introduction of an all-new parallel-twin engine shows that, though steeped in tradition, the company understands the importance of evolving with the changes of the industry, as well as the demands of its customers. The manufacturer, in both engineering and management terms, is consciously and aggressively reinventing itself, intent on changing its profile and expanding its customer base. This is evident with BMW’s expanding lineup, from the introduction of the impressive K series machines earlier this year and the radical HP2 off-road bike, to the continuing evolution of their hugely popular GS series and the highly anticipated K 1200 GT.
As for dependability, BMW isn’t about to roll anything out of the factory that doesn’t live up to the standards the company has proudly nurtured over the years. This was evidenced last year in the delay of the much-anticipated release of the K bike. A manufacturing problem was discovered and BMW, true to it colors, took one very publicly on the chin and held back production until the problem was fixed and tested to its stringent standards—testament to the company’s intent of maintaining its impressive track record of dependability. It’s no wonder that a claimed 50-percent of all the motorcycles BMW has produced in its 83 years are still on the road.
BMW has imbued the new F series machines with the same attention to detail and focus on performance that goes into its large-displacement machines, illustrating the importance the company sees in serving this segment of motorcycling. As a result, dealers are going to find themselves entertaining an entirely new customer in their showrooms who, perhaps until now, didn’t see a machine in the BMW line that addressed their particular riding habits or level of ability. This opens the door for a larger number of motorcycle enthusiasts to experience the quality of the German machines and become a part of the BMW community—a social element that the brand proudly endorses and has helped create the famously loyal following. (Click image to enlarge)
Unlike so many mid-range and entry-level machines that wear out their usability fairly quickly, the F 800 S and ST clearly have a sustainability that will keep their owners happy for the long haul, through many seasons of riding. In fact, given the machines’ ability, it’s almost a misnomer to refer to them as novice bikes. They deliver a substantial level of performance that will keep even the most accomplished of riders smiling.
Back Into The Fold
The term “returning enthusiast” was coined by manufacturers to identify a specific demographic of motorcyclist comprised of experienced riders who have been off a motorcycle for an extended period. This group is increasingly responsible for a significant number of purchases in the motorcycle industry. One of the largest factions are middle-aged men who rode in their twenties, accruing a level of ability and experience, but have gone a bit rusty in the interim since they were last active on a motorcycle. Along with the influx of returning riders, there is a new generation of novice that appears intent on pursuing the sport as more than just a passing fad, as was the case with the previous motorcycling boon of the early seventies. In either case, it’s recommended the aspiring rider, regardless of experience, take advantage of the various riding courses available through the nonprofit Motorcycle Safety Foundation or specialized companies such as Streetmasters Motorcycle Workshops to reclaim time-diminished skills. It makes for an easy way to reacclimatize to being up on two wheels and gives you the best, and safest, odds for an enjoyable entree to the sport. (Click image to enlarge)
Motorcycle Safety Foundation | www.msf-usa.org
Streetmasters Motorcycle Workshops | www.streetmasters.info