BMW F 800 GT Test
Wiping the edge of my hand across the face shield to clear the mist, I approach the nearing cloud line hanging over the avocado groves just north of Fallbrook, Calif.
Revving the little two-cylinder up into the maximum torque range, the BMW F 800 GT nimbly climbs over the summit and down towards the Santa Rosa Plateau.
The two-lane roads that wind through the Santa Ana Mountains between Temecula and Camp Pendleton are little-used gems for Southern California motorcyclists looking for a few hours of solitude. BMW’s light Gran Turismo melds the solitude with precise technology transforming the mundane into the sublime.
With an exhaust note not dissimilar to its larger boxer brother, the oversquare 798cc water-cooled parallel twin provides a mild low end and does not appreciate lugging.
Launching off the line requires generous throttle and a careful release of the clutch lever. The engine is most lively around 6000 rpm, where the torque curve maxes out at 63 ft/lbs.
Horsepower builds to a healthy 90 horses at 8000 rpm. Just 1000 rpm later, the subtle rev limiter manifests itself most noticeably by the lighting of a red LED on the instrument cluster, with the cessation of acceleration seemingly the only side effect.
Similar to the Norton Commando of some 40 odd years ago, both pistons rise and fall together, which allows a 360-degree firing pattern that mimics that of the BMW boxer engine. Unlike the Commando, the F 800 GT engine utilizes a cantilever counterbalancer connected to a third, but opposite, crank pin to smooth the inherent vibration of all that mass traveling in the same direction. There is a slight buzzing sensation at the foot pegs and, to a much lesser extent due to the isolating properties of the tapered aluminum handlebars, at the grips.
Whether accelerating aggressively, braking hard, or maintaining a steady pace, the GT is an impressively stable platform for a lightweight tourer. Suspension is optimized for touring, and the swingarm is extended two inches compared to the ST it replaces to help slow down steering, adding straight-line stability. Not neglecting the sport aspect of the F 800 GT, lightweight cast aluminum 17-inch wheels, fitted with 120mm Continental ContiRoad-Attack up front and a 180 out back, make sure the bike changes directions as well as it maintains a straight line.
Pushing on the right grip and grabbing a handful of brake, I lean into the blind right, comforted by the pulsating sight of the ABS. Despite the misty conditions, these rural roads have not been washed by a good rain in a few weeks, leaving a buildup of dust.
Standard ABS is lighter than its previous incarnation, with an additional pressure sensor in the front circuit enhancing control when activated on rough roads. Dual front 320mm rotors and a single 265mm disc in back aptly slow the F 800 GT’s claimed 470 road-ready pounds.
Coming out of a corner on the notoriously unpredictable Glendora Ridge Road in the Angeles National Forest, I had an opportunity to feel the effects of the optional Automatic Stability Control (ASC). Accelerating hard on some dirty pavement, the system maintained traction at the rear wheel by detuning the engine to reduce output.
BMW enhanced long distance comfort over the ST by reducing seat height an inch-and-a-half and installing a wider standard saddle with thicker padding. Moving the foot pegs forward and down by nearly a half- inch relaxes the knee angle, which equals greater comfort on long rides while retaining an adequately sporty position. The passenger foot pegs are high, with the left peg next to the muffler; heat shields prevent the passenger’s foot from coming in contact with the exhaust.
Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) is an option that we think is a wise investment. ESA provides three levels of rebound damping on the rear shock—Comfort, Normal, and Sport. The selection can be made on the fly while riding, using a rocker switch on the left handlebar switch block. The same switch also deactivates the ASC, also without stopping. The three damping levels make a noticeable difference to ride quality, with Comfort and Sport being my choice for most riding, and Normal being used infrequently.
While sitting upright, my arms must be fully outstretched to reach the handlebars forcing a lean forward into a slight tuck. In this position, the windscreen comfortably deflects the air up to nose level on my helmet. This tuck is great when carving the twisties, but for burning miles on the interstate, rotating the bars back a little to maintain a comfortable upright position will help add saddle time.
Taller mirror stems give good rear- ward vision around those of us with wide shoulders. The full faring with color-matched plastic provides protection from the elements while maintaining a mature and aggressive visage.
Cargo is not neglected on the F 800 GT, thanks to a freshly designed luggage system. Clamshell panniers holding 55 liters, plus an optional 28-liter top case, yield enough storage space to carry all your touring essentials plus souvenirs found along the way. The panniers have a suspended tray and bungee system to prevent your gear from sliding out when the case is opened. All cases use the ignition key to open, lock, and remove.
Generally known for its big machines, BMW’s F 800 line provides a slimmed-down, less intimidating offering for newer riders or riders that appreciate BMW quality but want a lighter mount.
The 2013 F 800 GT accomplishes that while still retaining BMW’s dedication to superior handling, quality amenities, and long distance comfort. There is also a lot of sport engineered into the GT, so you can enjoy throwing it around a mountain road when the open high- way becomes passé. Sport-touring is a difficult combination to get right in a motorcycle, yet the F 800 GT puts them together in the proper ratio.
- Helmet: Shoei Qwest
- Jacket: Rev’It Outback
- Gloves: Rev’It fly
- Pants: Rev’It Enterprise
- Boots: Rev’It Apache
Photography by Don Williams
This story is featured in the July/August 2013 issue of Ultimate MotorCycling magazine — available on newsstands and good bookstores everywhere. The issue is also available free to readers on Apple Newsstand (for iOS devices) and Google Play (Android). To subscribe to the print edition, please visit our Subscriber Services page.