MALAGA, SPAIN—The adventure class seems to evolve with each new model introduction, and the middleweight segment chases an elusive compromise between power and weight, features and price. BMW took its first stab at finding the balance about a decade ago with the first F800GS and F650GS, and for 2018, the Germans are offering their first makeover of that combination.
Both models are technically very similar: they share the same new frame and the same new 853 cc vertical-twin engine. This means the 750 is actually an 850, just as the original 650 was actually an 800.
(For those wondering, BMW’s justification for this anomaly comes from the car side, where a model name doesn’t always match its engine displacement. To this, I say two things: cars aren’t bikes, and car people should stay away from bikes. But I digress.)
While both the 750 and 850 are mechanically new from the ground up, each model’s specific mission hasn’t changed. The $14,550 850 is the taller and more powerful (95 hp), with a 21-inch front wheel and aimed at the relatively experienced adventure rider. The $10,950 750 is less powerful (77 hp), with a 19-inch front wheel, and can still be considered as an entry-level or a step-up bike.
Each continues to offer its own personality, but one is changed enough to be a surprise.
It had rained heavily for days when I arrived in Spain, for the global launch of the middleweight GSs, but our group got lucky. On the first day, we rode the 850 in mostly dry conditions and on the second, we rode the 750 under clear blue skies.
The heavy rains, however, caused a partial cancellation of the off-road portion of the F850GS route. Some sections apparently got so muddy there was a risk we wouldn’t come out of the woods. It was probably a wise decision on BMW’s part, as the stock Metzeler Karoo 3s (a no-cost option) didn’t do so well with mud. No matter their aggressive looking tread, they quickly got packed, offered little traction and were always the limiting factor in slimy terrain. There is no doubt an 850 shod with more aggressive rubber would offer much better capability off-road.
Still, the Metzelers were more than decent on anything dry-ish or rocky and allowed the 850 to prove it’s still a remarkably good mid-range adventure model. It’s now heavier by about 15 kg, which is significant, but it’s also got more torque everywhere and an additional 10 hp. It’s visually bigger too, and the more aggressive styling makes it look bigger than an 850. There were a few R1200GSs at the launch used by staff and whenever all the bikes were parked together, the 1200s did not stand out for their size.
The bulk of the 1200 isn’t felt at all on the 850, however, especially off-road where the F850GS feels narrow, nimble, light and easy to control. Its weight and displacement have crept up, but it’s still very much a middleweight. The added torque actually makes it easier to ride off-road, as does the rider-assist technology, which includes traction control, and the new ride modes. Rain and Road are standard, while Dynamic, Enduro and Enduro Pro are part of the $975 “Dynamic Package.” This also includes Dynamic Traction Control, Gear Shift Assistant Pro and ABS Pro. While off-road, I mostly stayed in Enduro Pro, which is exclusive to the 850; it disables ABS at the rear wheel and sets the traction control to allow more wheel spin.
On the road, equipped with street Bridgestones (the other available tire choice), the new 850 feels more like a streetbike than the old 800. Its long-travel suspension is much better controlled and doesn’t compress as much during acceleration and braking, which results in a more normal ride.
The big 21-inch front wheel is still felt on a winding road by the slowish way the 850 steers, but other than that, it doesn’t feel out of place on the street at all. Actually, if you add the all-digital display (an $810 option), you get wireless access to your phone, music and even navigation, which are all pleasant features on long rides.
Stepping off the 850 and on to the 750, the less powerful bike is clearly a more street-oriented motorcycle with a normal seat height. The combination of street tires, a 19-inch front wheel, a taut chassis and shorter travel suspension all make attacking a twisty road as easy as it is fun.
Of the two, the 750 is the surprise. It used to be underpowered, and it was equipped with the bare minimum to justify not only its lower cost, but also the significant price gap between it and the 800GS. The price gap is still very much there, but the F750GS does not feel like a lesser motorcycle. Less capable off-road, sure, but as an all-rounder adventure model used occasionally on non-paved roads and light trails, it’s actually very good.
As for its significantly lower horsepower figure (77 hp vs. 95 hp), on the road, it really doesn’t feel like that much less. After all, the F750GS has that 853 cc engine, and a rather torquey one at that; it produces more than enough oomph to keep even an experienced rider quite satisfied, especially one conscious of the $3,600 saved by that choice.
In a nutshell, the 750 feels very close to the 850 right until about the last quarter of the rev range where the 850 keeps pulling and the 750’s power flattens out. In real-world riding, this is not a big deal at all.
Both the new F850GS and F750GS achieve about the same goals as their predecessors, but they add a fair bit of refinement, fun and features to the previous packages. They are middleweights, so they’re compromised by definition and far from perfect. For example, they – still – deserve much better seats.
As well, while they can be equipped with a ton of cool stuff, much of it is optional and can quickly ramp up the bill. Our very well-equipped test bikes probably had at least $3,000 of options, some of which was trick, like the digital display, and some of which was only okay, like the quick shifter. Buyers need to be careful or they could easily end up with an 850 that costs almost as much as a 1200.
But buyers could also acquire a capable middleweight adventure bike for less than $11,000 in a class where 15 Grand is now the starting point. In case I’m not clear enough here: don’t overlook the 750. It would be a mistake.