Presented with the chance to get a quick ride in on BMW’s new F800R, Costa Mouzouris braves highway drudgery and giant hay-bale turkeys to get the scoop for CMG.
I was only halfway through a 1,100-kilometre round-trip when I hopped onto the 2010 BMW F800R. The first part of the trip was a soulless slog along Ontario’s 401 highway aboard our F800GS test bike (you’ll read about it in a future feature), which I had just handed over to BMW Motorrad Canada’s Rob Dexter, in exchange for the 800R.
I had prepared myself mentally for the tedious 401 return trek from BMW’s head offices in Whitby, Ontario, back to my home in Montreal — until I let the clutch out on the company’s new naked roadster.
I rolled about a dozen metres before realizing there was no way I was going to waste my ride home rolling entirely on the centre of the tires on this machine. I aimed north, then east for the longer but way more interesting back-way home.
BEING ON TOP
The thing I noticed immediately was the ease with which the F800R steered and how light it felt between my legs. At a claimed 177 kg dry, it weighs 10 kg less than the F800ST and even undercuts the F650GS twin (yes, it’s an 800 too…) by 2 kg.
The riding position is more compact than on the other F800 models, with a slightly more forward lean and a tighter relationship between seat and footpegs with the standard seat installed, which provides an 800 mm seat height.
Shorter riders can opt for a cost-free low seat (775 mm), while those seeking more legroom can choose a taller seat (825 mm), also at no additional cost.
As delivered, the F800R accommodated my six-foot frame comfortably, though if it were my bike, I’d choose the taller seat. The seat is cupped and contours your backside, providing more support than a flat seat, though it also prevents you from sliding back to stretch.
Despite a faux fuel tank that rises steeply from the seat area (it conceals the airbox, electronics and battery; the real 16-litre fuel tank is at the rear), the bike’s truncated front end gives the impression of towering over this machine rather than sitting in it, which lends itself to a heightened sense of control — like being on top when you’re … you know.
Although it shares the engine and a similar aluminum-framed chassis with the F800ST, the F800R felt tiny, tight, and ready for a rumble through the twisties. Aimed at the sportier rider, the R has firmer suspension, though adjustability is limited to rear spring preload and rear rebound damping, both adjustments easily accessible and tool-free.
Its handling reminded me of the Triumph Street Triple, with immediate steering response, a taut chassis, and effortless transitions through tight esses, while a non-adjustable piston-type steering damper adds stability at high speed. Comparisons to Triumph’s bad-boy naked triple end there, however, as the F800R’s engine displayed a much more boy-scout-ish demeanour.
Power delivery is remarkably smooth and progressive — there’s nothing brutish about it — and there’s a satisfying rush of acceleration if the engine is kept above 5,000 rpm. Rapid top-gear passing at highway speeds is accomplished without downshifting, and if you’re short on space, a click or two on the shifter will shoot you by with room to spare.
Introduced in 2006, the 798 cc, Rotax-made parallel twin has proven itself a formidable powerhouse despite its diminutive physical dimensions. Many people mistake it for a single at first glance — it’s that narrow.
In the F800R it produces a claimed 87 horsepower, two more than in the F800GS and ST due to a different exhaust. And it emits a very alluring exhaust drone that’s surprisingly robust for a machine that meets emissions requirements and has a catalytic converter.
Smooth engine operation is the result of BMW’s unique counterbalancing system, in which a third connecting rod swings counter to the two pistons to quell shaking vibration (the F800 has 360-degree crankpins, so pistons rise and fall in unison).
The system works very well, with only some light, high-frequency buzzing coming through the seat at speeds above 140 km/h.
The six-speed gearbox worked flawlessly, with a short shift-lever throw and positive engagement. Gear ratios have been revised, and compared to other F800 models the top three gears are now shorter, yet the engine still turns at a stress-free 4,400 rpm at 110 km/h in top gear.
First gear is tall however, requiring a relaxed release of the light-effort clutch on take-off.
QUIRKS AND QUARKS
BMW’s current sales success (and they’re doing quite well in showrooms) hinges on the fact that in recent years the company has introduced a plethora of new, modestly priced models aimed at enticing riders that are new to the brand.
The greying, bearded types wearing loose-fitting jeans held up with suspenders remain loyal to the Boxer twin, but the F800 series appeals to a newer, younger rider, and has been a contributing factor in lowering BMW owners’ median age from the mid 40s to the late 30s in just a few years.
To help usher in these nubile BMW-philes, some of the characteristic quirks that the old-school Boxers exhibited are gone. F800 models don’t lurch sideways when you blip the throttle, nor is there the risk of wearing a hole into the valve covers when turning aggressively.
The latest quirk to go by the wayside is BMW’s awkward switchgear. New switchgear is similar in design to the controls on Japanese motorcycles, and borrowed from BMW’s new K1300 bikes, so in typical BMW fashion they are unique, but nonetheless smartly designed and intuitive.
There are fewer moving parts than on typical switchgear; the kill switch doubles as the starter button, and the pass switch, operated with your left index finger, doubles as the high-beam switch. And there is finally a single switch to operate the self-cancelling turn signals. Woo-hoo!
The only drawback I experienced with the new switchgear was the heated handgrip feature, which now uses a pushbutton switch in conjunction with a small icon in the digital dash display to indicate the heat level. This in itself wasn’t problematic, but with the absence of the former three-position rocker switch, the handgrip heater had to be reset every time the ignition switch was turned off.
The instrument panel and headlight pod are shared with the GS models, though the R uses a white tachometer face. The gauges are easy to read and informative (including a large gear-position indicator), and the headlight provides a surprisingly wide and bright beam (the high-beam lights in conjunction with the low-beam when turned on).
Our test bike came equipped with a few options, including ABS ($900) — which worked flawlessly, I might add — an onboard computer and tire pressure monitor ($215 and $260 respectively), alarm system ($265), as well as a stylish and functional, colour-matched flyscreen ($150) and clear turn-signal lenses ($50).
COMING TO GRIPS
The original F800S and ST, and the newer GS models have done their share of attracting non-BMW riders, but what better way to get the YouTube generation to look at your wares than to produce a video featuring street bike freestyler Chris Pfeiffer doing wheelies and near-vertical stoppies on an F800R atop BMW’s 101-metre-tall headquarters in Munich.
Despite the badass image portrayed by marketing videos of this machine, I discovered the F800R was actually as gentle as a pussycat. And it proved rather practical, too, both in town as a result of its agility, and on the open road due to reasonable rider comfort and a useable cruising range of about 320 km (we achieved an average consumption of 5L/100 km).
I did, however, anticipate some possible household conflicts after testing the F800R. My girlfriend, Roxanne, had ridden the F650GS twin last year and fell in love with the machine. It was easy handling, well mannered and absolutely non-intimidating.
What she couldn’t come to grips with was that bike’s adventure-touring styling. She even stated at the time that if BMW made a naked bike (her preferred style of motorcycle) using the F800 as a basis, she’d seriously consider buying one.
Well, BMW produced such a bike, and I think she wants one. Now, at a very reasonable $9,990 for the base F800R, it’s not the modest financial blow to our household finances that I see as a potential relationship-straining factor. No, the problem I foresee is that if she buys one, she might not be the one spending most of the time riding it.
|Bike||2010 BMW F800R|
|Engine type||Four-stroke dohc parallel twin, liquid-cooled|
|Power (crank – claimed)||87 hp @ 8,000 rpm|
|Torque (claimed)||63.4 lb-ft @ 6,000 rpm|
|Tank Capacity||16 litres|
|Final drive||Six speed, chain drive|
|Brakes, front||Twin 320 mm discs with four-piston calipers|
|Brakes, rear||Single 265 mm disc with single-piston caliper|
|Seat height||775-825 mm (30.5-32.5″)|
|Wheelbase||1,520 mm (59.8″)|
|Dry weight (claimed)||177 kg (390 lb)|
|Colours||White, orange, silver|
|Warranty||3-year, unlimited mileage|