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BMW’s 2017 F 800 GS Adventure put to the test…

Is the the F 800 GS the perfect cross-Australia explorer?

Words: Peter Elliott Photos: Geoff Osborne


Out there, somewhere in my imagination, I can see a path. Three thousand odd kilometres across a burning red desert, with about 11 scraggy shrubs, a bunch of gums and 64 billion venomous, mean-minded bugs and scaly fangy things. There are uncountable, bouncing, lethal ‘roos, boing-ing over this path, twice a day, in low light.

BMW's F 800 GS Adventure offers a sporty full spec Adventurer
BMW’s F 800 GS Adventure offers a sporty full spec Adventurer

There are angry squinting guys, racing trucks the size of small towns. Trains that take twenty minutes to pass. Dirt, rocks, pebbles, wild dingo attacks, straight-road boredom, and FLIES. Much flies. Oh, and the probability of dying from thirst.

This is what awaits me if I take on an impossibly silly idea of bisecting Australia by motorcycle: Adelaide to Darwin through the Red Centre, via Uluru and Kakadu. It’s a forming plan. It’s a bucket-list item, so, it ain’t going away.

Could this be the machine to traverse Australia's huge expanse upon?
Could this be the machine to traverse Australia’s huge expanse upon?

Now, while I adore motorcycles; in fact covet more and more of them, water is my touchstone. The ocean, the gulfs, islands and headlands of snapper and kingfish territory, call to me too. So too do rivers, lakes, and braided high country streams, but my greatest joy is fly-fishing; deep, green, native-bush rivers – days from contact with the world.

So two hot, dusty, dehydrated weeks on a bike, with a plastic bladder of water, some instant coffee, sardines and a couple of bags of peanuts shouldn’t be appealing. But damn it… it is! So I am in dreamtime already – the planning stage. And, at last, I get to the point. The BMW F 800 GS-A. This is the bike with which I think to conquer the savage sunblasted, back-country of the greatest island continent on earth.

The 2017 BMW F 800 GS Adventure
The 2017 BMW F 800 GS Adventure offers a balance of a lighter package, lower CoG and balanced power and stability

The Beemer is not too weighty, not so big up top that it feels like embracing an All Black hooker, and not savagely overpowered, but it is quick, very stable, and above all predictable. For your average bike, a list of what it’s not, is no way to expose its charms, and yet that’s exactly what the F 800 did. It removed my negatives.

Mollified my qualms, charmed me, and BMW has delivered something that I would trust my life with. It’s that sort of motorbike. And therefore the bike I will choose to cross the outback on… when the time comes.


THE RIDE

I leapt aboard the 800 and immediately felt comfortable. The pegs are in the right place for my height at 880mm, the bars positioned just so. The ground clearance is high, and for my long legs and shorter top half, a perfect fit.

The F 800 GS Adventure feels right immediately, with a good seat to pegs to bar ratio
The F 800 GS Adventure feels right immediately, with a good seat to pegs to bar ratio, while reach to the ground is fairly easy

I can get my leg over the saddle fairly easily and reach the ground with almost flat feet. But the upright twin spun over, and I momentarily missed the slight rotational torque flick that the bigger capacity R-series horizontals impart.

What you get instead, is a rock steady bike. So balanced does the GS feel, that I immediately made for a flat gravel area near my house, and stood on the pegs doing full-lock turns in either direction without scrubbing the front, or stalling the bike. It behaved beautifully, predictably and safely – like a large trials bike. Feathering the clutch in second and third I was able to continue circling ad infinitum. That 21-inch front wheel was instantly familiar to me and it just rolls over trouble, easily.

The 800 offers a gentler level of performance than the 1200s but that'll get you home safely in one piece
The 800 offers a gentler level of performance than the 1200s but that’ll get you home safely in one piece

The pegs feels as big as dinner plates beneath my boots, and giving a kick downwards produces a handy precipitation into the corner. Good trials stuff. I was already thinking of the deep sand, dirt, pebbles, rocks and mud I was likely to find, and then the stupidest possible thought sprang to mind…

If I did this traverse of Australia on this particular bike, I could probably incorporate the well-known and somewhat fearsome 4WD only, Oodnadatta Track! I started to think seriously about the F 800 GS-A and its future in my life. When I said it’s not too weighty, it isn’t, but it’s still heavy enough to be interesting, so I laid it down to see if I could pick it up again. And yes, I could.

At 232kg wet weight the 800 is no lightweight, but is manageable for picking up in rough terrain
At 232kg wet weight the 800 is no lightweight, but is manageable for picking up in rough terrain

Oh, I’d have to remove any luggage, the water, nuts and cans of fish, but I could do it (I’m not stupid enough to imagine I can get across outback Australia remaining upright for a fortnight).

Standing on the pegs you notice that the bike is also quite slim, it doesn’t feel like a fat duck beneath you, like some adventure bikes, and the designers have given the off-road use serious thought, making long periods of standing bearable. The steering lock is terrific, and those tight turns were not much more than a bike length in circumference. Nadgery turf and rocks are easily accommodated.

The lower mounted fuel tank behind the seat ensures a lower CoG and the 24L capacity is good for 400km+
The lower mounted fuel tank behind the seat ensures a lower CoG and the 24L capacity is good for 400km+

The fuel tank is located on the right beneath the seat and lowers the centre of gravity a trifle, making the bike more flickable too. At 24 litres the tank will give well over 400km/h between fills easily. BMW suggest the bike’s top speed is just shy of 200km/h, and I cannot attest to that, but at highway speeds, and maybe a tick or two over, it is stable, and comfortable.

Brembo brakes offer strong performance with ABS fitted, while final drive is chain
Brembo brakes offer strong performance with ABS fitted, while final drive is chain

The faired windscreen wicks turbulence away, and longer rides beckon as soon as you settle into the saddle. Stopping power is delivered in typical BMW fashion, with terrific efficiency, from the twin 300mm front discs and the 265mm rear.

The windscreen offers good wind protection in all conditions
The windscreen offers good wind protection in all conditions

The gearbox snicks its way around the six speeds without a hint of noise or complaint. The two-into-one exhaust note is kind of muted, and while it isn’t going to raise the hair on the back of your head, it won’t frighten the wildlife either. The chain drive may need a little maintenance on any great traverse though, and former shaft-driven-BMW owners may forget that it’s there.

For the information department, the dash is very attractive and clear. Two oval dials deliver speed and revs, and right of those is the data screen with Time, Temp, Fuel economy and riding modes. Three selectable formats allow for Rain Road and Enduro maps.

The dash offers information at a glance with dual clocks and a digital multi-function display
The dash offers information at a glance with dual clocks and a digital multi-function display

The front suspension is not adjustable but rear damping can be manually controlled with the use of a dial wheel under the rider’s right thigh. Heated grips have high, low and off settings and come standard.The protection element for off-road has been well catered for as well. Indicators are plastic and on short flexible stems and you’d have to seriously mangle the bike to damage them.

There are solid shin guards on the lower forks, spotlights tucked in below the screen, and engine protector side bars that protrude clearly and are stonkingly sturdy. BMW has delivered a great platform for exploring and commuting and it is certainly the first choice of this particular Aussie trek planner.

Shin guards on the non-adjustable forks provide protection, with standard lower crash bars
Shin guards on the non-adjustable forks provide protection, with standard lower crash bars also fitted

Motorrad NAV VI

Updated for this year is the, optional accessory, Motorrad NAV VI navigation system, a significant step beyond the earlier iterations. One initial benefit is that with the NAV VI, NZ and Australia maps come as standard and do not need to be separately purchased. And it comes with free map updates for the life of the unit.

The demountable unit offers a five-inch display screen with sun filters, allowing maximum readability in any atmospheric condition. It has 16GB of storage and a trip can consist of up to 30 ‘routes’. Each route has one ‘via’ point and up to 125 ‘shaping’ points for defining that route.

The optional Motorrad NAV VI
The optional Motorrad NAV VI

Also new to the NAV VI, the ‘Curvy Roads’ option allows route planning that takes you into optimal motorcycling territory, and avoids main highways and urban areas. Planning of routes is simplified too, in that you can have the same start and end point, and expand or diminish your circular route, and/or ride times.

The unit links your smartphone via Bluetooth and offers music streaming as well as control for a compatible action camera, either by using the touch screen, or on certain BMW models the built in handlebar controller, or via a four-button control pad on the mount cradle. Yes, it’s on the planning list for my outback shenanigan. Because, if I get lost off road, and it can’t find a road, then it has a compass function, so I can head back to the last place I saw one. Ok then.

Clad in full panniers at your local cafe, after a hearty meal, remounting the bike can be less than elegant, particularly with panniers fitted
Clad in full panniers at your local cafe, after a hearty meal, remounting the bike can be less than elegant

On road, of course is where we do most of our riding, and it’s a fine ride in traffic, with the height giving excellent visibility. However, the F 800 GS is like most adventure bikes, tall in the saddle, so getting aboard outside a café, with a windowful of attractive latte-sipping women will be a real test of nerve and cool. Unless you are a karate exponent, or a high kicking dancer of some note. With the cavernous BMW stainless steel panniers, which come as standard equipment and measure 82 litres combined, clamped aboard, I’d just walk it out of view first.

Tool for the job

I did notice one tiny hiccup in my time. The throttle is kind of light, and bumps sometimes made for throttle blips I wasn’t expecting, but I got used to it fairly quickly. But quirky this bike is not. What it does, it does brilliantly, without fuss, and is entirely predictable. This leads to being safe. I have had silly chaps say, “BMWs can be boring”. Bollocks to that.

The F 800 GS Adventure is far from boring, offering brilliant, predictable performance
The F 800 GS Adventure is far from boring, offering brilliant, predictable performance

Predictable, powerful, controllable and getting you home safe and in one piece is very ‘not-boring’. What it is, is perfect. Perfect for the job. A big job. Right. Wilpena Pound? What the hell is that? Can you get gas there?


Second Opinion

The GS-A is the top of the range BMW F 800 GS Adventure and comes with all the fruit imaginable for exploring, with the option of GPS. It certainly covers all the bases and is a very easy to ride, fuel efficient and practical mount.

There's always a trade-off between usability and outright power
There’s always a trade-off between usability and outright power

In fact, I chose one as my hire bike to tour the Pyrenees for these very reasons. But… I find the GSA is a little oversize, and a touch bland in performance for the size. However, what you actually need (usability) and what you want (lots of power) are often two different things…

I would happily own and park one in my shed. And, gotta say… I liked the red 800 GS-A the most, it just stands out from the crowd better. – Jock McLauchlan

The red F 800 GS-A particularly stands out visually
The red F 800 GS-A particularly stands out visually
  • Strong points – Huge fuel range, panniers as standard, very capable.
  • Weak points – Too tall for some, sensitive throttle.

2017 BMW F 800 GS Adventure
2017 BMW F 800 GS Adventure

2017 BMW F 800 GS Adventure Specifications

  • Engine – 798cc, water-cooled, DOHC, four-valve per cylinder, 360º four-stroke parallel twin
  • Bore & stroke – 82mm x 75.6mm
  • Claimed power – 63kW(85hp)@7500rpm
  • Claimed torque – 83Nm@5750rpm
  • Clutch type – Multi-disc wet clutch, hydraulic operation
  • Starter system – Electric
  • Transmission – Six-speed, chain final drive
  • Frame – Tubular steel space frame, load-bearing engine
  • Front Suspension – Upside-down telescopic 43mm fork, 230mm travel front
  • Rear Suspension – Monoshock with spring preload hydraulically adjustable, rebound damping adjustable, 215mm travel rear
  • Rake/trail – 26º/117mm
  • Front Brakes – Twin 300mm floating discs, two-piston floating calipers, ABS
  • Rear Brake – Single 265mm disc, single-piston floating caliper, ABS
  • Wheels – Wire spoke, 2.15 x 21-in front; 4.25 x 17-in rear
  • Tyres – 90/90-21 54V front; 150/70-17 69V rear
  • DIMENSIONS
    • Seat height – 890mm (860mm low seat)
    • Wheelbase – 1573mm
    • Kerb weight: 232kg
    • Fuel capacity – 24 litres
  • Price – $17,990 Ride Away (Promotional price, incl. Dynamic Pack)
  • Contact – www.bmwmotorrad.com.au

2017 BMW F 800 GS Adventure
2017 BMW F 800 GS Adventure

2017 BMW F 800 GS Adventure - Headlight, screen and beak
2017 BMW F 800 GS Adventure – Headlight, screen and beak

2017 BMW F 800 GS Adventure - Left switchblock
2017 BMW F 800 GS Adventure – Left switchblock

2017 BMW F 800 GS Adventure - Single side-mounted undertail exhaust
2017 BMW F 800 GS Adventure – Single side-mounted undertail exhaust